Monday, May 16, 2022

Upcoming Meeting 5.17.22

There is only one item being discussed at the next meeting and that is the schedule of meetings during the summer.  Typically we look at people's availability and cancel meetings during the summer if there aren't pressing matters and folks may be absent.

There are a few other items for future meetings that are not our regular 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month that I'd like to call attention to:

5/23 - Budget/Audit Committee meeting to go over first pass of next year's budget and review current year actuals.  The subcommittee meeting will not be streamed but people are welcome to attend.  It will be at 3pm.

5/31 - Special meeting to review the first draft of the updated housing element.  This meeting will be at 6pm.

There may also be a future meeting on 6/23 to discuss feedback received from the 5/21 meeting, but this one is not yet confirmed.  There may also be a meeting 6/16 but that will be as needed so not yet confirmed.

If you have any thoughts or questions on the above, please let me know.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

5.3.22 Meeting Summary - Time and Money Squandered

Last night we received the results of the survey conducted for the purpose of determining potential support for a tax measure on the November ballot.  The results of the survey were absolutely predictable - people in Clayton are overwhelmingly satisfied with the quality of life here, and simultaneously are not generally aware of the financial challenges the city currently faces, and if they learned about them they would be concerned about the impact.

The recommendations from the consultant that the city paid were also unsurprising: To not place a tax measure on the ballot right now, conduct public outreach to inform people of the current financial challenges the city faces, and target a tax increase for the November 2024 ballot.

Accordingly, the city will not be pursuing a tax measure during the November 2022 election.  And while I think this is the right outcome given the present circumstances, it's important to understand how we got here - squandering both time and money.

In July 2021, I wrote in detail regarding the financial position that the city was in.  I did this in hopes that we would spur conversation and discussion at the city.  Only through discussion could we hope to find solutions that would be sustainable, that we would be able to tap in to the approximate 80% of people that would be concerned should they actually learn about the financial challenges the city faces.  

But it wasn’t until late September 2021 that we actually discussed this issue again, and even then it was only to say that we were interested in having that discussion, and that we needed to outline overall timing if any solution were to include increased taxes.  The next time we would talk about this would be in February 2022.  Rather than use the nearly 8 months of time since I raised the issue to discuss potential solutions and engage in outreach with our residents - the most obvious thing the survey is actually recommending - the city took no meaningful action to address the financial challenges it faces.  

And when the issue was discussed more widely, the figures being used were inflated to make the situation appear more dire than they actually are.  The bulk of the deficits projected were for discretionary items.  It is certain there are challenges, just not necessarily to the degree as portrayed like was done in the recent Pioneer.  Do we need to find a way to fund our streetlights?  Yes.  Do we need to bring on additional employees and the associated cost of their pensions?  Maybe not.

It wasn't only outreach that was missing in the run up to the survey being conducted.  Consider that during our goal setting session in Mar-22, the first thing discussed was the goal of a potential tax.  Shouldn't the goal be to address the structural budget shortfalls rather than jump straight to a tax?  Myopically focusing on a tax neglects the potential to reduce spending, or to increase revenue via other sources.  We should be addressing the city's excessive use of consultants, the utilization of reserves for discretionary items,  potential reductions in expense and additional sources of revenue other than a parcel tax.  Unfortunately none of these things were done and we've squandered time that we could have been doing outreach, and squandered money for consultants to conduct a survey that gave us predictable results.

All of those things that should have been done already will have to be done now given the budget for the next fiscal year must be finalized shortly.  There has been some talk about using reserves to cover shortfalls.  Like raising taxes, spending down our savings to cover our day to day operations should be a last resort and I would hope that approach would not be suggested as the first option.


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Upcoming Council Meeting 5.3.22

There are a couple significant items on the agenda for our next meeting 5.3.22:

- We will receive an annual Contra Costa County Fire Protection District update from Assistant Chief Carey

- We will hear a presentation from the consultants that were recently engaged to survey Clayton voters regarding potential support of a tax measure on the November 2022 ballot and provide direction to staff on next steps.

