Plan to revamp City Council chambers comes back to life after election

A report to the Palo Alto City Council's Finance Committee includes this photo with a caption saying the wiring under the council dais is a fire hazard to council members.

This story was originally published in Thursday (Dec. 6) morning’s edition of the Daily Post.

Daily Post Staff Writer

A $1.96 million proposed reboot of the Palo Alto City Council chambers is coming back to council, seven months after the council’s Finance Committee slashed it from the budget.

The committee voted 2-1 on Tuesday (Dec. 4) afternoon to propose the upgrades to the full council.

Council members Greg Scharff and Lydia Kou voted for the project while Vice Mayor Eric Filseth voted against it.

Councilman Greg Tanaka, who dismissed the proposal as an “excessively expensive… vanity project” in March, was absent from the meeting.

Council’s Finance Committee had previously dropped the proposal just as the council election campaign was beginning, a move that likely prevented the chambers from becoming an election issue. The proposal returned to the committee one month after the election.

The city has $150,000 available for the project in a fund for disability access upgrades. Another $1.6 million is available for the project in the city’s technology fund, Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental said.

Reichental and Deputy City Manager Michelle Flaherty had recommended that the council take on the project in three phases that cost a total of $1.75 million.

But Scharff rallied around tackling the project in one blow and paying for $210,000 of additional upgrades, including a desk for Stanford’s radio broadcaster from KZSU-FM 90.1, glare reduction film on the windows and motorized blackout shades.

KZSU radio host Vince Larkin has broadcast the council meetings every Monday since 1995, offering commentary during breaks.

“If we cut the radio desk, Vince goes,” Scharff said. “That’s what this is about.”

Project to be done in phases

Scharff ultimately won support from Kou while Filseth said it seemed more conservative to do the project in phases, focusing on the most important pieces.

“I would put a higher priority on making it sound better than look better,” Filseth said. “If we had no other priorities than this, and no history buildings and none of this other kind of stuff, then go for it.”

Phase I, as proposed by Reichental and Flaherty at $250,000, includes replacing the council members’ screens and system that allows them to vote or request to speak.

Height-adjustable lecturn

Other items on Phase I include enabling the audience use of wireless assisted listening devices and installing a height-adjustable lectern for members of the public comment in order to comply with disability access law.

The lectern would also include a timer to let speakers know when to wrap up their comments.

Phase II would cost $750,000 and include upgrades to the broadcast system with modern digital cameras, and captioning and other infrastructure.

Other pieces would include closed-captioning capabilities, a new electrical system to accommodate upgraded audio-visual devices and a rebuilt control booth with heating and air conditioning.

Dual screens

Phase III, which would cost another $750,000, includes an upgraded base audio system with speakers and wireless microphones, a dual screen and projector system, a broadcast lighting system, an audio-visual control system for upgraded equipment, skylight glare reduction film and motorized shades and the demolition and infill of the existing rear projection glass wall.

Phase IV includes the KZSU radio desk system, glare reduction film on the windows and motorized blackout shades for the windows.

The only part of the $350,000 section that the committee ended up dropping was an audio-visual network that would allow the council to directly broadcast to three libraries.

No bullet-proof dais

Toward the end of the discussion, it came up that adding a bulletproof Kevlar-reinforced dais had been considered, but dropped.

“I’m not going to be there. I’m voting no,” joked Scharff, who is terming out at the end of the year.

“We’ll need that if we eliminate parking,” Filseth quipped.

Scharff also joked about paying for the project by cutting the raises being considered for City Attorney Molly Stump, City Clerk Beth Minor and City Auditor Harriet Richardson.

“When we go to council, we can save money on raises for the council-appointed officers and just spend money on this. I think that would be fine,” Scharff said, to an uproarious laugh from the room.

1 Comment

  1. This is so insulting. Why do we agree to tax increases when the council spends our money this way. And that party they threw for Jim Keene last night! And they wouldn’t tell you how much of OUR MONEY they spent on it! No wonder they’re talking about a “bulletproof Kevlar-reinforced dais”.

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