2020 Update on Atherton Issues: November election, Fire Services and Possible Closure of Caltrain Station

Friends and Neighbors,

This is my semi-annual letter to Atherton residents to share my perspective on issues before the Council and to seek your views. My comments do not speak for other members of the Council in any way. Please don’t hesitate to respond to this email with your thoughts and concerns. I respond to every email or phone call that I get from an Atherton resident. 

In this email, I address the pandemicthe November election for Atherton and two very large issues: the Fire Services issue (should we leave the Menlo Park Fire Protection District), the Caltrain Station issue (should we support Caltrain to close the Atherton Station).

The Pandemic

I hope that you and your family are safe and well during this extremely challenging time. So that I don’t get complacent, I keep reminding myself that this pandemic is a once in a hundred year event and that in 1918-20 the worst impact of that flu pandemic occurred in late fall and early winter after the disease became prevalent in the spring and summer. Of course, I hope that doesn’t happen this year, but I use that information to prepare myself for more difficult times. I am proud that Atherton has taken this pandemic extremely seriously and that we have been very conservative, while working to enable re-engagement where it makes sense. The result has been no known infections among our staff and greatly reduced scheduled use of Holbrook-Palmer Park, while enabling construction to resume with appropriate rules and precautions to protect construction workers and residents.

The November Election for Atherton

  This November’s election will be the first election for the Atherton Council in six years. I believe that there were no challengers in the past two elections because the Council has been extremely effective, collaborative and responsive to the electorate. This Council has been the longest standing Council (6 years) in Atherton history. Also, it is only the second Council (the other one being the first council that was elected in 1923) where all five members were originally elected vs. appointed. Unfortunately, the Fire Services issue has severely divided our Council. I hope that this will be addressed in this election. Diana Hawkins Manuelian, a new candidate, and Elizabeth Lewis, our incumbent councilwoman, strongly oppose detachment from MPFPD and I am, therefore, supporting them. If you are interested in their views, please visit their webpages and especially look at Diana’s excellent video. I believe that the re-election of Elizabeth and the election of Diana would be a good step for Atherton.

Diana’s Web page — http://dianahawkinsmanuelian.com
Diana’s Video on YouTube — https://youtu.be/hrdiUt-i86s
Elizabeth’s Web Page – http://www.elizabethlewis2020.com

 

Fire Services Issue

The Fire Services Issue is rooted in the fact that Atherton residents pay approximately $13M to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (MPFPD) in property taxes, representing about 16.5% of our property tax dollars. This compares to about 8.5% that goes to the Town of Atherton and roughly 16% that goes to your elementary school district. As the total amount of property tax paid by Atherton residents has increased over the past 20 years, the 16.5% of taxes paid to the Fire District has increased, but the cost of delivering services to Atherton hasn’t increased at a commensurate rate. The Fire District has five stations that provide significant service to Atherton, one is in Atherton and the other four totally surround us from Alameda, to downtown Menlo Park, to Middlefield Road to North Fair Oaks. Over the past 20 years and looking into the future, the critical new investments by the Fire District have been in other portions of the district, not in Atherton. The result of these taxes and expenses is that Atherton residents provide approximately 35% of MPFPD tax revenue and the cost to deliver services to Atherton is somewhere around 10% of all MPFPD expenses. 

Some residents have observed this discrepancy for years, but the problem is that the property tax rates were set up by Proposition 13 in 1978 and can only be changed by an act of the state legislature. One of the first things that I did upon being elected to the Council in 2013 was to meet with Jerry Hill to explore the likelihood of changing that tax allocation. The answer: absolutely no way.

MPFPD is a district that serves Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and unincorporated portions of San Mateo County, such as North Fair Oaks and Ladera, among others. The proponents of detachment say that the way to rectify the “inequity” of Atherton contributing roughly 35% of the MPFPD tax revenue and receiving much less of the service expense is by leaving the district and finding another services provider or threatening to leave the district in order to force the district to enter into a contract where the Fire Board would agree to share with Atherton some of taxes legally awarded to them under Proposition 13. 

In my opinion, there are four significant problems with this proposed “solution”:

First, Atherton gets excellent service from MPFPD. No one disputes this, but many object to how much we pay. Detachment proponents observe that there is only one station in Atherton and that we would get better service if there were a second station; however, in addition to the station on Almendral, there are four MPFPD stations that literally surround Atherton. No other fire services provider could begin to provide coverage as thorough as that provided by MPFPD.

