June 2012

In the Better Late Than Never department, we’ve got a special weekend edition of The Broad Brush. If this is your first time here, consider this our attempt to give you the week’s news stories in two sentences or less. Here’s the scoop:

In 1887, the City of Alameda took ownership of one of the nation’s first municipal power plants. And even then, the utility generated controversy.

 

There's lots going on in the waters around our island this summer!

Alameda’s City Council okayed a fresh budget which council members hailed for its lack of impact to community services, though they also acknowledged that much more work needs to be done to steady the city’s shaky finances over the long term.

Video streaming by UstreamAlameda’s Board of Education approved a budget for next year without being forced to contemplate cuts like furloughs, class size increases, shorter school year and others school districts are considering in order to address rising costs and sharp declines in state funding.

 

Yesterday I completed the performance of part of my civic obligation by participating in jury duty. The notice had arrived a month or so ago and I left it sitting on my desk like an unresolved issue. Should I beg off? I’m old enough to be excused for almost any reason.

America’s Cup challenger Artemis Racing got the Planning Board’s okay Monday night to build floating docks in Seaplane Lagoon and to plant a crane capable of reaching 160 feet on an adjacent taxiway.

 

It’s a big week o’ budgets here on the Island, with a hat trick of budget approvals at City Hall, the former Bureau of Electricity and for Alameda’s schools this week.

On Saturday, nearly four dozen people boarded a bus – environmentalists, engineers, and the occasional journalist – for a two-hour tour highlighting the Navy’s latest efforts to pull poisons out of the ground and water at and around Alameda Point.

When I was asked to write a blog about real estate, I decided that information about those issues directly affecting homeowners such as efficiency, health and comfort should also be included along with market activity reports and realty issues.

A 2010 report on the sustainability of the City of San Jose’s pension system offers a detailed look at how the costs of that city’s pensions outpaced its ability to pay for them, to the tune of $2 billion in unfunded pension liabilities that year.

 

The America's Cup has been generating a lot of excitement around our Island for well over a year now.

The failure of the Measure C sales tax initiative brought a trickling of residents into Alameda’s City Hall on June 12 who said they think city leaders should pursue a different strategy for attacking the city’s persistent budget deficits: Cut city workers’ pensions and salaries.

The City Council unanimously signed off on a trio of contracts for non-safety workers Tuesday that offer pay increases if the city does well financially in exchange for increased employee health and pension contributions. City leaders will also be asking the workers’ representatives to consider reducing pension benefits for future hires.

PENSIONS: What they were thinking

Michele Ellson

Originally published on The Island, April 27, 2011

Beverly Johnson had been on Alameda's City Council for less than two years in 2000 when city staff approached her and other council members about upgrading public safety workers' pensions.

Three months earlier, Governor Gray Davis and the state Legislature had authorized cities, counties and other agencies participating in the CalPERS retirement system to negotiate new public safety pensions that would allow workers to retire at 50 with 3 percent of their top salary for each year served. The new rules were approved almost unanimously after state leaders were told by CalPERS - which co-sponsored one of the bills authorizing the benefit increases - that the pension fund had a surplus of cash and that municipalities paying into it wouldn't pay a cent more in contribution rates in the decade to come.

After receiving assurances from city staff that the changes wouldn't cost the city anything, Johnson said, the council - unanimously and without debate - approved the benefit bumps, first for police and several months later, firefighters. But eventually, she said, she learned that all those assurances were for naught.

Now city leaders in Alameda, like cities across the state, are trying to cope with pension costs that are expected to grow sharply over the next several years, in part to compensate for investment losses CalPERS suffered when the stock and housing markets crashed in 2008. Alameda's contribution rates are expected to rise to 45 percent of public safety workers' salaries, from 31 percent now and 19 percent for the rest of the city's employees, from 13 percent now, by 2015-2016 the city's projections show. City staffers told the council in late March that they expect their pension contribution costs to rise by $1.75 million next year alone.

"It comes down to having to lay off police and firefighters to pay your PERS costs. That's the choice cities need to make," said Johnson, who has since emerged as one of the council's strongest critics of the cost of public safety workers' retirement benefits. (The city's other employees get 2 percent of their top salary for each year they work and can retire at age 55.)

As part of a series of stories on pension costs, The Island contacted the three surviving members of the City Council that approved the enhanced benefit. Former City Councilwoman Barbara Kerr could not be reached for comment, and former councilman and recent mayoral candidate Tony Daysog declined to comment, saying he was gathering his thoughts in order to write his own opinion piece on the matter.

Daysog, who served on the city's Fiscal Sustainability Committee in 2008-2009, told The Island when he ran for mayor in 2010 that he'd place public safety workers on furlough days in order to save money to pay for pension and retiree health benefits, and also that he would seek to create a two-tiered retirement system for public safety workers that would include a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan, hold down salary increases and open labor negotiations for public view.

Johnson said the pension increases were approved at a time when the state's economy was flush and cities actively competed with each other and the private sector for workers, particularly police officers, who some cities were paying signing bonuses to hire. She said the city needed to offer the benefit in order to effectively compete for workers but that Alameda now needs to adapt to its reduced circumstances.

"At that time the economy was really strong. It was hard to hire people for jobs in the police department and for other city jobs," said Johnson, whose husband is a police officer in another city. "Once you do that on a statewide basis when people are competing for jobs, you have to (do it locally too)."

