BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto residents who live in the College Terrace neighborhood begged the city not to shut down their library for two years at the council’s meeting last night (May 11). Also last night, officials said the city intends to reduce the amount it spends on its lease with the Palo Alto Unified School District for space at the Cubberley Community Center.
Palo Alto City Council is gearing up for two days of reducing the city budget for the year starting July 1. Council will meet today (May 12) and tomorrow from 1 to 9 p.m.
The city is making $39 million in cuts because revenue is expected to drop due to the economic crash resulting from the coronavirus. The city expects to lose $20 million in anticipated revenue before the next fiscal year starts on July 1.
The agendas for tonight and tomorrow’s meetings can be found here: https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/gov/depts/cou/council_agendas.asp.
Potential cuts include firing city workers, reducing library hours, putting less money into police investigations and shutting down youth programs.
Amid the cuts, city workers are supposed to get raises ranging between 2% and 3%, which will cost the city $5.8 million, as part of contracts negotiated last year.
The Post asked Mayor Adrian Fine if the city has asked the unions to give up the raises. Fine said he “can’t answer that.”
There was a lot of outcry last night over a proposal to close the College Terrace Library, saving the city $167,550.
College Terrace Residents Association President Chris Saccheri said the library is Palo Alto’s only community center west of El Camino Real. He said the library will be needed as a place for neighbors to reconnect after the shelter-in-place is lifted.
Doria Summa, a member of the Planning and Transportation Committee who was speaking for herself, said closing an entire library branch is short-sighted. She said the library is a place where anyone can find a respite from the elements and educate themselves. She said the economic burden of the budget cuts should be spread through the library system not foisted on one neighborhood.
While the College Terrace branch has a lot of supporters, it has the lowest customer count and lowest checkout rate of the city’s five libraries.
Resident Kevin Murray said the city should reduce the pay raise and implement cuts of 5-8% for city workers making more than $200,000.
He said the city could reduce costs at the library by using more volunteers.
An online survey conducted by the city found that residents support public safety and library and community services the most and city administration/government least.
Cutting PR costs rejected
Councilman Greg Tanaka proposed cutting city public relations personnel instead of crossing guards and libraries. But that was quickly knocked down by Mayor Fine without a debate. The idea wasn’t even voted on. Fine said the city doesn’t have “PR” people, they have communications officials whose work benefits everyone.
The city’s four communications employees cost the city about $900,000 a year including benefits. Their tasks include sending out press releases, maintaining social media accounts, preparing emailed news letters and to answering news media questions.
City to cut back at Cubberley
The city is going to scale back its lease of 27 acres of the Cubberley Community Center to save money. Right now the city is renting space from the school district on a monthly basis. The district gets about $5 million from the rent.
City Manager Ed Shikada said the city plans to stop renting the whole place and instead lease specific sites like the gym when needed to save the city about $2.5 million a year. Currently, the city leases Cubberley to dozens of nonprofits, who pay below-market rents.
Councilwoman Liz Kniss said the city is legally in the clear because the lease between the school district and city has expired and now is on a month-to-month basis. But she said the schools won’t be happy about losing the money.
The school district is anticipating about $2.7 million in losses next year because of reduced revenue and increased COVID-19 costs.
Kniss said the city also needs to consider which services will be functional under COVID-19. She said some programs like the Children’s Theater might not make sense right now because of the pandemic even after the shelter-in-place order ends.
“We are trying to do a normal budget in an abnormal time,” she said.