Diana supports staying with our Menlo Park Fire District
I want to ensure that we have the best quality fire protection services for the town. I oppose Atherton detachment from the Menlo Park Fire District, and I would work to reestablish good working relations with the Menlo Park Fire District and our city partners.
Earlier this year, the Atherton City Council members proposed that Atherton detach from the Menlo Park Fire District. I strongly oppose withdrawing from the fire district because we need our first-class fire district now more than ever. By participating in a fire district (that includes Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and parts of unincorporated San Mateo), we can pool our tax dollars to have one of the nation’s best fire departments.
The Matrix study was commissioned by the council to discern how much the fire district spends specifically in Atherton versus how much Atherton contributes in taxes. I believe this is a misguided effort. Looking at service calls within our city overlooks some of the greatest benefits of participating in the joint district. Pooling our resources with the other cities allows us to afford shared resources we would not afford otherwise, allows consolidation and response time efficiency, and, most importantly, allows us to afford one of the nation’s best fire services. We would lose all of these benefits if we were to withdraw from the fire district. The report discusses the idea of building our own fire department or rehiring back our same fire department or hiring a neighboring fire district (who is part of the same fire union with less resources). All of these options provide no financial gain and significant service loss.
All the cities in the Menlo Park fire district pay the same percentage of our property tax to the fire district. This is determined at the state level (via prop 13 and AB8). The town can not change the amount of taxes we pay. Detachment would not lower Atherton taxes, but it would diminish the quality of our fire services.
Smoke and fire do not recognize city borders! We need to work together with our fire district and the state to create a plan to address the complicated and costly long-term problems caused by increased fire and smoke.
Because of the number of trees, the city of Atherton is at higher risk for canopy fires. I would prioritize planning with the fire district and the state to create a timely response to this increased risk.
Diana supports cooperation for better emergency preparedness
In addition to earthquakes, Atherton is at greater risk of canopy fires and hazardous smoke. We need to support and expand the Atherton Disaster and Preparedness Team (A.D.A.PT.) and coordinate these efforts across the city with policed department and fire district. Atherton residents need to all know about and get involved in the emergency preparedness plans. A.D.A.P.T. is an all-volunteer citizen group formed in partnership with the police and the fire districts to aid fellow Athertonians in preparing for major emergencies and natural disasters. They develop block-by-block plans for how to notify homes, evacuate seniors, and meet at designated assembly points. Our A.D.A.P.T. leadership has done an amazing job involving many households but we cannot allow this effort to fail to finish the job of connecting with every resident. I would like to see this program expanded and coordinated across the city.
There is more that we can and should be doing.I believe Atherton needs to be more active in addressing the mandated state environmental codes and to work toward the Reach Codes advocated by Peninsula Clean Energy. Last year I joined the Atherton Environmental Programs Committee (EPC). Through that work, I became aware that Atherton could do so much more to address the pressing environmental issues we all face right now. Climate change presents one of the most profound challenges of our time. The earth’s climate system is being destabilized, resulting in increased frequency of scorching days, droughts, and wildfires. We see disruptions to weather patterns, glacier shrinkage, sea-level rise, storm surge, stresses to our water sources, changes in plant reproduction time, and declines in the snowpack. The earth is giving us a wake-up call. The recent Wildfires and smoke hazards will continue to be an increasing challenge that we must plan for and address on a local and state level. We need to work toward supporting policies that meet and exceed the minimum green building standards in the California Code and lower our overall carbon footprint. I would like to see Atherton weigh in on demanding better grid planning. I would work to get Atherton on track to meet our environmental goals through action and public education.
Let’s improve communications.I would prioritize communications with city residents so that residents can stay informed and be involved. Atherton is both an increasingly diverse community and an increasingly cloistered community. There is a natural tension between homeowners who prefer to live privately behind their hedges and fences and the need to build community and lines of communication between residents and the town. Far too many Atherton residents don’t participate. I think Atherton can do a much better job of reaching out to engage a broader number of our residents, welcoming new residents to the community, and helping them access town information and events. I would like to explore new ways for residents to be informed and engaged.
Changing City Waste Vendors
Let’s understand this matter better before we act.
