Wednesday, December 20, 2023

My 12.19.23 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council met to discuss several significant items:

- First the Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) Board met to select a new Chair and Vice Chair.  Board Member Cloven was chosen to be the Chair, and I was chosen to be the Vice Chair.  We then discussed an update to the Plan of Control for the District.  The Plan of Control categorizes geologic hazards and identifies the plan regarding how the District is to prevent, mitigate, and abate these hazards.

The GHAD funding level is insufficient to perform virtually all of the activities specified in the Plan of Control.  In addition, the existing plan is somewhat outdated in that it was created in the early 1990s and does not contemplate replacement of infrastructure.  The GHAD General Manager recommended that we update the Plan of Control prior to preparing a ballot proposal to increase the GHAD assessments for those residences within the District.

The order of operations go something like this:
  1. Update Plan of Control
  2. Request approval of additional assessments to support Plan of Control activities.
If residents approve #2, then there would be no further action needed.  If #2 is rejected, then the Plan of Control would need to be severely curtailed and basically all non-administrative functions of the GHAD would cease.  At that point the Board would likely consider terminating the GHAD all together.

The District General Manager will return early in 2024 and bring forward the updated Plan of Control for approval, and updates on the plan to request additional funding from the residents.

- Next at the regular Council meeting, we held a Public Hearing to update certain City ordinances necessary to implement provisions of the updated Housing Element as required by State law.  This has been a very long process going through multiple iterations in front of the Council, the Planning Commission, and with City staff working with California Housing and Community Development (HCD).  The updates were approved 4-0 (Councilmember Cloven was absent).

While there are several areas where I dislike State law regarding housing, the City is still required to comply with the law and by approving these updates to the Housing Element the City is seeking to do so.  We are still pending approval from HCD.

- We then discussed the Audited Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR).  It was noted that for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2023 the City's General Fund reflected a deficit of approximately $183K.  Through discussion we determined that some context to that figure was missing - specifically the fact that included within the $183K deficit, was spending of over $190K for certain one time purchases was made during the year and these amounts were specifically designated to come out of various ear marked funds.  The General Fund deficit would be extinguished completely had we excluding these one time spending amounts.

- We then discussed the damage to the Cardinet trail from the Jan 2023 storms, and what actions the City has available to it.  Our City Engineer requested an additional appropriate in order to begin design and engineering work necessary to repair the damaged trail sections.  The City has been in discussion with FEMA as well as other State agencies and while the City would need to front the cost of repairs, we would seek reimbursement for around 96% of the costs associated with repairs.   The Council authorized $50K to be spent toward this effort in order to qualify for the reimbursement process.  There will be more information to come in the next few months about how this work will proceed.

- We appointed myself and Vice Mayor Trupiano to the City Sponsored Special Events Committee. 

- We updated Council assignments for various standing and ad hoc committees.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Upcoming Council Meeting 12.19.23

Tonight the Council will discuss several significant items:

- The GHAD Board will meet first at 6pm to select a new Chair and Vice Chair.  Then the GHAD Board will discuss proposed updates to the GHAD Plan of Control.  The Plan of Control is the document that controls among other things, the activities that the GHAD undertakes.  Given the degrading financial position of the GHAD, we are considering what funding level is necessary to maintain the activities, and alternatives should we not achieve that level of funding.

- The Council will then discuss changes to the General Plan Housing Element.  We first approved changes back in January 2023, however after feedback from CA HCD, they required certain changes before they would certify our Housing Element.  We will discuss those updates.

- We will receive the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR).  This is the audited financial statements for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2023.

- We will discuss authorizing $200K of reserves for design and permitting related to the Cardinet Trail repair.  Much of these funds have the potential to be reimbursed by FEMA, but the City is required to spend the money first and reimbursement is not guaranteed.

- We will appoint members to the City Sponsored Special Events Committee.

- We will discuss Council assignments for standing and ad hoc committees.  Each year the Mayor puts forth a proposal for these assignments.

- There will also be a closed session related to labor negotiations regarding the Clayton Police Officers Association.

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The City Wants to Hear From You - Survey Link

The City is looking for feedback from residents in order to inform both our goal setting session in early 2024, as well as the strategic direction the City takes in terms of level of services, and potential increased taxes that would be necessary to support those services.

As I've been talking about over the last couple of years, given the current economic environment, providing a certain level of service requires a commensurate level of taxes.  With limited resources there will always be tradeoffs and prioritization.

Please take the survey and let us know your thoughts on these issues.  The survey can be found here:

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

My 12.5.23 Meeting Summary and a Year in Review

Last night the Council met to discuss two significant items:

- We conducted our annual Mayoral and Vice Mayoral selection.  The Council chose Councilmember Diaz to serve as Mayor on a vote of 3-1-1 with Cloven voting no and Tillman abstaining.  Councilmember Trupiano was chosen unanimously to be our next Vice Mayor.

- We also discussed standby pay for Maintenance workers.  Previously when a maintenance call came in after hours, it was an ad hoc process for getting a hold of the appropriate staff.  Adopting a policy for standby pay formalizes a process by which a rotation of Maintenance staff would be designated to be on call and available should any after hours work be needed.  This occurs approximately 2-3 times per week.  As the City is then requiring staff to be available, it is fair that they be compensated for that and the Council unanimously approved Standby pay of $50/day for the staff member that is designated.


As I end my rotation as Mayor, I wanted to to take a moment to review some of the things the City has accomplished over the past year. I’ve wrote about each of these as they occurred at my website, however I thought it worthwhile to gather them all in one place.

Quality of Life:

- We approved a resolution in support of Our Neighborhood Voices – a grass roots movement to truly restore local control for housing matters.

- By waiting on approving an increase to speed limits in town, we took advantage this year of a new state law allowing us to preserve our existing speed limits.

- Approved security enhancements for City Hall at the request of our Police Department

- We moved public comment on non-agenda items to the beginning of the agenda to increase predictability allowing more people to participate in our meetings.

Staff Operations and Efficiency:

- We updated our antiquated process for signing physical checks increasing staff efficiency.

- We closed City Hall to the public one day per week to allow staff focused time to work and increase efficiency.

- We polled city staff and asked them what technology or tools they could use to make their work more efficiency and approved funding for several of these items including maintenance and police equipment.

- We updated Council guidelines to reduce burden on staff and formalize how agenda items are brought forward

- Approved implementation of agenda management software to increase efficiency

- Approved implementation of public works communication tool to make it easier for the public to report issues around town and increase staff efficiency

- Executed contract to outsource business license administration to make staff work more efficient

- Completed a comprehensive review of our Maintenance department to establish a service level baseline

- Completed a comprehensive review of the Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) activities and assessment of the GHAD overall. This work provides essential documentation as we move forward on how to address service level issues.

- We hired a full time City Manager, and filled other key staff vacancies.

- We approved an update to our Housing Element as required that is pending approval from CA HCD

- We adopted a policy on City Sponsored Special Events to add clarity.

- We prepared an organizational master calendar for all departments to help begin to assess levels of service.

- Revived National Night Out increasing engagement between our Police and residents.

City Finances:

- We updated our Investment Policy and began more robust reviews of our investments shifting o higher yield products.

- We were awarded a 1% interest loan to fund the largest infrastructure work in Clayton since Oakhurst was constructed. This project will install solar for City facilities, replace lighting throughout the City, install electric vehicle charging, and install water efficiency tools to reduce excessive waste.

- We negotiated and approved an updated agreement with Republic Services complying with new State requirements.

- We conducted a fee study and updated our Master Fee Schedule to capture actual costs and provide a mechanism for fees to always match actual costs. Historically this had not been done so by updating our policies we made all future fee activity more efficient.


While these are a lot of things in a single year, there remains a great deal ahead of us. When the people of Clayton re-elected me in 2022, I made a commitment to not push for any tax increase unless it was a last resort. This means going through a comprehensive process to first understand if there was a problem, determine the scope of the problem, the causes of the problem, and evaluate potential solutions. Only then could a course of action be decided upon and executed. I wrote in detail about this assessment process here:

It certainly has been an exciting year and there is more to come. What we took on this year that hadn’t been done previously was to begin to gather the information necessary to assess where we are as a City. Instead of rushing out pushing an idea of an exorbitant tax increase immediately, I took a more measured and prudent approach. Doing this allows us as a City to make smarter choices, have more thoughtful conversations, and ultimately coalesce around a better approach that works for the City.

After we complete these assessments we as a City will need to determine how to align our revenues with our spending and service delivery, and make choices on the levels of each. I look forward to the discussion as we continue to move forward.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Upcoming Meeting 12.5.23

At our next meeting there are a couple significant items we will discuss:

- We will nominate and appoint a new Mayor and Vice Mayor.  Councilmembers chosen for these positions serve a one year term in these roles.

- We will discuss standby compensation for maintenance workers who respond to service calls outside the normal work hours.

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

Friday, November 24, 2023

My 11.21.23 Meeting Summary

The Council met on 11.21.23 to discuss one significant item.  I had a planned trip so I was unable to attend, however I returned and watched the video of the meeting.

- The Council received the quarterly report on the City's investment Portfolio for the as of 9.30.23.  The City's portfolio of investments consists of approximately $14.5M primarily in CDs, US Treasuries, and other State investment pools.  Beginning this year the City has been shifting away from CDs as they mature and moving more into US Treasuries as CDs tend to be more illiquid which is not consistent with our Investment Policy.

During the meeting both Councilmember Tillman and our City Manager expressed an interest in investing in corporate debt ostensibly due to potentially higher yields. This was after repeating the mantra that staff are not hedge fund managers - the same comment made when the Budget and Audit Committee (myself and Councilmember Trupiano) pushed staff to move towards US Treasuries for the purposes of liquidity and yield.  US Treasuries are one of the simplest investments to make.  As such, it seems odd that when it comes to corporate debt there was no similar concern raised.  

More on point, the Committee earlier this year made updates to the City's Investment Policy and one of the changes was to remove corporate debt as an available investment option.   This was because the top priority of the City's Investment Policy is safety - we purposely give up yield in order to safeguard the assets of the City and the taxpayers.  And while some may contend that corporate debt is virtually as safe as an investment in US Treasuries, and that corporate debt can be highly rated by all of the rating agencies, I'm reminded of the fact that immediately before Enron declared bankruptcy their corporate debt was also highly rated.

Earlier in the month the Budget and Audit Committee met and provided feedback to staff on the same report received at the 11.21.23 meeting.  The Committee requested that the City make available the monthly statements from UBS in order to view the transactions and more detailed information about the holdings of the City.  This will be added to the City's website going forward on a monthly basis.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

My 11.7.23 Meeting Summary

On Tuesday the Council discussed several significant items:

- The Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) Board met first and discussed the activities around a potential future assessment increase.  The activities of the GHAD are dictated by what is called the Plan of Control document.  We have determined that the current Plan of Control indicates a level of activity that is unsustainable based on the level of revenues collected each year.  As a result, the Board previously gave direction for staff to pursue an additional levy of households within the GHAD.  Part of that process will be to update the Plan of Control to adjust the scope of activities.  At our meeting we gave direction to staff to divert some of the funds that would be used for informational outreach to update the Plan of Control document.

What the proposed updated document would do is provide a level of activity if the new assessment were to receive approval by the voters in the District, and also have an automatic adjustment of reduced activity if the assessment is not approved.  In all likelihood, without an increase in assessments, the GHAD activities will be reduced dramatically - likely only collecting money in order to pay for the process of collecting money and filing an annual report.

-The Council then reconvened and discussed increasing the scope of work for the Downtown Pedestrian Improvements Project that is adding raised crosswalks with visual signal lights.  An additional intersection at the crossing of Center and Morris St. was added to this project by using previously unencumbered Measure J funds.  Measure J funds are intended for various local projects relating to roads and transportation.

- The Council then discussed whether to continue the use of hybrid meetings allowing members of the public to participate beyond only viewing, and to add comments remotely.  Allowing remote participation is discretionary, and several cities in CA including several in Contra Costa County have eliminated this option as a result of targeted incidents where people would call in remotely and proceed to hurl racist invectives at everyone.  

If any remote participation is allowed, the Council is generally not allowed to restrict that participation based on the content of what people are saying.  Because of the high prevalence of these incidents happening in nearby cities, I felt that on balance the value of remote participation was outweighed by allowing others to have a platform to engage in that type of behavior.  Ultimately the Council decided to preserve the ability for people to comment remotely on a vote of 3-2, with myself and Vice Mayor Diaz voting no.

- The Council then discussed the City Sponsored Special Events Policy.  This was tabled at our last meeting and I asked that it be brought forward for reconsideration.  The revised policy eliminated language that was aspirational or operational - policy documents should be both clear and concise.  Anything superfluous to to the goal of the policy should not be included.  The updated draft recognized this and streamlined the language to make it more clear.

At our last meeting, there was some discussion related to why the ad hoc sub-committee, consisting of myself and Councilmember Trupiano, were writing policy language at all.  I note that when the ad hoc committee to address parking at Regency Gate was formed, I did the exact same thing - I wrote the policy document and the ad hoc committee presented the draft to the full Council for adoption.  At the time, there was zero objections to this - if the committee was able to reduce the burden on staff it was welcomed.  Here it seems the objection by Councilmembers Cloven and Tillman to the Committee writing the policy was more about who was on the committee rather than what was actually being advanced.

The Council approved the City Sponsored Special Events Policy that identifies which events are City sponsored, the available budget, and creates a subcommittee to provide oversight of all City Sponsored Special events on a vote of 3-2, with myself, Vice Mayor Diaz, and Councilmember Trupiano voting yes.  Councilmembers Cloven and Tillman voted no.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Upcoming Meeting 11.7.23

At our next meeting we will be discussing a few significant items:

- First we will have a GHAD meeting to receive an update on budget items related to a potential future assessment increase.  Currently the GHAD is insolvent and at our last meeting the GHAD Board gave direction to proceed with the steps necessary to put an assessment on the ballot.  

- We will discuss increasing the scope of work for the Downtown Pedestrian Improvements to include an additional crosswalk at Center and Morris St.

- We will discuss the continuation of hybrid meetings in light of recent rise in hate speech in the Bay Area and other disruptive comments from remote participants.

- We will revisit the City Sponsored Special Events Policy that was tabled from the previous meeting.

