2012: Bring On the Mayor's Race
7-0, the city council votes to take issues to afternoon workshop to do as Council member Steve Adams said, determine if they are "charter worthy" Which recommendations made the city council balk?
Stay tuned as this exciting drama continues....and what about the $29 million in sewer loans, will the sewers ever see that money again?
[A full house inside the city council chambers during the discussion on the recommendations generated by the Charter Review Committee]
UPDATE: K9 Officer Ray Soto to retire after 30 years.
Update: Peter Benavidez a community activist and member of the Charter Review Committee joins the mayor's race.
[UCR police officers in riot gear in the Common Areas at UCR on a day where students protested a UC Regents meeting]
Reports of police officers shooting rubber bullets at UCR students as Riverside County Sheriff deputies including a van arrive...
Update: Officer Debora Foy promoted as the top candidate on the list to sergeant but not before Chief Sergio Diaz interviews the top three candidates as speculation arose as to why the delay after the lieutenant promotion.
Double Dipping of Pensions Needs to Sunset in wake of revelations about the two pensions that will be received in Sacramento by former Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson.
Update: In the Midst of a financial crisis, Riverside's Finance Committee once again goes dark for the second straight month. In the midst of all this turmoil could it be true as Asst. City Manager Paul Sundeen said, there's nothing important to discuss?
A Tale of Two Wards
“Those of you who don’t like redevelopment will see what happens without it. All the things that you want in La Sierra aren’t going to happen now. We don’t have the funds and that’s just the way it is. We’ll just have to muddle through.”
---Riverside Councilwoman Nancy Hart
Special Assignments and the RPD
including who said, not on my watch
UPDATE: Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz promotes Russell Shubert to lieutenant.
but is the implementation of a certain departmental policy about to set off a firestorm in the RPD?
[Did the decision on a special assignment of an officer force a standoff between Diaz and a member of his management team?]
Six implementations of the department's policy on special assignments/transfers allegedly lead to complaints by the Riverside Police Officers' Association, But Diaz wanted to carry out a seventh transfer that sparked questions and led one of his management team members to put his foot down.
Which member of Diaz' cabinet told him no?
Maybe there are other ways to relocate this dispatch center — a move that was necessitated by the city’s scheme to remove RPD from its $1-a-year headquarters as part of a sweet deal to help a big law firm get out of a lease and move into a new building.
---Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein
Riverside Redevelopment Agency's debt amount per city resident:
City's Monthly Investment summary for November 2011 is a document that it's wondered if the city council and mayor ever read it. Check out page 24-8 where it tells you how much money's in the city's different funds. Currently the general fund which pays for the vital services (minus utilities) that residents depend on is holding about $2,154 in it. Now there's an asterisk only this time it's not that the general fund is being co-mingled with Redevelopment money but that property taxes will replenish the general fund by December 2011. Actually, the money probably won't reach the city until possibly February 2012 and county sources say the property taxes won't be what the city anticipated receiving this year.
Let's do some comparative shopping for November 2010 and 2009.
In November 2010's investment summary the general fund housed a deficit of $2,556,808 and in November 2009's investment summary, it housed a deficit of $16,067,776.
The sizable deficit in the transportation account this month has been attributed to waiting for TUMF funding which are being billed.
Still there's something rather unusual about the latest investment summary involving its other funding sources.
In this month's report higher monies in the city's three utilities than usual and better get used to that especially when rates and taxes for all three, electric, water and sewer start increasing and Riverside residents, business and residential, start seeing it on their monthly bills.
Then there's that RDA bond proceeds 2011 fund now housing less than half of the original $65 million that the city sold itself in "bonds" last March and then paid off a portion of several months later during the months of co-mingling general fund money with RDA money not to disguise the balance of the general fund but to disguise the balance of the RDA fund and not from the city residents because City Hall didn't think anyone outside of it read the summary reports. Asst. City Manager of Finance Paul Sundeen explained why the city engaged in moving the monies during a recent Investment Committee meeting which was very helpful in shedding light on these actions.
