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February 2012

Pacifica Index: Welcome to the Blogosphere

Wow, the local blogosphere just got the blues, so to speak. Meet Pacifica Index aka "The Blue Papers," the fourth blog to open up shop here on the coast. Pacifica Riptide launched in 2007, then our friend Professor Steve Sinai begat Fix Pacifica a couple of years later (now ably assisted by Kathy Meeh), and soon after that AOL created its Patch network of local websites, including Pacifica Patch under Camden Swita. So now take a look at the new kid on the block:


Opinion: Leo Leon Should Fill Jim Vreeland's Council Seat

I hear that Jim Vreeland is resigning his City Council seat.  Under the charter, the council will fill the vacancy for the remainder of Jim's term.

The council shouldn't get too clever in fishing around for a candidate, as the voters in the prior election have shown whom we prefer.

Leo Leon was, as I recall, the next highest vote winner in the election, and he should be offered the appointment.  Appointing someone who ran poorly or didn't run at all would show little respect for the will of the voters.

Leo spent countless hours as a volunteer on our Planning Commission, and we'd be fortunate to have someone with his background helping to run Pacifica.

Bill Collins

Council Gridlock: Local Police, Sales Tax Increase Lose

Despite impassioned pleas by everyone from Police Chief Jim Tasa to a working stiff in his overalls, City Council battled to a 2-2 draw on the issue of keeping Pacifica Police local and fully funded by means of a half-cent sales tax increase in a special election in June. The council declared a state of fiscal emergency, but could not agree on a course of action. Councilmembers Pete DeJarnatt and Sue Digre were stymied by Len Stone and Mary Ann Nihart. Jim Vreeland, a potential tie-breaker, had already resigned before the meeting. Stay tuned for more details on where the city is headed in this fiscal emergency.

City Council Can't Pass Half-Cent Sales Tax Increase

(UPDATE: City Council deadlocks 2-2 at February 27 meeting. Now what? Stay tuned for details.)

By Lionel Emde, Riptide Correspondent
At its February 27 meeting, Pacifica City Council will consider a one-half point (cent) sales tax increase for inclusion on the June 2012 ballot.
The city staff report, while detailing the "Financing City Services Task Force" history of previous actions, omits the failed attempt to increase the sales tax in 2009. The council placed a 1 percentage point sales tax increase on the ballot in February 2009, which then failed by a 60+ percent "no" vote on June 2, 2009. A "Fire Suppression Assessment" that purported to save firefighting services failed in April 2011, resulting in elimination of the city attorney's position and outsourcing of police dispatch, as has been done in other San Mateo County cities.
Since then, the only tax increase to pass has been the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), which added 2 points to the hotel tax that visitors pay.
The new revenue claimed by the city through this increased tax is less than $1.1 million, and the cost to taxpayers to try passing it on the ballot is $54,000. The increase would take effect in October 2012 if it passes.

Pacifica Performances: Year-Round Live Music @ Owen Hall


Pacifica Performances offers everything from Celtic to Latin music and real American jazz. It is a musical trip around the world, right here in Pacifica. So whether it's foggy or sunny, come to Owen Concert Hall and take advantage of these great live performances. Members save on ticket prices. You can reserve a table to any performance if you have a group; call us in advance to reserve. Celebrate a birthday or graduation; bring your family, neighbors, and friends. If you haven't come to a live concert in a while, do yourself a favor—discover something new and have a wonderful evening.

Concert schedule

Pacifica's Fiscal Emergency: City Task Force Recommends Solutions That "Might Not Be Pleasurable"

On February 18, Financing City Services Task Force Chair Bruce Banco presented to the Pacifica Democrats club the history, goals, and objectives of the task force, and its recommendations for the City Council this year.
City and County Median Income Statistics
"Pacifica is the sixth-largest city in San Mateo County. San Mateo County has a median household income of $95,300. Pacifica has a median household income of $91,134, yet has the lowest per capita revenue ($600) in the entire county," said Banco. "As you look across the county, we are not anywhere near the top level of pay given to our city employees. In fact, wages paid to our city employees are in the bottom quartile in the state."

