New Proposed Budget Book is out

The City Council has its next meeting on September 15, 2020, at 7 pm. Here is the link to the e-packet-the budget information starts on page 121.

This is a lot of information to digest. The City continues to not disseminate this information in a manner that is accessible to a resident that does not have an accounting degree.

A few things called out to me-The figure below is the operating expenses. To me, it doesn’t look like substantial cuts have been made. There are increases in supplies and a large increase in professional services. We have spent months hearing about cuts that are proposed but I am not seeing them below.

From the proposed 20/21 budget book

From the 16/17-18/19 budget book

If we look at these two charts we see that we are being told the Police are taking some big cuts but the percentage-wise that is not changing and the percentage of the budget the police is has increased. It also shows the Fire Department budget as a percentage of the budget has increased dramatically. We are watching our state burn so We all want an adequately funded Fire Department but one of the issues raised by the State Auditor was whether El Cerrito could afford to keep their fire department levels. I think it would help if the city could be more transparent as to why the percentage has risen so much. Is it the cost of living in a state filled with fires or are there ways to make strategic cuts? Data is the only way to know. Perhaps El Cerrito needs to look at other sources of funding for the fire department. OES grants for disaster preparedness would be a great start.
Many recommendations have been discussed at the last few meetings but the lack of specificity still is alarming. What are the changes to the Fire Department and Police Department specifically? What administrative positions have been cut. We need more details on the 1.5 million in proposed cuts that they have been discussing in the last few meetings.

Please keep sending in your comments to the city clerk and or the council members. A budget has not yet been adopted and we need to continue to push for transparency and accountability.

Contra Costa Measure X

There are other things on the ballot El Cerrito residents need to pay attention to. Contra Costa County is trying to pass a .5% sales tax increase. El Cerrito currently has a sales tax of 9.75% so this would make our city sales tax 10.25% at a time when our economic development is very poor and our businesses are suffering. In general, sales taxes are considered regressive because they impact lower-income families at a much more substantial rate than higher-income families.

This sales tax is not earmarked and will used to increase the general fund. So while I have heard proponents of this tax claim it will increase services for the unhoused and for mental health services there is no evidence that will happen. We have just seen the County Supervisors approve 25 new Sheriff’s officer position and money to improve the Martinez jail. In a time of a de-fund, the police movement it seems a different solution might be to use some of that money to fund social workers to deal with the mental health issues that the Sheriff’s officers are not trained to deal with. in the Mercury Times article linked to below Supervisors were claiming they had to fund these positions to improve mental health conditions. Some of the initial funding comes from federal funds but after the first six months, the county taxpayers will pay for those positions. The one mental health position is at a cost of almost $300,000.

We are in a very tough economic time right now and the County will also need more financial resources. The question to ask yourself is that is a sales tax the best way to fund the county and do you trust the county to use additional monies for the issues/services that you deem most important?

References

25 new Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office jobs OK’d over opposition-Mecury Times-August 12, 2020

Measure X Text

Contra Costa County Recommended Budget 20/21

Tessa Rudnick answers the budget questions

As I wrote recently ECCFRG asked all of the candidates a series of questions in regards to the budget crisis. Tessa Rudnick sent in her responses Tuesday. 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 Tessa Runnick for taking the time to answer our questions.

Brief Bio

I care about smart government and sustainable communities. I’m a Public Sector Technologist with more than a decade of experience working as a Project Manager and Business Analyst, implementing software solutions for local governments. I have worked for the City of Berkeley and the City and County of San Francisco. I’m a proud Bay Area native and hold a Masters degree in Public Administration. I’m also a mother with a nearly 5-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old stepson. To me, smart government means being responsive and agile to support the needs of our community. I believe in El Cerrito’s future, which is why I am ready and willing to make the tough decisions needed to get us there.

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

It’s a case of, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” During the recovery period from the 2008 recession, El Cerrito chose to dip into its reserve funds instead of eliminating full-time employees (FTE’s). Many neighboring jurisdictions actively chose to eliminate FTE positions in favor of dipping into reserves. The City tried to do right by its employees and the community. However we are now in the situation we are in because we missed some fundamental principles of public sector finance.

