Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Engagement is a Two-Way Street

The Daily Review reported today that the City of San Leandro is moving ahead with plans to poll voters on their support for new tax measures.
City Manager Steve Hollister has contracted with the Lew Edwards Group, of Oakland, to analyze different types of income sources and how much money could be raised. Once options have been developed, Godbe Research, of San Mateo, will conduct the polling. The questions and number of people to be questioned have yet to be determined.
The cost to the city will be between $25,000 and $30,000. In addition,
The Lew Edwards Group now is setting up meetings with the Chamber of Commerce and other interested parties. Once the poll is completed and survey information is compiled, the city will evaluate short- and long-term financial strategies.
This does not constitute listening to and engaging the community in developing solutions for the city's fiscal crisis. As noted by Viewpoint Learning,
In the past top leaders did not need their followers to work through issues. They could work through issues by themselves and expect others to implement their decisions. However, if decisions on today's most important issues are to be accepted, understood and implemented effectively, leaders must engage many more people in working through.

Polling voters and talking to a select group of individuals will not bridge the mistrust and disconnect that exists across the state, and in San Leandro, between citizens and the government. As explained in a 2005 report by Viewpoint Learning entitled "Listening To Californians: Bridging The Disconnect," a profound, all-pervasive climate of distrust exists throughout California. This mistrust shapes how citizens view solutions offered by government.

Citizens see waste, inefficiency and abuses that justify their lack of confidence in government, and believe greater openness and accountability are needed. Elected officials, on the other hand, "too often see a public that wants everything but doesn't want to pay for it" and "with little to contribute to policy-making."

Thus, when it comes to significant decisions requiring public support, such as new tax measures, elected officials do not undertake the time consuming and ultimately more meaningful process of listening to and engaging the community. Before the City of San Leandro spends $30,000 on a poll, it should do what the school district did in 2005: conduct community forums where the public is invited to ask questions and offer their input and administrators are present and provide answers. In addition the school district conducted focus groups of employees, parents and community leaders on the pressing issues facing the district.

A poll only provides answers to questions the elected officials wish to ask. What the public wants is for city hall to listen first to their concerns. The public wants to ask questions of city leadership and offer input on a wide range of topics. If that does not occur, San Leandrans will not feel they were brought into the process of finding constructive solutions to the city's fiscal crisis. Mistrust and cynicism of city hall will increase.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How Should San Leandro Avoid its Day of Financial Reckoning?

The city budget deficit affects all San Leandrans. Needed street repairs are not occurring, branch library hours have been restricted, school crossing guards have been terminated, and many other cuts have been made.

San Leandro's budget consists of nearly $78 million in expenditures, paid for by about $72 million in revenue. The city has covered its deficits by transferring millions from emergency reserve and self-insurance funds. The funds have been drained to dangerously low levels. If a major disaster should occur, San Leandro could go bankrupt in a matter of weeks. Plus, these are one-time only funds that are being used for ongoing expenses.

The budget planned for next fiscal year 2009-10 is seriously flawed. It continues to draw on reserves and relies on unrealistic projections that tax receipts will increase. In the midst of the worse recession post World War II, the city is planning on a 4% gain in sales taxes and 3% growth in property taxes. In the meantime, city streets continue to deteriorate yet the City Council approved spending millions to dispose of the spoils from continued dredging of the boat harbor.

Hard questions on the budget are being ignored such as

* Why is the city spending $13 million more on police services today than in 2000 yet has almost no more police officers patrolling our streets than eight years ago?

* How will the city staff the new senior center when it is sharply restricting hours at the art and history museum and reducing operating hours at branch libraries?

* Is the city risking the safety of children and their parents by eliminating street crossing guards at schools next year?

There is a lack of willingness at city hall to address these questions. The senior center under construction may have to be closed as soon as it is opened. There is even talk of imposing mandatory work furloughs for police officers.

Nor is there any leadership by example. Last year, the mayor sought to change city policy to allow compensation for international travel the city council. All the city council agreed to in the latest budget was to eliminate the free meals they received prior to meetings.

How is the city council planning on avoiding the city’s day of financial reckoning? They are considering placing new taxes on the ballot in 2010. Higher taxes for less service should not be the future of San Leandro.

To eliminate the deficit, sacrifices must be made at all levels, starting at the top. You cannot ask others to sacrifice when you refuse to do so yourself. The city council should take an immediate 10% pay cut out of respect for, and solidarity with, the sacrifices their constituents make every day.

The city council should also revise the budget approval process. When the city council adopts a budget, it reviews data only for the next fiscal year. That’s like an ocean liner sailing at full speed across the Atlantic without radar. The city should take into account multi-year fiscal projections. This way financial time bombs in the future can be identified and defused before they explode.

Further solutions will emerge through honest and open dialogue with San Leandrans. Town halls and community forums are valuable ways to engage the community, and should be scheduled. We can learn about the city’s fiscal challenges, get answers to questions on the budget, and offer solutions.

Government can play an essential role in meeting community needs. The school board worked with parents and teachers to pass a bond to construct a 9th grade campus to solve the overcrowding at the high school.

We should also receive value for our tax dollars. Repeatedly, city hall promised vital services would be enhanced if new taxes were adopted. The new budget cuts the number of police officers from 94 to 88; despite taxes approved last November to prevent this action. The city hopes to obtain stimulus money to refill these positions. That is only a short-term fix, and makes city hall further dependent on outside help for its internal failures. Plus, we need more police officers.

What are your thoughts on how the City of San Leandro should address its budget crisis?

Upcoming San Leandro Events: Social and Political

On Saturday, June 27th, the 2009 PAW-A-THON & Pet Resource Fair will be taking place in the San Leandro Marina Park from 8:00 a.m. to noon. Event highlights include a 1-mile walk (with our without a pet) with a beautiful view of the bay, pet demonstrations and a Pet Resource Fair. Proceeds will benefit the new San Leandro Dog Park and local spay/neuter programs.

Next week, on Thursday, July 2nd, the San Leandro Community Action Network (SLCAN) will show the documentary Torturing Democracy as part of its monthly film series. The documentary explores how the U.S. used detention and interrogation practices in the “war on terror.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Family Nights This Summer At Farrelly Pool

Come with family and friends for summer fun at Farrelly Pool every Thursday night through August 13 from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

Pack a dinner or bring your food to BBQ on the grills. Every other Thursday night there will be live music. The jazz band Herd a' Cats is performing on Thursday, June 25th.

Click here for the line up of bands performing this summer at Farrelly Pool.

The standard pool admission is $5 per person. There is no extra charge for the live music. The pool is located on the campus of Roosevelt Elementary School at 864 Dutton Avenue, San Leandro.

Earlier this year, the city proposed to close Farrelly Pool for the summer due to the budget crisis. As reported in the Daily Review:
Adults and children signed petitions, e-mailed council members and appeared at council meetings in April and May to protest the Farrelly closure plan. Council members asked that — somehow — the pool open this year. Parent Brian Murrell told council members on May 18 that Farrelly was being "singled out," since the Boys & Girls Club pool doesn't have a shallow end. Traveling from the Farrelly pool in northeast San Leandro to the crowded aquatic center in west San Leandro is a 20-minute drive full of "congestion and pollution," he said.

Please spread the word and come to Farrelly this summer - to have a great time and keep this valuable community resource open for years to come.

Friday, June 19, 2009

SCA 6 and Improving San Leandro's Public Schools

California State Senator Joe Simitian has submitted a bill, Senate Constitutional Amendment 6, that would amend Proposition 13 to permit local school districts and community colleges to approve local property taxes with a 55 percent vote of the public, rather than the two-thirds supermajority currently required. A similar measure, Proposition 39, was adopted in 2000 which lowered the voting threshold on bonds for schools from 2/3 to 55% support.

Sen. Simitian has been working on trying to get the amendment through the Legislature and placed on a ballot for approval by the voters since 2003. It takes a 2/3 vote of the legislature to place constitutional amendments on the ballot. Not a single Republican state senator has ever supported SCA 6. Hence, it has not advanced.

This is another example of the tyranny of the minority in California crafted into the state constitution. It should come as no surprise that if only 34% of the members of either house of the Legislature possess the power to defeat expenditure or tax proposals the result is a dysfunctional government.

