In a room that San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos acknowledged was filled with people for the Wes McClure tribute, Santos delivered a State of the City speech with few surprises. The notable exception was when Santos said that there would be no Cherry Festival thus year, which elicited an audible gasp from at least one member of the audience.
On City finances, Santos noted that the deficit increased from $2.9 million at the start of the 2009-10 fiscal year and is now closer to $7 million because of decreasing revenue. Revenue from the Utility Users Tax decreased by $1 million, which is a third of what the tax was expected to generate when it was passed in 2008.
As he did last year, Santos noted projects such as the Senior Center, the new Creekside office building, the San Leandro High School, Fred Korematsu Campus, and the arts education center.
The overall tone was quite somber, except when he mentioned a new City web site design that is expected to debut in April, the construction projects throughout the City, and a story about a rescue of a cat that had been stuck on a pole for several days.
Notable audience members included Wilma Chan, who is campaigning for the Alameda County Supervisor seat she held until 2000 and Nicholas Terry, who dropped out of the race for Mary Hayashi's seat before he really got started.
The full speech (about 31 minutes) can be viewed in the following clips from YouTube. The complete text of the speech is available after the break.
It is once again a privilege to present to you a report on the state of the City. Every year my aim is to give you good news; to paint a pleasant picture of San Leandro and the progress we are making as a community. I have to say, as this recession drags on, it is getting harder and harder to bring you good news. I promise I will touch on some positives today, but I must deliver the unpleasant message first.
This has been a challenging year, to say the least. The nation's economic downturn, which began nearly three years ago, has had a devastating impact on the City's General Fund which, as you know, is our source of funding for nearly all of our basic services – police, fire, libraries, parks, recreation programs, etc.
We entered Fiscal Year 2008-2009 as the first year of a 3-year workout plan with a $4.4 million budget deficit. We were able to balance our budget thanks to reserves we set aside for just such an economic crisis. However, as 2009 progressed, the picture got even worse. July saw us begin FY 09-10 with a $2.9 million deficit. Again we turned to reserves, but those funds are sinking to a critically low level now and we just cannot rely on them further. Unfortunately, due to a deeper decline in revenues than any of us expected, the deficit has grown to $7 million. With our reserves nearly depleted, we are left with no other choice than to make deeper cuts.
Once again, the State turned to local governments to balance its budget. The good news is that the $1.8 million the State "borrowed" from our general fund revenues this year is coming back to us in the manner of a "loan," and you just about have to be a Wall Street Financier to figure out how that works.
But the bad news is that the State is taking $5.1 million from our Redevelopment fund. That means fewer and fewer opportunities for us to do community enhancement projects or business development partnerships.
These hits to our budget, along with the dramatic decline in sales tax, property tax and utility user tax revenues, mean we have to make deeper and deeper cuts in our programs and services.
Our sales tax revenues alone are down more than $5 million over the past three years with no sign that it will improve soon.
Real property transfer taxes are down $4 million from their peak just 3 years ago and the Utility Users Tax, which you as voters just ratified for us in 2008, is down $1 million.
The only way we could manage this severe fiscal crisis has been to make significant cuts to programs and services and, sadly, jobs. Police and Fire made 5% cuts to their budgets and all other departments cut their budgets by 15%, and we are looking at even deeper cuts when the new fiscal year begins in July. Over the past 12 months, we have eliminated 61 fulltime-equivalent positions in the City; that represents 12% of our workforce, which is staggering.
For example, this year's cuts have included six police officer positions, which means the Chief has had to eliminate two School Resource Officer positions, one Downtown Bicycle Patrol officer, an Investigator in Property Crimes, a motorcycle Officer for traffic enforcement, and one Officer in the Tactical Unit who is assigned to special enforcement.
The cuts in personnel have hurt services provided by all departments. We have fewer librarians and less help at the reference desks. Plus, we are buying fewer books, periodicals, movies and music CDs for library patrons to enjoy.
