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Is this our future?

February 4, 2010

Yesterday, I came across the linked article from the Denver Post.  It tells of major problems in the city of Colorado Springs caused by the economy and the inability of the city council to deal with the problem.  I sent it off to the councilmembers and managers of the tri-cities for their consideration.  It will make them feel better about their problems because there is someone worse off than us.  But, it also ought to give them some idea of where this whole thing will end up without bold action.  It is worth a read.

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14303473

The concept and the rationale

January 23, 2010

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.

Hello world!

January 23, 2010

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