- The annual reorganization of the Council's standing committee assignments
- A discussion of "hero pay". At our last council meeting I requested that this item be brought forward in recognition of the work that our police and city staff had done throughout the pandemic. Our initial focus with ARPA funding was to benefit our local businesses and residents that had been impacted by COVID-19. As we quickly rolled out that program, the next immediate focus was our own police and city staff. It does appear that we will have funds from the 1st tranche of ARPA funding so I'm hopeful we can do something to recognize the work put in by our police and city staff.
- There will also be a presentation regarding progress on the 6th Cycle Housing Element update where we discuss the results of various meetings and surveys, as well as potential opportunity sites for zoning the required additional housing units that the state has forced cities to adopt.
- In addition, there is a change order request on the consent calendar regarding the Clayton Curb Ramp Improvement Project. This was undertaken in 2021 to repair and adjust certain curbs within the city to be compliant with ADA requirements. The original project was budgeted at approximately $354K, however with new estimates that amount is projected to rise to approximately $498K - an increase of 41%. The increase is due to observations of unsafe conditions near where the original work was being performed. The additional funds will be pulled from the Neighborhood Pavement Preservation Project (roads within the city).
Thursday, December 23, 2021
Tuesday, December 7, 2021
- Tonight the Council took action to reorganize the leadership positions of the Council and selected Councilmember Cloven to serve as Mayor. Councilmember Diaz nominated me to serve as mayor which failed on a vote of 2-3. Thereafter Councilmember Tillman nominated Cloven to serve as Mayor and that passed on a vote of 3-2 with myself and Councilmember Diaz voting no. While I am disappointed I will not serve as Mayor as long as the bloc of Wolfe, Tillman, and Cloven are on this Council, I will continue to vote my conscious and my votes on matters counts just the same.
Councilmember Tillman was chosen to serve as Vice Mayor on a vote of 4-1 with myself voting no.
- During my council report, I raised the issue of Hero Pay for our Clayton Police Officers in connection with ARPA funds. While our immediate focus was on local businesses and households impacted by COVID, I want to stress the work above and beyond that our police officers and staff put in and continues to put in during this period that has been so heavily impacted by COVID. I received a letter from the Clayton Police Officer's Association that detailed much of the activity that the police has done during this time, much of which goes unseen.
For our next round of funding, I am requesting that our Police Officers are recognized with ARPA funding which is an allowable use of funds. Given our small number of officers and police staff, a small portion of our available ARPA funds will go a long way and I am wholly in support of that and our officers.
- In addition, the Clayton Successor and Successor Housing Agencies met approving an obligation payment schedule. This is regular business that provides for payment of debt related to previous housing Redevelopment Agencies in Clayton.
- The Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) also met for it's annual reorganization. I reiterated my request for a list and schedule of activities performed by the GHAD in the spirit of transparency and accountability. I have been asking for this item for multiple years I believe. It's perplexing why a list and schedule has not been forthcoming given the work is being performed and an internal schedule must exist.
Monday, December 6, 2021
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
- Three people submitted applications for the open Planning Commissioner seat to fulfill the remainder of a term that concluded in Jun-22. The Council decided to appoint Any Hines-Shaikh to fill the open position on a vote of 3-2, with myself and Councilmember Diaz voting no. I felt that Ms. Hines-Shaikh responses in favor of greater housing density and her disappointment with the high cost of homes in Clayton was not consistent with what the majority of residents in town believed, and it was inconsistent with one of my core goals of maintaining and increasing property values within Clayton.
Regardless, the majority of the Council disagreed. I wish Ms. Hines-Shaikh the best of luck going forward and thank the other candidates who applied and put themselves out there to go through this process.
- We also held a closed session for a performance evaluation with our City Manager.
Monday, November 29, 2021
- Interview candidates for a vacant Planning Commissioner position. There is an opening for the remainder of a term which ends in June of 2022 due to a resignation of a former Commissioner. The Council will interview candidates and vote on a person to assume the remainder of the current term.
- There will also be a closed session for a performance evaluation of our City Manager.
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
- We introduced an ordinance that would change our municipal code to allow for outdoor cultivation of marijuana for personal use. Currently, only indoor cultivation for personal use is allowed, up to six plants. The new ordinance would continue to have a limit of six total plants on a given property and only allow cultivation for personal use. In addition, plants grown outdoors would be required to be behind a locked gate and not visible from the public right of ways.
This was the first reading of the updated ordinance. Typically there are two readings required so we will see this item again on the next ,meeting agenda, and take effect shortly after that.
- We also approved the parameters for the Clayton Cares Program - the program designed to distribute ARPA funding for those businesses and households impacted by COVID-19. The parameters were designed to distribute funds as quickly as possible in the first tranche, and therefore funds will be distributed on a first come first served basis. If we do not exceed our allotment, we may advance future tranches.
There are a number of criteria that are required to be eligible, and differ whether the recipient is a business or an individual. Most businesses that render services or sell goods to others within the city of Clayton, has an active business license and has been in business prior to the beginning of March-21, would be eligible with certain documentation and attestation requirements.
Individuals would be eligible if they reside in Clayton as of the early March-21 date, and have household income below 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for Contra Costa County. AMI is sliding scale that increases based on the number of individuals within a household.
I'm glad we were able to move quickly on this program. The initial amounts in this first tranche are not overly large, but hopefully these assist some of those that have been impacted by COVID-19. We will take the data from this tranche to inform how we structure future tranches.
- We also approved a change to the types of public works projects that are subject to competitive bidding. In the current state, any public works project in excess of $5,000 was required to go through a competitive bidding process. To expedite projects and streamline processes, we increased this threshold to $60,000.
Monday, November 15, 2021
- We will be discussing an initial program to distribute ARPA funds. These funds are being distributed to Clayton in two equal tranches totaling approximately $2.9M. The first tranche has been received and the second will be received in the first half of 2022. At our previous meeting, we asked our consultants to come back with a proposal that reflected a focus on assisting those businesses in Clayton that have been impacted by COVID-19.
