December Letter to Atherton Residents on City Council Issues

 

Dear Friends & Neighbors,

This is my periodic letter summarizing major issues (as I see them) that are before the Atherton Town Council.  You are welcome to forward this to any other residents.  If you wish to be removed from this list, please let me know.  I encourage you to share your reactions and opinions with me on the items that I have addressed, and on those that I may have omitted. I respond to every email that I receive from an Atherton resident.

Atherton Police Department Toy Drive Flier
Click to enlarge

I wish each of you a wonderful holiday with family and friends.  In the spirit of the holidays, the Atherton Police are conducting a toy drive for students at Selby Lane School.  Please bring new, unwrapped toys for kids 5 to 11 yrs old to a box in the entry lobby to the police/admin building.  Please circulate the attached flyer.

I want to start by restating that it is a genuine honor to represent you and to work to improve our community.   This is my principal non-profit work and it has been very rewarding.  I strongly encourage you to consider getting involved in our community and there are numerous ways to do that.  You can do so by getting together with me to talk about Atherton, by attending a committee or Town Council meeting or by volunteering for one of the many civic committees that are active in Atherton.  I am always happy to talk to you about this.

I am addressing five issues in this letter and I encourage you to read all of them or to focus on those that interest you.  They are:

  1.      Atherton’s new Civic Center
  2.      Road Safety
  3.      Peninsula Clean Energy
  4.      Noise: the Train and Surf Air
  5.      Atherton Taxes

I see these as five issues that we face, but there are also important issues that relate to Holbrook-Palmer Park, drainage concerns, construction related problems, new bike lanes and more.

The New Atherton Civic Center

This project has been going on for three years (and that ignores the previous 20 years over which three attempts were made to replace our crumbling civic center).  Our architects, WRNS Studio, have been working for two years.  We are very close to completing the design for new library, police and admin buildings and a complete change to the Town’s 4.8-acre parcel near the train station from an automobile-centric parcel to a pedestrian-centric parcel.   The replacement of the current dilapidated buildings is essential to attracting and retaining highly qualified staff who protect and serve our community. I also believe that this project is critical to creating an attractive center in Atherton where the community can come together.

The latest designs for these buildings are attached to this email.  These designs should be completed by February, construction documents should be ready by the summer and construction should begin in a year.  These designs are excellent.  They are attractive, understated, very utilitarian and highly efficient.   IF we get the grants and the funding to pay for the solar panels and other less costly energy items, our civic center will be the FIRST Zero Net Energy civic center in California, which will be something that we can proudly point to as it will greatly reduce the facility operating costs and it will lead the way for others (both residents and municipalities) to learn from.

In order to make this a reality, we need to raise additional tax-deductible private donations from everyone in Atherton.  I encourage each and every one of you to dig deep and contribute to this center, which will serve our community for the next 50-70 years.  We have invested nearly $3m in this design process and WE WILL BUILD THIS CENTER, BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP!!  Toward this goal, we have a $1m matching offer with $500K left that expires December 31, so please participate.  If you know anyone who is interested in naming a building, an outdoor area or a new street after themselves or their favorite person or concept, please call me.

Road Safety

Atherton has struggled with this issue for decades as cut through traffic has increased and we have seen many deaths and injuries on El Camino Real.  When I joined the Council three years ago, the focus was on speeding traffic and deaths and injuries on ECR.  The leading proposal was to reduce ECR from 6 to 4 lanes on the theory that this would make it safer.  The Council decided to first look at the facts and we discovered that over the prior 14 years there were 39 deaths or serious injuries on ECR, but that 36 of those occurred when people tried to cross the road (often at one of the five unprotected crosswalks).

The Council is pursuing the following three major things to address this issue:

·      Protecting three of the unprotected crosswalks on ECR with pedestrian-activated streetlights at Almendral, Alejandra and Isabella.  I also predict that in 2017 a solution will be agreed to for the Selby Lane crossing, which would leave only Stockbridge as unprotected.

·      The Town is conducting a Complete Streets study of ECR to assess how to improve safety in coordination with Menlo Park and Redwood City.

·      We adopted a Neighborhood Street Protection Plan that empowers residents to identify streets with serious cut through traffic problems and sets up a process to authorize traffic calming devices to discourage it.

