Key decisions coming soon: Make your voices heard!

Today we have a post by another member of the group. Whatever your opinions are we encourage you to make your voice heard! Information on public comment for the April 21st meeting are at the bottom of the page. I will post with information on agenda items prior to the meeting on the 21st.

At the April 7 City Council meeting, we learned a lot about where the city was headed pre-COVID and how the pandemic has impacted its financial trajectory.
The city manager shared the proposed $2MM in cuts, which was requested previously by the council and would have put the city on a better financial trajectory prior to the COVID pandemic.  The largest general fund cuts involved keeping open several police department positions and transferring some park and recreation costs to Measure H.  Many departments also had cuts in areas such as travel, training, and professional services.  The good news was that these cuts largely avoided direct reductions to services for residents.  Without COVID-19, these cuts would have put the city on a much better financial trajectory.  From the Management Partners presentation:

There remain valid questions as to why these cuts were not asked for, proposed, or enacted sooner, given the general fund budget issues that existed prior to COVID-19.  That said, it was good to see that $2MM in cuts was possible without dramatic cuts to city services.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be huge questions facing the council at the next meeting, and the public needs to make their voices heard prior to the meeting.
Some key questions:

1) What will happen to recreation programs, especially summer camps, swim center, and after school programs?  At the April 7 meeting, there was discussion regarding reducing costs more extensively now (and preemptively cancelling future programs) during shelter in place, knowing that would prevent programs from starting back up as quickly once the shelter in place is lifted.  Councilmember Pardue-Okimoto pointed out (correctly in my view) that these recreation programs represent critical childcare for El Cerrito working families, who have made very difficult sacrifices during the school closures.  Additionally, she pointed to the Management Partners presentation which indicated that El Cerrito residents’ top priority is schools and education.  I would encourage residents who agree with this sentiment to contact the council as soon as possible.

2) What will happen to library hours?  The City Manager verbally indicated she would be recommending scaling back library hours given the newly intensified budget crisis.  However, once again Councilmember Pardue-Okimoto correctly spoke up regarding the residents’ priority on schools and education.  Other council members echoed this concern and suggested more modest reductions in hours.

3) How will negotiations go with city employee bargaining units?  How closely will the city look at its management structure and compensation?  The City Manager already brought up hiring freezes and negotiating to cancel cost of living salary increases, and she also made clear that more will need to be done.  Multiple councilmembers suggested looking more closely at reducing city staffing and salary levels at all levels of management, in hopes of being able to minimize reductions to core city services if possible.  Many residents have been suggesting this as well.  What will the result look like?

4) Can outsourcing help?  Councilmember Quinto made multiple suggestions in this area, most notably suggesting the East Bay Regional Park District take over vegetation management at the Hillside Natural Area, helping reduce our fire department OT costs.  The City Manager also suggested having programs such as CERT rely more on volunteers as opposed to the fire department.  Hopefully more suggestions such as these will be put forward and enacted.

5) What are the statuses of the major development projects on San Pablo Ave?  Prior to COVID-19, many large projects were approved and on track to transform our city’s main thoroughfare (and help our city’s economic situation).
6) Aside from new development, what other revenue is possible?  Multiple suggestions came up at the April 7 council meeting, such as charging for fire department 911 visits, and getting stormwater and lighting district fees in line with expenses.  Will council push for these and enact them?

7) When will proposals be voted on and enacted?  The council and City Manager all appear to appreciate the urgency of the situation, but thus far very little has been voted on and enacted aside from cancelling this year’s 4th of July festival.  Councilmember Fadelli expressed a desire to act soon and not wait for the state auditor.
It appears the April 21 council meeting will have continued focus on these issues. The City Manager appears prepared to do what’s necessary to keep El Cerrito afloat, but the Council and residents need to make their voices heard regarding priorities.

Wherever you stand on these issues the council must hear your voice. I am copying information on how to make a public comment for the meeting below.

You can submit testimony by emailing the city clerk, at cityclerk@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us. Your email must contain have a subject line which either states

public comments –not on the agenda

or public comments –agenda item #. So for the second one refer to agenda item 7A if you are discussing the budget issue.

Comments sent up until noon the day of the meeting will be given to council prior to the meeting. Comments sent in during the meeting and up until the public comment period on the relevant agenda item is closed, will be read into the record and will be limited to a maximum of 3 minutes. It is important that comments become part of the public record of the meeting. This creates a record of community concern.

You can also comment via voicemail at (510) 306-2558. The caller must start the message by stating public comments –not on the agenda or public comments –agenda item #followed by their name and place of residence, followed by their comments

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