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



Atherton Update 2019: Burglaries and the new Town Center

Atherton’s current City Council members: Bill Widmer, Mike Lempres, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Lewis, Mayor Rick DeGolia and Cary Wiest
Dear Friends and Neighbors:

This is my periodic letter summarizing major issues (as I see them) before the City Council. I have been honored to represent you on the Atherton Council since 2013. Please​ feel free to forward this to other residents. I encourage you to share your reactions and opinions with me on any Atherton issue. I respond to every​ email that I receive from Atherton residents. 

Atherton Town Center 
As you no doubt are aware, Atherton’s complete rebuild of our library, police station and administrative offices is the largest project that Atherton has ever undertaken by an order of magnitude. This completely redesigned and rebuilt parcel near the train station will replace outdated buildings, temporary trailers and a large parking lot with a modern buildings and a park-like town center to help our staff better serve our residents and enable the Town to hire and retain top quality employees. Utilities have been laid and new foundations are nearly complete for both the library and the admin/police facilities. The Historic Town Hall has been gutted (90 years old and no termites) and interior work will proceed throughout this winter. Over the next year, you will see these buildings framed and the new site configuration defined. The project is on time and on budget. The new buildings are scheduled to open in late 2021.

This construction is funded with current and limited future general funds. The short term future funding will be financed through a lease arrangement called Certificates of Participation; however, the Council has agreed to enable a donor who makes a 100% tax deductible donation of at least $5m to the project to name the new street that will run past these buildings and connect Fair Oaks Lane and Ashfield Road.  If we obtain this $5m donation, we will not need any Certificates of Participation.

In addition to naming rights for the new street, residents are encouraged to review many other naming opportunities associated with this major project, which will be described in a December issue of the Athertonian. If you are interested in considering naming the new street or any other naming opportunity, please contact me or George Rodericks at (650) 752-0504.

Finally, the Town Center will not be connected to any natural gas meters. All of the Town Center’s power is expected to come from solar panels pursuant to a power purchase arrangement to be considered by the Council next year. In addition to providing day-to-day power, these panels and batteries will serve as back up and reserve power in the event of a power shut off and they will keep our critical facilities in operation. From the beginning, I have been a strong advocate for this center to be the first Zero Net Energy civic center in California. It still has the opportunity to be that.

Home Burglaries and Safety

Last winter, Atherton experienced 20 home burglaries between November and February. The burglars all followed a similar pattern: breaking into a window or glass door in the back of a house (usually on the second story) and ransacking the master bedroom and closet, looking for cash and jewelry. Atherton’s police force has been been very focused on breaking the ring responsible for these crimes and so far this year they have not returned. APD is using sophisticated technology, including automated license plate readers, to defeat the criminals. The Council is focused on protecting our neighborhoods while providing civil liberty protections by insuring that only necessary information is collected and that all information is very protected.

Congestion, State Housing Mandates and our Quality of Life

As many of know, in the last state legislative session a bill, SB 50, would have authorized 4-5 story multi-unit housing complexes on any property within a half mile of any train or BART station and within a “jobs rich area.” This bill would have overridden local zoning and, to add insult to injury, it would have authorized this housing with zero requirement for parking. Now, that might work in an urban area, but it definitely doesn’t work in Atherton or for many suburban communities where every family has at least one car and almost all the housing is single family houses. The Council is committed to fighting this or any similar bill. It remains a major issue for us over the next year.  

I wish you a wonderful, safe holiday season. If there are any issues that you are concerned with that impact Atherton or your neighborhood, please contact me.
Thanks for listening. If you are interested in participating on the Atherton Parks and Recreation Committee (focused on Holbrook-Palmer Park), the Environmental Programs Committee or the Atherton Bike-Ped Committee, please let me know.
Rick DeGolia
Atherton City Council

Rick DeGolia Wins 4-year Term in 2014 Election

  • Holbrook-Palmer Park Fountain

In 2013, Rick DeGolia received 62% of the vote in an election to fill the remaining one year of Jerry Carlson’s term.

In December 2013, the Atherton Council appointed Rick to be Vice Mayor for 2014. 

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November 4, 2014: Vice Mayor DeGolia has won re-election for a 4-year term on the City Council

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THANK YOU for your support and your votes! We appreciate you coming here to learn more about Rick DeGolia and his campaign for the Atherton Town Council. Rick will continue to post town updates here from time to time.
Here is Rick’s statement about why he has decided to run for re-election to the City Council:

My relationship with Atherton began in the 1950’s when visiting my grandparents, who lived for forty-three years on Catalpa Drive in Lindenwood.  I have fond memories of running through their garden and helping my grandfather with his berries and his compost.  After receiving a BA in American Studies from Cal and a JD from Harvard, I returned to Atherton thirteen years ago to raise my children here.

Over the past twenty-eight years, I have worked as a business lawyer at Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati in Palo Alto and as a software executive at Genesys Telecommunications and other Silicon Valley companies. During this time, I have served on the Boards of many technology companies and non-profit organizations and I have learned how to approach difficult strategic issues and negotiate reasonable solutions that respect the needs of different stakeholders.  I believe that my years of board and executive experience and my personal style of deliberation and negotiation have proved to be extremely valuable to my work with the members of the Atherton Town Council and staff over the past year and that they will enable me to continue to work towards a respectful, intellectual and productive process on the Council.

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 11.55.17 AMI currently serve as Atherton’s Vice Mayor and as a council liaison to the Civic Center Advisory Committee, the Finance and Audit Committee and the Park and Recreation Committee.  I have also helped establish and serve as a Council liaison to the newly created ad hoc Aircraft Noise Committee and the ad hoc Technology Committee.  Working with other dedicated residents who are members of these committees has inspired and energized me to become more involved with the future of Atherton.  One of the critical changes that I believe we need on our town council is more thoughtful consideration of the issues that matter to the community well in advance of when a decision must be made.

I am running for Town Council because I believe that people deserve responsible, accountable, transparent government.

My vision and priorities to improve Atherton are as follows:

1.  Manage our Town’s resources in a careful, fiscally conservative manner.

  • Continue to manage operational costs with vigilance; focus on capital improvement projects.
  • Continue to reduce Atherton’s long term pension and healthcare liabilities through good management and smart negotiations.
  • Maintain the Town’s transparency on budget and decision making process.

2.   Protect our neighborhoods from traffic safety problems and crime.

  • Maintain Atherton’s close, cooperative relationship with the police, while carefully managing the costs.
  • Focus on finding solutions to make El Camino Real safer for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.
  • Leverage the tremendous expertise in the community by engaging more residents to solve road safety and other issues.

3.  Prioritize communication to residents and always be accessible.

  • Increase communication to obtain resident input on important Town Council decisions.
  • Actively seek resident input to prioritize capital improvement projects for our roads, drainage system and Holbrook-Palmer Park.
  • Continue to engage the community in the design and development of the new civic center and library near the train station.
  • Contribute executive expertise to Council deliberations and process.

I will listen to you. I am interested in your opinions and am eager to represent your interests. My experience representing people and creatively developing solutions to challenging problems will be a benefit to Atherton’s Council and to you, Atherton’s residents.


You can read  more about my personal and professional background and experience at the “About Rick” menu option above.  Also, if you are able, I would welcome your help with this campaign.   You can reach me at: rick@rickdegolia.com or at 84 Clay Drive, Atherton.

Thank you for your support!





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Atherton voters to choose council member, decide on parcel tax renewal in November

by Renee Batti
Almanac Staff

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]