Letters to the Milpitas Post
Want to know where Rob stands on a particular issue? The answer likely lies in a letter or article published in the
Milpitas Post. Search the following [CTRL + F] for the keyword related to your issue.
Affordable transit can close the gap between rich, poor in South Bay
Other Voices article for the Milpitas Post (published Dec. 26, 2014)
It appears that the $4000M (million) price tag of burrowing a tunnel under San Jose for BART is too high. So, the powers that be want to eliminate two stations from the BART Burrow in an effort to reduce costs. Another option is being offered by BART Director Zachary Mallett and supported by the Post editorial of 12/5/2014. He proposes a less expensive run westward from the Milpitas BART station to the airport, and then to the train station. At roughly 8 miles in length - all above ground - costs could be around $1600M. (The 10-mile extension currently being built from Fremont to Berryessa is costing $2000M, or $200M/mile).
I agree with the Post: “Forget the costly subway through downtown.” However, let's remember that the current plan for BART was specifically designed to include service to the lower-income residents in eastern San Jose, or in the words of the Post, “the underserved vast population of East San Jose.” That goal still makes sense. Providing affordable transit will help close the huge financial gap between rich and poor people in the South Bay. However, let's do it with affordable and modern technology, not expensive 50-year old technology.
Think about it. Fifty years ago, cars did not have anti-lock brakes, catalytic converters or air bags. Technology has progressed, but transit agencies in the U.S. have not kept up. So, they keep thinking – and acting - in terms of 20th Century technologies.
Rather than spend roughly $4000M for the current 6-station plan, or roughly $3000M for the reduced 4-station plan, we could spend about $1600M for Mallett's plan to connect the Milpitas BART station to the airport and train station using BART technology.
Here's another option for spending that $1600M. Instead of a new BART route, let's build a 100-station Automated Transit Network (ATN). At $15M/mile (which includes elevated guideway, off-line stations, cabs, and computer control), we could build an ATN that serves the public far better.
Over 10 years ago (when BART cost estimates were half what they are today), a San Jose resident proposed an ATN alternative to the BART Burrow. As you can see here - http://www.electric-bikes.com/prt/bart-prt.html – he outlined 91 miles of ATN guideway with 117 stations in a network covering the Golden Triangle and downtown San Jose. We could design and build a similar system.
BART promoters, however, will point out that using another system will require a “transfer”, intoned in such a way that it sounds like a bad thing. What's the big deal? People do it all the time in real cities with real transit. You simply leave your seat and vehicle to cross a platform and get into another vehicle and seat. The bad thing isn't the transfer of you, it's waiting for the next vehicle that is the problem. Under BART schedules, the vehicle is rarely ready to go when you are. So, you have to wait. That wait is the real annoyance about transfers.
In contrast, automated vehicles (or cabs) are ready when you are 90% of the time, and available within 5 minutes the other 10%. This is accomplished by adding enough cabs to keep things flowing smoothly. If congestion occurs, add more cabs and/or stations. Both are “dirt cheap” compared to BART hardware.
Regarding a connection from the Milpitas BART station to the airport, that also makes sense – if appropriate technology is used. One option is using TriTrack technology, due to its low cost and high speeds (tritrack.net). While most ATN systems anticipate speeds of 25 mph to 50 mph, TriTrack is designed for 180 mph. Imagine traversing the 5 miles from our BART station to the airport in less than 3 minutes. From there, passengers could get to Diridon Train Station via standard ATN – something already being discussed at VTA.
While I agree with the Post's call for transit that will “dramatically improve the mobility options”, I don't see that happening with any of the BART-technology options. There are simply too few stations to make a big difference – as demonstrated by 40 years of experience.
Our growing global climate crisis requires major changes NOW! Waiting a decade or more to use 50-year old technology to serve a small fraction of our population is like responding to an oncoming train by freezing in its path. In some dangerous situations, freezing is good. Reversing the run-away train that climate change has become, however, requires bold action!
Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, was dubbed the "father of transit" in Silicon Valley for decades of transit advocacy. He also promotes ATN as a feeder to High-Speed Rail (HSR) stations in California. A couple of years ago, at a transportation conference, I asked Rod about the possibility of ATN connecting the Berryessa BART station to Diridon Caltrain/HSR station and the airport. Knowing full well the potential of such a option, he did not dismiss it. He simply pointed out that plans were pretty firm for the BART Burrow by saying “that train has left the station.” Well, Rod, maybe that train has not left the station. Maybe we can get a better train.
