San Carlos Real Estate Agent, San Carlos Realtor Lights Out for San Carlos? | The White Oaks Blog
Living in San Carlos February 17, 2010

Lights Out for San Carlos?

by Chuck Gillooley

Cuts to Public Works

Last night, the Transportation and Circulation Commission held a meeting to discuss the cuts that are being proposed by the San Carlos Public Works Department in order to close their portion of the $3.5M budget deficit in San Carlos.  There’s an excellent article in the Daily Journal that discusses the meeting agenda in great detail, but basically the recommendation that’s being put on the table by Public Works recommends turning off 45% of the City’s streetlights to save the City approximately $75,000 per year.

Ironically, it will initially cost the City $60,000 to make this change.  (Gotta think that would buy quite a few solar panels, no?)

Perhaps lost in all of the recent press about park closures and all-weather turf at Highlands, the meeting last night was sparsely attended.  In fact, only one citizen spoke out against the proposed brown-out, and he got the impression from the commission that “this is what you get for voting against a revenue measure.”    While nothing will be decided until the March 22nd City Council Meeting, it’s hard to imagine that these cuts won’t be approved — especially since there appears to be no “Plan B” on the table to reduce costs.

The Perfect Metaphor

Somehow, the prospect of turning out streetlights struck me as ironic.

Yesterday, an officer from the San Carlos Police Department knocked on our front door.   Apparently, someone had burglarized my neighbor’s garage two doors down, and the officer was dutifully interviewing neighbors to see if they had seen anything suspicious, etc..    None of our neighbors were able to provide any information…most likely because the burglary took place 8 days ago.   The department is so short-staffed, that this officer was only now able to come out and investigate the incident.   Gotta believe the bad guys are long gone by now.

I talked with the officer for a few minutes about the upcoming budget cuts, and he was very aware that his department is on the chopping block too.  In fact, he spoke of rumors that are circulating that the police responsibility for San Carlos may be handed over to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department — granted, this is a rumor — but it’s one that I have been hearing as well.

The Future Of San Carlos.

In the next month or so, decisions will be made by our City Council that will have immediate and dramatic effects on the quality of life in San Carlos.    A fire station closure, Police Department cutbacks, and park closures are all on the table…right now.   To put it in another perspective:

It’s going to be a very different form of city government if these cuts go through. It will be a real radical change,” said Public Works Director Robert Weil.

It will also be a very different form of life around our City if these changes go through.  As a San Carlos homeowner, do you have something at stake here?  Absolutely.    Aside from the obvious safety ramifications, these changes may prove to be detrimental to our stable housing prices.   All of the factors that make San Carlos a desirable place to live, and that keep our house prices high — schools, weather, location — could be overshadowed by these fundamental changes in our City.

It’s an opinion that has been offered to my by several homeowners that I have spoken with — homeowners who were once considering “moving up” in San Carlos, but are now seriously considering “moving out.”

Get Involved

There are only a few more opportunities that the public will have to voice their opinion on the proposed cuts, and the future of our City.  I highly encourage you to email your City Council members and let them know how you feel.  Attend the remaining City Council meetings that will be held in advance of the budget discussion — if you look at the right side of the blog, there’s a section titled “What’s New in the City of San Carlos” in which I carry the feed from the City website.    Announcements on upcoming meetings, as well as the agendas, should be there.

It’s your city, after all.



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Comments 19
  • Well this sure makes no sense at all. Crime rates in SC are way up, auto burglaries are way up, so let’s shut off 1/2 the street lights? And lets make sure we publish where that’s going to be so the already active auto burglars know exactly where to go. How’s that 2 million dollar fake grass coming along by the way??

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  • Is San Carlos singularly affected by the budget issue? I would expect that other cities in the San Mateo county have the same issue. Thus, the comment about moving out of San Carlos, what other cities would one consider that does not have the same budget issue?

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    • Great question. Yes, surrounding communities are wrestling with budget issues to varying degrees that San Carlos is. Redwood City is facing big cuts to their education budget, much like San Carlos. Cities like San Bruno, Half Moon Bay, and Pacifica have also made the news with severe budget problems. But I have yet to hear about a community that is considering such huge cuts in public safety as San Carlos is. The possible exception could be Vallejo, who just disbanded their police department and turned the responsibility over to the County Sheriff.

      Upscale communities like Los Altos, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto seem to be doing much better than San Carlos. When I mentioned that some move-up buyers are considering moving out, these are three communities that come up repeatedly as possible destinations.

