The Issues – Economic Development

Redevelopment is gone. Now What?
My Position: We Must Spur Economic Development

The city has spent the last few years working on balancing the budget. This has taken the form of cuts, reductions or the elimination of services.
Balancing a budget is done by reducing expenses, but, the  other side of the ledger, increasing revenue,  must  also be addressed.
How does a city increase revenue?
They, increase fees, taxes and encourage economic development.

Pinole has successfully used its proximity to the Eastbound I-80 corridor to attract business. When speaking of this business corridor, “If they build it they will come”, is truly applicable. However, that is not the case for other commercial corridors in Pinole. In this new economy, one in which redevelopment dollars are no longer available to provide incentives for economic development, it is time to develop new ideas and programs.

My Ideas-
Exploring the feasibility of a BID in three commercial corridors
A Welcome to Pinole – Business Concierge Program
A Shared Vision for Old Town Pinole
A Business Walk Program

BID: Business Improvement District
I want to make my position on the BID idea crystal clear. Some have been saying I am anti-business because I have an idea to spur economic development via a BID program. Poppycock. I have spent the last ten years of my life working on behalf of the small business community.
This is simply an idea that will require conversations, exploration and feedback from the stakeholders. Ideas are we what need, some may work other may not, but we can not be afraid to explore them. It is an idea that I will speak to every stakeholder about. If a BID in any of the three corridors is not what the stakeholders want, then we will move on to explore other ideas. But let’s at least have the conversation first. 
The business community can not rely on the city for financial sustenance.
It is time to decide how to move on and encourage investment in Pinole.
Let’s start by opening a dialogue with the stakeholders in these three corridors to explore the feasibility of a BID. It may be a good idea, it may not, but it’s still worth talking about.
I do understand the challenges our business community faces. And I also know that there have been situations where the City has imposed its will as the majority stakeholder.

As an example, the lighting and landscape district which was touted by the incumbents was not and is not a popular fee. One reason for the business community’s ire is the fact that the vote taken was skewed as the city had a majority interest.


A. Conduct a Public Hearing Regarding the Pinole Valley Landscape & Lighting Assessment District 2008-01 To Confirm the Assessment & Order The Levy For Fiscal Year 2011/12 [Council Report No. 2011-60 Action: Adopt Resolution Per Staff Recommendation (Allison)]

Dean Allison, Public Works Director presented Council Report 2011-60 into the record. The Public Hearing was held annually to place assessments on the commercial properties along Pinole Valley Road from Henry to Pinole Valley High School. The District was formed so that the benefitting properties pay into the funding mechanism for installing and maintaining the landscaping and lighting in the medians. The total assessment was approximately $28,000; five percent less that the prior year. Allison explained the exemption process and recommended approval of the accompanying resolutions.

At 8:53 p.m., Mayor Swearingen opened and closed the Public Hearing, with no speakers rising to address the Council.

Council Member Green asked whether the redevelopment agency had most of the property under their ownership when the initial vote was taken several years ago and Mr. Allison confirmed that was correct, explaining that the votes are weighted by assessment and at that time the Agency controlled the majority of the property ownership.

Mayor Pro Tem Murray had no questions; he understood that the district was formed to enhance the area for the business district, and it appeared that staff had been efficient in streamlining costs to deliver a five percent decrease.

Council Member Long asked the cost the County charged to collect the fees and how the exemptions were handled. Mr. Allison said the County cost was two hundred thirty seven dollars, and the City had to backfill the exemptions.

Council Member Long said with the exemptions for the small businesses, she now supported the assessment district and found it a necessary funding mechanism.

Council Member Green commented that it was unfair not to go back to the vote of the property owners, since the prior ownerships was mainly held by the Agency. He said he was not in favor of the assessment.

Mayor Swearingen said the intrinsic value of the fee is that the people who receive the benefit pay their share, and no complaints or protests had been filed.

Mr. Allison advised Council of the outreach and notification process, stating the City goes above the statutory requirements.

At a recent Council meeting City attorney Ben Reyes noted that the exemptions given were an illegal act.  I believe our business leaders should have a voice and a seat at the table. I will look for ways to create dialogue, explore ideas, and create a panel of business and property owners who can represent these stakeholders.

BID Program
A. The exploration of a BID for three commercial corridors in Pinole:
     Appian Way
     San Pablo Ave South from Appian Way
     Old Town

We must leave no stone unturned in order to help our businesses and spur economic development. I will hold meetings with the business and property owners to explore this idea. I will listen to everyone as we open up a dialogue. I will not support additional fees or taxes if they are not the will of the majority.
I have been a small business advocate for the last ten years, I do not intend to turn my back on them. But if we, collectively, agree that this is a tool that will help us, then we must at least start the conversation.

