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)

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