Batten Down the Hatches – It’s Election Time



March 24, 2014

Ahoy mates, there be a hollie blawin in! That hollie is better known as Election time in Pinole and this year it is shaping up to be a real doozie.

Members of this community who keep their ear to the ground and follow the politics that swirl in and around 2131 Pear Street are either already hiding the children or are preparing for another episode of, “As the Pinole Politics Churn”. The political brouhaha surrounds the effort to oust Phil Green from office.

Green is a not so popular guy around city hall. He has been highly critical of the City Manager and staff has been on the opposite side of issues supported by the CCOP. Every other member of the Council, except Green,  was supported in their campaigns by the CCOP.
Green was elected in 2010, another political veteran (Swearingen is also a political veteran) who came back to lead the city. He returned to the Council stating his concern with how the city was being run, “the tail wagging the dog” as he put it.
Voting records will show that Phil Green has often been the only dissenting vote on many issues. It will also show that our council tends to vote as a block, usually by a 3-2 (Long will sometimes vote with Green) or by a 4-1 vote with Green being the lone ranger, the Green Cheese Stands Alone.
Diversity on a council is a good thing and is a basic tenet of democracy. Of course, cohesion and collaboration are also needed. A full discussion of issues is indicative of a properly functioning council.

But in the world of politics, power is the key to moving your agenda, your policies and ideas forward. If there is block voting on virtually every issue, are we getting full representation? Is this why a council member was heard to say, “Now they know who runs the City”?

Certainly the voters will get the last word, and that is as it should be. But information is strength and it is my goal to give my readers another perspective.

Recently I was asked, how much influence does the CCOP have in Pinole politics?
I have been told by a member of the CCOP, whose name I will not disclose, that the CCOP has a lot of influence. This person told me that the CCOP had pointed out to certain current councilmembers things they didn’t like and wanted corrected.
Specifically one member was told to stop making jokes from the dais, another was told to stop micro-managing, yet another was told to be more vocal and to be on time, the fourth council members was deemed to be “perfect”. Further I was told that these council members heeded their advise. Do you have a problem with that? Where are the independent voices?
Small towns and their politics are ruthless. Very often there is someone who wants to be the big fish in the small pond or the shark in an ocean full of guppies.

In 2013 Jeff Rubin began a public campaign to unseat Phil Green. He stood at the podium and leveled accusations of criminal activity at Green. When we look back at that personal attack it becomes clear that the CCOP had already decided they wanted Green out and wanted to replace him with another council member, one they support. Will that be Norma Martinez-Rubin, or perhaps, yikes, Mary Horton?

There has been some talk about Mary Horton making another run. Yes, that’s right, former Mayor Mary Horton, who resigned from the Council without warning, leaving her fellow council members stunned and unprepared. Yes, the same Mary Horton who was caught red-handed stealing campaign signs. So now we are coming full circle? Scary stuff.

In 2014, Rubin has toned down his rhetoric somewhat, signalling a strategy to separate Jeff Rubin’s persona, from his wife, Norma Martinez-Rubin and her possible run for office. (January 2014 video below)
That does not, however, preclude him from gathering his loyalists and setting forth on a campaign to unseat Phil Green. The games are fully underway.

At the March 18 City Council meeting another CCOP member, Mary Drazba, joined the fray. She accused Mr. Green of being a felon and an embarrassment to the city. She asked that he not be allowed to participate in the BBQ for the Troops on April 6th.  (video below)

These are the talking points for the campaign to unseat Green. The letters to the Times campaign is also in full swing. You will see the same players taking part in both the letter writing campaign and the speeches at the council meetings. It is a strategy that has served them well in spite of being fraught with misinformation and false accusations.