If you have any thoughts or questions on the above please let me know.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

4.19.22 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council discussed a couple significant items:

We introduced an ordinance regarding Military Equipment Use.  Due to new legislation we are required to adopt such a ordinance prior to requesting, seeking funding, acquiring, or collaborating with other jurisdictions about the deployment or use of such equipment.  Clayton has a limited amount of equipment that would qualify under this ordinance, and often this equipment qualifies only because it is specifically designated as such.  Less lethal bean bang and sponge rounds fall under this policy, along with the standard issue rifles that are nearly ubiquitous among law enforcement.  We introduced this ordinance and it will go into effect shortly after the 2nd reading at the next meeting.  The vote was 5-0.

We discussed the city's treatment of the Concerts in the Park that occur each summer.  It was not clear who the actual sponsor of the events were - the information indicated the city, however the actual activity of the concerts including the inflows and outflows of cash were not readily apparent.  We determined that the activity was actually being recorded on the books of the city, but in a way that it would not be visible unless specifically reporting on it.  The activity of the concerts were not visible in any of the budget documents, the inflows were never recorded as revenues, and the outflows were never recorded as expenses.

We did establish a few things, and gave direction on a few items going forward:

- The concerts are a city event
- The way activity has been recorded for the concerts and other city events has not been appropriate and will be changed to be recorded properly.
- We need more information on the types of funds and their benefits and restrictions to determine what type of fund should properly capture city events.
- We need to appropriately allocate the full load of the costs incurred as a result of these events so the activity can be properly recorded.
- We need to establish and formalize succession planning around the administration of the events so that they can continue going forward.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Upcoming Council Meeting 4.19.22

Tomorrow will be the first regular meeting we are holding in person in over two years.  We had a special session earlier last month but there was no one from the public in attendance.  

Tomorrow there are a couple significant items on the agenda:
  • An ordinance adopting a military equipment use policy.  We are required to have such a policy prior to requesting, seeking funding, acquiring, or deploying or using military equipment.  This would include things like less lethal launchers (beanbag or sponge rounds), command trailers, and select fire center action rifles.

  • We will discuss how the city handles the Concerts in the Grove and associated financial arrangements.
If you have any thoughts or questions on the above please let me know.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

4.5.22 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council met and discussed two significant items:
  • We adopted a treatment for our ARPA funds that requires less onerous reporting with no restrictions on the use of funds. With the new guidance, any ARPA funds under a certain threshold (which we qualify for) would be allowed to treat the funds received as wholly revenue replacement. This means that effectively the entirety of the $2.9M the city received functions as unrestricted reserves. Consistent with past action, we will be segregating these dollars in a separate fund for tracking purposes.

  • The Council adopted a resolution opposing an upcoming ballot initiative. The initiative purports to expand the definition of a "tax", require voter approval for state taxes, changes the approval requirements for local taxes to align with state taxes, and requires that allowable uses and duration of state and local taxes to be specified. There wasn't much discussion around this item. While it does seem like a poor general practice to tinker with the state and local budgets through constitutional amendment, in CA it seems like that ship has sailed.  In reading the staff report, I couldn't help but think it wasn't presenting objective information. The Legislative Analyst Office summary is here: https://lao.ca.gov/BallotAnalysis/Initiative/2021-042.  I voted no not necessarily because I support this initiative, I'll reserve judgment for now, but more because I'm not sure the city needs to take a position on this.  The vote was 4-1.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Upcoming Council Meeting 4.5.22

At the next Council meeting we will be discussing a couple significant items:

  • We will discuss adopting a treatment for our ARPA funds that requires less onerous reporting with no restrictions on the use of funds.  Initially when the Treasury distributed ARPA funds, there was guidance that suggested we'd need to report on our uses and how they met the eligible use criteria.  That criteria only allowed spending for a limited set of categories.  With the new guidance, any ARPA funds under a certain threshold (which we qualify for) would be allowed to treat the funds received as wholly revenue replacement.  We need to make an election to designate our funds this way.

