Scandal at the City … Utilities department needs an overhaul

By Craig Powell

Last month came the blockbuster news that in 2013, two employees of the city’s Department of Utilities were caught engaging in sexual activities in the backseat of a city vehicle in a city park on city time. Both were married, but not to each other. City managers gave the couple what was effectively a slap on the wrist: temporary cut in pay, loss of some vacation time and a “no fraternization” order.

But when a whistleblower complaint was filed almost two years later with the city auditor’s office, the full story started tumbling out. The two employees lied during the investigation of the original complaint, claiming that that had done no more than “kiss twice.” It turns out that they were actually spending up to three hours of their workdays in a city trailer having sex. City emails and interviews confirmed that they also bought, sold and used cocaine and alcohol while in the trailer. They admitted that it was “possible” that at least one of the employees drove city vehicles while under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. They also sometimes put in for overtime on days when they partied for hours in the trailer.

They were dumb enough to exchange sexually explicit emails and pornographic pictures and videos with one another using city email accounts. One of them even had a practice of sending pornographic emails to other DOU employees, including high-level DOU employees, none of whom apparently objected.

Out of respect for their families’ privacy, I’ve chosen not to disclose their names. But since both held senior positions with major responsibilities before they resigned, it’s entirely fair to ask: Did their extended “extracurricular activities,” which apparently went undetected by oblivious senior DOU management for at least two years, compromise public health and safety? One of the them was a project manager in charge of managing city contracts with the contractors that have been installing water meters and tearing up our streets to move backyard water service to the streets in front of people’s homes, the source of much consternation, waste and dangerous construction practices in recent years.

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Eye on Sacramento Special Board Meeting

We would like to extend a personal invitation to you to join Eye on Sacramento for a special Board Meeting this Friday, June 24, 2016 at Noon featuring a special guest speaker: Jorge Oseguera, the City Auditor for the City of Sacramento.

We will meet at the Perko’s Cafe located at 925 3rd Street, Sacramento at J Street & 3rd Street.

If you plan to attend, please R.S.V.P. to Anna Robertson at via email at anna@eyeonsacramento.org by Thursday June 23rd.

We hope to see you there!

Statement of Opposition to RT Service Cuts

Eye on Sacramento’s

Opposition to Regional Transit’s Service Cutbacks

The Sacramento Regional Transit District is proposing major service cutbacks to its system that will reduce ridership by 1 million passengers annually in order to cut operating expenses by $2.2 million. This proposal falls on the heels of a very recent 10% fare increase, and it will likely be followed by another 10% fare increase next year (an RT staff recommendation) which will bring RT fares to the highest in the nation. Annual ridership, which had been growing steadily from 1988 to 2009, when it reached 35 million, has since plunged to 25 million trips with no end in sight to the decline. Every major action that RT has taken in recent years seems calculated to further weaken the transit system’s financial and operational integrity and reduce its capacity to serve the public’s transit needs.

Eye on Sacramento understands the serious financial difficulty in which Sacramento Regional Transit finds itself, much of it due to RT’s own making. For example, RT has approved three to four percent wage and salary hikes in recent years at a time when the cost of living was rising only one percent. The Board also approved spending $45 million in local Measure A sales tax funds to build a single mile of track, known as the Green Line, to a developer’s project site in Township 9 (Richards Blvd.). These were funds that could have been used to support RT’s system-wide light rail and bus operations. They could also have been used to avoid RT’s issuance of costly bond debt which now drains $6 million annually from RT’s beleaguered general fund. Although the operating subsidies that RT collects from various government and tax sources have been steadily increasing at a healthy rate of four to five percent per year, their growth is still not large enough (and, frankly, will never be large enough) to sustain the system while the Board gives its staff excessive wage hikes, wastes tens of millions of dollars to benefit a tiny number of downtown developers, adopts ruinous fare hikes and service cuts and then stands back to watch its patronage and the revenue it brings, plummet.

In a report that EOS delivered to RT’s Board in March, EOS recommended that the Board abandon its ruinous path of fare hikes and service cutbacks to alleviate the financial crisis and turn, instead, to cost cutting that will not hurt patronage.[1] EOS offered 15 recommendations, only one of which included service reductions that would depress patronage. Others included such actions as returning to the bargaining table to renegotiate both wages and work rules to, for example, make widespread use of part-time drivers. They also included the Board asking downtown developers to reimburse RT, in part, for the financially destructive decisions that they have forced upon RT.