Peninsula Clean Energy

In 2015, I worked with others in San Mateo County (SMC) to organize Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE), San Mateo County’s new electricity provider.   PCE is a joint powers authority made up of all 20 cities in SMC and the unincorporated county.  Approval of PCE was the FIRST item ever to come before every city council in the county that received 100% of the possible council member votes.  PCE began its launch in October and will complete the launch in April.  It is the first start up that I’ve worked on that within one year of hiring its CEO will have a $250m per year run rate.  PCE will provide much cleaner and cheaper electricity to our residents than is provided by PGE.  PGE will still provide all service calls and all billing, but PCE will outsource the electricity that is delivered to our residents, cities and businesses.  Initially, this electricity will be 75% greenhouse gas free and 5% cheaper than PGE.  To illustrate the impact that this is having, watch the news because to fulfill its electricity delivery commitments, PCE will be enabling several entirely new solar facilities in the central valley that would not have come into existence without PCE purchasing 100% of the renewable energy that they will produce.

Noise: The Train and Surf Air

Noise remains a major issue in Atherton.  In 2016, we made a major leap forward by establishing THE FIRST QUIET ZONE on the CalTrain tracks. While a few CalTrain engineers seem to take delight in blasting the train horn north of Fair Oaks, this is mostly being adhered to and it has significantly improved the quality of life for those that live close to the Fair Oaks tracks.  Our next task is to improve the Watkins crossing to enable us to establish a Quiet Zone at Watkins.  This will likely take two years, but it has begun.  I am proud that Atherton has showed the Peninsula that it is possible to establish a Quiet Zone on the CalTrain tracks.

With respect to Surf Air, they continue to fly their planes with far more noise than other pilots who fly the same equipment into San Carlos Airport.  This is a major problem.  I believe that Atherton showed real leadership by publicly taking on Surf Air and by suggesting that this is principally a problem for the Board of Supervisors.  San Carlos is a county airport, so the Board needs to take the lead to get Surf Air to change their operating procedures or to find another airport.  I am proud of the effort Atherton made that resulted in the FAA supporting a new, good weather flight path over the bay.  While this new flight path has improved the quality of life for many residents, it hasn’t solved the problem.  More work is required on this issue.

Atherton Taxes

Everyone knows that we pay a lot of property tax.  What everyone doesn’t know is that Atherton only gets about 8% of the general property tax.  The rest goes to the Fire District, the Schools, the County and others listed on your bill.  Because Atherton gets almost zero sales or use tax because we are a residential community, we have a parcel tax to retain our police force and to keep up our roads.  Over the next year, the Council will look at alternatives that could replace the parcel tax in part or in whole.  There are four alternatives that are being considered are 1) retain the parcel tax ($750/parcel for most residents), 2) add a business tax that would be paid by those doing business in Atherton who aren’t sole practitioners, 3) replace the parcel tax with a utility users tax that would tax our utility use and 4) replace the parcel tax with a property transfer tax that would subject any real property transfer to a fee (to implement this Atherton would have to become a charter city).  Any tax, including renewal of the parcel tax, will need to be placed on the November 2017 ballot. I am very interested in your opinions on these four options.

What I haven’t addressed in this tax outline is any additional tax to supplement private donations to pay for the civic center.  I will address this in a letter that I send out in March 2017, but I don’t believe that an additional tax will be necessary.  We have a general fund surplus because of a state rebate program, called ERAF.  I expect that this surplus combined with what we select from the above four options should be enough to supplement private donations and pay for the civic center.

I want to repeat that it is a real honor to represent our community as a member of the Town Council and on the SMC Library and PCE Board of Directors.  If you have comments or would like to talk, please send an email.  I look forward to meeting each of you.

Happy Holidays,

RickSignature

Rick DeGolia

84 Clay Drive
Atherton, CA 94027
650.793.2800 (m)

July 2014 Update on Atherton Issues

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

rickdegoliaIt has now been eight months since I was elected to the City Council.  I am writing to give you a summary of my view of the issues before the Council and solicit your advice.  Please pick the issues that are of most interest to you in this long email.

In brief, my experience on the Council has been extremely interesting.  I think that I have materially contributed to move important issues forward, such as the troublesome aircraft noise problem around Middlefield Road and the Parker Street zoning matter, and to help foster a good working environment on the Council.  I feel lucky to be a member of this Council during a time when our finances are healthy and we can focus on major strategic issues, such as road safety, safe routes to school for our children and preparing for a new center in Atherton with the Civic Center project.   I hope that many of you will join in supporting these important efforts.

