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.
Last summer the council voted 4-1 (Barth) against discussing a possible sunshine ordinance.
If passed by the voters, the measure would supplement the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act as they apply to the city with the following more demanding requirements:
Making and Responding to Public Records Requests
"City Clerk shall publish in the annual budget document the number of public records requests received during that fiscal year, the number of requests where documents were available, the number of requests where no documents were available in response to the request, the number of requests completed (or records available) within: 24 hours, 5 days, 10 days and over 10 days.
This is from former newspaper man Ron Kaye about the LA city pensions:
The bill to taxpayers for city pensions is close to $1 billion this year and is expected to go far higher in coming years which is the No.1 reason services are being slashed, assets sold and bankruptcy looms as the only way out.
Among the many sweetheart deals over the years that have led unions to finance the campaigns of our elected officials is a little clause that LACERS uses to make sure retirees get 3 percent cost-of-living increases in their pensions even when there is no inflation.
This year, LACERS reports the increase in the consumer price index for 2010 "for the Los Angeles area is negative 0.8%. This is the first time in LACERS' history of COLA processing that a decrease in the CPI has occurred."
Not to worry, pensions are not being decreased.
"In spite of the negative change in CPI, none of LACERS Members and beneficiaries will experience a reduction of their retirement allowances," LACERS explains on its website.
Read more here.
The city held its first budget meeting for the coming fiscal year on April 28. There was a small audience mostly made up of city staff and those who do business with the city. There were only four public speakers. Two, Marshall Weinrab of the Chamber and Steve Aceti of Coastal Coalition, had their hands out asking for more money. The other two, Sheila Cameron and Tony Kranz, made succinct comments about the lack of details in the staff report.
What’s going on? Well, the city is undergoing what it calls a “fiscal realignment plan.” That’s a smoke-and-mirrors term for budget cutting or spending reductions. They say the plan will save $778,000 and will be instead of across-the-board cuts. But cuts are cuts, and reductions are reductions, no matter how they are framed.
Here is the not so good news:
1. The budget will be reduced 9%.
2. Expenditure projections are reduced considerably.
3. No Tier One capital projects are reduced, but none are increased.
4. Rubenstein traffic calming is on hold.
6. Revenue projection is down because recovery is slower than anticipated.
6. No projected increase in sales tax revenue.
7. For property tax a 3% decrease in net taxable value over the last year (1st time in Prop.13 history).
Councilman Stocks was not present at this first budget meeting. He was in Mexico City with SANDAG on a mission dealing with border problems. ¡Olé! Both Councilmen Dan Dalager and James Bond spent a lot of time praising the staff for their outstanding work and justifying the lack of detail in the budget by saying they had spent hours conferring with City Manager Phil Cotton. The public doesn’t have this opportunity, so the public needs to be given details for transparency. For example, there is a technical paragraph in the staff report about changes in staff job classifications, but no explanation of what it means and its effect on the budget.
The elephant in the room that was scarcely mentioned is the financing of the Hall property park. The staff report simply says “No changes.” It is necessary to look in last year’s six-year plan to see that the city is not funding construction through fiscal year 2014-2015. Stocks and Dalager have been painting a rosy picture of the city’s economic status for several years now. They talk about a balanced budget and our high reserve fund. The contingency Reserve Fund is 20% of the operating budget and the Budget Stabilization Fund is 5% of the estimated revenues. This is a good place to be. but they fail to mention that this was accomplished by borrowing $45 million to buy the Hall property and finish the Library. And they never mention that they borrowed the money with Lease Revenue Bonds, so the cost is not counted as “debt” payment, but as a yearly “lease” payment. The money still has to come from somewhere in the budget, as the projects have no revenue stream. This is accounting doubletalk.
Councilwoman Houlihan talked about taking a conservative view, and Councilwoman Barth wanted more detail. This is a fuzzy picture at best. It all needs to be explained to the public better. After all, we pay the bills.