Archives for: June 2010
ENCINITAS: School district will ask voters about renovation
Voters in the Encinitas Union School District will decide in November whether to allow the district to borrow as much as $44.2 million for renovation work and technological upgrades at its nine campuses.
Trustees voted 4-1 Tuesday to put the bond measure on the ballot this fall, saying it was vital for the district to have modern classrooms.
SCV Poseidon Desal Deal? Govt. May Rescue Junk Bond Project
Due to soaring cost estimates and lack of private financing for a proposed 50-million-gallon per day Carlsbad desalination project, a government water agency may negotiate a takeover deal with the project’s developer, Poseidon Resources, Inc...
But far from instilling caution in public water boards or city councils, Poseidon’s risky business seems to have inspired them to bend over backwards—at taxpayers’ expense—to help keep the company’s dreams alive...
See Also: NCT Water Authority to Explore Agreement
SacBEE Pension Fund Bombshell
The Governmental Accounting Standards Board has dropped a bombshell
with preliminary new rules that, if adopted, would force governments
to increase projections of pension liabilities by using tighter
"discount rates" – effectively, lower assumptions of pension fund
The huge California Public Employees' Retirement System, the
California State Teachers' Retirement System, the University of
California Retirement System and dozens of locally managed pension
funds would no longer be able to minimize unfunded liabilities by
adopting rosy scenarios of future earnings.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, through his financial aide, David Crane,
has waged a war of words with the union-controlled Cal- PERS, alleging
that the nation's largest public pension fund has been lowballing its
Schwarzenegger has said he won't sign a new state budget without
pension reforms of some kind. A few days ago, the administration
reached agreement with four state worker unions on some mild pension
changes mostly affecting new workers...
The governor and Crane have touted a Stanford University study
suggesting that, in calculating future pension obligations, the three
state retirement systems stop using a discount rate that's the same as
their assumed rates of annual earnings return, 7.5 percent or higher.
The EUSD has failed to respond to our questions sent over 9 days ago. Other members of the public have asked what the bond money will be used for. They have reported that the district doesn't know or is unwilling to say. We can't confirm, because the district has not responded.
From the survey the district recently conducted it appears that the district is looking for a use that the public will accept. As with previous pre-ballot surveys this one lacks a few key elements that could prove to render the survey a poor predictor of voter action.
Please read the survey here.
The ETA has both objected to and supported past school bonds measures.
Taxpayers Going Postal Over Public Employee Pensions, Perks. Unions’ miscalculation: Opting for secrecy.
BY PETER SCHEER—For public employee unions–those representing police, firefighters, teachers, prison guards and agency workers of all kinds at the state and local level–these are the worst of times.
Despite record high membership and dues, and years of unparalleled clout in state capitols, public sector unions find themselves on the defensive, desperately trying to hold on to past gains in the face of a skeptical press and angry voters. So far has the zeitgeist shifted against them that, on one recent weekend, government employees were the butt of a Saturday Night Live skit, followed, the next day, by a New York Times magazine cover article proclaiming the “Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand.”
Public unions’ traditional strength–the ability to finance their members’ rising pay and benefits through tax increases–has become a liability. Although private sector unions always have had to worry that consumers will resist rising prices for their goods, public sector unions have benefited from the fact that taxpayers can’t choose–they are, in effect, “captive consumers.”
At some point, however, voters turn resentful as they sense that: (1) they are underwriting, through their taxes, a level of salary and benefits for government employment that is better than what they and their families have; and (2) government services, from schools to the DMV, are not good enough—not for the citizen individually nor the public generally—to justify the high and escalating cost.
We are at that point.
In California, government sector unions, once among the most entrenched and powerful labor groups in the country, mainly have themselves to blame. For most of the post-war period, they were a force for progressive change, prospering by winning over public support for their agenda.
In the 1970s and 80s they backed laws like the Public Records Act and Brown Act to make state and local government more transparent. Because unions enjoyed broad-based political support, efforts to enhance government accountability and responsiveness to voters were seen–correctly–as benefiting the unions and their members.The public interest and public employees’ interests were aligned.
But the unions switched strategies. Although the change was gradual, by the 1990s California’s government unions had decided that, rather than cultivate voter support for their objectives, they could exert more influence in the Legislature, and in the political process generally, by lavishing campaign contributions on lawmakers. Adopting the tactics of other special interest groups, government unions paid lip service to democratic principles while excelling at the fundamentally anti-democratic strategy of writing checks to legislators, their election committees and PACs.
