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Letter to the Editor: A Council Out of Touch

Walnut Creek needs to be honest about its financial mess.

By Justin Wedel

It is said that if you repeat a lie many times, people are bound to start believing it. While I venture to guess that most of us do not subscribe to this adage, our City Council surely does. This is no more obvious than the council’s continued drum beating that they did not cause the city’s financial mess and that the city’s finances have in fact been managed conservatively.

The continuation of their lie is the Blue Ribbon Task Force on “Fiscal Heath.” From the start, the council’s goal of this farce has been clear: raising your taxes to cover their mistakes and to continue the council’s out-of-control spending addiction.

The dedicated Task Force members, who are to be applauded, utilized the past two meetings to review the group’s preliminary findings and recommendations. While the Task Force has proposed some recommendations that have the potential to improve the city’s long-term financial situation, their preliminary report does not include any findings on the council’s mistakes – a necessary step to prevent the city from repeating the financial mistakes from the past decade – nor are there any recommendations on how or where to make cuts.
 
The Task Force’s results should not come as a shock to anyone. The council purposely limited the group’s scope to obtain the results — and political cover — they need to raise your taxes while lying to the community about what the Task Force was asked to accomplish. Rather than doing what is best for the community the council prefers to continue their Rovian ways in hopes of covering up the truth that they are responsible for our poor financial health.
 
As our council-driven financial mess continues to cause issues in our community and if they embark on a path to raise our taxes, you will hear the council claim that they are not to be blamed. Some of their statements will be true — the poor economy has negatively impacted the city’s finances but it has not caused the financial mess, as the council will, and has, claimed — yet most will be political rhetoric. Do not be fooled. This mess has been caused directly by the council’s financial ineptitude and their inability to implement long-term financial leadership.
 
Here are the inescapable facts:

  1. Under their leadership our per-capita general fund spending is almost TWICE as much as compared to any municipality around Walnut Creek – almost $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Walnut Creek.
  2. The City Council still does not have an official long-term financial plan in place – no wonder we are in this financial mess.
  3. General fund revenue has decreased only $4M from its high, yet the city was forced to close a shortfall of more than $20M in 2010.
  4. General fund revenue grew only 12 percent (18 percent at the peak) in the last decade yet general fund expenses exploded by 67 percent. We would have run into our current problems independent of the macroeconomic situation.
  5. By 2012, our reserves are projected to have declined by almost 75 percent. We will continue to deplete reserves to balance our budget until at least 2012.
  6. Employment costs, driven and approved by the council, have placed a huge burden on our budget, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
  7. Our public infrastructure (roads, building, pools, etc.) is crumbling and our council has failed to save for its replacement.

Now, more than ever, our city leadership requires openness, honesty and ownership of their actions. This is the type of leadership that we, the people, require, deserve and is sorely missing.

Justin Wedel is a Walnut Creek resident, businessman and 2010 council candidate.

obiwan September 19, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Continued ... I wanted to share with other Patch readers some comments I received from a representative of the City on a few of Justin’s points. Some day, maybe the City will choose to participate directly in these discussions … 5- Declining Reserves: Overall, our total City reserves of about $75 million are at the same level they were ten years ago. Reserves rose in the last decade as funds were set aside and used for key projects, such as the Library. 6- Employment costs: It is true that employment costs are a significant component of the budget. As you can note from the recent (August 6) actions, many employees now pay the full share of their pension costs, and the City has a new miscellaneous pension tier for new hires. 7- Crumbling infrastructure: The City’s infrastructure is aging, but it looks quite good by comparison to other communities. While no City in California has set aside funds to pay for their entire infrastructure replacement needs, the City is working toward a capital investment program that will ensure the sustainability of our community.
Paula Miller September 19, 2011 at 09:54 PM
Obiwan, You are correct and right on when you say that it would be great if the City chose to participate directly in these discussions. We all know that this will never happen because it is very difficult and dangerous to write 'double-speak' (aka BS) as no one in city hall wants to have the finger pointed at them or be quoted directly. It continues to be a game of "smoke and mirrors" and/or "which shell is the pea under" when it comes to the true financial situation of Walnut Creek. Damn, they are good!
michael frederick September 20, 2011 at 10:22 AM
Obiwan, This source thought enough of Justin's points to want to respond to them, ad nauseum -- just not publicly? Is this some goof-ball grass-roots movement downtown masquerading as a city? Such "City" representatives can't communicate, unless it's privately over wine and cheese? If this person has such an interest, why can't they respond directly on Patch? Is being forthright with the public something City Hall discourages with its associates? In any case, I know your source is badly mistaken. For instance, our Mayor assured the public during the last election that the "PER CAPITA" policing needs of a destination city at the intersection of two freeways (Walnut Creek) are the same as those for a city at the end of a cul de sac (Antioch). Not one COUNCIL member, COUNCIL-appointed Commissioner, or COUNCIL-reporting Staffer took public exception so, I know this to be the case: NOT ONE. Either our needs, as a destination at the intersection of two freeways, are higher or lower. They can't be both, just to suit Council's immediate political need. They can't be both because that would be a City Hall that just serves Council, NOT WALNUT CREEK.
publius February 09, 2012 at 01:57 AM
The ignorance exhibited on this blog of both the workings of city goverments in general and Walnut Creek in particular is astounding. City staff don't work for the people of Walnut Creek, they work for the City Manager who, just like the CEO of any other corporation, works at the pleasure of a board of directors, in this case the city council. Just as a corporate board is answerable to the stockholders, the council is answerable to the "stockholders" of Walnut Creek, its residents. If you don't like the way the corporation operates, run for council. I think what you will find however, that bitching, moaning, an inability to work with others, and the imputing of evil intent to anyone connected with the city is not an effective means of keeping the parks clean, the streets paved, and high-quality police on the streets. Walnut Creek is consistently rated as one of the top places in the country to live because it has had a continuity of leadership on the council and high-caliber--and consequently well-paid--staff. It doesn't take much to turn that around however. Get a few crazies on the council and it all goes to hell: the best city staff will move on to less disfuctional locales, business will look elsewhere for siting their new ventures, and shoppers will take their dollars elsewhere. Maybe that would make you happier, a town more like our neighbor to the north, Vallejo. You should be more appreciative of what you've got. Many people would be happy to trade places with you.
michael frederick February 09, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Publius, You are correct -- many cities would "trade places." Unfortunately, that has much more to do with geography -- intersection of two freeways and two BART stations -- than it does with the leadership and compensation advocacy you promote. My sense, as someone who has been directly involved with commercial property downtown for ~35 years, is that absent ANY city government -- BUSINESS would still prioritize locating at the intersection of two freeways over an industrial port location, like Vallejo. The demographic profile ($$$) of the communities around WC vs. Vallejo are also an obviously critical component. WC sits where it sits -- arguments that necessitate physically moving it are seriously flawed. Does your leadership and high-paid staff play in Lance's Moraga? Why not? We will always enjoy the potential of attracting more business. The only question is whether that translates to the welfare of those who live here, as opposed to simply those who invest and find employment here. It is called "Public Service" for a reason. City employees may report to the City Mgr. However, everyone downtown works for the public. This is a city, not a corporation. If you are troubled by that, feel free to find employment elsewhere.

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