If El Cerrito was a person, she’d be living paycheck-to-paycheck, she’d have no savings, and she’d be a medical emergency away from total financial ruin. We have to take this situation seriously, and make the hard decisions needed for a few years. Which using the person analogy, means cutting up our credit cards and eating top ramen noodles in order to build up our savings.

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

My motivation to run for El Cerrito City Council is to be that independent verification required by the community. Staff projections and analysis are only as good as the data they have access to, so I will make sure that city staff are: a) Using the right analytical techniques b) Have access to the correct datasets c) Are able to produce reports which are informative and accessible to Council and the community.

I have no problem asking targeted questions about line items on the budget and looking deeper into the data. Council should have the competencies to understand how government works, and working in local government has allowed me the opportunity to understand the in’s and out’s of critical reporting.

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?

I have worked in local government as city staff for a decade, and have a strong sense of the City Council/City Manager framework. The City Manager is responsible for the operations of city management, and the City Council represents the constituents who have elected the members of Council. Council sets the policy direction for the City, and the City Manager reports to Council. The culture of local government is constantly shifting and adapting to changes, and it’s up to the City Manager to ensure a healthy and inclusive culture for city staff.

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

El Cerrito is lucky to have a City Manager who is widely regarded and respected in the public administration field. We will evaluate the CM’s performance based on agreed upon goals and a framework for success. The most critical thing our City Manager needs to address is our dire financial situation, and we cannot be blindsided by any unaccounted for expenditures. Our City Manager must manage in crisis mode for the next few years until our financial situation is better, which to me means a reserve account with $6M and a better bond rating.

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?

Short-term borrowing unfortunately has been a pattern in El Cerrito for the past few years to stay afloat. We may need to borrow again to get us through this year, but I believe drastic cuts to all of our department budgets will set us up to avoid unnecessary borrowing. We should focus on attracting and retaining our small businesses, so we can begin to increase our tax base. If we do not increase the City’s bond rating, we will not be able to take on the community projects the majority of us in the community want, such as a new El Cerrito Public Library.

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

We must operate under lean principles and the principles of ethical public sector finance. We can no longer accept the “shoulder shrug” with empty explanations of why we need to spend money which we did not account for… We must say “NO.” Often and frequently. Similar to the concept of wearing a mask and keeping your distance is how we show our love and respect for another, saying “NO” to expanding programs is how we will show our love and respect for the community. We have to become financially solvent and establish a reserve if we’re going to make our community stronger and have the ability to fund forward-thinking capital improvement projects. I imagine these next few years on Council will be tough, which is exactly why I want the job.

We have to build more affordable housing, we must attract and retain high-quality businesses, we must keep our community disaster-resilient, and we have to invest in our own community through our actions. Shop locally, use public transportation, and bicycle. If we focus on “winning on the basics,” we can create the type of community we are all proud to call home.

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.

In order to keep the community safe and maintain minimum staffing, overtime is a necessary evil. Minimum staffing ensures that ECFD has the capacities to respond during our neighbors deepest time of need. I believe we can use data to better understand our call types and call volumes and adjust staffing based on this data. Do we need to send an engine for every “lift assist?” Let’s use CAD data to better understand our Department, and tailor our responses better to our community needs. Overtime is ultimately less expensive than adding more FTE’s, and maintaining minimum staffing is critical for keeping all of us safe.

In order to keep El Cerrito fire safe, beyond maintaining minimum staffing, we must look to the State and our regional partners in order to expand our Emergency Preparedness capacities. We cannot afford to do it on our own. Disaster response is both a municipal and community effort, and we need the support of our El Cerrito Public Safety professionals.

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

The police budget, along with other department budgets, has been reduced and will continue to be reduced. The most important thing we can do as a small city is ensure public safety. Which means safety for all stakeholders: housing insecure, low-income, communities of color, women, business owners, new families, and families that have been here for generations.