The city's post-RDA plan is here.
"I can't write a book. If I did, too many people would go to jail."
UPDATE: Former City Manager Brad Hudson spends money on a shoe polisher but since he's double dipping pension plans, you think he could afford it.
Someone said the above to me once during a conversation about Riverside City Hall a few years ago and they sounded like they weren't joking. And I wondered to myself why would anyone think that way about the All American City (tm)?
But that was several years ago and thousands of pages of documents filed away in my memory and this is now on the eve of 2012. Still, what did this person mean with this observation? Hyperbole or cynicism, or something in the broad expanse in between.
Besides when the anonymous and very nasty prose starts showing up on Craigslist, it's pretty clear that there's more lurking in the underbelly of the All-American City or the City of Arts,
Must the public wait and start asking questions when our utility rates skyrocket in the not so distant future (as has happened in other places like this King County city). But in the case of Renton, the increases across the board in electricity, water and sewer went to rehabilitate and upgrade the utility infrastructures related to these services. In other words, revenue generated through utility bills was actually put back into improving the condition of the equipment that provided the utility services including a waste water treatment plant.
That doesn't appear to be the case in Riverside, California.
After all, revenue from the city-owned utilities is pumped into the nebulous general fund, 11.5% of that overall revenue as set by the city's charter, and monies from utilities has served time as a place holder for loans used to buy up properties for private development until the much beleaguered Sewer Fund could pick them up longer-term. While the aging sewers continue to haunt some older neighborhoods with basement backups and toilet issues, the money generated for the sewer fund collected by city business and residential customers seems to be spent or "loaned" elsewhere.
[The ATM machine at City Hall is an appropriate metaphor for the city's much taxed (and overtaxed) Sewer Fund]
While money was raised but mostly borrowed (about 60% of it) to spend on the Riverside Renaissance. That term was borrowed from history but in actuality, the term "renaissance" is falling out of favor, as the periods of history itself are being redefined and in some cases, renamed.
Johan Huizinga, who wrote The Waning of the Middle Ages called it a period of decline instead saying much of what was progress had been destroyed or lost instead. So the value of the original Renaissance is up to date just as with the case of the new one. Admittedly, a few of us haven't quite jumped on the bandwagon of the $2.1 billion and growing experience because it seemed like the first ones to benefit from it were the private out of town developers including a couple who financed some pivotal
It remains to see what the "Renaissance" will mean in Riverside including when the future generations of its residents are stuck with the bills literally. Meaning that it's more than likely they will pay its cost through fees and taxes collected through increases in utility rates involving electricity, water and sewer. Rate increases for electricity service alone have been considered as high as 60% when the "freeze" period on those rates ends. Other cities which own their own utilities which have undergone ambitious if overdrawn restructuring plans like the Renaissance have followed them with massive increases in utility rates. Sometimes beyond what many people including those on fixed incomes can pay out. Those who are poor, seniors and the disabled often are the most impacted by these increases in delivery systems to bring utilities to their homes and businesses.
There might be higher sewer fees and money owed as well to go into a fund that's been borrowed against to purchase properties in the downtown area including those on Market Street later handed off to a private developer. That money will be tied up for at least five years and possibly longer. That's money that can't go towards its intended purpose of paying for the maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure in the sewer system.
The downtown library could very well be a pivotal issue in the upcoming mayor's race as well. Even as other libraries were built including in La Sierra and Orange Terrace and others were renovated including in Arlington and Casa Blanca, the downtown library which is the cornerstone of them all went completely ignored. Yes, there was some discussion and proposals under public pressure to address its deterioration but nothing concrete has been done during times when the city was more flush. Now that the city's finally acknowledging a piece of its deficit, even the tiniest improvements likely have been postponed indefinitely.
