Some in Alameda continue to press for severe austerity measure despite upturn

Alameda Councilmember Jim Oddie noted
last month the city’s 2011 forecast for FY2015
turned out to be $52 million off the mark.

ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL | Alamedans admittedly have an island mentality. The city, in fact, is an island, but when it comes to unfunded liabilities and dwindling state and federal money for city services, it is no different from any other city in California. A fact, outgoing Alameda City Manager John Russo and his interim successor, Assistant City Manager Liz Warmerdam, often points out.

The sky is falling on city finances is basic conjecture from fiscal conservatives who have uttered hyperbole since it became very fashionable during the last deep recession starting in 2008. While times have changed, fiscal conservatives like those in Alameda continue to don their rhetorical bell-bottoms. In fact, the doom and gloom scenarios they continually offered to enact severe austerity measures on city employees have not come close to reality.

In one of the most shocking, possibly ballsy moves in recent East Bay government memory, Alameda’s soon-to-be interim city manager and possible candidate for the permanent job, performed what might be the city’s first mic drop by way of a PowerPoint presentation.

Following a lengthy budget overview late last month, Warmerdam went retro and sneaked one more slide to the presentation that had already showed the city finances in the black for the next fiscal year. The slide from a March 2011 City Council budget meeting that forecasted staggering deficits over the next five years. Forecasts which have proven to be nowhere near correct.

The meeting is so infamous in Alameda politics that it is called the “Turn Out the Lights” meeting following comments by City Treasury Kevin Kennedy that night alluding to Alameda’s finances being so poor that it would eventually be forced to the shut out the lights at City Hall.

Councilmember Jim Oddie recalls sitting in the audience and hearing the predicted negative $22 million fund balance for Fiscal Year 2014-15 offered that night. Fast forward to today and the actual number pencils out to a positive $30 million fund balance in Alameda. “That’s a swing of $52 million,” said Oddie during a council meeting in April.

“This was a dire emergency when it was presented to the council,” said Oddie. He went on to praise the previous council by name for their work, although omitting Councilmember Frank Matarrese, who returned to the council this year. “They did the hard work and got us to the point where we are today when they made significant structural changes to our budget,” added Oddie.

“This staff has done nothing but cut expenditures,” said Warmerdam. Yet the Alameda City Council’s austerity wing led by Matarrese suggested adding staff is still an imprudent financial option. When Warmerdam made what appeared to be a personal request to fortify the city’s virtually non-existent Information and Technology Department, Mataresse said the problem is not adding staff, but dealing with the cost of employment to the city that follows, such as benefits and pension costs down the line. He then urged for the city to outsource its IT Department to private vendors. This came after Warmerdam revealed the city only recently began using Microsoft Outlook for its email.

But, Alamedans continually fail to see just how good they have it as compared to their East Bay neighbors. Few communities in the inner East Bay enjoy lower rates of crime than Alameda, at the same time oddly fostering a vocal minority who protest larger than average expenditures to fund public safety. As opposed to Oakland where significant money is spent on a police force that routinely fails to live up to the increased expenditure, fiscally conservative Alamedans still bash its police and firefighters.

“We’ve seen the effects of cutting public safety in cities like Oakland,” said Oddie, who works in Oakland as Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s district director. “It’s something I don’t want to see here. We want to be a place where we don’t have to worry about crime, where we don’t worry about shootings, where we don’t worry about burglaries.”

Nevertheless, if the goal is severe austerity, there is no use in frittering away a good totem even when it becomes obvious the rhetoric is increasingly become staler by the day. Positive property and sales tax receipts are not trending up in significant numbers relative to long-term costs, said Councilmember Tony Daysog. “We’re still in a structural deficit. We still have to look at the state of the fundamentals on the revenue side and it hasn’t really changed that much and it’s not going changed that much going forward,” said Daysog.

“When I take a look at that projection…as compared to today, to me, the take away is ‘Well, if something can go just as well on the upside, well, guess what? Doesn’t that mean on the downside it could be just as wrong?’”

Categories: Alameda, Alameda City Council, austerity, budget, Jim Oddie, John Russo, Kevin Kennedy, Liz Warmerdam

4 replies

  1. Is this news reporting or an opinion piece?


  2. Steven – you're confusing an anti-corruption mindset with fiscal conservatism.

    The people who spoke out against the public safety contracts aren't right-wingers, but taxpayers and residents opposed to the cozy relationships between people like Rob Bonta, Jim Oddie, the former Mayor Marie Gilmore, outgoing City Manager John Russo and others.

    Why, and how, for example, was firefighter union president Jeff DelBono appointed to the WETA board of directors? What does he know about running a ferry service?

    Note also that the EBE – a paper you contribute to – questioned these same relationships back in 2011.


  3. Good article by EBCitizen on the current state of Alameda politics. Proof of the accuracy of the article is in the comment anonymous (another gutsy Alameda blogger no doubt) griping “Jeff Del Bono gets appointed to WETA what's he know about ferries?!” Well number one since he's on the commission probably a lot more than you do and two, why take a pot shot at someone who's willing to take some civic responsibility?
    Here's why: the “tax payers” who spoke out against the public safety contracts are right wingers and anti-union hacks. They're finally getting called on their sky is falling hysteria conspiracy theory lunacy and ouch that hurts!
    Thanks EBCitizen for a very perceptive article.


  4. Typical circular reasoning from a labor union hack, and someone who was photographed standing alongside DelBono and other firefighters on election night, 2010, along with Rob Bonta and Marie Gilmore – “he was appointed to the commission so he must know something about ferries.”

    Bonta undoubtedly had a hand in getting DelBono appointed to the commission, and DelBono's letter to the editor in local papers this week betrays the reason why – he's supposed to advocate for ferries/public transit to support Bonta's developer friends' plans for rampant development in Alameda.

    It's a shame someone like Henneberry is on a public body within the City of Alameda. Apart from everything else, he stoops to the “if you aren't with us, you're against us” model of George W. Bush. One needn't be a right winger to not pledge blind obeisance – as demanded by Henneberry – to local labor groups.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: