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Plummeting revenues threaten planned public safety building

Original post made on Oct 20, 2020

With the local economy in tatters and city revenues on a steep decline, Palo Alto is preparing to reconsider its most ambitious infrastructure project: the new public safety building that is slated to go up near California Avenue.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 20, 2020, 12:48 AM

Comments (23)

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Downtown North

on Oct 20, 2020 at 6:10 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


33 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 20, 2020 at 7:46 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Finally. Nice to see some reality-based thinking. Voters told them that months ago when Kuo conducted her detailed survey showing that taxpayers/voters/residents wanted to preserve services not more big expensive buildings during this downturn.

With the city's blind rush to build more hotels and evict residents from The President Hotel, they obviously forgot about the last dot.bomb economic crash.

""Currently having the project up for bids would not be the time to say, 'Halt.' Let's see what the bids come back at, as one data point," Shikada said.

Tanaka disagreed and recommended acting sooner, rather than later, to halt the project."

Tanaka's right. Why waste more costly staff time and that of the contractors.


8 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2020 at 9:19 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Delay the garage and finance it through two revenue streams. The most obvious options are lost in the fog:
1. Developers of housing and commercial properties could pre-lease a set number of parking spaces if the city council properly priced long-term leases including the value of land. This would avoid the cloudy issue of current Parking Assessment Districts.
2. Hourly parking rates and existing parking permits could be pegged to market demand for all other vehicles.
The goal is to make the garage self-financing.


4 people like this
Posted by jr1
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2020 at 10:47 am

jr1 is a registered user.

The city should check around and see if they can lease a building. Leave the maintenance of the building to another company.


24 people like this
Posted by Carol Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 20, 2020 at 11:39 am

Carol Scott is a registered user.

As a resident of Evergreen Park, I strongly disagree with the comment made by Neilson Buchanan. The residents of Evergreen Park and the local businesses argued their case of public financing of the new garage near California Avenue for a reason -- to provide adequate parking for the local business community and their patrons and to get the commercial, all-day parking of employees out of the residential neighborhood. Now you want to give it back to developers???? No way. We want the City to have control over the garage so that it can be used for the benefit of everyone -- not a special interest group. The City has already taken out many parking spaces on California Ave and surrounding lots to support the Summer Streets program. The public and these local businesses need the parking -- it should not be a freebie for developers who do not want to hurt their profits by including parking in their projects. Traffic and commercial employees will be back -- and they will need to park somewhere. If they don't park in the garage, they will park in my neighborhood. Can't anyone see beyond the next 30 days????

Second, I find it astonishing that Alison Cormack and Liz Kniss are now questioning the spending of funds on public infrastructure. They were the primary council members arguing for spending on public projects -- like the bike bridge, like the public art, etc. -- and not on public services in the previous budget discussions. Now, they very disingenuously say we shouldn't be building large structures. The Public Safety building is a public safety issue and has been needed for years. These people are for their projects, but not for other people's projects. They don't even acknowledge their part in prior budget discussions.

This is why I am voting for Lydia Kuo -- one of the few members of the Council who votes straight and always listens to residents.


37 people like this
Posted by Reducing our record-sized capital budget is what Pat Burt recommended at the beginning.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2020 at 11:48 am

Reducing our record-sized capital budget is what Pat Burt recommended at the beginning. is a registered user.

Reducing capital expenditures (which currently are budgeted at a record high) and rebidding capital projects in a softer economy to reduce costs were among the successful strategies that former City Councils used during the Great Recession when Pat Burt was mayor. It worked.

Very early in this process (May 2020), Pat Burt co-wrote a Guest Opinion in the Weekly making a recommendation to do this--a position that subsequently has been adopted by a majority of other Council candidates. I guess they know a good idea when they see one. Web Link

Initially, our current Council took a more bureaucratic approach that was recommended by staff, reducing services across departments fairly evenly. However, there's wisdom in taking a more strategic approach that puts people and local-serving businesses first. That means thinking about maintaining supportive services in a thoughtful, targeted way to address emergency needs. Council and staff are coming around to that view.

We need Pat Burt on Council. We need his historical knowledge, strong leadership, and creative problem-solving skills. More important, we need leadership that has the experience to understand how to work the levers of government as Pat does. Experience matters. Learning on the job in a time of crisis (both pandemic and economic) is not an option.