Vote NO on Measure E, Marsha Grilli and Deepka Lalwani
Letter to the Milpitas Post (sent Oct. 17, 2014)
Both the Bumb family and the developers are trying to buy our election. Although legal, it does not serve our democracy. Ultimately, we need a 28th Amendment so we can regulate campaign spending again. For now, however, one way for voters to push back is vote NO on Measure E, and NO for candidates (Grilli and Lalwani) backed by the guilty developers (Integral Communities and Lyon Group).
Although I have openly supported Mrs. Grilli for the second seat on Council (http://meansfordemocracy.org/recommends.html), the need for campaign finance reform is bigger than just this election. And, as a prospective City Council member, the interests of the community must outweigh my personal preference to work with her if I am elected.
Until we get campaign finance reform, you and I can still vote with our dollars. Many have contributed to my campaign fund, a few at the maximum $250 limit. Developers, however, can contribute as much as they want. One kicked in $10,000 and another $13,000. How can individual citizens compete with that?
So, take the little power you have left to influence this crazy world and VOTE! Just don't vote for Marsha Grilli, Deepka Lalwani or Measure E. There are four other council candidates worthy of your vote. Choose two of them. And there is a better way to generate revenue than gambling (http://meansfordemocracy.org/budget.html ).
Realistically, the 50-100 votes that this letter might sway will not likely change the election outcome. However, in a close race, that small number of votes could make the difference – and send a message to developers and other special interests to stay the heck out of our elections.
More Bang per Transit Buck
Letter to the Milpitas Post (published July 11, 2014)
The 6/20/2014 Post editorial, in talking about regional transportation, got it right: “The next BART segment is a tough one because tunneling under central San Jose is costly and poses special engineering challenges.” Those special challenges may inflate the price tag beyond its current $4B ($4000 million) mark.
I can understand the value of big tax-and-spend infrastructure projects like the BART burrow from Berryessa to Santa Clara: lots of jobs, useful infrastructure, and easy re-election. What's not to like?
Well, how about getting more bang for the buck? Instead of burrowing 6 miles and adding another 3 stations to the BART system, how about 250 miles of coverage and 500 stations using another system? The math is easy. Automated Transit Networks (ATN) can be built for about $15M/mile, and come with 2 stations per mile and plenty of cabs to move people around the network. Here's the math: $15M/mile X 250 miles = $3750M, about the same price as the BART burrow.
Image living in San Jose and being able to walk 5 minutes to an ATN station. Once there, step into an awaiting cab and take a non-stop ride to any of 500 stations scattered around the city. Here is what just half that coverage could could look like: http://snipurl.com/291uucf
With ATN's huge service advantage, one can only wonder why VTA and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group have not studied the ATN alternative. Maybe they need some local city to show them the way. Maybe Milpitas. Maybe start with a low-risk simple pilot project: http://sunnyhillsneighborhood.org/crossing.html
Personally, I follow the advice of Andy Grove, former head of Intel, to look for high-leverage opportunities. I wish more of my elected representatives did likewise.
Break-through on school, park
Letter to the Milpitas Post (published June 27, 2014)
Finally, a break-through in the efforts to build a new school in the Transit Specific Area Plan of southern Milpitas. The city has agreed to settle two RDA dissolution lawsuits that had entangled the property rights to the site on McCandless Drive.
The settlement that Milpitas struck with other stake-holder agencies seems aligned with prior court decisions. The surprise is that the city gets to keep the McCandless school site property. This clears the way for a negotiated agreement with the school district to develop the kindergarten to eighth-grade school and sport fields. In a cooperative world, this should be relatively easy.
However, some council members seem to see things more competitively. Althea Polanski repeatedly points out that residents are confused about the roles of city government and the school district, and that they are separate entities. Although correct at one level, residents look at the Milpitas as a whole. So do I. My heart and my liver are separate organs, but they work together to make for a healthy me. So, too, should it be for a city and all the various agencies that operate within and adjoining it. The city and school district have worked well together in the past, but not for the past two years.