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

Friday, November 3, 2023

Problem Solving and What's Been Done So Far - City Finances

Recently there was a call for “urgent” action regarding the City’s financial situation. Along with various criticisms of a lack of action, or not enough action, it seems strange that now there is a sense of urgency, where there was no urgency over the last several years if not longer. While there may be plenty of blame to go around, it is more productive to focus forward on how we proceed from here. I’ve been writing about what actions the city has taken since I became Mayor quite regularly, however as we approach the end of the year, I think it useful to share the holistic vision with how and the order in which I approach this and all problems.
  • Step 1: Determine if there is a Problem
  • Step 2: Understand the Ccope of the Problem
  • Step 3: Understand the Causes of the Problem
  • Step 4: Evaluate Potential solutions for the Problem
  • Step 5: Decide on a Course of Action and Execute
When the people of Clayton re-elected me in 2022, I made a commitment to not push for any tax increase unless it was a last resort.  This means going through a comprehensive process to first understand if there was a problem, determine the scope of the problem, the causes of the problem, and evaluate potential solutions. Only then could a course of action be decided upon and executed.

Step 1: Determine if there is a Problem

In terms of financial projections, these are relatively new for Clayton. The first time the Council saw a 5 year forecast was in June of 2021 and it showed The forecast showed a projected deficit at the end of FY 2023 of approximately $200K. This is when I first raised the issue of the City’s financial challenges. Based on the projection we received, I wrote in detail regarding the financial position that the city was in and began asking for input from our residents. This was done in hopes that we would spur conversation and discussion at the city. This would only be the beginning of Step 1. From this point, we should have had substantial discussion with sufficient time to validate the information, brainstorm about causes, and discuss potential actions.

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. From September 2021 through November of 2022, the only action the City took was to squander $30K to determine if our residents would support a $400/parcel tax. Before even completing Step 1 our previous Council majority jumped right to Step 5 and floated the idea of a tax that would generate nearly $1.8M per year.

The Council received another projection in February of 2022. Rather than the approximate $200K deficit projected at the end of FY 2023 that was previously indicated, at that point the deficit was projected to be approximately $100K – a significant improvement in just 8 months. And again, in February of 2023, the forecast for the end of FY 2023 the forecast changed. Instead of a $100K forecasted deficit, we were now expecting a surplus of approximately $80K at the end of FY 2023. To be clear, a significant portion of the changes in forecast were related to staffing vacancies. But this goes to Step 2 – we need to understand the scope of the problem because that will have a significant impact in how we discuss the situation and what the potential solutions may be.

Step 2: Understand the Ccope of the Problem

The City clearly has unmet needs. We have been slow to make technology and infrastructure upgrades over time and multiple areas in the City’s operations are decaying as a result of end of life. When I became Mayor one of the first things I did was to direct our City Manager to work with staff and provide a list of what would make their jobs more efficient, or things they wanted to improve their ability to deliver services. And we moved quickly on these items. For example, security at City Hall has been improved with updated cameras and electronic access control. We authorized the purchase of new equipment for our Maintenance team to make their work more efficient. We’ve been pursuing new tools to help with GIS mapping, code enforcement, and permitting to make work in our Community Development Department more efficient. We’ve engaged vendors to make basic processes like managing Council agendas more efficient as well.  All of these things were left to languish before the current Council decided to take action.

While these areas are part of the challenges the City faces, they are not all of them. There are multiple areas in the City where structural imbalances are not sustainable at current service levels. The two largest of them are the Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) and general maintenance. Understanding all of the areas where the City may be falling short is critical to Step 2.

When I first came on the Council I began asking questions about the GHAD. In fact, at every meeting of the GHAD, I requested that staff prepare a report that outlined the activities of the GHAD, what has been performed and how often those activities are scheduled. And for four years, this was not prioritized so it was never clear the level of deficiency in the GHAD. It wasn’t until I became Mayor and pressed staff to do the work necessary to understand the scope of the GHAD deficiencies that we learned the current state of affairs. After over 4 years, we got this information back in March of 2023.

Understanding the scope of the problem is even more pronounced in the Maintenance area. Immediately after I began asking questions about the GHAD, I made the same requests for our regular maintenance work. And the result was the same – no actual information about the level of effort, when things were being done, etc. Again, it wasn’t until I became Mayor that I pressed for these issues to be brought to the fore. After we hired our current City Manager, I suggested that we keep the Interim City Manager on to perform an actual maintenance assessment. Because the former Interim City Manager was familiar with the City and was a former Public Works Director, they could jump start this work that hadn’t been done after years of requests – assessing where time was spent and what level of effort was needed to do all of the things in the City. After over 4 years, we just received this information back in October 2023.

Step 3: Understand the Causes of the Problem

Given the City’s limited budget and our primary costs and sources of revenue, it’s clear that we have financial challenges. The vast majority of General Fund revenue that the City earns, near 60%, is related to property taxes. Because of the protections from Prop 13, property tax revenue increases are typically limited to 2% per year unless a house is sold. The majority of the City’s expenses are from wages, which have been rising faster than 2%.


These two factors combined are the biggest cause of the City’s financial challenges. From 2011 – 2020, average inflation in the U.S. was 1.73%. Starting in 2021, inflation increased to 4.7% and in 2022 rose to 8%. Inflation has come down a bit in 2023 thus far, but it remains significantly elevated from prior years. If the cost of goods, including wages, rises at these levels while revenue growth is limited, this will continue to drive deficits. This goes to Step 3 and understanding the causes of the problem. This is likely not the only cause either. We know that unfunded mandates from the State, including reporting and compliance requirements, have increased the workload on City staff. There are likely other drivers involved as well. But until we understand the causes, any solution offered may not address the actual causes of the problem.

Step 4: Evaluate Potential Solutions for the Problem

This is where a large part of the discussion should occur, and it is also the step that has been largely skipped by those raising concerns. We can see this in the proposals that have been advanced thus far. First it was the ill-conceived $400/parcel tax floated by prior Councils without understanding what our actual needs were. Why was $400/parcel chosen if at the time we didn't understand major costs like those of maintenance and the GHAD?  

We can see it in the proposal to appropriate $400K in one time spending for one year of supplemental landscaping work. Why would we choose to spend $400K of reserves with no plan on how to proceed after the first year?  These types of approaches are deficient for different reasons. The first is because it jumps to Step 5 without understanding what we are trying to solve for. The second is because it doesn’t contemplate anything other than increased spending.

There is a consistent bias in government – to try and solve problems by spending more of the taxpayer’s money. When a previous consultant proposed adding 4 FTEs across multiple departments, it did so without considering the cost, or the expectation of level of service in this community. When the proposal to spend $400K on one time landscaping work was brought forward, it did so without any contemplation of what alternatives exist. There was no alternative scenario outlining what would happen if we did not move forward with this spend, what action would the City then need to take to reduce service levels and what that would look like. The only thing proposed was to spend more.  Understanding the holistic view is the key to any solution evaluation – the people need to know what they are buying, and what happens if they don’t. When engaging in Step 4, evaluating solutions, there needs to be a realistic look at the costs and impacts of various choices so people and the Council can make informed decisions in Step 5.

For example, on the revenue side, the City could attempt to implement a real estate transfer tax, a sales tax, a parcel tax, and/or a special purpose tax.  The City could also explore alternate sources of revenue - through rental fees, spurring business growth, investment income, selling City owned property, etc.  On the expense side, the City could attempt to reduce spending in certain areas, consolidate or reduce headcount, furlough staff, reduce levels of service, etc.  Each option has pluses and minuses and the City should evaluate each of these prior to deciding on a course of action to execute.  Step 4 has not even been broached

Step 5: Decide on a Course of Action and Execute

Only after all of the above occurs would it be prudent to make decisions on how to proceed.

