This is my periodic letter regarding Atherton and the City Council. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to respond. I answer every communication.
The Council has been working in an extremely open and cooperative manner for three years. 2016-2018 is a period of unprecedented Atherton Capital Improvement Projects. That is what I focus on here, but I will start with a short note on the Parcel Tax.
Parcel Tax: Measure F
Measure F is on the ballot for this Tuesday. PLEASE VOTE. It is important that we continue this tax for three years so that we can continue to use its funds to afford two police officers (including our school resource officer) and continue to invest in our important road maintenance programs. This is only a three year measure because in three years we should free up the projected surplus that is fully committed to help pay for the town center. This $750/parcel goes 100% to our police and roads, plus some to drainage. We need your vote now.
Marsh Road Drainage Project
In 2016, we completed a $4m drainage project to rebuild the Marsh Rd portion of the Atherton Channel and install a new, award-winning safety wall to keep cars out of the channel. This was the most costly project in Atherton’s history. We also installed the first pedestrian-initiated streetlight on El Camino Real at Almendral, where a pedestrian was killed two years before. CalTrans is now installing two more in Atherton and 13 on ECR.
HPP Water Capture Facility
In 2017, CalTrans awarded Atherton a $13.6m grant to build a water treatment and retention facility. This is designed for placement under one of the fields in Holbrook-Palmer Park. It will enable Atherton to satisfy our storm water treatment obligations to remove road-based waste from the Channel. This is the first of 5-6 similar CalTrans funded projects around SF Bay to control storm water pollution. Atherton will support the Bay cleanup, we will get a very significant supply of clean water for our park, it will enable us to manage excessive flows during large storms and we will get significant upgrades to our entry bridge, our irrigation system and the field under which the facility is built. It will be very disruptive for two years during construction. The Council has the right to walk away once we have seen the design and can weigh the costs and benefits. There is no cost to Atherton.
Atherton Town Center
In 2018, Atherton will start construction on our new town center. This $52m project includes $17m for the new library and $1m or so from a proposed CA Energy Commission grant to pay for solar panels, which would make this the FIRST Zero Net Energy civic center in California, resulting in greatly reduced operating costs after completion in mid to late 2020.
This new town center will include a complete reconfiguration of the streets in the current parcel surrounding the train station. Ashfield Rd will end at our historic Town Hall (which will become part of the new library) and a new street will connect Ashfield to Fair Oaks Lane. If you or someone you know would like to name that new road, please contact me. There are several naming opportunities within this project.
The new town center is being paid for with a combination of private donations and 100% of our unreserved, unallocated general fund surplus; however, we would like to increase private donations to enable us to use the surplus for other capital improvement projects, so please support this important community improvement with a tax deductible gift.
Please Vote on November 7,
Atherton City Council
Atherton, CA 94027
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.
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:
Atherton’s new Civic Center
Peninsula Clean Energy
Noise: the Train and Surf Air
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.
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
Atherton voters will choose their new council member after all: The City Council reaffirmed on Wednesday night (July 17) an earlier vote to call an election rather than appoint someone to the vacant seat.
At the same time, they will be asked to renew the parcel tax that generates some $1.86 million annually for another four years.
The four council members on July 11 voted unanimously to allow voters to fill the seat left open by Jerry Carlson’s July 1 resignation, but only after failing to agree on one of seven residents who applied to fill out the term, which ends in December 2014. . . .
[Click here to continue reading this Almanace article]