As I pen this piece from my 525-square-foot apartment near Stoneridge Mall, for which I pay a staggering $2,230 monthly -- and am facing a close to 10% increase in my rent come September -- I'm acutely reminded every single day of the wider housing affordability crisis in today's inflationary environment. The urgency for our elected leaders to prioritize fiscal prudence has never been clearer. They must act to prevent further burdens on Pleasanton residents.
A Leadership Disconnected:
There's an undeniable sense that our city's leadership is drifting away from the everyday experiences and struggles of Pleasanton residents. Although the median age of the Pleasanton City Council is 63, the issue isn't age -- it's about having a Council attuned to the needs, with empathy and an inclusive vision. We need leadership that represents the broad diversity of Pleasanton's residents. When you gaze up at the dais of our City Council, and turn to see the leadership of City staff at Council meetings, the lack of diversity is glaring. Is it any wonder they're out of touch?
Just consider the stark contrast in some of their most recent decisions: self-awarding pay raises for city officials — the Mayor, Council, City Manager, and City Attorney -- while delaying a much-needed contract for our hardworking police officers. And look at the ease with which they approve costly vanity projects in our city's budget, while dealing with increasing costs for city services, and passing on those costs in the form of increased fees to Pleasanton's residents.
And the incredibly understaffed, and under-resourced City staff -- for which there are an incredible number of vacancies -- from the bottom up -- shows that investing and hiring isn't something our City Manager sees as a priority. Instead, he turns -- time after time -- to more and more expensive outside consulting firms to complete minor, and complex tasks. Tasks that our City should be able to handle in-house. In fact, at tonight's City Council meeting they're voting on over $1.5M in contracts for external consulting -- which is absurd amidst our city's more pressing financial needs. Our City's leadership appears to rubber-stamp any proposal for increased spending unless it's for our police department, which requires resources to ensure our city remains safe. These actions reveal a disconcerting trend of skewed priorities and fiscal recklessness.
The Water Rate Debacle:
Let's dissect the PFAS and water rate crises as glaring examples of our City's incoherent policy moves. While reservoirs around the Bay Area are full and drought restrictions have been lifted, Pleasanton's leadership persists in leaving open the option of sourcing water from those wells tainted with PFAS, chemicals that endure indefinitely in our environment. This contrasts sharply with their stances during the last electoral campaign season, when both the Mayor and current Council majority expressed grave concerns about PFAS in our water.
And the City's communication regarding the proposed water rate hikes? They can be described as muddled at best, purposely confusing at worst. For example, they described the rate hikes as "an average increase of about $33 every other month during the first year," for a "30% increase this year, followed by another 20% increase beginning Jan. 1, 2025, and a 12% increase the year after." Yet, when you get past the confusing rhetoric, the numbers do not lie. When you do the math, and compound the percentage rate increases (as they will occur independently after previous increases), by the end of 2026 the average Pleasanton household will see their annual water bill skyrocket by a staggering 74.72% — an increase of about $500 annually. Do the City Manager, Mayor, and the City Council majority think the residents of Pleasanton are incapable of crunching the numbers? Such a hike is not a minor rate adjustment; it's a significant financial burden and a blatant display of failed leadership.
Police and Infrastructure -- Where's the Priority?
In the midst of all this mismanagement, our police officers -- vital to our community's fabric and safety -- have been operating without a contract for over 75 days. Why are raises for city officials pushed through swiftly while our police officers linger in uncertainty? Likewise, essential infrastructure projects, like the ongoing saga of the Costco road, are consistently pushed aside due to staffing and contracting challenges (i.e. further mismanagement). And yet, the city seems to always find funds for external consultants. A looming possibility of new taxes and bonds to address a need of up to $900 million further intensifies concerns. Despite the undeniable infrastructure needs of our city, can we genuinely trust the current leadership with such vast funds, especially considering their track record?
A Call to Action:
Our role as informed citizens is evident. Facing a dysfunctional City Council that favors vanity projects and external consultants over the genuine needs of Pleasanton, we must amplify our concerns. Councilmember Jack Balch, one of the few who genuinely grasps the city's pressing issues, desperately needs allies. The upcoming City Council meetings on August 15th and September 19th will be critical junctures. We must seize these opportunities, speaking out against this dysfunctional City Council, and advocate for change by November 2024. The time to step up is now. Tonight's City Council meeting is our first opportunity to voice our concerns.