Four months from now we will know how the current city council views our city -- as a whole or as separate parts. Either we will have an agreement in hand that supports construction of the new school, or residents will have the opportunity to elect two new members to the council who will get the job done.
Support for Mike Honda
Letter to the Milpitas Post (published April 25, 2014)
Our Congressman, Mike Honda, sent me a letter recently. As someone very concerned about worsening climate change and the urgent need for solutions, I was excited to read Mike's letter.
He is working with the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition in Congress to push legislation to create millions of clean-energy jobs. Specifically, he sponsored the Renewable Energy Jobs Act designed to prepare people for those jobs. And he is working the funding part of the equation with the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act. If passed,it will allow all Americans to invest in clean energy technologies. Unlike the stock market, this investment will be safe and do good at the same time.
Although I have often pushed him to do more, I have been quite pleased with Mike's record as my representative. As a recent example, he and other members of the Progressive Caucus came up with a great budget that creates 10 times as many jobs as the President's budget. (The Republican/Ryan budget creates no new jobs).
Mike is not the kind of guy that stands out in a crowd. He is more of a team player, one that is skilled at moving the ball (or bill) past obstacles to within scoring range. That makes Mike quite different from his opponent in this year's election. Ro Khanna is tall and intense, characteristics that served him well as a highly-compensated corporate CEO. But legislating is more of a consensus process, not an authoritarian top-down kingdom like Ro's corporation. And who does Ro really represent? Looking at his donor list, one must conclude: the CEO class.
Mike, on the other hand, clearly represents the 99%. So, he gets my vote.
Release the school site property
Letter to the Milpitas Post (published ????, 2014)
Dear City Council,
Take the deal! The Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) has offered to buy a critical property at the same price that you paid for it. Please agree to sell it to them at your October 15 meeting. Our city needs a new school on that property now. Further delay hurts our community.
Yes, I understand that the appraised market price has risen about 10%, and you would like to profit from that fact. But, how real is that estimate? One could argue that property values in the Transit Area are above-market partly because of the school and park that are planned there. Without the school and park, those values drop. Or one could point out that real estate prices generally have been artificially re-inflated. Either way, the City will not be able to sell that land for that price to any other buyer for many years to come. So, take the deal!
Take the money and run. Get it off the books of the Oversight Committee and courts. Remember, if (when) the courts rule against the City's arguments about RDA assets, fewer assets means less City liabilities. And we all know how much the City has bet on this court case. This deal is a chance to reduce our exposure to loss. So, take the deal!
Comments from Matthew O'Brien on June 5, 2014:
I believe that the community needs to support better schools. It is not just the responsibility of those directly involved in a school. This takes special importance in Milpitas - where the city council and mayor have a long history of viewing issues with our schools as someone else's problem -- NOT theirs. For the last decade the city government has voted to develop high density housing in the southwest part of the city, and steadfastly ignored that the population increase necessitates the construction of a new school.
In my mind, this has to stop. This November's general election is a golden opportunity to elect individuals to the city council that support our schools -- not ignore them.
City Council fumbles bag ban
Other Voices article for the Milpitas Post (published Dec. 13, 2013)
Sometimes, our favorite team has a bad game. Fumbles and fouls lead to the poor results which depressingly show on the scoreboard. I think the Milpitas City Council team had a bad game at their Dec. 3 meeting.
The ball in play was the plastic-bag ban. The final score showed Plastic Bags the clear winner.
It should have been a slam-dunk because there was no controversy in the room about plastic bags being a bad thing for the commons. Staff and the first three public speakers clearly showed the many environmental problems and externalized costs that the community must bear as a result of allowing these bags to run loose without proper regulation.
Real dollar costs include an estimated $100K to $250K that leaves our local economy and goes to transnational corporations and unfriendly countries _ and that is just the cost of the oil used as the raw material. Other associated costs of production and transportation take additional money _ and jobs - out of our local economy.
Yet another cost looms in 2015. That is when, if we don't clean up our act, the state will start levying fines for polluting the Bay. Next year, new standards kick in regarding that portion of our trash that finds its way through storm drains and into the Bay. Paying those fines would be a big waste of our tax money. However, with this bag ban we can avoid those fines and make big progress on the goal of 100% clean by 2022.
