News

Around the Valley: From illogical to absurd

Yet another asinine decision was made by the Pleasanton City Council majority when it voted March 7 to defund Leadership Pleasanton, a program led by the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce for more than 30 years.

Just like the Feb. 7 decision to scrap the Lions Wayside and Delucchi Parks conceptual plan, Mayor Karla Brown and Councilmembers Valerie Arkin, Jeff Nibert and Julie Testa voted to scrap the relationship with the chamber of commerce with the justification of money -- and staff time in the case of LP.

They didn’t even have a legitimate estimate on the cost of the parks project; the conceptual plan had to be approved before that could happen. They could have asked staff to scope more affordable ways to improve and enhance these beloved parks. This is what they did for the skatepark Testa really, really wants.

I didn’t totally buy that money was the reason behind the vote on the parks. Money was no object in June 2022 when Brown, Arkin and Testa voted to take $2 million from the Rainy Day fund -- against the recommendation of staff and two fellow councilmembers -- to put toward rehabilitation of a historical house that will serve far fewer people than the parks. Brown said at the time she was "confident this economy is going to be pretty good for Pleasanton."

Trying to puzzle out why the majority voted this way, I speculated in my last column that park neighbors might have been whispering in the ears of Brown, Arkin and Testa. The people named assured me they didn’t.

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After seeing the staff report for Tuesday's City Council meeting, it dawned on me that maybe the decision on the parks – which blindsided everyone – was about money. Diverting it, anyway.

The March 21 agenda included a discussion about the city’s operating budget and the Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The skatepark is third on the priority list.

By killing the parks’ master plan, money that would have gone to fund that project has now been freed up for other projects -- like the skatepark.

I definitely don’t buy that the defunding of the Leadership Pleasanton program is about money, staff time or making the program more accessible to residents, as the majority claims.

After removing the allocation of the $950 participation fee for up to four city employees per year, the city’s commitment was $6,200. This is a drop in the bucket for a city like Pleasanton. The cost of the time spent on this subject during the March 7 meeting and in 2021 when the council talked about priorities has to be worth more than $6,200.

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Ironically, a good portion of that $6,200 went toward scholarships to make the program more accessible to residents.

In addition to removing financial support, the majority voted to cut back staff time assisting the chamber in the programming to two days from four.

"We hear all the time about all of these programs and all of these things that our community wants and that we want to get done, but staff time is so precious," Testa said. "I’m overwhelmed by how much staff time would be going into this program when we are so often counseled to be judicious in what we are directing staff to do."

She asked to pull back the number of hours staff spends involved with the program "significantly."

Vice Mayor Jack Balch did a bit of math, though, and countered that less than .0003% of staff time goes to support the program.

"So for 300 hours we’re not going to support our staff interacting with the community?" he asked Testa.

The concern about staff time is valid. There are a number of open staff positions and there are complex, important and urgent internal initiatives with approaching deadlines.

That’s why the majority's next directive to staff is spectacularly absurd: Launch and maintain a city-run program with modules held in the evenings and on weekends at no cost. And they want part of it up and running in the first quarter of 2024.

In other words, they want to sever the relationship with a program that’s worked very well for 30-plus years and have the short-handed, very busy staff to create and execute a program that would cover vague topics like "commissions and committees."

Arkin also mentioned having a module on "how to run for office," which is already done by the city clerk’s office in election years.

Brown said that because the city is understaffed and "every hour of staff time is valuable" having employees work overtime is unacceptable.

But then who will be planning and implementing this city program? If it’s held during evening hours and weekends, how does overtime not fit into this scenario? Or what will staff have to stop doing to run this program?

The incongruence between the majority’s justifications for defunding Leadership Pleasanton and desire to strap city staff with creating and implementing a program is obvious to most.

Testa’s passion to do away with the city’s connection with the program and the chamber is also obvious.

It was serendipitous when Testa’s friend and campaign contributor, John Bauer, called in during public comment to protest the city giving any money to the "politically active" chamber of commerce, referring to the chamber’s political action committee (PAC). Testa mentioned this later in the discussion, but dropped that talking point like a rock when Balch brought up other groups that have political action committees, like the police and fire unions. (A particularly thorny subject considering Brown accepted $1,000 from the Livermore Pleasanton Firefighters PAC in 2022.)

It seems what really irked Testa is that she thought the subject was closed in 2021 when funding of the program came up during a council priority-setting meeting.

"The messages and the intent and the concerns were very clear," Testa said, "and shouldn’t have been ignored."