Declining Reserves
Banco said the city has approximately 15 funds, with the General Fund being the biggest at $27 million. He also revealed that ant city's reserve requirements should be generally 10 percent to 20 percent, but regrettably this is not the case in Pacifica. He enumerated the quickly declining reserves from $6,609,009 in FY09/10 to $4,592,054 in FY10/11; $1,523,910 in FY11/12 to a predicted $503,496 in FY12/13; $139,810 in FY13/14, $130,062 in FY14/15, and $66,946 in FY15/16, with a "bottoming out" of zero reserves in FY16/17.
Potential Remedies
Because of this, the current Financing City Services Task Force has been charged with developing a new five-year financial plan, discussing a reserve policy, and/or setting a reserve amount based on a percentage of total expenditures, in addition to prioritizing options for presentation to City Council for actions to take.
"The task force is presently looking at cuts, concessions, and revenue measures, which entail looking at outsourcing, discussing public input developed from public forums, and overall generally being more fiscally conservative," Banco explained. "Their job is to examine choices, risks, and trade-offs. In order to help with their objectives, they need to look at long-term revenues and economic development, in addition to planning for the passage or failure of planned tax measures."
City's Shrinking Work Force
"Our work force has gone from 230 funded positions in FY02/03 to now approximately 158 full-time employees (176 with part-time equivalents)," said Banco. "We have nine labor unions, and all but two of our employees (Steve Rhodes and Ann Ritzma) are in a labor union. Our total compensation has been down 4.4 percent between 2010 and 2011. Our total compensation (top step) is below county averages in six of seven categories and our police contracts are soon to be reopened for negotiations. With nine unions, the negotiation processes are always ongoing."
Task Force History, Goals, and Objectives
"We have been around for four years. The initial task force was formed in July of 2008 for the purpose of identifying funding to replace the fire assessment, which was due to expire in 2009. In January of 2009, we recommended a one cent per dollar sales tax to be voted on by the voters. That particular measure was defeated by 61.68 percent of the voters. We went then back to the drawing board. In July of 2009, the city directed the (task force) to develop a five-year financial lan that would bring financial stability to the city. In 2009, we were re-chartered, not to just look at something that was already going away, but to really look at the financial structural liability of the City of Pacifica," Banco said.
He noted that the task force in 2010 recommended a five-year plan that included new revenues that would require both voter approval and union negotiations on reductions in employee costs. In March 2010, the task force issued a report that outlined cuts including reviewing the city budget and discussing sources of revenue, and in some cases, restrictions on expenditures. The task force reviewed each departmental budget. The report identified the task force's top priorities: maintaining city services and minimizing layoffs as much as possible. The report recommended that all segments of the community should come together to share solutions. The plan recommended $8.5 million in savings by lowering employee costs through negotiated adjustments to salaries, benefits, pension expenses, and other associated employee costs.