Johnson said the city's then-manager, Jim Flint, had promised to eliminate police retention pay and freeze positions in order to pay for the enhanced retirement benefit for police; she said those items were put back into police officers' contract after the council approved it. Staff reports generated when the changes were made showed that the benefit would cost close to $854,000 a year for police officers and managers; the roughly $880,o00 a year in increased costs for firefighters and fire department managers was to be covered by freezing and cutting positions and trimming funding.

The city-run pension plan public safety employees had been in before entering the CalPERS system offered cost of living increases and no health care, the city's human resources director, Karen Willis, said; an earlier plan offered to safety retirees raises every time active employees received them, allowing them to earn more in retirement than they had when they were working, Johnson said.

She said former City Manager Debra Kurita, who began working for Alameda in 2007, had tried to convince the council to increase pension benefits for non-safety employees but the council opted not to.

Johnson and other city leaders later discovered the new pensions were "not sustainable," she said. And cities and other agencies that invest in the PERS system - and by extension, the taxpayers in those places - are now stuck covering those losses, she said.

"They were falsely reassuring cities, 'don't worry about paying pensions' - our investments will pay," Johnson said of CalPERS.

Johnson said she's encouraged by efforts that have been made at the bargaining table to address pension and retiree health care costs. So far, Alameda's firefighters have hammered out a tentative contract with the city, but the details have not yet been made public.

"We can't fix everything in one fell swoop. But there are significant steps forward," Johnson said. "And we will keep working on the issue."

PENSIONS: Alameda's $100k club

Michele Ellson

Originally published on The Island, April 22, 2011

Craig Ojala retired from the Alameda Police Department in 2008, after 30 years on the job. Ojala started working in the department as an officer in 1979, when he was 20 years old, and rose to the rank of interim chief in 2005 before leaving the department as a captain.

For his service, Ojala earns a pension of $179,730 a year, according to a database compiled by the conservative California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility that lists retired public employees earning pensions of $100,000 or more a year – more than any other retiree from the City of Alameda.

Ojala is one of 50 people who have retired from the city with six-figure pensions, the database shows, with the CalPERS pension fund's annual payouts for those employees alone totaling $6,248,187. The list is topped by former police and fire brass and includes an assortment of former managers and even some members of the city's rank and file.

The figure is a “squeal point” for taxpayers, a report on pensions issued recently by the state’s Little Hoover Commission said, and it is being used as a tool to further pension reform efforts that include tighter limits on benefit payouts, higher employee contributions and the creation of a “hybrid” system that includes 401(k)-style defined contribution plans for new public employees.

But defenders of the existing defined benefit pension plan said they’re working to make changes that will help cities manage rising pension costs, including some of the changes reformers seek. And a spokesman for CalPERS, the public pension fund where Alameda invests its employees’ retirement money, said investment losses and increased staffing, not benefit increases, are the primary drivers of cities' increased benefit costs.

"Benefit enhancement is part of the picture. But it's not a primary driver," CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco said, offering a chart that showed that payroll increases accounted for more than half of cities’ rising pension bills.

Staffing for the City of Alameda, for example, grew from 594 positions in 1993 to 738 a decade later, city budget records show (the city now has 659 positions).

The City Council voted in 2000 – unanimously and without any public discussion – to increase retirement benefits for its police officers and police management to allow them to retire at age 50 with 3 percent of their top salary for each year served instead of the 2 percent they had been getting, minutes of the meeting where the benefit was approved show, with a cap of 90 percent. (The council voted to provide firefighters the same benefit in 2001, meeting minutes show, though in that case they cut and froze positions and trimmed funding in order to pay for it.)

But at the same time city leaders increased benefits, their annual payments jumped from the 9 percent of employees’ salaries they had been paying – the same rate public safety employees pay into their own pensions – to 25.8 percent in mid-2003, a staff report written in 2002 shows. City staffers estimated that the increased value of the benefit the council had promised – $10.2 million for police and $8.6 million for fire – would be paid over 20 years.

A string of retirements of top police and fire officials hit the city in the years after the benefits were raised: All of Alameda’s top 10 pension earners are former police or fire brass, and each of them retired after the new rules went into effect.

Former Alameda Police Capt. Rich McWilliams, who served a stint as acting police chief, retired in 2005 after 30 years on the force, with earnings of $173,370.36 a year, a City Council resolution issued as he retired showed. Former Fire Chief Tim Reilly, who left as the new benefits were put in place, earns $167,770.20.

The new rates allowed some of the city's top earners to retire with most of their pay intact. Chris Reilly, who’s on the top 10 list, spent five and a half years as a deputy chief at the Alameda Fire Department before retiring in March of 2009. In 2008, he had total earnings of $190,889.16, records obtained by The Island for an earlier investigation and a LinkedIn profile for Reilly show. After he retired, he began earning a pension of $166,926.96, the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility database shows, or about 88 percent of what he made in his last full year of work in Alameda.

The average benefit paid to Alameda's retirees is much lower, though it is growing - and being offered to a growing number of people. Actuary reports supplied by CalPERS show that the pension fund paid an average benefit of $66,486 to Alameda's 204 public safety retirees for 2009, and that they started taking the benefit, on average, at the age of 63. A year earlier, the fund paid 192 safety retirees an average of $62,623. Some 538 non-safety workers got an average of $16,128 in 2009, up from $15,223 a year earlier for 525 former city workers. They started taking the benefit, on average, when they were nearly 71, the reports show.

