The San Antonio Way … Haven for Hope Focuses on Transforming Lives of the Homeless

By Craig Powell

I first learned about Haven for Hope, a unique homeless facility in San Antonio, Texas, from a close friend, Jill McDonnell. Jill is a professional photographer in Sacramento who doubles as the official photographer of the Land Park Volunteer Corps. Jill rides “shotgun” with me on our monthly park work days in William Land Park. We distribute copious amounts of cold water to hardworking park volunteers and thank them for their indispensable help.

Jill’s overriding passion, however, is capturing extraordinary images of Sacramento’s homeless people. Her photography is reminiscent of the remarkable work of Dorothea Lange, the photographer famous for chronicling the desperation on the faces of struggling migrants during the Great Depression. Jill’s photos of homeless people have been displayed in the photo gallery in the lobby at Sacramento City Hall and other local galleries. We occasionally display her work at the Corps’ Base Camp, a reminder to park volunteers of the struggles the homeless in our midst face. Her pictures of our park volunteers are often featured in this publication.

Jill is no softheaded bleeding heart. She has a steely-eyed realist’s view of the complexity of human nature, both its positive and negative elements. She’s also closely attuned to the players, policies and politics involved with homeless issues in Sacramento. Because she has an abiding human compassion and innate common sense (an all-too-rare combination, I’ve found), I sought out her perspective when I began studying the city’s stumbling responses to the homelessness problem. She had one unwavering piece of advice: Go to San Antonio.

view/download … The San Antonio Way … Haven for Hope Focuses on Transforming Lives of the Homeless

InsidePublications.com Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Billion-Dollar Budget … City spending to increase 25 percent over five years

By Craig Powell

First, there’s the headline number: The city is poised, for the first time in its history, to spend more than $1 billion in the fiscal year that begins on June 30. Total general-fund spending (which pays for police, fire, etc.) is set to hit $450 million next year, while “enterprise” spending (primarily, the utilities department) consumes $584.2 million.

The city expects to employ 4,552 people next year, a slight increase over the current year, but an increase of 720 positions from five years ago. The city expects to employ 130 fewer people than it did in 2008.

City officials are forecasting that the budget will sink into major deficit beginning in just two years, when a general-fund operating deficit of $11 million is expected to grow to $26 million by 2022. You would expect that a city manager, facing the prospect of such red ink, would propose a city budget for next year that calls for major cuts in spending to head off the coming fiscal ditch. But you would be wrong. Fiscal discipline is a very foreign, even suspect concept at City Hall these days. In fact, city manager Howard Chan’s recently released budget forecast anticipates sharp increases in general-fund spending on city operations over each of the next several years, rising from $412.9 million this year to $515.9 million in 2023, a 25 percent increase in operations spending over five years—a spending pace that’s more than twice the inflation anticipated during that period.

view/download … Billion-Dollar Budget … City spending to increase 25 percent over five years

InsidePublications.com Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved

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.

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

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

InsidePublications.com Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Eye on Sacramento Urges City Council: Give Back the Tax!

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: March 21, 2016, 4:00 p.m.
Contacts: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Sacramento City Council Poised to Increase Utility Taxes By

$10 Million/Year as Part of its Major City Utilities Rate Hikes;

Eye on Sacramento Urges Council: Give Back the Tax!

Tomorrow evening, the Sacramento City Council is poised to approve double-digit, four-year hikes in city water and sewer rates. In 2018, the council is expected to seek voter approval of 16% annual hikes – for four straight years – in the city’s storm drainage rate. Collectively, the water, sewer and storm drainage rate hikes, if approved, would draw an estimated $88 million more each year from the pockets of Sacramento residents and businesses once fully implemented.

But there is more to the story.

Because of an imbedded 11% city “utility tax” that is unknown to most city residents, close to $10 million of the $88 million will be siphoned each year from utility customer payments and diverted into the city’s general fund to pay for the general costs of government. The diversions will reduce resources available to keep city water safe and clean, and to keep our sewer and storm drainage systems operating effectively. The diversions also drive up the need for future city utility rate hikes.

