El Cerrito has three candidates running for two seats on the City Council. Plaza for the People sent six questions to the candidates, whom all took the time to respond to the Plaza for the People questionnaire. The candidate responses provide a window into their ability to address some of the City’s current and future challenges; however, this blog focuses on question #4 – the El Cerrito Library.
The most recent evaluation by the state auditor ranks El Cerrito’s #13 (#1 is worst) and painfully close to earning the title of the worst-run City in California. El Cerrito currently ranks #1 (worst) in future retirement funding. Four of the ten categories on the state auditor’s concerns relate to retirement funding. El Cerrito has not made any meaningful advancements in pension funding in the last two years. El Cerrito also has a BBB- bond rating with Standard and Poors –one level above junk bonds. So, El Cerrito would have difficulty floating a bond to pay for the Library. And none of the other stakeholders has expressed any interest in paying for a library for El Cerrito.
Although each candidate responded, there’s more to see from what the candidates did NOT say in their responses. The link here has their complete answers.
Carolyn Wysinger acknowledged the difficulties in bonding “I do understand that bond rates have increased AND El Cerrito would need to have its bond rating updated and will work hard towards that end on the Council. For inspiration we can look to cities like Berkeley and Oakland who have somewhat analogous affordable housing and infrastructure measures on the ballot. Financing through bonding is among the most equitable ways forward in pursuing a vital development like this project, which, when completed, will benefit the El Cerrito community for years to come.”
Carolyn’s response, while enthusiastic and thoughtful, falls woefully short in describing how she would address funding the Library. Carolyn suggests using Berkeley and Oakland as inspiration. Inquiring minds would like to know how those cities were able to meet the challenge and how those successes translate to an El Cerrito library.
Gabe Quinto, El Cerrito’s current mayor and incumbent, should have the most comprehensive and responsible response based on his eight years on the Council. Gabe said, “El Cerrito passed a transfer tax (Measure V) to help fund the Library at the station, but we need more funding to ensure that we build the Library. I have very strong connections to regional and statewide leaders who can help identify funding to build the Library. ” Gabe remembers his promises to fund the Library when he lobbied for Measure V.
Gabe has selective memory.
Not one penny of the $11 Million collected under measure V has been allocated to fund the Library.
Remember our last blog post, which pointed out that On June 1, 2021, Councilperson Quinto said he would vote to direct staff to cut the additional library hours (over the County Funded Level). The amount was just $58,000. He said the City should raise funds for the Library because the City would not allocate money. After a massive public outcry, Gabe voted to reinstate the funding. Later Gabe voted to remove the funds for a second time.
Even though Gabe has been in office for eight years and boasts endorsements and deep connections with important leaders and electeds, he has done nothing to support the Library. He does not even have a funding plan for the Library. His votes on the Council contradict his commitment to funding the Library because actions have all opposed funding the Library or senior center.
Vanessa Warheit had a considerably longer and arguably more complete response. “And, I am very concerned about our City’s current fiscal crisis, and what effect our current BBB- bond rating will have on our ability to finance a new library. I believe the first step is to create and make public an audited financial cost/benefit assessment of the cost to build the Library at Plaza, as compared with building it in another location in El Cerrito. The original library bond measure failed because El Cerrito voters didn’t have confidence in what the bond would be paying for – or an adequate understanding of how much a new library might even cost. If, as seems likely, building at the Plaza location proves to be significantly cheaper than at other locations, I am in favor of a bond measure, assuming that we can raise our bond rating and that the cost of doing it soon at BART, at a higher rate of interest, is still less expensive than doing it later somewhere else. In any event, it will be essential for the public to understand what they are voting on, and this assessment needs to be done ASAP to meet the time window of the BART development.”
Candidate Warheit acknowledges the last bond measure failure and the fiscal crisis, which the other candidates seem to gloss over. Vanessa’s response also indicates an answer to the Library lies on the other end of some significant evaluations on costs and location.
Please look closely at each candidate and decide which two are best for you and your family. None of us can afford to be on the sidelines this November. Vote wisely.