This meeting was extraordinarily long and very challenging to watch.
The low points (there were no high points I saw).
The library hours were cut by a 3-2 vote. Councilperson Motoyama brought up the motion after the City Manager hinted strongly for the second meeting in a row that she wanted them cut. Councilpersons Abelson, Motoyama, and Quinto voted for it. Mayor Fadelli and Councilperson Rudnick against it. Councilperson Rudnick pleaded several times not to do it and also posted a subsequent video on Facebook stating how upset she was. The budget has not been voted on yet so there could be a second vote next time if there is enough public outcry about this.
The reason the library hours are such a burning point are listed below
- It provides many services for those in our community that are marginalized. Like lunches for kids in the summers. Like internet access since a quarter of our county’s residents don’t have that access (specific figures to El Cerrito are not known). For a city that proclaims it cares about equity, this is not a vote that was taken with equity in mind.
- The total cost of this cut, which was the ONLY cut identified, was $58,000. That is it. There is between $350,000-$500,000 budgeted for next year for a large legal settlement. That many of us suspect (but is not confirmed) to be the settlement of the Perez vs El Cerrito sexual harassment lawsuit. All officers named in that lawsuit appear to still be employees of the city. Which if it is true leaves the City liable for future lawsuits. But yes let’s cut the library hours. (1)
- While technically legally compliant with the Brown Act this was a surprise attack on the library hours and people were not able to comment. Even with the meeting starting at 5 pm the public comment was around 10 pm and only three of us spoke. The last time this was on the agenda over 100 people wrote in with comments last night no one had the opportunity to speak because no notice was given that this was an issue on the table.
- While cuts need to be made and everything should be on the table (and I am personally opposed to library cuts to be fully transparent) this was the only cut made. No one looked at the $150K for 3 new police cars for example. The public had no option to speak as to their priorities. Maybe people would say cut library, not police cars but we will never know.
There was another part of the meeting that was the perfect example of the dysfunction of our city and how the City Manager runs the City, not the City Council. Mayor Fadelli pushed the City Manager as hard as I have ever seen her pushed by Council on designating part of the transfer tax to be put into reserve. Which would mean some actual cuts to the budget. The City Manager was obviously upset and talked about how she would have to redo the entire budget book etc. Now if she had listened to the numerous other time’s cuts had been brought up she would not have to redo it. There was a lengthy back and forth and Councilperson Motoyama tried bringing up a few alternatives. But the City Manager stood firm. So after all the discussion it ended with a simple request from the Council that the budget is built with a 1 million surplus each year as recommended by the Financial Advisory Board. Yet again nothing enforceable. Just the way the City Manager likes it. And the entire City Council backed down. Again. Is this how you want City Council to represent you as a resident and voter? In 2022 there are two seats up for election. They are currently held by Councilpersons Abelson and Quinto. Both voted for the library cuts. Councilperson Quinto declared he was running again last night. Rumor is Councilperson Abelson will not. I would recommend watching at around the 930pm hour which would be about 4.5 hours into the video available here. You need to see the dysfunction in action.
In addition, Councilperson Motoyama brought up the 5-year forecast which is dismal but never addressed in the meeting. Without the federal bailout money (ARPA) we would have no reserve next year. But even with it we only hit the 10% minimum the first year and are below it and in the danger zone for the following 4 years.
So what is there to do? I am hearing talk of interest in recalling Councilpersons Quinto and/or Abelson. Some residents are also talking about a fiscal budget ordinance (like the petition we have) here going on the ballot. If City Council won’t do the work the residents must. Others want to wait until the 2022 election and work for a clean slate. These are some options. Feel free to add more in the comments. What is clear is that just talking to the three council members willing to talk is not enough. More action and engagement is necessary. So I ask every reader to try and take one action to do more. Write in for public comment at the next meeting about the library cuts. Public pressure has swayed that decision before. Inform your neighbors about the financial crisis in our City. Follow this blog or the threads on Next Door to see what is happening and watch at least one meeting so you can see it all in action. Because you really have to see it to believe it!
Here is where the legal settlement is shown as 350K and as 500k.
El Cerrito Progressives also posted on this issue. Their blog post is found here.
Here are all the emails if you want to write to the City Council and/or the City Manager
Karen Pinkos-City Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Fadelli Mayor email@example.com
Vice-Mayor Gabe Quinto firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilperson Rudnick email@example.com
Councilperson Motoyama firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilperson Janet Abelson email@example.com