We have had to cut funding for Veteran's Day activities, the Arts Council, Flag Day, and other community events. Yes, even the Cherry Festival will not be happening this year.
There are routine delays in our ability to make repairs at the parks or to our street lights, or to process plans for building projects.
And, we no longer have personnel to do emergency preparedness training for the community. Living in earthquake country, this makes me nervous because we need to be as prepared as we can as residents for the next big one. The tragedy in Haiti should have been a wake-up call for all of us.
Thankfully, the American Red Cross will come to neighborhoods and businesses and give preparedness training for us. You must be able to care for yourself and your family for at least three days should a catastrophic earthquake occur.
But, an even bigger risk we are facing is the possible elimination of a fire ladder truck and the company of 9 firefighters that go along with that truck as our budget cuts go deeper and deeper.
Loss of these police officers and firefighters will mean slower response times to all emergencies, putting our community at a greater risk of loss to life and property.
In his State of the State address a few weeks ago, the Governor said "the worst is over for California's economy." I'm glad he thinks so, because it sure is slow in coming for San Leandro.
It is quite possible that the City Council and I will need to go to the voters before this year is out and ask for help to increase City revenues. What we would look for is a source of revenue that is locally controlled – that can't be tapped by Sacramento.
This, of course, would require a fair amount of discipline for us as a City Council to shepherd those new revenues responsibly, to restore the critical services and programs our community has lost, and to restore the City's reserves and fiscal stability. We know we may have a daunting task ahead of us – to convince the voters of this town to help us raise taxes during this fiscal crisis.
But, sadly, given the recent news that our revenues continue to decline, we are going to have to make even deeper cuts in our programs, services and personnel as early as July. Given our current fiscal crisis, we could well be eliminating another 30 jobs come July 1 to be able to get to a balanced budget.
Similar to what President Obama told Congress in his State of the Union Address, we need to budget for those services that are essential, and sacrifice for the time being those things that are not.
In the past several weeks, we have been soliciting input from voters in San Leandro about where our priorities should be for City services. We have received over 900 replies, which is pretty impressive on its own.
We have heard from you in the community – we know and understand what you are thinking and feeling and what you want from your City government. Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to meet your expectations until we get some new revenues and the economy turns around.
Fiscal stability is the City Council's number one priority, and we have directed the City Manager and his staff to bring us a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2010-11. This will require difficult choices and sacrificing some programs and services that are near and dear to us.
We need to look at serving our community as a whole, working together for the good of the whole community – not showing preference to one project or one area of town at the expense of others. We are all on this ship together and it is imperative that we work together to keep San Leandro on a steady course toward recovery.
We were very disappointed in the amount of funding the City received in the President's American Reinvestment and Recovery Act stimulus program. While we had submitted an impressive list of "shovel ready" projects to Washington through all the proper channels, we still came out with much less than we had hoped for.
Much of the $1.6 million we have received so far for transportation projects has already been spent on badly needed road repairs. We are going to be able to redo parts of Aladdin, Washington, and Bancroft Avenues, and Springlake Drive. And we hope to get another $1.3 million, but that too will be quickly spent on repairs to Doolittle Drive, Estudillo and Fremont Avenues, Teagarden Street, and another segment of Washington Avenue.
Now, this may sound like a lot, but given that we have about 174 miles of streets in San Leandro, and these projects I've listed only covered a total of about 3 miles of reconstruction, we still have an awfully long way to go to bring our streets up to par.
Even with that $2.9 million allotment, we are only receiving about a third of what we had requested for roadway repairs. None of our other capital projects have been funded by the A.R.R.A.
We had definitely hoped for funding for a police officer or two but were rejected in the initial round because, believe it or not, Washington believes our homicide rate is too low and our budget is too healthy. We are still hopeful that we will receive some funding later this year. If we weren't getting a modest amount from a Justice Assistance Grant, we would be down another School Resource Officer and another Detective. And we are in hopes of receiving some Community Oriented Policing Services money, and may hear news any day.
