With the Palo Alto City Council dithering due to a weak economy over whether to put a measure calling for a big business tax on the November ballot, it appears members are keen to move forward. ahead with another ballot measure asking voters to affirm the city’s practice of transferring funds from gas utility charges on our monthly utility bills to the general fund.
At first glance, this may seem like a good idea, but in reality, it’s another lucrative attempt by the manager and the city council to keep filling the city’s coffers – with our money. At the same time, the city wants businesses to shell out between $20 million and $26 million in taxes each year for years to come.
The draft measure being drafted asks residents to approve the business tax as a “non-binding” resolution for the intended use. This means that even though gas tax funds automatically go into the general fund, even though the board says they will be used for X and Y, their X and Y designations may, in the future, be eliminated and the money used for anything at all, like pay raises for everyone in the city manager’s office.
The utility department transferred about $20 million a year to the city’s general fund. In other words, we were overcharged on our gas, electric, and water rates so the city could get more money to spend. Naively, for several years I thought I was simply paying the utility service for the amount of gas, electricity and water I used. I was certainly wrong.
What really bothers me – in fact, it annoys me – is that Palo Alto resident Miriam Green filed a lawsuit against the city several years ago claiming the gas transfer was illegal because it’s was actually a tax that residents never approved. The judge agreed and ordered the city to stop the gas transfer and return the money to residents.
Well guess what. We never received a refund from the city! Instead, council held numerous closed sessions to discuss the judge’s order and how the city could circumvent it.
As one of the TV commercials proclaims, I want my money back!
City officials decided they would now ask residents for permission to do what they had been doing illegally for years, and voila! This is the current measure during the November election. They are asking us, the voters, to legalize what the court has ruled illegal.
And so, vote against authorizing this gas transfer in the November ballot.
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I want to jump on a new bandwagon to get rid of those ugly bags of compostable produce that the council, in its environmental enthusiasm, decided to impose on grocery stores a few years ago. Opaque bags are catastrophic because food rots quickly inside.
I bought a pound of fresh green beans the other day, and two days later they were soggy and had black spots. A handful of fresh mushrooms turned into porridge three days later. Sometimes whatever was inside soon had a small lake in the bag – water that I never put in.
And once nestled in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator, I can’t even see what vegetable is hiding inside.
The board is always so keen on being politically correct that when a new bag of PC products comes out, they’re quick to not only endorse the product, but insist that we all use it. Has any of them tried the bags? Or read how functional (dysfunctional, really) they are? Please, advice, tell the grocers that they no longer have to offer these bags to the public; get something else instead, so I can properly transport my beans, mushrooms, peas, etc. at home, and store them safely in my fridge without rotting
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I never really liked the idea of closing Cal Ave to automobiles year round because while outdoor restaurant seating is nice, small retail stores suffer because now that cars are banned there is no There’s more parking on the streets and these little shops are blocked from view because of umbrellas and the like in the streets. The city surveyed some residents and the majority, of course, said they liked outdoor dining, but the potential loss of retail businesses was not part of the city’s question.
I wonder how full the outside tables will be when later this summer the temperatures soar above 90 degrees? I wonder how many stores will be forced to close.
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I was watching the council meeting on Monday evening, awaiting the discussion on putting both the gas transfer and business tax issue on the November ballot. Council members were finally able to discuss it around 10 p.m. At the time, there were only six residents around to present their three-minute views to council.
When encryption was the big deal in town a few months ago, it also wasn’t discussed until 10 p.m., if I remember correctly. When council voted on the measure after 11 p.m., one member told me he was so tired he couldn’t really concentrate.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how issues important to the public are usually discussed at the end of a long meeting. Maybe that’s how our city manager, who sets the agenda, can make sure he has a better chance of getting what he wants (like proposed taxes or allowing police encryption of police radio transmissions). In both cases, the council accepted Shikada’s proposals.
CORRECTION: In last week’s column on the business tax, I said that grocery stores would be taxed. But my thanks to board members Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth who corrected me. Groceries will not be taxed. My apologies for the error.
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