Saturday, February 17, 2018

Florida School Shooting: Translating Anger Into Action

The Florida shooting has left me so angry and upset with our President, Congress and society as a whole. We value the right to bear arms to such an extent that it is perfectly lawful for individuals to own military grade weapons that have one purpose only: kill scores of people in just a few minutes. 
What has also affected me is having a daughter who is a freshman in high school. Five of the victims were 14-year old girls like my daughter. I can't imagine the grief, sorrow and rage all of the parents of the victims must be experiencing. 
As Mayor, after the elementary school massacre in Newton, Connecticut in 2012, I joined with over 700 other Mayors in calling for Congress to pass legislation to take high capacity rifles and ammunition magazines off our streets. That did not obviously occur. I plan on channeling my outrage into donating to Democratic candidates for Congress this Fall and supporting gun control advocacy groups.

Friday, February 16, 2018

San Leandro's Pension Crisis

Rapidly increasing employee pension costs pose a grave threat to San Leandro's solvency. Absent action by the City Council, programs and service we rely upon for our safety and quality of life in San Leandro will suffer significant budget cuts in as little as four years, and only get worse thereafter. Despite the booming local economy and recently adopted tax measures, the City budget is in the red with no end in sight for the deficit spending. By Fiscal Year 2021-2022, current projections show the City will have exhausted its reserves for economic uncertainties even if the economy continues to expand. I outlined solutions that must be undertaken to avoid the impending fiscal disaster on February 13, 2018, at a City Council work session. You can view my comments on YouTube.

The entire work session can be viewed at Here is a copy of the San Leandro Times article on the issue: City Unprepared for Looming Pension Costs By Amy Sylvestri, San Leandro Times 02-15-18 The City of San Leandro’s pension costs have doubled in the past four years and will continue to rise as more employees draw their pension and live longer. The City Council held a pension workshop Tuesday night and heard some grim news about the financial future from California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) strategy manager David Teykaerts. San Leandro currently has $210 million worth of unfunded pension [and retiree healthcare] liabilities looming, compared to $105 million in 2014. Unfunded liabilities are costs the city must pay in the future, but doesn’t have money for. “To state the obvious, this is not something we’ll be solving quickly or easily,” said Jeff Kay, the city’s interim city manager. The sole public speaker at the meeting was former mayor Stephen Cassidy, who said the city should not look to the state or CalPERS for solutions, but rather take the matter into its own hands. “I do believe the city is in a dire situation,” said Cassidy. “The clock is ticking. You have to come up with a solution. You have to stop saying ‘this is a problem everyone has,’ or ‘we’ve got to look to the state for a solution.’” Cassidy said the obvious solution would be to make city employees contribute more to their pensions to ease the amount the city has to pay. Mayor Pauline Cutter said that asking city employees to contribute more would be “difficult” and may lead them to leave San Leandro for cities with more generous pension packages. Instead, the city’s chief response is to mitigate the pension debt by creating a fund to set aside for unfunded pensions. Over the past four years, the city has put $14 million in that fund, which is equivalent to just about one year of city pension costs. But during those same four years, pension costs have risen by another $105 million. Kay said the looming unfunded liability problem is combination of issues including higher employee salaries and pensions, longer retirements, and lackluster investments. CalPERS "guarantees" its pension payments, meaning that if investment returns don’t come in, it is up to cities to bridge the gap and make up for any losses. Overall CalPERS return on investments has been 4.3 percent over the past decade, falling short of its goal of 7 percent and accounting for an additional strain on cities who have to make up the difference. But the returns tend to even out over time, and average 8.4 percent over the past 30 years. Another problem CalPERS faces is that the number of active employees paying into the system will soon be eclipsed by the number of retirees drawing pensions. In 2001, 740,000 active employees were paying in and 370,000 retirees were drawing a pension. In 2015, 800,000 employees were paying in and 611,000 were taking a pension. “The numbers are skewing, and not in our favor,” said Teykaerts. Another consideration is that people are living longer and therefore receiving their pension longer. “People are living longer and that’s great, but make no mistake, that is a problem for pensions,” said Teykaerts. In 1994, the average man drew a pension for 25 years before his death and the average woman for 30. In 2017, it’s 29 years for men and 32 years for women. “Living two years longer, that’s 24 more pension checks and that money has to come form somewhere,” said Teykaerts. Kay said that because almost every city in California will be facing a pension crisis, they can work together to find solutions. “The upside is, we can work together, pool ideas, and lobby for change at the state level,” said Kay.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thoughts on Florida Shooting & Active Shooter Police Excercises