  • We will discuss adopting a resolution opposing California statewide ballot initiative 21-0042A1 sponsored by the California Business Roundtable.  The Legislative Analyst Office summary is here:  https://lao.ca.gov/BallotAnalysis/Initiative/2021-042  This initiative would expand the definition of a "tax", require voter approval for state taxes, changes the approval requirements for local taxes to align with state taxes, and requires that allowable uses and duration of state and local taxes to be specified.  Staff and Cal Cities is recommending opposing this ballot initiative.
While the next meeting will continue to be virtual, the following meeting scheduled for 4.19.22 is expected to be a hybrid with the Council being in person with whomever wants to attend, along with participants remotely as well.  More information on this to follow as it's available.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions on the above.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

3.21.22 Special Session

The Council met in special session on Monday (3.21.22) to discuss two things.  The first was a goal setting session.  After discussion, the Council agreed on three goals for the upcoming year:

1.  Develop a plan for fiscally and structurally sustainable budget.  Being sustainable means that our budget cannot rely on one time funding or reserve spending.  Cloven pushed for agreement that our goal should be to have one unified message around whatever is agreed upon to address our looming budget shortfalls - to which I responded that that would be premature.  Without knowing the specifics of a proposal or plan, I stated that I would reserve judgment as to the efficacy.  Instead, I suggested the goal that we actually adopted.

2.  Have a discussion around bringing our staff tools and resources up to modern standards.  It's been mentioned at different times some of the challenges that staff work through on a regular basis.  This goal is essentially to assess those, and discuss potential approaches to mitigate or alleviate those challenges.  One theme that was raised was related to the growth of the city, and the growth of the bureaucracy required by the state.  While our staff size has remained relatively flat over the years, the population of Clayton has increased which increases the need for city services.  Some of these services are scalable, but many are not.  In addition to population growth, the requirements that the state imposes for regulatory compliance reporting have increased as well.  The volume of reporting is not affected by city size so the administrative burden these requirements impose is not insignificant.

This is an important matter to be addressed, but why it was needed to be established as a goal as part of our annual goal setting session seemed odd to me.  The Mayor controls the Council agenda and this discussion item could have been placed on the agenda at any time.

3. Submission of a Housing Element that is compliant with the law.  This too seemed odd as a goal as it's commonplace to comply with the law.  The law requires a compliant Housing Element be submitted every eight years and we've already done significant work as a city to meet this requirement.


There was also discussion around a change to Council Guidelines.  Nothing in the guidelines supersedes what is established in the CA Gov Code, and nothing in the guidelines is binding on the Council.  The guidelines are established however, as a way to communicate norms that may make the operations of the Council smoother.  Our City Manager proposed a change to the way that items are agendized.  The practice of the Council has been that any Councilmember can request an item be brought forward on the agenda and anything that is requested would then be brought forward for a future discussion.  City Staff don't take action unless directed by the Council collectively, but we can discuss among ourselves if we want to provide that direction.

The proposal that was advanced was to have Councilmembers vote on whether something is ever put on the agenda.  I was opposed to this for a couple reasons.  First, we as Councilmembers are not allowed to discuss among ourselves any issue that has not been agendized, either at a Council meeting, or outside of a Council meeting.  This means that we would need to vote on whether we want to take up an issue, before actually understanding what that issue was.  Without ever getting to the merits of an issue, something could be dismissed.  This limits overall discussion.  Second, this would mean that a majority could prevent an issue ever being raised or discussed on the merits.  

Ultimately we did not adopt this proposal.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

3.15.22 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council discussed a few significant items:

The action plan to correct audit findings was presented.  The work is in early stages and still at the point where the work is being assessed and sized.  It seems like there is quite a bit of work ahead to resolve issues discovered.  We've been in contact with multiple outside parties to assist with this effort and when they are able to scope the work staff will reconvene with the budget and audit committee to inform of progress.  The plethora of issues we are facing are significant and wide reaching - from lack of monthly close procedures, to not being able to reconcile accounts, to challenges using our internal software.  I'm glad staff is working to address all of the issues and look forward to the next update.

We discussed the mid year budget review and while we are currently in the 9th month of the fiscal year (fiscal year ends in June), the mid year review was presented as of 12.31.21.  There appears to be several puts and takes, but nothing significant that would warrant action now.  We also agreed to create a new fund to tract ARPA dollars.

We engaged with a new contract City Engineer.  Previously we used a different firm, however at our last contract renewal the rates were less favorable so we moved to a new firm.

