Cassidy Takes Swing At Employee Pensions; Highlights City’s Growing Tech Sector

Mar. 19, 2012 | San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy drew a line in the sand Monday night during the annual State of the City address as negotiations begin in earnest with the city’s public employee unions. After just a year in office, Cassidy reported the city’s economic well-being is improving, but optimism fell short of reversing his pledge to overhaul its public employee pension system.

While Cassidy said projected improvements in the city’s fortunes have begun to show signs of coming to fruition, “Too many San Leandro do not have jobs,” he said. Cassidy lauded the city council for approving last June the first budget in four years reconciled without the use of one-time transfers or reserves. He pledged to do the same this June when the city council offers a budget for the next fiscal year.

The first year take derived from Measure Z, the sales tax increase passed in November 2010, brought in $3.5 million in new revenue, he said. The council also moved $1.5 million from the general fund to its reserves last year. The transfer obliges the council’s wish to set aside 20 percent of the fund to reserves.

But, despite a modicum of good economic reports that Cassidy called “wonderful news,” he also said projected expenditures of $4.6 million will still outstrip modest gains. He later said, “our spending projections may be too low.” He cited no inclusion of salary and benefit increases over the next five years along with the expiration of the city’s $3 million COPS grant in 2014 and sunset of Measure Z in 2018.

“We have to make our pension system sustainable,” said Cassidy. “However, San Leandro can no longer afford to pay 100 percent of public employee benefits.”

Richard Mellor, a San Leandro resident and union activist gave a blistering rebuttal to the mayor’s remarks during public comment. “This is a vicious attack on the public sector,” said Mellor, who charged Cassidy with doing the bidding of businesses and the One Percent.

In a rookie year, routinely punctuated with Cassidy’s handling of the bungled search for a new city manager and personality clashes, he referenced his biggest first-year achievement with Lit San Leandro, the ill-named fiber-optic loop surrounding its downtown businesses. Cassidy said the project, recently covered in the Wall Street Journal, could be leveraged for additional state and federal funds. He singled out burgeoning local high tech firms such as wind turbine producer Halus Power Systems, outsourcing firm TriNet and Energy Recovery Inc.

Cassidy also urged residents to back Measure B3, the half-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects in Alameda County this November.