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Orinda passes $502 permanent parcel tax

While many here in Alameda like to blame fiscal mismanagement, administrator pay, unions, or you name if for the financial challenges facing the Alameda Unified School District, other communities are stepping up and funding their schools as the dollars provided by the State of California continue to fall short of what a community actually requires to provide a meaningful education for a community’s schools. Orinda’s parcel tax passed with 70 percent of the voters saying yes.

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Alameda’s Webster House for sale…again

The Chronicle has this feature about an East End property called “Webster House.” You can read Alameda real estate blogger Knifecatcher‘s documentation of the history of that sale here.

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.

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Hello, Alameda. Finally a state budget

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?

Huffington Post Blogger Byron Williams, in a post titled, “While California Slept,” has this to say about the sorry state of California’s budget and budget process:

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.

And this:

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.

And this:

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.

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For Alameda: still no state 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.

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Alameda city budget, compare and contrast

Michele Ellson over at The Island has done a little piece on how the City of Alameda spends its money. For comparison purposes, she set out to find another city with similar demographics:

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.

And firefighters:

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.

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The method of “Save our City! Alameda”

As detailed by Lauren Do over at Blogging Bayport, David Howard, chief of Save our City! Alameda, the group that is advancing the argument that the City of Alameda is on the edge of bankruptcy (as part of an effort to side-line plans for development at Alameda Point), took this quotation from a letter from Fire Chief David Kapler about cuts to fire department overtime:

Setting aside history, the current economic situation (local, state and federal) is what is forcing this move. If the city does not adjust spending, it would be facing bankruptcy in as little as 36 – 48 months. If that were to happen the impact to the Department and its members would be much worse than temporary brownouts.

And changed it to this:

the City (is) facing bankruptcy in as little as 36-48 months

And then Save Our City! Alameda blasted the misquote out in a press release. In the real email, the Chief says if we don’t adjust spending we might just face bankruptcy in three or four years. The version put out by Save our City! Alameda, with the word ‘is’ inserted, makes it read like the fire chief is saying bankruptcy is imminent. But, of course, most every institution, public and private, will likely be will be in financial straits if spending is not adjusted as revenue falls.

As I have said before, there are many rational reasons to question the plans for development at Alameda Point, and plenty nuanced discussions that we as a community should be having about what the future can and should look like there, but distorting the fire chief’s meaning in order to advance that cause is–uh? What do you think? And then continuing to do so even when the inaccuracy is documented is further perplexing.

Michele Ellson has the full text of Fire Chief Kapler’s letter, by the way. And Ellson also talked to Mayor Beverly Johnson and David Howard about the issue. The Fire Chief’s direct response is here.

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Alameda firefighters making ‘robo’ calls

I got a phone call yesterday with a recorded message from an Alameda firefighter. The message was so fast that I did not catch the name of the firefighter who was speaking, though I think it was Mike or Mark. The core of the message was that cuts to the fire department (on January 26 the department has been mandated to reduce overtime) will impact response time for some Alameda neighborhoods. The message mentioned the Gold Coast, Bay Farm and Alameda’s West End and then urged the listener to lobby City Hall to prevent cuts. How much does it cost to auto-dial every Alameda household? Who funds these efforts?

I can’t help but think of the line from Obama’s speech Tuesday, in which he honored the hard work and sacrifices Americans are making to make things better for all of us. He referenced employees who allow their own hours to be cut so others may keep their jobs. That is bravery, no? To say, I will make do with a little less so others don’t lose everything entirely.

In a time when so many are losing jobs, losing retirement security, having their pay cut and otherwise struggling economically, I can not find legitimacy in the stance being taken by Alameda firefighters. There is not an infinite pot of money. Times are bad. Everyone should be impacted as budgets shrink…not everyone with the exception of some. Of course I wish it weren’t so…of course everyone wishes it weren’t so. But it is. So, it’s time to move away from the adversarial stance, an I-me-my orientation, and it’s time for the firefighters to work with the city to maintain emergency services as well as all the other services that make for a vital community.

As I have mentioned previously, Alameda firefighters make over $100,000 a year, with many earning 10 and 20 and 40 thousand additional dollars a year in over time. Alameda firefighters receive full, life-time medical benefits for themselves and a spouse after just five years of service. They are eligible to retire at 50, with 3 percent of their highest salary in pension for each year of service. Meanwhile, Alameda’s non-public safety employees receive only a tiny stipend (something around $100 a month) toward health care in retirement, and they are eligible to retire at 55, with 2 percent of their highest salary per year of service in pension. I am not, of course, saying that I don’t think firefighters should be well-compensated and have security in retirement…I just think that taking a hard bargain stance when the current system is so out of balance (so many employees now have no pensions, no health care on retirement…heck, no health care even while they are working) and when the economy is such a disaster is really perplexing.

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School board trustee Mike McMahon launches blog

Mike McMahon’s web site has long been the motherlode for school-district-related documents and information. And now he has launched a blog.

And while all heads have been turned toward the change in leadership at the national level, there are lots of fish to fry re the state budget and school funding in particular. McMahon’s site is sure to be a good resource.

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Alameda shop featured in Christian Science Monitor story

A Christian Science Monitor story, “Good times for repair shops and secondhand stores,” features Alameda’s Watch Hospital:

On a Saturday afternoon in downtown Alameda, Calif., Gabe Morgan waits in a line of customers at The Watch Hospital to get a timepiece fixed. The economic downturn has made him think more about repairing than buying new.

News on budget free fall and its regional impact here, here and here.

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California budget woes abound

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to require state employees to take two mandatory, unpaid furlough days each month. Some state officials are saying no. You can read more about it here, here and here.

Sacramento Bee reporter Peter Hecht has this piece about how no one really seems to be paying attention to the budget crisis: “Warnings of budget ‘Armageddon’ don’t rouse ordinary Californians.”

MSNBC Story: Is California Dreaming Over?