Coupled with the $8.5 million that was to come from these sources, the task force recommended three different tax measures, or at least was thinking of three different tax measures to go along with that. One was the increase in Hotel Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) to go from 10 percent to 12 percent. The second was a Public Safety Assessment, later changed to Fire Suppression Assessment. The third was a revised Utility Users Tax. Those were supposed to bring in approximately $6 million. The TOT tax passed. That was $160,000.
Back to the Drawing Board
But in April 2011 the Fire Suppression Assessment was abandoned after responses received by the city were sufficient to defeat it. This forced the task force to once again go back to the drawing board, because the Fire Suppression Assessment was a large component of what the city needed. Thus, in June 2011 the City Council adopted a budget with new cuts of approximately $1.5 million, which included the city attorney, a police captain, police dispatchers, and several other positions that added up to 19.7 equivalent positions identified as no longer part of the budget. But that ended up as not being enough, and the task force was charged one more time in 2011 to go through and take a thorough look at the whole process again.
"Our goal continues to be developing a five-year financial plan, and now to really start discussing a reserve policy, or setting a reserve amount to address this," Banco said, adding that this will take some time, since the task force already is having trouble even balancing the current budget, let alone setting reserve policies for the future. But it has been kicking around the 10 percent to 20 percent figure in its preliminary discussions.
"Our goal is about $700,000 a year in either revenue increases or expenditure reductions. We've had 14 meetings since last August. We did a lot of things. We talked about every city departmemt. We talked about every revenue source. And we received a lot of input from people that eventually (was) put into what we call options A, B, and C," Banco said. "These options will be the recommendations that we make to City Council about how to address this problem."
Banco said that all along the way the task force has been making recommendations for consideration to the City Council, as well as to staff, about such items as compensation levels in the city, not only salaries, but other items that ought to be considered, when the city does labor negotiations, such as "cafeteria cash," in addition to a whole laundry list of other items for council to consider, to help it reach goals it has for expense reduction.
"Our current goal is $3.7 million over the next five years that we're trying to identify, in order to get our reserves back up to between four and five million dollars, where they should be...while still balancing the current budget," Banco said.
Task Force Public Forums
"In January of this year, we deliberately structured our public forum the way we did because in the traditional task force meetings, people can speak but are constrained by the Brown Act from interacting with the task force members. We wanted to produce a forum in which people were free to talk at length about their opinions on everything going on concerning the city's budget and have a dialogue back and forth with the task force members. There were several lively discussions at the various tables throughout the room, especially about outsourcing the police department, PB&R cuts, revenues, utility user taxes, parcel taxes, and other issues," Banco said.
Public Surveys
In addition to the public forums, the task force devised a survey that could be filled out at the forums, or online, or at home and later mailed in. Task force members wanted feedback. They fully recognized that it was not a scientific sample. But it gave them a sense of what's going on when they received 60 percent to 70 percent "yes" or "no" on a particular issue. They took the survey results and crafted their A, B, and C options for the council's consideration. All of these options take into consideration that the task force already has identified $3.7 million in salary freezes and employee compensation changes, etc., over the next five years, but there still have to be more negotiations to achieve that number, and the city plans to go back to the unions to renegotiate these items.
Task Force Recommendations
Option A: This was the most favorably looked at by the people and with the broadest support; roughly 60 percent were either strongly in favor or somewhat in favor of this option. This is the task force preference in order of recommendation. The option is to put a half-cent transaction sales tax on the ballot. It did not indicate which month. The task force would have preferred it sooner rather than later (in other words, the June ballot, as it may or may not be considered for the November ballot, but that would have to be decided later).
In addition to that, it also has included in Option A an increase in revenues by business license increases, establishing TOT for vacation rentals, increasing the fireworks tax, updating building permit fees, assessing winterization inspection fees, and increasing towing fees.
This would be combined with a reduction in expenditures by implementation of a salary freeze and other employee compensation changes and elimination of two supervisory positions from the Public Works Department, which two positions already have been accomplished by attrition from two retirements. That brings the total to approximately $1.3 million in expense reductions and revenue increases.
Over five years, this would get the city's reserve up to more than 23 percent, and meet the city's obligations on a yearly basis. It grows the reserve to $6.4 million in five years, which would give the city a measure of security for city government to meet an emergency.
Option B: Additional reduction in city expenditures by exploring the potential of contracting out Police Department services to the San Mateo County Sheriff. The task force estimated that it would save $1.5 million. Coupled with other items already mentioned as revenue sources, Option B would bring the total to approximately $1.8 million in expense reductions and revenue increases.
If this option happens, over the course of five years it will grow the reserves to $8.7 million, or 30 percent, which would allow the city to be able to do things again, according to Banco. Right now Pacifica is in "maintenance mode"—just able to pay the bills being its number one priority.
Option C: The same salary freeze and other employee compensation changes as in the first two options and the same elimination of the two supervisory positions in the Public Works Department, but this option would include eliminating funding for the Pacifica Resource Center, the Visitors Center, and Pacifica Community TV. It would reduce staff for the swim team, reduce funding for library hours, and reduce staffing in the Police Department by eliminating one sergeant and one patrol officer.
In addition to the adorementioned revenue generation increase in fees in the first two options, option C would increase teen program fees, recreational swim fees, and swim team fees.
This would total approximately $788,018 in expense reductions and revenue increases. Over the course of five years, the reserve would be at only $3.8 million, the smallest amount of all three options.
Future Public Forums
After it presents these options to City Council, the task force plans to put on more public forums, but future forums will be more traditional, with dais and speaker time limited to three minutes at the microphone, with much less interaction than at the January forum.
How to Implement a Half-Cent Sales Tax
After Banco's presentation, there was a brief Q&A period. The first question was about the process needed for the council to get a half-cent sales tax measure on the ballot. Banco said that the council needs to declare a fiscal emergency, call for the measure to be placed on the ballot, and adopt an implementing ordinance. Declaration of a fiscal emergency requires a unanimous vote of the governing body. Adoption of the resolution calling the election requires a majority vote, and adopting the ordinance requires a two-thirds vote of the governing body and majority approval by the voters at an election.
Survey Results
To questions about what the survey results indicated, Banco replied that 57.4 percent opposed or somewhat opposed outsourcing the police, while 38.3 percent supported or somewhat supported the idea. As to the half-cent sales tax, Banco reported that 60.1 percent supported or somewhat supported the option, and 35 percent were opposed.
But Banco reminded the audience that it is one thing to get a survey result and another thing to get an election vote. He referred to the positive results that the task force had received concerning the previous 1 percent sales tax measure that it had put on the ballot, only to be defeated by 60.68 percent at the polls.
"Something has to happen. It might not be pleasurable. If it's not a revenue increase, it could be tax increases or further salary reductions or whatever it eventually winds up to be, we are just going to have to do it," said Banco.
(Story reported by Barbara Arietta, President, Pacifica Democrats, 415-246-0775; copyedited by John Maybury, Editor and Publisher, Pacifica Riptide)

Opinion: Zero Tolerance for City Council No-Shows

(EDITOR'S NOTE: At the February 27 council meeting, Jim Vreeland's resignation was announced.)

