Your City Council Report
for June 26, 2012
VALLEJO CITY COUNCIL WEIGHS IN ON THE 2012-13 BUDGET, AMONG OTHER THINGS.
By Hatfield McCoy
The next topic was the budget. The relatively new city manager, Dan Keen, had this to say. “I have listened to the feedback of the council and the citizens and I have responded. We have added five new police officers, two new code enforcement officers, and we shall augment the Economic Development department,” he said. $1 million will fund five officers, and ultimately we will have fully allocated money for them over the long term. As to Code Enforcement, he wants to see a more “reactive” approach in future in that department. He wants to see “more rapid response to complaints,” and have the code enforcement establish a “core team approach, a smart team where departments will work together as a team.” He also spoke about the ‘Neighborhood Law Program’ as the city will hire two more entry level lawyers to work with prosecuting, fining, and other issues with code enforcement. As to Economic Development, he said he has allocated added funds of $50k for marketing. “A city must market itself to become successful. We must tell our great story of recovery, in conjunction with the Convention & Visitors Bureau ,” he said. “We also must ultimately work on our general plan, and work to get some of the structural unsafe Mare Island buildings out in order to make Mare Island more attractive to investors. Understand that our structural deficit will increase from $3.8 million to $4.5 million, but the good news is that we are going to be paying down the Pers debt, and we are putting 5% of our general fund in reserve funds,” Keen said.
David Corbett weighed in stating: “We need to try to turn around the public perception of Vallejo. We need not to just focus on public safety, but code enforcement as well. We do need to incorporate code enforcement with other agencies to make it more effective. The overall change in the budget is good,” Corbett said. Vallejo activist and CPA, J.D. Miller said this: “I know that every single one of you (city council members) want to make a difference in Vallejo. But will hiring new employees make Vallejo better? What are you going to do when the money runs out in ten years?” he questioned. He was alluding to the fact that Measure B tax money will only be in place for ten years. Joe Nickelson came back to the podium with these comments: “Stimulate my cranium. Full compensation including ‘full compensations and benefits,’ that means nothing to me. You should always break these figures down for us,” he demanded. Natasha Clark came back also asking for “more video cameras that work” and requested that the police and code enforcement should both be working to identify the rampant and “aggressive prostitutes” who hang around her building. “When I ask them to move they tell me that they are waiting for relatives. Well, they have many relatives because these relatives drop them off and pick them up all night,” Clark said.
With respect to the budget, Mayor Davis was first to speak. He stated that he would still like to see pension reform. He mentioned that he, along with Councilmembers Gomes and Sampayan, visited the Governor recently regarding pension reform. He claimed that it is critical to soon have such reforms in place in order for cities to remain within sustainable budgets. “I do not want to hire any new police officers under the old formula,” Davis said. It should be remembered, however, that he happily gave the police a 6.29% pay raise in 2010 which was to last until this year, until one of his friends in the Human Resources department did not inform the police of upcoming budget reviews in timely fashion. And now the city is stuck with that very same police pay raise for yet another year. Some people have calculated that the cost of this will be around $5.6million. Councilmember Hannigan was quick to point the mistake out too, but note that she had also voted for the 2010 police pay raise. Davis further stated that he asked public works how much money it would take to fix our streets. Answer: $50million to get them in tip top shape, and about $9million to get them in somewhat better shape. “With this budget of $1.7million going toward improving the infrastructure of our streets, we are at least making a dent,” Davis said. “I also like the fact that this budget addresses quality of life, street maintenance, marketing through Economic Development, and that we are putting money back into our community as we promised the voters,” he continued.
“This is the best budget I have ever seen since 2005 when I came here to the council, and I am very happy to see that we are paying attention in this budget to public safety and to code enforcement,” she said. “In future,” she continued, “we must vote to hire no officers unless it is under the second tier plan. There is no way I want to give future councils what was left to me,” Councilmember Gomes said vehemently.
Hanningan stated that with this budget “We will have a lot more sunshine next year.” She also applauded the ‘Smart Team’ idea, and informed the public why the city is so short this year “We are in a greater deficit because of an employee who did not do what she was supposed to do,” she lamented.
The public should know that this mishap took place three months before the new city manager arrived, and it happened between the lapse Phil Batchelor’s leave, and during Craig Whittom’s watch as the then interim city manager.