As a result of these facts, there was almost no controversy about banning plastic bags. The Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Club and the vast majority of the public speakers agreed on that. There was some question about what the appropriate price should be for a paper bag. Somehow, Council missed the obvious answer. As staff pointed out, what to charge customers for paper bags has already been determined by market forces. Charging 25 cents per bag creates the change we need, 10 cents does not.
The only real issue (beyond the NIMBY nonsense reasons like "cross contamination") was the impact of the reporting requirement on small businesses. Those of us who have operated small businesses and monitored the books know that wiggle room always exists in the rules. So, each of us can conform to the reporting requirement in the way that best works for us. Besides, the reporting requirement is primarily directed at big-box stores so staff can measure our progress in cleaning up our mess.
Something else, some unspoken belief, may also have been at play. I suspect that some people in the room believed the Reagan line that "Government is not the solution; government is the problem." (They may be the same people who still don't believe in global warming.)
Most of us see government as a tool for our collective will that can accomplish things that we cannot as individuals. How that tool is used - and who controls it - determines whether government is the solution or problem. Many will say, and I will agree, that government at the national level is often used against the common good and general welfare.
In this case, however, government staff offered a simple and effective solution that is being successfully used in other communities around us. It was a good deal, and the Council should have taken it. Or deferred the matter to a later meeting as someone suggested. Instead Republican Councilwoman Giordano made a quick motion to dump the idea. After some confusion, Giordano, Gomez and Polanski voted to kill the ban altogether.
Huh? No restriction of any kind on plastic bags? I was surprised, and so were many others in the audience. I can only chalk it up to a bad night.
If you are a responsible and compassionate resident of Milpitas, contact your Council members. Let them know that they blew it, but they can shake it off. Encourage them to get back in the game, and ban those plastic bags! Use the city's on-line tool to "Contact your Elected Officials". Here's a quick link: http://snipurl.com/289ugpa Do it now. They need our support.
Is the City being mismanaged?
Letter to the Milpitas Post (published Nov. 22, 2013)
Thank you, City Council. Collectively, you turned down a big-name developer and their Preston Crossings project. As the 11/8/2013 Post reported, Councilwoman Althea Polanski called it "the worst housing project I've ever seen in my life." Joining her in the 3-2 vote against the project were Carmen Montano and Mayor Esteves.
If any one of the three had switched their vote, Milpitas and a few hundred residents would be stuck with a project that did not well-serve the community. We haven't always had a Council that made the right choice when confronted with expensive plans presented by a big corporation. But we did this time. So, they deserve our thanks.
Sustainability manager could advise developers
Other Voices article for the Milpitas Post (published June 14, 2013)
Recently, the Milpitas City Council voted to put a statue of a white guy with a gun in front of City Hall. More specifically, they voted for an art piece depicting a Minuteman to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of Milpitas. Unfortunately, the symbolism of this piece of art runs counter to reality.
Back in the 1950's, after town leaders rallied the populace to oppose San Jose's expansionist plans by declaring the independence of Milpitas as a separate city, the Minuteman was chosen for the new City's logo. The original Minutemen were members of well-prepared militia during the American Revolutionary War that provided a highly mobile, rapidly deployed force to respond immediately to war threats.
That ability to rapidly respond to real threats seems missing in our current local government _ at least in regards to Global Warming. At nearly every opportunity over the past two years that Council could exceed the minimum effort required by law, Council chose to delay.
The latest example occurred at the May 14 Council meeting that reviewed the Proposed 2013/2014 Budget and Capital Improvement Program (CIP). While they found $150K for the statue and Strategic Plan for the City, they did not hire a Sustainability Manager. Although the Climate Action Plan (CAP), the Sierra Club, and I called for employing a Sustainability Manager to help Milpitas accomplish the aggressive goals laid out in the CAP, not a word was mentioned during the 4-hour meeitng.
What could explain their cavalier attitude about Global Warming and the urgency to do work rapidly now to prevent the worst effects that we are approaching? Perhaps they subscribe to one or more of the popular Climate Myths: It's not happening; It's not us; It's not bad; or it's too hard to change.
