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June 6, 2017 — Special Mail Ballot Election
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Town of Atherton
Measure A - Majority Approval Required

To learn more about measures, follow the links for each tab in this section. For most screenreaders, you can hit Return or Enter to enter a tab and read the content within.

Should the Town of Atherton supplement private donations with available non-dedicated General Funds to meet the funding shortfall, where one exists, for construction of the new Town Center?

What is this proposal?

Measure Details — Official information about this measure

Impartial analysis / Proposal

In 2012, Measure L was passed by the voters to allow design and construction of a new Town Center City Hall complex. The measure asked voters what types of funds might be used to pay for the new structures and indicated, possibly erroneously, that if approved more than half the costs of construction would need to be non-general fund taxes. It was specifically noted that donations, grants, and existing building fees would be the primary source of funds.

Measure L was proposed by the City Council and was intended to be binding on future Councils. Recent case law interpretations would indicate the matter was advisory only because it failed to include an ordinance making the vote a law.

The Town Center project has gone through extensive design and is ready to move forward to construction. Despite extensive fund raising, it is clear that the substantial donations to date are insufficient to fund the total cost of the project.

The Town has substantial general tax funds it has identified that could be used to complete the project. While it is probable the City Council could simply approve use of these funds without voter approval, because of the confusion that Measure L might create, the Council has chosen to submit the matter to the voters for their opinion as to whether or not it is acceptable to use these available funds to complete the project, and they have placed this matter on the June 6, 2017, ballot for that purpose.

A "Yes" vote on this measure would advise the Council that their desired use of general fund tax money to supplement the building fees and citizen donations is an appropriate means of funding this needed and essentially designed project.

"A "No" vote on this measure would indicate that you do not wish the Council to use the available general tax funds to supplement donations and fees to allow completion of this project.

Regardless of how voters respond, the City Council will remain free to pursue design and construction of a new Town Center if appropriate funding sources can be identified. 

Published Arguments — Arguments for and against the ballot measure

Arguments FOR

A "Yes" vote means that you support supplementing private donations with non-dedicated General Funds to build the new Town Center. Atherton's main facilities have needed replacement for years. Over the past twenty years, Town staff, several City Councils and four different resident committees have recommended replacing these facilities, which include seven "temporary" trailers in deplorable condition. These facilities are essential for the daily operation of the Town, including Administration, Police, Public Works, Building and Planning, and a separately-funded Library. These facilities were built decades ago when our needs and requirements were very different from today. The Council believes it is imperative these facilities be replaced to improve the Town's ability to deliver essential services to our residents and hire and retain top quality staff.

The new Town Center has involved thousands of volunteer and professional hours in the design, including input from Council members, staff, committee volunteers, hundreds of residents, and hired professionals. Now that the design is complete and a construction cost estimate has been obtained, the Council has developed a realistic funding plan without creating any new tax burden on its residents. Previously, Measure L supported paying for these facilities "primarily using private funds." Today, with the design complete, the Council has determined that it is necessary to supplement private donations with non-dedicated general funds. Furthermore, the Town is in a more stable financial position and the Council believes it would be prudent to use non-dedicated General Funds to meet any funding shortfall for the construction of the Town Center.

Additional information concerning the Town's forecasted financial outlook and proposed design plans are available for review at To tour the existing facilities call 650 752-0500.

Arguments AGAINST

In 2012, 74% of Atherton voters approved a new civic center, provided it was paid for by donated funds. The current council now wishes to divert more than $14M of unallocated taxpayer dollars. Is this the most desirable course?

* Yes, the building department occupies temporary buildings and our library is earthquake unsafe but they can be replaced utilizing their own special funds which cannot be used elsewhere.

 *Yes, the police department needs improvements but is the answer a huge $24M structure -- more than $10,000 per household --- with a large foyer, gym, copper gutters, and potentially millions more needed once bids are received, plus the cost of furnishings, increased unkeep, landscaping, and more?

 *Recent studies concluded Atherton needs $36M for drainage deficiencies, $20M to make bike and pedestrian routes safe for residents and school children. More than $16M of health and pension costs remain unfunded. Obviously Atherton has considerable debt and many financial obligations. Without tax increase, how will these be funded?

 *Why did the civic center committee raise so little over so many years? Having been conceived with the idea that it was to be privately funded, has this proposed complex become too grandiose for our actual operational requirements?

 *Atherton residents are successful, hardworking people who invest and spend money wisely. If potential donors have seen an extravagant town center as a poor investment for private funds, why would taxpayer money - much of which has indirectly become available due to parcel taxes levies - be used?

 * This measure would essential wipe out ALL uncommitted funds, anticipates the use of millions in future educational rebates from the state and assures that more special taxes will be required.

*Now is the time to consider a much smaller, combination remodeled and new structure.

Vote NO! There is a better way! 

Replies to Arguments FOR

Here are the facts: Measure A authorizes a blank check using taxpayer dollars for the civil center project. The Council is already talking about a new Parcel Tax for the November ballot, charging for fallen trees in roadways, and other new taxes on residents. What's next?

We agree --- improved facilities are warranted. But the $14M --- and likely much more once bids are received, the building is furnished and upkeep is considered --- of so-called "unallocated public funds" targeted to be spent on a new civic center is not spare change.

A huge structure with a large foyer, gym, and copper gutters was not controversial if funded by private donations. The dismal failure of that campaign --- which received pledges of less than 30% of the $25 million promised --- should cause us to reconsider the project, not to bail it out with taxpayer money.

Town studies determined that Atherton needs more than $72M for drainage deficiencies, school and pedestrian route safety improvements, pension and healthcare debt obligations. These basics can't be funded if "unallocated" tax dollars are diverted to a grandiose complex.

Not long ago, Atherton was facing possible insolvency with skyrocketing retiree and staff obligations. A radical restructuring, together with fortuitous increased property tax revenues ultimately provided a stable financial footing. But fate --- and real estate markets --- can be fickle.

The project should be cut back. We should be shown alternative designs WITH their costs --- construction, furnishing, and annual operating budgets --- before authorizing the use of our tax dollars.

Vote NO! 

Replies to Arguments AGAINST

The argument against Measure A misses the critical issue: Atherton desperately needs a new Town Center and has needed one for 20+ years. Current facilities are deplorable and have reached the end of their useful life. These include a condemned structure and non-compliant police/emergency facilities. A new Town Center is necessary to deliver essential services and enable us to hire and retain top-quality staff.

 * The new Town Center is designed responsibly. Alternatives were seriously evaluated. The new Administration and Police facilities are approximately the same size as they are today. Designed as one building, it is better organized, more efficient, modern, and code-compliant.

 *Residents have and continue to raise private funds; however many residents strongly believe that public funds should pay for public buildings. Therefore it is appropriate to use public funds to partner with our private donors.

 * The proposed Town Center is a one-time capital expense that will reduce long-term costs. Professional consultants have advised that retrofitting, renovating, and maintaining these 30-90 year old dilapidated structures to meet current codes would be far more costly.

 *Your Atherton City Council unanimously recommends a prudent funding plan for the new Town Center that requires NO new taxes, maintains all current reserves and retains all approved pension liability reductions and capital improvement projects in the pipeline, including important drainage, bike lane and park improvements. NONE of these important projects are sacrificed by allocating funds to the new Town Center.

We recommend a YES vote on Measure A.  THIS is the better way. 

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