Monday, July 27, 2009

San Leandro City Budget: Already $1 Million in the Red

Last week the San Leandro Times reported:
The city adopted it’s 2009- 2010 budget just last month, but new figures show revenue is already down another million dollars from what was projected just weeks ago. The initial budget had a projected cuts of $2.9 million happen this year. But recent sales tax figures were down by $455,000 and property tax was down $600,000, meaning the city’s budget is already off by over a million dollars.

In response, at a city council finance committee meeting, Mayor Santos wanted the state constitution amended:
Santos also said that he’d like to invoke the city’s charter, which states that the city can impose an increase in property taxes without a vote, but the state passed Prop. 13 in 1978, which caps the increases. Santos said that he’d like to see the state law changed and that, given the budget situation in Sacramento, now is the time to do it.

The continued and growing city defict comes as no suprise. As I noted last month,
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 a San Leandro Times report published on May 20, 2009, I criticized the city manager's proposed budget, which the city council subsequently adopted, predicting it soon become apparent the budget was unbalanced:
“You’ve got a budget that is dead on arrival because it is based on expectations that are un[realistic],” Cassidy said. . . . Cassidy [added] that, if the council approves the proposed budget, they will find themselves going back to the drawing board within weeks. “If they pass this budget, they will be doing the same thing Sacramento does and just passing it for the sake of passing it. They need to roll up their sleeves and make some decision based on sound fiscal sense or they will be back in July or August asking where the money is, because this revenue is not going to just appear.”

Even if the California economy were to quickly turnaround, and to date there is no sign of that occurring as the state unemployment rate continues to grow, the assessed value of properties in San Leandro, upon which property taxes are based, has dropped 4.3% for 2009-2010. Dan Borenstein of the Contra Costa Times stated in a recent column (which included a chart showing the decline in assessments for each city in Alameda and Contra Costa counties),
The economic hit of the housing downturn that struck property owners during the past two years is now whacking local governments with a vengeance, forcing cuts in everything from police and grounds maintenance to firefighting and library services. For years, local officials had figured that the state's unusual property tax assessment formulas, which protect property owners from volatile tax increases when the housing market surges, would also insulate local cities, counties and special districts from tax revenue declines if housing prices fell.

City managers and county administrators had assumed that, in a worst-case scenario, assessments, and the corresponding tax revenues, would only flatten. Last year, they saw signs that they were wrong. This year, reality is hitting them in the face. For the first time since the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, the landmark property tax-cutting initiative, the assessed value of the state's residential and commercial property is expected to decline.

In the spring, the state Legislative Analyst's Office internally forecast a 3.5 percent drop for the 2009-10 fiscal year. Now assessors across the state are starting to report their numbers and, indeed, the trend is unmistakable: Values are dropping. Contra Costa and Alameda counties this month reported their first declines since Prop. 13 passed. Contra Costa was off an average 7 percent and Alameda County about 3 percent.

Again, San Leandro's drop is 4.3%, 1.3% above the average decline for cities in Alameda County.

In the meantime, 110 city employees earned salaries over $100,000 in 2008, up from 78 employees in 2007. The Daily Review recently reported that despite its budget crisis, the City of San Leandro is paying "$38,250 annually to purchase computers and other equipment — which becomes the property of the employee — and fitness club memberships for 45 management and nine confidential employees."

If you increase your expenses while your income is dropping, you should not turn to the public for a bailout. City Hall must get its fiscal house in order before seeking any new taxes.

The city council needs to appreciate that the public sees waste, inefficiency and abuses as justifying their lack of confidence in government, and believe greater openness and accountability are needed. The public should be brought into the process of finding constructive solutions to the city's fiscal crisis.

If we can have a citizen’s commission to address the future of the shoreline, there should be a commission to examine the city’s current and long-term fiscal challenges. Such a commission was established in the City of Alameda. Otherwise, mistrust and cynicism of City Hall will increase, and vital programs and services for our community will continue to be cut.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Saving San Leandro Hospital 5: Write the Board of Supervisors

Next Tuesday, July 14th, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors will be discussing the future of San Leandro Hospital. Prior to Tuesday, it is important that we contact the Supervisors and let them know that the planned closure of San Leandro Hospital by Sutter Health will have a significant, negative impact on public health in Alameda County.

Below is email message I sent today to the Supervisors. Please craft your own message or feel free to use the arguments I made in your message to the Supervisors.

