Palo Alto is experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The city is currently facing a $40 million shortfall caused mostly by a 43% reduction in sales tax and a 44% loss in hotel taxes. The future of some of our beloved small businesses is uncertain, our city's unemployment rate has more than doubled, and it's highly likely we will see our local property values decrease throughout the year.
We will overcome this crisis, but to do so will require city leadership that puts people first and focuses on long-term recovery over short-term political expediency. Budget cuts, while necessary, must prioritize people and the services we rely on over investments in infrastructure that can be postponed or even reevaluated in the context of a new future. It is untenable to consider cuts to essential city services like public safety, libraries, senior and teen services while increasing rather than reducing capital investments.
My priorities for a balanced budget would focus on areas that can be temporarily suspended without long-term consequences for our city, such as suspending paying down city pensions, freezing new hires and salary increases, and by rethinking how we typically conduct business by relying less on expensive outside consultants and utilizing the natural talents our own community offers. Rent and mortgage relief should be provided to those small businesses struggling to get by, ideally in partnership with property owners. We must also extend the city's moratorium on evictions for renters and help slow the displacement of residents, especially our low-income neighbors.
These are unprecedented times. They call for leadership that stands solid in commitment to community and the values that inform wise decision making.
Access to quality affordable housing has vexed Palo Alto for decades. We routinely fail to meet our housing goals for very-low income earners, but continue to add market-rate and luxury housing. The steps to our housing strategy should be: 1) rebalance the jobs-housing ratio, 2) preserve existing housing, and 3) when the economy stabilizes, invest in affordable (below market rate) housing by maximizing funds available to subsidize construction of affordable units as well as workforce housing, and by targeting incentives for projects that create more than the minimum mandated affordable units.
Traffic and transportation consistently top Palo Altans' list of grievances, yet the problem worsens every year. We need a city that promotes the use of greener and healthier modes of transportation by creating a safer, more bikeable and walkable city and by promoting ways for commuters to abandon their cars in favor of public transportation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a horrific tragedy, but shelter-in-place has revealed the potential of commuterless work. The County of Santa Clara is exploring policies to encourage greater telecommuting after this pandemic has ended. Palo Alto should also consider exploring policies to promote telecommuting, so we can begin switching from a commuter town plagued with traffic congestion to a resident-focused community. Not only will this reduce traffic, but all the woes it brings with it: parking demand, congested streets, and unhealthy air quality. And it could feasibly free up office space for additional housing production.
Finally, I believe strongly in a government-community partnership to address the needs of our residents and our business owners, especially those small-business owners who serve our community's needs. Government should be by the people and for the people rather than too often embracing external influences over the will of the people. Our city council is directly elected by us, the residents, and should represent our voice. However, as chair of the city's largest residents association, I have been frustrated with how little the city seeks our input on major projects that implicate our neighborhoods.
My experience in government has taught me the importance of listening. As your council member I will always listen to you and respect your opinion even when it differs from my own. I will work toward solutions that embrace the natural talents in our community and address concerns such as: safe parking lots for vehicle dwellers, police reform, using our local powers to address housing affordability - not relying on state control, and code enforcement that enforces violations and ensures buildings are safe and being used for their intended purpose.