Second, the only alternatives to MPFPD are Redwood City Fire, Woodside Fire, Cal Fire and Atherton organizing its own fire department. No one is advocating for Atherton to form its own fire dept. There is no evidence that one of the other districts would want to take on serving Atherton, given the dispute with MPFPD and due to the fact that both RWC and Woodside Fire departments are represented by the same union as MPFPD.

Third, even if Atherton were to leave MPFPD over this tax and expense discrepancy, Atherton residents would not pay one cent less of property taxes. We are required to pay our 1% of property taxes under Prop 13, no matter what. In a detachment, MPFPD would continue to get some of our taxes for pensions and other committed expense, our new services provider would get an amount approximately equal to the cost of services and the remainder of our property taxes would go to San Mateo County to be redistributed to all of the tax recipients today. The amount of those allocations would be agreed to in a tax agreement to be negotiated between Atherton and the SMC Board of Supervisors. The consequence is that detachment would involve zero reduction of tax payments by Atherton taxpayers and Atherton would assume significant risk by with replacing MPFPD with another services provider.

Fourth, detachment would be devastating to MPFPD, resulting in massive furloughs of staff and an enormous reduction of service to the rest of the district. The community that would be most devastated by Atherton’s departure would be East Palo Altand, in my opinion, there is no way to justify Atherton’s removal of taxes from MPFPD to the enormous detriment of EPA.

Essentially, I look at our Fire Services situation as I look at insurance: it is expensive, but necessary. Of course, I’d like MPFPD to do some additional things for Atherton that are within its calling. I believe that it is possible to negotiate some benefits within their areas of responsibility, but I don’t believe that they will do that so long as the threat of detachment is hanging over them. I am also certain that there is absolutely no way that they would agee to a tax agreement to divert to Atherton any of the property tax than they are legally entitled to under Prop 13. None of us like how much property tax we pay, but it is not something that our City Council can control. We pay more taxes to all other agencies than we receive in services. To me it’s essentially insurance and MPFPD is positioned to give us the best possible fire and medical services and they have done that. 

Finally, I know that for an actual application for detachment to move forward, there has to be another service provider who is willing to replace MPFPD. I don’t believe that there is one and even if there were, I am certain that the Board of Supervisors would never approve a tax agreement with Atherton that would effectively be to the detriment of East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and unicorporated county areas. Because I don’t believe that there is a realistic possibility that Atherton could in fact detach, it is a waste of staff time and taxpayer dollars for us to be considering detachment and this has generated serious ill will with MPFPD.

 

The Caltrain Station Issue

Caltrain has avoided investment in the Atherton station for years. Due to the very low daily ridership from the Atherton station, Caltrain closed the station to weekday service in 2005. Weekend service averages 114 riders a day. The Atherton station requires passengers to cross the southbound tracks to get on a northbound train. Consequently, trains moving in the opposite direction from a train in the station must stop and “holdout” from the station until the train in the station has departed. With electrification Caltrain must reconfigure the Atherton station to eliminate this “holdout” configuration. Caltrain estimates that it will cost $30M to upgrade this “holdout station” configuration. Accordingly, in order to avoid a $30M capital expense and because we have very low ridership and because Caltrain would save 5-10 seconds for every train trip without the Atherton Station, Caltrain wants to close the Atherton Station.

Atherton has had train service since 1863 and our longest serving council member, Malcolm Dudley, was instrumental in getting Caltrain funded when it was first formed. There is a lot of history here. I believe that the station is a significant benefit to Atherton residents who use it and it is certainly an asset that is valuable to all of us, so it makes no sense to consider supporting its closure unless there are significant benefits offered to Atherton in return.

The benefits that Caltrain is offering to Atherton are as follows:

1. Obtain significant safety improvements by removing the existing station platform, fencing off the tracks with an attractive metal fence and installing quad gates across Watkins Ave. that would be similar to what we have on Fair Oaks Lane.

2. Enter into a Maintenance Agreement to enable Atherton to include the Caltrain property and station into the Town Center and obtain much needed additional parking.

3. Explore the SFPUC and Caltrain rights of way next to the tracks south of Watkins to build a bike/pedestrian pathway to enable residents to more easily get to the MP station.


Of these benefits proposed by Caltrain, the use of the Caltrain property to improve parking and the installation of quad gates on Watkins are significant. We definitely need more parking at the new Town Center, and we could incorporate the train station into the infrastructure in a very useful and aesthetically pleasing manner.  The installation of quad gates on Watkins would enable Atherton to declare a Quiet Zone throughout the Town, meaning Caltrain engineers would be prevented from blasting the train horn anywhere in Atherton, unless there is an emergency. Extending the Fair Oaks Quiet Zone through Watkins could motivate Menlo Park to establish a Quiet Zone at Encinal Ave. Establishing the Fair Oaks Quiet Zone during my first term as mayor was the single most beneficial thing that we did during that term as a Council.

Given that Caltrain has the legal right to close the station without providing any benefits to Atherton, my judgement is we should obtain these benefits and make the best of an unfortunate situation. We all know that Caltrain is experiencing extremely difficult times as a result of the pandemic (their ridership numbers have dropped more than 90%), so we have to see how this plays out. I believe that they will find the $7-9 million that they estimate it will cost to provide these stated benefits to Atherton.

A quick comment on the Census: The 2020 Census is about to close. For those who have not yet completed the Census, you can go to my2020census.gov to fill out your questionnaire. For questions, call (844) 330-2020 (English) or (844) 468-2020.

Rick DeGolia
Mayor, Town of Atherton and member of the City Council

rick@rdegolia.com
www.rickdegolia.com

 

Last Day to Register to Vote

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

I’ve been asked by several people to send out an update on Atherton Civic Matters.  I apologize for the delay, but there has been a lot of activity with the election and many issues before us at the city council level.  I will get that summary out to you within two weeks of the election.  In the meantime, I wanted to send this out.  We have a significant number of new residents who haven’t yet registered at their new residences.  THIS IS A CRITICAL ELECTION WITHIN CALIFORNIA (because term limit rules have changed for the state legislature and those elected this year will set a new pattern) AND FOR THE NATION.

TODAY IS THE LAST DAY TO REGISTER FOR THIS ELECTION.  Instructions to do so are in the msg below.

Finally, if you didn’t get the message below from our City Clerk, then your email isn’t registered with the Town of Atherton.  Please register so that you can get the City Clerk’s very brief weekly updates about events and issues of importance to Atherton residents. You can register by sending an email to: tdellasanta@ci.atherton.ca.us

Thanks, Rick

Rick DeGolia
​Atherton City Council​
84 Clay Drive
Atherton, CA 94027

650.793.2800 (m)

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Theresa DellaSanta, Assistant to the City Manager <listserv@civicplus.com>
Date: Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 9:34 AM
Subject: Last Day to Register to Vote
To: degolia@gmail.com

Atherton: Relative unknown wins landslide council victory

by Renee Batti / Almanac

 

Image of Rick DeGolia by Dave Boyce

(Cross-posted from an expanded version of an earlier Almanac story. Image by Dave Boyce/Almanac.)

Atherton voters gave political newcomer Rick DeGolia a giant thumbs-up on election day, with 62 percent of them backing his bid for a one-year term on the City Council to fill the seat left vacant by Jerry Carlson’s July resignation.

“My name was not known when I started (the campaign), but I built a very strong relationship to a lot of people,” Mr. DeGolia told the Almanac when asked about his sweeping victory in the three-candidate race.

 

The lack of name recognition is understandable: Before January, Mr. DeGolia hadn’t served on a single town committee or commission, and before the November 2012 election, hadn’t participated significantly in the town’s often-polarized political arena.

By contrast, one opponent — Greg Conlon — has not only served on town committees for nearly 10 years, but also came in a close third in a race for two council seats last year.

The county Elections Office late last week reported Mr. DeGolia winning 1,066 votes (62.2 percent); Mr. Conlon, 357 votes (20.8 percent); and Diane Sandhu, also a relative newcomer to town civic affairs, 290 votes (17 percent). The county will update those figures on Nov. 12, according to the Elections Office website.

 

[Please continue reading this article at the Almanac Online]

Congratulations, Rick!

Results of the 2013 Election, to fill the remaining one-year term for the seat of departed Councilmember, Jerry Carlson:

 

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 10.35.17 AM

Message from Rick DeGolia:

I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this campaign, whether by working on this website, hosting or attending one of the 15 neighborhood meetings, putting up a yard sign, donating to the campaign, expressing your concerns and opinions about issues facing Atherton or voting in the election.  Throughout this process, I have met more residents and made more friends than I thought possible when I began.  I am deeply honored by the depth of support that I received and I am thrilled to be able to join the Atherton City Council on December 4.