Believing those myths is easy because of all the "disinformation" (Reagan's word for lying) being propagated in this country. For example, by 2010, a single funding network known as Donors Trust contributed $118M to climate-denial think tanks and activists. That doesn't count other disinformation campaigns promoted by the Koch brothers and other billionaires with a big stake in maintaining the status quo that pads their pockets at our expense.
Those of us who are not incredibly greedy have lost control of our media. The corporate-controlled lamestream media fails to present fair and balanced news. As a result, the U.S. is the only developed country where Global Warming is seriously questioned.
According to an April, 2013, poll by Pew Research, only 33 percent of Americans say that global warming is a very serious problem. Only 42 percent agreed that the warming was mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels. So, if you are one of the climate deniers _ someone who thinks it's not happening, or it's not us, or it's not bad, or it's too hard to change _ then, please visit http://skepticalscience.com/argument.php There you will likely find the specific myth that keeps you in denial, and the reality of what the science says.
Or, rather than search through the 174 myths presented there, you may find it easier to drop into reality at https://realitydrop.org/#myths where the many myths have been organized into the four different types. Again, follow the links for the real story.
But our City Council seems to remain in denial. As stated in the City Manager's Budget Message (page 5), the City is "funding approximately 12 FTEs primarily to assist with the high volume of development activities ". It is precisely during such times that a Sustainability Manager would be most useful in guiding developers to better solutions that save both dollars and CO2 emissions. More importantly, however, is that we need someone to cultivate the various programs outlined in the Climate Action Plan (CAP). A Sustainability Manager will be helpful, and often essential, to accomplishing the CAP implementation programs. Given that over $4M will be spent on roads in Milpitas this year, clearly the City can afford a professional capable of ensuring that the many benefits (including financial) of CAP implementation are realized in our community.
Instead, however, they budget $165,000 ($165K) for an art project that far exceeds any of the other $10K to $20K art pieces in our city. We can anticipate an 18-foot tall monument including the pedestal.
And we will likely get a Strategic Planning Process as outlined at the June 4 Council meeting. According to the consultant, Shawn Spano of the Public Dialogue Consortium (www.publicdialogue.org), the City is in a prime position to redefine itself by undertaking a strategic planning process to chart a new path forward. In addition to consulting with senior management at City Hall, he will engage community groups, organizations and individuals as part of the planning process. If you want a say in the future of Milpitas, contact Shawn at email@example.com
Hopefully, staff and the public will impress upon Mr. Spano that we must move beyond the denial phase of our Global Warming conversation and envision a future that reduces CO2 emission back down to 350 ppm from today's 400 ppm. Doing so will help and give our grandchildren a world that is habitable by humans, not just cockroaches.
Democratic Party leads again
Letter to the Milpitas Post (published April 26, 2013)
The California Democratic Party leads again. At their annual convention earlier this month, delegates voted overwhelmingly to tell the President to kill the Keystone XL pipeline. This is a big deal because the President seems inclined to support it (along with other questionable energy sources like nukes and "clean coal"). Whenever the party regulars oppose the centralized leadership, something big is going on.
If the Canadian tar sands are fully developed, "it is", as James Hansen, leading (ex-NASA) climate scientist says, "essentially game over" for solving the climate crisis. For those of us who feel a responsibility to our grandchildren, that is enough to raise our ire and move us to action.
For those unfamiliar with the proposed pipeline, this plan to cross the U.S. started when one of the Canadian states (aka Provinces) refused to let TransCanada, the Canadian company behind the $5.3 billion KXL project, build a pipeline across their land. Foiled in that attempt, TransCanada decided to send what Al Gore calls "the dirtiest source of fuel on the planet" to U. S. refiners. There it would be cleaned up and - get this - shipped out of the country. Most of the pollutants will, of course, be dumped in this country but few of the profits. (Here's the two-minute video version of the story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCq015rc_lk )
So, I was proud to join other delegates in saying "that the California Democratic Party supports efforts to stabilize our planet's climate, protect public health, and advance job creation in the new 'green economy' and asks President Obama to deny the "Presidential Permit" for the Keystone XL pipeline".
By the way, here's a special shout-out, a thank you, to Mike Honda for his commitment to vote against any and every cut to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits _ including the "chained PCI". He and 34 other Congressmen are standing tall against Republican efforts to take thousands of dollars out of the pockets of Milpitas seniors, widows, and veterans who are scraping to get by. He exemplifies the clear choice between the Democratic Party that has always fought for Social Security and Republicans who have always fought against it.
