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Bad Vibrations ?


By Robert Briseno

6/24/09

 

Vallejo Main Street is experiencing difficulty with City departments in its efforts to provide this year’s “Vallejo Vibrations” event series downtown. As a reminder, the City of Vallejo contracts with Vallejo First Corp d.b.a. Vallejo Main Street (VMS) to help improve the Downtown business district. This partnership has been in place since VMS’s inception in 2001. “Vallejo Vibrations” formerly known as “The Wednesday Night Celebration” event series is a requirement of that contract.

 

Although the City has contracted with VMS and provided financial funding, we are still being asked to “pull permits” and pay for them. Permits are a reasonable requirement for events and other activities that DO NOT have contracts already approved by the City manager and the Council. Would the Public Works Department hire a contractor to do a job for the City and then ask them to “pull permits and pay for them” prior to starting the work? Surely not.

 

The City’s financial support last year for the Wednesday evening event series totaled $10,000. At the same time, VMS paid the following fees & costs:

 

Public Works: Permit fees of $300 in 2008 (greatly reduced from the $750 of 2007) - or 3% of our funding.

 

Risk Management: The City’s Risk Manager stated that we must comply with the cities requirement of having $2/$4 million of coverage - which is the same amount ALL contractors with the City must have in force. For our event, we are required to carry the same amount of coverage as contractors that fix our streets or other much “riskier” work. When we asked how the $2/$4 million dollar number was determined (a 100% increase from last year), we were told the City had not increased their requirements since the 1960's and that their financial risks had greatly increased - although no supporting evidence of this was presented. Has the City has ever been successfully sued for the actions of a third party contractor? I also wonder how VMS’s activities could represent the same amount of risk as all other city contractors. Nevertheless the Risk Manager held up our payment for the 2008 event until he was satisfied with our coverage. Our insurance cost increased from $1,200 to approximately $3,500 to meet this requirement ($2,300 or 23% of our total funding amount for the event). This amounts to asking volunteers to provide their own insurance coverage, which raises several questions. Does the VPD require the cadet program or the volunteers that come down to answer phones to purchase insurance? Does the City ask volunteers that help at City Hall to provide their own insurance coverage? It would be far cheaper for the City to simply cover us under their policy as additional insured - instead of the other way around where we cover the City as an additional insured. The Risk Manager of course will say that will increase the risk to the City - so I guess it makes sense that volunteers give their time, but pay for not only their own coverage, but indemnify the City too (as the City just asked us to do for the 4th of July Parade). Please keep in mind that I have been a licensed insurance agent for over a decade, and I am more than familiar with these costs.

 

Vallejo Police Department: Required us to pay for their services for the second year in a row at a weekly cost of approximately $550 or a total event cost of approximately $4,400 (44% of event funding). I would note that the Chief of Police himself has cited the cause of our police requirement is not our event, but that of the notorious Main Street apartment complex that has literally had hundreds of calls for service each year and pays nothing to the police for that service.  We have never had a call for service for our event yet we pay out $4,400 - because of the “potential”.

 

So, of the $10,000 paid to us by the City for the 2008 event, we were required to pay $4,700 directly to City departments for fees and security and $2,300 to our insurance company for the “required” insurance – for a total of $7,000. That’s a full 70% of our funding! By the way, we didn’t receive the City’s payment until late August, at the very end of the event - yet we had to pay all of our costs as they were incurred.

 

This year City staff is proposing a 50% cut to our funding, reducing the total to $5,000.

 

Our fees for the 2009 event look like this:

Public Works: They have proposed a ‘special deal’ of $450 in permit fees and $300 in services charges to move bleachers for a total of $750. Again, the City is asking us to pay $450 in permit fees for something they have contracted with us to do and they want to charge an additional $300 to move bleachers – an exorbitant fee for a service I could probably get someone to do for free.

 

Vallejo Police: They have cut VMS a “deal” by reducing our police staffing requirement by 25% (one hour), making our cost about $420 per week or $3,700 for the event. Meanwhile, no charges are being levied against the apartment complex that the Chief has acknowledged is the real problem.

 

Risk Management: Nothing has changed with risk management. The required minimums remain the same. We were able to lower our costs by taking the time to shop the policy.

 

The total projected expenses for 2009 so far are as follows:

Public Works (fees and services)                $   750

Police                                                          $3,700

Additional insurance coverage                &nbsp ;   $1,500

Total                                                          $5,950                 

 

The result is $5,950 in hard dollar costs versus proposed funding of $5,000 from the City. Obviously this is not a reasonable arrangement (I have heard that the Council is proposing a smaller cut that may result in a payment of closer to $7,000, but a decision has not yet been made).

 

In addition to all of this, the fire department has just given us notice that we must provide them written certification from each manufacture that our tents are fireproof. I have not even mentioned my time, the Council’s time or the City staff’s time in sorting out these fees – fees that we have to pay in order to provide a service that has already been contracted for!

 

City staff and leadership has continually said that they would normally charge much higher fees to other groups and VMS is getting a great deal (except the Risk Manager who is ‘treating us like everyone else’). But again, my point is this -- the City has contracted with us to put on this event. Every City Council member has heard from citizens of this City and has seen for themselves how important an event like this is. The City and VMS agree that these events are critical to the downtown district.  And yet my team and I (all volunteers, by the way), the Council, the City Manager, and the City staff still engage in debating how much the City is going to charge VMS to provide these agreed-upon services.

 

We simply fail to see the logic in all of this. It would be far cheaper and easier for everyone involved to have the City cover the fees, insurance, and police and then pay us what is left - that way at least we are not paying the money out and then waiting for a check from the City and spending our time debating these points.

 

Our group has continually stepped up in tim es of need. We along with Vallejo Music theatre took on the responsibility for producing the 4th of July Parade since 2007 with NO ADDITIONAL FUNDING from the City. We believe that this day of Parade and Celebration is an important event for our City, and one that deserves to be continued. I would note that not once has the City Council or the City taken the time to say; “Thanks for saving a tradition in this City that has been in place for over a hundred and fifty years.”

 

Of course we have heard the arguments: everyone has it tough, the

City is in bankruptcy, funding has been cut or eliminated to every non-profit, the City is understaffed, and the economy is struggling. Frankly, I am not trying to solve those problems - I am simply trying to clarify that we are either in a partnership with the City or we are not. On one hand the Council says that we=2 0are, and some City staff members say that our services are critical to the long term success of a struggling business district. Other staff members say that while they have to treat us like everyone else, they will “help us out” and offer us “special” fee discounts – as their way of saying thank you.

 

It makes no sense to me for VMS (or anyone) to enter into a contract with someone, pay them to do a service, and then turn around and charge fees to have them do that service – before they are even paid! The City should be embracing people that want to help them instead of throwing up roadblocks and charging additional fees. All these rules and requirements are very frustrating and it seems there is a new crop every week. This level of bureaucratic red tape does not help us as a community and certainly does not attract others who might want to help.

 

We love our town, and we need everyone to work together to make it a better place to live. We strongly believe in our efforts to revitalize downtown Vallejo and help it evolve into an attractive destination for entertainment, shopping, restaurants, and just a pleasant stroll to enjoy the sights. We also believe that City leadership has the same goals. However, we all need to work together to remove all unnecessary obstacles and to make it easier for groups like ours to put on events that bring people downtown.

 

As a wise man once said; “if you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.” We MUST change these systems, and we need to begin immediately. We have to ask; “Why do we do it that way?” or we will continue to suffer as we always have.

 

We are willing to meet with everyone to work out reasonable solutions to these issues, and please, let’s do it soon!


Robert Briseno
Board Chair of Promotions - Vallejo Main Street
President Vallejo Parade Assoc.