While not illegal (in fact, such contributions are constitutionally protected), the unions’ aggressive spending on candidates puts them on the same moral low ground as casino-owning tribes, insurance companies and other special interests that have concluded that the best way to influence the legislative process is to, well, buy it.
Public unions in California turned distrustful of voters and ambivalent about government transparency. In the mid-1990s unions backed improvements to the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law, but also inserted a provision assuring that the public would have no access to collective bargaining agreements negotiated by cities and counties—often representing 70% or more of their total operating budgets—until after the agreements are signed.
What happens when voters and the press have no opportunity to question elected officials about how they propose to pay for a lower retirement age, healthcare for retirees’ dependents, richer pension formulas and the like? The officials make contractual promises that are unaffordable, unsustainable (and, in general, don’t come due until after those elected officials have left office). In the case of Vallejo, in northern California, this veil of secrecy, and the symbiotic relationship it fosters, has led to municipal bankruptcy.
The biggest blow to unions’ public support has come from revelations about jaw-dropping compensation and pension benefits. Police have received unwelcome attention for budget-busting overtime and the manipulation of eligibility rules for “disability pensions,” which provide higher benefits and tax advantages. Other government employees, particularly managers, have been called out for “pension-spiking:” Using vacation time, sick pay and the like to boost income in the last years of employment, which are the basis for calculating retirement benefits.
Such gaming of the system boosts starting pensions to levels that can approach, and even exceed, employees’ salaries. Some examples from the reporting of the Contra Costa Times’ Daniel Borenstein: A retired northern California fire chief whose $185,000 salary morphed into a $241,000 annual pension; a county administrator whose $240,000 starting pension was 98 per cent of final salary; and a sanitary district manager who qualified for a $217,000 pension on a salary of $234,000. At a time when most Californians anticipate an austere retirement (if they can afford to retire at all), government pensions are a source of real voter anger.
The harm to the credibility of public employee unions from these excesses is made far worse by the unions’ attempts to hide them. The revelations about pay and pension abuses have surfaced only as a result of lawsuits. (Disclosure: The First Amendment Coalition has been a plaintiff in several of these cases.) Public employee unions, rather than taking the lead to stop abusive compensation practices, have vigorously opposed disclosure of individual employees’ salaries and pension amounts.
Public employee unions need to reboot. The old strategy of cynically buying political influence and excluding the public from decision-making has run its course. Unions can rebuild public support by recommitting to an agenda of open government in the public interest. If they don’t, they will be further marginalized.
KPBS School Board Sup Candidates to be Public
The SD School District is including the public in an open process to select a new top administrator. The pool of candidates is narrowed down behind closed doors to three candidates and after that the public will get to interview and help vet these top candidates.
The City of Encinitas could benefit from doing something similar when hiring a new top administrator, who's job it is to serve the entire community.
NCT WATER: SD County Water Authority ponders subsidy for desal plant
The San Diego County Water Authority is considering a subsidy to help Poseidon Resources Corp. build its proposed desalination plant, water authority Chairman Bud Lewis said Friday.
The subsidy, which would flow to water districts that have agreed to buy from Poseidon, would replace a subsidy promised by Metropolitan Water District, Southern California's main wholesaler...
At this week's council meeting many public speakers came to warn the council against allowing Carltas development company to "defer" repayment of their tax advance.
After the public speakers, the council took a break and went into the backroom. They came out, discussed the issue, and all voted to not allow the payment to be deferred and enter into to negotiations with Carltas. Here is what Carltas had to say about the issue.
Here is what Bill Dean, the president of ERGA had to say about the issue.
Several weeks before, Mayor Dalager put this issue on the consent calendar for approval without public discussion. Former council member Cameron spoke to the issue and pointed out a large number of questions that were not addressed by the city and it was clear to many that her questions kept the City from approving the deferment. The consent calendar is for items that are considered housekeeping and no brainers.
For more on the misuse of the consent calendar.
VoSD How Your Water Rates Subsidize Golf
San Diego - In the last four years, the price of water for almost every customer in San Diego has exploded. Scarcity and new construction projects have fueled constant rate increases and higher bills.
But one class of customers has escaped the rate hikes unscathed: The 475 businesses, homeowners associations, golf courses and public agencies that buy reclaimed water from the city.
In Encinitas one of the San Dieguito Water District's largest customers is a for-profit public-private partnership (Encinitas Ranch Golf Authority).