I most recently worked for the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability, an independent civilian-oversight law enforcement agency. I implemented a web-based tool for community members to file a complaint independently of the SF Police Department, and learned a great deal about 21st century policing models in the process.

The El Cerrito Police Department has been an innovator in community-service based law enforcement, and we can continue to innovate while operating on lean principles. We must look to our 911 data, daylight any inequities, make data-driven decisions, and work collaboratively to keep El Cerrito safe. Officers in El Cerrito receive extensive bias training in addition to their typical police officer training, and officers have an extended probationary period so we can make sure we’re retaining only high-quality officers.

Our country is facing a much-needed reckoning around local law enforcement. The Black Lives Matter movement is beautiful, and its principles belong here in El Cerrito. We should end qualified immunity nationally, we should reevaluate POBRA protections, but we also cannot carelessly reduce our public safety budget. We must approach public safety budgets with a surgeon’s knife instead of a hammer.

Arthur Yee responds to the budget questions

As I wrote recently ECCFRG asked all of the candidates a series of questions in regards to the budget crisis. Art Yee sent in his response yesterday. 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 Art Yee for taking the time to answer our questions.

Brief Bio

There was no response submitted to this question.

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

It’s very simple spend what we can afford. No borrowing to offer services. EL Cerrito is small town of 26,000 people. We are not Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond or San Francisco. City spending need to correspond with population size.

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

I am no expert. We need to hire an outside consultant that understands comparing cities are have similar population size and revenue.

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?

City Manager reports to the City Council. Council members needs be better informed to make better decisions on budget/revenue and city policies. Council members can’t just agree and follow the orders of the city manger. Council members do need be accountable.

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

I believe if the city manager performance is poor that says a lot about the city council members accountability. We all serve for the best interest of the community.

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?

I think borrowing is wrong. We need to spend what we have and only pay for we can afford them.

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

I suggest we expand building and planning department. Make it easier to build and reduce permits fees and business license fees. That brings in revenue and jobs to our city. Reduce budget/city government and ask the community to help. Shop El Cerrito First! Ask community to volunteer to clean parks and etc.

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 need to ask the community to volunteer to make up some that overtime hours. Maybe clean or shop for the fire department. Or make even a volunteer fire department force.

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

We need to reduce our officers… maybe 2 positions and redirect them to social workers.

Do only 2 of the City Council Candidates care about the budget?

A few weeks ago we sent emails to all of the candidates for the El Cerrito City Council and asked them the following questions.

  1. What is your analysis of how the city became insolvent and what changes will you make to ensure it does not happen again?
  2. How will you independently verify staff budget projections and analysis?
  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?
  4. How will you evaluate the city manager’s performance and hold them accountable?
  5. What role do you think short-term borrowing has in the budget?-Follow up: If there is no role: what is your plan to eliminate it. If there is a role then: what is the impact on the city’s Rating, borrowing costs, and our ability to finance other capital projects.
  6. What are the details of your plan for El Cerrito getting out of the financial situation we are in?
  7. What do you see as the issue behind the over 1 million overtime for the Fire Department each year? How would you resolve this issue and keep El Cerrito fire safe?
  8. What changes would you make with the police budget?

With the budget being the #1 issue in the city right now we wanted to know what each candidate thought about these questions. We set a deadline of August 31st to submit the answers which gave candidates a few weeks to think about and research the issues. As of today September 1st, we only received replies from Mayor Pro-Tem Paul Fadelli and candidate Jennifer Greel. We appreciate them taking the time to answer the questions.

September 1st Edit-Art Yee just sent in his response which will be published Wednesday. Tessa Rudnick also just sent in her response which will be published on Thursday.

It is troubling that none of the other candidates have responded. We sent both an initial email and a reminder email to them. Since many in the community have been frustrated with the lack of responsiveness from city staff and the current council it does not bode well that these candidates are not answering questions from El Cerrito residents. Do they not care what the community concerns are?