We got an update on the CEMEX reclamation plan revision.  The current plan calls for using a large portion of the quarry to fill in the pit that has been dug over the many years.  This would be a many decades long process requiring a high volume of earth moving, which would create an abundance of noise and dust, among other things.  The proposed revision would call for leaving more of the visible land in tact, digging a larger pit, and allowing rainwater to eventually form a lake in its place.  This was informational only as the quarry is outside the city - approval of the revision sits with the County.

We also saw a demo of a cloud based budgeting software package.  This software would move staff input from spreadsheets to the cloud, and put a front end UI to allow for data visualizations that could be accessed by staff and the public.  On a periodic basis, our actual data would be loaded and also viewable by the same parties.  The license cost of this application was proposed as $16,500/year with a three year contract.  The Council voted to move forward with application on a vote of 3-2.  Myself and Councilmember Diaz voted no.

While I think the application had a lot of utility, I voted against spending the near $50K for two reasons.  The first was related to the first item I discuss above.  There are a number of basic accounting functions that we need to shore up, or start doing.  Getting our basic operations up to speed to me is a higher priority than a tool that while better than our current process, doesn't address the fundamental issues within the finance group.  The team is small (two people) and there is a functional limit to bandwidth.  Until we get our basic operations on solid footing, I did not think it prudent to shift focus.

The second reason I voted against spending on this new software was based on information that we learned about ARPA funding.  Previously we were told that ARPA funding had a limited set of eligible uses, and a time window in which the funds needed to be used.  This meant that there were only a few different ways we could spend the money, if we didn't spend the dollars, at some point we'd lose them.  It is with this in mind that we created the Clayton Cares program to assist our local small businesses and residents most impacted by the pandemic.

Last night however, we learned the rules regarding ARPA funds have changed significantly.  Now, there is essentially no restriction on the types of eligible uses of funds, and no time limit upon which they must be spent.  Now, the ARPA funds (approximately $2.8M, of which $680K has been used) function more as general unrestricted fund balance.  This completely changes the character of the dollars and any spend of these dollars is more akin to spending down our reserves.  Whereas before there was both a time and use incentive to use the funds quickly, now I believe we need to evaluate spend more critically as we would any spending of reserves.  This is especially true given our structural deficits.  

Unfortunately it appears the City is treating the ARPA funds as a means to increase spending and as a way to plug various holes, as is suggested throughout the mid year budget review presentation.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Upcoming Meetings - Budget/Audit Committee 3.14.22 and Council Meeting 3.15.22

There are two meetings this week - The first is a Budget/Audit subcommitee meeting today, and tomorrow's regularly scheduled Council meeting.

Budget/Audit Subcommitee 3.14.22:
  • We will be discussing the Accounting Action Plan to address the prior year audit findings
  • We will be receiving a presentation regarding ClearGov budgeting software
  • We will be discussing the mid year budget presentation
All of these items will be considered for recommending to be sent to the full Council.

Council Meeting 3.15.22:

There are a few significant items on the agenda:

  • Discuss the Accounting Action Plan to address the prior year audit findings
  • Discuss the ClearGov budgeting software and whether to appropriate funds to purchase and implement
  • Discuss the mid year budget review and authorize the establishment of a separate fund to track these monies
  • Adopt resolution to engage a new City Engineer
  • Discuss an update on the CEMEX Land Use Permit Revision Application pertaining to the Clayton Quarry Reclamation Plan
If you have any thoughts or questions on these items, please let me know.


Wednesday, March 2, 2022

3.1.22 Meeting Summary

Last night there was only one item that we discussed and that was whether there would be a quorum for the 4.5.22 meeting.  That meeting takes place over MDUSD spring break and there was a thought that folks may not be available at that time.  There was no indication this would be the case so no action was taken and the scheduled meeting remains on the calendar.

There were a few comments regarding the door hangers that went out over the weekend.  While I am glad to continue to get the word out about the Clayton Cares program  (https://claytonca.gov/claytoncares/) providing funding assistance to businesses and households in Clayton, I was disappointed when I saw the Housing Balancing Act (https://clayton.abalancingact.com/example-sim-da) site launched.