[1] “EOS’s Recommendations on RT’s Fiscal Crisis: Avoiding Both Bankruptcy and a Transit Death Spiral,” March 14, 2016.

EOS also endorses the principle expressed by the Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (STAR) that RT redeploy resources from the operation of unproductive routes to increase service and patronage on the system’s best routes. This can be done when RT reduces its cost structure. We also endorse STAR’s support for immediately mothballing the Green Line to Township 9, upon which RT squandered $45 million in Measure A funds to build. This service attracts only 300 passengers per day. Mothballing it would save $333,000 each year.   We very much oppose the Board’s thinking that it further appeases Township 9 interests by diverting half of the Gold Line service away from the Sacramento Valley Station to Township 9 to preserve current light rail service to Township 9. Doing so would damage intermodal connections to and from the Capitol Corridor for no reason other than to appease a crony. Doing so would also cut savings from discontinuing service to Township 9 from $333,000 per year to only $235,000. Township 9 already is served by two good bus services to downtown.   If the developer of Township 9 wishes to assure a continuation of light rail service to his project site, he should be invited to fund the cost of it.

EOS urges the RT board to start thinking of the best interests of its riders and the populace of Sacramento when making decisions rather than the interests of politically connected developers.

If you have any questions regarding this statement, please contact Professor Greg Thompson (Emeritus), Chair, EOS Transportation Committee, e-mail: greglthompson123@gmail.com, telephone: (916) 246-9230.

Steinberg’s Consulting Arrangements with Metropolitan Water District

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: June 2, 2016, 3:00 p.m.
Contacts: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Eye on Sacramento Calls on Mayoral Candidate Darrel Steinberg

to Fully Disclose the Details of His Contractual Relationship

With Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District

Sacramentans learned for the first time yesterday from a Sacramento Bee story that Darrell Steinberg, while actively seeking the support of Sacramento voters for his mayoral bid, has been covertly providing strategic consulting services to the politically powerful Southern California-based Metropolitan Water District (MWD) whose interests are very much at odds with the interests of the City of Sacramento and its residents on just about every major water issue facing our region. Steinberg’s law firm, Greenberg Traurig, has been collecting $10,000 per month from MWD for Steinberg’s services since July of last year.

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) has been championing the adoption of meaningful transparency and ethics reform in the City of Sacramento for the past 18 months. EOS co-hosted 10 public forums on the subject last year, helped form a broad coalition of supportive community groups and presented reports and proposals for a model ethics code, a robust ethics commission, a strong Sunshine Ordinance and an independent redistricting commission.

We are troubled that Sacramento voters who have already voted via absentee ballot (now fully half of all Sacramento voters) did so without the knowledge that one mayoral candidate was effectively on the payroll of the MWD. While nothing can be done at this late date to cure that significant informational failure, there are some immediate steps that Mr. Steinberg can and should take to fully explain the nature and extent of his relationship with MWD for the benefit of voters who will be casting their ballots on Election Day.

Questions that Mr. Steinberg should now answer include: When did he and MWD first begin discussing a consulting arrangement? How much of his time over the past year has he devoted to providing “strategic advice” to MWD as called for in the contract? Has he been maintaining time records of his services? Will he publicly disclose such records? Has he provided any “deliverables” to MWD, such as reports and other documentation? Will he and MWD now disclose such documents? What public officials in our region did he meet with in the service of MWD’s goal of building relationships with North State stakeholders? Will he and MWD voluntarily release copies of their e-mail communications with one another, without the need for submitting formal public records requests? (Note: Steinberg was providing “consulting services” for MWD, not legal services which would have been protected from public disclosure under the attorney/client privilege).

The voters of Sacramento deserve to know if Mr. Steinberg, in providing consulting services to MWD while campaigning for Sacramento mayor, has been acting appropriately, ethically and loyally as both a Sacramento resident and an aspirant to the mayor’s office or has he acted in a manner that is at odds with the long-term best interests of Sacramento and its residents?