Of course, along the way the business of the City does not stop, and we could take meaningful action that would be beneficial to the residents of the City right from the get go.  For example, this means things like:
  • Addressing our Investment Policy. While we had a conservative Investment Policy, it was not being adhered to. We were locked in illiquid investments that didn’t let us take advantage of rising interest rates. We also had an excess amount of cash that was parked in a very low yield government pool of funds. This year we addressed those issues even as the Budget/Audit Committee, made up of Councilmember Trupiano and myself, overcame staff inertia that avoided investing in simple treasuries. The City has over $12M in assets to invest and after we satisfy our safety and liquidity requirements, we should expect a fair yield in today’s interest rate environment. It sounds simple, but from the time I initiated this discussion with staff to the time it was executed took approximately 5 months.

  • Addressing our Master Fee Schedule. Historically no one could remember when the last time we actually performed a fee study. This means that each year, and in some cases not every year, the fees that the City charged for performing certain services would only increase by a CPI modifier, without respect to the actual cost of performing those services. By performing an actual fee study, we were able to update the Master Fee Schedule so it had automatic risers for inflation, as well as include provisions that captured actual cost so these fees can rise when actual costs rise. This had never been done before but will make all future adjustments more routine. From the time this was initiated to the time it was executed was over 9 months.

  • Addressing Energy Infrastructure.  The City engaged with Climatec to bring forward the largest infrastructure project in Clayton since Oakhurst was constructed. Meeting with representatives from Climatec, myself and Councilmember Trupiano worked through the deal points and what the City was willing and able to do. Together we emphasized that without the California Energy Commission funding source, the project would likely not work. It was in those working sessions that we came to understanding, and Climatec was able to pursue and secure funding for our initiative of approximately $2M at 1% interest. I conveyed the importance of this effort as a top priority to each of the three City Managers that I have worked with as Mayor and I am glad to see the work beginning. To get to this point has been over 9 months of time spent.
All of these things benefit the residents of Clayton, and the City’s financial well being. But if the problem is as dire as is being conveyed by the call for urgent action, then they are not enough.

We need leaders who won't look to raise taxes an exorbitant amount as a first option. And before we do anything else, we need to gain a better understanding of our fiscal picture so we have better information to act upon. This will take more than attending meetings and pontificating at the lectern - it is going to take real nuts and bolts work to dig into what is actually happening. It may be the case that as a community we need to decide if we want to raise taxes, or if we want less services, or some combination of both or something else. But we won’t know that unless we engage in the actual process rather than try to score political points.

A criticism I am hearing now after serving almost 1 year as Mayor is, ‘why haven't all of the problems been solved yet?’ Or ‘why wasn’t more done?’ If you’ve read this far, it is clear that much has been done, and there is more still to do. Many of these issues have been bubbling up in the background for years, but recent economic conditions have exacerbated them.  Consider that since 2011, the City's General Fund unassigned reserves has been steadily trending upwards:

And as I wrote above, forecasts for the City are relatively new and as we've seen the City is still immature in how it develops them.  So while the high level story from a general fund perspective did not raise alarms, it took some digging to surface some of the underlying financial issues.

It’s taken years just to get information about the amount of work needed at the GHAD and for our maintenance and landscaping. But we are now gaining momentum.  Previously there was no appetite to tackle these issues but as we've seen that does not make them go away.  We are now starting and will continue to dig into the operations of the City.  The Council has directed staff to put together a holistic look at the City’s needs – specifically including scenarios at various levels of funding assumptions. Only from there will the people be presented with a complete picture of the options available.

I look forward to that discussion. The financial challenges of the City were not caused over night and they will not be solved over night either. It will take a concerted and prudent effort to address issues and I would hope that as a Council and community we can work together to understand and address each challenge as we move forward together.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

My 10.17.23 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council discussed several significant items:

- We discussed the draft Clayton Local Roadway Safety Plan.  This plan is necessary in order to seek certain federal funds for traffic and pedestrian safety improvements.  There was detailed discussion around the history of traffic related incidents and injuries, mapped out in an overlay across the city over the last 5 years.

Our City Engineer is seeking feedback from residents regarding any area of concern as it relates to traffic.  This could be areas where visibility is impacted, where any potential dangerous condition exists, etc.  This information will be collected and assembled in order to guide future potential projects.  If you have thoughts or idea that should be incorporated into the final version, please let me know or contact our City Engineer directly at

- We approved acquiring the Granicus 311 reporting application.  This is a SaaS cloud offering that creates a portal where residents can report maintenance related incidents.  Incidents are tracked and routed to appropriate City staff.  Folks will have the ability to add images, messages, etc. to assist in determining the location and severity of any incident.  By allowing residents to report incidents from their phone in a convenient manner, we hope to get a better handle on actual service demand, as well as provide a more timely response.

- We discussed adding an all way stop sign at the intersection of N. El Camino Dr at Southbrook Dr.  Currently that intersection is controlled only by a 2 way stop sign in the East/West bound directions.  While on a quantitative basis the fact pattern did not support the addition of a stop signs, based on the topography and lack of sidewalks in the neighborhood where residents are often walking in the street, the Council thought it prudent to add the stop signs to mitigate the risk of serious injury in that area.

- We discussed the City Sponsored Special Events Policy.  At our 9.19.23 meeting, we formed an ad hoc committee, consisting of myself and Councilmember Trupiano, to draft revisions to the policy as originally presented.  After meeting with Councilmember Trupiano, her and I addressed several areas within the policy draft.  Originally there was quite a bit of non-policy language included - things like why events are special, historical background on volunteerism, identification of a lack of historical processes, etc.  While these things may be true, they are not necessary to writing good public policy.  

Policy documents should be both clear and concise.  So much so that anything unnecessary to the goal of the policy should not be included.  The ad hoc committee kept that in mind when drafting the revision.  An additional stated goal of staff and the Council was to reduce the burden on staff time as it relates to Special Events.  It contemplated appropriating a small portion of the budget to support these activities, and forming a standing Special Events Committee that would provide oversight to all City Sponsored Special Events within that allotted budget.  This would reduce the need for staff time as the Committee would handle much of the logistics of events, either directly or with third parties.

There was disagreement on whether the Committee was needed.  While this year the Concerts in the Grove Committee functioned expertly in doing exactly what is being contemplated here - creating operational manuals, organizing events, engaging in fundraising and working with sponsors, etc. with very limited staff involvement, Staff felt they should be on point for making these policy decisions and that having an oversight committee was not a productive use of time.  

We did generally agree that going forward the Concerts, 4th of July Parade, Classic Car Shows, and a one time 60th Anniversary Event would be City Sponsored Events.  The policy discussion was tabled to a later date so it could be given additional consideration.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Upcoming Meeting 10.17.23

At our next meeting we will be discussing a few significant items:

- We will discuss a local roadway safety plan.  It is required that the City have such a plan in order to apply in the future for safety related federal grants.

- We will discuss a service agreement with Granicus for their 311 service.  This service allows residents to report various non-emergency hazards to city staff and the maintenance team.

- We will discuss the addition of stop signs at the intersection of N. El Camino Dr and Southbrook Dr.  Currently this intersection is a two way stop sign.

- We will discuss the City Sponsored Special Events Policy and the identification of City sponsored events.