Where has the CCOP been recently?
During the whole cell tower fiasco the CCOP was conspicuously absent.
When the City Manager and Council’s actions were disclosed and the missteps brought to light, where was the CCOP?
The cell tower issue and the park and Fire Station conversion will cost this city dearly.
Where’s the concern for the taxpayers and their money?
They have termed the actions of the City Manager and the Council in this flubbed process, as “a little mistake”.
This “little mistake” has already been very costly and will continue to be very costly. It is the taxpayer who will foot the bill for this “little mistake”. Concerned citizens should care that their leaders have erred and that those mistakes are costing the community dearly. But that’s not the case when they are “one of yours”.
But when it comes to political theatre and the advancement of the CCOP brand and ideas, the CCOP becomes fully engaged.
Election time is when they will show up at every council meeting and set into motion their campaign strategy.
In the following months you will be party to the ugly side of Pinole Politics.
It promises to be no holds barred, UFC, match, CCOP vs. Green.

The rules in politics, as I once was told by a former Pinole Mayor, is that there are no rules.
Indeed. Batten down the hatches.

The Fate of the Pinole Fire Department – Part 2 -Elephant in the Room


March 17, 2014
We can not discuss the fate of the Pinole Police Department without discussing the closure of Fire Station 74, also known as the Valley Fire Station.
Pinole’s economic renaissance began in the 1990’s with Pinole Vista Shopping Center. The City’s growth and prosperity during that period was made possible because of a healthy economy coupled with aggressive investing using Redevelopment Agency Funds.
As the population in the Valley grew the demand for a Valley Fire Station also grew. Years went by, city councils came and went and promises made were never kept. But, in 2000, the City Council, armed with an optimistic economic outlook and a growing demand by the residents in the Valley, made the Station a priority. In 2002 it became a reality.

As we fast forward four years to 2006 we find ourselves living in a world with new and challenging economic realities. Economic shock waves hit not just in Pinole but the entire world.
At about the same time violence and crime landed on Pinole’s doorstep as a shocking murder took place in Fernandez Park and gang activity escalated.
These factors soon made it clear that Pinole was facing Public Safety issues. Issues that could not be addressed without increased revenue and/or decreased spending.
Of course no one saw the Great Recession coming or could imagine its impact.

The City Council, citing the need for increased revenues to sustain Public Safety and Public Works and to keep Station 74 open, campaigned for Measure S. Measure S was passed in November 2006.

Measure S was sold to the community as a way to sustain our Public Safety services, Public Works services and keep the Valley Station open. The ballot language clearly states that. These are the same or similar reasons being given for placing a 1/2% sales tax increase on the ballot in November 2014.

The elephant in the room, Pinole Politics.
The Firefighters Unions along with other Unions are active players in the political process. When the recall movement began to pick up steam in late 2007 the firefighters took a stand in opposition to the recall. The Police Department remained neutral.
Things have never been the same for Pinole firefighters.
Now some may think that this just can’t be true, if you feel that way, then you have not been keeping an eye on Pinole politics, it is the proverbial Elephant in the Room.

With a post-recall City Council, from 2008-present, in place the City of Pinole has sought ways to reduce the Pinole Fire Department budget and reduce expenses across the board for all departments and personnel.
Among the changes made were to restrict the firefighters’ activities while on the clock, such as no stopping at the store and no attending city council meetings. Time management issues to be sure.
It is certainly the prerogative of the City Manager and the Council to make these changes if they impact the bottom line. But one has to wonder just how much the “Elephant in the Room” had to do with this.
Of course contract negotiations were taking place annually among all the unions and the City. However, only the Fire Department and its Union has come under such intense scrutiny and attack.

Throughout the State of California fire department budgets have been pointed to as a major economic culprit. We hear and read about this issue almost daily. There are many issues to be sure, and reforms are on the horizon.
As we explore the state of and the fate the Pinole Fire Department it is prudent to compare the fire services currently offered in neighboring cities.

In “The Fate of the Pinole Fire Department” Part 3, we will look at two neighboring cities and their fire departments, El Cerrito/Kensington and Rodeo-Hercules, cities with similar demographics and populations.

The Fate of the Pinole Fire Department – Part One



Part One:
The Pinole Fire Fighters, along with other Fire Departments and Districts In the State of California are at a critical juncture. In fact, public safety (police and fire) as a whole are at the top of most municipalities budget concerns.

Pinole is considered to be a “full service” city.
What constitutes a full service City?
The California League of California Cities defines full-service as offering major municipal services such as police, fire, public works and planning. Some cities have fire or recreation services through a ‘special district’ comprised of two or more cities. Other full-service cities have enterprise funds that also support sewer services.

The issue is, can Pinole, with its small population and current revenue continue to support and sustain “full-service” city Police and Fire Departments services without additional revenue or without changing the service models and/or joining other departments?
Two thirds of the city’s budget of approximately $12 million dollars is allocated to Public Safety, Fire and Police.
City of Pinole Budget – 2013-2014
ublic Safety, Pages 97-127

Every year the city must review its budget and prioritize its needs.
Over the course of the last 7 years public safety costs have been an issue. The city reduced its personnel overall, after the loss of redevelopment, take-aways from the State and during the course of the Great Recession.
It also negotiated reduced benefits and salaries for many departments.
It is no surprise that Public Safety has been at the forefront of budget concerns. What is somewhat of a surprise to residents is the very public battle between the city and its fire department.

It is also no surprise that Pinole residents view their Police and Fire as the most important service the city provides. Pinole residents have considered Pinole a safe place to live and to raise their families. They have expressed those sentiments on more than one occasion at the ballot box, Measure S is one example, the UUT is another.

But can Pinole continue to afford to consider itself a full-service city?
The primary issue for all Public Safety departments and their unions has been the battle over pensions and benefits, salaries have not been the major sticking point in the negotiation process.

And although the Police and Fire are both engaged in negotiations on a regular basis, it is only the fire department that has been targeted by members of the council, staff and the CCOP as the reason for our city’s budget woes.

The Firefighters filed a PERB lawsuit in 2011 against the City of Pinole.
There are two PERB complaints;
1. Unfair labor practices. This suit is about the closure of station 74 while Local 1230 and the City were in the meet and confer process over the impacts of this action on the fire employees. The PERB Board ruled in favor of Local 1230 and this ruling is currently being appealed by the City. Settlement could be 500,000 to 1.5 million. Still to be determined.
2. Unfairly imposing part of the Employers cost of PERS on the Employee. The PERB Board ruled in favor of the City and this ruling is currently being appealed by Local 1230.

In another interesting turn of events, the City originally rejected a $1.3 million dollar SAFER Grant, which the Fire Department states was intended to re-open Pinole Valley Fire Station 74, then later accepted it. But the acceptance of that grant by the city was done not for the purposes of re-opening Station 74, but rather to offset the Fire Department budget.

Some History:
In 2006, with the cost of services rising and the city unable to make long range budget plans for continuing to provide “full service city” Public Safety levels, a special tax measure was placed on the ballot.

I am providing the reader with this background information as we explore, over the course of the next month, the fate of the Pinole Fire Department.

Measure S Pass: 3,308 / 59.65% Yes votes …… 2,238 / 40.35% No votes

Measure S, Ballot Language, 2006, Ben Reyes
The City Council of the City of Pinole placed Measure S on the November 7, 2006 ballot to ask voters to consider an ordinance imposing a general transactions and use (sales) tax of one-half of one percent (0.50%) to be administered by the State Board of Equalization. The proposed tax will increase the local sales tax rate in Pinole from the current 8.25% to 8.75%. Measure S is a general tax and would only become effective if approved by a majority of voters casting a vote on the Measure at the November 7, 2006 general election.

City Staff projects that the General Fund will be out of balance during fiscal year 2008-2009, and will not be sufficient to maintain the Minimum Reserve level. At the current rate of expenditure, Staff projects that the City will likely experience a budgetary deficit by fiscal year 2010-
2011. The projected budgetary shortfall can be attributed to factors outside of the City’s control, including significant increases in the cost of employee health insurance and retirement benefits, decreases in revenue from existing taxes and fees, property tax take-aways by the State, and general increases in the cost of materials and supplies necessary for City operations.