By promptly and fully disclosing these matters to the Sacramento public, Mr. Steinberg will go a long way towards allaying legitimate public concern over the role he is playing with MWD. If Mr. Steinberg fails to provide such disclosures, we would encourage the Sacramento County Civil Grand Jury to consider initiating an investigation into Mr. Steinberg’s relationship with MWD to uncover the facts. One way or the other, Sacramento voters deserve to know the facts and implications of Mr. Steinberg’s dealings with MWD.

The contract between WMD and the Greenberg Traurig law firm involving Mr. Steinberg’s consulting services to WMD may be viewed on the EOS website via this link.

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Metropolitan Water District of Southern CA agreement with Greenberg Traurig LLP

Metropolitan Water District of Southern CA agreement with Greenberg Traurig LLP

Metropolitan Water District of Southern CA payments to Greenberg Traurig LLP

 

Statement from Eye on Sacramento to the Sacramento Transportation Authority

Statement from Eye on Sacramento to the Sacramento Transportation Authority

14 April 2016
by Greg Thompson, Chair, EOS Transportation Committee

EOS strongly opposes the proposed sales tax measure for the following reasons:

Regional Transit receives generous and growing sales tax subsidies that amounted to over $80 million this year alone, an increase of over 4% compared to the previous year, and over 9% over the past two years. RT’s existing sales tax subsidy is growing 3 to 4 times faster than the CPI, and yet RT management says that it is not enough to keep its system safe, clean and in good repair.

EOS thinks the existing subsidy is more than enough to do that, and in a report that we presented to the RT Board in March, we outline how (see link 1 below). We oppose any more tax revenues piled on top of those RT already is receiving until RT puts its own house in order. Without RT reform, its costs for running the existing system will continue to rise faster than its subsidies, and it will be back at your door, again and again to ask for additional subsidies just to keep the existing system running.

It is unconscionable placing this ever-growing burden on the backs of RT riders, not only asking them to pay among the highest fares in the country, but also high and ever-growing taxes.

An unreformed RT also blocks the region from having the discussion that we should be having now, which is about our vision for transit in the region’s future. EOS thinks that with RT reform there is an important role for transit in the region’s future. EOS hopes that regional leaders will support RT reform so that the region may start that conversation soon, and EOS will gladly participate in it.

1 Eye on Sacramento. EOS’s Recommendations on RT’s Fiscal Crisis: Avoiding Both Bankruptcy and a Transit Death Spiral, Sacramento, 14 March 2016.

Professor Gregory L. Thompson 
Secretary and Board Member, Train Riders Association of California
Chair, Transportation Committee, Eye on Sacramento
Professor Emeritus, Florida State University, Department of Urban and Regional Planning
Chair, Light Rail Committee of the National Transportation Board based in Washington, D.C.

RT on the Rocks … Fight over fare hikes splits transit board

By Craig Powell

 

To get a sense of how broke Regional Transit is, consider this analogy. Let’s say you’re part of a Sacramento family. You have a fairly well-off, middle-class lifestyle, but in the last couple of years you’ve really splurged, buying yourself a big, new Mercedes and a big, pricey cabin up at Lake Tahoe, all financed to the hilt. Meanwhile, the small business you run, RT Clothing, has never regained the boatload of customers you lost when you decided to jack up your prices by 20 percent in the middle of the last recession (oops), leaving you with a flat income for years. Fortunately, your wife, a retiree who collects both a military pension from the federal government and a healthy state government pension, has been collecting cost-of-living increases for years. She brings home close to 80 percent of the family income these days, bless her. Together, you have a family income of close to $150,000 per year.

The charming new home you bought 30 years ago in Light Rail Estates is showing serious signs of age and, let’s be honest, neglect. Your roof is shot, the paint’s badly peeling, you may need a new furnace and your backyard pool has algae stains and a rather unpleasant odor. Lately, some of the sketchier kids in your neighborhood have been jumping over the fence when you’re not home, swimming in your pool, hanging around for hours on end and leaving their trash everywhere. It’s gotten so bad that many of your longtime friends no longer accept invitations to your summer pool parties. You’ve spotted some of them going into Bob and Nancy Uber’s backyard down the street. The Ubers put in a nice, new pool last year and they let their friends drop in to swim whenever they want.