My contact list has grown over the past year and if you prefer not to receive this type of email, please let me know.  If you have thoughts on one or more of the following topics (or on other issues of concern), please do not hesitate to respond to me at this email address or by mail at 84 Clay Drive or call me at (650) 321-7707.

Here are the most important issues, as I see them:

Fiscal Management

In general, Atherton is in very good fiscal shape.  This is due to three main reasons: excellent cost containment decisions by the Council over the past 5 years, very good stewardship and management by our City Manager, Police Chief and other town staff, and a recovering real estate market that has resulted in increased revenue due to (i) a rapid catchup of the reduced property assessments that occurred during the 2008-9 recession and (ii) the sale and reassessment of an average of three properties a month with new, significantly higher assessed values (and the town receives about 8.5% of the property taxes that we all pay).

This has enabled the Council to pay down a significant portion of the town’s unfunded pension and retiree healthcare liabilities, which in turn reduces our annual operating costs due to reduced annual payments.  To add to this, in 2013, the Council approved a new contract with the police which increases employee pension and healthcare contributions, thereby reducing the town’s annual contractual cost by about 7.5%.

The long term result of this increased financial stability is that it enables Atherton to make some long overdue infrastructure investments.  We currently have four master plans which are designed to identify key capital improvement projects.  I believe that it is important for the Council to create a mechanism for residents to weigh in on which of these projects you consider to be the priorities.  I would like to see us use multiple touchpoints to obtain your thoughts and priorities on these projects and I would appreciate your opinions.

Safety First in Atherton

Atherton’s most significant road safety problem is El Camino Real.  This reality was recently made obvious by the July 23 pedestrian death on ECR at Almendral.  The principal problem is that it isn’t safe to cross six lanes of highway without a street light and it isn’t safe to walk or ride a bike along ECR, where there are neither sidewalks nor pathways.

One issue is that ECR is managed by CalTrans, not Atherton.  We have proposed and CalTrans has agreed to deploy two pedestrian-initiated street lights at Isabella and Alejandra.  There is also a discussion to do the same thing at Selby.  Finally, the Council has authorized a study to assess reducing ECR from 6 lanes to 4 lanes.  I support all of these efforts, as well as increased enforcement of the speed limit on ECR.  I believe that it is critical that Atherton take the lead to make it safe for our residents to cross this highway that cuts through our town.

Civic Center Project

In 2012, Measure L, which asked if Atherton should primarily use private donations to construct and design a new Town Center, was supported by 73% of the voters.  As you are probably aware, the City Council has approved a master plan for a new civic center near the train station and the town has engaged a project management firm to oversee the design and construction of this major, multi-year project. This project will not just provide Atherton with a modern police station and library, it will replace all of the temporary buildings and reshape the town’s 4.8 acre parcel along the train tracks from what is largely a parking lot into a real town center where people can come together.  It is important that, as the design takes shape, the Council actively reach out to you to obtain your thoughts, comments and input because this will be most significant project in Atherton’s history.

Holbrook-Palmer Park Master Plan

The second master plan focuses on the Holbrook-Palmer Park, which I believe to be Atherton’s greatest asset. The Council reviewed a preliminary version of this master plan that largely targeted an off leash dog area and modifications to some of the pathways to make them more convenient for walkers. The Council asked the consultant to include an assessment of the uses and conditions of the buildings in the park.  There are currently three privately funded projects in various stages of work/review, including improvement of the Little League field, creation of an event garden next to the Pavilion and restoration of the Carriage House.  This master plan will provide the framework for better managing the park and determining how to properly maintain the facilities and planting material that are the town’s investments in the park.

Pedestrian and Bike Path Master Plan

The third master plan focuses on how to create safe routes to school for children riding bikes and safer bicycle and pedestrian paths for our residents.  I consider this to be an extremely important plan because it involves the safety of our streets, and if done right, it should help relieve some of the traffic congestion that we experience around our schools.

The safety on our streets has to start with El Camino Real.  We need a safe way for people to cross ECR, whether on foot, on bike or in a car.  There should be a fair amount of foundation, state and county funding available to help with improvements to our streets to establish bike and pedestrian paths.