If SCA 6 was the law in 2006, Measure A, the parcel tax for San Leandro schools, would have passed. And our schools would have $2.3 million dollars more annually - which could keep the class size reduction program.

Rich School, Poor School: California School Finance

I want to share with you an article from the Wall Street Journal this week entitled "California Schools' Tough Choices."
Residents of some affluent cities in this broke state are banding together to make up for cuts in public education, opening rifts between rich and poor school districts. Key to the debate are parcel taxes, flat fees on property that are used by some cities to help fund public schools.

A handful of communities, such as the tony Bay Area enclave of Piedmont, Calif., have passed new parcel taxes to compensate for proposed state cutbacks, and others are considering them. Piedmont said the emergency measures would enable it to lay off only five of its 200 teachers, rather than nine.

"We're very, very fortunate that our community is supportive of our schools," said Ray Gadbois, vice president of Piedmont's school board. In less-affluent communities where voters are loath to approve parcel taxes, the state's funding cuts are expected to hit harder.

One is Hayward, 15 miles south of Piedmont. At the city's Tyrrell Elementary School, Principal Rosanna Mucetti said she stands to lose nine of 30 teachers. California requires any local tax increase for a specific purpose be approved by two-thirds of voters. Of the state's 1,042 school districts, only a small number have adopted parcel taxes. Since 1983, at least 245 such levies have been approved, including some that have been renewed, according to data from the lobbying group School Services of California.

The immediate cause of the schools' funding crisis is a California budget deficit pegged at $24 billion through June 2010. The shortfall prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to propose cutting $5.3 billion from schools through next year -- in addition to an $8.6 billion cut announced in February. California ranks near the bottom among states in per-pupil spending.

While some states lean heavily on local property taxes for schools, California shifted the burden to the state budget, which relies mostly on the income tax, after Proposition 13 in 1978 capped property-tax rates. The state provides school districts with about 75% of their budgets and the rest comes from local taxes, said John Rogers, an education professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The state gives more money to districts with less revenue from property taxes, using a complicated formula to equalize per-pupil spending among districts, following a mandate from the California Supreme Court. But disparities between districts are emerging in the downturn. The state formula doesn't take into account parcel taxes, which don't reflect a property's market value. The state also doesn't factor in funds raised by private parents' clubs and foundations. These are big sources of revenue for some schools.

The journalist accurately captures the sad state of California school finance. We are well on the way to creating two types of school systems in California: a small number districts that have high revenue per student because their funding is supplemented by local parcel taxes and well-funded educational foundations, and all other school districts whose spending per student (when accounting for regional cost differences) is near the bottom of all states.

After the article was published I sent the journalist an email complimenting him on the article and stating:
I disagree however with the 75% figure Rogers stated. Sacramento controls about 90% of most school district's funding. While yes some local property taxes go to California schools, Prop. 13 gave to Sacramento the power to decide how to allocate property taxes. This is why even when property taxes increases, public schools don't necessarily benefit. Sacramento can keep the amount of funding for education unchanged by simply reducing the amount of state aid that is provided.
The journalist responded:
That 75% figure is from the professor as well as from official state numbers. It varies from district to district, so 75% is the average around the state. You are correct, though, in saying that a property-tax increase doesn’t necessary benefit public schools because Sacramento just reduces the amount that the district would get.
I have sometimes felt that San Leandro is proof that money doesn't guarantee strong schools. Our district has been able to do so much on comparatively low funding. However, there is so much more we could have in our district. Examples include teaching more foreign languages, offering a dual language immersion program at the elementary level, reducing the student to counselor ratio in the secondary schools, hiring librarians for the elementary schools, increasing staff support at school sites - which would free up time for Principals so they spend less time on administrative tasks and more time visiting classrooms and meeting with teachers, and, not to be overlooked, keeping salaries competitive to attract and retain quality teachers.

The lack of sufficient funds does negatively impact education. The recent and upcoming budget cuts will be another blow to our schools. Class sizes in Kindergarten to 3rd grade have been expanded and may be further expanded by the start of the school year depending upon what happens in the coming weeks in Sacramento. If the class size reduction program in the elementary schools is eliminated, the likelihood that music, art and sports at the middle and high school will be cut substantially increases if there is a further loss in state funding.