When we originally discussed the potential sites for upzoning at our 1.4.22 meeting, there were a limited number of sites identified.  I inquired at the time whether we could consider additional sites, consider changes in density, etc.  It was represented at the time that that discussion was just an early itteration, that there would be more time to discuss and flesh out ideas.  This was what our hired consultants had come up with, but we were told we would be able to further discuss other options that may not have been considered.  That seemed reasonable so I was anticipating a time that we would be able to discuss further.

Unfortunately that future discussion has yet to come to pass, and the above linked site was launched asking for resident input.  The site however only has the limited options that were presented back at that  January meeting.  This means that when folks go to vote or offer input, they are guided to the options presented.  There is of course room for people to enter free form comments, however like push polling, this will bias the results of the tool towards the options presented.

Councilmember Diaz requested last night that we actually have the discussion that was promised previously so hopefully we'll be able to start having these more meaningful conversations before it's too late.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Upcoming Council Meeting 3.1.22

There are a number of items on the consent calendar, but the only significant item to discuss will be whether we have a quorum for the scheduled April 5, 2022 meeting.  This falls during the MDUSD scheduled spring break time and we'll discuss if there are enough of us present to conduct a meeting.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions on the above.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

2.15.22 Meeting Summary

Tonight the council discussed two significant items:

- The first was receiving the FY21 audited financial statements.  Normally this is a perfunctory process where we get a read out of the results and accept them.  The audit is completed already and there isn't going to be anything that happens that changes that.  Tonight however, was a bit different.  

For a number of reasons, including staff turnover and generally poor financial practices, the City got some disappointing news.  In every audit, there are required communications from the independent auditor to the governing body, in this case the City Council. We were informed that during the course of the audit, there were four material weaknesses identified, and one significant deficiency in internal controls. 

These are industry terms - a material weakness is a a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the company's annual or interim financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. A significant deficiency is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting that is less severe than a material weakness, yet important enough to merit attention by those responsible for oversight of the company's financial reporting.

As an accountant, I'm very familiar with these terms.  Even a single material weakness could have severe consequences in a private corporation.  Four together is an indication of severe problems in an organization.

We discussed how subledgers in the City's accounting system don't reconcile to the main GL.  We discussed the fact that the ledger is not closed on a monthly basis, or that books are open for several months at a time.  We discussed that one of the key controls in any organization - reconciling bank accounts, was not being performed.  We discussed an instance of fraud where nearly $40K was stolen (mostly recovered through insurance) due to poor controls over financial systems.  And with the City receiving federal funding for ARPA, there will be even greater requirements over internal controls next year.

What we heard painted a bleak picture of the control environment at the City.  Rather than relitigate what happened, I felt it would be more productive to focus on how we can right the ship.  I requested a plan of action that identifies all the challenge areas, develops a game plan and timeline for remediation, a list of resources necessary to achieve those outcomes, and an identification of the biggest potential impediments to being successful.  I asked that more frequent updates are made so we can compare actual results to this established plan.  It's a tall order, and it will take dedicated effort over time to achieve these outcomes.

- Next we discussed whether to appropriate $30K to engage a consulting firm to perform research related to a potential tax measure for the November 2022 ballot.  The idea was to conduct polling to determine the amount and type of tax that people would generally support.  Because the required vote is actually 2/3 (we found that out tonight), there is this sentiment that the city should advance a tax measure that would fall within some acceptable range so people would support it.

I felt this approach was backwards.  Rather than trying to determine the most people would support, I suggested we determine what the minimum amount is that is necessary to fund critical government functions.  Ultimately the city is projected to be in deficit spending starting with FY23.  We can determine what is necessary to avoid that, and then place on the ballot that amount.  I did not think it was a prudent use of $30K in order to conduct polling on what would be palatable to our residents when the actual issue at hand is a budget shortfall that is orthogonal to what people are comfortable paying.  It's not about what is palatable, but rather what is necessary.  

If we are going to be asking residents to tighten their belts and contribute more to the City every year, it would behoove the city to do the same and demonstrate frugality.  Over the past year or so, the City has engaged more consultants than I am comfortable with and I've expressed opposition where appropriate.  It's difficult to go to the people hat in hand asking for money, while at the same time not use the people's money as judiciously as possible.

