Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Friday, July 10, 2009

Labor unrest at City Hall and what's the fate of Chinatown?

This notice states an invitation to the Riverside City Council meeting on July 14, at 6:30p.m. to speak out against what it says is the threats of supervisors in their departments to not accept raises or they get laid off. Their complaints won't likely be heard by certain elected officials on the dais (probably the ones beholden to City Manager Brad Hudson that are still left) unless they pack the chambers filled with people spilling out the doors but hopefully, if this is what is going on, someone will pay attention.

Members of the SEIU General Unit, the city's largest union, for example are up for the final 2% salary increase of their most recent MOU they had negotiated and entered into with the city and then there are the 80 or so police officers who haven't yet received their bonus or step up pay. If it's true that threats are being made, does it involve these employees or others? Isn't it interesting how this happens in our city all the time and yet, the city officials and their direct employees say in public certainly during election times how much they value and support their city employees? But you have to watch what happens behind the increasingly closed doors of City Hall often times to know the real story.

This comes in the wake of a recently circulated list of employees who had their maximum salary range that they can receive raised by up to 16% (for the police chief) in December 2008. The city claims that no one has received any of those raises but it's interesting that when the emphasis is on budget cuts and salary and employee freezes that anyone in the city actually had the inkling to want to raise these maximum salary levels of mostly management employees and department heads. The creation of these higher levels does mean that the door has been open for these raises to be given out and it would be easy enough to do that without many people even knowing it was being done. Ironic indeed if it does turn out that when no one is looking, department heads and management employees in the city manager's office do get raises and everyone else is told to take a salary cut or else.

Let's see. How many employees are being offered to have their maximum salary raises raised to being 15% higher so when they get raises in the future, that's what they might receive? And when the police chief received another five-year contract last December and the new fire chief got a contract recently, did their salaries stay the same as in being frozen, were they cut in light of the budget constraints or were they increased? What do you think?

And that's interesting considering that some say, the police department has many chiefs at its helm, not just one. One of them Hudson, put himself at the 9% increase level.

And speaking of such, has a single department head, management employee, the city manager, the city attorney or elected official for that matter even offered to take salary cuts that they appear to be imposing on other employees?

So far, that hasn't happened. After all, this is the same city that claims it's only laying off a minuscule number of city employees and some city departments have lost up or over 1/3 of their staff. But then again, if you're part-time, non-benefited and non-union, you're not a city employee unless you work in Corona and get laid off there.

But you never know, perhaps this Tuesday will be the day that Hudson and his subordinate employees and a department head or two stand up and offer to take the same pay cuts they want their employees to take just to keep their jobs. Miracles happen every once in a while, even in River City.

Speaking of money spent, the city has declared that 70% of Riverside Renaissance has been completed. But at least one city official and probably only one has concerns about the expenditures. The others should but in the past three or four years, they've pretty much turned the keys to most or all mechanisms of financial accountability from merging the finance department with the city manager's office to pretty much mothballing the finance committee, to City Manager Brad Hudson.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

As of May, finished work represented $216.7 million of the plan, projects under construction were projected at $271.9 million, and work either in design or out for bid was expected to cost $603 million, according to the most recent city figures available.

Hudson said bids have been coming in between 20 and 40 percent lower than expected on some projects. The city is using a combination of county, state, federal and private money, and its own dollars from bonds, electric, water and sewer funds, development fees and the proceeds from the sale of land and bonds.

"There's very little general fund debt associated with this program," Hudson said. "This program will not threaten the provision of public safety of other services in the future."

The costs of the Riverside Renaissance remain a concern to Councilman Paul Davis, who said right after his election last month that he wanted to take a closer look at city spending.

Davis said Thursday that he supports the city upgrade overall, but that the city needs to do more to anticipate costs and plan projects on the front end.

On some projects, he said, officials have decided part way through to alter the plans, which results in expensive change orders.

"Unfortunately the cost of those can be very devastating," Davis said.

He said he would rather see the savings from unexpectedly low bids spent on new projects rather than added costs for existing ones.

Both sides of the Chinatown debate were left scratching their heads over a judge's tentative ruling on a lawsuit filed involving the historical land site.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

In a move that encouraged preservationists, Judge Sharon Waters said she intended to rule that the Riverside County Office of Education did not follow state law governing sales of surplus public land when it agreed two years ago to sell the 2.3 acres to developer Doug Jacobs.

But on another issue, the tentative finding apparently favored the developer. Waters said it appears the city of Riverside did not violate state environmental laws when it approved the office building last year.
Story continues below

Waters did not say when she would issue final, written rulings. She kept in place a preliminary injunction that prevents construction of the medical building from moving forward.

A group called Save Our Chinatown Committee sued the city of Riverside and the Riverside County Office of Education to protect remnants of the historic Chinese settlement. Among other points, the group challenged the Office of Education's sale of the property and contended the city had not adequately considered alternatives that would better preserve artifacts buried on the land.

After the arguments in Riverside County Superior Court, some observers were unsure what will happen.

"It is disappointing that protecting an important historical place has to hang on the technicalities of surplus land laws," said Margie Akin, a member of the Chinatown committee.

San Bernardino County's Board of Supervisors are calling for the formation of an ethics board.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Derry provided more details about the proposed ethics commission and the new proposal for a "sunshine ordinance" in a meeting with The Press-Enterprise editorial board Thursday. He also said he may take the latter idea to voters in a ballot measure if his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors reject it.

Last week's county grand jury report, which included a section on governmental reform that backed the establishment of an ethics commission, has provided fresh momentum to the proposal, Derry said.

He said he hopes the supervisors can begin discussions of the ethics commission within the next few months.

"We want to push it back to the front seat and get it moving," said Derry, who made forming an ethics commission part of his election platform last year.

The commission would be an independent panel of five members empowered to review the conduct of elected county officials and their staff and fine them for any campaign finance violations. Members would be randomly selected from applicants who meet a list of criteria and serve two- to four-year terms, Derry said.

He said the commission would have an annual budget of $500,000 and three staff members.

It almost appears as if Derry and the county are almost serious about tackling ethics issues in San Bernardino County government rather than playing at doing so like Riverside's city government has been by taking the will of the city's voters for an ethics code and complaint process and tailoring it to actually protect city officials from city residents filing complaints rather than having an accountable process for doing so.

The human resources director in Redlands has a lot to say about labor negotiations and concessions in that city.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The offer by the Redlands Professional Firefighters Association to defer -- not give up -- previously negotiated pay raises due this year comes with an expectation that the current contract will be extended beyond its current expiration date, including the extension of a number of expensive benefits the council believes should be subject to negotiation.

The firefighters association offer as it currently stands provides minimal real savings to the city over the course of the contract extension. In addition, the deferral of pay raises in one fiscal year does not address the city's ability to fund those negotiated raises as they come due in subsequent years, especially if the current national economic crisis continues, as expected, for several more years.

Revealing or openly discussing negotiating strategies in public, as MacDuff apparently wants the council to do, can put one side or another at a disadvantage.

It is the reason labor negotiations are one of the areas (along with litigation, personnel matters and real estate negotiations) that the state's Ralph M. Brown Open Meeting Act specifies may be conducted by city councils in closed session, outside of the public eye.

While MacDuff forms erroneous conclusions based on necessarily limited information, residents should be assured that the City Council is actively engaged with the process of employee contract negotiations and is well aware of the offers on the table, their full current and future implications and their impact on the city's budget this year and in years to follow.

More clamping down by Western Municipal Water District on its customer's use of water during the latest drought.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

No watering is allowed on Fridays for the district's 24,200 retail customers in Murrieta, western Riverside County and the communities of Orangecrest, Woodcrest, Lake Mathews, El Sobrante and Eagle Valley. Violators will get two written warnings; the third violation brings a fine of $100 per day; the fourth violation is $400 per day; and a fifth violation means service shut-off.

"We're just now getting more aggressive," said Tom Evans, president of Western's board of directors. "We believe this will get us the reductions we're looking for, which is 10 to 15 percent. If it doesn't happen, we'll have to be more restrictive."

Riverside resident Shari Barnes worries that her landscaping will suffer with three days of watering in summer's heat. Though she and her husband have grass only in the front, the backyard has trees, bushes and groundcover planted four years ago when their Orangecrest area house was new.

"There are a lot of houses that have brown yards already because of foreclosures. This could make it worse," said Barnes, adding that she makes an effort to conserve water.

"I know it is something we're going to have to deal with in the future. Everyone."

Temecula giving a little more love to its developer friends.

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