Invest in Personal Rapid Transit system
Letter to the Milpitas Post (published Feb. 15, 2013)
Looking to invest in the future? The Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association (SNA) is offering a great opportunity!
SNA is working toward a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) feeder from their neighborhood at the north end of Milpitas to the Great Mall Transit Center (LRT, buses and BART in 2017) at the south end - over three miles away. Using Disney-like vehicles on elevated guideways will provide 24/7 service to regional transit that is sorely lacking for our residents today.
PRT is a new technology, so it makes sense to "learn as we go" by starting small. A minimal system of two stations with a loop connecting them - a ferry - will allow us to evaluate PRT technology before extending service to Sunnyhills and the rest of Milpitas. Such a pilot project crossing the railroad tracks near the Great Mall was recently added to the General Plan by City Council in an effort led by Debbie Giordano.
As the next step toward such a PRT "ferry", SNA is seeking funds to kick-start the project by financing the City's portion of the $50,000 Environmental Impact Report (EIR). We only need $6000 (12%) due to progressive transportation funding rules.
Please invest in the future of Milpitas with a check payable to: Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association, P. O. Box 360581, Milpitas, CA 95036-0581. Indicate whether you want to remain anonymous or have your name/organization listed online. SNA is a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation (Taxpayer ID = 77-0493926), and contributions are tax deductable. For further information, contact SNA at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-262-0420, or visit http://www.electric-bikes.com/prt/ferry.html.
Contracted services often cost more with inferior results
(Other Voices article for the Milpitas Post published April 13, 2012)
Beliefs drive our thoughts and actions. When our beliefs conform to reality, we generally "go with the flow" better. We become one with the Tao. However, when beliefs don't conform with reality - and they are strongly held - beliefs thwart wise choices. Two members of the City Council may be "true believers" of the outsourcing mythology.
At the April 3 Council meeting, the maintenance workers employed by Milpitas responded to the City's urgent financial situation. The workers were challenged to come up with a way to reduce their department's budget by $1.2M while providing service comparable to what residents now enjoy. The alternative, seemingly preferred by Mayor Esteves and Council member Giordano, is to contract out the work to private corporations that promise comparable results for lower cost.
The Milpitas Corporation Yard Task Force Group formed to take up the challenge and save their jobs. After a lot of work on many ideas, the democratically-elected representatives of the workers presented a plan that would save the City $1.5M (20% more than the target) and retain an experienced workforce.
Their plan relies primarily upon "reduction in force" (RIF) as they called it when I worked for corporate America. When the Group started, they knew that two or three employees were planning to retire. What they didn't know was that a total of eight are willing to retire. By leaving two vacancies open and transferring three others off the General Fund roles and onto someone else's payroll, the Group nearly reached the $1.5M final number. The rest came from employee concessions and cost-savings ideas that included elimination of a few existing maintenance contracts.
The two council Republicans seem to believe that for-profit companies can better maintain the commons than well-managed public employees. And why not? That's what they hear on Fox (so-called) News and all the other corporate-controlled lame-stream media.
The mythology of contracting is that contractors will provide better services at lower prices. In reality, contracted services often cost more and provide inferior results. Contracting invites corrupt private dealings, undermines our collective capacity to provide public goods, and elevates private profits over the common good. In the Health Insurance sector, that profit often exceeds 20%. We should call outsourcing "profitizing" rather than privatizing.
Find details at Privatization Myths Debunked.
High points from the article include:
- The Government Finance Officers Association estimates that hidden and indirect costs can add up to 25% to the contract price.
- The International City/County Management Association survey found 52% of governments that brought services back in-house reported that the primary reason was insufficient cost savings.
- Governments in-sourced again due to a decline in service quality which over 60% reported as their primary motivation.
This last fact should be important to our Mayor. He repeatedly expressed doubt that City workers could produce results comparable to the past. I am not sure what past standard he had in mind because the department has already experienced a 20% cut in workers over the past few years _ before this proposed additional 13% cut from 73 to 63. Frankly, I am also skeptical. But I am even more skeptical that a private company can do better than our guys. And our guys are fully aware that accountability will be a part of any final agreement. But, as they said repeatedly, they have never failed to deliver on past agreements. I trust them, and know they will "man up" and take another hit if the plan doesn't play out well. Given that their jobs are on the line, and four people are looking for every available job, I think they will come through for us.