The email addresses for the Supervisors are:

scott.haggerty@acgov.org; gail.steele@acgov.org; nate.miley@acgov.org; keith.carson@acgov.org; alice.lai-bitker@acgov.org; shawn.wilson@acgov.org; chris.gray@acgov.org; alison.lewis@acgov.org; seth.kaplan@acgov.org; rodney.brooks@acgov.org

I have been told that not all Supervisors read their email on a regular basis. Therefore, the list includes the chief of staff for each Supervisor.

Please forward this message onto friends and family across the county, and add your city to your message. It is important that the Supervisors see that residents throughout the county are concerned about this issue.

Now is the time to speak up and influence the decision of the Supervisors. Thank you for your support of San Leandro Hospital.

-----------------

Dear Supervisors:

San Leandro Hospital provides the primary acute care in San Leandro, a city of 80,000. The emergency room at the hospital annually serves over 25,000 patients from San Leandro, Oakland, Hayward and other communities.

As you are aware, Sutter Health operates San Leandro Hospital and has announced its intention to close the facility on September 30, 2009. Another healthcare provider, Prime Healthcare, has made a viable proposal to takeover San Leandro Hospital and continue acute care services. However, Sutter Health is refusing to cooperate.

Instead, Sutter Health is seeking to sell the facility to the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC). ACMC, in turn, has stated its intention to close the emergency room at San Leandro Hospital and transfer the rehabilitation center currently at Fairmont Hospital to San Leandro Hospital.

Closure of San Leandro Hospital will have a sharp, negative impact on public health in San Leandro and across the county:

1) San Leandro Hospital employs over 500 persons who live throughout the county. The loss of these jobs would come at the worst possible time for our county economy. Unemployment in the county stands at nearly 12%, and the county government is facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

2) The loss of the emergency room at San Leandro Hospital increases the likelihood hospitals in Oakland, Castro Valley and Hayward will go on diversion at peak times, jeopardizing patient safety. When a heart attack or stroke occurs, every minute is precious. In turn, as acute service capacity is taxed in the middle of the county, a negative, ripple effect will be felt in areas to the north (Berkeley and Albany) and south (Newark, Union City and Fremont).

3) While to date most persons that contracted the swine flu have recovered, over 170 persons have died in the U.S., including two in Alameda County. The first wave of 1918 flu too caused few deaths. It was then followed by a different form of the virus that killed 50 million persons worldwide.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has warned state and local officials to plan for the worst-case scenario of the virus reappearing with renewed strength this fall. If the swine flu should return in force, thousands of county residents will require hospitalization. Alameda County will need every hospital bed it has right at the time Sutter plans to close San Leandro Hospital.

Accordingly, I request that you keep San Leandro Hospital open. I recognize that Fairmont Hospital is need of a seismic retrofit. However, you should direct ACMC to either solve the earthquake safety issues at Fairmont Hospital or continue to operate the emergency room at San Leandro Hospital along with offering rehabilitation care. ACMC should not solve one problem by creating another.

Alternatively, you could direct ACMC to rescind its offer to Sutter Health and allow Prime Healthcare to negotiate with Sutter Health for transfer of operations at San Leandro Hospital.

Thank you for addressing this important public health issue for our county and ensuring that emergency and acute care at San Leandro Hospital continues.

Stephen Cassidy
San Leandro

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

San Leandro Teachers March in Pride Parade



In June, Judi Burle, a teacher in the San Leandro Unified School District, sent an email message to fellow teachers and members of the community inviting us to march with her in the 2009 Pride Parade in San Francisco. She stated,
I am very proud of the pioneering work we have done in our district to teach respect and safety for LGBT people. We're really awesome in this work! So after many years of 20-20 hindsight, this year I'm organizing a group to march in the education section of this years LGBT Pride Parade.

I was glad to join Judi and other teachers in the district. We walked at the end of the Coalition of Independent Schools group. While small, this was the beginning of a group that will become much larger with time. It was also I believe the first time any San Leandro group has participated in the Pride Parade. Here is a short video I shot.



Finally, on a related topic, I want to share an email message I sent to the Alameda Unified School District Board of Education in May 2009 as they were debating whether to adopt an anti-bullying curriculum for their elementary schools that taught respect for gay and lesbian families:
Dear Alameda Unified School District Board of Education,

I am a former member of the San Leandro Unified School District Board of Education and parent of a Kindergarten child attending public school in San Leandro.

