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.