The experience of this election has strengthened my belief that Atherton is a truly special place and that people want to see change.  In addition, I want to give sincere thanks to Jerry Carlson for his exceptional service to Atherton and how seriously he represented our town in the many regional bodies in which he participated.  I am proud to count him as a friend and a mentor.  I also want to thank Greg Conlon and Diane Sandhu for their commitment to Atherton. I look forward to working with each of them on the issues facing Atherton into the future.

*  *  *  *  *

DeGolia wins seat on Atherton City Council by large magin; residents overwhelmingly approve parcel tax renewal

Reposted from Mercury Breaking New article by Jason Green,

Daily News Staff Writer

A Picture of myself and KarenRick DeGolia will fill a single open seat on the Atherton City Council if semi-official election results hold.

With all eight precincts reporting Tuesday night, DeGolia had nearly 63 percent of the vote. Greg Conlon trailed with about 20.2 percent and Diane Sandhu had 16.9 percent.

Meanwhile, Measure X had secured 74.1 percent of the vote. The parcel tax, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, generates about $1.86 million annually and helps pay for police service and infrastructure work.

The winner of the council race will serve out the final year of Vice Mayor Jerry Carlson’s four-year term. Carlson, 76, resigned July 1 because he wanted to spend more time traveling with his wife.

The city council couldn’t agree on a replacement for Carlson and voted in July to hold an election.

[Continue reading this article at the Mercury News: Breaking News site]

Rick Receives Almanac Endorsement

On October 21, 2013 Rick received the endorsement of the Almanac’s editorial board. We are pleased to reprint the article below, or you can see it on the Almanac’s website here.

ALMANAC

Viewpoint – October 23, 2013

2013 Editorial: Rick DeGolia for Atherton Council

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 1.11.44 AM

Besides deciding whether to renew the parcel tax (see below) Atherton residents will select one of three City Council candidates to replace Jerry Carlson, who resigned in July.

Of the three candidates running, our choice is Rick DeGolia, vice chair of the Civic Center Advisory Committee and a high-tech business executive and lawyer who has some fresh ideas that we believe could improve the council’s relations with the community. His opponents are Greg Conlon, a former state Public Utilities Commission member who now serves as chair of the town’s finance committee, and Diane Sandhu, who is now that committee’s vice chair.

In our opinion, Mr. DeGolia stands out in this race due to his insights as a longtime business executive and corporate board member and his willingness to listen, respectfully, to all ideas and try to come up with creative solutions to problems before the council and of concern to residents. His decision to get involved in town government was sparked in the last election, when he was dismayed that the proposal to build a library in Holbrook-Palmer Park was pushed “from the top down” by a slim council majority, he said.

Mr. DeGolia notes that the town was recently able to pay $2 million toward its long-term pension obligation, which he says is due in part to the influx of many young families who are moving to Atherton and paying higher property taxes. Mr. DeGolia says these families will want playing fields, bike lanes and a safe way for pedestrians to cross El Camino Real, where several fatal accidents have occurred recently.

Mr. DeGolia did not accept support from the police union, and said he believes there is almost no possibility that the town will outsource police services. He did say that police costs and pensions, which take up more than half the town’s budget, are worthy of discussion.

Mr. DeGolia is a candidate who will make sensible decisions as a council member. He vows to listen to residents and says he will try to make the council’s decisions as transparent as possible. He is not endorsed by any current council members, who split 2-2 on many issues, so Mr. DeGolia could be a swing vote. We urge voters to elect Rick DeGolia to the Atherton City Council.

[To read the endorsement as posted on  the Almanac Online, click here!]
Reprinted in its entirety with permission.