Drainage Master Plan

The fourth master plan concerns drainage in Atherton.  The Atherton Channel can handle a seven year storm, but it needs repair and maintenance and a more significant storm will result in considerable flooding, as we have experienced in the past.  There should be funding sources outside of Atherton to help with these expenses.

Aircraft Noise

It was approximately one year ago that Surf Air began flying into San Carlos Airport.  Almost immediately, residents who live under the San Carlos Airport GPS Approach path began to complain about the 6-12 very noisy aircraft per day operated by Surf Air that were interfering with their quality of life.  After I was elected to the Council, I was appointed to be one of the Council’s representatives to work with Surf Air and the airport to seek to address the noise problem. Although the noise hasn’t stopped, we have established a good working relationship with the parties and we have ideas and recommendations that, once implemented, should reduce the noise significantly.

Technology Subcommittee

Atherton has never put together a technology master plan that is focused on providing the best technological connections and communications interfaces to our residents.  We have many residents who have helped build some of the world’s most innovative companies providing advanced network and communications infrastructures, but we struggle in Atherton to have consistent, excellent connections and infrastructure.  This committee will look at this issue, including looking at what the Atherton Library may be able to provide with currently unused tax dollars as part of its rebirth in the new civic center.  This will be a residents committee.  If you would like to join us, please let me know.

Conclusion

I know that this email is far too long to maintain the interest of most of you.  I hope that you have selected topics that were important to you and that you will reach out to me with any thoughts that you may have on these and other issues.

Best regards, Rick

Rick DeGolia
​Vice Mayor
Town of Atherton​

84 Clay Drive
Atherton, CA 94027
650.321.7707 (h)
650.793.2800 (m)
www.rickdegolia.com

Surf Air and Aircraft Noise Issue Update

Dear Athertonians:

Several months ago I was appointed by the City Council to be one of its representatives on an Ad Hoc Council Committee to study and work to alleviate aircraft noise that mainly results from the advent of Surf Air flying into San Carlos Airport, beginning in June 2013.  This committee was originally composed of myself and prior Councilmember Dobbie and now consists of myself and Councilmember Lewis.  We have had many meetings with officials at San Carlos Airport, representatives of Surf Air and representatives of the Atherton, Menlo Park and North Fair Oaks communities.  This group became an official Working Group with a common focus of reducing noise along the GPS flight path into San Carlos.  Among other things, we organized the well attended (110+) community meeting last December at the Pavilion in Holbrook-Palmer Park where Surf Air made a public commitment to vary its flight path by making visual approaches into San Carlos, so that those who live along the GPS flight path would be less subject to the aircraft noise caused by their planes.

Planes are required to use the GPS approach with the weather is such that a pilot cannot see the airport and are able to request a visual, alternate approach whenever the weather is good and they can see the airport. Attached to this message (now posted to the side) is a diagram of the current GPS flight path, with a red highlighted area where the airport believes aircraft noise is the biggest problem.

Surf Air Flight PathAs you may know, at the its last meeting the Working Group decided to support the San Carlos Airport’s effort to seek approval from the FAA for a new GPS approach into the San Carlos Airport.  This new approach would be along the same glide path that is in the attached diagram, but it would be elevated by 500 feet, resulting in a glide path with a 3.77 degree slope, rather than the current 3 degree slope.  All of the Working Group participants believed this new approach is worth examining because it might result in reduced noise over the Menlo Park, Atherton and North Fair Oaks neighborhoods.  We have been asked to reach out to any and all affected residents to seek supportive letters to the FAA for this elevated GPS approach.  Accordingly, attached to this email is a proposed form of letter for you to consider signing to indicate support of this request.  Of course, you are welcome to alter this letter in any way that you may prefer.

Please note that the contemplated new approach is one of several efforts to achieve a material reduction in the aircraft noise that you are experiencing.  The other potential solutions include the visual approach solution whenever the weather allows and modifications to the Surf Air standard operating procedures by not putting down landing gear until much closer to the airport (and therefore using less power, thereby reducing aircraft noise).
We would appreciate it if you could prepare this letter and send it to the FAA sometime over the next week.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you for your help,

Rick DeGolia

​Vice Mayor
Town of Atherton​
84 Clay Drive
Atherton, CA 94027
650.793.2800
www.rickdegolia.com

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