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  No Silver Bullet
May 9, 2004
  Yet another Town Meeting occurred yesterday to explore the impact of the approximately 200 layoffs expected to be implemented next week (See attached stories from the San Francisco Chronicle and West County Times). Hardest hit are the Library and Parks and Recreation. All of the several hundred attendees agreed on one thing – find a way to maintain these basic municipal services. Presentations, however, were long on objectives and short on methodology.

It is becoming increasingly evident that maintenance of basic services in Richmond will require everyone to contribute something. Here is what it will take:

1.       Public employee unions must begin contributing the employee’s share of PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) pension plan payments and must accept a lower cost medical plan. Currently, Richmond pays the entire employee’s share of both. Management can lead the way by committing to the same contribution, but so far they have also balked.

2.       Voters and property owners in Richmond must be willing to increase various forms of taxes. Richmond is often characterized as a high tax city, but that is not accurate. Take a look at neighboring cities such as El Cerrito, Albany and Berkeley. Some of the revenue sources being considered include business license taxes for rental unit owners, library taxes, parks and landscaping taxes. Berkeley has all of these and more.

3.       The City Council must begin charging fees for some City services that are now free, such as responding to false fire alarms and providing emergency services caused by drunk drivers. The City Council will also have to provide the tools, technology and training needed for effective cost recovery and hold the staff accountable for implementation.

4.       City staff will have to function at 100 percent. Most City employees possess the qualifications and experience to do their jobs, and they are competent, hard working, highly motivated and effective. Some, however, do not show up for work, come in late, leave early, take long lunches, tend to personal business on City time, shun technology, and, simply put, do not pull their weight. The latter must either be transformed or be gone.

There are, of course, complexities in all of the above, but these are the basics. Any City Council member, staff member, management employee, union, business owner or citizen who is not willing to take responsibility for his or her fair share is part of the problem and not the solution.

RICHMOND - Residents fight cuts, want deficit explained
Janine DeFao, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 2004


Angry Richmond residents and city employees rallied Saturday to stop massive layoffs and closures this week of libraries, recreation centers and senior centers and to demand an explanation of how the city got into such a budget mess.

"The path we are on right now is a path that will lead to the destruction of jobs and services in the city of Richmond," the Rev. Andre Shumake of the Richmond Improvement Association told a standing-room-only crowd of 300 at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center. "It is time to do something different in Richmond.''

City leaders in March announced that the city had a $35 million cash shortfall for the current fiscal year. While the City Council was able to bridge part of the gap by shifting $28 million between different city accounts -- primarily from its redevelopment agency -- a $7 million deficit remained, Councilman Tom Butt said in an interview.

The council voted last month to cut $9.2 million from its $104 million general fund budget by closing half the city's recreation and senior centers, shuttering its branch libraries, cutting hours at the main library, and laying off 200 employees. The closures and layoffs take effect Friday.

But even with those savings, Butt said the city still faces at least an $18 million deficit for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1, which could result in another 200 layoffs.

"We have a hell of a problem in Richmond. ... This financial shortfall will not be dealt with emotions and is not going to be dealt with with slogans, " said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who attended the meeting with Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia.

The crowd, many of whom criticized city leaders, agreed to support a 10- point platform for Richmond that calls for rescinding all cuts in services, creating an independent commission to investigate the cause of the city's financial woes, creating an elected city auditor position and establishing a full recovery plan before tax increases or union concessions are sought.

Butt, who attended the meeting but did not speak to the crowd, said in an interview that he mostly agreed with the goals of the platform.

But, "I don't think it offers a lot of practical solutions. We need to get away from the rhetoric. ... 'Rescind cuts in services' -- we all want to do that, but how?"

Butt said the council is considering placing measures to raise taxes on the November ballot.

But that plan may not sit well with residents, who are already being asked next month to support parcel taxes for the ailing West Contra Costa Unified School District and to stop the closure of Doctors Hospital in San Pablo.

Rosalind Randle, who will be laid off Friday from the recreation center her grandfather founded in the 1930s, said closing recreation centers closes doors to children.

"Richmond already is the OK Corral," said Randle, a recreation program specialist. "Every week we have young black men coming up killed. If you don't have recreation, it's going to get worse."

Many speakers laid the blame for the financial situation squarely at the feet of the City Council and top city officials.

Butt said the criticism is deserved.

"I think we got where we are because of negligence in city government," he said. But, "I don't think there was fraud or corruption."

E-mail Janine DeFao at jdefao@sfchronicle.com.

Officials tell unions 200 Richmond workers' layoffs are unavoidable


Posted on Sun, May. 09, 2004

RICHMOND - Political leaders had little hope to offer union members and others at a town hall meeting Saturday, one week before 200 Richmond city workers are slated to lose their jobs.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond and representatives of Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, had no solutions for the city's problem, which was created by a $7 million deficit in this year's general fund and a threatened $21 million shortfall next year.

"I want kids to have the same things I had when I was growing up," Gioia told the crowd of about 200 at Richmond's Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. But, "there's going to be a little pain all of us are going to have to go through to get to the other side."

Although Miller stressed the need for accountability in city government, he said payroll health will depend on increased revenue.

Gioia spoke of regional revenue sharing and a sales tax that would split the burden between businesses and homeowners.

That resonated with Eleanor Piez, whose daughters Abby, 9, and Melanie, 6, use the public library "all the time," and play in Burg, Nicholl and Arlington parks. She said she fears they will suffer from deep cuts in park and library services.

"We can't expect people in Richmond to pay for all the services in Richmond," Piez said. "People in Kensington don't pay for all the services in Kensington."

Gioia also drew cheers from the heavily union crowd when he said that Service Employees International Union Local No. 790, whose members will suffer most of the layoffs, deserves a tangible return on its offer to pay 10 percent of the cost of health care and pension benefits.

"If 790 gives the city $6 million in concessions, we want $6 million worth of jobs," said field representative Millie Cleveland.

"We need something done now, or people are going out the door," she added.

But few held out hope that the city will reverse course now.

"There's nothing either of these guys can do," said Jim Russey, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local No. 188. "Obviously, this is not a federal government issue, and (Miller) doesn't have that kind of power. There are no miracles. We need more revenues."

City officials have said without benefit copayment concessions from all the unions -- Richmond city workers have never paid for benefits -- another round of layoffs would take place in June.

"Pension costs are not the problem," Russey said. "We're trying to come up with a plan, but it's tough when 790 comes up with one and it's rejected. The trust value needs to be re-established between the city and the labor unions."

Although the City Council was not invited to play an official role at the meeting, council members Tom Butt and Jim Rogers attended and spoke informally with participants and those in attendance.

The council was seen to have stumbled badly last week when a contract for respected labor lawyer Jeff Sloan was voted down twice, once in a regular council meeting Tuesday and again in a special meeting Thursday.

Council members questioned the wisdom of paying for two law firms. Winston & Strawn, which has successfully defended numerous corporate clients in standoffs with labor unions, has received contracts worth $500,000. Sloan's contract, which would extend through December, was for $75,000.

"They would have been better off hiring Jeff Sloan from the start," Russey said. Winston & Strawn "is driving us to an impasse."