Helping residents address a problem

[Re-printed from an email message sent to NextDoor]

Hello,
To Atherton voters,

airplane-noise-over-dearborn-300x199I would like to share how active and strategic Rick DeGolia (who is campaigning for Atherton Council) has been with the Surf Air noise matter.  From the moment I met him at our meeting, I could see he was deeply involved, he has championed the cause for all of us and provided thoughtful guidance. He has provided really good leadership in these areas:

  1. The encouragement that we reach out and create a strong resident group before we meet with Surf Air and the Airport;
  2. The inclusion of Elizabeth Lewis, Atherton representative on the Noise Abatement Roundtable, and George Rodericks, City Manager;
  3. Making sure that we get a decibel reading under a Surf Air flight before the meeting;
  4. Guidance and redirection of our focus to make our strategy to seek to change the flight path for all planes approaching the San Carlos airport. This is a much more fundamental fix to the noise and safety problem than our prior focus;
  5. Involvement and summary at the meeting with Surf Air that while it is right for Surf Air to make incremental changes to their flap use and other operational procedures that it is imperative that they invest in understanding why their flights are more noisy than other flights coming into the airport; and
  6. Work to forge a consensus at the meeting to get both Surf Air and San Carlos Airport to agree that the only fundamental fix is to change the flight path and to agree that this is in the interests of Surf Air and the Airport, such that they agreed to work with us (and even to lead the effort) to act as a united front in our approach to the FAA.

This is an ongoing concern, and I am confident that with Rick’s help, Surf Air and the airport make changes, but they will also work with us to craft a solution that we can take to the FAA. Ultimately, Rick would be a superb asset to the Atherton Council — Please vote for him.

Kind Regards,
Dan

DeGolia campaign takes high ground

LawnSignforWebSiteIn a development that is reminiscent of the bitter political battles characterizing the council era dominated by a circle of long-time political insiders, lawn signs placed by the “Elect Rick DeGolia” campaign around town have been reported missing.  All of the missing signs had been placed at the request of, and with the permission of, the homeowners.

Writing to supporters, Rick chose to take the high ground regarding these thefts.  He suggested that while he didn’t know who was doing this, that part of the possible motivation was to generate controversy in his campaign that they could then capitalize on.  Instead of responding with an approach that gets negative press, Rick wrote: “I think that the right solution is to replace the signs as quickly as possible . . . .  The best response to this theft is quickly increase the number of signs that were out there.”

“The reason that they are doing this is because they are threatened: I got my signs out early and I only put them in locations where I received permission from the property owner.  Someone obviously feels threatened by my candidacy.   I have been endorsed by a very broad range of Atherton residents.  I have been told that this is the broadest support that someone has had in 30 years.  I am proud of that.  The right way to fight back is to fight back in numbers, not in the press.”

Rick has now ordered and received another 100 signs and, while Rick is not willing to engage in the same old “fighting with accusations in the press,”  he continues to campaign with a very vibrant and active schedule of resident-hosted events where he meets and talks with an increasingly broad cross-section of the community.  We invite you to come meet Rick at one of these events and we thank those of you who have gotten to meet Rick for making contact with your friends and neighbors about Rick’s positive campaign.  We welcome all supporters and we will continue to provide those who would like a lawn sign placed or replaced at their home.  

Atherton voters to pick council member and consider renewing parcel tax Nov. 5

By Bonnie Eslinger, Daily News Staff Writer

Posted Online:   07/18/2013 08:18:15 PM PDT | [Re-posted here 8/1/13]

The Atherton City Council this week gave residents two reasons to go the polls Nov. 5 — to choose a new council member and decide whether to renew a parcel tax.

At its meeting Wednesday night, the council voted 3-1 to forget about trying to appoint a replacement for Jerry Carlson, who resigned mid-term on July 1. Council Member Bill Widmer cast the dissenting vote, saying “I don’t like to lose my options.”

Under state law, the council had only 60 days from July 1 to either appoint Carlson’s replacement or call for an election by July 15 to make the November ballot, according to City Attorney William Conners.

The council’s four remaining members called for the election July 11 after failing to select someone that a majority of them could agree on from among seven candidates.

Mayor Elizabeth Lewis suggested Wednesday that the council take another stab at appointing someone after Aug. 9 — the last day candidates can file to run for Carlson’s seat. Council Member Bill Widmer agreed, but Vice Mayor Cary Wiest opposed the idea, saying it would be “unfair” to candidates to effectively delay their campaigns for three weeks on the chance an appointment might be made after all.

Counci Member Jim Dobbie subsequently motioned to continue with the election, Wiest seconded it and Lewis cast a third vote, telling Widmer, “I changed my mind.”

Rick DeGolia, whose appointment to the council Lewis and Wiest had supported, told The Daily News he plans to run. John Ruggiero, whose appointment was backed by Widmer and Dobbie, said he “probably” would run as well.

[Click here to continue reading this San Jose Mercury News article.]