Today, I was emailing with a friend while she was on the phone with Comcast, trying to re-establish internet connectivity. She wrote, “51 minutes and 46 seconds and still on.” Later, I asked her how it had been resolved and she wrote, “After over an hour I got an appointment with a tech to come to my house. Oh, but first I had to buy insurance for a dollar a month so I wouldn’t be charged for the service call. The waiting wouldn’t be so bad if I was actually being told how to take action, but the operator was just reading a manual and put me on hold over a dozen times. Ridiculous.”
So the rumors have been bubbling up for weeks, but today—after a closed-door city council session earlier in the week–Alameda’s City Manager Debra Kurita, who has served the city for more than three years, tendered her resignation.
I was otherwise occupied, but The Island‘s own Michele Ellson sat through last night’s school board meeting and issued this detailed report. Of the hot topics on the table were a growing population of East End kindergarten students hoping for spots in their neighborhood schools, teacher contracts, and, tabled until April, the curriculum that the district has put together to help students learn to respect and act respectfully toward all students.
In other housing news, it sounds like most Bay Area homeowners won’t qualify for the new federal mortgage relief plan, based on the size of their mortgages (too big) and the percentage by which they’re ‘under water,’ or owing more than their home’s value. Use this Zillow-based search engine to check out the percentage of homes underwater. You can search by city, county or zip code.
A young man was killed, according to news reports, after an altercation a in the BART parking lot Thursday night around 9:30 p.m. The victim was 18. His name was Christopher Gonzalez. And, according to this Chronicle story, he lived around the corner from BART and ran home after he was stabbed and died in his father’s arms.
[Updated: This story says the stabbing was self-defense.]
Life on the Island, the column I write for the print edition of the Alameda Journal, is up online now. This week it’s about Save Our City! Alameda and how the group’s tactic of asserting that the city is on the verge of bankruptcy as a way to bolster opposition to development at Alameda Point just serves to muddle debate and make it harder for people to get to the real, complicated issues that concern Alamedans.
The Alameda Journal‘s Peter Hegarty has this story up about a meth bust on Alameda Ave. in Alameda. The East Bay Express has an item up about the arrest, too. What’s most interesting about the Express post is the way it characterizes Alameda, in kind of a snotty way. “Alameda,” writes the Express’s Kathleen Richards, “home to old-fashion ice cream stores, barber shops, La Piñata and meth dealers.” Sometimes it gets tiresome to be a city summed up in clever catch phrases—someone told me on the playground this morning something she’d heard people say about Alameda, “Home to newly weds and nearly deads.”
I made a bet with a friend that there’d be a state budget passed by Tuesday midnight. Then we pushed the bet, double or nothing, to noon the next day. And then we just sort of stopped with the betting and started waiting and seeing.
Finally, though, a deal has been made. A 12-cents a gallon gas tax is out, an agreement that legislators won’t be paid when there’s no budget is in—as is a proposal to expand the state lottery and borrow against expected revenue. Details here. I had to do a double-take/triple-blink though when I saw that the deal—reached when one more vote in favor was negotiated with Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado—includes placing a constitutional amendment to change how primaries held in California on the ballot. What a world we live in when a annual budget negotiation includes a promise of constitutional rejiggering?
For decades, the California electorate has been buying the overvalued fools gold of direct democracy. We actually believed, based on our votes, we could make better-informed decisions via the initiative process than the individuals we sent to represent us in Sacramento.
Californians passed the most draconian term limits initiative in the country. It robbed legislators of institutional memory, placed disincentives for members of the opposite party to crossover and make a deal, and its insidious underlying purpose was to get rid of a single individual–former California Speaker Willie Brown.
The passing of Proposition 13, while still popular, carries that little 2/3-vote requirement to raise revenues, hence the tyranny of the minority. Proposition 98, though perhaps on paper a worthy cause, ties the Legislature’s hands in term of what resources are actually available in the budget.
With many California employees taking one or two mandatory unpaid furlough days a month and the governor threatening to send layoff notices to the 20,000 state employees with the least seniority, there’s still no budget deal in Sacramento. The no-taxes Republican minority continues to block the Democratic majority.
And lest you think Alameda is alone in its plight to keep the city budget numbers lining up. There’s this: Ventura workers taking pay cuts to save jobs.
After narrowing the list down to about a dozen California cities – most of which, incidentally, are facing the same budget problems that we are – I ended up 35 miles southwest of here. What I found was a city that spends far more money on parks and libraries than we do – and less on its fire department, despite the fact that Redwood City’s fire department handles more calls than ours does.
Here’s what she found about Park and Recreation services:
Redwood City spends twice what Alameda does on its parks and recreation services, despite the fact that workers there have only 14 acres more of parkland to maintain. A lot of the amenities offered – two pools, a senior center, a teen center, a skate park, dog parks – are identical to those offered here. But Redwood City pays far more to maintain those amenities, and more to staff programs.
On the flip side, there’s one department we spend more money on, and that’s fire. We spent $21.5 million to Redwood City’s $17.3 million, with $19 million for workers’ salaries, benefits and overtime to their $14.5 million. Our fire department is over 100 strong, compared to 70 in Redwood City. And our department has a lifetime health care benefit for spouses that Redwood City’s doesn’t.
You can read the whole piece here—and Ellson promises there are more details to come.