Q: What is a BID?
Q: Will I be taxed without a say in the process?
Q: Will the city control the funds?
A Business Improvement District is where businesses or property owners within a defined geographic area choose to tax themselves.  The taxes paid by the owners within the district are spent on improving the business climate within the district.  Usually, the money is actually controlled by a committee of the assessed in the district.  Certainly, some of the money goes to the administration of the tax and the district, but the vast majority is spent on the district.  Usually, the money is spent on physical improvements, landscaping, events, promotions, marketing and publicity.
* A BID is an opportunity for businesses to tax themselves, then control the use of the tax revenues for the benefits of their own property/business by improving their neighborhoods and paying for services and events. 
* It is really a self-help tool that gives the property owners in the BID area control and use of collected funds and the ability to prioritize the areas of need.
* There is a process by which all property owners have the opportunity and the right to weigh in on this idea, a majority is needed to create a BID.
* It is a democratic process that can enable property owners to set goals and use their funds to achieve those goals.
* Business improvement districts are usually governed by the city (a resolution establishing the BID is needed) but managed by a private, non-profit organization with a board of directors made up of stakeholders.
* The municipal government typically collects the revenue and remits the funds to the BID.
* Advisory and administrative boards are primarily made up of businesspeople and landowners.
* The city collects but remits those funds to the BID.
* All decisions for the use and control of BID funds is the responsibility of the BID board.


B. Welcome to Pinole – Business Concierge Program
I took this idea to staff in 2011. The Town of Danville has been successful in developing a business-friendly attitude with the help of this program. Small businesses are often stymied and frustrated by the paperwork and processes involved in opening or relocating a business in Pinole. The Concierge Program helps them through the process by providing a road map to success. It also helps them to understand what the costs are before they set out on a venture that may not be feasible in Pinole due to zoning restrictions or land use issues.
 There is a need to be proactive and customer friendly towards small businesses interested in doing business Pinole.  

C. A Shared Vision for Old Town
How often have you heard how charmed visitors are by Pinole’s Old Town? It is one of the most unique areas in Pinole and the surrounding communities.
Historic Down Towns have become largely irrelevant throughout the nation as businesses change their business models to meet consumer needs and demands, in spite of the efforts of organizations such as California Main Street Alliance.
Pinole’s Old Town is still the center of our community. It holds a special place in the hearts of Pinoleans. There have been some improvements over the years in Old Town, primarily due to the use of Redevelopment Funds. However, without redevelopment funds and without a shared and clear vision for Old Town, we will continue to see vacant store fronts and little foot traffic. People need a reason to visit Old Town.
I believe we can and should define the vision for Old Town with input from residents and the business community.
There is little reason for visitors to spend their time and/or their dollars in Old Town with the exception of patronizing the restaurants in the Old Town area.
I believe that Old Town can become a destination by adding an entertainment element to its business district.
Collaborative events that incorporate existing venues while encouraging businesses to offer appropriate forms of entertainment, such as music, comedy and theatre, can make Old Town a real destination.
The city’s vision is to bring in retail businesses. That is a good way to increase sales tax revenue, I’m in favor of that. But we must try to work towards making Old Town a true destination that will set Old Town apart.

D. A Business Walk Program:
Communities in California have successfully reached out to their local businesses to learn from them exactly what their needs and concerns are.
It is a simple premise, teams of local residents, council members, staff, and community organizations, select a day to walk to every business and ask three questions:

  • How’s business?
  • What do you like about doing business at your location?
  • How can business be made better?

The business walk gives individual business owners an opportunity to interact with civic leadership in their community, those who have the ability to act on their behalf to ensure a prosperous business climate. Let’s start this conversation, sooner rather than later.

Pinole needs new Leadership, new ideas and a positive and creative approach to the future of our City.

Elected Officials Compensation

Elected Officials’ Health Benefits
Position: I Will Decline The Health Benefits

The City of Pinole is struggling to make ends meet.
We are all well aware of that.
The City has downsized staff and we have been told that all city employees have made considerable compensation concessions.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
It appears as if the City Council passed a resolution in 1995 approving medical benefits for elected officials. This resolution was signed by, Alegria, Boyle, Bradshaw, Horton & Murray. There is no contract with CalPERS for elected officials health benefits, these benefits were implemented through a resolution.
Resolution 3135, adopted by the City Council on May 1, 1995, approving medical
coverage for active elected officials.
“Elected Officials who are active and retired employees and survivors of the agency, the benefit of the Act, and to accept the liabilities and obligations of an employer under the Act and Regulations; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, that the Public Body elect, and it does hereby elect, to be subject to the provisions of the Act, and be it further Resolved, That the employer’s contribution for each employee or annuitant shall be the amount necessary to pay for the full amount necessary to pay the full cost of his/her enrollment, including the enrollment of family members, in a health benefits plan or plans up to a maximum of 360 48.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
During last night’s debate a member of the public asked about Health benefits for elected officials. Peter Murray stated that he has accepted the in-lieu payments starting 6 years ago. Roy Swearingen indicated that this subject that will be on a future agenda.
I had requested from the City, a copy of the CalPERS Health contract that defines the health benefit allowance for elected officials.
I received the following email from Patti Athenour, Pinole City Clerk,  moments before the debate started:

