Tuesday, September 6, 2022

First Term Accomplishments - and Looking Ahead

After serving four years there are a number of accomplishments that I'm proud of, and some things that I wish went differently.

Transparency in communication - For government to work for the people, it's critically important that those people be informed.  But ultimately people shouldn't have to be dialed in to the day to day activities of the city - that's why we elect representatives.  But if people want to know what's going on, they should be able to find out easily.   That's why I write updates before and after every Council meeting.  If there is an item of interest, then it gives people a heads up how they can participate.  From the mundane to the impactful, the city always has activity going on and we should make it easy to find out about it.  Unfortunately the meeting minutes that are kept are what's called "Action Style Minutes" - only capturing the decisions made, but none of the discussions or rationale for why a decision was made.  With meetings being hours long, it's unreasonable to expect people to watch videos just to find out why a decision was made.  Elected officials have a responsibility to share their reasoning and I will continue to make it as easy as possible for people to do so.

Fiscal Discipline and the Budget/Audit Committee - I've served on the Budget/Audit Committee each of the four years I've been in office.  During that time, I recommended that we save surpluses to help stabilize pension expenses, identified and corrected numerous items with our external audit reports, facilitated the funding of an additional school crossing guard, and was first to identify the structural financial challenges that the city is now facing.  When we revisited our expenditure policy, I pushed back to make it more fiscally conservative.  Even though I was in the minority, I consistently argued against utilizing consultants for routine activities and was opposed to spending 10s of thousands of dollars and staff time on conducting a survey where the results were entirely predictable.

Addressing quality of life issues outside of Regency Gate - After the trailhead was popularized by social media and even events hosted by hiking groups, the quiet neighborhood became anything but.  Previous concerns from residents in the area around Regency Gate regarding a complete lack of street parking did not gain traction at the city. From driveways being blocked, to trash littering the street, and excessive speeds and aggressive drivers looking for parking, this was something that great impacted the quality of life for the residents in this neighborhood.  After talking extensively with the residents, and meeting with folks that wanted to preserve park access, I proposed a balanced solution that addressed the issue while preserving the ability for members of the public to access the trails.  Even though there was some hesitation, eventually the majority of the Council was persuaded and we were able to implement a permit parking system.  The result has been successful - residents say the impact was like night and day.

Additional crossing guard and interactive signal crossing signs - I have young children and I am acutely aware of how important traffic safety is, especially around our schools.  So when the president of the Mt. Diablo Elementary PFC reached out to me to ask if the city could help provide an additional crossing guard outside the school, I was glad to take action.  Initially this took the form of the city acting on behalf of the PFC, accepting a donation and then working with existing service providers.  This type of cooperation was great, but I thought it the city's responsibility to do what it could to ensure the safety of its youngest residents.  As part of the Budget and Audit subcommittee, I made sure this item was included in future budgets.  Providing a crossing guard, and improving traffic and pedestrian safety especially around our schools is a way that the city can make sure that its spending reflects its priorities.

Updating the sign ordinances around town - Prior to being elected I was surprised to learn how restrictive the sign ordinances were in town.  After reviewing the laws that were passed by previous Councils, it became clear that ours was overly restrictive, so much so that they wouldn't be defensible as they likely violated the 1st amendment.  I argued for change and ultimately the city updated its ordinances.  There are almost no speech restrictions that I will support so ultimately I voted against the restrictions that the city ended up with.  At least through having the discussion we were able to change our ordinances to be consistent with 1st amendment caselaw.

Backyard hens - One comment that was pretty common in talking with people were chickens.  Many people in town keep hens, but officially city ordinances prohibited it.  This was particularly poignant in talking with an elementary school teacher who would incubate a chicks as part of a class project, but at the end had to surrender the hens because they weren't allowed to be kept it in the city.  In doing research about the benefits and impacts, I found that not including Clayton, all but one city in the County allowed the keeping of hens.  I worked with city staff on this research and was able to persuade my fellow councilmembers to change the law.  Now people in Clayton can legally keep backyard hens.

ARPA and the Clayton Cares program - When the city first learned that it would receive federal assistance related to COVID relief, the scope was fairly narrow on what was allowable.  The money was primarily to be used between 5 categories, public health response, economic impacts, premium pay, revenue loss, and infrastructure.  While the Council all initially wished to support our local businesses, I made sure that our ARPA program included direct assistance to households as well.  With experience administering larger programs, I made sure that we did not overreach and that what we created would be directly beneficial for clayton residents and businesses, without imposing a heavy burden on them or our city staff.  

When we revisited the subject, we continued the focus on local businesses and households, while at the same time looking at recognizing our police for the work they did and continued to do throughout the pandemic.  While the original amount suggested was in the neighborhood of $2K/officer, I suggested an overall more structured approach and that we target a certain percent of available funds toward premium pay for all employees and then determine what the amount would be.  This mean that our oft underpaid staff was able to receive each $10K/employee - something more meaningful while still being responsible with our ARPA funds.  Later the guidelines for ARPA changed and the character of the funds became the same as our general reserves.

Areas of Opportunity - There are some areas when I haven't been successful, though I continue to advocate to make things better.  The city is responsible for a number of things big and small.  I've been asking for a schedule of activities for several years from our Engineering department related to the Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District, as well as from our Maintenance department related to their regular activities.  Such a schedule would increase transparency, and let people know what is supposed to happen and when.  By preparing such a schedule, it allows for better resource management and helps city leaders and residents hold people accountable.  This would be a valuable first step in making sure the city is doing what it is supposed to be doing.