“The Council has a clear conflict of interest in deciding whether and how much to increase city utility rates,” said Eye on Sacramento President Craig Powell. “They know full well that for every dollar they increase city utility rates, they automatically divert 11 cents of that dollar into the city’s general fund due to the utility tax. This creates an almost perverse incentive for tax-hungry politicians to raise utilities rates as high as possible so as to inject more dollars into the general fund which councilmembers can spend any way they please,” Powell added.

“The Council can eliminate its conflict of interest and ease the burden on hard-pressed Sacramento residents and businesses quite easily: by returning to the Department of Utilities the $10 million in higher utility taxes that the utility rate hikes would generate each year, preferably with instructions to rebate 100% of the funds to utility customers,” Powell said.

“Several councilmembers have made public statements that major utility rate hikes are needed to upgrade and maintain our water, sewer and storm drainage systems. If that is, in fact, their sole and honest motivation for supporting major rate hikes, they can prove it quite easily by returning the nearly $10 million in higher utility taxes that the rate hikes will generate each year back to the Department of Utilities, instead of snatching it from the pockets of hard-pressed ratepayers for purposes entirely unrelated to utilities service,” Powell concluded.

Just how hard-pressed are Sacramento residents? Based on the most recently available data from the U.S. Census, EOS has computed that the mean household income in Sacramento has declined a stunning 12% from 2007 thru 2013.

The City Council will meet tomorrow evening, Tuesday, March 22nd, at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, 915 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. Make your voice heard by phoning, e-mailing or coming down to City Hall tomorrow evening to make your voice heard on these important issues. Join us in urging the City Council to “GIVE BACK THE TAX!”

###

 

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.

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

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

InsidePublications.com Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved

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.

####

Fire Alarm … Ambulance Reform Would Challenge Firefighters Union

By Craig Powell

In some sense, the city’s fire department is a 20th century relic operating in a 21st century world. And with its entrenched practices staunchly protected against change by what’s acknowledged to be the city’s most powerful union, Fire Fighters Local 522, the fire department has been essentially immune to efforts by city officials to drag it into modernity. Few have even tried to reform it; none has come anywhere close to succeeding.

To his credit, freshman Councilmember Jeff Harris has stepped up to the plate and is making cost-saving reform of the city’s ambulance service, operated by the fire department, a major priority. What’s more, he may very well succeed where most haven’t even bothered to try.

Why is the fire department so resistant to change? Fire chief Walt White is only the 21st chief in the department’s 165-year history. And he’s the first chief in city history to be appointed from outside of the ranks of the fire department. Organizational change is not exactly a prevailing value in the fire department. White didn’t have to travel far to take the job. Before joining the fire department last year, White spent his career with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, a nearby district with a long history of paying firefighter salaries that are among the highest in California and a district board dominated by members elected with the financial support of Local 522.

Apart from history and tradition, the status quo in the fire department is vociferously defended by Local 522, whose political action committee typically brings in $150,000 annually and whose cash balance stood at $330,000 at the end of last year. It showers money on candidates for city council. When Angelique Ashby ran for the council in 2010, Local 522 not only gave her campaign $6,500; it spent another $26,826 in an independent expenditure campaign on her behalf. Such outsized political “investments” buy influence and power.

read more … Fire Alarm … Ambulance Reform Would Challenge Firefighters Union

view/download … Fire Alarm … Ambulance Reform Would Challenge Firefighters Union

InsidePublications.com Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Expansive Plans … The mayor’s budget message proposes wide-ranging ideas

Published on Wednesday, 01 April 2015

Expansive Plans

The mayor’s budget message proposes wide-ranging ideas

By Craig Powell

As I wrote last month, the mayor and city council have taken aggressive steps in the past few months to assert much greater front-end control over both the city budget and the city manager (hiring an independent budget analyst, forming a new council budget committee, public outreach on budget matters). But the process changes were just the beginning. On March 10, the mayor took the unprecedented step of releasing a “Mayor’s Message on Budget Priorities” that lays out what is likely the most expansive plan ever proposed for the role of city government in Sacramento. It proposes a cautious approach to city spending and debt management in the near future while proposing more than a dozen new and unprecedented programs and initiatives.