In the spirit of helping (and because whether they know this information or not three of them will make up the majority of our next council), we are offering an informational Zoom meeting with any candidate that wishes to hear from us. Candidates can listen to the perspective of citizens that care about these issues and have been working on them for well over a year. Candidates can email us at eccfrg@gmail.com to set up a meeting. These meetings will not be recorded and are an opportunity for a dialogue.

We are also committing to posting additional responses if we get them. It is very important that residents have adequate information to make their choices.

Below are the candidates that did not submit their answers and links to their candidate packets on the city website. I am going to ask our residents that care about the budget to contact these candidates and ask them to respond to our questions. If they don’t want them posted here then they can post them elsewhere. El Cerrito residents need to know that these candidates understand the budget situation, its severity, and how we got to this point

Isis

Art Yee

Tessa Rudnick

Lisa Motoyama

William Ktanes

Matthew Burnham

The packets for the candidates that shared their answers are below

Paul Fadelli

Jennifer Greel

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.

El Cerrito Staff continue to show lack of transparency with the budget

Tomorrow September 1st at 430pm El Cerrito City Council is having a special budget meeting. They have not yet completed their 20/21 budget which started in July. For information on the meeting click here. The meeting is once again scheduled at a time that is not accessible for many residents. While I understand that some of this scheduling is due to council members’ day jobs these budget meetings must be held when people can attend them. To not do so adds to the feelings that the City Staff and Council do not want an active citizenry.

The agenda and the packet only were issued for the meeting this afternoon (August 31st). Normally these packets are issued the Thursday before the meeting. Once again a ” budget study session” is on the agenda for the meeting and once again any slides that the consultant or staff have prepared ARE NOT in the packet. So El Cerrito residents do not have adequate time to prepare comments. They have to watch the meeting and comment during the meeting.

We have long been requesting that residents see the current financial status at each meeting or at least monthly. We have also been requesting a more transparent budget process. A meeting at an inaccessible time with a packet that has no actual information in it is NOT TRANSPARENT.

I urge those that care about this city and its financial situation to send in a public comment tomorrow (better yet if you can attend and comment during the meeting). Comments can be sent to cityclerk@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us and you should state public comment agenda item 3A if you want to discuss the budget.

I would also encourage you to send comments to the City Manager and the entire City Council. If they don’t hear from us they assume we are not longer paying attention.

Karen Pinkos-City Manager kpinkos@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Greg Lyman-Mayor glyman@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Paul Fadelli Vice Mayor pfadelli@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto rpardueokimoto@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Councilperson Janet Abelson jabelson@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Councilperson Gabe Quinto gquinto@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us

Paul Fadelli Response to Budget Questions

As I wrote in my last post ECCFRG has asked all of the candidates a series of questions in regards to the budget crisis. Paul Fadelli sent in his response today so he is the first post to go up. 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. Mr. Fadelli has been on the council for 4 years and is currently Mayor Pro-Tem which means if he is re-elected he will be the Mayor. We thank Mayor Pro-Tem Fadelli for taking the time to answer our questions.

Brief Bio

I grew up in West County, going to school in El Cerrito and Richmond, and graduating from Kennedy High. I graduated college from UC Davis and got a Masters of Journalism degree from UCLA.

For more than two decades I worked for progressive Democratic legislators in the state and national capitols on a variety of policy issues. For ten years in Sacramento I was the staff director on the State Senate Committee on Energy & Public Utilities. Moving back to the Bay Area in the nineties, I was the VP at Kearns & West, a collaborative planning firm in San Francisco. Before becoming a City Councilmember in 2016, I worked for 11 years as the Manager of State & Federal Legislation at the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART).

I am married and have two daughters — one that just graduated from high school, and the other who will be entering UC graduate school in the Fall.