In the 50s and 60s, the City was able to cut taxes over and over again, and as late as the 1970s the City Council was able to brag about holding the line on taxes and fees. We had an economic, industrial and population boom in those decades that brought unprecedented growth and revenues to the City.
That was fine for their time and great for property owners in San Leandro during those years, but those cuts created the challenges we have today. San Leandro now receives less property tax than most of the other cities in Alameda County.
We only get 12¢ of every tax dollar you pay, while cities like Alameda, Hayward and Berkeley get a much larger share.
Despite the fact that we couldn't get any help from Washington with staffing our police department, Chief Willis and the fine men and women of the San Leandro Police Department have done an outstanding job this past year. Crime is down 12% from 2008 – robberies, assaults, burglaries, thefts, arsons – all down from previous years.
The San Leandro Police Department made over 3,500 arrests in 2009 and responded to 69,661 calls for service. That is a staggering average of 190 calls per day.
And I must share praise with our Alameda County Fire Department. Chief Gilbert and all of our firefighters are doing an outstanding job, as always. They responded to 8,002 calls for service in San Leandro in 2009, with nearly 6,000 of those being medical calls.
In fact, I want to commend all of our City employees, from the City Manager all the way down to our part-time librarians and recreation workers. They are sticking with us through these tough times.
Two of our three employee bargaining groups have agreed to forego a cost of living raise for two years in a row now, plus they're accepting a 4.6 % pay cut this year in the form of a furlough, and have agreed to a 2-tier pension system for new hires, all in an effort to do their part to get us through this fiscal crisis. This is going to give us more than $900,000 in savings.
San Leandro is still clean, safe and a great place to live and do business, thanks in great part to all of those men and women who come to work every day in our City departments. They work hard for those salaries in jobs that many of you would never want to take on. They deserve our support and admiration, and a big round of applause.
One of the tools that makes our organization so efficient and responsive to this community is communication, and our most important communication tool, our website, is getting a complete redesign as of April 1.
The new web design will allow staff to share information with the public faster at a reduced cost; it will provide more information than our old page through enhanced features; and it will be easier to navigate. All in all, a plus for the City and for our community.
Even with the down economy, we have an amazing amount of building going on in San Leandro these days. Now, as I go through these projects, remember that all of these were funded years ago, when there was much more black ink in our checkbook.
The Bay Trail Bridge should be dedicated this spring. I am still recommending it be named the "Bill Lockyer Bay Trail Bridge" due to his vision and passion to make the trail around the entire bay a reality. That is a $1.7 million project in partnership with ACTIA, ABAG, the Port of Oakland, East Bay Regional Park District, the State Trails Program, and other transportation funding sources. The bid for this project actually came in $1 million under the engineer's estimates.
The I-580 Soundwall should be finished soon. This is a $7 million project built by the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency. The neighborhoods along I-580 have been waiting for over 20 years to see these walls go up. We thank them for their patience. And, I don't think it's a bad looking soundwall either.
A new on-ramp was built for I-880 traffic getting onto the freeway from Washington Manor – a $1.9 million project funded by ACTIA, grants and developer fees. This should definitely help traffic congestion and safety around the Greenhouse Market Place.
We were able to get the Marina Channel and a portion of our harbor dredged this year, thanks to a surprise funding of $2 million for the Army Corps of Engineers. We have Congressman Stark to thank for that. Now we just have to figure out how to pay for moving away the dried dredge materials in a couple years.
Something you won't see, but should appreciate nonetheless is a new co-generation project at our wastewater treatment plant – a $3.2 million project paid for by the Wastewater Enterprise Fund. It will be taking the methane created at the plant and some bio fuel from other sources, generate 330 KW of power for our generators and treat the wastewater, saving us about $360,000 a year and eliminating more than a million pounds of CO2 emissions each year.
