It 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:
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.
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.
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.
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
Town of Atherton
84 Clay Drive
Atherton, CA 94027