In a way the neglected downtown library is lucky. Unlike its brethren in Arlington and Casa Blanca, at least it's not being used as lease revenues stream collateral for the $20 million bonds the city took out for an out of town private developer hoping to build a hotel in the worst economy for one ever. Now why on earth would the city use city-owned property which also includes two fire stations as collateral to essentially give a sweet heart deal of a hotel to a private developer?
The developer had to turn to the city because no bank or other lending institution would finance the Hyatt Hotel in Riverside because this region of the state has the highest foreclosure rate for hotels and inns in the state. Then after the city, not the developer (who so far has just had to purchase the land at somewhat less than its assessed value) puts money into this private venture, it announces that when the Hyatt opens in 2012, the Riverside Convention Center near it will be closing down for extensive renovations until sometime in 2014. And since the conventions at the Center create much of the traffic for the three closest hotels including the Hyatt, they all three will have to cope with paying for themselves during the time the convention center is offline for use. Of course, it'll be the newest hotel, the one subsidized by the city's loans to the developer that will have the most difficult time doing so. So first the city council sells the hotel as something the developer will be solely responsible for financing, then that turns out to be not quite the truth according to documents filed involving the Hyatt including the purchased bonds. And then the city show more signs of poor business decision making by timing the renovation of the main bread and butter for the Hyatt, the convention center with the first two years of the Hyatt's existence.
But have no fear. If no one can make the bond payments, the city's put up four of its properties as collateral.
[Me too, here in Casa Blanca. All that renovation and I could be sold off and demolished if the city or developer defaults on the $1.5 million in bond payments and that's just the interest!]
But while in many cities, public buildings only are single use, here in Riverside it goes double. They serve both as facilities to serve and be used by the public and as collateral so that the city can continue its "loan" programs to its favorite private developers.
One citrus farmer's stand against using retreated sewage water in his groves. In 2009, the city of Riverside had stated it wouldn't be using this retreated water
Set up in 2010 when the committee that serves as a layer of fiscal oversight fell off the radar
[Asst. City Manager Paul Sundeen said the Finance Committee didn't meet "for a period of time" because there was nothing important to discuss.]
It was delightful to learn during the December Charter Review Committee meeting that when Asst. City Manager Paul Sundeen (who didn't smile so much at this meeting) answered some questions about the city's financial structure including the issue of the here today gone yesterday Finance Committee.
As you know, the Finance Committee is a subcommittee of the city council with three city council members sitting on it. Nancy Hart is the chair and Paul Davis and Mike Gardner are the other members on it. They are entrusted to receive reports on financial issues impacting the city including those involving certain taxes imposed and then make recommendations to take to the full city council. But for nearly 12 months in 2009, the Finance Committee never met while chaired first by Chris MacArthur and later Nancy Hart.
When public pressure began to build, Hart addressed the lack of meetings during a city council meeting essentially saying that she only met when the city management including Sundeen told her there were agenda items to discuss. Meaning that the city management set the meetings rather than the city council with elected leaders waiting to be told by "staff" what to do including when to conduct meetings to evaluate and discuss staff's work product. The tail wagging the dog instead of vice versa but then it hardly seems that the city council's actually serving in the leadership position rather than as servants to some of their own direct staff.
Not long after that the Finance Committee began holding regular meetings again.
Was it the pressure put on Hart and others or was it the fact that after a long drought of unimportant financial matters had finally ended? That for some inexplicable reason the city had no relevant financial business to discuss for nearly a year and then all of a sudden, it had its plate filled with issues enough so that some meetings now include more than one agenda item?
You can research the statistics on how often the finance committee met by checking out the minute records for each year on the city's Web site but the following numbers are what you'll find on your search.
The situation involving the Finance Committee is one of the most blatant examples of how the city council began surrendering its mechanisms of fiscal accountability entrusted to it by the voters of the city to its "staff" or city management. In fact, while the Finance Committee met 11 times in 2005, nine of those meetings took place before June which was when City Manager Brad Hudson started working. The next meeting after he arrived was held in the autumn and then the number of meetings started dwindling off until they disappeared off the calendar altogether.
Finance Committee Meetings (2003-2011)
(according to online records at Riversideca.gov)
2005: 11 (nine before June 2005)
2009: 2 (November, December)
Several dates are noted above. June 2005 was when interim City Manager Tom Evans stepped down and newly hired city manager, Brad Hudson stepped in his place. Although the city council's composition didn't change nor did that of the Finance Committee, the number of meetings began to decrease almost immediately. In fact, the Finance Committee took a four month sabbatical almost immediately.
One of the watershed dates was Feb. 13, 2006 which was when the Finance Committee decided without a formal motion to recommend the hiring of Meyer Hoffman McCann to audit the city's books based on this written report submitted by Hudson, Sundeen and City Attorney Gregory Priamos even though they were half-way through a contract with their previous firm according to this earlier report. It was partly based on strong recommendations from "staff" in Pasadena the city that would later hire as its city manager, Michael Beck.
The Finance Committee did meet once nearly every month while being chaired by Hart. Not that some of the meetings weren't painful to watch. But it was during one of those infrequent meetings held by the more nebulous Investment Committee (which seems to mainly consist of two people) that some of the more interesting comments were made including by Hart.
---Riverside City Councilwoman Nancy Hart at an Investment Committee meeting
To hear that a city councilwoman is offended by people asking questions or criticizing the state of the city's finances is somewhat troubling but then this is the council member who admitted publicly that she thought public documents should be disseminated on the basis of the motivations of the person doing the requests. Meaning that she didn't feel that they should be given to people trying to catch the elected officials in a "gotcha" moment. Apparently she doesn't realize that the California Public Records Act requests doesn't discriminate in that fashion although there have been occasions when municipal governments beholden to it have tried to do exactly that. She moved on from that episode but she seems to be one of the majority of city council members who can't really answer any question on finances or well on....anything without referring it to "staff" to answer instead.
Hart is a woman in a man's world and has allegedly told individuals that she wished she had what the men had without realizing that her problem doesn't lie there. Her problem lies in the fact that she apparently doesn't appear to understand half of what goes on during a city council meeting including what's even in the monthly investment summary reports. But then again she's not the only one on the dais with that problem. Most of them look somewhat befuddled when discussions of the city's financial issues and expenditures arise during meetings. They hardly ever answer any questions themselves but almost always refer to "staff" sitting on the sidelines. But that's what comes from not being engaged in that part of it.
How many city council members know what's in the general fund when all the RDA funds that are co-mingled with it are taken out of it? How many city council members read the monthly investment summary reports, how many know the banks where the city places its investment including those that are located outside the state of California?
Hart beat out incoming councilman, Paul Davis for the position of chairing the Finance Committee. At the time that didn't involve much time or effort on her part because the committee hadn't met for over a year. But then that's what led to her appointment by Mayor Ron Loveridge and the mayor pro tem who are encharged with considering requests by council members for spots on different committees and then making the final selections themselves.
[One wanted the top seat. The other got it but who will control the direction of the Finance Committee in 2012?]
Are Redevelopment Agencies (Not Redevelopment) Really Dead?
Redevelopment is a mixed bag, not a money bag. But that’s not how its champions see it. They see an entitlement program and they’re hooked on it. Tax increment is their heroin. No wonder they went to court.
---Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein
An emergency meeting was held by Riverside's own city government amidst the holiday season when regular and public meetings are not held but whatever decisions were made during this meeting (which even under the emergency provision of the Brown Act required a 24 public notification) are top secret along with most of the other business conducted in this city.
Those that lobbied heaviest for the RDAs including the League of California Cities brought this worst case scenario as they call it on themselves when they decided to go "all or nothing" in the litigation they initiated against the state after two legislative initiatives were passed earlier last year. They took a huge gamble to have everything rather than less than what they had and they lost it all in one swoop in the form of a judiciary decision.