Our schools do not have to be almost entirely dependent on Sacramento for their funding. I would like to see the school board place a parcel tax on one of the ballots in 2010. A parcel tax is the only way for a school district to raise substantial local funds, money which can not be used by the state to reduce a district's allocation. I hope everyone thinks about these issues over the summer and discusses them with school board trustees. While obtaining 2/3 support is extremely difficult, we owe it to the children of San Leandro to try.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Saving San Leandro Hospital 3: Focus Shifts to Board of Supervisors

Last night, the Eden Township Healthcare District board cast a non-binding vote in opposition to the proposal by Alameda County Medical Center and Sutter to relocate acute rehabilitation care from Fairmont Hospital to San Leandro Hospital and end emergency room service at San Leandro Hospital.

This occurred after Sutter announced earlier in the day that it was assigning its purchase rights under its contract with the Eden Township Healthcare District to operate San Leandro Hospital to the Alameda County Medical Center. Sutter also stated it would be exercising its right to give 90 days notice of termination of operation of service at San Leandro Hospital within the next 30 days.

To maintain emergency care at San Leandro Hospital it is critical that (a) the Eden Township District carefully review the offer from Prime Healthcare to takeover operations at San Leandro Hospital and (b) the Alameda County Board of Supervisors direct the Alameda County Medical Center rescind its offer to Sutter.

Fairmont Hospital should be retrofitted, not relocated to San Leandro Hospital. For an analysis of Prime Healthcare's offer, see the report by the Camden Group.

What message should we convey to the Board of Supervisors? Carole Rogers, a member of the Eden Township Healthcare District board, wrote the following today on the Yahoo Discussion Group Save San Leandro Hospital:

1. We (the Board members) have just been informed that Sutter Health believes it has the legal right to bypass the District and assign their lease to the County. Disputes call for binding arbitration, which is costly and time consuming. The District Directors have gone on record that they are against this transition.

2. PrimeHealth Care Inc. is a viable option and they have promised to keep San Leandro Hospital open as an acute care facility with a 24/7 Emergency Room. The District is in negotiations with PrimeHealth; and financed a Due Diligence report at a cost of $35,000. (CamdenGroup, attached)

3. Senator Corbett is working on obtaining a reprieve/postponmen t for Fairmont Hospital from its legal mandate to rebuild. Senator Corbett has stated on several occasions that the State Legislature is not going to shut down hundreds of hospitals in this state because they cannot afford to bring their buildings up to seismic codes - especially in this economic climate.

4. PrimeHealth has agreed to look at the feasibility of opening acute rehabilitation beds on the fourth floor of San Leandro Hospital (now vacant.) We are hoping to stipulate this in our negotiations for their proposal to lease/acquire San Leandro Hospital.
This is the link to their most current proposal: http://www.ethd. org/SitePDFs/ Prime%20Healthca re%20Proposal% 20May%2029, %202009.pdf

5. If San Leandro Hospital closes, most all of the private doctors who have offices near the hospital will move out of the community. Doctors want their offices near the hospital.

6. 80% of all SLH emergency room visits are "Urgent" not "Emergency." This statistic is true for any hospital, not just SLH.

7. 70% of SLH inpatients live in the Eden Township District. There will not be enough acute care beds or emergency room beds to assimilate between the local hospitals should SLH close.

8. Closing San Leandro Hospital Emergency Department will cost lives. Minutes count, and San Leandro residents have experienced this. The SL City Manager (Steve Hollister) asked the County Fire Chief in my presence on day, if he had a heart attack (he lives near the hospital) - would it make a difference if he were taken to San Leandro or Eden Emergency. You know the answer - (seconds count in a heart attack.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Saving San Leandro Hospital 2: Key Meeting on Monday, June 15th

Next Monday there is an extremely important meeting on the future of San Leandro Hospital. Here is a copy of an email message Doug Jones of our community sent today. Please come to the library and speak out in favor of keeping emergency room services at the hospital.
While the calls and contacts to the Supervisors will have value, I believe it would be wise to presume that the County will not retract its offer before Monday and that the District Board will vote at Monday's EXTREMELY IMPORTANT Eden Township Healthcare District Board meeting whether or not to accept the County's offer. Everyone possible must be at this meeting. Bring your family, friends and neighbors and their families.