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 is a small community that has been proud of being a “full service” city for many years. But the City didn’t necessarily respond adequately after the recession of 2008 with service, salary or staffing cuts to stay economically viable over the long term. With few new revenue sources, important reserves were often used and eventually depleted in order to keep services and staff at status quo levels. In addition, in later years, while maintaining positive economic outlooks, the council approved (sometimes unwittingly) expenditures to pay with reserves for:
• costs associated with the abolishment of Redevelopment Agencies in the State;
• costs associated with El Cerrito becoming a Sanctuary City when the county Sheriff, in retaliation, forced the City to seek more costly dispatch service; and
• costs to establish a new temporary Senior Center when the WCCUSD would not renew the lease at the existing site at discounted rate.
Obviously more scrutiny by Council over the past decade could have brought the question of reserves and budget sustainability forward. Over many years, the past city staff leadership had developed a somewhat insular budgetary process that resulted in little scrutiny or review, until new auditors blew the whistle. I have mentioned publicly that it is not only important to have transparency on budget issues for the public, but also better transparency between staff and Council as well. There was a culture of not wanting to give councilmembers bad news.

This Council and a new City Manager have been outspoken in acknowledging the need to structurally change the budget process to grow critical reserves over time. With the additional problems associated with Covid-19, this has resulted in changing from a two-year budget process to a one-year effort where amendments can occur to respond to changing economic circumstances.

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

Working my whole life for elected officials I have often dealt with budgets – mostly dealing with specific policy programs and whether or not funding amounts were appropriate or adequate with respect to my member or agency’s needs. However, with issues involving El Cerrito’s solvency I have learned electeds, need to be even more detailed in reviewing and approving city budgets. There is much to do as a councilmember. I am not an accountant and will have to still rely on professionals, staff and the public scrutiny for questions and answers. As one of the two newest Councilmembers, I believe we both felt we asked many of the right questions during council meetings (especially about Measure V revenue and the impact on reserves), but often didn’t get a detailed helpful response back at the time.

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?

While City Councilmembers play important roles in their cities (setting policy, voting for budgets and ordinances and ceremonial obligations), it is important to remember that most of the authority by ordinance for production of reports, draft legislation and implementation of policies belongs to the city manager. It is a significant job with many management obligations. In addition, the Brown Act, dramatically limits any discussion among Councilmembers about policy matters and often keeps councilmembers out of the loop as to what’s occurring on certain events and issues. Often Councilmembers will only hear of a problem or another councilmember’s views on a key issue at the actual meeting. It is courtesy, too, for council to notify the City Manager know ahead of time of any issues that might be brought up. So that is to their advantage.
But the separate relationship between a Councilmember and the City Manager is important. Not just in El Cerrito, but in most cities, the City Manager is the conduit through which a Councilmember must go to meet with and discuss issues with staff. A good relationship can lead to more freedom in that direction, or less if not so good. When a Councilmember rotates to being Mayor, there is more to discuss and finalize as usually the mayor gets to prioritize what will be on agendas for Council to consider. But even agendas must be based on status of staff concerns, workloads and progress. Historically too, the city manager is responsible for public safety (fire and police) and hiring and firing all staff. There is not much changing this relationship as it is in ordinance. If a council/city manager sours, councilmembers can publicly criticize staff and management and eventually bring those concerns back to any rehiring process. But this would be a failure of the system.

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

This Council set 3-4 goals for the new City Manager. We will review progress on achieving those goals when the option to renew her contract comes before us in the future.

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?

It would be great not to have to have seek and utilize short-term borrowing. It turns out that to pay the bills, El Cerrito has been using this method for some time. The negative budgetary aspect of this tool only became apparent to me and others when our new auditor raised concerns about it. It was necessary to seek another short term loan this year, and probably for one or two more years, until our budget straightens out with recent actions. It is a goal of Council not to have to seek short-term loans in the future. Bond ratings will improve for El Cerrito with that reality.

