News

Council: Bond measure for pricey facilities a no-go

This week City Council members faced survey results that found that too many voters don't share the council's enthusiasm for some long-desired new facilities.

As a result, Council members said Tuesday that they did not want to ask voters in next November's election to approve a bond measure that would increase taxes to pay for facilities that could cost tens of millions of dollars each.

The proposed projects include: a large new community park; replacing the 1950s-era Community Center and Aquatics Center at Rengstorff Park; a grade separation to sink Rengstorff Avenue under the railroad tracks; replacing the city's oldest fire station at Rengstorff and Montecito avenues; a new Emergency Operations Center and public safety dispatch facility; and a new police and fire administration building, which could cost $35 million to $65 million.

To fund such projects with a bond measure, two-thirds of voters would have to say yes. In a poll of 700 likely voters, the best result was for a bond measure for new park faculties, which mustered only 56.3 percent voter-approval. The least likely to pass was the grade separation at Rengstorff Avenue, which got only 51.7 percent approval. The survey had a margin of error of 3 percent.

"There isn't a pressing need in (voters') minds for any one of these particular facilities," said Brian Godbe of Godbe Research in Tuesday's council study session.

"The reality is the public doesn't really have these conversations we've had about what our needs are," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga. "A poll with no education done, you are probably going to get these kinds of results. We need to do a better job of educating the public and making a case."

Sinking Rengstorff Avenue under the Caltrain tracks was estimated to cost $45 million in 2004.

"Grade separation has been on books for years and years," said member Jac Siegel. "We just haven't been able to fund it. We went to Washington and asked. We don't have any money internally to do anything really significant."

Voters happy with city services

The survey found that 93 percent of likely voters were "satisfied" with city services. In 2006, a survey found that number at 95 percent.

"Voters are satisfied with the way things are," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "A case was not made for why certain things are needed. What does a grade crossing get us? It doesn't get into that level of detail. I think going into 2014 is a non-starter. I don't think it's worth putting any more into that."

The survey found that a two-thirds majority of voters would only approve a property tax increase of $19 a year for every $100,000 of property value, not enough for city staff members to recommend a ballot measure in 2014. A parcel tax increase of $24 would be needed to generate a $50 million bond.

The survey's questions indicated that there is some concern about the city's emergency facilities withstanding an earthquake, including Fire Station No. 3, which council member Abe-Koga said is actually a favorite station among firefighters because of its "traditional" design.

If the city's dispatch center were to be destroyed, "We would have the ability to (have) mobile dispatch out of our mobile command van, but that is pretty rudimentary," said police Chief Scott Vermeer. He added that in January, the police department will go live with a virtual consolidation of emergency communication operations with Sunnyvale and Palo Alto. "We will be able to dispatch from Palo Alto or Sunnyvale. There will be a quantum leap in next few months to have a more robust response."

Council eyes alternatives

"I think we should not consider raising taxes," said council member Ronit Bryant. "Let's see what we can do with what we have. And there's 2016. I always prefer to wait until it hurts."

Council members said they wanted to look at other funding sources and ways to save money on costly projects. One way around voter approval would be for the council to approve a bond itself, but that would require a source of new revenue to pay it off. Such a bond could be had by committing property and sales taxes from the phase two of Merlone Geier's San Antonio shopping center redevelopment, from which Merlon Geier promised $2.7 million in property and sales taxes. A new shopping center on city property known as the "Moffett Gateway" at Highway 101 and Moffett Boulevard could also provide lease revenue. City staff members said that the city could get a $20 million bond if $2 million a year in new revenue could be found. The bond would be paid off in 15 years.

The city could also more than double the city's relatively low business license fee to the same fee level as nearby cities, making another $350,000 a year. Such an increase would require voter approval, but survey results showed some promise that voters would approve.

"If you double my business license fee I don't think it would kill me," said council member John McAlister, who said he pays the city $60 a year for his business license as the owner of the Baskin Robbins on El Camino Real.

The survey also indicated that voters may approve an increase in a tax on hotel stays known as a "transient occupancy tax," which would raise nearly $940,000 a year in new revenue. Mountain View would have to match the highest hotel tax in the county, raising rates from 10 percent to 12 percent.

New park land or new community center?

There's $19.8 million in existing funds that could be used for a better community center, collected from fees paid by real estate developers to acquire new park space in the city. The "park land dedication" funds are often used to acquire space for "mini-parks" and build park facilities in undeserved areas of the city particularly in residential areas of northern Mountain View.