I feel further study is required to make this important decision. At the most recent city council meeting, the council estimated that it would cost approximately $2.2 million to withdraw from the current SBWMA contract. The funds needed to pay this penalty to exit the SBWMA would deplete the Rate Stabilization Fund. Council Member Widmer pointed out that the Town Rate Stabilization Fund would also not fully support the rate increases from the current Recology/SBWMA contract. Green Waste Recovery (GRW) offered the town financial assistance in the cost of exiting the current contract. However, at that meeting, it became clear that the cost to exit the SBWMA was not factored into the total savings projections provided in contracting with GWR. This needs to be further researched.
The council also needs more information on GWR’s SB 1383 Short-lived Climate Pollutants compliance plan for Atherton and more side by side comparison of services between Recology/SBWMA and GRW (particularly its proposed food scraps in black bin program option) The decision to switch providers should be based upon financial considerations as well as service comparisons and environmental compliance. We should be sure our waste provider gives us optimal customer service but also properly manages our waste. California has a goal of 75% reduction in the level of the statewide disposal of organic waste by 2025 and a 20% percent improvement in edible food recovery by 2025. We need improvements in collection systems, recycling and processing capacity, and the development of new markets for recycled products. The decision on which provider we select should address these longer-term issues as well as financial considerations.
Closing Atherton’s Train Station
We must weigh both gain and loss for the community.
There is much that is still unknown about the Atherton train station closing and the details of the agreement that will be negotiated with Caltrain. I am sad to see us lose our train station. Mass transit options should be supported both for environmental purposes and to provide equitable transportation options to our service community. The feasibility of sustaining train service in light of declining usage numbers versus the benefits of: expanded quiet zones, emergency transportation safety, efficient track usage for Caltrain, and use of the CalTrain parking to add much-needed parking to the Town Center should all be considered.
Let’s implement recommendations.Once we re-emerge from the pandemic, we will return to the same long term traffic congestion and safety issues. Some of the key congestion issues are at the schools and the intersection of Atherton ave and Alameda de las Pulgas and key safety issues are the intersections of Atherton streets with El Camino Real. Atherton participates in Safe Routes to School planning with our schools and the city of Menlo Park. I would like to see recommendations from those studies begin to be implemented. The Atherton transportation committee has proposed exploring the use of mini-roundabouts (similar to those implemented in Palo Alto) and the addition of left and right turning lanes at key congestion intersections. These offer lower-cost options to pricey traffic lights.
Crime in Atherton
Exploring appropriate precautions.
In 2019 there was a spike in residential burglaries across the bay area in the affluent cities, including Atherton. The Atherton police department responded by increasing the number of patrol cars with plainclothes officers. They have also proposed an expansion of the use of cameras and license plate readers. The police proposed installing 16 more cameras around town with an additional 11 to be added in the future. They also proposed the town buy 27 license plate readers to be placed at the entrances to town to catch burglars and other criminals. Police chief McCulley further suggested that residents look into upgrading their alarm systems, turn on motion sensors, and have their alarm system hooked directly to the police station. The burglary rate in 2020 has significantly lowered.
Let’s protect students at school from smoke.
I see air quality as a new challenge we must face and plan for. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo recently introduced the Smoke Planning and Research Act which directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the health effects of wildfire smoke and provide grants to local governments to plan and respond to wildfire smoke by creating shelters for at-risk populations and retrofitting schools with air filters so students can safely attend schools when they reopen. I would like to see Atherton become more active in local air quality issues.
Let’s find ways to restore water to our aquifer.
I also believe flooding of the streets and drainage has also been a long term issue in Atherton. Atherton suffers from a serious rainwater drainage problem. The western portion of our town is situated on a hill. When it rains, rainwater streams down into the flatter sections which are mostly level east of Alameda. The result is repeated flooding for some sections of town. Town planners created the Atherton Channel District to channel rainwater as efficiently as possible out to the bay. While this channeling definitely helps reduce the perennial flooding, it also means that we are not getting the benefit of having more of that fresh rainwater percolate down into the aquifers to replenish that which we use from wells. Last year, the Council sought to build a Water Treatment facility that would be paid for by CalTrans. This would clean the water that goes to the Bay and enable local use of 9 acre feet of water that could be stored. Unfortunately, that project didn’t happen. I would like to see the Council and CalTrans explore this further.