Notably, the mayor’s plan was not the product of deliberation and consensus by the council’s new budget and audit committee. Instead, it is the mayor’s own vision and was slated for initial council review late last month. If it ends up being approved by the council, it will represent marching orders to city manager John Shirey on how to draw up the city budget for the next fiscal year that begins July 1.

The central premise of Johnson’s plan is that the city must exercise spending caution in the short term as the city nears a fiscal cliff in 2019 (due to escalating pension contributions and expiration of the Measure U half-percent sales tax hike), but that the city must ultimately fix its fiscal problems by taking aggressive steps to grow the local economy, resulting in higher city tax revenues. His ideas for growing the local economic pie are bold: He proposes a slew of new investments, plans and programs that, if approved, would inject the city more assertively into local economic development than ever before.

view/download … Expansive Plans The mayor’s budget message proposes wide-ranging ideas

InsidePublications.com Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Police and Pension Reform … Burden of new contributions erased by pay hikes

Published on Friday, 01 August 2014

Police and Pension Reform

Burden of new contributions erased by pay hikes

By Craig Powell

After three long years of informal and formal bargaining, mediation, more formal bargaining and, finally, a binding determination by an arbitrator, the city has a new labor contract with the Sacramento Police Officers Association. City police will finally join all other major city bargaining unions and be required to contribute the full employee’s share into the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (9 percent of their salaries)—and then some. In addition, city cops will be required to pony up another 3 percent of their salary to pension contributions—replacing a portion of the city’s existing contribution to cop pensions—for a total contribution by cops of 12 percent of their salary. In contrast, members of the next highest contributing city union, the firefighters, contribute 9.2 percent of their salaries to pensions.

To ease the pain of such a major reduction in take-home pay, the arbitrator awarded the police salary hikes, starting next year, of 3 percent in each of the next 3 years, totaling 9.3 percent once fully implemented. (Sergeants will get 7 percent raises.) The new contract’s near-term impact on the city’s general fund budget: a savings of $1.25 million in the current fiscal year and $2.24 million in 2014-2015, shifting to a net cost of $300,000 in 2016-2017 and $1.59 million in 2017-2018.

The arbitrator’s decision caps off a three-year effort by city manager John Shirey to require all city employees to contribute 100 percent of the employee’s share of their pensions. Until Shirey’s initiative, most nonpublic-safety city employees paid between 3 and 4 percent of their salaries to their pensions, while police, firefighters and city managers paid zip toward pensions. Shirey kicked off his campaign to require full contributions by setting a good personal example: He insisted that his own employment agreement require him to make a full 7 percent pension contribution. (Of course, that’s a little easier when you are making $258,000 per year.) Next, he required all nonrepresented city employees, including all city managers, to pony up. Then, as each city union contract expired, he insisted that each contract require workers to make full contributions.

read more … Police and Pension Reform … Burden of new contributions erased by pay hikes

view/download … Police and Pension Reform … Burden of new contributions erased by pay hikes.PDF

InsidePublications.com Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Balanced in Name Only … Small budget surplus is no cause to break out the champagne

Published on Sunday, 01 June 2014

Balanced in Name Only

Small budget surplus is no cause to break out the champagne

By Craig Powell

There is only a tiny handful of policy wonks who actually look forward to the release each year of the city manager’s proposed city budget for the fiscal year that starts on July 1. I’m one of them. City budget manager Leyne Milstein drove that point home in my interview of her last month, joking that I was one of only three people who have actually read the document that only a wonk could endure, much less enjoy.

But endure it I did and, knowing that most of you don’t spend your nights curled up with the city budget, I’m offering you the CliffsNotes version of it this month.

The good news is that after five years of battling chronic budget deficits, city manager John Shirey is proposing a $383 million general-fund budget that actually ekes out a small $2 million budget surplus. (The total city budget, which includes fee-collecting “enterprise funds” like city utilities, the convention center and marina, is actually $872 million, but most attention is paid to the city’s general-fund budget, which funds basic city services such as police, fire, parks, etc.) That means no cuts next year in services or city employees.

read more … Balanced in Name Only … Small budget surplus is no cause to break out the champagne

view/download … Balanced in Name Only … Small budget surplus is no cause to break out the champagne.PDF

InsidePublications.com Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved