The concept and the rationale

I am told the Chinese symbol for crisis is a combination of the symbol for danger and the symbol for opportunity, described as opportunity riding on the wings of danger.  We are facing a serious crisis of governance in California and especially here in our home towns.  Fremont finished the most recent fiscal year with not one cent to carry over into the next, for the first time in memory.  Newark is currently working to solve a budget problem equaling cuts of ten percent to their annual budget.  Union City has been closing city hall every other Friday for several years as a cost saving measure.  Many cuts have already been made in all three cities.  More are coming. 

 Yet, here we sit with three cities, three school districts, two utility districts, one hospital district, two transit operators, and two community colleges.  Each has its own elected body and its own administrative structure with a manager and support staff, a personnel department, and a finance department. Most have specialized equipment and corporation yards in which to store it.  The cities and the utility districts all have trucks, back hoes, front loaders, and all the other heavy equipment it takes to maintain roads, parks, pipelines, etc.  And they all have people and organizational structures to operate them.

 It is about time we started to look at the long term stability of the governmental systems of our area. How long can we continue to dilute the services each city provides as we try to maintain the artificial borders that divide us?  This fiscal crisis is bad enough that we should start thinking about merging the three cities and the two utility districts into one city.  We have a common history, a common problem, common dreams, and a common future.  Why not deal with them together?

 Think of it – one city, one management structure, one city attorney, one city clerk, one fire department, one police department, one finance department, one human resources department, one public works department, etc.  Millions of dollars would be saved annually simply by eliminating redundant management positions, even before any savings from economies of scale are accounted for.  And, with the new city responsible for water and sewer service, there are huge opportunities for savings which would allow continuation of quality services and a continued strong public safety presence.

 Much needs to be done, but the timing is right.  We need to convene a group of citizens to develop a concept for the new city which would be presented to the voters in November.  If the voters agree with the concept, a charter for the new city would be developed and necessary legislation enacted by the legislature, with a goal of having the charter on the ballot in June of 2012, followed by the election of the mayor and city council in November, when the mayors of Fremont and Union City term out of office.   The new city would be incorporated on New Year’s Day, 2013.

 The current situation is bad and getting worse. Police and fire budgets, normally 2/3 of each city’s operating costs, take a greater share of the total budget from each city as reductions come from other non-public safety areas.  Library hours are already cut to a minimum.  The animal shelter operates on a reduced schedule and relies on volunteers to a huge extent to provide service.  General fund contributions to important capital projects have been diverted in order to maintain levels of public service.  In short, there is not enough money to provide the level of services the public expects and deserves, there is no new source of revenue available to fill the gaps, and we see no solutions on the horizon, especially as we continue to defend our local revenues from the state as they try to solve their own problems.

 Riding on the wings of this danger is not only the opportunity to reduce costs but also to start with a clean slate and design the government we desire.  I don’t see this as Fremont absorbing the other cities and the special districts, but rather the chance to do what probably should have been done 50 years ago.  We would actually found a new city – taking the best from each to make something better.  We would decide on the structure of the government, the number of councilmembers and their districts, the powers of the mayor and the rules of procedure.  There is time to manage the transition by attrition and we could conceivably complete this whole process without laying anyone off. 

 This process would rival that which formed the three cities in the first place and would be a model for others to emulate.  It makes sense. Let’s start talking about it.  I would be interested in your thoughts.  The e-mail address is ournewcity@yahoo.com and my office phone is (510) 790-1685.

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7 Responses to “The concept and the rationale”

  1. Jane Mueller Says:

    Really creative idea, Gus. It makes perfect sense to eliminate duplication and consolidate functions, especially when dysfunction at the state level has impacted city budgets so severely. Maybe consolidation would restore some ability to allocate local funds in a way that reflects local priorities. But I’m wondering whether it’s possible to shift existing city pride to a new, bigger city.

  2. Charlotte Allen Says:

    The problem I have with this idea is that it would be even harder than it is for grass-roots organizations to have an impact on elections and the city government. Big money would rule more than it already does. The smaller the electoral district, the easier it is to campaign person to person, and not have to rely on expensive media and direct mail.

    • mayorgus Says:

      I would assume, with such a large city, that there would be a larger council, maybe 9 members, with them being elected from districts of about 40,000 people each. This would allow grass roots campaigns and much smaller campaign funds than we have today in most of the three cities.

      Gus

  3. Chris Borden Says:

    Superb idea, Mr. Morrison. I always wondered why these cities weren’t merged 30 years ago; they seem so alike. For starters, how about making the council districts no more than 15,000 residents and have a really big council of say, 20 members? That way we can still maintain a sense of “smallness” throughout the many neighborhoods, and it would definitely make someone like me want to run for office. Plus, one bigger city will have a much louder voice on regional issues such as transit. As a 40-year resident of Fremont and an expert on the Tri-Cities’ geography and culture, what can I do to help make this concept a reality?

    • mayorgus Says:

      I hadn’t thought of such a big council, but it is all on the table, if we can get over the old myopic vision. Waht can you do to help? Keep watching and I’ll let you know when it is time to help.

  4. Roger Gold Says:

    I like the idea, and a city of over 300,000 attracts more attention, investors, and business than separate small cities. May be a good lure for the A’s too.

  5. Bill Aragon Says:

    Gus, you have some good points. Please keep in mind of the dangers inherent in consolidating power in fewer individuals. Furthermore bigger is not always better when it comes to governing or customer service. It is more difficult if not impossible to get in to see the Mayor of Oakland than it is to see the Mayor in Union City, Newark and even Fremont. Governments closer to the people can be more effective in addressing and resolving problems that come up. Despite the structural changes that will need to take place you will still need the same number of workers doing the work. Personnel costs that include high medical and retirement benefits account for the biggest portion of the budget. No matter how you restructure you need to lower those costs first to really make a difference. Good luck on your endeavor.

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