Redevelopment Agencies could return as infrastructure financiing districts and it's more than likely that what the court decision will ultimately do is not end Redevelopment Agencies but move the parties back to the negotiation tables to restore them in some form, but will any newly erupting "districts" have more mechanisms in place to make them fiscally accountable both locally and in Sacramento?
The city of Riverside has about $1.8 billion in bonded redevelopment debt (including interest) that must be paid, a burden left to us by the redevelopment agency—the city council. Local agencies like Riverside’s are supposed to remain until their debts are paid, then they will sunset as they were originally intended to do. The credit card has been taken away, but the kid is still responsible for paying off the balance. Except, in this case, those who ran up the balance walk away as the citizens pay off the debt. Don’t expect them to walk far, either.
If power was not the purpose, then the failure of Riverside’s agency to improve the economic condition of Riverside in the 50 years they have existed here would have resulted in the prescribed sunset of project areas and a shift to a proven, productive model. Instead, new blights were “found,” new project areas created, and project areas scheduled to sunset were “merged,” a Byzantine method of keeping them alive.
Riverside currently has one of the highest unemployment rates and an extremely high housing foreclosure rate (including underwater mortgages) in the country despite and perhaps in part because of RDAs which perhaps helped the region become more highly dependent on its primary industry, new building construction than it otherwise might have been. Part of that dependency was fed by the rapid growth of the areas caused by migration from the coastlines towards areas with more affordable housing but what did RDAs do to broaden our economic base in the Inland Empire and in Riverside? Elected officials especially when they're up for reelection talk about all the thousands of jobs created by RDAs yet in the city's own documentation of RDAs and job creation that it sends up to State Comptroller John Chiang, the numbers cited belie that claim.
Why weren't more successful models for redevelopment created in Riverside and other places when the current ones weren't successful, or had to be merged mixing areas truly in need of redevelopment with those that didn't but received a lion share of the resources anyway (i.e. the merging of University corridor with Sycamore Canyon for example)?
Waiting to find out with Bated Breath
The city council's already starting to round up its hostages beginning with the renovation and relocation of the police dispatch division.
“My funding hasn’t been approved (by the City Council) at this point,” Deputy Chief Mike Blakely said. “I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see what the city will do in response to the Supreme Court decision and how that will affect my project.”
It shouldn't be a long wait for Blakely because after all, it's not like the city's broke or anything. So the check should be in the mail for his project by the end of the week. After all, the city's spent half a million, a million or so dollars on projects that were luxury items even risky investments outside its municipal scope, not necessities.
Apparently most of the $1.4 million costs of this project were to come out of redevelopment funds but it's not clear why or why action wasn't taken to seek alternative funding sources as soon as the Court issued a stay on Redevelopment including funding back on June 30 like the city did with other projects including those not nearly as vital. It's not even clear why the dispatch center was to be funded through redevelopment in the first place unless it ties in with earlier attempts to move it and a fire station facility to property in Olivewood that the city lost a chunk of change in purchasing the parcels. But then one of the city's patterns and practices with land is to buy it for a lot and sell or give it away for less.
But hey, if the city can afford to run a theater at a loss, a parking program at a loss and invest in hotels, then coming up with the money to fund a dispatch center shouldn't be so much of a problem. After all, the city pays out the total cost of the dispatch renovation and relocation out annually as part of its payments on bond interest in relation to the Hyatt Hotel as a "loan" to the developer. Have the developer foot his own bill for one year's payment and then there will be funding for the dispatch center. Problems solved.
After all, the city council and mayor and their entire finance division spent most of 2011 getting up to the podium reassuring the government and the viewing public how flush the city was in terms of spare change compared to other cities. Because if the city can't afford to come up with its own funding for a service required to be operational at all times by state law, then yes, Virginia, the city must really be broke.
