As departing mayor, indulge me in a farewell letter – one much shorter than President Washington’s farewell address.
1. Police Department: The overriding issue here is liability. We cannot rule out an officer-involved shooting. The risk is avoided it we contract out police services to the Sheriff’s Department. Yes, we would like to maintain our own police force, but, sadly, the financial risk to the city and its General Fund is too large. We need to acknowledge reality. There are other sound reasons to contract out to the Sheriff’s Department (as Yountville and American Canyon have done, and to my understanding is under evaluation in Calistoga). Liability risk is the one that has me the most concerned.
2. A School Resource Officer: We have no police officer assigned to our schools, as we have had in the past. Earlier this year, I caused discrete inquiry to be made of the St. Helena Unified School District, and was advised that there was no interest. This is a huge mistake (Congressman Thompson agrees with me). A dedicated Resource Officer is a full-time job, with his/her own specialized training. The school district picks up the entire cost. Sadly, we live in a world where it is irresponsible not to have such an officer. The school district needs to rethink its position.
3. Fire Department: Our Fire Department model, so inexpensive to our town in the past, is under siege, as we move, perhaps rapidly, to more full-time firefighters. This places a significant new burden on the General Fund. The council needs to be realistic in projecting the likely future cost in the Long Term Financial Forecast.
4. Pension Liability: We are substantially underfunded (not unique here). This is a serious liability, with near term impact on our General Fund. The council needs to adopt a strategy that substantially reduces this persistent actuarial accrued liability. Failure to do so will in the not distant future jeopardize discretionary services (library, parks, recreation) that we so value.
5. General Plan and EIR: Unfortunately, the city has not accumulated the cost of this 10-year plus project in a project account. My best guess is that the accumulated cost is now well north of $1.3 million. This is an enormous waste of General Fund resources. The Planning Commission and Council, without further ado, should adopt the General Plan and EIR now in circulation. Sure, each of us can passionately argue for policy changes, but the cost and time are not worth it. Changes in the General Plan can always later be made by amendment.
6. The Water & Wastewater Enterprises: Mandated improvements to both Enterprises present large challenges. For the Water Enterprise, these include removal of York Creek Dam, a new Intake Tower at Bell Canyon, and a host of other significant capital improvements. As to the Wastewater Enterprise, we are under a state cease and desist order requiring large outlays to be accomplished within a fixed schedule. There are real risks from rising engineering design and construction costs that current rates, including scheduled increases, will prove to be insufficient. This is especially true concerning on the wastewater side. Raising rates, if they become necessary, are a true test of the mettle of the leadership of the council and mayor.
7. Point 6 leads to Point 7. If current rates are not sufficient, there will be great pressure to contribute General Fund funds to the Enterprise funds to avoid or mitigate rate increases. This must be resisted. The Enterprise Funds are fee based, not tax based. It is improper financial management to subsidize ratepayer users with taxpayer dollars, as doing so misallocates public resources. In accordance with this accepted principle of proper financial management, the council recently adopted a policy that strongly cautions against taxpayer subsidy of the fee-based Enterprises. (A council majority committed a total of $1.6 million in General Fund dollars to the Water Fund in the current and last fiscal year, against strong outside expert advice, with councilmember Peter White and myself in dissent. This public policy transgression reduced our capacity to deal with significant General Fund funding issues – like roads, sidewalks, unrestored library hours, accrued pension liability, and so on.)
8. Downtown Revitalization: We will not accomplish much in the way of filling empty storefronts if we continue to cling to the nostalgia of local serving downtown uses. The council must resist pressure to maintain barriers to downtown uses, which includes, for example, a new policy of allowing formula retail (not restaurants) as a permitted use, as opposed to a discretionary use, in the Central Business District.
9. Whatever the cost, the council must proceed with the downtown bathrooms behind Telegraph Alley. This is an essential component of downtown revitalization.
10. As the City Council proceeds with a new City Hall, renovation of the Library, and perhaps a new building for Parks and Recreation, it must candidly advise that existing revenues are not sufficient to support these projects. Further, it should acknowledge that taxes to generate needed revenues are most likely not a realistic option, as they will draw substantial organized opposition and hence will not pass. This means that the city-owned Adams Street property, even if the Ted Hall lodging project proceeds, must remain on the table for a hotel development (with its attendant TOT revenue) that helps to provide the cash flow to finance new or renovated city buildings, as well as more foot traffic to support downtown retail.
11. Finally, there is the difficult problem of housing that is affordable (meaning not just regulated affordable housing but marketplace housing affordable to the middle class). We cannot continue to delude ourselves into thinking that small infill projects (Brenkle Court, Turley Flats, the McGrath project) are our salvations. We need larger projects.
In his run for mayor, my successor stressed our opportunities and what he would accomplish in the near term, including adding meaningful (modular) affordable housing units. I respectfully suggest that he and the council be graded on the basis of the progress that is made with respect to the foregoing 11 items, mostly all of very long standing.