Seeing photos of the victims of the Florida school shooting is heart wrenching. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the loved ones who died. Such beautiful young people taken away by the act of one person, obviously troubled and obviously equipped with a military-grade weapon that no civilian in our society needs or should possess.
What happened in Florida reminded me that the San Leandro Police Department, 5 years, ago conducted a major active shooter exercise at San Leandro High School in coordination with the school district, Alameda County Fire Department and Paramedics Plus. Subsequently, the police department undertook a similar exercise at the Bayfair Mall.
I had advocated that the police department undertake mock active shooter exercises. At the time, some in the community criticized me for supporting these exercises because, they claimed, these were such rare events that it was a waste of city money to train for them.
Today, mass killings have sadly become part of the American experience. Since a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide, resulting in 138 deaths. 
Cadets at the police academies are trained on how to respond to an active shooter. Our police department throughout the year reviews procedures and studies how other departments handled such situations as they occur.
Here is a video clip of the 2013 exercise at San Leandro High School:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Spend Valentine's Day At A Community Broadband Workshop

Tonight there is a Community Broadband Workshop at 6:00 PM at the Main Library (Lecture Hall): 300 Estudillo Avenue.

Yes, the City is paying a considerable amount of money to a consultant to develop a broadband strategy and the City and consultant chose Valentine's Day to hold one of the workshops. Could they have picked a worse night if they wanted strong community input.  It's been my view that the City Council doesn't need a consultant to tell them what they already should know: We want Lit San Leandro - ultra high speed and affordable broadband - extended to our residential neighborhoods.

Leaving that all aside,  below are the details on this project: 

"In 2011, the City of San Leandro executed a License Agreement with San Leandro Dark Fiber to build a fiber optic network specifically to advance the City’s economic goals. On the heels of the Great Recession, the priority was to ensure that San Leandro businesses would have access to state of the art telecommunications infrastructure, enabling fast connection to the internet and a host of new “smart” technology applications. The first facility to be lit up was the Main Library!

Lit San Leandro has been successful, empowering the City to attract new software and hardware businesses, new investment and supporting our existing businesses to grow through improved technology. To date, almost 300 businesses have connected to the internet at Lit San Leandro’s fiber optic speeds. Additionally, all San Leandro Unified School District sites now access the internet via a 10 gbps connection.

In 2017, the City Council agreed that it was time to create a Fiber Optic Master Plan to identify broadband expansion opportunities and priorities for all our community stakeholders, including San Leandro residents. At this Residential Community Broadband Workshop, you will discover the rapidly expanding technologies available through broadband at home. With your participation, you can help us to identify your priorities. These priorities will be considered by the City Council for inclusion into the final Fiber Optic Master Plan.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

San Leandro Facing New Fiscal Crisis

Next Tuesday evening (2/13 at 7 pm at City Hall) is an important meeting concerning our City’s solvency and the services we as San Leandrans rely upon. CalPERS officials are coming to San Leandro to provide the City Council an update on pension benefit costs.
Some may say this is equivalent to the wolf providing an update on the status of the chicken coop. Despite the inherent self-interest of CalPERS officials to downplay the severe fiscal threat San Leandro is facing from rising pension costs, I am hopeful that the City Council will be provided accurate information and ask demanding questions. Why is the presentation important? The City Council last year approved a two-year budget that included an operating deficit for the first time since San Leandro emerged from the Greet Recession. San Leandro is having to draw down reserves to cover its deficit which stands at $8.2 million this and next fiscal year. The good news is the City’s reserves for economic uncertainty are strong, standing at $23 million at the beginning of this fiscal year. The bad news is the City is projecting operating deficits for the next decade with reserves for economic uncertainty being exhausted in 4 years. What is the cause of the deficit? First, it is not a lack of revenue. For the first time ever, since 2015, San Leandro’s General Fund revenues exceed $100 million. The local economy is booming. Plus, Measure HH passed in November 2014 boosted sales tax revenue by $10 million. As recently as 2015, the City had a General Fund surplus of $12 million. But in 2015, employee salary and benefit costs were $42 million annually. Next fiscal year the cost for employee salaries and benefits is projected to reach $55 million. Driving this surge is the annual bill San Leandro must pay CalPERS for pension benefits. In 2005, the bill the City paid CalPERS $5 million. This fiscal year the cost is $12.5 million. In 5 years, the CalPERS bill is projected to rise to $24-$30 million annually. In short, San Leandro has an expenditure driven structural deficit due to exploding employee pension costs. Every new dollar in revenue the City earns over the next 5 years will have to be dedicated to paying the CalPERS bill. But it will not be enough. The City will burn through it reserves triggering devastating cuts to services and programs. Come to the City Council work session on next Tuesday night at 7 pm at City Hall to learn more, ask questions of the City Council and see what solutions they may have to the impending fiscal disaster.
And to put San Leandro's situation in context of what's happening in other CA cities check out: