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Palo Alto seeks regional cash for slew of projects

Original post made on Feb 19, 2013

Palo Alto's elected officials have a hearty appetite for grant-funded transportation projects, particularly ones that involve bikes, trains and pedestrians. But last week, the City Council agreed that the latest staff proposal for a grant application goes a little too far and much too fast.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 6:30 PM

Comments (22)

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 19, 2013 at 6:44 pm

These programs represent wants and not needs. Even after the infusion of grant money, how much will Palo Alto tax payers be left on the hook for? Our local politicians seem to think that grant money somehow justifies these projects, even if it is glaringly clear that we can't afford to pay the difference. Considering our track record of project cost overruns, almost a certainty, the expected difference can be huge.

Our city leaders and elected officials need to stop catering to these feel good, niche projects, and focus on the critical business at hand. Strengthen our vital and essential needs in infrastructure and public safety without proposing another tax increase. Balance the city budget with the funds you have already been entrusted with. We're steeped in the midst of these deep financial challenges, and yet our city leaders waste critical time and money on bike bridges, playgrounds, and public art. Absolutely unreal how out of touch and disconnected they've become. Where are the financial priorities and common sense.

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Posted by to much traffic
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Palo Alto keeps building new office buildings, which are filled by companies bringing thousands more jobs into the city. Those jobs will put thousands more cars onto our streets, creating permanent gridlock unless we can build up our infrastructure. These projects may be "wants now", but in a few years they will absolutely be "needs". We need a government that plans for the future, not one that is stuck in the past.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 19, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I believe it was Gary fashion who once mentioned that palo alto officials seem to fall for the siren song of grants, for projects that we do not need. How much will this cost us? What about our crumbling infrastrucure? Too hard to deal with that -- more fun to build expensive bike bridges and color of palo alto. Time for Rodriguez to go -- we need a more balanced approach to traffic -- not a shill for the bike lobby.

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 19, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Priorities first To Much Traffic. The only past that we're stuck with is annual budget deficits for many years running and lack of funding for vital needs in infrastructure and public safety. We have to resolve these critical issues now, and without another bond measure and potential tax increase. One of the primary reasons we got into this financial mess was due to frivolous, non-essential projects.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Let's review some projects that started with "grant money":

"Color of Palo Alto", $40,000 grant, $35,000 taxpayer's money and the city is in a dispute with the vendor over getting the pictures.

"California Ave traffic reduction", $1.2 million grant, $3.2 million taxpayer money (was suppose to only be $500,000 in taxpayer money, but the city council couldn't help themselves and they kept adding to the project).

"Homer Bike/Pedestrian Tunnel", $1.2 million grant, $4.2 million in taxpayer money. It was suppose to zero taxpayer money.

Everyone get the pattern? and how is this going to affect the funding for infrastructure repairs, when there are cost overruns on these "grant money" projects?

And who will be held accountable? City Council members who voted for this frivolous spending (Burt, Scharf, Shepard, Price, Berman, Kniss)? Klein will be termed out,thank god, so he cant ruin the city financial situation any worse than he has (like when voted to raise the pension benefits for the union workers back in 2006). Or how about the City Manager (who will probably be retired), or Transportation Director Rodriques (who will probably move to some other city)? My guess is that the taxpayers will be held accountable - we deserve it because we voted those council members into office.

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 20, 2013 at 7:24 am

Well illustrated Common Sense. There are many who are under the illusion that grant money covers all of the funding, and since it's there, why not take advantage. I for one would support grant funded projects as long as our financial home is in order. As long as we're mired in this financial crisis, cannot balance the budget, and have no funds allocated for essential infrastructure and public safety needs, we do not need to be spending on frivolous projects.

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Posted by Native
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:00 am

Everyone has lost sight of Palo Alto as a bedroom community, a great place to LIVE. It has become a less desirable place to live in the last ten years, as more people work here than live here, which is the cause of all the traffic and smog.

Palo Alto is a rotten place to work because the overall plan did not include office buildings, parking, or wide thoroughfares, but nice housing and good schools, as well as some pretty decent shopping. It has gotten completely out of hand to the point where workers and commuters take up our private parking spaces on residential streets.

Save our city!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:13 am

I would much rather the City used the money we already give them in property taxes and sales taxes to do what we expect these taxes to cover.

I expect the city to repair pot holes, to provide efficent garbage collection and provide state of the art utilities. I expect them to work with the traffic to provide efficient movement, rather than impair its progress. I expect an efficient library which is open evenings and weekends. I expect them to promote recreation and family values by encourage recreational and family style businesses for our residents. I expect them to meet my basic shopping requirements without having to go out of town.

I don't want a handout, I don't mind paying for my family's recreation, so provide adequate facilities for youth sports and other extra curricula, but leave enough space in the parks for pick up play also. I like to be able to take the family bowling, ice skating, to a family restaurant, to see a family movie, or other family type activities, without having to drive out of town to do so.
I want my kids to be able to get to school safely without me needing to drive them. I want my family to feel safe walking in my neighborhood after dark even when dark is before dinner time.

I want to just live a simple life really, so why is it so difficult in Palo Alto?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:15 am

I've never heard of OBAG, but most "regional grant" money comes with far too many strings attached.

The City Staff and Council needs to figure out how Palo Alto can live within its means and finance its own infrastructure, and tell the regional and other special interests to go to hell.

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Posted by fp
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:42 am

OneBayArea Grant, not Government

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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

> never heard of OBAG

Probably most people haven't heard of it--

One BayArea Grant:
Web Link

The MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) has a lot of power, and very little real voter oversight.

It would be a good idea to put the MTC into a kind of hiatus for a few years until we (the voters), can get a handle on just how much power these people have, and to whom they are actually accountable.

Right now--they seem to be operating like a stealth government.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Interesting. Less than 2 months ago, a story about EPA needing $$ help to fix the levees was met w/nasty derision by some in PA & Menlo. Yet here's an article about PA having their hand out for $$ for projects much less dire than fixing levees. I hope that EPA residents aren't equally nasty & instead see that this is one way that cities improve safety, or in this case, quality of life for all.

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Posted by If wishes were horses
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2013 at 3:09 pm

I just hope that what ever they get in the way of grants or whatever, they spend it on the important things first, like roads, bridges, bldgs, etc in states of bad disrepair. It amazes me that when I go to yucky old Fremont, the roads are better and most of the bldgs once in severe disrepair are fixed. Drive to Menlo Park or San Jose and the roads are better. It is beyond frustrating to,pay so much in city, state and property tax to live in a city in such a state!

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Posted by jake
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Since the city has a history of over budget and overpaid, I would hope they can get enough money to cover the unavoidable incident from the Grant

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Posted by bill g
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Why does grant money make staff and our City Council salivate? they never, never consider the money needed to finish a project. This money is resident tax money and lots of it.

Merrol has again described the problem with grant using grant money. He and Common Sense have identified the pitfalls. Read their blogs carefully and nothing more need be said.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 20, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Wasn't the homer avenue Tunnel initially funded by grant money? Remember how much that ended up costing us? And remember how they did not realize thatbthetinnel exits. To a one way street going in the opposite direction. But who cares, there was grant money out there. And if I remember correctly,dena Mossar-another in the long line of clueless council members-- stated it was the proudest achievement of her tenure on the council!!!
And wait we still have no idea how much the sure to be underused bike bridge over 101 and the processing plant proposed for by we park will end up costing us. Of purse we should not complain about the fact the there are infrastructure issues that have not been addressed for years , their are giant potholes on the streets of Africa according to one city insider!!!

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 20, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Here's an article about the homer avenue tunnel fiasco

Web Link

We should be wary of grant money for non essential projects

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Posted by No-Way-To-Run-A-Railroad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2013 at 10:05 am

> Less than 2 months ago, a story about EPA needing
> $$ help to fix the levees was met w/nasty derision by
> some in PA & Menlo.

The comments were perhaps nasty to people who live in a bubble, and think that their sugar-daddy (I’m from the gov’mnt—and I’m here to “hep ya”) should be Johnny-on-the-Spot every time there is some sort of problem—to hand out OPM (Other People’s Money).

The comments were directed at a town that is clearly too small to deal with all of the problems that it much confront, and is constantly looking to other sources of funds for solutions to its problems.

The levy problem has been around for a long time, and it’s just not clear that East Palo Alto has the necessary management in place to deal with the long-term issues of managing the maintenance on the levees.

Here’s a couple reminders of problems EPA has not successfully managed:

Web Link

Web Link

2006-07 SMC Grand Jury Report On Dams/Levees:
Web Link

"Not a single Emergency Action Plan has been prepared and submitted to OES/HS or the state by dam and levee operators, although the State Office of Emergency Services has the authority to mandate them," the civil grand jury report stated.