Meanwhile, the rates the city pays for employee retirement benefits are rising to cover the losses CalPERS suffered when in the stock market and housing crashes of 2008. The city’s public safety contribution rate is now 31 percent, and forecast to rise to 45 percent by 2015. Other city employees, who get 2 percent of their top pay for each year served, with no cap, can retire at 55; the city pays 13 percent of their salary toward their retirement now, and expects to pay 19 percent by 2015.

The city's retirement contribution for its top-paid public safety employee - Acting Police Chief Mike Noonan - was $63,383.75 in 2010, or close to 31 percent of his base salary of $155,984 plus specialty pay add-ons. At 45 percent, the city's annual retirement costs for Noonan alone would be roughly $92,000, or the cost of a full-time police officer or firefighter based on city employee pay records.

For its top non-safety employee, Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant, the city made a $31,943.73 payment in 2010. For a police officer who earned roughly $89,000 in 2010, the city made a PERS payment of $29,745.81.

Some 126 current city employees made a base salary of $100,000 or more in 2010, the city's records show; a little more than half of them, or 68, were public safety workers. Overall, the city contributed $10.4 million toward its workers' retirement funds in 2010, and the city’s controller, Fred Marsh, expects the city's bill to rise by $1.75 million this year (though this year's tab was less than what the city paid in 2008 and 2009).

California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility president Marcia Fritz said the list of top retirement benefit earners is growing by 60 to 70 percent a year, and faster than the list of public pensioners as a whole. She said the group’s list is littered with city managers who had direct access to policy makers and who helped drive decisions on growing their own benefits. And she said the new benefit rules – allowed by a state legislative change made in 1999 – provided a perverse disincentive for top managers to retire early.

Fritz said that while CalPERS’s investments have recovered, the rate of early retirements and wage increases exceeded what actuaries had predicted.

“You’ve got guys that may have a position for one year. And then they retire at that salary,” Fritz said.

Jeff DelBono, a firefighter/paramedic and the political director for Alameda's firefighters union, acknowledged there are problems with the pension setup, but he is resisting calls to convert city workers' current pensions to a 401(k) plan. He said he's willing to work with the city to save money, but there are a lot of cost-saving concessions workers can't make unless the state Legislature changes the law to allow them. (He also stressed that his union doesn't represent the management employees who dominate the city's top-earning pension slots.)

While he said he couldn't divulge details of the tentative contract the union has hammered out with the city until his members vote on it, he said one fix could be bigger employee contributions for benefits.

DelBono said other potential cost-cutting moves - including caps on retiree earnings and different contribution rates for existing and new employees - can't be made at the bargaining table unless state legislators, who set the parameters for benefits, retirement formulas and eligibility ages, change laws that would allow those items to be renegotiated. And other strategies - like raising the retirement age for new hires who haven't yet been promised a specific benefit level, as existing employees have - wouldn't save the city any money up front, according to an actuarial study commissioned by the city.

"It's a statewide problem," he said.

DelBono said the benefits were added at the height of the dot-com boom as CalPERS was flush with cash, and that they came in lieu of pay raises and firefighting positions that had been frozen in previous budget cycles.

"These benefits were put in place when the economy was going gangbusters and people were earning a lot more money in the private sector," DelBono said.

PENSIONS: A brief history

Michele Ellson

Originally published on The Island, April 20, 2011

California's pension system got its start in 1932, as an incentive for older, less efficient workers to leave public service. At that time, workers could expect to retire with about half of what they earned in their final years of service. But that has changed, according to a pension reform report issued by the state's Little Hoover Commission in February.

The report details how public pensions became increasingly generous through the decades, at the same time that CalPERS - the nation's largest pension fund and the one Alameda invests in for its city employees - adopted increasingly risky investment strategies in order to increase returns. Its authors say the 2008 market crash and real estate bust helped expose what they see as the pension system's flaws.

The crash also forced local governments to cover the system's losses in order to meet their obligations to retired employees. This year, the city is looking at increased pension rate payments of about $1.75 million, a presentation delivered to the City Council on March 29 shows. Locally, opinions differ on how dramatic the increases will be and how long they will last.

Benefits increased gradually over the years since CalPERS opened for business, rising from a retirement age of 65 and 1.43 percent of an employee's salary for each year served to retirement at 63 with 2.5 percent of a worker's salary for each year in 1999. But a key turning point came in 1999 when the state Legislature - which sets parameters for benefits, retirement formulas and eligibility ages, according to the report - overwhelmingly approved SB 400.

The new law allowed local governments and the state to lower retirement ages and increase benefits for public safety workers. CalPERS, which was overfunded at the time - meaning they had more money than they needed to cover benefit payouts - had argued they had enough money to keep payments into the system below 1999 levels for the next decade. And they even gave the state a rate "holiday," lowering its contribution into the fund.

The changes, the report says, caught on like wildfire, with cities quickly boosting benefits in order to retain workers. Benefit changes account for close to half of governments' increased pension costs, the report says; rising pay and increased workforces make up the other half.

In December 1990, Alameda decided to move its public safety workers from its self-funded pension plans into the CalPERS system, a move that Jeff DelBono, a firefighter/paramedic and the political director for the local firefighters union, said ultimately saved the city $3 million. (Some cities, like San Francisco and San Diego, manage their own pension funds.) But after SB 400 passed, the city changed its retirement plan for public safety workers so that they could retire at age 50 with 3 percent of their top salary for each year served. Other city workers get 2 percent for each year served and can retire at age 55.