If the city follows through with recent plans to renovate the center rather than build a new one, the park fees might cover it.

"That's something we could do right now," said Abe-Koga, saying she supported the idea.

"Do we really need to go out and buy four more mini-parks or do we rehabilitate what we have?" asked Kasperzak.

McAlister was the only member to express opposition to the idea.

"I would be very hesitant to use open space fees," McAlister said. "Developers are finding money to buy space we should be able to find money to keep this going."

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Waverly Park
on Nov 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm

With all the new high-density housing, the council should focus on helping the district to find money to fund new schools. The existing schools are over crowded, and causing traffic issues that can be dangerous to our children.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by What a concept
a resident of Monta Loma
on Nov 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

"I think we should not consider raising taxes," said council member Ronit Bryant. "Let's see what we can do with what we have."

OH MY GOD. What a concept. This should be plastered on the walls of all council meeting rooms.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Nov 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Yes. Let's make do with what we have.

I totally agree.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anna S.
a resident of Rex Manor
on Nov 6, 2013 at 3:54 pm

No "undeserved" areas, I hope, but "underserved." If you were to hyphenate it thusly -- under-served -- then your spell-check program wouldn't miscorrect it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 6, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I strongly favor grade separation at all MV streets that cross the railroad tracks. That said, I also want to wait until a final decision has been made on high speed rail because, if it actually comes, its design will determine whether the streets go over or under the tracks.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Curious about Planned Communities
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Is the City really looking for "One way around voter approval"? Regardless of how they ultimately get funded, isn't each of these infrastructure project large enough to warrant voters input?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Rex Manor
on Nov 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Hey City Fathers and Mothers....
Back the heck off.... MtnView is a small potato town.... we don't need to "keep up with the Jones'"..
Our parks are fine,our only "need" might be to upgrade radio and emergency communications... We sure as hell don't need a new police station.
Back off, enjoy the good life we have.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Slater
on Nov 6, 2013 at 6:45 pm

"The reality is the public doesn't really have these conversations we've had about what our needs are," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga. "A poll with no education done, you are probably going to get these kinds of results. We need to do a better job of educating the public and making a case."

Hold on to your wallets and purses as the re-education process begins.

'One way around voter approval would be for the council to approve a bond itself'
Getting around voter approval to spend OUR money on projects sold to them by staff clearly demonstrates an elitist mindset that they know best, and we the taxpayers should just shut up and keep paying our taxes so they can spend our money on projects we're just too stupid to understand.
Yesterday, the people of Palo Alto sent their city hall a clear message, and we need to do the same next November.
By the grace of God and good fortune, Mountain View has not gone the way of Vallejo, Stockton and other cities across the nation. Just because we have a strong business climate now, doesn't mean that it will be here forever.
We need to learn from other cities, cut back on our spending, put money away for that rainy day that will surely arrive.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fed up
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Raise our taxes. Do you think we are stupid?
Where is all the increased revenue from the dot com's and out of control decelopers expansion you are ramming down our throats and that is ruining our town and turning it into a concrete jungle going?
If I were a council member I would stop looking for ways to spend ill gotten gains and start to polish my resume because next election you are "Outa here!"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Phillip
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Virtual consolidation of communications centers is with Los Altos and Palo Alto, not Sunnyvale.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Read the article
a resident of Jackson Park
on Nov 6, 2013 at 9:48 pm

@Fed up: I think you should re-read the article because they say that they are not going to raise taxes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fed up
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 7, 2013 at 8:50 am

They say they are not going to propose increased taxes "next" election.
This is the same tactic used by many politicians as they keep coming back with a new slant until they get what "they" want.

said council member Margaret Abe-Koga. "A poll with no education done, you are probably going to get these kinds of results. We need to do a better job of educating the public and making a case."

"Making a case?" Doesn't this sound like brainwashing? 1984? Sheep?

"many voters don't share the council's enthusiasm for some long-desired new facilities."

They want, people don't. We will see these measures again.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Foolish people! If we were only a little smarter or better informed we would all demand these improvements. How frustrating it must be for our ruling class to be burdened with a population of simpletons.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:10 am

I wonder just how extensive the TCE pollution is in this town. Your overpriced real estate might not be worth a dime.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Greg Nelson
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 9, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Does this City Council even know/understand what MV residents want/desire?
Perhaps they should hold a non-agenda meeting to hear CITIZEN concerns, rather than each Council members' personal agendas.
Sorry, that might be too democratic.
Cheers


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