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By Diana Diamond

Money grabbing -- A Palo Alto tax to reject in November

Uploaded: Jun 14, 2022

While the Palo Alto City Council is having some hesitation, because of a weak economy, as to whether it should place on the November ballot a measure calling for a big business tax, it seems like the members want to go ahead with another ballot measure asking voters to affirm the city’s practice of transferring funds from the gas utility charges on our monthly utility bills to the general fund.

At first blush, it may sound like a good idea, but in reality, it’s another money-grabbing attempt by the city manager and council to continue filling up city coffers -- with our money. At the same time the city wants businesses to shell out some $20 to $26 million in taxes each year for years to come.

The proposed measure that is being drawn up asks residents to approve of the business tax as a “non-binding” resolution for intended use. That means that even though the gas tax funds automatically go into the general fund, even if the council says they will be used for X and Y, their X and Y designations can, in the future, be eliminated and the money used for anything at all, like salary increases for everyone in the city manager’s office.

The Utilities Department had been transferring about $20 million in funds yearly to the city’s general fund. In other words, we’ve been overcharged on our gas, electric and water rates so the city can get more of our money to spend. Naively, for several years I thought I was just paying the utilities department for how much gas, electric and water I used. I certainly was wrong.

What really troubles me – actually, irks me, is that Palo Alto resident Miriam Green filed a suit against the city several years ago, claiming the gas transfer was illegal because it was, in fact, a tax that the residents never approved. The judge agreed, and ordered the city to stop the gas transfer and return the money back to the residents.

Well, guess what. We never received any refund from the city! Instead, the council has had numerous closed-door sessions discussing the judge’s order and how the city could get around it.

As one of the TV ads proclaim, I want my money back!

City officials decided they would now ask the residents permission for what they were doing illegally for years, and voila! That’s the measure going on the November ballot. They are asking us voters to make legal what the court determined was illegal.

And so, do vote against authorizing this gas transfer when it is on the November ballot.

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I want to jump on a new bandwagon to get rid of those horrible compostable produce bags that the council, in their environmental enthusiasm, decided to impose on grocery shoppers a couple of years ago. The opaque bags are abysmal because food quickly rots inside of them.

I bought a pound of fresh green string beans the other day, and two days later they were soggy and had black spots. A handful of fresh mushrooms turned into mush three days later. Sometimes whatever was inside soon contained a little lake in the bag – water I never put in.

And once nestled in the vegie drawer of my refrigerator, I can’t even see what vegetable is hiding inside.

The council is always so eager to be politically correct that when a new PC produce bag is available, they quickly not only endorse the product but insist we all use them. Did any of them try the bags out? Or read about how functional (dysfunctional, really) they are? Please, council, tell grocers they no longer have to offer these bags to the public; get something else instead, so I can carry my beans, mushrooms, peas etc. home properly, and store them safely in my refrigerator without rotting

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I’ve never really liked the idea of closing Cal Ave off to automobiles all year long because while the outdoor restaurant seating is pleasant, the small retail stores suffer because, now that cars are banned, there’s no parking on streets and these little stores are blocked from view because of the umbrellas et al on the streets. The city surveyed some residents and the majority, of course, said they liked the outdoor dining, but the apotential loss of retail businesses was not part of the city’s query.

I wonder how filled the outdoor tables will be when later this summer the temperatures soar to the 90-degree-plus levels? I wonder how many stores will be forced to close.

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I was watching the council meeting on Monday night, waiting for the discussion on putting both the gas transfer issue and the business tax on the November ballot. Council members finally got to discuss it around 10 p.m. By that time, there were only six residents around to present their three-minute views to the council.

When encryption was the big issue in town a couple of months back, that also didn’t get discussed until 10 p.m., as I recall. When council voted on the measure after 11 p.m., one member told me that he was so tired he couldn’t really concentrate.

Funny, isn’t it, how important issues to the public are usually discussed at the end of a long meeting. Maybe that’s the way our city manager, who schedules the agenda, can ensure he will have a better chance of getting what he wants (like the proposed taxes or allowing police encryption of police radio transmittals). In both cases, the council went along with Shikada’s proposals.

CORRECTION: In last week’s column on the business tax, I said grocery stores would be taxed. But my thanks to council members Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth who corrected me. Grocery stores will not be taxed. My apologies for the error.