I've watched Pat Burt's public service for over 20 years. He is a talented leader, and he loves our community. He's got my vote.


22 people like this
Posted by jlanders
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2020 at 11:54 am

jlanders is a registered user.

The reality is that we'll be in a COVID world for the next few years. This is going to force changes to the building's design and the way space gets programmed within the facility. The protocols for handling and mitigating the effects of the virus have yet to be written. But there will likely be changes to everything from the HVAC system, finishes and surfaces to offices and shared work spaces.

Is it a good idea to combine Palo Alto's three most essential public safety elements (police, fire, OES) into a single facility in a COVID-active world?

If shared spaces, say for 911 call center operations, are no longer viable for these critical personnel how should the currently planned spaces be reallocated and partitioned?

Since the disease is airborne, will the new facility be able to sufficiently refresh and filter air in the large open atrium areas?

Will the secure areas with civilian interaction, such as the detention and interview areas, AIB and property storage be able to support frequent disinfection and cleaning?

There isn't great value in obtaining bids for the current as designed facility until questions like these can be answered.


23 people like this
Posted by Reducing our record-sized capital budget is what Pat Burt recommended at the beginning.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2020 at 12:08 pm

Reducing our record-sized capital budget is what Pat Burt recommended at the beginning. is a registered user.

Excellent questions, Jlandis. Some of these, HVAC in particular, are questions that Pat Burt has raised as well.

Again, we need Council Members who will question staff, do their own research (in addition to what staff offers in their reports) and work with staff, colleagues, and members of the public to develop ideas--to improve recommendations. This is the kind of process that improves problem-solving and gets us to creative solutions.


20 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 20, 2020 at 3:18 pm

StarSpring is a registered user.

Public Safety has been on the wrong foot for years. The City elected to not hire the most qualified candidate who (surprise!) wanted us prepared for a pandemic. Instead we elected to prepare (in Palo Alto!) for terrorists.

Stop spending millions on bike boulevards for adult bicyclists (who should be able to learn to walk their bikes and stop at signs).

And, by the way, remove the "Closed to through traffic" sign at Ross and Louis before there is an accident there.


23 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 20, 2020 at 4:31 pm

Greenacres is a registered user.

Ah, the wages of getting hooked on hotel taxes rather than caring about what the densification and overdevelopment were doing to ordinary civic life and the tax base. Too bad it's the citizen who suffer the consequences they had been trying to prevent all along.

Let's hope we get a new council majority this election and can move forward to restore Palo Alto's civic life.


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 20, 2020 at 5:01 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@StarSpring, absolutely. And remove the bollards at every intersection on Middlefield that impede through traffic. I shouldn't have to live in fear of getting rear-ended every time I signal to turn into my driveway while waiting for some nice person going the other way to yield and let me make my turn while they're backed up for blocks waiting for the light to change.

And how about putting the public safety building out in the Baylands? Cal Ave area has enough of a parking shortage already that we don't need all the city employees and consultants taking up the spots.

Let's hope the new council has more common sense and responsiveness to residents than the current one!


119 people like this
Posted by Ardan Michael Blum
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2020 at 7:16 pm

Ardan Michael Blum is a registered user.

I think that this project had a few things too many and should be brought down in cost by removing things like "the artwork". Also, I think it is unsafe that the majority of this building is not made with bullet-proof glass. Hence, a new design without constant glass outside and with LESS funding for decoration is in order.

The building itself is essential - as the CURRENT location will not support a strong earthquake and does not allow for correct gate protection from a terrorist attack.


10 people like this
Posted by TS Member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2020 at 8:57 pm

TS Member is a registered user.

Quite frankly, the City relied too much on hotel taxes for revenue. Sure, the very easy to get to pass on ballots since they did not affect anyone's pocket books other than... hotels' and out-of-town visitors'. However, they were exceptionally susceptible to a slump in case of a major economic downturn. It is high time to institute a business tax in this city... as well as cuts in city staff salaries and benefits.


20 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2020 at 7:26 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"Instead we elected to prepare (in Palo Alto!) for terrorists."