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

Council has set the course for El Cerrito’s finances with a strategy that will eventually begin accruing reserves by 2023 or 2024 depending upon circumstances with the recession and Covid -19. The approach focuses on cuts and a 3-year recovery, so that important services residents like will not be decimated. Council approved over $600k in cuts for FY 19-20 and, for FY20-21, over $4 million has been cut from 10% across-the-board cuts in all departments, negotiated cuts with represented and unrepresented labor groups, no COLAs, a hiring freeze, keeping vacancies open, increasing management contributions to PERS, freeze car allowance payments. The next few years will be tough and lean. Council must still cut $1.5 million or more from programs before October. To me everything is still on the table as we determine what the future economic forecast looks like. I have publicly said I want to permanently get rid of the monthly car allowances. Additional services and management salaries are likewise still on the table. I have raised the concern that we can’t just cut expenditures, but have to also think about building/seeking new revenues:

  1. assisting our permit office to expedite building projects and restart housing development along San Pablo Avenue;
  2. encourage retail and workspace development at BART Plaza TOD development;
  3. determine potential revenue to have fire department charge for EMS calls to El Cerrito and Kensington residents;
  4. conduct regional lobbying to state and federal officials to secure needed local funds;
  5. consider increasing recreational fees for certain programs without reducing accessibility;
  6. consider the possibility of another cannabis dispensary (first one is still not open).

    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.

    Out of control fire overtime is an issue we have to resolve. I was hoping the state auditor would have done her review and presented facts and procedure on how to deal going forward. But the audit will not start for some time and, in the meantime I and other councilmembers, have asked for a full report and recommendation from our fire chief and city manager. Overtime when used correctly and prudently can save money when the full costs of hiring and employing personnel is considered. I think in El Cerrito overtime became a systemic way of doing business because certain employees benefitted. With circumstances in El Cerrito changing (new retirees, new PEPRA rules for PERS etc.) it may be advantageous to consider filling the vacant fire slots, which could assist fire efforts and lower overtime costs. But we will have to see what is reported back and what recommendations are made

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

I am hoping the police budget will be an ongoing issue for some time as we move toward a broader discussion and evolution of changes in how we provide and assure safety for El Cerritans. As with every El Cerrito department, the police budget has been reduced by 10 %. In addition to the elimination of SROs, Council has reviewed other police operations which could result in the reduction of staff during the budget process. Other changes with respect to how we handle 911 calls and mental health calls may not actually help to reduce the budget…but I want to learn from other cities and be open to positive changes that encourage less confrontational incidents wherever we can.

What are our City Council Candidates thoughts on the budget crisis?

For the first time in a long time, we have an election with mostly outsiders running. There is one incumbent running, Paul Fadelli, who is endorsed by the El Cerrito Democratic Club, but there are 7 additional candidates. In no particular order they are:

Isis

 Tessa Rudnick

 Matt Burnham

 Jennifer Greel

 Lisa Motoyama

 Arthur Yee

 William Ktsanes

To see their nomination papers you can click here

El Cerrito Committee for responsible government sent each candidate a list of 8 questions. We want the community to be able to assess the candidate’s understanding of the fiscal crisis and what each candidate sees as potential solutions for the issues.

The questions are as follows:

  1. What is your analysis of how the city became insolvent and what changes will you make to ensure it does not happen again?
  2. How will you independently verify staff budget projections and analysis?
  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?
  4. How will you evaluate the city manager’s performance and hold them accountable?
  5. What role do you think short-term borrowing has in the budget?-Follow up: If there is no role: what is your plan to eliminate it. If there is a role then: what is the impact on the city’s Rating, borrowing costs, and our ability to finance other capital projects.
  6. What are the details of your plan for El Cerrito getting out of the financial situation we are in?
  7. What do you see as the issue behind the over 1 million overtime for the Fire Department each year? How would you resolve this issue and keep El Cerrito fire safe?
  8. What changes would you make with the police budget?

We have asked the candidates to respond by Monday, August 31st. Whoever does respond we will post their answers here in a blog post. We may then do some analysis in other posts but each candidate will get a post that is their words to our questions.

El Cerrito is a city in crisis. We all know the November election is one of the most important elections this country has ever had. But we cannot forget our local issues we must pay attention to both. We encourage voters to educate themselves. Sign up for updates to this blog to get each blog post for the candidates. Join our IO group for updates.

