Tessa Rudnick’s campaign finance report

I did a prior post on the other candidates campaign finance reports found here. Tessa Rudnick’s report got filed late so that it is the reason it is getting it’s own post. I will say she did reach out to the author and acknowledge that she had missed the deadline and she took responsibility and got it in. I personally appreciate public officials (or those trying to be public officials acknowledging mistakes. How refreshing! Her report is found here for those that want to dig in.

So what stands out? She has raised quite a bit of money-just under $12k. To this date she has spent just under 5k. She has donated just under 2k to her own campaign. Her main expenses seem to be a campaign consultant and a polling place. She is not showing donations from her campaign to others except the Democratic Party of Contra Costa County. Her donations appear to come from individuals with a fair amount of family members also contributing.

El Cerrito City Council Candidate Financial Reports Released

The first filing date for campaign contribution reports was September 24, 2020. Items had to be postmarked by that date so there may still be some additions. Two candidates have not created Campaign Committees so therefore do not need to file.

A few things stand out

  1. The former City Manager Scott Hanin, a person many believe was fundamental to the current financial crisis, donated to Matt Burnham.
  2. Lisa Motoyama is heavily supported by past candidate Margaret Kavanaugh-Lynch and current mayor Greg Lyman.
  3. Paul Fadelli has many donations from local politicians. He has loaned over 23k to his campaign and has over $16,000 cash on hand so one wonders why the loans. Compared to his last filing this time he has not time accepted money from SEIU or the unions for the Fire and Police Departments.

We will continue to check to see if Jennifer Greel and Tessa Rudnick file for this period.

Matt Burnham reports $1,650 contributed to his campaign. Notable contributions include Former City Manager Scott Hanin who gave $100. Leslie Reckler, candidate for School Board, gave $100. Jenny Keith, whom we suspect is married to Police Chief Paul Keith, gave $500. He reports not spending any money yet.

Jennifer Greel nothing filed yet

Lisa Motoyama She has received $4,874.14 in contributions. Notable contributions include $600 from Greg Lyman for City Council 2016. $1,097.14 from Margaret Kavanaugh-Lynch for City Council 2020. $250 from former El Cerrito City Councilperson and current attorney Letitia Moore. She has spent $3,456.70 + 804.90 in outstanding bills for a total of 4311.60. Payments were made to El Cerrito for $440 for the filing fees. $54 to Democratic Party of Contra Costa County for what is listed as civic donations. $420.94 to the Democratic Party of Contra Costa County for literature. There were also payments for graphics and website.

Paul Fadelli He has by far the largest amount of contributions with $8944 this reporting period and $11,470 the calendar year. In the calendar year column it also shows a $23,000 loan. When that is looked at more it is all money he loaned to his campaign over the last 4 years. He has spent $2,417.89 this reporting period and $4,363.53 YTD.

He received $100 From Gabriel Quinto for City Council 2018, $150 from Janet Abelson for City Council 2018, $200 from former councilperson Letitia Moore, $100 directly from Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto, and $100 from former Councilperson Sandi Potter

Paul Fadelli’s expenditures include donations to other candidates like Eric Salwell and some of the same Democratic donations that Lisa Motoyama made. When you look back at his last filing he has not this time accepted money from SEIU or the unions for the Fire and Police Departments.

Isis has had $1125 of contributions all but $100 of which were made by her. Her expenditures were $814 and most seem related to her website.

Arthur Yee No Campaign Committee Formed so no filing was needed

William Ktsanes No Campaign Committee Formed so no filing was needed

Tessa Rudnick nothing filed yet. Update September 30th I was informed by the candidate that they made a mistake with the filing date and they will file today. I will update as soon as the information is available.

City Council-Will You Act Now? Bond ratings drop again

On September 24th El Cerrito’s bond ratings once again dropped. The Sales Tax Revenue bond rating dropped to BBB+ and the CA COP rating dropped to a BBB-. Google what BBB- means and you see that it is one step above junk bond.

Yesterday I posted a blog post about how at the last meeting there was an unwillingness to act on further cuts even though they were suggested by Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto at least twice during the meeting.

We just got an 8.5 million dollar TRAN loan a few months ago. Our normal bank did not take the loan so it went to the open market and ended up costing the city considerably more in interest. The reason that happened is because of a prior bond rating drop in November 2019 from A to BBB. With this new drop, it appears that the risk of not getting a TRAN loan for next year has also dropped. At a minimum, the cost of getting the loan has risen again.

The article on the drop to BBB- states

El Cerrito, CA COP Rating Lowered To ‘BBB-‘ On Negative General Fund Reserves And Reduced Expenditure Flexibility

SAN FRANCISCO (S&P Global Ratings) Sept. 24, 2020–S&P Global Ratings lowered its underlying rating (SPUR) to ‘BBB-‘ from ‘BBB’ on El Cerrito, Calif.’s certificates of participation (COPs) outstanding. The outlook is stable. 

“The lowered rating reflects our view of the weaker economic and financial circumstances under which the city is attempting to stabilize its budget and restore reserves,” said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Tim Tung.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related recessionary pressures have further strained the city’s revenues, yielding an operating deficit for fiscal 2020 and pushing available fund balance further into negative levels based on unaudited actual results for fiscal 2020 provided by management. The city’s fiscal 2019 audit marks the third consecutive year in which the audit was transmitted with a “going concern” opinion by the auditor, which reflects the auditor’s concern about the city’s ability to meet required operating obligations, and we anticipate that this trend will continue for a fourth year when the fiscal 2020 audit is produced. The outlook is stable based on our view that the city’s corrective actions during the past year are adequate to at least maintain credit quality at the current rating level.

El Cerrito’s credit quality is currently driven by the city’s negative general fund reserve position. Although the city has been in the process of realigning the budget with a focus on restoring reserves, it now faces recessionary pressures that present diminished growth prospects as compared to last year, when the economy was in the late stages of an economic growth cycle. Also, based on unaudited actual results for fiscal 2020, we understand that the general fund produced a negative $2.3 million net result, which worsens the existing negative available fund balance and further sets the city back from its targeted reserve goals. 

While we acknowledge that the city has taken aggressive action during the past year to set in motion plans to achieve structural balance and restore reserves–including a rapid adjustment once the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession injected additional complications–the expenditure cuts that the city has made and will be making further reduce its expenditure flexibility if needed in the future,” Mr. Tung added. “Given the expenditure reductions already made, any substantial additional expenditure reductions will likely require layoffs, which would likely be politically challenging. Finally, while the adjusted trajectory to restoring reserves still achieves the city’s stated goals, that trajectory is now starting from a lower point, is on a steeper incline than before, and reaches the goal at a later projected date.

Despite these challenges, we still view the city’s liquidity as very strong. We also note that the city’s otherwise robust tax base and close proximity to the San Francisco economy is limiting the downside effects of its current fiscal situation.”

The article dropping the sales tax bond rating to BBB+ states

El Cerrito, CA Sales Tax Revenue Bond Rating Lowered To ‘BBB+’ On Weakened Obligor Creditworthiness

SAN FRANCISCO (S&P Global Ratings) Sept. 24, 2020–S&P Global Ratings lowered its long-term rating to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘ on El Cerrito Public Financing Authority, Calif.’s sales tax revenue bonds, issued on behalf of the City of El Cerrito. The outlook is stable.

“The downgrade reflects our view of the obligor’s creditworthiness weakening,” said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Tim Tung. For more information on our view of the city’s overall creditworthiness, see our article published Sept. 24, 2020, on RatingsDirect.

The city benefits from a strong and stable local economy, as evidenced by continued assessed value growth, and its location within the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif., metropolitan statistical area. However, the city’s general fund has experienced financial challenges during recent years resulting in weakening reserve levels, and leading to weaker creditworthiness, in our view, which limits the rating on these sales tax bonds.

Although sales tax revenue declined sharply in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic and related shelter-in-place activities constrained economic activity, we have observed some rebound in recent months although not to prerecession levels. While pledged revenue has experienced some volatility in recent years, coverage has remained strong. We anticipate at least stable performance in the near term, supported by an established sales tax base.“

So is another bond rating enough to act? One suggestion in the meeting was low hanging fruit. The non-management (non-public safety) staff are only furloughed through the end of the calendar year not the fiscal year. That is something that can be addressed quickly even if the benefits do not come into play until Jan 1st. It should have been already done.

