Pleasanton's longstanding two-year process for identifying and prioritizing public projects, programs and policy initiatives will soon be a thing of the past following the City Council's decision to try something new.
The old biennial council work plan, a system that residents have been used to for nearly 20 years under prior city manager Nelson Fialho, is going to be replaced with a Citywide Strategic Plan that first-year City Manager Gerry Beaudin championed saying it is more forward-looking.
"I would say that what we're doing now is maybe creating a bit of false hope for people who are passionate about those projects because we don't link existing resources to an intended outcome as part of this process," Beaudin told the council on Nov. 15 regarding the old process.
In addition to the day-to-day operations, city staff are responsible for the consideration of different ideas, projects and services that are brought up by residents. Instead of approving these initiatives and activities throughout the year, the City Council uses a priority-setting process to leverage city resources to meet those needs.
The approved council priorities were presented as a work plan that guided staff and financial resource allocation – this process also aligned with the city's two-year budgeting cycle, and involved soliciting input from city commission and committee members, the City Council, and residents and other stakeholders to create new recommendations.
Past items that would generate council meetings which lasted well into the late night, often focused on development-related projects.
But because the city's current two-year priority setting process has been in place for more than 17 years, Beaudin said during his Nov. 15 presentation to the council, that the newly adopted strategic plan will allow for a more streamlined five-year version of the process.
The Citywide Strategic Plan is a top-down approach to priority planning that will start with creating a first-of-its-kind guiding document that will have city officials holistically engage in creating a five-year strategic planning framework.
The goal is to attempt to capture the community's interests for today and into the future, more on the range of five years, 10 years and 20 years rather than just two years.
"You're going to get a document that says: This is what the community values, here's how those values translate into actionable items and projects, and here's what the city can realistically accomplish in that period of time. And then we'll have some aspirational things as well, because that's important," Beaudin said.
After the council approved the strategic plan concept, staff are now in the process of identifying a consultant and paying them between $85,000 to $100,000 to help design the plan. Beaudin said the money will come from the city manager's general fund account.
City officials will start to develop the strategic planning process over the ensuing nine months, including seeking input from residents, commissioners, council members and other key stakeholders.
As for the existing council priorities work plan, which has 78 individual items, it will remain in place and staff will move through the current list until the end of the 2023-24 fiscal year, creating a third, "gap" year in the prioritization process.
Some council members, however, were a bit hesitant at first with supporting the new strategic plan saying that some good did come out of the two year process that aligned with the budget cycle.
"I do think a longer term broader or fuller outlook is essential for us," Councilmember Jack Balch said. "I slightly worry about decoupling from the two year budget cycle but I think from what I'm hearing, it actually will allow us to probably achieve a bit more synergy with the budget and where we're going."
He originally had some issues with rising inflation that could lead to seeing budget dollars being "eaten up more by the necessary items of infrastructure and operating budget in of itself."
Councilmember Kathy Narum shared concerns similar to other council members about the public input process for the gap year saying she hopes the community will still be able to make their voices heard.
"I understand what you're trying to do, but (I'm) just making sure that we know we've got this list of things that we're not going to be able to get done in the 12 months and how do you decide what rises to the top and get that community input … I guess that's a bit of a concern for me with this."
Beaudin responded by saying the city has already completed a first round of prioritization for the 78 projects on the current list and is mainly going to the commissions and committees to get confirmation that these are still the things that the city wants to move forward with if they haven't been accomplished.
But at the end of the day, most of them agreed that the change was needed as the prior process had too many projects and it ended up feeling like it had become an "intense lobbying effect."
"I just remember, Tuesday, I dreaded it because I'd be through my cell phone battery charge by 1 o'clock, from everybody lobbying, and people having the sense that right or wrong, if you turn out and you send emails, you get on the list, and then you win," Narum said. "I'm not sure that's necessarily at the end of the day, the best way to govern the city and, and use our resources for capital for staff and everything."
Beaudin added to that saying the old system was too issue-specific to groups of individuals who knew how to work around the process and that it wasn't inclusive to the people who didn't even know about the two-year process in the first place.
He also wanted to make a point that he didn't want to diminish the old process, saying that it did bring some great things to the city.
"A lot of really great things have happened because of the two-year work planning process over the years," he said. "Major accomplishments. Recycled water was once on the list; things like that."
But he added that this change was still needed to set achievable expectations and provide transparency for the community within the city's financial and staffing realities.
He said the new system would focus on identifying bigger picture issues that are important to the community so that the city can best position itself in five to 10 years down the road to have those projects completed.
"I've been pretty vocal for the last four years that we've had too many projects and projects that didn't belong on our priority setting," Councilmember Julie Testa said. "I watched some other cities and what I brought back was that they would have 10 items where we had 78. Street paving; we're gonna do street paving no matter what and I didn't understand why we had to be taking the time to have those kinds of projects there."
Beaudin said the main point in the new process will be asking forward-thinking questions like: does the city want to accomplish these projects sooner or later; why are future projects important to the city's values and mission; and what specific benchmarks could be tracked toward achieving those goals?
"A lot of it is above the water, if you think about the iceberg analogy – and so these are really high-value-add projects, but they also are in addition to the (day-to-day) work that gets done in the community," Beaudin said.
Mayor Karla Brown, who at first wanted to take a simpler approach in simply cutting down the projects on the list collectively as a council rather than creating this new strategic plan, said she supports the new plan but as long as it is done right.
"I think we do need some flexibility as we go through the two years, and even in this gap year; we absolutely do need to be budget focused," Brown said. "I trust our city manager to come up with the program. I hope it's not too high-level because I want it to really mean something."