Jennifer Greel answers the budget questions

As I wrote recently ECCFRG asked all of the candidates a series of questions in regards to the budget crisis. Jennifer Greel sent in her response today. We did allow each candidate a brief bio space also. The words below are all the candidate’s except for when I repeat the question. We thank Jennifer Greel for taking the time to answer our questions.

Brief Bio

Hello Everyone, and the especially the City of El Cerrito. I have lived in this community for the past 8 years, a proud member of the LGBTQIA+, and a mix of nationalities including my heritage of being Filipino and Native American. I am a graduate of San Francisco State University with a Degree in Criminal Justice and Political Science. I worked in a Rehabilitation Facility for Parolees aging from 18 to 80 years old. I taught Anger Management and Coping Skills to a group of 15-20 twice a week. Working for this organization in San Diego I was able to gain insight on what it is like for people of the community after they have left the prison system. Moving to El Cerrito I wanted to continue my passion of helping the justice system by volunteering for the California Re-Entry Program at San Quentin State Prison. There I was able to help inmates with life sentences that had earned the right to parole. Our program provided resources to life outside of prison such as rehabilitation, housing, education, building resumes, gaining proper paperwork to file for birth certificates, drivers licenses, social security cards, etc. My background to the criminal justice system is believing and understanding what works to help slow down or stop the rates of recidivism everywhere including my city of El Cerrito.

Seeing our city be in a deficit is a problem that needs to be addressed and different options need to be put onto the table. I stand with the community by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. El Cerrito is a low crime city, but it does not mean that it hasn’t seen the same racial injustices from our police department such as the rest of the nation has. We need to talk about reworking and renaming our police division. Thirty percent of the total of a 40 million dollar budget goes to the policing and fire divisions in our community. In the city council meeting on June 16th Black Lives Matters issues were addressed but not with and an open heart and an open mind. Our police division is not trained in mental health service, substance abuse services, and they are not required to have training to deal with these types of situations. El Cerrito has a population of about 25,000 people, 13% of the population being Black and still a higher percentage of this race being scrutinized by our police division. Our police division stated they have changed in which they arrested half of the thousand arrests that they typically do in a year, but that the crime rate did not change. In order to receive this change we have to be willing to look into different avenues in this community and not just depend on the county to provides resources. These people are in our community and apart of it everyday they should not have to go to Richmond, San Pablo, or Martinez in order to receive proper resources.

Our Community involvement is so important in how our budget is worked. We are looking at cutting more resources from the community in order to have a uniformed officer with a gun show up to calls that they are not necessarily trained for. It is time for reform and I will be the voice in the City Council for a progressive change from a younger generation if I am elected.

1. What is your analysis of how the city became insolvent and what changes will you make to ensure it does not happen again?

El Cerrito has gone into a deficit because of changes that were made by our past council’s but back fired. It is described in council meetings that consideration of immediate change specifically to the majority of the budget that change cannot be a simple fix, but an elongated process. We are being asked questions by the community and we are being told that we will look at training instead of decreasing police pay or the department overall. We should have public access and live updates to know where and what the city is spending their money on, in not just the police and fire department, but every single department. I believe that in order to make a significant change we should be listening to the community and decrease all chances of systemic racism. We should not look down upon people coming into our community to have a better life. We should be a community that stands together for people because we are all human beings. We should hold the county available as well as reach out to non-profit organizations that have the training and knowledge to deal with mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness. We need cut the overtime from the fire department as well as cut the police department in half. I will fight for the answers to the community questions on why Public Building has not resumed in a timely fashion to increase building throughout our city. We should be allowing these permit to help drive our communities economic crisis.

2. How will you independently verify staff budget projections and analysis?

I will do my own research and speak to the heads of the commissions to get answers for myself and the community. I have seen all of the budget projections as well as break downs for our city’s budget from the past as well as the present. They are all ball park numbers and estimations on what should be allotted to every department in our city. Our city has come into a deficit from borrowing money to keep it afloat during the pandemic. Many issues have arisen during the pandemic that have brought into light to changing the ways in which the community feels that the money should be taken out of both the police, and fire department I plan on asking the city to enforce the police department to provide the community with live updates on all arrests, citations, or calls being made and answered. The people in our community want answers and they are constantly being deflected over the last couple of months of council meetings. I want to figure out why our fire department is recording $1.2 million in overtime and how that can be changed as quickly as possible. I do not want to cut money from recreation, and to my understanding the fees will be increased in this department in order to not have cuts. I do not personally have children, but I do understand price increases in order to keep up with the demand of the community. I mentioned in the previous question that the Public Building budget would not be a cut that would be beneficial to the city because we are denying building permits to go out, we are just cutting our community short overall.

3. Describe what you understand to be the working relationship between the City Manager and the City Council. Are there any changes you would like to see in the current culture, and if so, how would you go about it?