I attended the City Council meeting the evening of February 14. I set aside personal plans to do so, as other folks likely did. If I understand correctly, the council itself set this meeting date. About 50 people attended, but apparently it was too difficult for two members of the council to attend. All the folks who showed up hoping to accomplish something were in essence told that nothing would be accomplished. This was a slap in the face to all Pacificans. You set a meeting date and then DO NOT BOTHER TO ATTEND?

If Mr. Vreeland and Mr. DeJarnatt do not care to be on the council, then they should just say so. Someone else can do the job; no one cares. This city needs help, and by not attending meetings and holding up our processes, absent members condemn Pacifica to failure at many levels. 

For future meetings, the council should inform people that the meeting is cancelled due to lack of interest, just as the Valentine's Day meeting was held for no apparent reason. 

Most people at the meeting spoke of wanting to keep our police, fire, and city services. Not one person endorsed using the county sheriff's office for policing. We like our cops! They are OUR cops! The police dispatch center is already gone, and evidently response time for our police has been slowed down dramatically. Imagine the response time if sheriff's deputies had to find some of our streets.

Committees that meet at the police station now need a baby-sitter to watch the lobby. Excellent planning: Dump the dispatch so now we have to provide a baby-sitter for our meetings? We have City Hall and the Community Center for meetings—use them. Lack of foresight has caused this issue.  

I was disappointed and insulted by our council and the non-meeting. Do not try to tell Pacificans about your work when we come to your changed-date meeting and your own members do not care enough to attend. Everyone must attend or someone else can do their job. 

We are proud of Pacifica. It's beautiful, friendly, and a bit quirky, and it's home. 

The entire populace of Pacifica deserves an apology for the fiasco of the "meeting" held on Valentine's Day. Aside from those present having a chance to voice an opinion, the evening was a joke. That sort of rudeness from elected officials to their constituents should not be tolerated.

Rebecca Lorenz

Opinion: Pacifica Must Choose the Lesser of Two Evils

On February 18 I attended an excellent lecture by  Bruce Banco, chairman of the City of Pacifica Financial Services Task Force. The lecture improved my understanding of our town's dire situation and the various things we might do about it. The first two options Banco spoke of are the only ones I might consider. The half-cent sales tax increase impacts poorer people more than rich ones, but it is revenue that the state can't rob us of. I also think that the poor people and the rest of the 99 percent who have to pay it will benefit more from its passage than they are paying in increased sales tax. It is the sausages of politics. The second suggestion—outsourcing the Pacifica Police Department—was something I have opposed in the past. A woman in the audience who has worked on consolidation of several police forces in Southern California said that it had worked well down south. Banco pointed out that several Northern California jurisdictions had consolidated law enforcement and saved some serious money by doing so. A representative of the police department came to the fore and pointed out that our local police officers have an understanding of the local demography that makes them better at what they do than our county sheriff's department would be. Somebody pointed out that in virtually all previous law enforcement consolidations, police personnel with expertise in particular towns or neighborhoods were hired by the larger entity and assigned to their neighborhoods of expertise. I am for either of the first two of the task force suggestions. To paraphrase Banco: We need to do something we don't like. Which of these alternatives is least distasteful?

