Rick’s Semi-Annual Letter to Atherton Residents

This is my semi-annual letter to Atherton residents to update you on the critical issues before the City Council. After Atherton opened the new Town Center earlier this year, the largest issue before the City Council has been how to comply with state housing requirements. This letter principally addresses those housing issues. Atherton also has an election because four candidates are running for three seats. My re-election letter is attached to this email here. If you would like to read my areas of focus in this election, please open the letter. Also, attached here is a form that I encourage you to fill out if you would like to support my re-election; however, this letter is not principally about elections, it is principally intended to keep you informed about what I believe to be the biggest issues before the council. Accordingly, the focus is on housing:

Housing and Affordable Housing in Atherton

Atherton, like every other municipality in California, is required to comply with the Housing Element requirements under the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), as administered by the state Housing and Community Development Department (HCD). Over the past 4-5 years, the state legislature has passed bills to require an increase in housing, based on the theory that an increased supply will reduce the cost and improve the affordability of housing in California. The RHNA guidelines are supposed to increase supply and affordability, but to date they have largely benefited developers at the expense of local control (by city councils) and affordability has not improved.

In the last housing cycle administered by HCD (2015-2023), Atherton was obligated to zone for 94 new housing units. In the new housing cycle (beginning January 31, 2023), Atherton is obligated to zone for and see built 348 new housing units (an increase of 375%). Atherton objected to this significant increase because, unlike many other cities and towns, Atherton has no undeveloped property on which to build, other our only park (Holbrook-Palmer Park) and adding housing to our park would remove the only recreational resource in Atherton.

Atherton’s outsourced planning group initially insisted that to comply with the 348 RNHA housing requirement, that the city council must zone for denser development than is currently allowed. The planning group recommended that the city council add “Overlay Zoning” to authorize property owners to build 6-20 townhouses per acre on specifically identified lots in Atherton (generally on busier streets and near the periphery of Town). After initial consideration, the Council decided against this suggested density increase because we realized that with property costing approximately $8M per acre, no matter how dense the allowed development, the housing that would be built would never be able to be affordable if the developer had to purchase the land. Further, we heard from several hundred residents that they didn’t want townhouse development in Atherton. In general, Atherton residents have spent dearly to buy into a community that is semi-rural, quiet and not crowded.

I believe that the ONLY place that townhouses can reasonably be in Atherton to yield affordable housing is on existing school property. Because land is so expensive in our Town, affordable housing can only be built by the existing landowner and the ONLY realistic location for that housing to be built is on current school property. This is not a small matter in Atherton because we have seven schools in Town and on every school day Atherton’s population just about doubles with the influx of students and school staff. Accordingly, there is an enormous need at each of these schools for affordable housing for their teachers and staff.

Based on this strategic understanding that the only realistic affordable housing in Atherton must be built without a required purchase of new land, the Town’s recently submitted Housing Element to HCD relies on a strategy to (1) enable and incentivize schools to build townhouses on their land for their teachers and staff and (2) encourage residents to build and rent ADUs (accessory dwelling units) on their property. The incentives for residents to build new ADUs (and to qualify existing pool or guest houses as ADUs) are (1) the square footage of any ADU (separate from the main house) or JADU (within the main house) is excluded from the maximum allowable square footage on the property and (2) if we get sufficient interest to build ADUs, then we should be able to avoid a requirement to approve denser development.

Over the next few months, the city council and Town staff will design a comprehensive program to incentivize residents to build ADUs to satisfy the bulk of our RHNA housing obligation and we will be asking residents to confirm that they are interested in building these ADUs (or converting pool or guest houses to qualify as ADUs). This will need to be a very robust program to satisfy HCD that Atherton will build sufficient ADUs to satisfy a large part of our RHNA housing obligation. Staff will also be working with the schools to encourage and incentivize them to build housing for teachers and staff on their land.

Please send me your thoughts.  I respond to every email that I receive from an Atherton resident.  Please note that there will be public meeting on the Housing Element at 6 pm on Tuesday, October 11th.  

Warm regards,

Rick DeGolia



Council member Rick DeGolia

Update on Atherton Issues

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

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,

Rick DeGolia
​Atherton City Council​
Atherton, CA 94027
650.793.2800 (m)