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      • On Palo Alto’s finances, check the Daily Post and their ongoing news stories on that City’s budget woes. Today’s article in the Post says Palo Alto has “deficits could range as high as $6.4 million to $19.6 million a year if nothing is done to correct them”.

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  • It seems somewhat ironic that while we’re facing huge cutbacks, installation of artificial turf (according to Mayor Royce) is an investment in the future. I’m still scratching my head on this one. Given that news like this will be dribbling out, is there any chance voters could pass an emergency funding measure?

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    • That’s a very good question, and one that should be directed to either City Manager Mark Weiss, or anyone on the City Council. I know they have to wait a certain amount of time to take another run at a sales tax increase on the ballot, but I don’t know about any kind of emergency funding measure.

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    • Terri-
      The options to the Council are somewhat limited right now. The Council could approve putting a revenue measure on this November’s ballot(with a majority vote), but since there is no municipal election it would have to be passed by 2/3 of the electorate. The tax would also be a special tax earmarked for one department or fund. In order to have a general fund measure which would require 50% +1 vote, the City Council would have to declare a fiscal emergency. A fiscal declaration would require a unanimous vote by the council. This was attempted in 2008, but failed 4-1. In light of the recent failure of Measure U and the economy, I think a special tax with a passage rate of 2/3 would be a longshot.

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      • Andy,

        Thanks for the clarification on the possible options. Have you had discussions with the other Council members to see if a vote on a fiscal emergency would yield a different outcome this time around? Or, would there still be a lone dissenting vote? Seems like we’re in much more dire straits now than back in 2008.

        Chuck

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        • Chuck,
          Due to the Brown Act I can’t check the council’s temperature on the possibility of attempting to declare a fiscal emergency. We are in worse shape now than we were in 2008. In 2008 we were in worse shape than most of the cities who had declared a fiscal emergency. I will push very hard after our budget cycle to declare a fiscal emergency, but I do not have my hopes up.

          Andy Klein

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        • I find your blog to be so invaluable in keeping current on our city affairs. I get really embarassed when news organizations highlight our woes. Is there any chance you could invite “the lone dissenting vote” to submit a guest columm so that we can understand what he proposes as a solution. This has gone beyond pointing fingers and the need to find creative solutions is getting critical.

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          • Frances,

            Thank you for taking the time to weigh in with your thoughts. I’m glad you find the blog to be a valuable resource!

            The invitation has always been extended for any/all of the Council members to comment on this site. Councilman Andy Klein has been the only one who has repeatedly weighed in with comments, or has taken the time to answer questions from the citizens of San Carlos — and for that, I’m deeply appreciative of Andy.

            While I don’t always agree with the direction that the “Lone Dissenting Vote” takes, I understand where he was coming from on Measure U. As opposed to an outright tax to close the budget gap, I would have preferred to have seen a combination of real, meaningful cost cuts in the City Management ranks to coincide with a tax increase. Had that happened, I think we wouldn’t be in this situation right now. I think more people would have been on board had they felt that EVERYONE was sharing the pain. But I get the impression that the citizens of San Carlos felt they were getting the responsibility for solving the deficit shoved down their collective throats. And many business owners were vehemently opposed to Measure U out of fear that it would hurt their business. So while I understand his opposition in principle, we really had no other choice than to pass the measure — after all, there never was a “Plan B” in the even that Measure U failed.

            I too would like to hear a creative solution from our elected officials — it seems that there’s a resigned tone to these discussions that the cuts are a done deal, and the only options that are being considered.

            Thanks again for your comments.

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      • Okay, so it looks like any kind of tax increase won’t pass and we don’t have enough streaming revenue coming in. It seems to me that the best idea so far is to sell the Crestview Park property as well as the Senior Center. I imagine that those two pieces of prime property would bring in badly needed revenue.

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        • Shhhhhh! Don’t give anyone any ideas! 😉

          Who knows…once the Youth Center is closed, there will no longer be any buildings there that serve any purpose at Burton Park, since the Kiwanis Building was already mothballed several years ago. Somebody might start eyeballing Burton Park to subdivide and develop, too.

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  • Doesn’t anyone realize the budget situations all cities in CA are facing is the legacy of Prop 13? Why is it that folks in SC make that connection when it comes to our schools but not when it comes to our infrastructure and general funds? It boggles my mind that people don’t get that. And we collect the lowest property tax rate on the Peninsula. Also the legacy of Prop 13. Other communities passed their revenue measures in November. We didn’t. So now we’re going to pay the price. Simple as that.