- The proposal that we will be discussing includes allocating approximately 75% of funds towards business grants, and 25% towards household assistance (for households below 50 of Contra Costa County area median income). There would be an application process, and a few criteria that would need to be satisfied. Included in the proposal is a provision that funds would be distributed on a first come first served basis.
- We will also be discussing updating our purchasing policy to relax some competitive bidding requirements for smaller scale projects. Currently any project over $5,000 is required to go through a competitive bidding process. For smaller scale work, this longer process acts as a deterrent to contractors who may be qualified to do the work. The city is seeking to modify when a competitive bidding process would be required to those projects that exceed $60,000 consistent with state law that provides for this change.
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
- First we continued our discussion regarding ARPA funds. Our consultants presented on the results of community and business surveys, and various options that were available to us. While there were five categories of spend that were eligible under ARPA, the Council directed staff to focus on two of them - assistance to businesses and direct assistance to households. While the details need to be solidified and ultimately voted on, the direction I suggested and the Council agreed with was for staff to craft a plan with the following general parameters:
For the available funds, these would be split between businesses and households in a 75:25 split. Because we didn't have precise figures around the eligible population in these categories, we asked to target distribution of 50% of our total funds by the end of calendar year 2021. By using tranches, we mitigate the risk of demand exceeding supply. Our total allocation is approximately $2.9M, with an amount reserved for administrative overhead. This means that of that amount, we would target distributing approximately 50% of the remainder by the end of 2021, or $1.25M.
For businesses, eligibility would rely on a few factors - attestation of impact due to COVID-19, possessing a business license in the City of Clayton that has been in place since at least March of 2021, and potentially business tax returns.
For households, eligibility would rely on a few factors - attestation of impact due to COVID-19, household within the city, and household income below 50% of area median income.
We had open questions about the method that the above information would be furnished by potential recipients and how it will be tracked and stored. There was also open questions regarding potential tax treatment of ARPA assistance and if it were advantageous to structure the assistance in any particular way. The above is not final and staff will address these questions and come back with a draft proposal for the Council to approve - hopefully at our next meeting.
- We also discussed the impact of SB9 and SB10 on our city. With the direction that housing law is moving in California, there is less and less discretion that city's retain in this area of the law. I suggested that we direct staff to craft an approach that is the most restrictive and provides the most discretion to the city that is within the law. The Council agreed and staff will come back with a more fleshed out approach that we can officially adopt.
Monday, November 1, 2021
- There will be discussion regarding how the city utilizes ARPA funding and various options for distributing funds in connection with various COVID-19 related impacts to the community. The Council will recommend which types of programs and parameters to implement and from that our consultants will prepare a resolution for adoption at the following meeting
- We will also hear an update on SB9 and SB10 from our City Attorney with a discussion on potential next steps the city may take.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Monday, October 18, 2021
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
- We adopted a resolution to update Development and Wetland Mitigation Fees. These are a set of fees and procedures by which developers pay a fee in an effort to provide a coordinated approach to permitting, conservation, and protection of sensitive species, their habitats, and other natural resources within eastern Contra Costa County. These fees have an automatic riser each year in between audits. Information from audits which are conducted every 3-5 years is used to adjust fees going forward until the next audit period. After the audit the new fee rates need to be approved which is what we did last night.
- We adopted a resolution to allow for video and teleconference council meetings. Under new law in CA, we need to make findings at least every 30 days regarding the necessity of virtual meetings. Given the recommendations by the County Health Officer, we will continue meeting virtually until that recommendation changes.
Monday, October 4, 2021
- An increase for Development and Wetland Mitigation Fees. These are fees levied against development projects to fund conservation efforts in Contra Costa County.
- Discussion regarding the continuation of allowing video and teleconference meetings. The executive order that allowed this to proceed thus far has expired. A new rule has been passed at the state to continue to allow these teleconference and video meetings to continue, with a few added requirements such as periodic certification of the necessity of such meetings.
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
- Establishment of guiding principals for this process. Guiding principals ensures that leadership is clear and aligned on the goals that are trying to be achieved. This process will be long, and along the way there will be many decisions that need to be made. The establishment of guiding principals facilitates that decision making because it allows staff at every level to test decisions that need to be made against those guiding principals. This could be things like, should we have as a guiding principal that we want to maximize housing density? Minimize housing density? Concentrate impact in as small an area as possible, or disperse impact as much as possible? Those types of guidelines will help clearly communicate direction to our consultants and to staff.
- Detailed project plan and timelines with both internal and external touchpoints and deliverables.
- Identification of decision points that are matters of public policy. There are some decisions that can be made even in a process that is as prescribed as this one. We should identify those so those charged with enacting public policy can make deliberate choices.
- Detail behind the initial housing site assessment by ABAG that utilized property level data. The initial assessment of potential housing sites was performed by ABAG and will be the starting point of our own assessment, however the underlying data was not readily available.
- Moderate income and overall income band calculation formulas and allowable methodologies to satisfy each. We not only need to zone for an additional approximate 570 units, but they must be at the various income bands as listed above. We were told that in a small city like Clayton, there is a presumption that any parcel that is zoned for density of at least 20 units/acre would qualify as Low or Very Low income units. Above Moderate is considered market rate. During the meeting however, it was unknown what would qualify as Moderate. I stressed the importance of knowing these details so we can tailor our Housing Element with a focus on complying with the law.
- Rules regarding the number of ADUs that can be used to satisfy RHNA requirements at all income bands. California HCD has issued guidance and adopted practices in this space but that information wasn't presented at the meeting.
Friday, September 24, 2021
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
- We heard a great presentation by Con-Fire Chief Terence Carey about their efforts to address and mitigate fire risk, overall fire risk and activity in the state, and things that residents can do to help address overall fire risk. The one thing that was stressed as an easy takeaway for everyone is to make sure that there are working smoke detectors in each residence, and that they are tested on a regular cadence. Chief Carey also talked about a Preparedness & Evacuation reference guide that is on the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District website. The guide can be found here: https://www.cccfpd.org/ResidentsWildlandFireGuide
- The Council approved an appropriation of approximately $40K to upgrade equipment related to network connectivity, audio, and video as it relates to holding meetings in Hoyer Hall. The funds used for these upgrades are from grants received to support public access to government and will not impact our general fund. The work is scheduled to be complete towards the end of this year. Included in the scope is equipment necessary to hold hybrid meetings whereby people will be able to participate both in person and remotely.
We agreed that due to ongoing recommendations from the County Health Officer, Dr. Farnitano, there is continued elevated risk of meeting indoors and as such, the Council agreed that meetings will continue virtually until such time that the state and county emergency orders are lifted.
- The Council also agreed to appoint Management Partners as a consultant group to help develop and implement a program to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Clayton is slated to receive approximately $2.9M and the Council is seeking to prioritize businesses in town that have been impacted by COVID-19. There are a number of requirements associated with these funds including limits on how the funds can be used, procedures for their use, and reporting and audit requirements. Management Partners will assist in all of these areas, though the execution and operationalizing of the plans that are prepared will fall on city staff.
There may be opportunities for additional community support through volunteering to help support various aspects of the ARPA plan. Those potential actives will be fleshed out further as Management Partners progresses with their work.
- The Council also discussed the process for placing a tax measure on the ballot. General tax increases can only be placed on the ballot on a General Election, with the next general election scheduled on November 8, 2022. I have discussed previously the financial landscape the city is in, and some of the causes of our shortfalls and the impacts if we do nothing. We do have structural problems that if they are not addressed, will begin to have significant impacts on city operations in the near term. The good news is that as a small city, the gap we are trying to fill is not so large that we cannot address it.
The Council agreed to direct staff to do the preliminary work towards a ballot measure for the November 2022 date. This would include an outline of overall timing, the various steps necessary and when they would be due, etc. Getting ballot language right and the various administrative requirements take a significant amount of time to work through. On top of that, outreach, communicating the need, the cost, and the benefits, will take a coordinated effort. After staff comes back with the overall outline, we will then discuss at a future meeting how to execute on that plan.
Friday, September 17, 2021
- Appropriation of funds to improve audio / video equipment at Hoyer Hall. The proposal at hand includes funding to enable a hybrid meeting approach where folks would be able to both be in person and remote.
- Hiring consultant to facilitate developing and implementing a program to use federal stimulus funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Clayton will be receiving ARPA funds and one of the allowable uses is the cost to develop and implement a plan to use the funds themselves.
- Discuss the process for placing a measure on the ballot. Earlier this year I outlined some of the fiscal challenges that the city is facing. One method to address those challenges would be a tax measure which the voters would have to approve. This discussion is to discuss the overall process of such a ballot measure.
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
- We discussed two resolutions that will come before CalCities (formerly the League of California Cities).
The first was a push to distribute statewide sales tax more evenly throughout the state. This applies primarily to online retailers where currently sales tax revenue is attributable to the location of fulfillment centers, not where the product is shipped to the end user. This resolution would encourage the legislature and governor to change the formula on how sales tax revenues are allocated and base it on where products are actually delivered to end users. If this would come to pass, Clayton would certainly receive greater sales tax revenue than it currently does.
The second resolution was to encourage the legislature and governor to provide funding and direction to address homelessness and related challenges near railways. Clayton doesn't have any areas that would be impacted by this.
Both resolutions seemed to have garnered wide support and I would expect them to pass. These are recommendations to the legislature so are not binding but at least stake a policy position. The Council recommended that our delegate vote in favor of both of these. Councilmember Diaz is our representative to CalCities and will be casting the votes at the September meeting.
- We also discussed a General Fund Reserve Policy. We first discussed this at our July 20 meeting and after that discussion suggested certain changes to the initial draft. This item was to discuss the various updates. Overall the edits made were positive, however I felt the policy language was still more permissive than we intended. I suggested a few substantive changes that would increase the catastrophic reserve amount (from 50% of general fund budget to 75%), and also increasing the approval threshold to spend the reserve from a simple majority to a 4/5 majority. There were other changes suggested such as updating the policy language to be more precise and the Council decided to have the next draft reviewed by the budget subcommittee before coming back to the full council for approval.
- Lastly, we discussed the potential uses of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, of which the city is slated to receive approximately $2.9M. There are four major categories of eligible spending: (A) Costs incurred as direct result of responding to COVID-19 and / or addressing the negative
economic impact, (B) Premium Pay For Eligible Workers, (C) Government Services to the Extent of Lost Revenue, (D) Infrastructure Investments in Broadband, Water, Sewer and Storm Drainage. Each of these has various requirements and limits that we'll have to navigate. The Council all agreed that prioritizing those people who live in Clayton and work at our Clayton businesses, Clayton businesses themselves, and those people who live in Clayton who may work outside of the city, but were negatively impacted by the pandemic. These were the folks most impacted and we want to do as much as we can to provide relief and assist those who were impacted.
The Council agreed with the recommendation that we engage a consultant to help design and administer a program to allocate ARP funds. This would involve establishing criteria, managing the day to day activities, and ultimately distributing funds. Program administration is an eligible use of the ARP funds as well so this would be covered by our share of ARP receipts. We expect to bring on a consultant soon to help facilitate community outreach soliciting input on how best to design the program.
Friday, August 13, 2021
- The designation of a voting delegate to the League of California Cities Annual Conference. There are two resolutions that are being presented at the upcoming September meeting. The first is a resolution to urge the legislature to distribute sales tax receipts for online retailers in a different way. Currently distribution appears to be weighted towards locations that have fulfillment centers and the League resolution would ask the legislature to distribute sales taxes currently attributable to those locations to a broader swatch of cities in CA. The second resolution urges the legislature and governor to provide regulatory authority and funding to assist cities to address illegal dumping, graffiti, and homeless encampments along rail lines in the state.
- The adoption of a general fund reserve policy. The proposal in the agenda packet contemplates a Catastrophic Reserve equal to 50% of operating expenditures, Budget Stabilization Reserve equal to 5% of operating expenditures, and the remainder being undesignated fund balance.
- A presentation and discussion about potential uses of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds that the city is slated to receive. Clayton expects to receive approximately $2.9M through ARP. This will be distributed in two stages, of which we've already received the first. The next stage will be received in or around July 2022 and must be encumbered by the end of 2024. Unspent funds must be returned to the federal government. There are a number of specified categories that are eligible to use the funding. I encourage community input on how we should direct these dollars.
Saturday, August 7, 2021
- It was brought up by Councilmember Diaz that historically certain gifts paid for by taxpayer dollars were given to elected Councilmembers upon the completion of their term, among other occasions. After investigating, it was determined that this occurred without a well defined process and at times the basis for approval was "Mayor's prerogative". This term had been used with growing frequency in the past few years and I questioned the origin. Since no definition was offered, we all tacitly agreed the use of this should be discontinued.
A draft was offered in our agenda for an actual policy for gifts to employees, volunteers, private citizens, and elected officials in an effort to establish a policy. This draft was supported by Councilmember Cloven. I voiced my concern regarding gifts for public officials. Given gifts are funded by taxpayer dollars, and we would be voting on it among ourselves, I felt the ethical implications of voting to give ourselves gifts of taxpayer dollars made this inappropriate. Given there are also provisions of the California constitution that prohibit gifts of public funds, I suggested that we eschew gifts of public funds to elected officials completely. This was updated to the draft proposal which was then passed by the Council unanimously.
- We also discussed a previous incident where a city owned tree fell and damaged a resident's house and fence. This incident was submitted to our insurer and the claim was ultimately rejected as the city enjoys immunity under Government Code 830(a) and 835(b). One of the basis of the rejection was the idea that the city has a system in place for inspecting and maintaining its trees. When we originally met to discuss this matter in late 2020, it was communicated that the city had inspected this tree. However, after reviewing the evidence, it was clear this did not take place and the city does not have a system to inspect its trees. I reconfirmed this during the meeting.
Even without inspection however, the city avoids liability due to the immunity recognized in the above mentioned government codes. I suggested that we clarify with our insurer the actual fact pattern and strive to accurate in how we communicate our processes. Given the amount of trees the city owns, and the potential liability should they fall or suffer other damage, I was concerned about the potential precedent that accepting liability would set and ultimately the Council took no official action.
- We updated our list of recognized cultural heritage months and other significant events to remove both Columbus Day and Juneteenth as these are federal holidays.
- We discussed our current sign ordinances for temporary non-commercial signs. Ultimately we made no changes to our sign ordinances. I reiterated my comments from the previous time we discussed this issue - essentially I am not in favor of any speech restrictions and signs are speech.
Friday, July 30, 2021
- Discussion on protocol and policy around using taxpayer funds for recognition of citizens, volunteers, employees and elected officials.
- Discussion of the rejection of liability for damage caused by a city owned tree that fell and impacted a residential fence and house.
- Discussion regarding updating the list of cultural heritage months and other significant events that the city recognizes.
- Discussion regarding potential changes to the city's sign ordinance, specifically around temporary non-commercial signs.
Prior to 2019, the city had restrictive sign ordinances that limited any temporary non-commercial signs to 3 square feet per parcel. This meant that if an individual wished to exercise their right to speech, they could only do so with a sign that was no larger than for example, 1.5' x 2'. That was overly restrictive and upon receiving complaints, enforcement of that policy was suspended.
The Council took up this issue at the 2.5.19 meeting. At that time, the Council decided to update the sign ordinance to be more permissive, adopting a restriction on individual signs greater than16 sqft with no aggregate limit. Recently some folks in town have chosen to express themselves with many signs, well in excess of the prior to 2019 limit, but consistent with the current ordinances. Now we will discuss if modifications are necessary to address any ongoing concerns.
I will reiterate my previous position as it remains unchanged:
Staff discussed several cases where the issue of sign size was limited and provided overall guidance on what had previously been struck down and what had been upheld in the courts. There was a sentiment to avoid sign blight, the city should adopt an ordinance as restrictive as possible as to size that is consistent with the law. I took a different approach here. I think the first amendment and speech are critically important. The protections over speech are not necessary to express views that are popular. Free speech protections are needed for expressing views that are unpopular. It is in protecting unpopular speech that we demonstrate our principles. Any time speech is being restricted I would challenge the basis on which such restrictions rest upon.
And while I personally would not want to see the city littered with signs of all manner, the principle of free speech supersedes my desire for aesthetics. Ultimately the Council directed staff to come back with a draft ordinance that limits individual signs to no greater than 16 sqft, without any aggregate limit and no time based limit. The vote was 4-1, I was opposed because I would have not imposed such a restriction.
I look forward to the discussion, again.
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
- We approved an annual levy increase of 3.8% for the Diablo Estates at Clayton Benefit Assessment District (BAD). This affects 24 parcels east of Regency Drive primarily on Seminary Ridge and Promontory Place. The levy is to cover maintenance, landscaping, drainage, etc. for these properties and was set up originally by the builder in order to have the costs for these particular parcels pay for themselves. Self funding districts have been a preferable method of funding improvements as the assessments are levied on new developments as they are approved.
The reserve of the BAD has built up over time as it is also intended to cover replacement of long lived assets - the reserve increases each year and when it comes time to replace certain assets a sufficient fund balance has been accumulated. This same practice occurs with HOAs as well, however with HOAs a reserve study is required not less frequently than once every three years. The purpose of the reserve study is among other things, to assess the current remaining useful life of certain covered assets. By doing this, it could inform how much of an increase in assessment is required to be fully funded. Because the city manages the BAD, a reserve study is not needed and each year the assessment has been increased by CPI, or 4%, whichever is lower. This is the maximum that the assessment can be increased. Starting in 2012, the initial assessment was just north of $3K/parcel. Now, the assessment is close to $4K/parcel. If the homeowners in this subdivision desire, they could conduct a reserve study in order to validate the need for these assessments. Without evidence suggesting it is not necessary, it is likely the city will continue to raise the assessment each year to the maximum extent allowable.
- We heard an appeal of the Planning Commission decision to grant an extension of 1 year to the Olivia Project. The specific section of the Clayton Municipal Code under which the Planning Commission granted an extension was 17.64.030 which reads in part:
Upon showing of good cause therefore, the Planning Commission may extend the period of a permit in which it is to be exercised, used or established, for a maximum of twelve (12) months at a time or as otherwise specified on the permit.
It was made clear that the term "good cause" is not defined, and therefore the Council had discretion on what criteria is uses to determine if there was good cause, and whether the criteria was met. The second clause of the sentence above states that even if "good cause" is shown, the extension "may" be granted. In statutory construction, the word "may" indicates a discretionary action. When legislators wish to require an action, the word "must" or "shall" is typically used, with the latter falling out of favor in recent times.
I made it clear that while previously some folks may have felt compelled to take actions at a project approval stage because of various legal requirements or potential penalties, none of that existed at the project extension stage and that any action take is based on each individual's choice. I made a motion to grant the appeal and reject the 1 year extension. Myself and Councilmember Diaz voted to reject the extension, however ultimately it was granted on a vote of 3-2. The builder now has until March of 2023 to pull building permits.
- We also discussed adopting a general fund reserve policy by which a certain percent of our reserves are designated for specific purposes. Ultimately I did not think that the policy was specific enough and it would allow easier spending down of our reserves which I am opposed to. As drafted, it also contemplated leaving near 50% of the reserve as undesignated, which I was concerned would then lead to calls to spend it as it didn't have a specific purpose.
I suggested stronger language to provide more constraints around what were allowable uses, greater approval requirements than a simple majority to ensure full community support, and greater restrictions around the use of undesignated reserves. This will be updated based on feedback and brought back to Council at a later time.
Friday, July 16, 2021
- Discussion of an increase in annual levy of 3.8% for the Diablo Estates at Clayton Benefit Assessment District. This district was created to provide funding for the maintenance, operation and improvement of the landscaping, street lighting, and drainage and stormwater treatment facilities. The District consists of 24 parcels east of Regency Drive primarily on Seminary Ridge and Promontory Place. Self funding districts have been a preferable method of funding improvements as the assessments are levied on new developments as they are approved.
- Discussion regarding potential time extension of permits and project approval of the Olivia Project.
- Discussion regarding establishing a General Fund Reserve policy. Such a policy would inform how our unrestricted fund balance should be utilized.
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
While we were able to balance the Fiscal Year ending June 2022 (FY22) budget with a slight surplus, we are projecting growing deficits for each year projected thereafter. The latest estimated deficit for FY23 is approximately $200K, growing slightly more than $100K each year thereafter. This is an unsustainable situation and we need to address it if we as a city wish to remain solvent.
The causes of the projected deficits are not complicated – our spending is growing faster than our income. Most of that spending is in the form of wages and in order to be competitive with the market we have had modest increases to wages over time. Wages are the largest component, but the cost of everything has risen as well. Our income as a city however, is primarily a function of property taxes and our property tax base is not elastic. Our revenues will not keep up with our spending. As a result, city staff are paid well below market and even then it is projected our costs will exceed our revenues starting with FY23.
In addition to our general fund, three of our Special Revenue Funds (Stormwater, Lighting, and Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District [GHAD]) are projected to be insolvent in the coming year as well. These special revenue funds were established to cover certain costs like the streetlights and have their own dedicated revenue sources, however the amounts levied have not kept up with inflation and therefore if we do nothing, the services they provide will have to be curtailed or they will need to draw from the general fund exacerbating our budget challenges.
It is true that we have significant reserves, however using reserves to cover ongoing operational expenses would be like using a credit card to pay for groceries and not paying off the balance. That would be unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible without a long term plan that doesn’t rely on reserve spending. That’s where we are today. And while I am typically fiscally conservative, part of good governance and stewardship is to ensure our overall finances are sustainable and we are able to continue operations as a city.
There are 26 employees in the City of Clayton, of which 12 are in our Police Department. Of the 7 Department heads, all are compensated less than the median wage across comparable cities, by an average of 23%. In the past 3 years, we’ve had four different Community Development Directors, four different Finance Directors, five different City Managers, and turned over 50% of the police force. There are a number of reasons for this, not all of which are connected to compensation, but it cannot help that as a city we are significantly under market in what we pay our employees. Our total compensation for city staff, including PERS, benefits, and other required employee related costs is approximately $4M/year. If we are 23% below median, that would represent an annual shortfall of approximately $920K.
High staff turnover is detrimental to the city in many ways. When we are short staffed, the level of service we are able to provide is reduced. Open positions puts a burden on existing staff and required work essentially gets triaged into what is most important. The impact on employee morale is also a factor, and hurts our ability to attract and retain employees. It’s difficult to have an engaged workforce when it’s a regular occurrence that a co-worker can leave to a similar job in a nearby city and get a 30-40% pay raise.
The consequences of being unable to staff our open positions are substantial. Some consequences may be more indirect - if we are unable to provide the services that our residents expect Clayton can become a less desirable place to live and we may lose our tax base as property tax revenues may decline. Other consequences may be more direct - If we are unable to remain in compliance with state mandates, we could lose funding for certain activities like road maintenance - exacerbating the deficit between what the city is able to accomplish and our residents’ expectations. If we are unable to attract talented individuals to fill our roles, the city is more at risk to making erroneous decisions that could incur liability as a result.
It is clear to me that we need to take action. So here is the question – In order to address the structural deficits we are facing, should we increase taxes, reduce services, or both? We often want a high level of service at a low cost – an unrealistic desire. If we want a high level of service, we have to be willing to pay for it. As an elected representative, my top priorities are public safety, fiscal sustainability, and preserving home values – all things that contribute to quality of life. To deliver on these things, it requires adequate staffing and resources. Continuing with the status quo is not sustainable, therefore we need to take steps to shore up our financial position. Those steps could be increasing revenue (taxes), reducing services, or both.
1. Increase Taxes:
To ensure fiscal sustainability, the city could increase its revenue by approximately $1M/year. This amount represents the approximate difference in what we pay vs. the current market rate. We could also target a lower rate, but for the sake of discussion I'll use this amount as a placeholder.
The two main tools we have to increase revenue (taxes) are via sales taxes and parcel taxes. Sales tax increases have the benefit of deriving a portion of revenue from non-Clayton residents who shop within the city. The largest sales tax providers in Clayton are Safeway, Walgreens, and CVS. Sales tax however, is only approximately 11% of our general fund revenue. Our current projection for sales tax revenue is approximately $585K. To achieve a net increase of $1M in sales taxes, it would require a significant increase in sales tax rate.
For any general taxes (taxes without a restricted purpose), either sales or parcel, they are required to be placed on a ballot during a regular election (not special election, like a recall), and receive > 50% vote. Special taxes with restricted purpose require > 2/3 vote.
2. Decrease Services:
Another way to address our projected deficits would be to spend less. For example, we could eliminate the stipend for Councilmembers which would save approximately $28K. On a General Fund budget of $5.2M however, that is not enough to make any significant difference.
Our two largest components of the General Fund spending are Administrative Services (department heads) and our Police. Together, these two components make up over 72% of our general fund. For a reduction to be meaningful it will necessarily need to impact those areas. That could mean deprioritizing non-emergency police services, less maintenance of the parks, or other steps to reduce costs. As a city we operate very lean already. At any given time, there are only two police officers on duty. We staff as light as possible to meet our requirements. Any reduction will be felt in the specific area impacted as well as other tangential areas. The added risk of reducing services is we make the city a less desirable place to work and live, which could have a detrimental impact on home values and quality of life.
We can also do a combination of both of these things. As a city in California though, there are certain compliance requirements that take time and cost money and those cannot be skipped else our ability to self govern as a city could be threatened. Being a city means certain things, like having an approved General Plan with a Housing Element. Those requirements are a mandated by the state, and to prepare documents that meet those compliance requirements takes time and costs money.
Conclusion and request:
Soon the Council will be discussing if and how our reserves should be spent down and utilized. To me, I think we need to focus on how to sustain our ongoing operations before we decide to spend down our savings.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
- We approved a GHAD real property assessment increase consistent with Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase of 3.8% for affected parcels. The type of the parcel determines the amount of the assessment. CPI increases were contemplated with the inception of the GHAD and approved by voters. The GHAD does not receive sufficient funds to do significant repair or improvements. It's function is primarily to cover the cost of monitoring soil movement, some minor repairs, and over time has the potential to accumulate funds for some larger restoration work. Typically these would require aggregation of multiple years worth of funding.
- Last night was the last meeting for our Finance Director and I wish him the best of luck. We appointed a new Interim Finance Director while we search for a permanent replacement.
- We adopted a series of increases on levies and property tax assessments in other areas that allow for annual increases related to CPI.
- We approved the list of streets slated for repaving as part of our periodic Neighborhood Streets Pavement Preservation Project. Each year funds accumulate from various specified sources, however we tend repave every other year as we do not have enough funds in a single year to be efficient. At that time, certain streets are selected for repaving based on their Pavement Condition Index (PCI). Streets are chosen based on available funds, and their current conditions, with lower PCI streets being prioritized. The street program was supposed to happen in 2020, but was postponed due to COVID. Currently the plan is to perform the work that was originally slated last year in 2022. At that time, and again last night, the streets selected for repaving next summer are:
- We approved the FY22 budget (city government fiscal years end on June 30). I'm glad to see the inclusion in the budget of a few items that I've been advocating for over the past few years. The first is the additional crossing guard in front of Mt. Diablo Elementary. When kids are back at school in the fall, the additional crossing guard will improve pedestrian and vehicle safety around our youngest students. This was originally requested by the then Parent Faculty Club (PFC) president and in working with the PFC the city secured a donation to cover the cost for the first year. We have now added it to our budget and it will be a great improvement to the quality of life in our city.
The second item was maintenance of the dog park. There is a dog park to the west of Diablo View Middle School that has been maintained by a combination of the City and volunteers through the Clayton K-9 Association. This non-profit group was formed to perform various maintenance activities for the dog park. In order to shift towards a sustainable maintenance model, the city will assume the maintenance of the facility which is appropriate as this is a city owned property.
There is also allocated funds to install interactive traffic signals on Marsh Creek Rd. near the middle school which will enhance pedestrian and traffic safety near the middle school. This requires coordination with the County so will take a bit of time to come to fruition.
- The Council approved the Oak Creek Canyon Project, a 6 unit single family development at the eastern part of town. As one of the conditions of approval, the developer has agreed to extend a mixed use walking/biking path from the length of the development connecting to the entrance of the Community Park at Regency Parkway.
- The Council also agreed to appeal our current draft Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation. Every eight years the city is allocated a certain number of housing units that we need to zone for. In the previous cycle, that number was 141. In the upcoming cycle, the amount of housing units needing to be zoned for is 570, an increase of approximately 300%. There are a number of factors that support our appeal, including a lack of jobs and available transportation in Clayton, the fact that Clayton is not a predicted growth area, the geological hazards related to the GHAD, and lack of water distribution availability. And while these reasons for appeal appear compelling, the likelihood of success of our appeal is very low. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) controls the allocation and they are ultimately an unelected body (made up of elected officials) dominated by larger cities in the Bay Area that can impose these mandates without any available recourse.
- We also adopted an updated salary schedule for city staff.
Friday, June 25, 2021
- The consent calendar this meeting includes several real property tax assessment increases based on specific areas and various Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases. CPI for this period increased 3.8%, however several of the increases are capped at no more than CPI or 3%, whichever is less. Staff is recommending increasing assessments to the extent allowable.
- Discussion and approval of the FY 22 Budget that was discussed last meeting.
- Discussion of the appeal of the Planning Commission recommendation of denial of the Oak Creek Canyon Project. This project is proposed for six single family units at the east end of the city, at the intersection of Diablo Parkway and Marsh Creek Road.
- Discuss whether to appeal the latest Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation to Clayton. Every eight years the city is allocated a certain number of housing units that we need to zone for. In the previous cycle, that number was 141. In the upcoming cycle, the amount of housing units needing to be zoned for is 570, an increase of approximately 300%.
- Adoption of updated salary schedule for the city.
- The Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) will also meet to discuss increases in real property assessments based on CPI increases.
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
- The Council voted to appoint 1 new Planning Commissioner, Justin Cesarin, and reappoint Ed Miller to fill two vacant spots. The vote was 3-2 with myself and Councilmember Diaz voting no.
- We chose to cancel two regularly scheduled meetings which is typical in the summer months. We chose the two meetings that immediately follow holidays. The July 6 and September 7 meetings are cancelled.
- We adopted a resolution to fly a Pride flag at the three city flagpoles throughout the month of June each year going forward. Last year when the Council first agreed to raise the Pride flag, I voted in favor. I will reiterate comments I made last year: LGBTQ rights are civil rights. I support all civil rights. Issuing a proclamation and raising a flag is the smallest of gestures, but these gestures could go a long way to communicating a message of inclusiveness that all members of our community are welcome and I'm glad to do it.
And while the question of marriage has been answered in this country, treatment of LGBTQ community members still has distance to go. Raising the Pride Flag is a small step towards making sure that every member of our community is treated with dignity.
- We authorized a letter to be sent in favor of using County Measure X funds towards development of a comprehensive system where anyone in Contra Costa County can access timely and appropriate behavioral health crisis care anywhere at any time similar to a 911 emergency call system.
- We recommended that the proposed budget be brought back for adoption at a scheduled special meeting on June 29. Discussion about the larger looming structural deficits will take place later in the year after this year's budget is approved.
I'm glad to see that inclusion of a crossing guard in front of Mt. Diablo Elementary, and funding of city owned dog park maintenance were included in the operating budget. I had advocated for both of these items. The crossing guard was at the request and urging of parents and the Mt. Diablo Elementary PFC to increase safety for our youngest students. The city owns the dog park, however a significant amount of maintenance is performed by a local non-profit, the Clayton K-9 Association and through volunteers from local Boy Scout Troop 484. These groups will still be involved in volunteering and assisting I'm sure, however the small cost of maintenance will be assumed by the city. This is appropriate as the dog park is owned by the city and is maintained as a benefit for all of our community.
- The GHAD also met to approve annual CPI based tax assessment increases which it does each year. Assessments are sufficiently low that the GHAD is primarily used for monitoring. If there were serious issues discovered through that monitoring, another funding source would likely be needed for any substantive actions to be taken.
- There was also a closed session regarding labor negotiations with the Clayton Police Officers Association. No reportable action from that closed session.
Monday, June 14, 2021
- We are interviewing three candidates for two open Planning Commission roles. Interviews start at 6pm.
- A discussion whether to cancel any upcoming regularly scheduled meetings due to availability of a quorum.
- A discussion of a resolution to authorize the Pride flag to be flown at City Hall, Clayton Library, and the Grove throughout June each year.
- A discussion whether to send a letter to the County's Measure X Community Advisory Board in support of utilizing County Measure X funding for Community Crisis initiative intended to develop a comprehensive system where anyone in Contra Costa County can access timely and appropriate behavioral health crisis care anywhere at any time. This could take the form of using an alternate number than 911 when mental health is the issue.
- A discussion of the proposed FY22 City budget. This brings to the full Council the updated budget after modifications from the previous budget subcommittee meeting. While this budget projects a minor General Fund surplus of approximately $8K, it cannot be overemphasized that our expenses in general are increasing faster than our revenues. Projections show that following the adoption of this budget, the next year following that we will be in a deficit position. This means that our general fund revenues will not be sufficient to cover expenses. And while we have reserves we can use to cover temporary shortfalls, it is poor public policy to utilize reserves to cover ongoing operations.
Over the next several months it will be important for we as a city to determine the levels of service we want to provide, how we will pay for it, and how we can shift to a more sustainable structure.
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
- Maintain the City Engineer position as a contract role. The first budget proposal contemplated converting this contractor position to a full time employee. Full time employees incur significant costs relating to Cal PERS, medical benefits, etc. that contractors do not (though their rate is typically higher than base rates for employees). There are structural challenges with the city's finances and to take on a permanent funded position incurs significant fixed costs. Without an understanding of the big picture on how we plan to address the finance challenges facing the city I thought it would not be prudent to incur that permanent costs at this time. We should evaluate any new position in the context of the overall financial position of the city.
- Include funding for the crossing guards in front of Mt. Diablo Elementary in the operating budget rather than with one time funds. This is an important item for the safety of our youngest students. During the summer of 2019 I had worked with the the Mt. Diablo PFC President to facilitate a donation to cover the cost of this crossing guard in the FY20 budget. For FY21, the city funded this position with one time funds, with the understanding that we would like to incorporate this into our operating budget going forward.
- Include funding to assume responsibility for maintenance of the city owned dog park. Maintenance of the dog park had been performed in part by a local non-profit that was established when the park was first created. I requested this item at our 10.6.20 meeting.
- If we do nothing, the impact of the Streetlight fund exhausting its resources will be that the lights on certain collector roads (not the main arterial roads) will either need to be turned off, or funded from the general fund.
- Stormwater fund is a little different in that the consequence for not performing those activities is more severe. Rather than dark streets, there are financial penalties for not performing the environmental requirements that this fund is designed to support.
- The GHAD serves primarily a monitoring function. There isn't enough money to cover significant improvements so the GHAD funds are used to maintain monitoring devices designed to detect earth movement, and other small maintenance items. As such, the impact of this fund going insolvent will have less of an immediate impact, but carries a risk that a larger problem go undetected. There is also a larger reserve associated with GHAD activities that could support this fund for at least an additional year, or a couple years depending on maintenance needs.
Monday, June 7, 2021
- Our historical expenses have been increasing at a higher rate than our revenues and we are projected to have a structural deficit in 1-2 years if trends continue unabated
- Proposal to bring the City Engineer position in house as an employee. Historically this has been a contract position.
- Continued recognition that certain special revenue funds (streetlights, stormwater) do not have CPI risers on them and therefore are projected to be underwater in the near future.There are many other items that will likely be discussed at the meeting.
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Tonight the Council discussed two significant items.
Friday, May 28, 2021
- A discussion regarding potential hazard pay for people working within the city during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- There was also slated to be a hearing for the appeal of the Oak Creek Canyon Project denial (6 single family homes at the eastern part of the city), however due to remaining open questions staff is recommending we continue this item until the special meeting scheduled for June 29, 2021.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
- The first was whether to award a consulting contract to assist in preparing an update to our Housing Element. Updating the Housing element is periodically required approximately every 8 years. The City is not staffed to handle this work on a regular basis so when required we engage outside parties to assist. As is normal with contracts of this size, we issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) inviting vendors to submit bids on the work. Our RFP estimated the cost of this work to be approximately $235K.
In response to the RFP, we received two responses from firms that had similar experience, approaches, and cost. Of the two firms, the City has already engaged with one of them regarding the consulting work on the downtown lot. It was for this reason that staff recommended selecting MIG for the newest contract.
But rather than just the $235K, we were informed that there could be additional work necessary related to Environmental Impact Review (EIR) which may cost up to an additional approximate $180K. The staff recommended authorizing this larger appropriation of funds. The determination of whether an EIR would be necessary would be made by MIG. In my view, this has the potential to create a moral hazard where the entity responsible for determining the need for additional work and compensation is made by the same entity performing the work and receiving the compensation. In addition, if the work was truly larger by greater than 75% of what was estimated in our RFP, then the RFP was flawed and should be redone as other vendors may bid on a substantively different project.
While I would be fine with authorizing the lower spend amount and then later evaluating the criteria by which a determination is made for additional spend, doing everything all at once may give the impression of self dealing. As a result, I voted no. I was in the minority and the Council awarded this contract and authorized the greater spend on a vote of 4-1.
- The second item we discussed was more of a procedural matter. We removed the council agenda order from our ordinances shifting to adopting these by resolution rather than in the municipal code. We updated the language to reflect current naming conventions and proper identification of entities.
The last thing was more substantive. Historically a representative from the Planning Commission (PC) would give a report to Council on their activities from previous meetings. Because it is common for matters that come before Council to first go before the PC, in order to avoid prejudging matters we discontinued the practice of having the PC report out to the Council. This was straightforward, however the discussion brought forward many other instances that are of a similar nature. The PC would also do a report out to the CBCA, where Councilmembers may be in attendance. Councilmembers are also known to attend PC meetings. In some instances Councilmembers may attempt to sway PC decision making. All are problematic and present risk to the City.
While we took action on the one part - PC reports to the Council, we did not do anything to address the other matters.
Friday, May 14, 2021
- Awarding a contract to a vendor to help facilitating the update of our Housing Element. Updating out Housing Element is required periodically and we typically engage consultants to assist us. Because this is work that only occurs every 8 years, and we don't have sufficient staff to do the work on a regular basis, consultants allow us to meet our compliance requirements. We issued and RFP and received two proposals. This item will discuss awarding the contract to one of those respondents.
- Discussion about updating our ordinance regarding the Order of Business for Council meetings. Currently the order of the agenda is within our city ordinances. There is a recommendation to strike this from our ordinances and merely adopt the order of business through resolution.
In addition, in order to avoid the appearance of or potential partiality in hearing matters that first came before the Planning Commission, there is a recommendation to eliminate the practice of the Planning Commission giving a report to the City Council.
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Last night the Council discussed and took action on two significant items.
The first was regarding library services.
The Clayton library is staffed by a mix of County staff for certain library services, and a host of volunteers for other activities. Due to agreements between the City and the County, and the County's MOU with the union that the county library staff belong to, generally the volunteers at the library are not able to perform duties that would otherwise be performed by County staff.
Historically, Clayton received at no cost an amount of County supported library staff that allowed the library to be open 35 hours per week. The City separately engaged the county to expand that amount of time to 44 hours per week, or an additional 9 hours per week and paid approximately $13K/year for this. During various pandemic related closures, library hours were reduced and modified, but eventually was set at 40 hours per week.
Going forward and beginning in July 2021, the County has informed the City that the previous arrangement will not continue. In its place, the County has stated they will now provide at no cost to the City, an amount of County supported library staff that will allow the library to be open 40 hours per week. The schedule will differ from the previous schedule. We have the option to purchase additional hours, but at a closer to market rate rather than the subsidized rate we were previously paying. To increase the hours open by six to a total of 46 hours per week, the incremental cost to the city would be approximately $59K.
This represents a significant increase and one that our city cannot afford within our current budget. To cover this cost would require an increase in revenue (taxes, fees, etc.), a reduction in services, or some combination. The Council decided to accept the 40 hour allotment. If in the future the funds become available either through the city, or through significant donation, we could update our agreement with the County and fund additional hours.
The hours that would be available are as follows: