Atherton council favors using Watkins House as police crash pad

Officers who live out of town would have place to sleep between shifts

By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

Atherton police officers who need to catch some shut-eye between 12-hour shifts will soon have a pretty nice place to do just that -- Holbrook-Palmer Park's Watkins House, empty since the city manager declined the traditional offer of free housing.

Police Chief Ed Flint said at the May 21 Atherton City Council meeting that the arrangement offers numerous benefits for the town.

"We have a problem with the officers' not getting enough rest," Chief Flint said, explaining that officers work 12-hour shifts three or four days a week, and some live hours away. When an emergency arises, if officers are in Atherton when off duty, "if we need them they're not an hour and a half away," he said. "It also gets them off the road."

Chief Flint said the availability of a local place for officers to stay would also be "a good recruiting measure."

In addition, officers would be requested to stroll the park when there, adding some security benefits, he said.

All four council members supported the plan. Atherton is currently short one council member, due to Jim Dobbie's resignation in March.

"I think the town needs to maintain the house in the park," as a housing option for future city managers, said Councilman Bill Widmer. "We may not be able to get who we want if we don't have the option to house them."

Councilman Rick DeGolia said the plan could also help the town recruit new police officers. "We need to find tools and carrots that we can use," he said. "This is going to help."

Chief Flint said the Atherton Police Officers Association would be responsible for housekeeping, while the town would continue to take care of maintenance and repairs at the house. Furniture would be donated if needed, and locks would be added to bedroom doors.

The agreement would also be immediately revocable if the town needed the house for another reason, such as a new city manager who wanted to live there.

When George Rodericks was hired as city manager in October 2012, he asked the town to give him six months to move into the Watkins House, and also received a $2,500 monthly allowance to offset his housing and commute costs. He later told the town that he would not be able to move to Atherton and asked for a $30,000 raise instead. He got the raise, but lost the monthly allowance, and the town began looking into alternative uses for the house.

An opinion by City Attorney William Conners seemed to preclude renting out the home to a private individual or for some use not related to the park. When the land and buildings were donated to the town, the park was to be used only as "a first-class recreational facility," he said. Having someone, such as the city manager or police officers, live in the home who could also keep an eye on the park and provide some security qualifies because it benefits the park, he said.

A few public speakers opposed letting police crash at the house. "This is an asset of the town and we need to make some money from it," said resident Walter Sleeth. "That's better than having this be some sort of a playhouse for some of our town employees."


Like this comment
Posted by The Old Sage
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 22, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Wouldn't the offset of overtime costs provide a benefit to the town's bottom line- there would of course have to be measures in place schedule wise - but what a great deterrent to issues in the park if it is known that a police officer may or may not be staying there...

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Posted by Huh?
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 22, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I'm not following how this measure would offset overtime costs. Although the article states the agreement is immediately revocable if a new town manager wants to move into the house, I believe in practice it won't work out that way since whenever any benefit is extended in government, it never gets rolled back. This was not a smart move. What might have made sense is to offer to RENT rooms on a per diem basis to the police officers who wanted to remain close to work for their next shift so the property continued to garner income. I don't understand why this wasn't put on the table.

Like this comment
Posted by Question
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 27, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Why is renting space for weddings in the park an acceptable commercial purpose under the law, but renting the house is not?

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Posted by Answer
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 27, 2014 at 6:04 pm

You're not going to get an answer to that question, since it clearly shows the blatant double standard at work here. Of course the city manager's house could be rented out. If commercial weddings don't violate a will, that certainly wouldn't.

Of course the cops should pay for their room if they want to take advantage of it. They're paid enough.

Where are Lewis and Wiest on this issue?

Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 28, 2014 at 9:03 am

Hopefully the Almanac can do some investigative journalism on that question. Commercial purposes are deemed okay for things the troika wants, but not for what they don't. But we all know it's a yes/no as to whether commercial purposes are permitted or not. Anyway, I understand that since Stanford didn't exercise its rights under the will, the town can do anything it wants with the park at this point. I'd like this question clarified as well.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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