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

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

My 10.3.23 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council discussed a couple significant items:

- We received a presentation by the East Bay Regional Parks District and our Ward 6 representative, John Mercurio.  I met John at one of the prior Mayor's Conferences and he had indicated some work the District was doing at the Clayton border near the Clayton Community Park.  At that time, I asked if he would be willing to come to the city and do a presentation and he graciously agreed.

The District has land all across the East Bay.  The area that they are targeting to develop into open space and trails is adjacent to the Community Park and would also have trails that connect to the Black Diamond Trail.  The timing is undetermined, but perhaps in the 2-3 year time horizon.  I asked what help the District needs from the City and he indicated that the District would be working with staff on logistics and bringing this park to fruition.

- We appointed myself and Councilmember Trupiano to an ad hoc committee to work with staff in drafting and providing feedback on a Special Event Fee Policy.  This is related to the previous ad hoc committee setup to work through the City Sponsored Special Event Policy.  Because there will likely be edits and feedback, I thought it would be more efficient to set up the ad hoc committee from the onset, rather than have staff work to draft a policy, only to have it sent back for more extensive updates.  In setting up the committee first, it saves staff time, and allows this policy to be brought forward more quickly as it would not need to be agendized on multiple Council meetings.  Both Councilmembers Cloven and Tillman expressed concern over this - ranging from wanting to be involved and not liking previous policy decisions the Council has made, to the idea that this is different that what is traditionally done.  Unfortunately what is traditionally done also traditionally takes longer so we went with my idea which was supported unanimously.

- We then discussed the reclassification of the Maintenance Supervisor position to a Maintenance Superintendent, and a request to appropriate $400K of reserves to perform median and right of way trimming, and irrigation from the valve forward, for a duration of one year.

Earlier in the year I had discussions with our City Manager regarding the level of service for citywide maintenance.  There was an early proposal we discussed to increase spend in this area citing the need for additional resources.  At the time I balked at the idea as our City Manager had only been on board for a short amount of time and I did not think there was sufficient information to make that assessment.  I suggested that we utilize Ron Bernal, who served as our Interim City Manager immediately prior, and had a long career as a Public Works Director among other things.  I thought Ron could do an excellent job, and the City Manager brought Ron on board to do this work.  Ron came back to Council last night to present his findings.

I'm glad that the City was able to take the time necessary to do an actual robust assessment.  The details can be found on page 31 of the agenda packet.  The results of the assessment found that our maintenance team has approximately 18,500 hours of work that needs to be performed.  I say approximately because some things that should fall within the purview of the Maintenance team are not done at all and therefore were not included in the current state assessment.  Between 6 FTEs in the Maintenance department, subtracting a certain amount of time for vacation/sick leave, holidays, etc., the City has available approximately 9,000 hours of labor.  The difference is backfilled by contract labor, though based on rising costs of labor and other budget challenges, the backfill represents approximately 4,000 additional hours.  That leaves a shortfall between what should be happening, and the available hours of approximately 5,500 hours.

A shortfall of 5,500 hours means that activity that should be happening isn't.  Many times that can be cumulative - for example, putting off trimming in some areas can make it more difficult in the future.  Other times it can pose increase safety risks - for example delaying road striping, or sidewalk repairs, etc.  Other times deferring work may not have a material immediate impact, but it could contribute to an overall less aesthetically pleasing environment.

Since I've joined the Council I've asked for a schedule of work from various areas, including things like the GHAD which we received earlier this year after four years of requests, and now we have a summary of Maintenance work in the city.  I'm disappointed it took this long, but I am glad that we now have some actionable information.  What is more important is what we do with the information going forward.

I noted that the staff report that asked for a $400K appropriation from reserves seemed to take a piecemeal approach to resolving this issue, and only on a one year basis.  It called for outsourcing for a single year a portion of the maintenance work that focused on trimming and certain irrigation work but not mainline breaks, but it also made mention of the need to hire an additional FTE and create an on call agreement to handle stand by demand.  Those latter items were not though, included in the proposal.  

The proposal was characterized as a proof of concept (POC), but it wasn't clear what it was trying to prove.  If the question was, can we get more work done if we pay more, we don't need a POC to do that, of course the answer is yes.  But what happens at the end of that year?  We'd be in the same place we are now with no clear direction on how to move forward sustainably.  I opposed the piecemeal approach in general.  I conveyed that it would be much more palatable to look holistically at areas where we know there are shortfalls so that we can make informed choices about prioritization and the level of service that our community wants and is willing to pay for.

The proposal also did not recognize any other path forward.  I would expect any presentation that asks for significant dollars to include alternatives - what does a smaller ask look like?  What would be the impact if we did not choose to take this path?  Because while the worklist detailed hours spent and the deficit in hours available, it did not make mention of what has been built up over time as deferred maintenance, what currently wasn't being performed, or consider a prioritization of activities to determine what we choose to perform.  It also did not present an alternative scenario where if we did not move forward with this outsourcing approach, what action would the City then need to take to reduce service levels and what that would look like.  Understanding the answers to these questions is key in evaluating what actions to take going forward.

Ultimately the Council took no action on appropriating $400K as was recommended.  Instead, we gave direction to staff to come back with a holistic look at our current service delivery levels and what it takes to maintain that, and what the backlog of deferred activity is.  From there, it will be a prioritization and phasing exercise, and ultimately how and what we are willing to pay for it.

Another question we should address, is what level of service the community is comfortable with?  Given your perspective, in terms of maintenance, should the City be doing more, much more, less, much less, or about the same?  And if your answer is the same, more, or much more, how much are you willing to pay for it?  I'm interested to hear your thoughts so please share or send me a note.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Upcoming Meeting 10.3.23

At our next meeting we will be discussing a few significant items:

- We will receive a presentation from the East Bay Regional Parks District

- We will discuss the reclassification of certain maintenance positions and the use of reserves in the amount of $400K for one time spend for outsourced landscaping and maintenance.

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

I also posted a summary of the townhall I held last week.  That can be found here:

Friday, September 29, 2023

Townhall 9.27.23 Summary

On Wednesday I hosted a townhall in order to take questions from the community.  Typically during regular Council meetings, Councilmembers are limited in how they can engage with the public.  Dialogue is generally restricted, and we can only address items that are on the agenda.   I wanted to provide an opportunity to have an actual dialogue where folks could ask questions and actually get responses.
The event was targeted for 1.5 hours, but went a little over 2.  For the most part the event went well.  There were a variety of questions from participants, ranging from the general budget outlook, specific budget actions as it relates to pension costs, Council behavior and decorum, current and historical activity related to the Olivia project, and questions regarding the newly adopted Master Fee Schedule.
Prior to the start of the Townhall, I noticed both Councilmembers Cloven and Tillman were in the audience.  I inquired whether it was permissible that a quorum of the Council was present and Councilmember Tillman indicated she had vetted it and stated that as long as she didn’t participate it was within the constraints of the Brown Act.  This is why I found it odd that throughout the evening, it appeared that Tillman was feeding questions to Tamara Steiner, the editor of the Pioneer.  During the Q&A period, Tillman became so animated that she raised her hand to speak, but then seemed to remember she couldn’t participate and instead appeared to whisper in Steiner’s ear.  I asked rhetorically if that was collusion, though it does call into question the objectivity of the Pioneer when its editor allows herself to be used as a mouthpiece for a sitting Councilmember.
There were questions that discussed decorum and my role as Mayor in enforcing it.  Things like cell phone usage, and how Councilmembers engage with staff and others.  To these I generally responded that while I am presiding over the meeting in my role as Mayor, all five Councilmembers are equals and I do not have the ability to direct someone else’s behavior.  In addition, while some may support interceding more forcefully when there are incidents they disagree with, I asked folks to consider if they would feel differently if that were to be applied to incidents they agreed with.  If I were to step in and stop one Councilmember, I would be in position to do that for all Councilmembers and that was not something I think I or others would be comfortable with. 
There were also questions around the newly adopted Master Fee Schedule.  Some were of a similar flavor that had been asked and answered already in different fora.  Others took objection to my article in the Pioneer where I detailed how the CBCA had for the past 15 years, had charges for use of city facilities waived entirely and simultaneously charged vendors a base rate and a percentage of their sales for the privilege of using those same facilities and streets.  I had earlier made a revenue sharing proposal however it was rejected without discussion and no counter proposal has been made. 
I have been trying for months to meet with the CBCA leadership to discuss the potential of a new MUA that is mutually beneficial to the CBCA, the City, and the taxpayers of our community.  After proposing several dates, the latest communication I received indicated it may be “a while” due to medical reasons.  I will continue to seek out a time where we can come together and work towards the betterment of our community.
With the questions around decorum and the deriding of certain behaviors, I found it incongruous when an audience member loudly stated, “you’re full of shit!”  I identified that comment specifically as an example of the behavior that folks had previously criticized, but no admonishment was forthcoming.
Overall, excluding the aforementioned cursing, I thought the Townhall was a productive Q&A session and look forward to more opportunities to address folk’s questions.  Feel free to reach out directly and I will try to address any questions you may have.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

