Council moves forward on $2 million chambers remodel

The city provided an artist’s conception of the renovated City Council Chambers, which include bigger monitors on the dais and a large LED screen behind the council members.
The city of Palo Alto provided an artist’s conception of the renovated City Council Chambers, which include bigger monitors on the dais and a large LED screen behind the council members.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

Despite four council members’ cost concerns, Palo Alto City Council approved a $2 million upgrade to the council chambers last night (March 26), including its audio-visual broadcasting equipment, voting system and projection screens.

While council members Cory Wolbach, Karen Holman and Tom DuBois raised serious concerns about the cost of the upgrades, only Councilman Greg Tanaka ultimately voted against the motion, calling it “excessively expensive.”

“I view this very much as a vanity project,” Tanaka said.

City Chief Information/Technology Officer Jonathan Reichental said the funds had already been approved and that the council was simply choosing which design to pursue.

“Even committed dollars can be redirected to something else if need be,” Holman pointed out. “Desires and doables are not necessarily the same thing.”

Council picked the option that was between the least expensive and mid-range of three choices recommended by City Manager Jim Keene and Reichental.

The least expensive option presented by the Berkeley-based Shalleck Collaborative was $1.8 million and the most expensive was almost $4.6 million. The middle option was about $2 million.
Several council members pointed out the tens of millions of dollars in unfunded infrastructure projects, including a new animal shelter, a remodeled Junior Museum and Zoo and improvements to the Charleston-Arastradero corridor, that may be met with a tax hike in November.

The council chamber project will be funded by the city’s technology fund, which comes from a fee added to various services the city provides, such as those at the golf course.

2014 upgrade project

City Council spent $4.3 million on upgrades to the first floor of City Hall in 2014. The project started as renovations to a conference room, but grew to include a new front lobby, new carpets and upholstery in the council chambers, a new meeting room with glass walls and renovations on some of the upper floors of City Hall.

“Two million’s quite a bit just to clean up some wiring and to put in some new screens,” Wolbach said. “I think a lot of people are looking at this and trying to wrap their brains around the dollars.”

Included in the design are a separate booth for radio broadcasting, improved wheelchair accessibility and better lighting for video broadcasts.

Council could also opt to reconfigure the dais by seating city employees like the city manager and city attorney alongside council.

New seating arrangement

Currently city employees face council in what they call the “doghouse,” with backs toward the audience.

Santa Clara County has a similar configuration, with the county executive and county counsel seated at the dais. The Palo Alto school district superintendent also sits next to the school board members.

“I would be interested in exploring that, actually,” Councilman Adrian Fine said. “I think it is a nice way to foster a collaborative relationship.”

Holman expressed concerns about bringing city employees up to the dais.

“It’s a bit clunky and I don’t think it works very well,” Holman said, citing the “very different relationship” between elected council members and city employees that that configuration creates.

15 Comments

  1. If the city has money to spend $2 million on fixing up the council chambers, then they don’t need my money for whatever tax increase they’re cooking up for this fall. Before raising taxes, cut back city spending and live within your means.

  2. This is insane. I’ve been to council meetings and the system is functional. It doesn’t have to be state of the art. Nobody who voted for this should be re-elected.

  3. I agree with Greg Tanaka who said “I view this very much as a vanity project.” If these council members were spending their own money, they wouldn’t be so extravagant. If A/V improvements are needed (and I’m not convinced of that) then keep it simple and inexpensive. Besides, whatever they buy will be out of date in a few years anyway, and we’ll be back to Square One.

  4. As a handicapped person, I’m glad the council is addressing ADA compliance, but $2 million seems a bit excessive. The big problem is the terrible video/audio quality on Channel 26, and I don’t think that’s an issue with the council chambers as it is with the Mid-Peninsula Media Center. This needs to be researched further before council spends this large sum of money.

  5. Why should I work hard to make enough money to pay my taxes when the council wastes it like this? Wolbach, DuBois and Filseth are up for re-election in November. They voted for this. They won’t be getting my vote. They need to do a better job spending our money.

  6. If council has 2 million burning a hole in their pockets, they should apply it to the city’s huge UNFUNDED pension liability. That’s much more important than this vanity project.

  7. The headline isn’t correct; Council did not approve this item last night. It was referred to the Finance Committee (Tanaka, Kou, Scharff and myself) for further consideration of which parts were most important, and where it stood in priority with all the other things the City needs to fund.

  8. Seems like the headline, “Council moves forward on $2 million chambers remodel” is accurate. Council had two choices — stop this thing or move it forward. Is Filseth running for re-election this fall? That might explain his response.

  9. I watched the meeting Monday and it seems that Eric is trying to re-write history. This was an up-or-down vote. A no vote would have killed the project. Only Greg Tanaka voted against it. Others gave lip service as to what a bad idea it was, so that they can say later that they “raised concerns” about it. But everyone except for Tanaka is trying to have it both ways…they want their council remodel but they want to pretend somebody else voted for it.

    This project is sadly a symbol of our city government, with its high salaries, large unfunded pension liabilities and extravagant spending.

  10. If you live in Palo Alto, you SHOULD be soaked for every penny the City Council can conjure up to extract out of your wallet. After all, you voted for liberals, why should you be surprised when they waste your money? Why should you be surprised when they never can say no to any funding project? Bring the pain.

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