Meanwhile, the city's workforce grew dramatically: Alameda had 594 workers in 1993-1994, including workers at Alameda Municipal Power, the Housing Authority and other agencies. By 2003-2004, the city's workforce had grown to 738 workers (it has since declined to 659). The fire department saw its ranks grow from 99 workers in 1993-1994 to 119 in 2004-2005 (falling to 110 in 2009-2010), while the police department grew from 149 workers in 1993-1994 to 161 in 1999-2000 (the department had 144 staffers in 2009-2010).

It's not clear what the city's average pension payout is; the city's controller, Fred Marsh, said that would be tough to calculate because many of the city's employees have worked at other agencies, and their PERS pensions include those years of service. (A CalPERS spokesperson did not respond to a request for more information.) DelBono said Alameda's firefighters serve an average of 27 years. Public safety workers - who make up a third of the city's workforce - account for $1,335,000 of its increased pension payment for next year, while the rest of the city's workers account for an additional $413,000 payment.

In 2008-2009, the city paid $11.1 million into CalPERS that year, the city's 2009 comprehensive annual financial report shows. Overall, the city paid 30 percent of its public safety employees' salaries toward their retirement, while the employees pay nine percent; for the city's other employees, contribution rates were 13.2 percent and seven percent, respectively. (The city's payment rates are forecast to grow to 45 percent for public safety workers and 19 percent for other municipal employees by 2015-2016, a chart presented to the council shows.)

But as the city added more workers and increased benefits, they entered a pension fund that had adopted increasingly risky investment strategies since its founding.

CalPERS originally invested in government bonds, a stable but low-yield investment. But over the years, additional investments were added, allowing the fund to put money into the stock market, foreign markets and real estate.

The 2008 stock market crash and a plummeting real estate market hit CalPERS heavily: The fund's assets dropped 30 percent, from an October 2007 high of $260 billion, the report says. (The fund's assets have rebounded to $234.4 billion, its website shows, but its earnings are reliant on a smaller asset base, the report says.)

Still, the losses were so bad that the fund looked for ways to continue paying pensions without bankrupting the cities and other public agencies that invest in it. If the fund loses money and has less than it needs to cover employees' pensions, it reaches out its member cities to make up the difference.

It hit upon a "smoothing" formula that spread the losses out over 15 years so that its members wouldn't be hit with massive bills all at once in what have been challenging economic times. City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy said in an interview last week that he thinks this will mean high pension payments for Alameda for years to come, though DelBono said the pension fund's returns have been higher than its target of 7.75 percent since the crash. (Marsh said that the increased returns still won't make up for PERS' recent losses, which are reflected in the city's rising rates.)

The pension fund's board considered lowering its return target to 7.5 percent but opted not to in March on a 10-3 vote.

The city has been talking about how to manage its growing pension costs - and the cost of retiree health benefits, which it has not been paying for - for several years, with Kennedy detailing the problems in a 2009 report of the fiscal sustainability committee he chaired. Still, city leaders have yet to hit upon solutions, though Mayor Marie Gilmore and union leaders say they are coming.

Alameda isn't the only city grappling with pension and benefit costs, and CalPERS isn't the only pension fund facing financial troubles. San Francisco, which manages its own retirement fund, reportedly has competing proposals from Public Defender Jeff Adachi and a group headed by investor Warren Hellman that includes union leaders that could trim benefit costs by between $100 million and $200 million; officials in San Jose, facing a $110 million deficit by June 30, 2012, are looking at cutting salaries by 10 percent. City leaders in Oakland, which gave itself a 15-year break from paying into its pension fund for public safety officials and is facing a $42 million deficit, are trying to figure out how to pay the $46 million bill that comes due on July 1.

Across California, city leaders are demanding cuts and labor leaders are considering concessions, though others are arguing that the existing pension system needs a radical restructure. The Little Hoover Commission report's authors recommend rolling back existing benefits, adding a 401(k)-style plan to the mix and providing the public more information about retirement benefits and their costs. (The federal government introduced a 401(k) plan in 1986; they also give their employees Social Security, something Alameda's employees don't get).

"California’s pension plans are dangerously underfunded, the result of overly generous benefit promises, wishful thinking and an unwillingness to plan prudently. Unless aggressive reforms are implemented now, the problem will get far worse, forcing counties and cities to severely reduce services and layoff employees to meet pension obligations," the report's authors said.

More to come.

PENSIONS: Peril is in the eye of the beholder

Michele Ellson

Originally published on The Island, April 19, 2011

Kevin Kennedy and Jeff DelBono agree that Alameda’s pension and retiree benefit costs are a problem that must be addressed. Where they differ is on the scope of the problem – and of the solutions needed to fix it.

Kennedy, a financial planner and self-described “numbers guy” who has served as the city’s elected treasurer for the last decade, and DelBono, a firefighter/paramedic and the political director of the local firefighters union, are key voices in the debate over how to address growing benefit and pension costs – a problem that has been decades in the making.

The arcane financial drama exploded into the public consciousness in late March when Kennedy claimed the city would go bankrupt without major, structural budget changes – a claim that left Mayor Marie Gilmore and union leaders scrambling to assure residents that Alameda is solvent and that unions are doing their part to try to fix the problem. It’s a drama that is playing out all over California, as policymakers and labor leaders try to come to terms over the rising cost of pensions and millions of dollars in retiree health care benefits that public agencies offered, but in many cases never saved money for.