“Hello Ivette:

I wanted to let you know that the City does not have a document which specifically addresses health benefits for elected officials, such as the contract and amendments I sent you previously. The PERS contracts do not seem to be the mechanism for that benefit. We have placed a call to Cal PERS for further information to attempt to respond to your inquiry. I will, of course, provide you anything that we receive once they address our request.”

I asked to see the CalPERS Health contract which had been referenced during the June 12, 2012 council meeting.
The following is taken from Council Agenda Packet Dated June 12, 2012

Question from Mayor Pro Tem Long:
Can the City modify the health insurance contract with CalPERS to exclude City Council members? If so, could that apply to current Council members or only future?
According to CalPERS, the answer is yes, City Council members can be excluded from CalPERS Health but only for future councilmembers since we already have a contract to include our councilmembers. Therefore, our current members cannot be excluded from coverage. Our resolution/contract has identified “elected members” and therefore it would take another resolution to state that futureelected councilmembers are exempted from CalPERS Health coverage.

The Contra Costa Grand Jury Report which outlined several Pension Reform Possibilities was responded to by the City Manager and Council on August 21, 2012. However no response has yet been offered for the Grand Jury Report #1104, regarding elected officials health benefits.

What have our elected officials done to reduce their compensation?
The Council has reduced its monthly salary from $300 to $250.
They are no longer being reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses in the course of their duties as public servants.

The salary for six elected officials (council and treasurer) is $18,000 per year.
But the payment of health benefits and in-lieu payments are worth further discussion. It is a question recently raised by members of the public.
The budget for 2012-2013 shows the total cost for our six elected officials, salaries and benefits to be $86,352.00
Salaries for the council, $15,000.
Salary for city treasurer, $3,000
Benefits for the City Council total $59,078.
Benefits for the City Treasurer, $7,000 (approximate)
In Lieu payments to elected officials totalled (approximate) $28,000.

Pinole has been generous when it comes to the benefits our elected officials receive. The Contra Costa Grand Jury report makes that clear.
Pleasant Hill has revised their health insurance benefits to their elected officials.
Some elected officials have voluntarily given up their benefits, such as Councilmember Dan Helix in Concord.

Responses to the grand jury report varied. For example, Concord did not make any changes to council compensation. But, after laying off about a third of the workforce and implementing furloughs, in July 2011, the Hercules City Council eliminated health, dental and life insurance for council members.

I will decline the City’s Health Benefits.

I am retired, I have a limited income.
I receive Medicare and Social Security.
I don’t receive a pension.
I have a limited income but unlimited passion and time to devote to Pinole.
If there is no option, at this time, but to accept health benefits or in-lieu payment I will decline the health benefits and donate the in-lieu payments to important community assets in need, such as the Save the Swim Center, the Senior Center, Youth Foundation and PCTV.

What does the law say about changing the salary and benefits of elected official in Pinole?
Government Code Section 36516  allows for salaries of council members to be increased by the adoption of an ordinance or the passage of a ballot measure.
Each member of the City Council receives their compensation based on the population of the city. Section 36516(a) provides that a city with a population up to 35,000 may compensate their council members up to $300 a month. Since Pinole’s population is 18,939 its council members fall into this category.

The following is taken from Council Agenda Packet Dated June 12, 2012
Question from Mayor Pro Tem Long:
Can the City modify the health insurance contract with CalPERS to exclude City Council members? If so, could that apply to current Council members or only future?
According to CalPERS, the answer is yes, City Council members can be excluded from CalPERS Health but only for future councilmembers since we already have a contract to include our councilmembers. Therefore, our current members cannot be excluded from coverage. Our resolution/contract has identified “elected members” and therefore it would take another resolution to state that futureelected councilmembers are exempted from CalPERS Health coverage.

Question from Mayor Pro Tem Long:
Could the Council’s compensation be amended/increased to cover incidental expenses such as mileage, if the health benefits are eliminated?
As mentioned above, health coverage cannot be eliminated. The City Council’s compensation is set for by State statute.

Let’s pass that resolution and/or amend the contract.
If Pleasant Hill was able to do it, if Hercules was able to do it, we should be able to do it as well. Let’s do the right thing.