You will, however, definitely see the construction underway when we begin rebuilding our downtown parking garage later this year. It is going to be an $11 million, 4 story project, funded by our Redevelopment Agency. We had hoped to get an additional $2 million in the form of a stimulus program TIGER grant, which would have allowed us to add a fifth story to the building and solar power for the whole facility, but once again we were turned down for a share of the stimulus program.
The Creekside Office Plaza will be completely built out in just a matter of weeks. This third building, which was a privately funded $10 million project, is the only class-A office building constructed in the East Bay this past year. We have it on good authority that it will be 80% occupied the day it opens.
Our students are benefiting from the construction boom as well. You can't miss the high school's 9th grade academy going up on Bancroft Avenue. I think it is a fine choice that the School District will name it after Presidential Medal of Freedom Winner Fred Koramatsu. The City's Redevelopment Agency gave some financial assistance to this project, but the bulk of the funding came from the voters in the Measure B School Facility Bond.
The San Leandro High Arts Education Center broke ground last year, which is a $28 million project also funded through the Measure B School Facilities Bond. That should be ready for students to use in spring 2011.
And the San Lorenzo Unified School District recently had a ribbon cutting for Washington Manor Middle School's new gymnasium, music room and science lab – a $5.7 million building funded by Measure E bond monies.
All three of these projects are providing terrific new opportunities for our children and demonstrate our community's commitment to supporting enrichment programs for our students.
The Senior Center is last on my list, because I have to be guarded here. When it opens, it is going to be a fantastic facility for our seniors, and give us the opportunity for another location for community events during off-peak times. I believe we're still on track to finish construction this summer.
This has been an $11 million project that has been funded through Redevelopment and Community Development Block Grant funding. However, I say all this with trepidation. Given our severe financial crisis, there is the possibility that we will not be able to open the Senior Center when planned. This may have to be mothballed until our revenues are restored and we can afford to staff it. But, we will keep our fingers crossed.
If you've been keeping a tally, that is $127 million being invested in our community from these 11 projects alone. That is pretty impressive and exciting for a recessionary period. Just imagine what we can do when the hard times are past us.
And this list does not include the Kaiser hospital and medical center that is moving forward steadily. The Environmental Impact Report was released in late January and the public comment period ends March 3. The next step will be approval of the EIR and zoning approval for the project site. If all continues on schedule, actual construction could begin as soon as June 1.
This will be the largest development project San Leandro has seen in 35 years - $800 million for the hospital and medical center alone. This is bringing 3,000 construction jobs to our community and when the facilities are open there will be another 2,500 permanent jobs in San Leandro. And these figures do not take into account the retail component that we hope can gain momentum when the economy turns around, yet again bringing more new jobs to San Leandro.
Of course, whenever and wherever, we are doing out best to keep these projects and all of our operations green.
In December the City Council approved our first ever Climate Action Plan for San Leandro with some pretty ambitious goals. We want to:
Last year we joined the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership, which is gaining momentum to bring more and more green businesses and technologies to the East Bay.
For our part, our Redevelopment Agency is offering the Industrial Competitiveness Program which will provide up to $50,000 to businesses with an emphasis on manufacturing facilities, to help them become more energy efficient, thereby reducing their costs and remaining competitive in their fields.
I mentioned the Kaiser Hospital project a moment ago, which will, I'm sure, trigger questions about the status of San Leandro Hospital. Unfortunately, I can't report a resolution to that situation yet. As many of you know, the City of San Leandro has no authority or legal jurisdiction over the hospital. As much as the members of the City Council and I have worked with Sutter and the Eden Township Healthcare District to keep an open, fully functioning hospital in San Leandro, we can only wait and see what those two sides settle on. Of course, we are all hoping for the best for this community.