My 9.19.23 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council met and discussed a few significant items:

- We had a discussion regarding outsourcing our process and administration for business licenses.  Currently this process is handled internally.  With approximately 1100 business licenses in the city, maintaining records, taking payment, processing renewals, and even pursing compliance is a time consuming task.  HdL is a company that specializes in these activities and has done this at scale at many other jurisdictions.  While we have 1100 active business licenses in Clayton, based on some preliminary analysis HdL believes that figure could increase to near 2000 after compliance efforts are undertaken.

In addition, outsourcing this function will free up significant amounts of staff time allowing them to focus on other duties.  The Council approved this agreement and expect a launch of this product in approximately two months.

- We reviewed a draft of a City Sponsored Special Events policy.  The draft described an approximate budget and potential criteria for which events could be included.  The Council discussed the proposal and agreed that the Concerts in the Grove, Clayton Classic Car Show, and the 4th of July Parade should remain city sponsored events.  We were also interested in having a 60th anniversary event next year as well.  There were open items regarding the Memorial Day event traditionally held by the VFW, and the Pride Parade.  In order to resolve those open questions, and make edits to the draft, we formed an Ad Hoc Special Events Policy Committee consisting of Councilmember Trupiano and myself.  We will have discussions and make appropriate updates to bring back to the full Council for adoption.

- We discussed the need to develop a strategic plan.  Staff had prepared a proposal that included hiring a consultant to conduct public outreach, and an all day working session with Council and individually at a cost of $20-25K.  The Council was divided on whether the cost was worthwhile, and discussed other aspects including methods of community outreach and the length of time that is truly needed.  The Council directed staff to take a second pass at a proposal that would be less costly and explore different ideas to reduce the amount of time needed, as well as identify specific deliverables or objectives that would be achieved.

As a reminder, I will be having a townhall on September 27 at 6:30 pm at Hoyer Hall.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Town Hall 9.27.23 @ 6:30pm at Hoyer Hall

I will be hosting a town hall meeting next week, 9.27.23 at 6:30pm in Hoyer Hall.  

Typically during regular Council meetings we are not able to engage in back and forth dialogue as only things that are on the agenda may be discussed, and discussion with audience members is limited.  At the townhall I'd be glad to discuss and address any questions from participants.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Upcoming Meeting 9.19.23

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

- Discussion regarding agreement with HdL Companies for business license administrative services.  This would outsource the record keeping, maintenance, and administration of the City's business license program including onboarding, renewals, and collection of payment.

- Discussion of a City Sponsored special events policy

- Discussion of strategic planning session.

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

Monday, September 11, 2023

Special Meeting 9.7.23

The Council held a Special Meeting last Thursday, 9.7.23 in response to anticipated litigation related to the Olivia project (3 story 3 building high density apartments in and around downtown).  Because of the nature of the topic, the only item on the agenda was a closed session to discuss with legal counsel.  The discussion and anything that occurs during closed session is not allowed to be shared so I do not have any updates from this meeting to report.

If there were at any point information able to be shared I will do so.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

My 8.15.23 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council discussed several significant items:

- We received a presentation from the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District regarding their scope of services and tips on reducing the risk that certain pest insects and animals present.  As part of the District, the City of Clayton is able to appoint one Trustee to sit on the Board of the District.  Currently that seat is vacant.  If any are interested in learning more or applying to be a Trustee, please contact the City Clerk.

- We received a quarterly update on the City's investment portfolio.  This was also discussed at our Budget and Audit Committee meeting the previous day.  We are experiencing higher yields with some of our more recent buys, however the portfolio continues to be weighted with lower yield CDs that were purchased years ago.  We will be doing an analysis whether it makes sense to sell those at a loss in order to utilize proceeds for higher yield products, but it is unlikely that the return would make that worthwhile.  Overall we still have opportunity to move more liquid cash  into higher yielding investments and the Budget and Audit Committee consisting of myself and Councilmember Trupiano directed staff to do so.

Our current practice has been to concentrate in CDs which are not a liquid product, and are limited to buys of $250K.  With an investment portfolio north of $16M, this means that staff needs to monitor a long list of investments.  The Committee asked Staff to prepare an investment plan that describes the laddering targets so that we can reduce the overall number of investments while still maximizing safety, liquidity, and yield. Overall the City recognized approximately double the investment earnings in FY23 than anticipated due to some of these moves.

- We held a public hearing to adopt an updated Master Fee Schedule. This concludes the process that began several months ago and updates our fees to ensure the City is recovering its costs when it performs certain services. In addition, when a portion of the City is being rented as a venue for an event, the City has the right to collect a fee in exchange for that use.

As large events in our downtown create a disproportionate use of staff time and resources that isn’t well captured in a line item fee schedule, a Special Events Fee was added to our Master Fee Schedule that is tiered based on the size of the event. This is analogous to a park or other facility rental on a larger scale. For many years, the City’s downtown has been the venue for many commercially successful events. And during that time, the City chose to waive substantially all fees associated with the rental of its facilities.  The updated fee schedule does offer a discount on Special Event Fees to non-profits in order to recognize the value they bring.

There were several speakers extolling the virtues of the CBCA at this meeting.  On that front, I agree.  The organization adds a tremendous amount of value to the community, and I commend the generosity of both the organization and its volunteers. These activities however, do not exempt anyone from have to pay for use of City facilities. Fee waivers or discounts represent taxpayer funded subsidies and should be made judiciously. To the extent that the City does not collect fees that it is able, taxes from residents must make up the difference.  

Earlier I made a proposal that could lower or waive fees even further in exchange for an arrangement where the CBCA and the City enter into a revenue sharing agreement.  This should be familiar to the CBCA since they also engage in a revenue sharing arrangement with the vendors that come to their events.  For example, a portion of gross revenue from food sales that take place at events like Art & Wine are paid to the CBCA from the food vendors themselves.  In addition, each vendor pays the CBCA for the privilege of renting space on City streets, those same streets that the CBCA has had their fees waived for the past 15 years.

Unfortunately this proposal was rejected by the Board of CBCA without discussion or any exploration on what was possible.  There was no counter proposal made.  It appears that the position of the organization is that the only acceptable option is to be able to continue to use City facilities for free.  That would not be a prudent position for the City to take and it would be unfair to the residents of this community.

Councilmember Cloven raised a question about the legality of charging a Special Event Fee.  This was addressed squarely by our City Attorney that in fact the Special Events Fee is permissible.  To add more context regarding that discussion, I made a post specifically about the laws surrounding municipal fees here:

We adopted the updated fee schedule on a vote of 3-2 with Councilmembers Cloven and Tillman voting no.  The fee schedule becomes effective in 60 days.  Given events can be booked up to one year in advance, this means that should the organization choose, they can reserve events through 2024.  This would be 1.5 years after we terminated the MUA.

- We directed staff to include instructions with how to use ClearGov to review payment obligations (check register).  Traditionally payment detail has been on the consent calendar at each regularly scheduled Council meeting.  At the next meeting this will continue, with instructions on how to access ClearGov to view the same data.  After that a link to ClearGov will be included in each agenda packet.

- We designated a voting delegate (Trupiano) and alternate (Diaz) for the upcoming September CalCities annual conference consistent with the committee assignments that were approved back in Dec-22.

Prop 26 and 218 and Municipal Fees

This is a longer post about the law surrounding municipal fees.  The short version is that our City Attorney confirmed that Special Event Fees are not subject to limitations of Prop 26 during our 8.15.23 meeting.  The long version is as follows:


There is an argument being made that charging a Special Event fee is somehow prohibited based on Prop 26 and Prop 218.  For reference, here is the Cal Cities Prop 26 and 218 Implementation Guide (Guide).  The Guide describes several examples and details out the application of both propositions.

Essentially, CA voters passed propositions over the past several decades defining what is considered a tax, and requiring voter approval of such taxes.  Some of these requirements were added to the State constitution, specifically in Article XIII C.  Here is how a Tax is defined in that Article:

(e) As used in this article, “tax” means any levy, charge, or exaction of any kind imposed by a local government, except the following:

(1) A charge imposed for a specific benefit conferred or privilege granted directly to the payor that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the local government of conferring the benefit or granting the privilege.

(2) A charge imposed for a specific government service or product provided directly to the payor that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the local government of providing the service or product.

(3) A charge imposed for the reasonable regulatory costs to a local government for issuing licenses and permits, performing investigations, inspections, and audits, enforcing agricultural marketing orders, and the administrative enforcement and adjudication thereof.

(4) A charge imposed for entrance to or use of local government property, or the purchase, rental, or lease of local government property.

(5) A fine, penalty, or other monetary charge imposed by the judicial branch of government or a local government, as a result of a violation of law.

(6) A charge imposed as a condition of property development.

(7) Assessments and property-related fees imposed in accordance with the provisions of Article XIII D.

If a local government is getting money in any way, it is a tax, unless it falls into one of the 7 exceptions above.

The argument some are making is two pronged and goes something like this:  Prong 1 - The Special Event Fee is a tax, and therefore subject to voter approval.  Prong 2 - Even if the Special Event Fee is not a tax, then a local government is limited to only recovering its costs, and since the Special Event Fee is greater than actual costs, it is somehow prohibited.

This argument is easily rebutted, and it is the CA constitution itself that rebuts it. Section (e)(4) above lists as an exception from the definition of "tax" to be "A charge imposed for entrance to or use of local government property, or the purchase, rental, or lease of local government property."  As the Special Event Fee is a charge for the use of government property (i.e. streets, parks, sidewalks, etc.), it clearly falls under the exception to the definition of a tax in (e)(4) above.  Therefore, Prong 1 fails.

To rebut Prong 2, we need to look at the other provisions of section (e) above.  Looking at (1) - (3), each contains the phrase 'reasonable costs'.   The Guide discusses that the language of this section of the State Constitution is from Prop 26, and mirrors previous language contained in Prop 13, which imposes a burden on local government to prove that the amount is no more than necessary to cover the reasonable costs of the governmental activity, and that the manner in which those costs are allocated to a payor bear a fair or reasonable relationship to the payor’s burdens on, or benefits received from, the governmental activity.  In other words, history and courts have essentially defined "reasonable costs" to be actual costs, with some leeway for calculation and distribution of the fees.

But if we look at item (e)(4), this exception to the definition of what constitutes a tax is different than the ones before it.  It does not contain the phrase "reasonable costs".  This is important because there is a canon of statutory interpretation that says, casus omissus pro omisso habendus est.  This generally means that if something is omitted, it is considered to be done intentionally.  SCOTUS's rules for statutory interpretation say that "Every word within a statue is there for a purpose and should be given its due significance."  "Where Congress includes particular language is one section of a statute but omits it in another ..., it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion or exclusion."

Because the section in the Constitution from Prop 218 that talks about charges for the use of government property omits any reference to reasonable costs, courts have read this as the authors intended - renting government property is not subject to this limitation.  This is also described in the Guide, "in Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. Bay Area Toll Authority (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 435, review granted October 14, 2020, S263835, the Court of Appeal held that the reasonable cost limitation does not apply to charges imposed for entrance to or use of state property or the purchase, rental, or lease of state property. The California Supreme Court has granted review of both cases."  The Guide was published in Aug 2021.  Subsequent to that, the California Supreme Court let stand the case which means that the Court of Appeal's ruling stands.  As a result, Prong 2 of the argument fails.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Upcoming Meeting 8.15.23

There are several significant items we will be discussing at our next meeting:

- We will receive the quarterly report regarding the City's investment portfolio.

- We will hold a public hearing to update the City's Master Fee Schedule.

- We will provide direction to staff regarding the elimination of payment information from the regular  agenda packet.

- We will discuss the designation of a voting delegate for the Cal Cities annual conference.

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Common Ground and a Win/Win for Special Events

Recently the Council gave direction to staff regarding the proposed update to our Master Fee Schedule. As such, I wanted to share my thoughts on why this was an important action for the City to take. There were three main principals at play:

Ensure full recovery of costs – Historically the City did not recover the full cost of providing services or renting facilities. The rates for each did not include a fully burdened rate for staff charges, including administrative staff and police, and they hadn’t been updated beyond a perfunctory CPI increase in many many years. By focusing on a full recovery method, the City ensures it is recovering the actual cost it incurs for these services and facilities.

Fairness to the Taxpayers – Money is fungible. As such, fee waivers or discounts represent taxpayer funded subsidies and should be made judiciously. We offer discounts in a variety of ways throughout the fee schedule - typically for those that reside in Clayton vs. those who do not, or to promote certain activity. Endeavor Hall offers a steep discount for residents and non-profits as the intent of Endeavor is to be a community meeting place of residents, and to support the Arts - the uses of which do not typically generate net income.

Generate revenue – The City’s tax base is relatively small, and somewhat inflexible. There are few opportunities for the City to generate additional revenue. As I stated during my campaign and multiple times afterwards, a tax increase should always be a last resort, and only after all other options are explored. It is appropriate that City’s charge a fee for use of City property. Many cities do this via rental charges or Special Event fees, and Clayton is no exception. The updated fee schedule recognizes that large events that generate significant revenue or support for event sponsors have the ability to pay for use of the City as a venue.