Monday, June 15th, 6:00 pm
San Leandro Main Library, Karp Room
300 Estudillo Avenue, San Leandro

We should also make phone calls/emails to the following District members:

Dr. Walter Kran- 510 357 5836
It would be valuable to remind Dr. Kran that San Leandro Hospital has been a valuable player in Alameda County health care for 50 years (he has been there for much of that time). Approving any outcome which does away with its 24-hour ER and full acute care services would be hurtful to both District and County residents.

Dr. Harry Dvorsky- 510 483 0801
isobeld@aol. com
His wife, Isabel Dvorsky, is also a public official, and should be spoken to if Dr. Dvorsky is unavaliable.

Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar- 510 881 8291
rratnesar@aol. com
A story in the Daily Review this week reveals Dr. Ratnesar will be allowed to participate in Monday's vote despite the fact that Sutter Health paid him up to $100,000 in 2008 for the Medical Director position he currently holds; the story pointed out that Sutter would be eliminating a potential acute care competitor if it successfully closed the hospital. Ratnesar should be pressured to do the right thing and recuse himself from voting on any proposal regarding the future of San Leandro Hospital, regardless of the legal opinion of the Healthcare District Attorney. It is apparent that the community he serves has made its wishes known in the firmest way possible that any exploration of the future of SLH needs to include its continued operation as a full-service acute care hospital and 24-hour ER. If he is seen to act and vote in ways which create any other outcome, not only will health c are in our region be damaged, but public faith in the Healthcare District will be permanently destroyed.

The CEO of the Healthcare District does not vote, but does serve and guide the Board members:

Dev Mahadevan- 538 2033
dmahavevan@ethd. org
Ask him to intervene to prevent Dr. Ratnesar from voting, based on the appearance of corruption from the story. Also, if you wish you may let him know that his Healthcare District has allowed itself to be drawn into Sutter's desire to maintain secrecy while spending many months negotiating with the County Agency. This has resulted in an attempt to engineer an outcome which is extraordinarily unpopular with the citizens of the District he serves, and place the health care needs of the entire County at risk. This needs to be avoided in the future by allowing the community to participate in deciding its health care future, even if Sutter wishes for the elected members of the Eden To wnship Healthcare District to ignore us. The District owes its duty to us, not to Sutter.

Here is the Daily Review article that Doug refers to:
In his professional life, former surgeon Rajendra Ratnesar is a Sutter Health employee, working as medical director for quality care at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. In his political life, Ratnesar is an elected director of the Eden Township Healthcare District, which owns San Leandro Hospital and leases it to Sutter and Eden Medical Center. And, on June 15, Ratnesar — as chairman — will lead directors in voting on Sutter's proposal to convert the hospital from a full-service medical facility into Alameda County-operated rehabilitation and urgent care centers.

The current San Leandro Hospital emergency room, as an example, would be closed. While Sutter financial documents show San Leandro Hospital is a money loser, the directors' endorsement of its proposal could eliminate a source of future competition to a new $300 million hospital Sutter plans to build on the Eden Medical Center site.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Saving San Leandro Hospital: One Option That Should Be Taken Off The Table

On Monday, June 8, 2009, at the San Leandro main library, Alameda County medical officials have offered their vision of the future of San Leandro Hospital. Their presentation occurred during a meeting of the Eden Township Healthcare District.

In short, the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC) wishes to transfer acute rehabilitation services from Fairmont Hospital to San Leandro Hospital, along with providing urgent (not emergency) care twelve hours a day. A summary of ACMC's proposal is on the Eden Township's website.

Under state law, Fairmont Hospital must be retrofitted to meet earthquake safety standards. San Leandro Hospital currently meets these standards. However, ACMC's proposal does not maintain the emergency room at San Leandro Hospital.

In my view, county supervisors should solve the seismic safety issues at Fairmont Hospital on their own terms. In 2004, voters approved Measure A, a tax measure to save county-operated Highland Hospital from bankruptcy.

