Council approves new $205 million budget with restorations of some cuts

Palo Alto City Hall. Post file photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council last night (June 21) approved a $205 million budget with money to restore some services, such as the “browned out” Mayfield fire station and fund a new public safety building.

This budget represents the city’s emergence from a year of shutdowns, financial shortfalls and budget cuts. Additions back into the budget include

• $709,000 for the “browned out,” or unstaffed, Fire Station 2 at 2675 Hanover St., which shut down through the pandemic because of budget cuts;

• about $850,000 to begin the replacement of Fire Station 4 at 3600 Middlefield Road;

• and over $9 million for the new public safety building, which is expected to house the new Palo Alto Police department and a communications center for emergency services, and more.

The budget also includes $1.3 million total to reopen the Junior Museum and Zoo with a $10 ticket price once renovations are completed. At one point, officials were considering an $18 ticket.

Council voted 4-3, splitting approval of the budget. Tom DuBois, Lydia Kou, Greer Stone and Pat Burt who voted for it. Alison Cormack, Greg Tanaka and Eric Filseth voted against it.

“I just worry about our fiscal sustainability. I worry that we are stealing from the future to make it look better for today. And I think that’s a mistake,” Tanaka said. “I think we have to make hard choices. We have to prioritize. We have to know what’s first, what’s important.”

Tanaka has been telling his colleagues on council for the last couple months that they need to put off funding things he calls unnecessary, such as the new police station, in order to fund more important projects, such as the new fire station. And tonight was no different.

“I think we could have moved forward with Fire Station 4 but we chose to use our dollars for the public safety system, which I think is a mistake,” Tanaka said. “Not that we don’t need one, but I think the fire station comes first. We don’t need to have a new police headquarters. That’s nice to have, but it’s not essential.”

Cormack said she wanted a budget that was more fiscally sustainable.

“We’ve been relying for years on visitors who shop at our shopping centers and stay at our hotels to pay for the things that we care about and appreciate and want to rebuild,” Cormack said. “I feel that what the majority of this is going to do today is — it’s based on hope and it doesn’t match my value for fiscal sustainability because it sets up a multi-million dollar disconnect for us one year from now, 12 years from now.”

But the budget’s supporters prevailed.

DuBois and other council members noted that the city’s employee groups agreed to voluntarily sacrifice pay to help the city during the pandemic last year. The police officer and firefighter unions last year deferred 3% pay raises for one year. The management and professionals group agreed to take a 5% cut in the form of 13 unpaid furlough days. That was restored in this new budget. DuBois noted that the one employee group that didn’t help out last year was SEIU, Local 521, which is comprised of more than 500 employees ranging from park rangers to building inspectors, from radio dispatcher to water plant operators.

Compared to the overall size of the $205 million budget, council made a small last-minute addition last night by restoring $25,000 for the “neighbor to neighbor” fund that goes mostly to neighborhood associations to assist their efforts to bring residents together.

The addition was suggested by DuBois and supported by Burt.

“Encouraging them to go back out and be able to engage with their neighbors is a really healthy thing for the community and a really valuable thing,” Burt said. “And we don’t want people to come out having less community than they did going in.”

Councilman Stone said “it’s not the best budget,” but agreed with Burt and wanted to make sure the city has money to help neighborhood associations because “I think it’s going to be really important that the city is providing resources and being able to help out our neighborhood associations to meet and socialize.”

The budget for fiscal year 2021-22 goes into effect July 1.