Balch asked for clarification on the action taken at that meeting and Testa turned into a petulant child. She literally put her hand up and said, "I think, I’m not going to engage with you, Jack."

How very grade school.

Here's an interesting point: The chamber’s PAC has never supported Testa or Brown in any of their campaigns, nor has the chamber endorsed either over an opponent. Is that enough to incur the wrath of Testa? Well, Balch asked a question she didn't want to answer and got the "talk to the hand -- I’m not engaging" response.

Perhaps residents should start asking questions of the council majority, beginning with why the parks’ master plan was tossed aside before a solid estimate could be done.

Also, does Brown truly not understand the $10 - $14 million number tossed around for the parks’ project was a guess by staff because the concept plan had to be approved before a solid estimate could be provided? Or is she hoping that by repeating the amount often enough we will forget the majority scrapped the plan to improve these existing amenities used by thousands before a real estimate could be developed?

Why was staff directed to return with an estimate of, basically, rebuilding the bandstand "with minimal public outreach"?

And why not re-agendize the parks’ plan, as Balch asked for support to do on March 7?

Why are Testa and Brown hellbent on spending $6 million to build a skatepark, which will serve a very limited group? Especially since it's a new amenity, meaning there will be ongoing maintenance costs and a new repair and replacement budget line item? They’re worried about money?

Balch tried to move the skatepark off the priorities list and "redeploy" the funds to the upkeep and improvement of current amenities. The majority was having none of that. Increased pension costs on the horizon, somewhat urgent infrastructure needs, needed funding to get chemicals out of the drinking water, ongoing labor negotiations and all the other expenses that just keep increasing be damned.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, Arkin proposed "exploring options in increasing revenue" as a future agenda item and suggested hiring a consultant (a pricey endeavor). She tossed out ideas for doing that, like increasing the sales tax or a ballot measure.

Do you know what that means?

My final question in this long list: Do a majority of residents agree with the direction this council majority is taking the city?

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Gina Channell Wilcox
Gina Channell Wilcox is the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media's East Bay division. She previously worked as the executive editor/associate publisher at a division of the Chicago Sun-Times and has earned several state and national journalism awards, including for investigative journalism and in-depth reporting. Read more >>

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Around the Valley: From illogical to absurd

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Mar 23, 2023, 4:46 pm

Yet another asinine decision was made by the Pleasanton City Council majority when it voted March 7 to defund Leadership Pleasanton, a program led by the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce for more than 30 years.

Just like the Feb. 7 decision to scrap the Lions Wayside and Delucchi Parks conceptual plan, Mayor Karla Brown and Councilmembers Valerie Arkin, Jeff Nibert and Julie Testa voted to scrap the relationship with the chamber of commerce with the justification of money -- and staff time in the case of LP.

They didn’t even have a legitimate estimate on the cost of the parks project; the conceptual plan had to be approved before that could happen. They could have asked staff to scope more affordable ways to improve and enhance these beloved parks. This is what they did for the skatepark Testa really, really wants.

I didn’t totally buy that money was the reason behind the vote on the parks. Money was no object in June 2022 when Brown, Arkin and Testa voted to take $2 million from the Rainy Day fund -- against the recommendation of staff and two fellow councilmembers -- to put toward rehabilitation of a historical house that will serve far fewer people than the parks. Brown said at the time she was "confident this economy is going to be pretty good for Pleasanton."

Trying to puzzle out why the majority voted this way, I speculated in my last column that park neighbors might have been whispering in the ears of Brown, Arkin and Testa. The people named assured me they didn’t.

After seeing the staff report for Tuesday's City Council meeting, it dawned on me that maybe the decision on the parks – which blindsided everyone – was about money. Diverting it, anyway.

The March 21 agenda included a discussion about the city’s operating budget and the Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The skatepark is third on the priority list.

By killing the parks’ master plan, money that would have gone to fund that project has now been freed up for other projects -- like the skatepark.

I definitely don’t buy that the defunding of the Leadership Pleasanton program is about money, staff time or making the program more accessible to residents, as the majority claims.

After removing the allocation of the $950 participation fee for up to four city employees per year, the city’s commitment was $6,200. This is a drop in the bucket for a city like Pleasanton. The cost of the time spent on this subject during the March 7 meeting and in 2021 when the council talked about priorities has to be worth more than $6,200.

Ironically, a good portion of that $6,200 went toward scholarships to make the program more accessible to residents.

In addition to removing financial support, the majority voted to cut back staff time assisting the chamber in the programming to two days from four.

"We hear all the time about all of these programs and all of these things that our community wants and that we want to get done, but staff time is so precious," Testa said. "I’m overwhelmed by how much staff time would be going into this program when we are so often counseled to be judicious in what we are directing staff to do."

She asked to pull back the number of hours staff spends involved with the program "significantly."

Vice Mayor Jack Balch did a bit of math, though, and countered that less than .0003% of staff time goes to support the program.

"So for 300 hours we’re not going to support our staff interacting with the community?" he asked Testa.

The concern about staff time is valid. There are a number of open staff positions and there are complex, important and urgent internal initiatives with approaching deadlines.

That’s why the majority's next directive to staff is spectacularly absurd: Launch and maintain a city-run program with modules held in the evenings and on weekends at no cost. And they want part of it up and running in the first quarter of 2024.

In other words, they want to sever the relationship with a program that’s worked very well for 30-plus years and have the short-handed, very busy staff to create and execute a program that would cover vague topics like "commissions and committees."

Arkin also mentioned having a module on "how to run for office," which is already done by the city clerk’s office in election years.

Brown said that because the city is understaffed and "every hour of staff time is valuable" having employees work overtime is unacceptable.

But then who will be planning and implementing this city program? If it’s held during evening hours and weekends, how does overtime not fit into this scenario? Or what will staff have to stop doing to run this program?

The incongruence between the majority’s justifications for defunding Leadership Pleasanton and desire to strap city staff with creating and implementing a program is obvious to most.

Testa’s passion to do away with the city’s connection with the program and the chamber is also obvious.

It was serendipitous when Testa’s friend and campaign contributor, John Bauer, called in during public comment to protest the city giving any money to the "politically active" chamber of commerce, referring to the chamber’s political action committee (PAC). Testa mentioned this later in the discussion, but dropped that talking point like a rock when Balch brought up other groups that have political action committees, like the police and fire unions. (A particularly thorny subject considering Brown accepted $1,000 from the Livermore Pleasanton Firefighters PAC in 2022.)

It seems what really irked Testa is that she thought the subject was closed in 2021 when funding of the program came up during a council priority-setting meeting.

"The messages and the intent and the concerns were very clear," Testa said, "and shouldn’t have been ignored."

Balch asked for clarification on the action taken at that meeting and Testa turned into a petulant child. She literally put her hand up and said, "I think, I’m not going to engage with you, Jack."

How very grade school.

Here's an interesting point: The chamber’s PAC has never supported Testa or Brown in any of their campaigns, nor has the chamber endorsed either over an opponent. Is that enough to incur the wrath of Testa? Well, Balch asked a question she didn't want to answer and got the "talk to the hand -- I’m not engaging" response.

Perhaps residents should start asking questions of the council majority, beginning with why the parks’ master plan was tossed aside before a solid estimate could be done.

Also, does Brown truly not understand the $10 - $14 million number tossed around for the parks’ project was a guess by staff because the concept plan had to be approved before a solid estimate could be provided? Or is she hoping that by repeating the amount often enough we will forget the majority scrapped the plan to improve these existing amenities used by thousands before a real estimate could be developed?

Why was staff directed to return with an estimate of, basically, rebuilding the bandstand "with minimal public outreach"?

And why not re-agendize the parks’ plan, as Balch asked for support to do on March 7?

Why are Testa and Brown hellbent on spending $6 million to build a skatepark, which will serve a very limited group? Especially since it's a new amenity, meaning there will be ongoing maintenance costs and a new repair and replacement budget line item? They’re worried about money?

Balch tried to move the skatepark off the priorities list and "redeploy" the funds to the upkeep and improvement of current amenities. The majority was having none of that. Increased pension costs on the horizon, somewhat urgent infrastructure needs, needed funding to get chemicals out of the drinking water, ongoing labor negotiations and all the other expenses that just keep increasing be damned.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, Arkin proposed "exploring options in increasing revenue" as a future agenda item and suggested hiring a consultant (a pricey endeavor). She tossed out ideas for doing that, like increasing the sales tax or a ballot measure.

Do you know what that means?

My final question in this long list: Do a majority of residents agree with the direction this council majority is taking the city?

Comments

Dean Wallace
Registered user
Stoneridge
on Mar 23, 2023 at 6:41 pm
Dean Wallace, Stoneridge
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2023 at 6:41 pm

Thank you! Thank you for holding their feet to the fire, Gina.

The priorities of the mayor and the majority of members of our City Council *is* absurd. And watching their meetings is an exercise in pure frustration.

Like you said, they'll spend hours questioning the need for a 30-year leadership program run by the Chamber of Commerce — that comes at minimal cost to the City — while then casually rejecting a plan for parks that was the product of years of planning by the community and Parks Commission. Mind you, this is the same group who recently took $2M out of our City’s rainy day fund, all in pursuit of *their* preferred pet projects. Pet projects that are orders or magnitude larger than the city’s cost of Leadership Pleasanton.

And don’t even get me started on how many hours I’ve heard this crew complain about housing policies — but then never utter a single word about the very real crisis facing residents and workers in our city. A crisis impacting their very *own* kids. One who once sat directly across from me and said that their own daughter was “struggling to even afford rent in Las Vegas” — and then said with a straight face a few moments later that she “didn’t believe building more homes has anything to do with the cost of homes.”

Pet projects, settling scores, and a stubborn refusal to see reality — and then denigrating anyone who dares to question their “leadership”— *that’s* how our City Council’s majority operates.

I’d be embarrassed for our city, if I wasn’t so infuriated by it all.


MsVic
Registered user
Mission Park
on Mar 23, 2023 at 7:44 pm
MsVic, Mission Park
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2023 at 7:44 pm

I personally have a very hard time watching the city council meetings. Brown is downright rude to Balch. And Testa putting up her hand and stating she wasn’t going to engage with Balch - what the heck? Debates need to take place. The 4 person majority council members need to be recalled. Disgusted with the 4 of them.


Andrew Littlefield
Registered user
Downtown
on Mar 23, 2023 at 10:32 pm
Andrew Littlefield, Downtown
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2023 at 10:32 pm

Always thought you had potential, Dean. Sad that you were not elected. But you chose to side with and be supported by the old town mafia of the old boys club, and you paid the price for it. You should act independently and will be elected next time. On a side note, Nibert seems to be sane and sensible in that majority, but he is paying his respects back to the leadership that got him elected. Nibert needs to act independently, and the city needs him to be the sane voice there.

Everyone blocked development in their district for re-election concerns and left all of the mess for you or Nibert to clean up. Both of you got played. We need to get rid of everyone on the council. Two political newcomers got manipulated by career politicians.

The latest cutting of the leadership program run by the chamber for so many years is one of many sinful and tyrannical decisions perpetrated by that group on our city. It's pandering to the builders by one group left with a lone council member fighting with Brown, who is paying back for the past years of similar treatment she received. It only will stop when all of them are out.


Janeen
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2023 at 11:06 am
Janeen , Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2023 at 11:06 am

Spot on. Thank you, Gina!


Ornithology
Registered user
Parkside
on Mar 24, 2023 at 7:22 pm
Ornithology, Parkside
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2023 at 7:22 pm

Asinine! Yup, that sums it up.

To fund a skatepark before funding Leadership Pleasanton is absolutely the worst decision I have seen in 37 years in town.

The past LEADERS of our ‘planned’ city must be shaking their heads, or rolling over in their graves.

God help us when a 30 year PROVEN program can’t get this city’s support.

Shame on you


Patriots
Registered user
Birdland
on Mar 27, 2023 at 10:54 am
Patriots, Birdland
Registered user
on Mar 27, 2023 at 10:54 am

So disappointed on this decision! Leadership program was also a great Civics education and one each council member should have.


MLDuman
Registered user
Oak Hill
on Mar 27, 2023 at 4:14 pm
MLDuman, Oak Hill
Registered user
on Mar 27, 2023 at 4:14 pm

To answer your last question, Gina, the current City Council majority does NOT speak for me! I find the decision to defund Leadership Pleasanton bewildering and the decision to abandon the Wayside Park improvements before even getting real bids for the project beyond infuriating. Thank you for summarizing the inconsistencies of this council's recent decisions in such a clear and concise manner.


ParentofTeen
Registered user
Birdland
on Mar 27, 2023 at 8:13 pm
ParentofTeen, Birdland
Registered user
on Mar 27, 2023 at 8:13 pm

Regardless of where you stand on the Leadership program, there's no reason to throw shade at the skatepark project.

Clearly a mental health crisis has spread throughout the teenage population. Outlets for physical activity and in-person contact with their community is just as critical for these kids as the Leadership program is for adults.


keeknlinda
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Apr 1, 2023 at 7:06 pm
keeknlinda, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Apr 1, 2023 at 7:06 pm

Only one majority-voting council member has been through the Chamber's Leadership Program, during her time on the School Board. PUSD considers it valuable enough to pay a board member's fee. Another council member (who voted to keep the program) is taking it right now, at his own expense. The newest council member sat in on one of the sessions but voted against the funding.
Maybe the Chamber Leadership Program should become a prerequisite for all city council members.


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