The comments directed at EPA were not nearly as nasty as they were accurate.

As to Palo Alto’s constantly bellying up to some outside government agency’s seemingly never-ending supply of grant money—most of the comments in this thread seem to be less than complimentary of the idea of the Staff making decisions to seek all of this outside money (with the attendant “strings” that invariably come with such “gifts”). Ultimately, someone needs to pay the bills. The comments aimed at EPA, and PA, in this case, suggest it’s time for the governments to figure out just how much it costs to run these Cities, and then make a real effort to pay the bills with the money made available to them—rather than constantly spending that money on ever-growing salaries.

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Posted by P.A. Native
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 21, 2013 at 11:08 am

"The comments were perhaps nasty to people who live in a bubble, and think that their sugar-daddy (I’m from the gov’mnt—and I’m here to “hep ya”) should be Johnny-on-the-Spot every time there is some sort of problem—to hand out OPM (Other People’s Money)."

You think that's what's going on over there? What indifference. Look closer for that bubble you mention, I think you're inside of it.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 21, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Exactly, P.A. Native. EPA has done a damn good job in balancing development w/maintaining affordable housing. We've chosen not to gentrify & drive out long timers. It's also not our fault that greedy development & climate change have made the levees more of an emergency than previously. The people upstream are also responsible & should help pay for it. And that's not even going into all the other garbage we deal w/from non-residents, incl the comments we see here a lot. I say we keep our hands out when it comes to important things like preventing floods - espec ones we're not causing. Maybe the creek should be repositioned where it used to be & PA can be the levee experts & deal w/the floods. At least I know when to use levy & levee. Lastly, we're a young city. PA wasn't any great shakes when they were our age & neither were many other nearby towns.

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Posted by marroll and common sense are right
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm

All money is fungible..looks like this is how local govt. is run..they know full well there will be huge cost overlays..just like how we are manipulated about a supposed holy cause (library,etc) to raise money for more parcel taxes etc. when it all goes in the same pool and is used to bail out rest of govt. spending. People should wise up. Get basics done first, live within the sustainable, help citizens of the city survive and attract younger generation including the kids who can't afford anything..

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Posted by resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:20 pm

The Editorial is not featured as a topic but I do have opinions on it:
RE: ABAG, Senate Bill 375 - 02/22/13
The Palo Alto Weekly has been reporting on the ABAG requirement since 2008 when the Senate Bill 375 was passed. This requirement has provided the justification for re-zoning and the building of new housing. It is now four years later.
1. The number of new housing units added since 2008 has surpassed the total requirement for new housing units stipulated. Action: The Planning Department should provide the statistics on the number of new housing units added from 2008 through 2012, plus those on the planning approval cycle currently on the books.

2. The assumptions in the State of California budgeting process in 2008 has been overcome by events, including Governor Brown re-interpreting the state budget and removing the budget for Redevelopment. Action: The assumptions included in the approval of the bill in 2008 should be evaluated against the current state budget which is authorizing the transportation funding. I am guessing that the funds do not exist at this time which is why the schedule for building has been moved to 2014.

3. Infrastructure Responsibilities concerning water have changed since 2008.

Example: San Mateo County - Redwood City – the Cargill development currently does not have a water allocation – Redwood City has already maximized its water allocation. The developer has been trying to get additional water approved for delivery up from Bakersfield, CA.

Palo Alto in Santa Clara County has a water allocation. ABAG does not appear to be responsible for working the water issue. Governor Brown is trying to ship more water to Southern California so this key issue is not being addressed. Action: ABAG needs to provide their assumptions concerning the delivery of water for a higher density population when the State of California is attempting to move more water south. The cities cannot broker this requirement which is authorized at the county and state level.

4. Budget for Transportation – in 2008 the High Speed Rail was in the talking stage – it still is - however the initial building will be in the Central Valley. The conclusion there is that the high density housing should now be aligned with the high speed rail in the central valley. Another assumption from 2008 which does not comply with the current budget requirements and transportation Planning.

Conclusion –The assumptions from which this bill was approved in 2008 are no longer compliant with the current budget for the state. Those assumptions no longer exist and are not within the cities or the Transportation agency to control.

Please identify the specific agency who is working this effort – where, who, and what budget do they actually have authorized to induce compliance with their concerns. There are too many holes in this whole set-up which has the appearance of improper action on the part of the agency when this bill was initiated. Please identify who sponsored this bill and who funded it’s approval cycle.

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