There has been a high level of interest in the updated fee schedule. This update that applies broadly to everyone needed to be in place prior to any discussion with the CBCA. The Council is setting policy for the City as a whole, not just for one organization. A baseline must be established that ensures the City is adequately compensated for staff time and use of its facilities. Now that we have given staff direction on how to move forward, with the actual update to the Master Fee Schedule targeted to be heard at a Public Hearing on August 15, it is appropriate that we renew discussion with the CBCA on ways we can continue to work together.

Under the prior Master Use Agreement (MUA) between the City and the CBCA that waived virtually all permitting fees and did not reimburse the City for actual costs incurred by staff, the interests of the two parties were not always aligned. The CBCA had an interest in successful events to further their mission. The City had an interest in generating greater revenue to support the financial health of the City. In this rubric, the City did not receive the full benefit from events as we were not recovering our full costs. The time spent by City staff (maintenance and police) was not fully invoiced, and staff were overall more burdened as there was a net increase in workload. Combine that with the waiver of fees for renting things like the streets and the Grove park, near $5K-$7K per event, and even the small amount of sales tax generated did not nearly make up for the burden to the City.

Recently I had a conversation with the President of the CBCA. I conveyed that because our interests were not always aligned, it could appear that activities between the two organizations were more adversarial than they actually were, or intended to be. In an effort to find what could be a win/win, I suggested that there may be a way that we could work together in partnership – come to terms so that when the CBCA is successful, so is the City. Depending on the details, I would be open to the idea of reduced or waived fees in exchange for a revenue sharing arrangement. This would be mutually beneficial for all parties, including the taxpayers of our City. The more financially successful the events are, the better it is for everyone. It would then be in the City’s interest to assist as much as possible, and the CBCA could have a predictable cost structure like any other cost of supplies. For the larger events the outcome could be about the same as what is in the current proposed update to the Master Fee Schedule, but for smaller events the fees would no longer be an impediment to their overall viability.

I hope that we could come to terms on an arrangement like this and I look forward to working with the CBCA on ways that we could continue working together.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

My 7.18.23 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council met and discussed several significant items.  As we only had one meeting this month, and we will only have one meeting next month, this agenda was quite full and the meeting went till about midnight.

- There was a public hearing where the Council adopted the annual levy of real property tax assessments at the Diablo Estates Assessment District.  This is an annual process whereby the city administers certain functions for the group of homes similar to an HOA manager and the assessments cover those costs.  The City is allowed to raise the assessment each year by CPI, however this year due to the activities of the district the assessment was held flat.

- There was a public hearing where the Council adopted the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan Mitigation Fee Audit and nexus study and to update the related mitigation fees.  This study supports the calculation of developer impact fees associated with development in the region and their environmental impact to the area.

- We approved the new franchise agreement with Republic Services for solid waste collection.  Due to changes in state law, the cost for service has significantly risen and the new agreement incorporates the new state compliance requirements.  Fees for service will rise a little south of 20%, though the actual dollar increase will be between $6 and $10 per month, depending on the size of the garbage container residents use.  Most other provisions of our service agreement remain unchanged - residents will still be able to use multiple recycle and organic bins at no cost, there will still be the same number of "spring clean up" type events for recycling, garbage, and organics, and we are still able to have large items (appliances, furniture, mattresses) taken by Republic Services at no cost.

The new law requires quite a bit of change around how organic materials are collected.  The state has seen fit to dictate what color everyone's bin needs to be, at least the lid portion.  As a result, over time the bin lids of residents will incorporate the new required color scheme whenever bins are replaced through attrition.  In addition, the state is now requiring that haulers (like Republic Services) examine what people are placing in their bin and document their findings, including noting when the non conforming materials are placed in certain bins.  The state requires their be provision for fines as an enforcement mechanism should this cross contamination occur too frequently.  There are also new rules for documentation and tracking, as well as forcing cities to purchase a certain level of recycled materials over time.

- We approved a funding agreement with CCTA in order to upgrade traffic signals at four locations along Clayton Rd: Washington Blvd, St. Bonaventure, El Camino, and Mitchell Canyon Rd.  CCTA is funding a regional effort to update to Smart Signals and was looking for a matching commitment of 11.47%, which amounts to approximately $56K from the City.  This amount was included in the most recent budget that was adopted.

The Smart Signals do a number of things some of which include safety enhancements.  By using a combination of cameras and radar, the signals are able to detect vehicle at a greater distance, and dynamically adjust timing of lights.  For example, if a light turns yellow and the signal detects a vehicle approaching at a certain speed, the length of yellow light could be extended to allow the vehicle to more safely cross the intersection.  In addition, the technology used is more cost effective than the physical cabling that is currently used beneath the streets for the same purpose.

Another aspect of the Smart Signals is that they allow CCTA or potentially another agency to remotely control the signals in order to smooth traffic flow during certain events.  It is unclear who has access to take control, who has access to the video, who has access to the data logs, and under what circumstances these things can be used.  All of these are intended to be defined in an Operating Agreement, but that has not yet been drafted.  I thought it was odd to ask for funding before the operating agreement which defines what we are signing up for was complete.

A concern I voiced that I have stated in the past, is that through traffic to and from east county on Clayton Rd. is an issue during commute hours.  To the extent greater traffic is routed through Clayton Rd. it has an impact on Clayton residents.  To the extent less traffic is routed through Clayton Rd. that has a benefit on Clayton residents.  If CCTA or another agency is allowed to make this route more appealing to drivers by utilizing signal control, that would not be in the interest of the City.

As a compromise, CCTA agreed to delay requiring any payment until June 2024.  This should give sufficient time to review the Operating Agreement after it is finalized and determine if we want to exercise the termination clause in the funding agreement.

- The Council also gave direction that staff may pursue opportunities for cell tower leases in the City as a source of additional revenue and increased service coverage for our residents.

- The Council renewed its service agreement for on-call tree service with Waraner Brothers Tree Service.

- We approved the acquisition and implementation of Granicus Agenda Management software which should add efficiency and streamline processes, while making access and usability easier for users.

-The GHAD Board met after the regular Council meeting and directed staff to pursue an additional levy of GHAD households in order to fund the scope of work that is in the controlling document.  The GHAD Plan of Control document describes what activities the GHAD should be doing, and how frequently.  Because the GHAD is severely underfunded, it does not have the ability to perform even a small portion of the work described in the Plan of Control.  I wrote about the challenges that the GHAD faces back in April:

This is a multi step process, including updating the Plan of Control, engaging in outreach with GHAD households, and ultimately preparing an analysis of what the GHAD should be doing and how much it takes to do that work.  The small amount of budget in the GHAD that was slated to be used for monitoring will be repurposed towards this effort.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Upcoming Meeting 7.18.23

There are several significant items we will discuss at our next meeting:

- There will be an informational presentation by Save Mount Diablo.

- A public Hearing on real property assessments for the Diablo Estates Assessment District.

- A resolution regarding the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan Mitigation Fee Audit.

- We will discuss an updated franchise agreement with Republic Services for solid waste collection.

- We will discuss the County wide Smart Signals project with CCTA

- We will discuss opportunities for cell tower leases within the City.

- We will discuss renewing the on-call service contract with Waraner Brothers Tree Service.

- We will discuss implementing Granicus Agenda Management software

- The GHAD Board will also meet to discuss direction on a future assessment increase on GHAD property owners in order to cover the scope of services as described in the GHAD operating agreement.

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