Things are going so-so until one day you decide to open up your bank and credit card statements for the first time in six months. You’re stunned (stunned!) to see all of the savings you thought you were socking away each month have somehow evaporated. Not only that, you owe a whopping $18,000 on your Visa bill. (How did that happen?) In a panic, you check the balance in your checking account and your heart sinks further. You have just $3,000 in cash and, at the rate your family burns money, it will be long gone in three months’ time.

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Proposed RT Rate Hike & Alternative Solutions to RT’s Fiscal Crisis

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: March 14, 2016, 1:30 p.m.
Contacts: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Professor Greg L. Thompson, Chair
EOS Transportation Committee
Phone: (916) 246-9230
E-mail: greglthompson123@gmail.com

Eye on Sacramento Issues Report Critical of Proposed RT Fare

Hikes and Proposing Alternative Solutions to RT’s Fiscal Crisis

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) issued a report today that is highly critical of a proposal to hike RT fares by 20%, which would make them tied with New York City for the highest transit fares in the county. The report sets forth dozens of proposals for closing RT’s looming budget deficits by reducing RT’s operating expenses without significant cuts to service levels. The RT board of directors will be considering its staff’s fare hike proposal at an RT board meeting this evening.

The EOS report is titled “Avoiding Both Bankruptcy and a Transit Death Spiral.” It makes the case that RT doesn’t have to choose between imposing huge, damaging fare increases, which could very well trigger a transit death spiral, on the one hand, and doing nothing about its looming financial crisis, which would likely lead to bankruptcy, on the other. The EOS report proposes a “third way” for RT to work its way out of its current fiscal crisis: smartly managing its way through the crisis with a laser beam focus on shedding unnecessary costs, renegotiating burdensome labor and other contracts and putting what have been sacrosanct and inefficient functions out to competitive bid.

“There is a road thru RT’s current financial crisis that does not involve massive fare hikes that will punish RT riders, drive down already depressed ridership and risk a transit death spiral,” said EOS President Craig Powell. “EOS has offered today what is essentially a roadmap for how RT can move beyond its fiscal crisis by reining in RT’s bloated operating costs without any serious cuts to service levels. It’s now a question of whether the RT board and its management can marshal the political courage to take the cost-cutting actions that are essential to stabilizing RT’s very shaky finances and protecting its vital role as provider of transit in our region,” Powell added. “The era of protecting sacred cows and entrenched interests must end at RT if it’s to avoid the awful choice between bankruptcy and a transit death spiral,” Powell concluded.

The principal author of EOS’s report is Professor Greg L. Thompson, who recently retired from the faculty of Florida State University. Professor Thompson is a transit expert who currently serves as chair of the Committee on Light Rail Transit of the Transportation Research Board, a Washington, D.C-based organization.

To View/Download EOS’s report, click here
To View/Download the Executive Summary of EOS’s report, click here

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The Pot Tax … Helping kids at the expense of the general fund

By Craig Powell

Jay Schenirer means well, he really does. But programs launched with the best of intentions are no guarantee of sound policy or effectiveness, as Schenirer’s recent proposal confirms.

His basic idea is to dramatically increase city funding of programs for children and young adults by getting voters in June to approve a “new” 5 percent tax on marijuana cultivation, with the proceeds directed exclusively to youth services, bypassing the city’s general fund. Schenirer and his hardworking staff have spent the past year compiling research studies that show the benefits such programs can have on outcomes for kids.

Schenirer is certainly not new to youth issues: He’s spent most of his adult life working on them—in state service, on the city school board, as an education consultant and as the founder of youth-focused nonprofits since his 2010 election to the city council. (He’s raised more private funds for these nonprofits from corporations and foundations than any other councilmember with the exception of our city’s star private fundraiser, Mayor Kevin Johnson.) Schenirer is almost certainly the council’s foremost authority on youth issues, with Rick Jennings—the long-term CEO of the Center for Fathers and Families who served on the city school board alongside Schenirer—a close second.