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  • Oh please, not the prop 13 boogeyman again. In the years since it passed, prop 13 has saved californians billions and billions of dollars in taxes that they have instead used to save, invest, buy things and generally improve the quality of their lives. Better the money in our pockets than in the politician’s, who have proven that they cant be trusted to spend responsibly. Same is true here in SC, look at the growth in the city budget (ie. spending) over the last 10-20 years….it’s not a revenue problem, it’s a problem of irresponsible spending.

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  • Bill, I agree with your contention that our city government has issues with discretion when it comes to spending our money, but you have to admit that those paying 1980 property taxes are not even covering the basic costs that their parcel generates each year. Whether we like it or not, costs have risen in 30 years and their taxes don’t cover those increases.

    Very true that Prop 13 has saved billions over the years, but there is clearly a huge disparity in what those of us who bought in the last 10 years (about 8-10 times) pay in property taxes.

    I have proposed that a basic figure be determined per parcel that is needed to cover basic infrastructure and impose that on those paying the lowest taxes. Isn’t that fair? Don’t you think that some of those billions saved over the years should be available to kick in to help out? Property ownership is a responsibility and I think those not paying their way should be forced to cover the basics. The rest of us have paid billions and this is what we get for our $10-$20K per year in taxes?

    Do you think that it’s fair to expect us to pay what we’re paying now in our retirement? I’m not expecting a reprieve, and if it gets to a point when I can’t afford it anymore, the for sale sign goes up and I move. Seniors who cannot afford proper taxes should sell their homes and live off the thousands they will receive when they sell. Isn’t that a reward in itself?

    Whether seniors can be forced to or not, they should stand up and admit that they are being supported by the rest of us (and to the detriment of the health of our local economy, our childrens’ education and our property values).

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  • Can anyone explain why and how San Carlos receives a lower percentage of property taxes than do other nearby cities? This statement has been made by many, but what is the story behind it?

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    • The rate was frozen in place when Proposition 13 passed. I wasn’t in California at the time but my understanding is that prior to Prop 13, cities set the percentage of tax they received based on their need and voter approval. San Carlos was a well run city and the city manager at the time, along with the council, kept the tax low. Obviously it was lower than many of our neighbors. Also it must be kept in mind that the gross amount of revenue was what mattered and that is based on the total assessed valuation of property in the city.

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    • Proposition 13 or the “People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation” passed in 1978. The effects of this Proposition have been hotly debated and discussed since its passage. I don’t want to get into the Pros and Cons of the actual proposition, but I will relay some facts and answer some questions. Prop 13 was upheld by the State Supreme Court in 1992. It is as ironclad as constitutional amendments come, and there is very little chance of amending or overturning it. It is still wildly popular and is considered the “third-rail” of California politics.
      Prop 13 came about for a variety of reasons. The main two being that the state was ordered by the California Supreme Court to dispurse local education funds equitably between the cities (tax dollars no longer fully benefited local communities), and property tax rates were rising at such a rate that they were pricing older and less wealthy citizens out of their homes.
      When Prop 13 passed it effected local municipalities in a variety of ways. The first was that it drastically reduced the amount of money collected in property tax, making cities more relient on sales tax to balance their budgets. It also required any special local tax to pass by a 2/3 majority.
      The reason San Carlos receives less that its’ neighbors in property tax is due to what was going in our city in 1978. If you remember this was the same time we lost our high school due to a lack of youth in our city. In the late 70’s San Carlos was a very frugal city that did not spend much money or provide many services. We had a very low tax rate because of this, and after the passage of Prop 13 this tax rate is what we were locked into. Prop 13 took a snapshot of our city and our low spending due to limited services was reflected in a low tax rate. This rate is what we carry with us today eventhough our city has changed greatly. Our ciy has seen an influx of citizens with children and prided itself on the services we have been able to provide. Many cities in our shoes have had to pass revenue measures and/or become relient on other tax generators (ie; big box retail, car dealerships, and hotels) in order to make-up the gap left by Prop 13. Below I have provided a list of the local cities and their tax rates.
      Andy Klein

      East Palo Alto 33%
      Foster City 26%
      Redwood City 26%
      Belmont 10% (property tax) + 16%(fire assesment)
      Colma 24%
      Daly City 23%
      Hillsborough 19%
      San Mateo 18%
      Burlingame & South SF 16%
      San Bruno 15%
      San Carlos 13%
      Menlo Park 12%
      Atherton 10%
      Half Moon Bay 7%
      Woodside 5%
      Portola Valley 4%

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