Councilmember Brown said that she liked the idea of the ‘Smart Team’ concept wherein the police, fire department, code enforcement, and the city attorneys’ office will all work together to solve problems. “I think this budget covers all bases, as it puts all things into perspective. Now we will have eleven months to plan for next year, and will be able to carefully plan for future Measure B monies,” Brown said. Councilman Sampayan had this to say “It all boils down to quality of life. I like the new neighborhood law program (two attorneys hired to help code enforcement), we have more code enforcement, more cops, and all of that will make Vallejo better,” he said. “I would like to see us move away from dependency on Measure B money, and become more self sufficient. And the retirement issues must be addressed,” he said.
McConnell weighed in stating: “With five more police officers, there is an implied promise that things will get better in Vallejo. I just hope that come budget time next year, all of these promises have been kept,” he said. McConnell also expressed concern that the elderly should be approached and handled properly when it came to fines and fees from Code Enforcement violations. He also stated that some of the poorer, less educated citizens who might not understand, should be treated fairly and humanely. Lastly, he asked that the city manager look into the Temple Arts project more carefully, and monitor the Housing Authority to remind them that the council voted to place artists, and artists only in that program/project (corner of Marin and Virginia streets). “That was the promise that was made to the Planning Commission as well. I hope you’ll see to it that it’s not broken,” McConnell urged.
Hermie Sunga applauded the city manager on the aspect of ‘no deferrals, and no program cuts, and no fire station closures as we have had in the past’. “In fact, we are opening up another fire station, so I am happy about that,” he said. “And what is best is that we have five new police officers, with two tier pension plans, that is the best part,” he said. Note also that Sunga voted to give the police a 6.29% raise in 2010 along with the others stated above.
In other matters a public hearing was held for assessments in such neighborhoods as Somerset Highlands, Glen Cove, Cimarron Hills etc. for the purpose of landscape maintenance. A second public hearing was held for the same landscape assessments for Marine World/Fairgrounds, Sandpiper Point, South Vallejo Business Park, etc. Both such assessments are for fiscal year 2012 and 2013. A separate public hearing was held for collection of assessments within the Hiddenbrooke Maintenance District for the same fiscal year. The Blue Rock Springs Golf Course fee & charges schedule was also discussed at public hearing. Upon conclusion, a final resolution for fiscal year budget 2012-13 will be adopted. The dilemma of unpaid garbage bills was brought before a public hearing. Ultimately there will be a resolution to levy assessments against property owners for unpaid garbage bills. The tenants are ultimately not responsible for these bills, but all owners are “100% responsible”; and are given ample notices to pay before a levy is issued. “Recology cannot place liens, the city must do it,” staff members said. A few people in the audience expressed concerns that they recently purchased homes and were charged for bills of previous owner. Mayor Davis asked the public works director to help them privately.
Lastly there was a public hearing to discuss the Code Text Amendment & Downtown Specific Plan Amendment regarding ‘brewpubs’ and ‘tasting rooms.’ An ordinance amendment will exempt tasting rooms located in the Downtown Arts & Entertainment District from the current 1,000 foot distance restriction. This ordinance will allow beer and wine manufacturers with on-site tasting rooms to be exempted from the 1,000-foot distance restriction which is now city-wide. “We would limit the number of these types of businesses to six,” acting Planning Director, Michelle Hightower said. According to planning staff, this ordinance change is necessary to help enhance business opportunities downtown. They were quick to add the disclaimer that no minors will be allowed in these businesses for any reason according to VATC (Vallejo Alcohol Tobacco Coalition). “We are also doing an ‘arts in the windows’ project and have had several business owners agree to allowing this. We will ask Vallejo artists to exhibit their works. Also in the planning (for this summer) is a mid-week ‘Farmer’s Market’ and a Friday night added celebration with mobile food trucks, dancers, music, and more. We are planning to do this in the Empress Theatre parking lot beginning mid-July from 5pm to 8pm, in hopes of bringing more people downtown,” Hightower said. “We are looking to do four events over the summer on every other Friday,” Hightower continued. Councilmember Hannigan expressed concern that food trucks might interfere with existing brick & mortar restaurants downtown, but planning staff said that they did not anticipate a problem. Councilmember McConnell asked that the “Arts & Entertainment District” be expanded over to Florida St. Nobody seemed to object to that request.
The budget as it stands was adopted July 1st. It is available on-line at the city’s website. Councilmember McConnell had previously asked the city manager to break down salaries a little more definitively which he subsequently did. Hopefully the reader will be able to see the breakdown of base employee salaries, benefits, etc. a little more clearly with this improvement. And as for the upcoming downtown Wednesday night farmer’s market, and the four fun Fridays, we hope to see you there.