> "...as the CURRENT location will not support a strong earthquake and does not allow for correct gate protection from a terrorist attack."

^ Curious...who are these 'terrorists' that others are so concerned (aka paranoid) about?

Something along the lines of, 'now playing and coming to a town near you'...
white supremacists, Antifa, ISIS et al?

Rest assured folks...the sky is not falling in Palo Alto.


34 people like this
Posted by Ardan Michael Blum
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2020 at 8:34 am

Ardan Michael Blum is a registered user.

Hardening places of command and control by having a two gate process to avoid a truck bomb is logical. We need to be proactive which some are still calling being paranoid.


8 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Oct 21, 2020 at 11:31 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

I agree with council member Tanaka that we should pause spending on the public safety building that I do support until our fiscal situation is clearer


14 people like this
Posted by mc
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 21, 2020 at 12:18 pm

mc is a registered user.

@Ardan Michael Blum

During the budget hearings Greg Tanaka asked the city manager if the $750K for the artwork could be held back from the project. The city manager said it was too late as the piece was was already being stored in a warehouse.

Even though the city manager told council member Tanaka the money for this had already been spent, Tanaka seemed not to hear and continued urging that this project be cut from the budget for another five minutes.

Tanaka has continued to bring this up at council meetings since, urging his fellow council members to cut this money from the budget. Did he not believe the city manager the first time around and knows something we don't, or was he simply not listening? Or perhaps using council time to continue to try to score political points by demonstrating his fiscal attention to detail during his bid for reelection?


20 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2020 at 12:29 pm

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"Hardening places of command and control by having a two gate process to avoid a truck bomb is logical. We need to be proactive which some are still calling being paranoid."

^ Watching too many Hollywood 'action thrillers'?

Armed checkpoints along Hamilton, Forest & University avenues (along with machine gun turrets at City Hall) should adequately suffice.


14 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2020 at 12:30 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

It seems odd that the city is spending $750K on artwork for a project that has not been fully initiated yet. It looks to me as though the city manager is trying to lock us into this project and make it a fait accompli.

Now that the city is going for bids, look for the city manager to argue that we have to go ahead with the project when the bids have been done.

It is too bad that the staff is not more attentive to things that the residents actually want.


14 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 21, 2020 at 3:46 pm

Rose is a registered user.

Yes, follow Lydia Kou and Pat Burt's advice and put the Public Safety Building (PSB) on hold for now. Don't rush this project given our serious budget issues! We'll have a new PSB eventually. NOW is the time for the City Council and city leadership to be planning about how we'll use that space once Public Safety moves out. We should pull the building down and put up a high-rise building on its footprint -- and make it all below market rate housing. We do not need more luxury condos. We need housing for our essential works who don't earn enough to live here in a luxury condo. A tall building in this space would be appropriate -- close to transportation and many jobs, and not too close to single-family homes.


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 21, 2020 at 4:12 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Maybe the city manager's unconscionable spending on the art work and insistence on bids NOW for a building whose future is in doubt and the resultant criticism is why he's so eager to impose a gag order.

But hey, we're only 8 -- EIGHT -- months into the pandemic. Who could have ever imagined there would be revenue shortfalls while we were sheltering in place for that time. Certainly mot our "leaders' who charged ahead with their budgeting process.


16 people like this
Posted by A.C
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2020 at 4:18 pm

A.C is a registered user.

@Ardan seems to be a good source for this. He is part of the 30 or so Palo Altans who advise the Police Chief. Google his name.


4 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2020 at 5:56 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

I am so glad to hear that so many sitting city council members as well as other people running for City Council are coming around to my argument that we must delay the public safety building!

FYI the State of California just announced the availability of another couple hundred million dollars in grants (not loans) for housing-related projects. This is the same program under which Mountain View received $12.3 million, Santa Clara received $35 million, and San Francisco received $49 million. Palo Alto has not yet applied for these grants, even though this is free money and we absolutely should. Deadline is December 31.

I will mention this at the city council meeting tonight, because I am guessing that none of them yet subscribe to the HCD mailing list. As I have said for a while, the hopefully-former future public safety building is an ideal location for Palo Alto to build housing that will help us meet our state RHNA mandates to avoid SB 35 repercussions!


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