Spring 2017 Update on Atherton Issues

Friends and Neighbors,

[Note: This is my periodic letter summarizing major issues (as I see them) before the Town Council.  ​Please​ ​forward this to other residents.  If you wish to be removed from this list,​ ​just​ let me know. I encourage you to share your reactions and opinions with me ​on any Atherton issue. I respond to each​ email that I receive from Atherton residents​.]
There are lots of issues before the Council this spring, including neighborhood traffic matters, construction issues, safety on El Camino, Holbrook-Palmer Park, train noise and Surf Air, but by far the biggest issue is the new Town Center.  ​On about ​May 10 you will receive a mail ballot on funding for the new Town Center. This is an extremely important ballot. Please return it ASAP! Here is the background:
We are at the end of the fourth serious review of Atherton’s critical need for new facilities for our police and town staff.  The current facilities are crumbling.  Our staff work out of 60-90 year old buildings and seven temporary trailers that don’t comply with code, are not suitable for the electronic age and are falling apart. Click on this to see the condition of our ​current ​facilities.
This isn’t new information. Atherton has created three prior resident committees over the past 20 years to replace these facilities, but each effort failed for lack of funding. Atherton has never created a facilities replacement fund.  This is a major mistake.
Four years ago, Atherton launched a fourth attempt to correct this with a master plan design process that included hundreds of residents and was followed by hiring WRNS Studios, a highly regarded SF-based architect with excellent work in our area. Our focus has been to fund the design and construction with private donations. Atherton Now, a resident organization, was formed to raise the money.  Unfortunately, over the past 3 years they only raised about $7m, $18m less then their target.  The current design and estimated construction costs are $43.1m.  Of this amount, $17m are library expenses that will be covered by library taxes and $2.9m are covered by dedicated building dept. fees, but that leaves (after current private donations) a shortfall of $16.2m.  We have three options: (1) delay the project until we raise more private donations, (2) seek to pass a bond that with interest and other expenses would cost Atherton residents about $10,000 per household or (3) supplement private donations with existing and near term general fund surplus.
Some residents have called for us to downsize the current design, but this design has been seriously downsized.  The operable facilities for police and admin are about the same square footage as we currently have.  If there is any error in the size of this facility, it is that we have erred to not allow for future growth. These facilities are expected to last for 75 years.  We need to be forward thinking, not shortsighted.  We have spent $3m on the design.  We need to build this one way or the other.
Just look at the cost of other local public facilities: a 23,000 square foot addition to Menlo Park’s library would cost $32.3m.  Our 19,000 sq ft police/admin facility will cost $26.6m.  A 50,000 sq ft Palo Alto police facility is estimated to cost $75.3m. It is VERY EXPENSIVE to build police facilities. Atherton has managed the design costs very carefully. This is a great solution for Atherton. NOW WE NEED TO BUILD IT.
Folks: This is a huge project for Atherton.  It is an order of magnitude bigger than any other project in our history.  Just think about our employees: They drive 30-100+ miles to get to work and they work in crowded, crumbling facilities and trailers.  We need this project to hire and retain our high quality staff.
This year, the City Council created a funding plan that will use current and future unrestricted, unallocated general funds to supplement private donations to build this project. We currently have $12.5m of these surplus funds.  This is sufficient to get the construction started.  We expect about $7.5m of additional surplus funds over the next four years.  This is sufficient to complete the project.  If we have unexpected costs, either related to the project or otherwise, then we can borrow a small amount of money to cover the difference. This plan does not cancel any approved capital improvement project.  It will delay future capital improvement projects because it will use up to $16m to fund our biggest and most important capital improvement project! The value of this funding plan is that (A) we don’t delay the project (which is very costly) and (B) we don’t create any new tax or other fee on our residents to complete the project.  This is the best plan that the Council and our financial advisers have come up with. This is the issue that will be on your mail ballot.  Please vote yes to support this funding plan and to get this Town Center built without new taxes.

Attached are (1) images of the new facilities and (2) a summary of Measure A issues.
Warm regards, Rick DeGolia
Rick DeGolia
​Atherton City Council​
84 Clay Drive
Atherton, CA 94027
Three conceptual images of the new Atherton Town Center
Investing in the Future of Atherton
10 Things You Should Know


  1. What is Measure A?

Measure A is an Atherton ballot measure for the June 6, 2017 election. It allows the Town to use limited, non-restricted and unallocated public funds to supplement existing and future private donations to construct the New Atherton Town Center.

  1. Why do we need a New Town Center?

Atherton’s existing Town Center buildings are falling apart and past the end of their useful lives. Watch this video to see the current condition of our Town’s facilities.

  1. Why do we need Measure A approval?

$7 million has been privately donated to date. However, $15.3 million more is needed to construct the New Town Center. Approving Measure A allows Atherton to move forward with construction of the completed design that is already paid for with private donations.

  1. Why now?

The design is now complete and has been paid for by private donations. Construction bids will be received by the end of the year. We cannot proceed without all of the funds identified to complete construction. Measure A allows Atherton to prudently use available nondedicated, unrestricted, and unallocated public funds to supplement private donations.

  1. Can Atherton afford it?

Yes. Atherton’s financial condition is very strong. Sufficient non-dedicated, unrestricted, and unallocated public funds have been identified to prudently invest now, and throughout completion of the project, without sacrificing other critical projects.

  1. Will Measure A cut funding for currently approved Atherton capital projects?

No. All existing approved capital projects will continue to be 100% funded.

  1. Will Measure A lead to higher taxes or resident fees?

No. Measure A will not increase resident taxes or fees in any way.

  1. Who supports Measure A?

100% of the Atherton City Council. 100% of the Atherton Civic Center Advisory Committee, numerous other Atherton Civic Leaders, and hundreds of your fellow Atherton residents.

  1. How do I vote?

Measure A is a vote-by-mail ballot. You will receive your ballot in your mailbox the week of May 8, and the final date to return it is June 6, 2017. Measure A will be the only item on your mail-in ballot. Please make sure to open, review, vote YES, and return ballot by mail or drop it off in the Atherton Post Office ballot box before June 6, 2017.

  1. Where can I get more information about the New Atherton Town Center?

Go to the Town’s Website and click on the Civic Center Project link on left side menu. Or email MeasureA@outlook.com with your questions.

December Letter to Atherton Residents on City Council Issues

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