Schenirer and his staff have prepared a thoughtful 22-page blueprint for how to create a new city department of youth services, an idea that city manager John Shirey threw cold water on by calling it a wasteful increase in city overhead. Shirey prefers to have the parks department, which administers the city’s current youth services programs, handle any expansion of such programs.

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Hikes Would Impose the Highest Bus Fare in the Country, Higher Than New York City

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Release Date/Time: January 25, 2016; 1:45 p.m.
Contact: Craig Powell, President, Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Survey Data Show that Regional Transit’s Proposed Fare

Hikes Would Impose the Highest Bus Fare in the Country, Higher Than New York City

R.T.’s Growing Financial Crisis Cries Out for Governance Reforms To Control Escalating Costs

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) announced today that its analysis of survey data of bus fares charged by transit systems throughout the U.S. and Canada shows that the 20 percent fare hike (from $2.50 to $3.00) being considered tonight by the Regional Transit board of directors (6:00 p.m.) would, if approved, impose a bus fare on Sacramento residents that would be the highest in both the U.S. and Canada, exceeding bus fares charged by all transit systems in both countries.

EOS researchers examined the database maintained by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), specifically its 2015 Public Transportation Fare Database of fares charged by transit agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada. EOS analyzed the APTA Fare Database to identify regular base fares, exclude fares for intercity commuter service and to convert Canadian fares to U.S. dollars at prevailing exchange rates.

EOS’s finding that RT’s proposed $3.00 bus fare would be the highest in the U.S. is confirmed by the World Atlas, which published a report on November 17, 2015, which tabulated the highest transit fares in the world and identified New York City as the city with the then highest U.S. fare at $2.80 per subway ride, a fare which would be eclipsed by RT’s proposed $3.00 fare.

RT’s Unprecedented Proposed Fare Hikes Are a Sign of Deepening Crisis at RT

RT is facing a major financial crisis that has been a long time in the making. In the past five years its operating costs have risen by 29% (according to RT’s staff report on the proposed fare hike), while inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, over that same period rose only 8.7%. RT experienced such a major escalation in expenses despite the fact that energy costs, which have a major impact on RT’s bottom line, have declined significantly in recent years.

Raising fares to the highest in the nation to deal with such a crisis is a desperate and potentially reckless move that would punish low-income, seniors and transit-dependent Sacramento residents for RT management’s failure to rein in RT’s escalating costs of operation. It would push the price of basic transportation beyond the reach of potentially tens of thousands of people, leading to further revenue declines and a pernicious cycle of rate hikes/ridership drops that could very well lead to the system’s bankruptcy. (We take note of RT’s recently adopted board policy which calls for fare hikes every two years.) And the fare hikes would do nothing to address the real source of RT’s financial problems: its failure to control rapidly increasing operating costs.

RT’s Governing Board Needs Major Reform

RT’s governing board is comprised of 11 elected officials from the County of Sacramento and the cities that RT serves. “Historically and by natural inclination, politicians prefer to spend money to keep constituents happy rather than cut spending which makes constituents unhappy. Politicians are too often beholden to well-heeled special interests with agendas that differ from the broad public interest. Finally, local officials serve on an excessive number of boards, commissions and committees in addition to their primary duties as elected officials on their own jurisdictions’ governing board,” said EOS President Craig Powell.

“Sacramento city councilmembers, for example, serve on more than a dozen different governing boards, commissions, joint power authorities and committees (in addition to the city council), which stretches their ability to provide meaningful, informed, engaged and responsible oversight of RT and its staff beyond the capacity of even a superhuman,” said Powell.

“It is time for our local elected officials to recognize their human limitations and do the right thing by appointing experienced, independent and highly qualified individuals to serve on the RT board who will be better able to oversee RT management, as well as represent their jurisdiction’s interests in their place and stead. We support the Sacramento business community’s recent policy initiative which includes a recommendation that the Sacramento city council appoint experienced business men and women to represent Sacramento on the RT board. We encourage the leaders of all local jurisdictions to do the same, balanced with appointees who can represent the interests of all RT stakeholders, such as riders, seniors, the disabled and last, but by no means least, taxpayer,” Powell added.

“We recognize that such governance reforms may require charter and even legislative amendments. Given RT’s dire financial condition, there is no time to waste in enacting them,” Powell concluded.

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