El Cerrito Progressives along with El Cerrito Fire Safe are sponsoring a candidate forum on September 12th from 3-5 pm. They will be posting the video so it can be watched later and ECP will do a scorecard for candidates.

So there are many places you can get information about these candidates please take the time to do so!

Is El Cerrito Making Data Driven Financial Decisions?

This coming Tuesday, August 11th El Cerrito is having another meeting to discuss the budget. The consultants are recommending at least an additional 1.5 million dollars in cuts occur. Their recommendations are as follows:

The problem with both the 1.5 million dollar number and the recommendations that are made is that there is no specificity to them. We don’t know where the 1.5 million dollar number came from. What were the assumptions that created that number? How long are they predicting the shelter in place order will last? Are they looking at the latest economic numbers which were horrific? Given that we just took out an 8.5 million dollar loan to stay afloat all decisions moving forward be both data-driven and transparent. Having a packet of vague information does not allow residents to make adequate public comments for the meeting.

Some of us have been trying hard to analyze the budget and how decisions are made. We have been focusing on the Fire and Police Departments since those are half the city’s budget. I made several information requests to see how the city decided to not hire additional fire personal but rather pay overtime. I also requested information on how the amount of money to charge Kensington for their fire protection contract was determined.

For the Kensington contract, I was told there were no records responsive to my request. Which means there is no financial analysis of how El Cerrito determines the cost of the Kensington contract. The city could be benefiting greatly or being hurt financially-we simply do not know without financial analysis.

Regarding the OT I was given the chart below. It tells me how much a fire department employee costs the city. It does not have any analysis of OT hours and what they cost. I independently gathered data on fire department OT and put it together. Something that I believe the city staff should have been doing to decide to hire more staff or not. Again, the city may have made the correct decision but without data, we do not know.

Another person put in a request for information on the police department which is still pending. The request was for information on all police incidents over the past two years breaking them down into the type of incident and categories along with resolutions. We thought this would be an easy request that this data would be tracked. This is not the case. We were told there were numerous records to go through in order to obtain the information. Further upsetting was that the response was from an outside lawyer. Which means this request is costing the city money to obtain. Not the intention of our group.

I hope people will again make public comments at the meeting. The information on how to attend and make comment is at the bottom of this post. Please note this is a 4:30pm meeting.

I am suggesting
1. A monthly financial report given to the city council and published online. This should be an easily readable document summing up income and expenses and how they are tracing for the fiscal year. This way if the estimate of the 1.5 million is to late there can be quick action taken. It also increases transparency.


2. When there are recommendations put into slides they be very specific. What are these PD and FD staffing changes? What is this reduction in city administration? Are they job losses are something else.


3. Whenever there are staff predictions on how the finances are going we need written assumptions that go along with them. For example 1.5 million in cuts is based on a reduced sales tax income of 2% until June 2021. Etc. This allows us to see if the predictions are going far enough forward in time. I understand that things are fluctuating faster than usual and that assumptions may change over time and even quickly but the residents deserve to know what is behind each assumption.

To watch the meeting

JOIN VIA WEBEX:
  1. https://elcerrito.webex.com/elcerrito/onstage/g.php?MTID=e2bff40274a0e7adaa22507ff7a016ddf

Event Number:146 528 6824
Event Password: Jfq2ZS

or

Dial In: 1­-408­-418­-9388
Access Code:
146 528 6824

To make public comment for the meeting

If you are watching live using WebEx you can use the “Raise Hand” feature to request to speak. Each period of public comment will be announced.

To send in comment do the following-If the comment gets there 3 hours prior to the meeting it is submitted to the council in writing ahead of the meeting. If it is later than that the council will get the written comment in the supplemental packet. The city clerk is no longer reading the comments into the record, later. The agenda item for this financial item is 3A.

Via email to cityclerk@ci.elcerrito.ca.us. Email must contain in the subject line public comments – not on the agenda or public comments – agenda item #. The agenda item for this financial item is 3A.