During my term, San Leandro adopted a Safe School K-12 grade curriculum, working with the assistance of Barry Chersky. I believe the experience of San Leandro is relevant to your decision on adoption of an elementary school Safe School curriculum.

After working through the challenges of development and adoption, implementation of the curriculum in San Leandro went smoothly. The curriculum has been widely supported by teachers, parents and students.

I recently asked my daughter what she has learned this year about bullying. She responded, “No name calling, no teasing and be an ally.” Students are taught to recognize and reject the techniques of a bully. When bullying occurs, students are encouraged to be an ally of the victim by speaking out and reporting the bully to the teacher.

The curriculum also strikes at many of the root causes of bullying including stereotypes, prejudice, and hostility toward students and adults based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Family structures that include those with two dads or two moms are acknowledged and respected. Children are taught to treat everyone with respect and that school is a safe place to be who they are.

If you asked me ten years ago whether teaching such messages to elementary school students was necessary, I would have expressed doubt. Today I see the nexus between educating elementary school children to respect all persons and families and schools that are free of bullying and violence among students.

Attached are some photos of work produced by students at Roosevelt Elementary School in San Leandro as part of the Safe Schools curriculum that was posted at the beginning of the school year in the library. The photos will give you a sense of the all-inclusive, positive messages students are taught.

From my experience as a school board trustee and parent, an elementary school curriculum that acknowledges our lesbian and gay parents as full partners in education and counters teasing, name calling, and bullying for all reasons, including because of a student’s sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation, benefits all students. The curriculum plays an important role in creating a positive school climate and culture of tolerance that values each student and parent.

Very truly yours,

Stephen Cassidy

I also submitted a shorter version of this letter to the San Francisco Chronicle which was published on May 30, 2009.

Saving San Leandro Hospital 4: Call Assemblymember Hayashi

Yesterday in Sacramento Assemblymember Mary Hayashi refused to vote and support a bill by State Senator Ellen Corbett that would have delayed the closure of the emergency room at San Leandro Hospital. In response, Mia Ousley of the Save San Leandro Hospital Coalition wrote:
Our State Assemblymember, Mary Hayashi, let us all down yesterday. The Assembly Health Committee voted 9-6 on State Senator Ellen Corbett's SB-196, which would require more public notice before an ER can be closed. However, the bill needed 10 votes, and MARY HAYASHI DIDN'T VOTE!

Please call Hayashi's Sacramento office ASAP -- hopefully before the CNA's Bonnie Castillo meets with Hayashi at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon on this matter. You can call Hayashi's office at 916-319-2018.

Creating procedural barriers to the closure of the ER by Sutter at San Leandro Hospital can help us keep the ER open permanently. This would provide greater time for us to build community pressure across Alameda County on Sutter and the Board of Supervisors. As noted in an analysis of SB 196:
When a hospital closes or eliminates a health service, it has a dramatic effect on the availability, quality, and accessibility of care. This bill adds 90 days notice of the closure of the emergency department (ED), for a total of 180 days, and requires the hospital to hold three public meetings. This additional notice, the author states, will allow the public to find solutions to keep their emergency rooms open, find a new provider, or increase revenue to keep the local hospital open.

When it comes to legislation that will make a difference for our community, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. That sadly appears to be what occurred.

Here is a link to a story on Hayashi's non vote:

"The bill language needed more work because in its present form, SB196 does not save San Leandro Hospital's emergency room," Hayashi said in her statement. "It provides for a longer notice and more public hearings regarding the closure of an emergency room, but does not address the immediate situation and does not provide for any stops to the closure. SB196 requires significant amendments in order to strengthen efforts to keep this hospital's emergency room open, including two bills, AB1427 and AB1235, that I have introduced."

Hayashi said she views Corbett's bill "as a valuable work-in-progress" and she looks forward to working with Corbett on the issue.

Corbett replied her bill does address San Leandro's immediate problem and — in conjunction with all the networking she has done with community organizers, Alameda County supervisors and staff members, and others — would've done the trick. "The bill speaks for itself: It forestalls a closure by allowing for more time to keep the hospital open — that's how it stops the closure."

And in a statement issued by Corbett's office, California Nurses Association governmental relations director Bonnie Castillo said it's "shocking that Assemblywoman Hayashi would stall this critical piece of legislation, after she has publicly stated her support for keeping San Leandro Hospital open."