City leaders have inked a tentative deal with firefighters, but the terms – which will go up for a vote before both the firefighters union and the City Council – have not yet been announced. Contracts recently approved for management employees and electrical workers don’t offer any concessions on pensions or benefits, however.

Kennedy, who first sounded the alarm about pension and benefit costs in 2009, said he believes they are “enveloping everything else” in the city with no end in sight. And he believes budget numbers offered by city staff in late March – the night of his bankruptcy claim – back him up.

“(The City Council) has to realize this probably can’t be kicked down the road any longer,” Kennedy said. “We clearly don’t have enough money to pay what we’re paying.”

Those financial projections show Alameda suffering a budget deficits of $6.2 million next year and larger ones in the four years to come – deficits which would exhaust the city’s reserves inside of three years unless expenses are reduced. Next year’s deficit projection includes an additional $3 million in pension and health benefit costs, and it shows pension costs – particularly for public safety workers – rising through 2015-2016.

Kennedy said health care costs are rising beyond projections – 14 percent versus the 9.5 percent predicted by the city’s actuarial – and he thinks return expectations offered by CalPERS, the state retirement system Alameda uses, are rosier than they should be.

CalPERS is charging its member cities and counties more money this year to cover previous investment losses, and barring some miracle in the market, Kennedy said the increased payments could continue over 15 years: The losses were so bad that the pension fund opted to spread them out over time, in order to spare public agencies who bought into it massive payments they couldn’t afford.

But the big issue, Kennedy said, is retiree health care, which the city has yet to fund. If the bill were due today, the city would owe more than $75 million, he said.

“I don’t know how that’s going to work,” Kennedy said. “We’ve never saved any money toward this.”

To fix the problem, Kennedy said policymakers should consider a range of solutions, including layoffs, wage reductions and increased benefit contributions – along with a 401(k) retirement plan for new hires in place of the pensions city employees now get, which pay a fixed amount regardless of how the city’s pension investment performs.

DelBono concedes there’s a problem, but he says it’s not as bad as Kennedy thinks. And he is adamant that pensions be preserved.

“I believe everybody in this country should have health care and retirement,” said DelBono, who said pensions allowed his grandparents, both machinists, to live comfortably in retirement.

He said he thinks employees should consider paying more for their benefits, and that health care plans should be restructured for new employees.

“We’re working hard to restructure the benefit and it will probably look different from what a retiree has now to an active (employee) to a new hire,” DelBono said during an interview last week.

DelBono said public safety employees are already contributing 9 percent of the cost of their pensions, and that they did so even as CalPERS, flush with cash a decade ago, lowered public agencies’ payments to zero. And he said actuarial projections of health care costs assume everyone will take the most expensive benefit plan available and that they don’t account for things like Medicare, which he said employees are required to apply for at age 65, lowering the city’s costs. He thinks the city can continue with its pay-as-you-go approach, since its employees won’t retire all at once.

He said CalPERS’ return projections are lower than their actual returns: The pension fund has set a standing expectation of a 7.75 percent return on its investments, but this past year, it earned 12.5 percent.

DelBono said city leaders offered public safety workers enhanced retiree medical benefits after they agreed in 1992 to move from a city-funded pension plan into CalPERS, a move that he said saved Alameda $3 million. He said that money was supposed to help pay for the new benefit. But it wasn’t.

While he thinks workers need to make concessions, DelBono said he also wants the city to pay into a rainy day fund to cover benefit costs when times are bad.

On this Kennedy and DelBono agree on: Alameda’s pension problem didn’t happen overnight. And while they disagree on the solutions to the problem, they know that whatever they are, they won’t come quickly.

“I do agree with Kevin that what we do need to be – need to work toward funding benefits we do have,” DelBono said. “It’s a slow process. And we didn’t get here overnight.”

School district officials and the union representing Alameda’s teachers followed the recommendations of an impartial factfinder when they inked an agreement to retain existing class sizes until a new contract deal is reached, the factfinder’s report, which was released Monday, showed.

Welcome to Alameda Back Roads. My name is Karen Bey and one of my hobbies is traveling around the back roads of our historical Island community looking for treasures.

Former Alameda city councilman Frank Matarrese and his wife, Kris, are spending three months teaching English in Zaragoza, El Salvador. Matarrese will be offering dispatches detailing his experiences along the way.

 

Welcome to another edition of The Broad Brush, where we try to catch you up on the week’s news stories in two sentences or less. We gave up Friday’s blog space for a special installment of Street Smarts, so we’ve got a lot to catch you up on. Here’s the story:

John Russo seems strangely uncomfortable detailing what he’s accomplished during his inaugural year as Alameda’s city manager.

 

This is Part II of a series on the draft BART bicycle plan.

Alameda Hospital will start its fiscal year without a new budget on July 1 as its governing board seeks a clearer picture of the struggling hospital’s finances for what are expected to be six more difficult months – and for the better months hospital managers believe lay beyond.

Alameda's teachers have voted to approve a class size and calendar accord their union leaders reached with district officials on Tuesday evening, ending - for now - the threat of a strike over class sizes and providing families a start date for the upcoming school year.

 

Welcome to our new Maritime Report! Every week in this space, The Alamedan will bring you news and comment of happenings on the waters that surround our Island city.

Alameda’s City Council held a wide-ranging discussion Tuesday night about how – or if – the city could pay for facilities, vehicles and equipment council members had hoped to fund with money from the Measure C sales tax initiative.

 

Very early Sunday morning I got into our car and drove over the High Street Bridge into Oakland. I was on my way to meet a friend who lives there so that the two of us and his three-legged dog, Maggie, could go for a walk in the woods.

Alameda school district officials and the union representing the district’s teachers have reached a tentative accord on class sizes and on a calendar for the 2012-2013 school year, Superintendent Kirsten Vital announced Tuesday night, potentially heading off a threatened strike over class sizes.

Alameda crime data, 1985-2010

Michele Ellson

This spreadsheet contains crime data for the years 1985-2010. Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics.

Members of Alameda’s Planning Board are raising concerns about a proposed $189 million plan intended to reduce traffic congestion around the Webster and Posey tubes.

At their meeting Monday, board members said they want more information to be gathered about the potential benefits of the plan, which would get its first $75 million in funding if voters approve an extension and increase of the Measure B sales tax for county transportation in November - and they want specifics about what that money would pay for.

 

This is Part I of a series on the draft BART bicycle plan.

Alameda City Employee Salaries, 2011

Michele Ellson

A searchable Excel document containing pay and benefit information for city employees in 2011.

 

Happy Monday, Alameda! And welcome to another edition of The Broad Brush, where we give you (or try to give you, anyway) the week's news stories in two sentences or less. Here's what's going on this week.

What do a couple of guys from Alameda do when they want to make a movie about a faked murder and an insurance scam? Put an ad on Craigslist, of course.

 

Here in news-land, it was a crazy busy week.

Redistricting efforts mean that Alameda will have a new Congressional representative come November for the first time in two decades. So how different will the representation of our likely new rep, Barbara Lee, be from our current one, Pete Stark?

The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a stripped-down strategy for readying Alameda Point for new development that’s focused on preparing for potential commercial development there, though some council members and longtime Point development supporters said they preferred a more robust plan that included planning that would also ease the way for housing.

Gary the elevator mechanic voted no on the proposed Measure C sales tax increase because he didn’t think the city needed the money, and because he was concerned the increase would drive businesses off the Island.

ELECTION RESULTS

Updated 12:37 a.m. Wednesday, June 6

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure; 2/3 vote needed)
100% reporting

Yes: 5,816/50.29
No: 5,748/49.71

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure; 2/3 vote needed)
100% reporting

Yes: 48,325/71.67
No: 19,102/28.33

Assembly District 18
100% reporting

Rob Bonta: 15,245/36.84
Abel Guillen: 11,562/27.94
Rhonda Weber: 6,551/15.83
Joel Young: 7,819/18.9

Superior Court Judge, Office 20
100% reporting

Tara M. Flanagan: 60,711/48.99%
Catherine Haley: 24,090/19.44%
Andrew R. Wiener: 38,142/30.78%

State Senator, 9th District
Loni Hancock: 60,994/96.41%
Write-in: 2,273/3.59%

U.S. Representative, 13th Congressional District
Barbara Lee: 60,500/81.5%
Marilyn M. Singleton: 9,406/12.67%
Justin Jelincic: 4,038/5.44%

Updated at 12:46 a.m. Wednesday, June 6

Alameda’s voters said no Tuesday to paying more sales taxes for city vehicles and a host of new and improved facilities, decisively spurning the proposed Measure C sales tax.

LiveBlog: June 5, 2012 election

June 5, 2012 election

11:12 a.m. Wednesday, June 6 Political blogger Steven Tavares over at East Bay Citizen has been watching the Assembly District 18 race closely, and today, he published a post on Rob Bonta's victory in the primary race and the runoff to come between Bonta and second-place finisher Abel Guillen:

Going forward, the Bonta/Guillen race will solely be about winning over voters in Oakland. Guillen may have a slight advantage, but he will also have to attempt shaving a few percentage points off of Bonta's totals in San Leandro and even Alameda. As opponents of Alameda failed sales tax measure showed Tuesday night, there is a contingent of Alamedans who don't like Bonta that could be plucked away by Guillen. And, how will the forces that torpedoed Young's campaign, presumably on behalf of Guillen, turn their guns on Bonta and vice-versa. This race may not only be Bonta vs. Guillen, but Bonta's public safety unions against Guillen's nurses and teachers.

Tavares and I chatted about this over our respective computer screens at the Blue Danube on Park Street last night, so when I talked with Bonta about the results last night I asked him what he thought. In short, he said he's feeling comfortable about his chances in Oakland and that he doesn't expect the unions and other groups that spent close to $100,000 to attack third-place finisher Joel Young to turn on him in the months to come. (Neither Guillen nor Young's campaign manager, Mark Goodwin, replied to requests for comment on Tuesday's results.)

More than half of the voting for the AD18 race will take place in Oakland, Bonta said, and Guillen's campaign website and financial disclosures show he has more endorsements and contributors there than Bonta. But Bonta pressed his experience and message and said they, and not his address, will determine voters' choices at the polls.

"I don’t think I'd give up anything to any candidate in Oakland. My message is as strong in Oakland as it is in San Leandro as it is in Alameda," said Bonta, who finished nine percentage points ahead of Guillen in Tuesday's primary.

As to the California Alliance - the coalition of unions and other groups that sent a flurry of mailers opposing Young in the primary - Bonta said that several of the groups who joined the coalition -which had $344,000 in the bank before the last-minute spending flurry - endorsed him in the primary, including the California League of Conservation Voters (he's also got strong support from attorneys, many of whom contributed to his campaign).

More to come, in the months to come.

8:25 a.m. Wednesday, June 6 Ron Matthews has issued a statement on behalf of Preserving Alameda:

On behalf of the youth sports community of Alameda I am saddened by the lack of support for their sports infrastructural needs. All other communities everywhere in the Bay Area (and everywhere else) have invested in lighted all weather sports fields and good quality swimming pools. Yet here in Alameda there exists a group of people who will say “NO” to just about anything progressive. In my experience we call these people “haters.” What is their plan to get the money to invest in these needs for our youth? Our general fund is deficient, which means it won’t come from there. Sadly, we won’t see the sports field or pool built now for many years to come. I will go further and say we won’t see progress of any kind for many years to come either, including the development of the Alameda Point.

This rather cynical analysis is not sour grapes, this is the truth. We all know it, and we live in a community that is truly divided, much like our U.S. Congress. If I could run for office and change it I would, but the fact remains that our bucolic town is in for hard times ahead. Our infrastructural needs will not be addressed until our deficit is a surplus. We have failed our youth, and they will pay the consequences and so will we. Sad, very sad.

7:12 a.m. Wednesday, June 6 This election heralded two major shifts in the electoral process: New political districts and a new, voter-approved primary system that puts the top two candidates in political races into runoff elections, regardless of party. The San Francisco Chronicle has a good explainer on these changes and their impacts.

Updated 12:37 a.m. Wednesday, June 6

RESULTS

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure; 2/3 vote needed)
100% reporting

Yes: 5,816/50.29
No: 5,748/49.71

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure; 2/3 vote needed)
100% reporting

Yes: 48,325/71.67
No: 19,102/28.33

Assembly District 18
100% reporting

Rob Bonta: 15,245/36.84
Abel Guillen: 11,562/27.94
Rhonda Weber: 6,551/15.83
Joel Young: 7,819/18.9

Superior Court Judge, Office 20
100% reporting

Tara M. Flanagan: 60,711/48.99%
Catherine Haley: 24,090/19.44%
Andrew R. Wiener: 38,142/30.78%

State Senator, 9th District
Loni Hancock: 60,994/96.41%
Write-in: 2,273/3.59%

U.S. Representative, 13th Congressional District
Barbara Lee: 60,500/81.5%
Marilyn M. Singleton: 9,406/12.67%
Justin Jelincic: 4,038/5.44%

7:12 a.m. Wednesday, June 6This election heralded two major shifts in the electoral process: New political districts and a new, voter-approved primary system that puts the top two candidates in political races into runoff elections, regardless of party. The San Francisco Chronicle has a good explainer on these changes and their impacts.

Updated 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, June 5

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure)
93.33% reporting

Yes: 5,635/50.39
No: 5,547/49.61

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure)
96.94% reporting

Yes: 47,492/71.64
No: 18,801/28.36

Assembly District 18
92.78% reporting

Rob Bonta: 15,007/36.81
Abel Guillen: 11,422/28.01
Rhonda Weber: 6,428/15.76
Joel Young: 7,716/18.92

Superior Court Judge, Office 20
92.33% reporting

Tara M. Flanagan: 58,013/48.94%
Catherine Haley: 23,072/19.46%
Andrew R. Wiener: 36,508/30.80%

Updated 11:54 p.m. Tuesday, June 5

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure)
86.67% reporting

Yes: 5,498/50.61
No: 5,365/49.39

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure)
87.29% reporting

Yes: 45,242/71.30
No: 18,210/28.70

Assembly District 18
92.78% reporting

Rob Bonta: 14,609/36.81
Abel Guillen: 11,098/27.97
Rhonda Weber: 6,293/15.86
Joel Young: 7,487/18.87

Superior Court Judge, Office 20
84.26% reporting

Tara M. Flanagan: 55,212/48.71%
Catherine Haley: 22,131/19.52%
Andrew R. Wiener: 35,100/30.96%

Updated 11:28 p.m. Tuesday, June 5

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure)
68.89% reporting

Yes: 4,939/50.55
No: 4,831/49.45

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure)
64.94% reporting

Yes: 39,501/70.55
No: 16,487/29.45

Assembly District 18
64.60% reporting

Rob Bonta: 12,596/37.22
Abel Guillen: 9,369/27.68
Rhonda Weber: 5,377/15.89
Joel Young: 6,334/18.71

Superior Court Judge, Office 20
64.04% reporting

Tara M. Flanagan: 47,952/47.96%
Catherine Haley: 19,642/19.65%
Andrew R. Wiener: 31,578/31.59%

11 p.m.Update:

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure)
53.33% reporting

Yes: 4,650/50.62
No: 4,536/49.38

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure)
49.65% reporting

Yes: 35,657/69.86
No: 15,383/30.14

Assembly District 18
50.86% reporting

Rob Bonta: 11,704/37.44
Abel Guillen: 8,512/27.23
Rhonda Weber: 5,070/16.22
Joel Young: 5,815/18.6

Superior Court Judge, Office 20
51.20% reporting

Tara M. Flanagan: 43,536/47.53%
Catherine Haley: 18,065/19.72%
Andrew R. Wiener: 29,259/31/94%

10:25 p.m.Update:

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure)
24.44% reporting

Yes: 3,885/52.02
No: 3,583/47.98

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure)
29.41% reporting

Yes: 30,416/69.31
No: 13,467/30.69

Assembly District 18
32.65% reporting

Rob Bonta: 10,160/37.42
Abel Guillen: 7,233/26.64
Rhonda Weber: 4,457/16.42
Joel Young: 5,162/19.01

10:02 p.m. Update:

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure)
15.56% reporting

Yes: 3,653/51.86
No: 3,391/48.14

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure)
18.35% reporting

Yes: 27,626/68.48
No: 12,717/31.52

Assembly District 18
24.4% reporting

Rob Bonta: 9,608/37.53
Abel Guillen: 6,778/26.48
Rhonda Weber: 4,164/16.27
Joel Young: 4,916/19.2

9:10 p.m. Some notes on the Assembly District 18 race: The three Democratic candidates in the race spent over $600,000 between the start of the year and May 19, and that's not including the nearly $100k spent by a coalition that includes the League of Conservation Voters, consumer attorneys, the California Federation of Teachers and others for polling and mailer opposing AC Transit Board Member at large Joel Young. Alameda City Councilman Rob Bonta's big backers include the state's public safety unions, while Guillen's big checks came from the California Nurses Association, teachers unions and groups of Native Americans. (Young's contributors aren't listed online.)

8:43 p.m.: Updated results:

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure)

Yes: 3,268/51.98
No: 3,019/48.02

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure)

Yes: 25,333/68.01
No: 11,917/31.99

Assembly District 18

Rob Bonta: 9,003/37.55
Abel Guillen: 6,356/26.51
Rhonda Weber: 3,958/16.51
Joel Young: 4,536/18.92

8:28 p.m. One of tonight's races is for members of the Democratic Party's County Central Committee for the 18th Assembly district. What's that, you say? We asked Jim Oddie, one of the candidates for a seat on the committee, for an explanation.

"The central committee basically is the grassroots foundation of the county party. It oversees the campaign offices, endorses candidates, raises money, and provides volunteers," said Oddie, the only Alameda resident among the candidates. Oddie said a state bill that passed this year allocated seats based on Governor Jerry Brown's vote totals, so voters had the option of chosing 10 members to sit on this committee.

8:12 p.m.We've got some early vote by mail results. They are:

MEASURE C (city sales tax measure)

Yes: 3,268/51.98%
No: 3018/49.02%

MEASURE B (Peralta Community College District parcel tax measure)

Yes: 24,784/67.94%
No: 11,693/32.06%

Assembly District 18

Rob Bonta: 8,802/37.74%
Abel Guillen: 6,137/26.32%
Rhonda Weber: 3,842/16.47%
Joel Young: 4,421/18.96%

8:02 p.m.: Polls are officially closed and we are awaiting results. I visited three polling places across the Island earlier this evening to gather voters' sentiments on the Measure C sales tax increase; we'll have a full story on that Wednesday after tonight's coverage is done.

7:36 p.m. Welcome to our LiveBlog for the June 5, 2012 primary election. We'll keep you updated on tonight's results and more, right when things happen. Stay tuned for the first round of results after the polls close at 8.

Federal election monitors will be keeping an eye on the polls in Alameda County to ensure poll workers are providing adequate language assistance to Latino, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino voters. The feds are monitoring elections in four states including California, where they're watching polls here and in Fresno and Riverside counties. The monitoring here in Alameda County comes as a result of a court order, according to press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Today is Election Day

June 5 election

Today is the final day for local voters to cast their ballots in a bevy of contests, including the local Measure C sales tax increase, a Measure B parcel tax for the Peralta Community College District, state Senate and Assembly races and more. Stay tuned right here for up-to-the-minute coverage of the results as they're announced. In the meantime, we've got some links to information about today's contests.

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters has got basic information about all of today's contests, plus a polling place lookup, vote-by-mail ballot tracking and results. The League of Women Voters' Smart Voter site has more detailed information on the contests and candidates.

We've also got some stories on the contests, including stories and a fact check piece on Measure C, a story on Peralta's proposed Measure B parcel tax and a fact check piece on claims made by candidates for the Assembly District 18 seat being vacated by Sandre Swanson.

Stay tuned here for live coverage, or join me on Twitter tonight @IslandMichele. And if you've got more informational links to add, feel free to include them below. We'll start our live election blog in this space before the pools close at 8 p.m.

 

Nakhes (Yiddish – nakh’ es) Pleasure. Especially to a parent from a child.

Alameda’s 17 public schools need $92 million worth of improvements, according to a long-awaited facilities report presented to the Board of Education on Monday night.

Can't make it to tonight's Board of Education meeting? We'll be there - camera in hand. Tonight videographer Donna Eyestone will be joining me to provide our first streaming video, and you can catch it live at our new Ustream channel.

 

Welcome to my brand-new news-in-brief blog, The Broad Brush, where I'll be giving you the Reader's Digest version of the week's news. My goal is to post Mondays and Fridays (and we'll see how that goes). So without further ado ...

Tom Stanley learned about the perils of marketing a business on the Internet the hard way, he said, when a Groupon deal he offered helped to crash his fledgling Philly cheesesteak shop. But he is an advocate of a new online effort that pairs businesses with local charities in an effort to help out both.