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.