Likewise, a bond measure could be placed on the ballot to fix Fairmont Hospital. The charge per household would be minimal since the cost of construction would be spread across the county.

For years the county has known that Fairmont needed to be upgraded. The supervisors should not solve one problem by creating another. Emergency care should not end in San Leandro to keep countywide acute rehabilitation care.

For background information on the possible closure of the emergency room at San Leandro Hospital see a recent East Bay Express article.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Measure WW: How should San Leandro spend its funds?

Last November, East Bay voters passed Measure WW to improve parks and recreation areas in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The City of San Leandro will receive about $3.7 million under the measure.

In response, Mayor Santos established an ad hoc committee of Council members Michael Gregory, Diana Souza and Joyce Starosciak to recommend to the city council how the funds should be spent. The ad hoc committee met behind closed doors and without the participation of non-City elected officials or community leaders. As reported in the Daily Review:

Over the next 10 to 20 years, San Leandro expects to receive $3.7 million for park improvements from Measure WW funds approved by East Bay Regional Park District voters last November. How the city plans to spend that money — with all but $250,000 going to two projects west of Interstate 880 — has crosstown neighbors at odds. Three City Council members discussed the spending plan during three unpublicized meetings between January and April. On May 18, council members Michael Gregory, Diana Souza and Joyce Starosciak recommended that $2.4 million be used to help build a competitive pool at San Leandro's Family Aquatic Center on Zelma Street in Washington Manor. Another $988,000 should go for picnic area renovations at Marina Park at the San Leandro Marina, they said. The remaining $250,000 can be used for improving park pathways throughout San Leandro.

The city council took no action on the recommendation from the ad hoc. It is not clear when any action will occur.

I attended and spoke at the May 18th city council meeting and made a few points:

1) This should be the last time San Leandro establishes an ad hoc committee on non-confidential matters that conducts its business in closed session. While the city's action did not violate California law, it also did not meet the standard of openness and transparency we rightfully expect. Plus, an open process creates confidence in government decision making and leads to better results.

2) Aside from the $250,000 which already appears well on its way to being spent, the recommendations of the ad hoc Measure WW committee should be put on hold. The process needs to be restarted. Specifically, the city parks and recreation commission should undertake an analysis of how WW funds should be spent.

This is the best way of proceeding. The commission consists of members across San Leandro and conducts its meeting in public. After the commission makes its recommendations, then the city council could hold a work session on the matter and solicit further public input, before making a final decision. There is no need to rush any decision. The city isn't planning on applying for the bulk of the WW funds until 2010.

3) All San Leandrans are paying for Measure WW and, therefore, the city needs to spread the funded projects across the city. That is not to say that 100% of Measure WW needs to be spread evenly. However, the recommended distribution is weighted too heavily to one area of town and does not recognize that many parks across San Leandro are in need of renovation.

4) If the city wishes to operate a competitive swimming pool, and that is a worthy goal, it should partner with the San Leandro Unified School District and run the pool at San Leandro High School as a joint use project. The pool at the high school is in need of renovation. Money from Measure WW could be used.

The cost to the city could be about $1 million (at least one third the cost of building a new facility). To make it an outstanding facility, the school district would also have to contribute funds. A parking lot has been built next to the pool at San Leandro High School, allowing for easy use of the facility by the community.

-----

It was not explicitly stated at the city council meeting, but it appears that the city could not build a new competitive swimming pool for the $2.4 million recommended by the ad hoc committee. That is an issue that needs to be discussed and explained before the city council makes any decision.

And, of course, given its ongoing budget deficit, the city doesn't have the ongoing revenue to operate a new pool. Someone said, it will take three years to build the new pool in the Manor and by then the economy will have turned around. I hope the economy is strong even sooner, but this argument assumes city expenditures will remain flat in the coming years. That is a highly unlikely assumption. Plus if it takes three years to build the pool, how much is it really going to cost?

What are your views on how the city should spend its Measure WW funds?

Welcome to Go San Leandro

What are the most pressing issues facing San Leandro? How should we solve them?

There are many answers to these questions. I envision the theme of this blog will be addressing these questions. Together, we can help shape and improve San Leandro.

I welcome the input of the entire community. And if you are interested in serving as one of the blog authors, please send an email message to me individually.