The Public Safety budget is 50% of the budget and needs further evaluation. We can’t cut fire safety for obvious reasons so it is time to look at the ECPD. Chief Keith has previously stated that they are responding to fewer calls. He also stated that burglaries are down most likely due to so many more people being home. If you look at the weekly crime reports there are more and more days with no calls at all. Whether or not you support any change in police funding for racial and social justice reasons it is certainly worth looking at whether or not the largest piece of the pie is taking its fair share of the cuts. El Cerrito Progressives has reported 

The ECPD will now take  31.2% of our city budget, and the proposed “restructuring” will take place over three years and still not address our concerns and demands to reimagine policing. , As Chief Keith explained, the savings they hoped (his word) would affect the ECPD budget were based on attrition, in other words, if an officer decides to leave the agency or retire the savings would kick in. These are aspirational reductions, and certainly do not affect the budget in a real way or address the concerns of so many residents. ”

The City Council and staff are continuing to move very slowly and not make significant enough cuts. As I reported in the last post we are projected to be only a few hundred thousand above what we need to pay the TRAN loan in June 2021. There is no way we move towards reducing the TRAN when we are still at risk of not being able to pay it at all. We ended FY 19/20 with an estimated 2.3 million dollar deficit because Council and staff were so slow to respond. El Cerrito was warned they were in trouble. Their own auditor brought up concerns in November of 2018 that they disregarded. Then they were told early in the 2nd quarter of FY 19/20 that the State Auditor (October 2019) considered the city at high risk of bankruptcy but action was delayed for months until the problem was compounded by the COVID 19 crisis.

We have been asking the City to act since the State Auditors report was issued. We beg them to act now.

Budget Update

On September 15th City Council met and discussed two items in regards to the budget. The meeting was over 4.5 hours and it is not a reasonable expectation that most people will listen to it all. I will confess I listened to 2+ hours only.

The first item was regarding the Finance Department’s monthly reports. This starts on page 121 in the packet. I give kudos to Councilperson Abelson for first pushing for this report to exist and secondly for pushing during this meeting to make the report functional and transparent. Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto also questioned this report. What is missing is is a clear explanation of what percentage of income is coming in each month as compared to past years. We know property taxes primarily come in during two specific months but we need to be closely monitoring sales tax as we can expect that to be severely impacted due to the recession. From the chart below it does seem that we are behind projections. Sales tax does come in a month later than collected and the finance director gave several confusing explanations as to whether this report was helpful or not. The utility tax also comes in as less than proposed.

One of the MOST important reports is found on page 125 of this report. You will see as currently projected we have an 8.9 million dollar amount left at the end of June 2021. However, we have 8.75 million dollars due to the TRAN loan. This is an unacceptably close margin. I will give both Council members Pardue-Okimoto and Quinto credit for both suggesting more severe cuts now. However, it seems that if a councilperson other than the Mayor suggests this nothing happens. This is frustrating to watch. As stated above we do not have accurate information on how our sales tax revenue is doing compared to last year based on the chart included it looks lower than projected. At one point will the Council and Staff act or will there have to be another crisis. If we do not have the money to pay the TRAN the city goes bankrupt. The Finance Director did say that 8.9 million did not include a 300k CARES fund expected and what seems to be an increase in the transfer tax. Again we are requesting a higher level of transparency. How close to the edge are we and at what point will the council and staff act?

In response to some questions the City Manager stated she would make further cuts if directed by three members of the council. So which three members are going to step up and demand that? There was greater feedback from the council on how the assumptions were made and if they were accurate and that they expected monthly updates. Councilperson Pardue-Okimoto brought up the idea of extending non-management furloughs beyond end of the calendar year and the Mayor stated he wanted to wait another month or two before taking action. He wants “ready solutions” if things continue to worsen. This is an action item-the budget will be on the agenda each meeting and we need to tell the Council to start making additional cuts.

There was some talk of the TRAN as a result of public comment. Some council members seem to be optimistically saying we will be TRAN free in 3 years. With an almost 9 million loan it seems to me that we would have to be cutting an additional 3 million dollars a year for the next three years on top of cutting for any revenue shortages to be even close to get rid of the TRAN loan. It looks like a bit of magical thinking to get to the places that council is saying when we are only a few hundred thousand ahead of just paying the loan off this year.

There was some dialogue on the hiring of new fire department staff members. They are saying this will cut OT costs the next few years. Councilperson Abelson pointed out that this is a short term solution as personnel costs grow over time. Staff stated there were changes in the retirement law make new hires cheaper than in the past which is why these hires were not made previously. However, the numbers that they were either looking at or talking about it the meeting were not accessible to the public so I still cannot ascertain what data is used. Please ask the council to release this data in the next packet.

The Finance Director also stated the CAFR should be out in December and he is currently predicting as a worse case scenario a deficit of 2.3 million for the year that ended June 30th.

I plead with Council and staff to make information accessible more easily and to TAKE ACTION NOW! I hope that readers of this will email their council members to ask what it will take to make cuts. Email address for council can be found here.

El Cerrito Progressives also wrote a post on the budget meeting. Check it out for their perspective.

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.