Absent an additional source of General Fund revenue, the City may not be able to maintain adequate staff and service levels. For example, Pinole Police may not have enough patrol officers to confront increases in crime, particularly around the Pinole Vista Shopping Center area. The Fire Department may not be able to continue to staff the Pinole Valley Fire Station with minimum firefighting crews. The Public Works Department may not be able to maintain roadways, storm drains and other water control and discharge infrastructures.

The proposed transaction and use (sales) tax is estimated to generate approximately $1,800,000.00 per year for the City of Pinole. This is a local tax which will be collected and placed in the City of Pinole’s General Fund account. Under Proposition 1A, this local tax revenue cannot be taken away by the State or County. This revenue would be sufficient to prevent the forecasted deficit in the Minimum Reserve and would allow the City to provide adequate levels of public safety, public works, and necessary support services. This tax does not have a “sunset provision” and will continue to be levied unless repealed by the voters. Proceeds from the local transactions and use (sales) tax may be expended for any municipal purpose. If the tax is not approved by the voters, the City would likely have to implement reductions in general municipal services.

By placing Measure S on the ballot, the City complies with Article XIIIC of the California Constitution (adopted by Proposition 218), which requires the voters to approve an ordinance which imposes a general tax. A copy of the proposed ordinance is printed in the sample ballot.

DATED: August 7, 2006

Argument For Measure S, Betty Boyle
Passing a local half-cent general sales tax is critical to preserve and improve essential city services, including, but not limited to, public safety and street and storm drain repairs. Additionally, the tax will provide funding to continue the full staffing of our fire station in Pinole Valley.

The City of Pinole has been one of the most efficient and fiscally conservative full service cities in the County, as determined by an independent finance consulting study. Compared with other cities of the same size, Pinole provides better services and programs with fewer resources year after year.

In the past four fiscal years, the State of California has taken over $5.5 million from the City of Pinole to balance the State’s budget. Additionally, neighboring communities are permitting superstores that will divert current sales tax from Pinole and weaken our General Fund.

Despite our efficiencies, we still have a number of unmet needs. Public Safety needs include additional officers to focus on gangs, narcotics, violent crime, and vice. Other items include disaster emergency preparedness and regional aid programs. Additional funds are needed for the repair and maintenance of our aging storm drain and street infrastructure.

The local half-cent general sales tax would generate $1.8 million. This tax places the least amount of burden on the residents of Pinole, because the majority of the tax revenue is generated from residents of other communities. However, Pinole citizens are assured that 100% of this tax stays in the City of Pinole and the State cannot take any of it away! Join Pinole citizens in fighting to maintain our high community standards, our property values, and keeping Pinole safe by VOTING “YES” ON MEASURE S.

Betty G. Boyle
Mayor, City of Pinole

Argument Against Measure S, Rod Melgard
Pinole is hardly short of money. Lacking a chapel, they paint murals costing hundreds of thousands on concrete overpasses and retaining walls. The City employs a person whose job it is to trespass on private property, peek over fences (what does your garden grow?) and give otherwise law abiding citizens, citations for what they see thus requiring owners to plant their front yard to cement or asphalt to avoid further molestation. While the street in front of your house goes to ruin you are cited for parking your boat in your back yard. These are visible wastes and, like an iceberg, six times as much is hidden. (Pay a good grant writer this money and watch it grow!)

The Pinole Council proposed Pinole Vista to be a financial savior for the city. Now they say it’s a drain which needs more tax money for support. Ten years ago they “needed” the Utility Tax “temporarily” until Vista was completed and providing income to the City. Two years ago this temporary tax essentially became permanent.

The State is unlikely to be taking Pinole’s money away. Property taxes are going up at an incredible rate due to price increases as are other sources of income. The Council is just political fear mongering. This Council is also the Redevelopment Agency Board of Directors and has amply demonstrated it cannot think two years ahead nonetheless predict shortages in 2011.

If sales tax is such a good idea lets vote this one down and next year vote on a tax that is twice as high with the additional revenue used to reduce our regressive utility tax.

These taxes are not justified at this time. I request your vote of NO.
Rod Melgard