Sadly, we lost two giants in our City family this past year – Mayor Jack Maltester and City Manager Wes McClure. I mentioned earlier how I believe we all must work together to keep this city great. That is exactly the attitude and partnership Jack Maltester and Wes McClure had as they managed our City through the 1950's, 60's and well into the 70's. These two individuals worked in concert to form the basis of what San Leandro is today.
Both of these men had long and distinguished careers as leaders of San Leandro, and really put San Leandro on the map regionally, throughout the state, and throughout the nation.
Mayor Emeritus Jack Maltester was elected Mayor in 1958 by the City Council and became San Leandro's first Mayor elected by the voters in 1962. When he stepped down from office, Jack was and still is the longest serving Mayor in San Leandro's history.
A memorial service was held for him here at the Civic Center on May 16. Dignitaries from throughout the Bay Area and other parts of the country came and paid their respects, along with hundreds of San Leandrans, to Jack and his legacy, speaking of how he was one of the most respected and effective local politicians in the nation.
City Manager Wesley McClure was equally prominent in local government for more than 30 years. He was appointed City Manager in 1948, in San Leandro's most formative years. He served our community with distinction and foresight for 28 years, making him the longest serving City Manager in San Leandro's history.
Jack Maltester and Wes McClure were instrumental in bringing San Leandro into its industrial boom. They saw that the infrastructure was laid for the foundation of our local industry. Literally, without the sewer and utility system foundation that Maltester and McClure pushed forward, San Leandro would never have had the opportunity to build the strong industrial and research and development base we enjoy today.
And it goes without saying that the two men together were the vision and catalyst for us having the shoreline recreation area and golf courses that we benefit from today, as well as our outstanding library system.
Of course, San Leandro has seen some significant changes in the years since Jack and Wes retired. Our population has more than tripled since the 1940s. We were at about 25,000 then and conservative estimates put today's population at well over 82,000. Over these past 60 years, our community has evolved into one of the most ethnically diverse in California. And we will see an even clearer picture of that diversity when Census 2010 is completed.
Believe it or not, Alameda County is one of the hardest counties in the nation to get an accurate population count. It has to do with the diversity of our communities, the number of low income households we have, and the growing immigrant population.
I can not stress enough how important it is that every man, woman and child living in San Leandro be counted in this year's Census. For every person not counted, we loose $1,700 in federal funding – funding that could be going to our schools, roadway repairs or affordable housing. Doing the math, if San Leandro's count is even short by 500 people, that's $850,000 we lose every year in federal funding in this community.
Congressional districts are determined by Census data, and California stands to lose a seat in the House if we are undercounted. And many state funding allocations are based on population counts. So, it is vital that we have an accurate and complete count of everyone living in San Leandro on April 1.
When that Census form arrives in your home in a couple of weeks, complete it, and share the message with your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers that Census 2010 is safe, confidential and vitally important to our community.
I promised you I would end this address on a pleasant note. So, here is an example of the dedication of our City personnel and a scary story with a happy ending.
Just before Christmas, our Animal Control office got a call that a cat had somehow gotten itself up on the top of an electrical transformer. This was over near Corvallis School. Apparently it had been stuck up there for several days.
It seemed like a hopeless situation. But our Animal Control Officer called in PG&E who came armed with a bucket truck and a big net and, as you can see, the cat came down safe and sound to the arms of its waiting owners, hungry and thirsty, but healthy nonetheless.
You don't get to share a story like that everyday, so I hope you enjoyed it.
And I hope you enjoyed this State of the City Address. I know that I had hard-hitting news to deliver again this year, but we are in the business of running a city and times are tough. We've been through tough times before, and we will make it through these as long as we stay on track and work together to solve the problems ahead of us.
Thank you for your considerate time and attention. And thank you to my colleagues on the City Council for another year of hard, dedicated service to the community of San Leandro.
Let's hope that the Governor is right and that the worst times are behind us now.Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at February 23, 2010 1:17 PM | TrackBack