LATimes reports, Calpers is poised to ask cities and schools for more money to fill the pension hole.
One quote is revealing:
After weighing those factors, CalPERS actuaries concluded that it would be all right for the fund to go ahead with the hike because it wouldn't overly affect the state's general fund. The general fund, currently at $86 billion, pays for major state programs, including health and welfare, education and public safety.
A question California residents should be asking, why aren't Calper's financial gurus basing the contribution request on how much is needed to fund the pension pot, NOT how much can be squeezed out of state budget? If the budget were flush would they be admitting that the pension pot needs way more money in it to remain solvent?
SUNANA BATRA --
Before Encinitas Union School District trustees consider on June 29 whether to place a 30-year, $44 million bond measure on the November ballot, taxpayers must require the list of "specific needs" and "precise costs" for this loan that the district is asking taxpayers to bankroll.
After viewing how the board and superintendent operate June 1, I am sounding the alarm to fellow Encinitas residents: These folks have a completely half-baked plan to continue reaping taxes from us and throwing that money at projects without determining the district’s true needs. MORE.
And from a blog reader:
Get this; when [Batra] from NCT asked under public questioning
what the $44 million is for, the Superintendent told her; we'll try
and have the language ready by next month, less than 90 days before the election.
If you know the number is $44 mil, then you know in detail what you
need the $44 for...don't you?
If you do know, why aren't you telling the public and the parents what
the money is for?
In a 3-1 (Barth) vote last year, the Encinitas City Council rehired Austin-Foust to do the city's general plan update traffic study. Austin-Foust was the consulting company that shepherded the city's last traffic study, which was never considered acceptable by the city council or traffic commission.
Last night, the traffic consultant spoke regarding making policy decisions to allow for the reduction in our traffic infrastructure level of service and adding roundabouts to Rancho Santa Fe road in Olivenhain. Otherwise, their lecture was pretty shallow on details.
See Also: TLB Council Meeting Report.
Last week, West Coast Arborists were given a new contract for city tree trimming. This is a $140k/year contract. For years, their contract has been administratively (behind closed doors) and non-competitively renewed. Recently, members of the public have been inspecting their work and requirements of their contract (including council candidate Tony Kranz). West Coast's work has been questioned by professional arborists and it appears that West Coast has been deficient in meeting the requirements of their contract, which prohibits the City from renewing the contract administratively.
Here is staff's canned answer to Mayor Dalager about West Coast's work.
A public records request filed after those statements were made reveal that there are zero written records of the inspections. None exist.
Looking to renew West Coast Arborist's contract, Staff asked West Coast to bring the City a contract that they could piggyback. This approach to contracting effectively blocks out any competitors from getting the City's contract. Here is the discussion about piggybacking:
WCA beat out only a single competitor for the Rosemead contract. They also got the original Encinitas contract (10 years ago) without Encinitas issuing an open call for proposals.
With the exception of Barth, the contracting approach went unchallenged by the council and WCA was given a new contract.
Deborah Ellis describes five reasons for poor tree service:
1. They don’t know how to prune trees properly
2. They don’t care about pruning trees properly
3. They want to remove as much from the tree as possible so that they can get as much money for pruning the tree as possible. More branches on the ground = the more work I did = the more I get paid (?)
4. Their client insists on this type of pruning, because they have seen it so much before, and they think this is the right way to prune trees.
5. Tree services that do improper pruning as a part of their business are often much cheaper than tree services that do proper pruning – perhaps in the short term – but not in the long term!
From the white paper:
Caption reads, "This poor Chinese elm was stripped of just about every single leaf last year. Apparently, leaves are a bad thing to have on
trees, and so are most of the branches as well. Maybe the tree service thinks they can fertilize the tree to feed it. Obviously they don’t understand that it is the leaves that make food for the tree."
At last week's council meeting, local arborists pleaded with the council to stop the over prunning of our city trees. Dalager, Houlihan, Stocks, and Bond voted to renew the WCA contract which provides monetary incentives for poor care of our city's trees. Barth objected, but did offer middle ground with a motion to extend WCA's contract one year which would culminate in a review of their work. No one seconded her motion.
Note: the contract does not clearly cover the scope of work related to the complaint response. An official public records request with the City demonstrates an absence of an agreement and lack of documentation of instructions given to the attorneys for their work on this complaint. The City contracted with a law firm without a written scope of work or limit on the scope or extent of their work.
The vagueness of the invoices are congruent with the instructions to the contractor.