Unfortunately, as it has been with many other issues, the vote was 3-2 with myself and Councilmember Diaz voting no.  As a result, it looks like the City will be spending $30K to do this polling to determine how much additional taxes would be acceptable to residents.  In the grand scheme of things, $30K is not going to bankrupt the city.  And if the City is to maintain its current level of services it certainly needs more revenue (taxes).  But it's hard to say the City ought to get more money until the house is in order and the City acts responsibly with the money it already has.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Upcoming Council meeting 2.15.22

There are a couple significant items on the agenda for the next meeting:
  • We will receive the audited financial statements for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2021.  There are a number concerning items within the financials that will be discussed.

  • We will discuss appropriating $30K to engage a consulting firm to perform research related to a potential tax measure for the November 2022 ballot.
If you have any thoughts or questions on these items please let me know.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

2.1.22 Meeting Summary

There were a few significant items discussed at last night's meeting:

- We agreed to send a letter to the BART Board of Directors expressing the City's desire to remain in the current central county district, rather than be placed in the east county district.  If Clayton were to be moved to east county, it would contradict existing transportation planning in the county and not be representative of where the majority of Clayton residents use BART services.

- We discussed the 10 year general fund forecast and it is bleak at best.  Here is a look at the operational deficits that are projected beginning with the next fiscal year (Jul-22 - Jun-23):

The outlook is actually worse than the above indicates because it doesn't include deficit projections in some of our special revenue funds for things like streetlights and stormwater.  Those shortfalls align with the above and would need to be made up from the General Fund.  This would only be the baseline - there are other areas that the city has not been able to keep up with that require significant one time spending, and ongoing spending to support.  Things like police staffing, market rate wages for city staff to improve retention, rising costs of services for maintenance and audit services, etc.  If we aggregate all of these current unmet needs, it would put additional negative pressure of nearly $400K/year every year.

We have enjoyed a healthy reserve balance for quite some time.  But with operating expenditures increasing approximately 4% each year, and revenues only increasing 1.4%, it's an unsustainable pattern that needs to be addressed.

- Next we discussed how to address these financial challenges.  Back in July 2021, I raised this issue - either raise taxes, cut services, or both.  https://www.jeffwanforclaytoncitycouncil.net/2021/07/question-raise-taxes-reduce-services-or.html . I also started a poll on Nextdoor (https://nextdoor.com/news_feed/?post=193887740&is=neighbor_profile) with the same article, and there was quite a bit of discussion around that time.  Since then I've requested that we begin talking about the process for putting a ballot measure before the voters.  I'm glad we are now revisiting the issue, though it would have been more desirable to start earlier.

The Council went over different types of tax measures, amounts, whether it should be a general tax or a special tax (specific purpose), and whether we should engage outside consultants to help with polling, communications, and drafting ballot language.

There was general agreement that a parcel tax would be the best choice, rather than a sales, business, or utility tax.  A general tax can be used for any purpose, and has a lower threshold for voter approval (50% +1) so that was the direction the Council was moving towards.  

The amount of the potential tax was discussed, but a figure wasn't settled on.  I requested additional information about what could be achieved at different levels of funding.  This will allow a more informed discussion when we seek approval - we need to be able to clearly articulate what it is the people will get if they approve any tax.

We were split on whether outside consultants should be engaged.  I think the city has been to liberal with its spending on outside consultants.  I don't believe a polling firm will tell us anything that we don't already know, and the results of any poll are not likely to influence the outcome of what we do regardless.  We know we need to raise revenue - we should determine what the lowest amount possible is, and set the number there.  There is no poll that will change that outcome.  

I am also opposed to hiring a communications consultant.  Again, we know the channels and methods we can use to reach out to Clayton residents.  Compound that with the fact we just engaged consultants to help communication efforts around ARPA, and the housing element, and the downtown lot - it's not like there are going to be new novel approaches that were not previously considered.  

I think if we are asking the people of Clayton to agree to a tax increase, the City needs to demonstrate that it is using its resources as effectively and frugally as possible.  If we are loose with our spending, it would be more difficult to persuade the people to give the city more money.

In about a month, staff will come back with more information regarding the level of funding to seek, as well as information about potential costs of various outside consultants and what services they can provide.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Upcoming Council Meeting 2.1.22

There are a few significant items we will be discussing at our next council meeting:

  • Discussion whether to send a letter to the BART Board of Directors regarding upcoming redistricting.  There is a proposal that BART is considering to move Clayton to the eastern Contra Costa County district, rather than the current central district.  If Clayton is moved, then our representative would be from District 2, (brown section) vs. District 3 (blue section)

  • We will be discussing the ten year general fund forecast.  Current projections show deficit general fund spending starting next fiscal year.

  • We will also be discussing revenue options and potential next steps to address the projected deficits in the prior item.

If you have any thoughts or questions about the above, please let me know.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

1.18.22 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council discussed several significant items:
  • We updated the city's purchasing policy to increase the threshold for when Council approval is necessary.  In the last two years we have updated the purchasing policy to allow us to utilize competitive bids conducted by other public agencies which reduced the administrative burden for similar services being sought, and adopted new rules related to public works projects further reducing administrative burden while retaining competitive bidding when appropriate.  With tonight's action, we increased the discretionary spending authority of the city manager from $20K to $60K, for everything except professional services.

  • The $20K limit has not been increased since 2004. The original intent of this threshold was to facilitate smooth operations of the city and not require Council approval for routine matters that would typically be approved via consent calendar anyways.  With rising costs over time, the $20K limit would sometimes be a barrier to that purpose.  Originally the proposal was to include all spend, however I questioned the need to include professional services which is typically consultant spend.  While the city does not often engage consultants, we have several times in the last few years.  In some cases, as with the group assisting us in preparing the housing element, or the group assisting in preparing the ARPA funds spending plan, this seemed entirely appropriate.  In others, I thought it warranted more discussion.  I suggested we limit the spending authority for professional services to $30K.  This would allow regular operations, while also ensuring larger engagements come to the Council for approval.

  • We approved one time premium pay for the City's essential workers in the amount of $10K each for full time employees.  Our police and city staff have worked diligently throughout the changing circumstances of the pandemic.  Our police especially has always been public facing.  As the ARPA dollars we received are federally funded, use it or lose it, and premium pay falls within eligible uses, I am grateful that we had this opportunity to recognize the work that our city staff does, and hope that this premium pay helps mitigate or offset some of the impacts that the pandemic has had on our police and city staff.

  • We expanded the eligibility criteria for the Clayton Cares program.  With updated guidance from the U.S. Treasury, we determined we could expand the scope of those eligible.  Originally businesses in Clayton could apply for forgivable loans up to $5K.  We increased that amount to $10K (those that already applied do not need to take action).  We also increased the amount households were eligible for, from $1,500, to $10,000.  The income threshold for households was also increased in hopes of capturing more homes in the eligibility pool.  We also extended the deadlines to apply for these amounts - through 1.31.22 for businesses, and 2.28.22 for households.  If you, your business, or a non profit think you may be eligible, please apply here:  https://claytonca.gov/claytoncares/

  • We also updated both the City Manager compensation package as a result of the annual review, and updated the city salary schedule accordingly.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Upcoming Council Meeting 1.18.22

There are a few significant items on the agenda for tonight's meeting:
  • Discussion of an updated purchasing policy adjusting some administrative items and increasing the approval authority of the City Manager from $20K to $60K.

  • Discussion of premium pay for essential workers in the city consistent with the discussion we had at our last meeting.

  • Considering whether to update the Clayton Cares program to expand eligibility for ARPA funds for local businesses and residents.

  • Updating the employment agreement with the City Manager reflecting a pay increase

  • Updating the City's salary schedule.

If you have any thoughts or questions on the above please let me know.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

1.4.22 Meeting Summary

There were a few significant items that were discussed at last night's meeting.  Three items on the agenda, and one on consent calendar.

The consent calendar item had to do with the cost overruns of the curb ramp replacement project that is in progress right now.  Apparently when the city and our engineer originally scoped the work there were several items not included that should have been.  As a result, there was additional work needed to comply with various requirements, including ADA requirements, which necessitated an increase in the total project cost.

We discussed and established Council assignments on various committees.  There were a couple questions about the nature of those committees and if that information was available on the city website.  I had happened to have an older draft from when I came on the Council so I forwarded that to the City Manager to update and post if possible.

We discussed "hero pay" for essential workers that work for the city.  This included police and our city staff.  While I reiterated my top priority was to assist the local businesses and households in Clayton that were impacted by the pandemic, the low take rate on our initial program meant that we would have some funds available to also recognize the work that our own employees have been doing.

I suggested that we create various buckets of funds.  Doing this would allow us to get a bit more granular on any program we implement or modify.   Originally when the Police Officers Association suggested this action, they keyed their request in line with other nearby cities.  But given our size, we have a bit more flexibility in administering a program because the recipient pool is much smaller than in other nearby cities.  I suggested that of our total net allotment of funds (approximately $2.7M after administrative overhead), we designate 10% towards essential worker pay.  And while the broader topic of the other potential categories was not on the agenda so we couldn't take action on it, we did commit to bringing back this topic to further refine the program.  We agreed that a 10% target to go towards our essential workers was prudent and directed staff to work towards bringing back a program that met those guidelines.

We received one public comment about the apparent disparity in compensating our own employees while many in town were not eligible for the first round of the Clayton Cares program due to various circumstances.  In fact, less than 10% of the first tranche of funds was even claimed by local businesses and households.  It is clear we need to do two things - expand the Clayton Cares program to include more eligible recipients, and we need to more aggressively communicate the availability of this program to ensure those eligible can receive the funding that has been provided.  

The work here is definitely not done, but we can make incremental steps and implementing a program that recognizes our essential workers is a key component of that work.

We then discussed a progress report on the 6th Cycle Housing Element update.  The focus of this discussion were the draft goals, however there was a lot of information in the update which expanded the discussion quite a bit.  The draft goals were fairly high level, and the process would entail the Council making comments on the goals, then turning them over to the Planning Commission for them to get more into the details and ultimately make a recommendation on adoption.  The goals were drafted as follows:
    • Goal I. Maintain and enhance long-established housing and neighborhoods in Clayton while accommodating moderate growth.
    • Goal II. Encourage a variety of housing types, densities, and affordability levels to meet the diverse needs of the community, including a mix of ownership and rental units.
    • Goal III. Meet the housing needs of extremely low-, very low-, low-, and moderate-income households and increase opportunities for renters and first-time homebuyers.
    • Goal IV. Remove governmental constraints and obstacles to the production of housing for all income groups.
    • Goal V. Ensure equal housing opportunities for all persons in Clayton regardless of age, race, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, color, disability, or other barriers that prevent choice in housing.
    • Goal VI. Encourage and improve energy efficiency in new and existing housing.
    • Goal VII. Promote and participate in the resolution of housing, employment, and transportation issues on a regional basis in cooperation with all Contra Costa County jurisdictions.
I took issue with the first goal as "accommodating moderate growth" was nebulous in its meaning and it didn't appear to be a requirement to have.  I suggested that we instead modify the language to reflect the goal that we meet the various criteria as required by law.  Other than that, the rest of the goals appeared okay as many of them are required to be included.

There was also significant discussion around the 3rd attachment (page 142 of 172 of the agenda packet):

It was emphasized that this was merely a first draft of a proposal.  You may recall that we are required to provide for 570 units at varying income levels:

There are some requirements that if an opportunity site was included in the last two housing element cycles then it will be required to provide at least 20% of the units at that site as very low income.  One way to satisfy this is to change the zoning to be 20 units/acre.  I inquired if there were other ways to satisfy this requirement because if we move forward with the draft as presented, it would mean increasing density all over the city.

I did mention that we have some latitude because the city actually owns some of the opportunity sites that have been identified.  So while in other instances if a zoning density increase occurs, the property owner then has a by-right ability to build at that density, in the instance where the city itself owns the property, it will have ultimate decision making authority whether anything gets built on those sites at all.  The law requires that we zone at a certain density, not that any build actually occurs.

There will be more discussion over the course of 2022, however the options available to the city are limited as the state has constrained a great deal of choices that cities have.  We will definitely need to zone for the units, the question is where.

We also had a closed session regarding labor negotiations and there were no reportable actions from that closed session.