The City Manager to my understanding is the middle man to the city departments and the city council. I have gotten the chance to speak with Karen Pinkos our current city manager. I have listened and understood why our city is in its current state. Understanding that the pandemic shut down our city for a couple of months at minimum. Our city has been through deficits in the past, but this is causing a long lasting impression on how we have to actively make decisions on where the money is going in the budget. The community continues to ask why our city is not able to make major changes to singular departments in the budget. I stand to challenge persistently with getting more exact numbers and broken down analysis for the budget. The community deserves to be able to follow the work of the relationship between the council and and the city manager. The culture is concern and fight for the best possible outcome with inclusion of all. It is time for answers, it is time to hold everyone accountable in all departments. If the community wants to seek the knowledge of where their tax dollars are being spent they should be able to receive clear accurate answers. The City Manager and the Mayor are the heads of being the voice for the council, but I will continue to ask for progressive ways that the council can help the budget in the best ways for our community.

4. How will you evaluate the city manager’s performance and hold them accountable?

I will be consistently asking and enforcing that the City Manager be held accountable of more frequent reports of live numbers reviewed throughout every quarter of the year. We need to be able to view what is being spent per quarter and why? Our city manager is connected to every single department so she should have the best understanding as to what changes are possible and how to execute the needs for change. More conversations with Karen Pinkos directly about what the community is asking for. I am not afraid to do the research myself to figure out how to get the City Manager on board with changing the deficit, and the departments that will be effected. I will continue to be the voice of the younger generation and the question of why we cannot have the changes that the community is asking for.

5. What role do you you think short-term borrowing has in the budget? If there is no role then what is your plan to eliminate it? If there is a role then what do you see as the impact on the city’s bond rating, borrowing costs and our ability to finance other capital projects?

My understanding is that El Cerrito has borrowed 8 million to cover the budget from overspending and now to fund the city during this pandemic. To put the city into more of a deficit would not be capital gain. The role of short-term bonding does not seem realistic in the present economy. The council is currently working on a budget by cutting forecast numbers across the department by 4 million dollars off of the 40 million projected for the next year. The community is asking to cut funding from both the police and fire departments. I am in full support of making these financial changes over borrowing more money to put our city into more of a deficit during these uncertain times. During the town hall meeting is was discussed that the Public Building department had stopped during the beginning of covid and is now behind on being able to get inspections done in a timely manner. This is slowing down the building of our community and potential capital gains to replenish the funds for our city. We should concentrate on how we can adjust without contracting more positions to fill these roles, but to find the money in other departments to fund our community building. Instead of spending a million dollars on over time for the fire department we could have given more jobs to people that are certified to do building inspections, so that we can submit and approved more building permits.

6. What are the details of your plan for El Cerrito getting out of the financial situation we are in?

If I am elected to city council I plan on asking my council members why we cannot cut the pay of our police department in half, as well as rework the department with non-violent respondents to dissolve crime in our community. Why we do not have specific reports about where the money is being spent in both the police and fire departments. Why do these departments deserve to get paid more than the educators of our youth in our community? They do not and this is why I plan on cutting the police department budget in half. Cutting all overtime spending for both the police department and fire department to alleviate having to borrow more money eventually to cover the costs. Having active reports from both the police department as well as the fire department will give better insight as to how we can change both of these at a faster rate to replenish our general fund. We have to talk about necessity and follow it with numbers to support that it is essential. I am looking to give the community answers in a faster turn around time.

7. What do you see as the issue behind the over 1 million dollar amount of overtime for the Fire Department? How would you resolve this issue and keep El Cerrito fire safe.

We have to take direct action on the overtime money spent for the fire department. The percentage of money that is expended from the cities general fund is already high, it is part of the reason that our city had to borrow money. I have stated in previous questions I believe that the money could have been spent on getting the public building division into a fast turn over for our city to start generating money sooner. There are so many other departments that take the bare minimum to pay for both the fire department and the police department budget. It is time to get to to the answers of why? If I become elected to city council I am not going to take a back seat to getting answers for the community, by looking to stop overtime in both the fire and police division, as well as rework the budget for both.

8. What changes would you make with the police budget?

The police budget is too high for this small/big city of El Cerrito that we live in and the crime rate that has continued to stay the same. I am with the community that it is time for an answer to racial justice. The Police Chief is open to training, but why does it have to be trained after the fact that the person has already been hired? Should the people we have protecting our city already be screened to have this schooling and specific training to understand mental health, substance abuse, and racial justice? I will stand with reworking the police department to be lead by non-violent respondents to calls throughout the community. If the crimes are based around theft primarily because of poverty throughout the city it is time to look at how we can be held accountable to help change this in a progressive way. We are a strong community and we have been standing for our rights and beliefs against the money being spent for our police division. It is time to cut the police budget in half, if not all together. To spend 12 million dollars for an active 39 staff members of the police department is not just going to the pay checks of these members. New police cars, new military armory, or unnecessary positions being held; are these necessary purchases to be included into the cities budget? My answer to the community is no. I hope to be the steps towards immediate change for decreasing the money expended on El Cerrito’s police division.

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