Councilperson Gabe Quinto’s record on financial issues

An Analysis of the record of El Cerrito Councilmember Gabe Quinto

With the election just around the corner, it is time to discuss candidates. As you may have read, we have sent a list of questions to each candidate. We only have one incumbent. For Gabe Quinto, we can analyze his past statements and votes to give us an idea of how he might act as a future councilperson. Here I will present an analysis of the record of Councilperson Quinto. I hope readers will evaluate this information and let it inform their decision in November.

A casual observer of El Cerrito council meetings is likely to hear Councilperson Gabe Quinto talk about how El Cerrito has spent too much and that there is a need for austerity. This report investigates the extent to which Councilmember Quinto’s voting record and his time in leadership match his public statements.

Councilperson Quinto was elected in November 2014 and took office in December 2014, which, was the middle of the Fiscal Year 2015, so his first full fiscal year was the Fiscal Year 2016. Councilmember Quinto was Mayor Pro-Tem in Calendar Year 2017 and Mayor in Calendar Year 2018.

During Councilperson Quinto’s time in office, there has been an explosive growth in spending and multiple credit downgrades by the S&P credit rating agency as well as negative reports from the independent auditor and the state auditor. The state auditor singled out the time that Councilmember Quinto was mayor for being a time of particularly reckless spending.

“For example, the city’s fiscal year 2018–19 budget included an 8 percent increase in planned expenditures over the prior year without providing an appropriate rationale for the increased amounts.” (CA State Auditor Report page 7 of 64 all pages refer to pdf page numbers)

During this time of enormous spending growth, Councilmember Quinto voted for every budget presented by the City Manager. From 2016-17 through the 2019-20 budget, El Cerrito had negative reserves, according to the state auditor report table 1, page 12/64. From the fiscal year 2015 through FY 2019, so from Gabe’s start to the last budget not impacted by Covid, general fund expenditures increased from $29,144,613 to $40,202,753, an increase of over $11 million which comes to a 38% increase. During that same period, the Bay Area CPI increased by just 14%. Moreover, the expense growth far exceeded revenue growth, causing yearly financial shortfalls. At the same time the city’s net pension liability grew by 67 percent from the end of fiscal year 2014–15 through the end of fiscal year 2019–20.3 As of June 2020, the city had a net pension liability of $65.8 million. (CA State Auditor Report page 6 of 64 all pages refer to pdf page numbers)

For further reference, I would like to share a few of Mayor Quinto’s quotes during City Council meetings.

On October 6, 2020, then Councilperson Quinto makes comments that appear to say where he was not aware of the financial problems. By this time El Cerrito had no reserves and had been taking loans to manage their budget.(State Auditor report page 3; Figure 3, page 5 of the state auditor report and Table 1, page 6 ) He brings up austerity but he also says he is going to vote for the budget (as he always has) even when Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto has just stated that she will not vote for a budget that she feels did not make enough cuts. I have clipped the video here but below is the link to the original video so you can see the source. Councilperson Quinto also mentions that since he took office there were three tax increases passed. He again blames his colleagues for the City’s financial woes.

Link to original meeting His comments start at 3:57

On June 1, 2021, Councilperson Quinto said that he would vote to direct staff to cut the additional library hours (over the County Funded Level). This was an amount of $58,000. He said that the money needed to be raised by fundraising and that they would never again get that money. The following council meeting, after a massive public outcry, he voted to reinstate the money. This money has not been subsequently removed again.

Link to original meeting His comments start at 2:56

On August 17, 2021, Councilperson Quinto praised the current City Manager and says that everyone who criticized her and the council was liars, mean-spirited and partisan. He specifically stated that City Staff was not overpaid.

The State Auditor did not agree. She said

Although El Cerrito’s financial condition has improved, the city still needs to take specific action to control the growth of its salary and benefit costs. In response to our recommendations to reduce costs, El Cerrito issued a request for proposals for a salary and compensation study. However, it has not committed to when it would actually perform the study and noted that such a study would likely result in increases in its management employees’ compensation. Nevertheless, most city employees who are not at the management level may have salaries above average for the region. Because El Cerrito notes in its response that it will soon enter negotiations with two of its employee unions, it would benefit the city to have updated information with which to base those negotiations.” (CA State Auditor Response to March 2022 submission)

Link to original meeting His comments start at 3:56

The concerns we have repeatedly raised about El Cerrito finances are the following

  1. Lack of transparency in the budget process
  2. Lack of structural changes when the budget was finally cut
  3. Lack of reserves
  4. Lack of City Council closely monitoring the budget

While the reserve issue is currently stable, due to the Federal Government bailout, structural budget problems remain unaddressed. Councilperson Quinto has been on the Council when spending erupted. In the 10/6/20 video he blames his fellow councilpersons for their spending and he speaks a lot of the lies. He voted YES on every budget presented. He may have made multiple speeches on austerity but he also (video 8/17/21) says that city staff were not overpaid.

In Mayor Quinto’s candidate statement he talks about building a new library, keeping senior services, and increasing revenue. He doesn’t mention that the El Cerrito Plaza project does not fund the library and that El Cerrito currently has a BBB- bonding rating. When he was elected to the City Council the city had an A+ bond rating, but the rating was lowered three times during his years in office. The BBB- credit rating came on September 24, 2020, just before this speech.

This means that El Cerrito might not be able to get funding for a bond measure to support this library or would have to pay a high interest rate. He also doesn’t mention that on 2/4/20 he said that the City should stop funding senior services because the city can’t afford it. (3:13 in the video) He also claims that San Francisco has all their senior services run by non-profits and we should do the same. San Francisco does have a city budget for senior services. Many of the non-profits that fund those services get some or all of their money from the city.

We sent Councilperson Quinto the same list of questions we sent all of the candidates and he never responded.

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