Tuesday, April 25, 2023

3.21.23 Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District Meeting Summary

Normally I do not separate the summary for the Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) meetings, the meeting we had in March had been a long time coming and there was quite a bit of useful information presented.  What we learned at our 3.21.23 meeting appeared to present a potential serious risk to certain areas within the GHAD.  All of the detail is in the agenda packet (https://claytonca.gov/fc/agendas/council/2023/03212023web.pdf  starting on page 165 of the PDF) and I won't reproduce it here. I wanted to highlight some key takeaways and share my thoughts.
  • The GHAD is distinct from the City of Clayton, though the Clayton City Council serves as the Board of the GHAD.
  • The GHAD assesses a levy on approximately 1,400 parcels within the City of Clayton, with different tiers based on the type of home (single family, multi-family, duet).  The purpose of this assessment is to fund the activities of the GHAD.
  • The total assessment has a Consumer Price Index (CPI) riser so that the assessment may increase each year by an amount correlated with CPI.  The current revenues the GHAD assessments yield is approximately $47K/year.  Most of this amount is consumed by various program administration activities, and less on any actual monitoring or maintenance.
  • The level of assessment was set pre-Prop 218.  Prop 218 made increasing the assessment subject to voter approval.
  • The duties of the GHAD are outlined in the Plan of Control document.  These duties include maintenance of drainage facilities (V-Ditches, etc.), inspection of drainage ditches for cracking, sliding, or other damage, debris removal, repairs, cleanout of drains, measurement of movement and water pressure using inclinometers and piezometers, evaluation of erosion control effectiveness, identification and locating of various geological hazards, etc.
  • The revenues the GHAD receives are substantially lower than what would be required for the GHAD to perform all of its required duties.
  • Over time, many measuring devices that are used to monitor and measure movement have been damaged or are no longer operable.
  • There are several areas where movement is highly likely, however due to lack of monitoring equipment, the GHAD does not have any information as to the magnitude or existence of such movement.
  • If there is significant geological movement, it has the potential to cause severe damage to nearby homes.
  • Our City Engineer, who also serves as the GHAD General Manager, engaged with a Certified Engineering Geologist and Geotechnical Engineer (BSK Associates) to perform evaluation of the area and to make recommendations.
Here is a timeline of the GHAD:

Now onto more detail:

First, this is the area that is covered by the GHAD:

The GHAD area is shaded above.  There are three distinct areas of the GHAD that are surrounded by dotted lines, and each has specific risks associated with those areas.

In the open spaces in the GHAD, there are several drainage facilities, including V-ditches, catch basins, and various ways to collect and route water away.  This is important as build up of water, or water running over the surface in large amounts over time can cause erosion, and can build up underground causing landslides of various magnitudes.

In several areas, the City has installed inclinometers.  These are devices that are bored deep into the ground at various depths.  They are set in place, and by measuring their relative position periodically, we can determine how much the earth is moving at a specific depth.  This is a key detection tool that is available to us.  If there is movement detected, then engineers can determine the best course of action in terms of mitigating slides and reducing risk of slides.

For many years, our Engineers and firms the city has hired to monitor these inclinometers have recommended that we install additional units to replace those that have become inoperable over time.  Many of these devices have not been measured since 2016, though the requirement is to be measured quarterly.  Because of the lack of available funding, replacement or additional measuring devices were not purchased or installed.

BSK examined the areas with the GHAD at different points in time.  First in Oct-22, again in Dec-22, and then again in Mar-23.  They were able to detect movement both before the large storms in December and January, and movement again afterwards.  BSK indicated that if there are heavy rains after periods of drought or lack of rain, that often accelerates movement.

Here are a few examples they found:

In the above picture, water has eroded its own pathway adjacent to the V-Ditch designed to capture that water.  This will be exacerbated over time and will increase risk of further slide activity.

In this picture, damage to a V-Ditch is apparent and repairs should be made. There were many examples of this type of damage.

In this picture, a catch basin was overrun with dirt and debris, possibly exacerbated by clogs in various drains or other debris preventing the flow of water.

There are several areas that need repair, else they will not function as intended and additional water flow has the potential to cause more damage.

This is a diagram of the Pebble Beach Dr. area.  On the left it shows the neighborhood map and a solid line.  The line represents an area that is displayed on the right which would be a cross section of the same area.  The font is small, but it shows locations of previously installed inclinometers, depths where they are no longer functional, and where others are recommended to be installed.  From this, we can see that underneath certain homes there exists the potential for movement, but the GHAD does not have the ability to monitor it.

In addition to the above specific examples, there are several areas where slides are visible at the surface.  It is clear that movement is occurring, but what is not clear is the magnitude.

When I first joined the Council (and the GHAD board), I read through the reports and even back then it was indicated that more work needed to be done.  In 2019, I requested that a detailed scope of work of the GHAD to be discussed, as well as the timing and funding of that work.  This information is the result of the years of requests and the report is thorough.  The above images are only a subset of what is shown in the full report.  There are areas that if there were slides or movement, they could impact many homes in the area.

I've asked staff to come back with answers to several questions, but the main ones are these:
  1. What is the one time costs necessary to bring the GHAD current on anything that was previously deferred?  That includes new inclinometers, piezometers, repairs, etc.
  2. What would be the ongoing operational costs necessary to conduct the required activities including monitoring and maintenance?
  3. What is a healthy reserve amount that the GHAD would need to maintain in order to address emergencies or situations as discovered by such monitoring?
After staff is able to come back with this information, the residents that live within the GHAD will have some decisions to make.  The current level of funding for the GHAD is clearly insufficient to support the activities that the GHAD requires.  If the GHAD funding is not increased, then it will be severely limited in the actions it will be able to make. Simply doing the analysis necessary to produce the report that this post is based on exceeds the funding available for the GHAD in a given year.  

On an ongoing basis, there is insufficient funds to even conduct the monitoring, much less install monitoring devices themselves.  Without knowing if any movement is occurring, it is impossible to craft a plan of action to mitigate impacts of such movement.  I did find this Pioneer article: (https://issuu.com/claytonpioneerinc./docs/may_21_clayton_pioneer_2004) published in May 2004 (page 14) that indicated the GHAD went to the voters three times in an attempt to raise assessments and each of the three times the increase did not pass.  I did a review of all voting records for Clayton from 1997-2004 (oldest date available online) and could find no record of any vote regarding GHAD assessments, however it could have occurred before this time or via some other means.  In any event, if the residents within the GHAD are interested in having the actions of the GHAD performed, they will almost certainly need to agree to fund it via GHAD assessments.  

I will share more as the City gathers information about the above details.  We plan to have the GHAD back on the agenda at our 5.16.23 meeting.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Upcoming Events!

There are a couple upcoming events that I'd like to share.  The first is Clayton Cleans Up (https://claytonca.gov/fc/community-events/Poster%20CCU.jpg?#new_tab/) on Saturday, April 22 from 9am-Noon.  This is a volunteer clean up even where people can help keep Clayton looking great!  Everyone meets at City Hall at the beginning to get any needed supplies and afterwards there is a barbecue!

On the weekend of April 29 and 30th, the CBCA is hosting the Art and Wine Festival (https://claytoncbca.org/cbca-events/clayton-art-and-wine-festival/):

Next month, the Concerts in the Grove series (https://claytonca.gov/our-city/annual-events/concerts-in-the-grove/) starts on May 13 and continues every other Saturday from 6-8:30pm.  There are a great line up of bands and various promotions offered by some of our local businesses.

In early June there will also be the 2nd annual Clayton Pride Parade:

Thursday, April 20, 2023

My 4.18.23 Meeting Summary

At our meeting on Tuesday we discussed and took action on several significant items:

- We approved an employment agreement with our new full time City Manager, Bret Prebula. Bret comes to us with a a wealth of relevant experience summarized below:

Bret has a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and started his career in government 15 years ago as a Department Analyst with the County of Napa. Advancing quickly in his career, Bret next served as the Administrative Manager for the County of Napa Department of Corrections, handling a $20M budget and overseeing large Countywide Corrections capital projects.  Bret moved on to become a Principal Management Analyst in the Napa County Executive Office, as the budget and large development project lead developing the Country’s $250M General Fund budget and overseeing a large Airport Redevelopment effort. Bret transitioned to becoming the Assistant Treasurer-Tax Collector managing a $700M investment portfolio before moving on to become the Finance and IT Director for the City of Napa.  Bret then moved to the City of Benicia as the Finance Director, revamping a failed ERP Project, creating and enhancing a variety of fiscal, and budget polices to improve the sustainable future of the City. Bret was then promoted to Assistant City Manager taking an even larger leadership role with the City of Benicia.

This concludes a hiring exercise that has occurred over the last several months and is critical in the efficient operations of the City and I look forward to his leadership as we move the City forward. 

- We received a report on efforts to curb speeding in the city, and an update about our overall enforcement strategy.  The City will be designating a dedicated traffic officer in an effort to increase enforcement over excessive speed.   As the volume of vehicular traffic increases post pandemic, excessive speed has become a growing challenge within the City.

Back in 2020, the City conducted a traffic survey as required by law to determine the average speed of vehicles at certain locations within the city.  We discussed the results at our 8.18.20 meeting (https://www.jeffwanforclaytoncitycouncil.net/2020/08/81820-meeting-summary.html).  The results of that survey indicated that we would need to increase posted speed limits in order for them to be enforceable.  Because increasing the speed limits was untenable, the Council at that time decided to not accept the speed survey because once posted limits are raised, they typically are never decreased.  

It turns out that was a very fortunate decision.  New law effective in 2023 changes the requirements for enforcing posted speed limits.  As long as we have a valid traffic survey that supported the posted limits, even if a new survey would indicate a higher speed limit was required, we are allowed to preserve the status quo speed limits in perpetuity.  This means that the posted speed limits in the City do not need to be increased, and once we take some administrative steps in our municipal code, the posted limits will be able to be enforced which should assist our overall strategy to reduce excessive speed in town.

- We approved appropriating ARPA reserves for a few key items, and asked staff to come back when they are ready with more robust project plans related to other things that have been requested.  What we directed staff to pursue were the following:  Tattle tale traffic lights (they help police identify when someone runs a red light), security cameras and secure access controls for City Hall and the Police Department building, a flat bed trailer to help move equipment within the city, and a Ditch Witch vacuum trailer that will change the way our maintenance crews repair irrigation breaks and clear clogged drains allowing them to be more efficient.

- We also discussed whether we would continue or expand the Clayton Cares program that provided direct assistance during COVID to businesses and individuals. While I sympathize with businesses that are currently struggling, the City is not in a position that it could continue to prop up businesses at this time.  COVID restrictions have been set aside or curtailed for a significant amount of time and one time direct assistance will not change the market dynamics that some businesses may be experiencing.  As I've been discussing over the last several years, the City faces financial headwinds that need to be addressed and our efforts will need to be focused on ensuring the continuing operations of the City that support all residents.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Upcoming Meeting 4.18.23

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

- There will be a presentation from the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association regarding the a proposed Mitchell Canyon Educational Center

- An employment agreement with a new full time City Manager and related salary schedules

- A discussion of traffic speed strategy

- Funding appropriation for certain one time expenditures in order to make city operations more efficient

- Discussion whether direct assistance through the Clayton Cares program should be expanded beyond what has already been provided

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

My 4.4.23 Meeting Summary

Last night the Council discussed several significant items:

- We met in closed session to discuss labor negotiations related to City Manager candidates.  There remains no reportable action however I am optimistic with the progress we are making.

- On the consent calendar was an updated investment policy.  It did not reflect the changes that were discussed at a previous Budget/Audit Committee meeting so we tabled this item to be brought back after it could be further modified.

- We agreed to entered into Phase II of our agreement with Climatec, contingent on the City securing funding for the project.  The project will include a number of energy and cost efficiency elements including: solar arrays that will power all of the City's buildings, in addition to providing shade structures for city vehicles; new lighting across our buildings, parks, and streets; new HVAC systems at Endeavor, the Library, and the Maintenance Building; Building automation systems controlling utility usage, EV charging stations at the Library, and irrigation control systems with master valve flow meters to shut off water flow in the event of a breakage.

All of these things combined will cost approximately $2M, with an overall savings of $4.7M over the life of the equipment.  At our last meeting, we approved the application to the California Energy Commission (CEC) for an energy efficiency loan.  The CEC credit facility is designed for local governments and is offered at a 1% interest rate.  While there are potentially other funding options, the CEC credit facility is the most favorable and we should hear back regarding our application sometime in May.

It was important to approve moving to Phase II as that allows the City to submit an application for the solar array.  Doing so now allows the city to take advantage of the current NEM 2.0 rules that are in place now, grandfathered for 20 years.  These rules provide a certain buyback rate from PG&E for energy generated via solar arrays.  Later this month, NEM 2.0 will be discontinued and going forward the buyback rate will be significantly lower.  Being able to take advantage of NEM 2.0 contributes approximately $500K in value to the city over the life of the project.

If we move forward, the this project will complete in approximately 1 year.

- We received a mid year budget update.  While the FY23 (July 1, 2022 - June 30, 2023) budget had a $127K deficit that was made up with reserves, at the mid year we are currently projecting higher than anticipated revenues of $82K, and reduced costs of $84K primarily from staff vacancies.  This is approximately $166K favorability as compared to the adopted budget.

Staff is currently working on the FY24 budget and will incorporate this information as they proceed.  I emphasized the importance of also preparing a more forward looking projection so we have better information from which to make more strategic spending decisions.

- We then discussed in greater detail requests from staff for one time items in order to make their work more efficient. While we had heard some of these before, staff was able to prioritize their requests and give more background as to the benefits each would provide.  These items ranged from online portals to facilitate management and payments for business licenses and facility rentals, to software for managing meeting agendas, to maintenance equipment that would alleviate a lot of the manual work that is done all over the city, to security enhancements to City Hall.

While it is true we need to think holistically about our spending priorities, there are things that were identified by staff that are consistent with the goals established in the prior year, and will yield a significant benefit to staff in terms of efficiency and risk mitigation.  This is also consistent with how we treated the Climatec agreement that I discussed above - incremental activities that will yield efficiencies.  

There was some hesitation regarding making spending decisions without a view towards other potential needs.  It will always be true that more information may be available at a later time, however this could lead to a type of analysis paralysis where no action is taken.  Rather than continue waiting, I think we should take those steps we know need to be done so we can continue making forward progress.

We did not take specific action on this last night as several of the items needed more analysis before proceeding.  I've asked staff to come back at our next meeting with those things that can be done immediately, and certain items that may require more analysis that the Council can then take action to direct how we move forward.

- We decided to cancel the first meeting in both July and September as has been our regular practice.  These align with the 4th of July and Labor Day holidays.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Upcoming Meeting 4.4.23

There are several significant items on the agenda at our next meeting:

- We will be discussing an update to the City’s investment policy. Key things being added are clarification of roles and responsibilities, tightening of available investment options, increased periodic reporting, and a refocus on the key investment objectives

- We will be discussing Phase II of the City’s agreement with Climatec. Up to this point, the city has not incurred any expense while Climatec has assessed the potential for savings across all of the City’s utility utilization. They are proposing an approximate $2M project encompassing solar installation, electric vehicle charging, LED lighting throughout the city, irrigation control units to mitigate the impact of water line breaks, and other building automation systems to reduce costs. There is also the potential of State credit facility for these types of projects at 1% interest making the overall project much more feasible. Ongoing savings would be approximately $4.7M over the life of the equipment.

- We will be discussing a mid year budget update. Current analysis shows greater revenues across multiple categories, and certain lower expenses due to staff vacancies.

- We will be discussing use of ARPA funds in conjunction with staff request items for increased operational efficiency.

- We will discuss the potential of cancelling any regular Council meetings due to scheduling during the summer.

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