New City Manager: ‘San Leandro Is At A Tipping Point’

SAN LEANDRO | Jan. 18, 2012 | Resplendent in a three-piece suit, Chris Zapata was approved as the new city manager of San Leandro. Minutes later, though, he absorbed the first volley in what may be the beginning of a contentious period of labor negotiations with the city’s employee groups and public safety unions.

Before a brief exchange between Zapata and Councilman Jim Prola, the City Council unanimously approved a three-year, $223,000 salary for the former city manager of National City, Calif. Notably, the package includes a $16,500 stipend for moving costs and calls for Zapata to pay a 10 percent share of his pension. The latter is cause for concern for Prola, the council’s most fervent backer of unions and his own city’s public employees.

“I want to express some concerns about the contract,” said Prola Tuesday night while addressing Zapata. “I’m extremely concerned about the example we are setting and fairness we are showing our current employees.”

While we are giving you a nice raise, we have asked our lower waged earners and most of our workers to sacrifice in the last few contracts.”

San Leandro’s two public employee unions have not received a pay raise for nearly five years while absorbing increasing cuts to their medical benefits, in addition to the city instituting eight non-paid furlough days last year.

“I’m sure, barring an economic miracle, we’ll be asking them for further sacrifices later this year when we negotiate their contracts,” added Prola, who also urged the council and mayor to implement cuts to their own pay commensurate with any decrease in wages city employees may eventually face later this fall.

“I understand the sacrifices that have been made and I also understand the economic circumstances we find ourselves in and not just San Leandro, but all parts of the world,” Zapata said. He, himself, is no stranger to working without wage increases. As city manager of National City in San Diego County, he maintained a salary of $165,000 without a raise since 2004.

Zapata is sured to earn his substantial uptick in earnings in San Leandro where the once-thriving factory town has struggled to reform itself to the realities of the new economy.

“I believe San Leandro is at a tipping point,” said Zapata. “I do believe the things you have set in motion–things you have set in motion by past administrations and councils are wonderful, but you can get more done.”

Many locals are hopeful Zapata’s significant background in moving ambitious business ventures forward will translate in San Leandro. Some have recently pointed to the most obvious opportunity for Zapata to flourish is the city’s perennial diamond-in-the-rough–its Marina–as a development in need of refocus.

Some recent suggestions for the area include, somewhat quirky ideas like closing the harbor and recasting it as a water park, adding a museum and building a library. Other more conservative plans include commercial development and office complexes.

Zapata’s credentials on development are substantial. As a deputy city manager in Glendale, Ariz., he was part of the team that brought the up-and-coming suburb to national attention with construction of the state-of-the-art University of Phoenix Stadium. A few years later it led the NFL to award the city the 2008 Super Bowl.