But not too broke to help a developer pay off the bonds he used to build his office building in the worst market for it. That led to a four way land swap which left the police department and unfortunately, its vital dispatch unit holding the bag and the city up a creek. That four way land swap served no public purpose for city residents, is going to cost city residents quite a bit of money and ultimately, could put the city's provision of emergency dispatch services in danger.
Sacramento County's Own Marie Antoinette Redecorates and the Mayoral's Race Heats Up
In the meantime, former city manager Brad Hudson now CEO of Sacramento has been very busy building his fan base there including through the money spent decorating his new digs. One self-identified county worker wrote in the comment section about he tried to drop in on Hudson once in his new office in the "rustic" building and was told that Hudson was too busy having his shoes shined. While layoffs continue in Sacramento County and budget cuts are ongoing, it seems that Hudson's been giving the blessing of his bosses, the Board of Supervisors to redecorate the place. First his own office and now the entire building.
But closer to Riverside, the new year 2012 has finally arrived and that means that soon the mayoral contest will be heating up in earnest as the filing deadline approaches. So far you have the entire left (by seat assignments not political leanings) wing of the dais running for that office. Councilman Andrew Melendrez announced his candidacy first and some say a little bit earlier than they would have liked. Recently re-elected Councilmen Mike Gardner and Rusty Bailey have also tossed their names in the ring along with former Councilman Ed Adkison. But there is still room for more candidates so if anyone feels like jumping into the fray for the first so-called open contest since the early 1990s, then visit City Clerk Colleen Nicol and take out your papers.
It's not a bad gig. Higher paying than a city council position, involving lots of travel even in these tight fiscal times and since the mayor's powers were neutered back when the city elected someone from the Ku Klux Klan back in the 1920s, it's mostly ceremonial.
Except when it all gets political of course.
[Chief Sergio Diaz prepares for 2012 as interesting dynamics at the top will likely play a role]
The next installment of this ongoing series about the dynamics driving the leadership and management of the police department and how they will impact the incoming year including the mayoral election. The recent incident that allegedly took place at Lincoln Station between a retiring officer and a member of Chief Sergio Diaz' management team put the spotlight on what goes on at the very top. Not to mention high volume arguments in parking lots and visits by locksmiths on the second floor. Who's clashing with who, who's lying low and with three year contracts set to expire in July 2013 among several of them, what will the future hold?
How will newly anointed City Manager Scott Barber factor into the equation and will City Attorney Gregory Priamos be remodeling or removing his office shrine soon? And what of promotions given that one captain took out PERS papers and others have retired including a lieutenant and sergeant who are still in the books?
And are more lawsuits looming?
Human Resources Department Responds on Public Utilities CPRA Request
A representative from the city's Human Resources Department kindly and promptly responded to my CPRA request through an email carbon copied to Human Resources Director Rhonda Strout and Deputy City Attorney Susan Wilson.
Good Afternoon Ms. Shelton:
The City of Riverside is in receipt of your request for public records dated and received on December 22, 2011, for documents related to any formal and informal complaints and grievances regarding employees of the City's Public Utilities Department, including statistical data compiled by the City and reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Please be advised that personnel files of employees are exempt from disclosure under Section 6254(c) of the California Government Code, and therefore City denies your request for any such documents. The City has located responsive documents which will be made available for your review. Please contact me to arrange for a convenient time for you to review the records.
Alternatively, the City will provide you with copies of the documents. Under Section 6253(b) of the Government Code and the City's Fees and Charges Resolution, the City charges direct duplication costs of $0.60 for the first page and $0.10 for each additional page copied at the same time. The City has located 67 pages of responsive documents. Accordingly, please remit payment in the amount of $7.20, and we will send you the documents.
Should you have any further questions in this regard, please feel free to contact me.
Human Resources Analyst
City of Riverside
Ph: (951) 826-5970
Fx: (951) 826-2552
On to the next request...