Dan Underhill

Yee Bill to Clean Up Bay Area Air

SACRAMENTO – Automobile pollution is the largest source of greenhouse gases and ozone pollution in California. In response, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) introduced legislation last year to allow local air districts (such as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District) and metropolitan planning organizations (such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission) to ad opt a regional commute benefit requirement of medium and large businesses.
Such a policy would ensure employers help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, and air pollution by offering employees the option to pay for their public transit, vanpooling, or bicycling expenses with pre-tax dollars, or by offering employees a transit or vanpool subsidy or free shuttle service.
While Yee’s Senate Bill 582 was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, the bill’s supporters believe the Governor is open to a more narrowly tailored bill, thus today Yee introduced SB 1339 to limit the program to just the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties.
“This legislation will not only be a benefit for Bay Area employees, but will also substantially help meet our emission reduction goals,” said Yee. “SB 1339 will significantly reduce workers’ commute costs and will also provide a financial benefi t to the employer by reducing payroll taxes.”
“About 40 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions result from commuting,” said Yee. “By offering a commute benefit, employers can help encourage their employees to consider alternatives to driving alone.”
If approved by MTC and BAAQMD, the commute benefit requirement proposed by SB 1339 would apply to businesses of 50 or more employees. “SB 1339 has real environmental and economic benefits,” said Tom Addison of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “It helps clean the air we all breathe, and helps regions meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets.”
“Public transit should be playing a much larger role in helping meet our clean air goals,” said Josh Shaw of the California Transit Association. “SB 1339 creates an incentive for employers and employees by allowing for lower payroll taxes while providing several cost-effective options to help people get out of their car and using public transit.” 
“We'll never have clean air in this state until we make it easier for people who want to take transit or ride a bike to work to do so," said Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California. “This bill is one way to do that. It will give people more commuting options and it will move the Bay Area another step closer to healthy air and lower global warming pollution.”

Opinion: Trib Buries News of Holiday Inn Doubling in Size

Buried at the end of a PACIFICA TRIBUNE STORY is the news that the "Holiday Inn Express and Suites will expand to the end of the block where the old Horizons Restaurant was. It will add 42 rooms to the current 38-room hotel and the building will be LEED certified." With all the hand-wringing about the local economy, I would think the news that a local hotel is planning to more than double the number of rooms would be a front-page headline. But I wouldn't have known about it unless my spouse had read the whole article about the hotel winning an award and discovered this little gem at the end.

Peter Loeb

Public Employee Pension Funds: Billions of Dollars Short

The 24 largest independent pension systems in California face a combined $135.7 billion in long-term obligations that they won't have the assets to cover, a new Stanford University report says.

Generally, experts consider an 80 percent funding ratio for public pensions' financial health, but that figure is greatly affected by what the funds—or in this case, Stanford researchers—assume its investments will return. Many pension systems assume they'll earn 7.5 percent or more.

The average funded ratio of all 24 systems outside of CalPERS is 53.6 percent, using the lower Stanford investment return assumption. The research covers Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles,Orange, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Stanislaus, and Ventura counties. Cities whose pensions were examined include Fresno, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego. The 24 systems account for more than 99 percent of independent system assets, Stanford says.

Between 1999 and 2010, the local municipalities' pension spending grew at 11.4 percent per year, more than the rate of growth for any other expenditure category, according to the report.

California Common Sense also sponsored the research by Stanford professor Joe Nation and student researcher Evan Storms. In December, Nation published a report that concluded California's three big statewide public pension systems have a combined $500 billion in unfunded liabilities. Public employee unions and CalPERS rejected Nation's conclusions.


Westborough Middle School Students Help Clean Beach

Seventy students and parents from Westborough Middle School in South San Francisco came to Pacifica Saturday, February 18 to help our beaches and marine life. Under the direction of Pacifica Beach Coalition, they cleaned the entire Linda Mar State Beach and four parking lots from Pedro Point Shopping Center to Linda Mar north parking lot. Altogether, they collected 200 pounds of trash and 20 pounds of recycling. Most of this was lightweight plastic wrappers, straws, bottle tops, and cigarette butts, so you can imagine how much trash they removed from the environment!

They split into two groups, and while one group cleaned the beach and parking areas, the others removed invasive weeds from a patch north of the Community Center near the cypress tree by the bike path and planted more than 200 native plants donated by Go Native, Inc. Most of the invasives they removed were oxalis, mustard, and wild radish. The former weedy patch just north of the cypress tree is now home to 200 native coyote bush, coastal sage, and lizard tail, which we hope will grow into a rich resource for the snowy plovers and other native insects, birds, and mammals that rely on a healthy beach habitat.

If you travel in this area, please stay on the bike path and help us give them time to root and mature into the beautiful coastal habitat we see along the bike trail closer to the parking area.
A special thanks to teacher Danny Yanow who has brought his students to Pacifica for beach cleanups for the past five years, and to Kathy Kellerman (and Go Native, Inc.), who has dedicated so much of her time to growing the native plants and assisting at many of the native plantings on the beach and at  Pedro Point Headlands. Also a big thanks to the Linda Mar site captains Jim, Ana, and Michael, who lead the cleanups and habitat restoration events each month, and to PBC members who joined the cleanup to help teach these students all about litter and our special coastal beach habitat.
If you have a group and would like to help us clean up a beach or restore habitat, Pacifica Beach Coalition hosts three cleanups and a Habitat  Restoration day each month, and your group could be just the one to make a huge difference. Please see or call 650-355-1668.