After a 25-minute explanation of the plan, Mayor Esteves voted "no" on whether to direct staff to study the plan. He claimed that the plan offered few details and not enough information. (The Mayor has also used this excuse to delay a single-use bag ban even though a detailed 90-page consultant's report had been available for weeks.) Although I don't know what level of detail he expected, I thought it specific enough to merit the City's consideration. Fortunately, so did the three Democrats on the Council.
This Republican myth that outsourcing saves money is a typical money-centric (and incorrect) argument that omits all the other values of our community. In this case, retaining existing staff adds major benefits that are unlikely from a profitized workforce. Our team is more likely to live in and care about the future of Milpitas _ which leads to lots of side benefits. Our team already has the skill set and knowledge that will take outsiders years to acquire. Our team has a relationship with the community that profitized contract workers will never establish because it doesn't make money. Our team can be counted on in an emergency to help in whatever way our Emergency Response professionals ask; try getting a private company to respond without gouging the taxpayer (read Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein). Given Climate Change, we can expect more weather-related emergencies in our future.
I support democracy and pushing decision-making power to the lowest effective level. Therefore, I applaud the Milpitas Corporation Yard Task Force Group for their democratic, "let's work together" approach to creating a plan. It is a plan that can work for all of us - if religious belief does not get in the way. Come to the April 17 Council meeting to express your thoughts on the future of Milpitas.
Is the City being mismanaged?
Letter to the Milpitas Post (published May 18, 2012)
Whenever you see union workers picketing, it is safe to assume that the employer is being a jerk. Generally the employer is a large corporation concerned with nothing more than a bigger profit that can be squeezed from its workers. However, as portrayed on the cover of the May 4th Post, union workers are picketing City Hall. That's a bad sign. If you dig into the details as did my article in the 4/13/12 Post, you get the impression that the City wanted to replace our City workers with contract labor all along, regardless of the facts. As Council candidate Mark Tiernan said in his 5/11/12 letter to the Post, "outsourcing does not live up to the promises that are made." According to the Post's editorial, City Engineer/Public Works Director Greg Armendariz agreed.
Another indicator of mismanagement is the "shocker" (Post's word) of Greg's abrupt retirement. Professionals like him don't quit literally overnight - unless there is an irreconcilable problem. Instead, they give plenty of warning so the organization can gracefully accommodate their eventual departure - as did our city's excellent Information Services Director, Bill Marion. (Thank you, Bill, for all your good work.)
Which brings up another red flag. Counting Mr. Marion, five directors will have left the City's employ in just five months. Any reasonably well-run organization can accommodate the loss of a few key personnel, but when so many depart in a short time-frame, the whole organization suffers.
Maybe that is why, as reported on page 16 of the 5/11 Post, the City seems unusually occupied with a small political sign in someone's front yard. In financially tight times like these, when the roughly 80% of workers remaining at City Hall are overworked and over-stressed, pursuing such a small matter is a poor use of limited resources. The matter has now attracted the attention of the ACLU which may force the City to update their antiquated (and unconstitutional) sign ordinance - another expense that could have been avoided or delayed through clear-headed management.
At the May 8 City Council meeting, one day after a highly-paid consultant suggested raising revenues with a sales tax, I offered the Council a list of 25 potential sources of revenue that could ease the City's desperate financial situation. However, in the subsequent budget discussion, the only mention made of increasing revenue came from the Mayor who said "It's not acceptable to me."
An all-cuts budget as passed by the Council is like the austerity budgets imposed by various governments in Europe. There the people are pushing back. Voting across France, Greece and especially Iceland sent a very clear message to the technocrats and banksters choking them with trickle-down austerity. That message was, "No more!" Will Milpitas voters do the same this coming November?
Whatever happened to American democracy in which majority rules?
(Other Voices article for the Milpitas Post published June 3, 2011)
Whatever happened to our American version of democracy, the one that says "majority rules"? Since when did we decide to let the minority dictate policy to the majority? Answer: about 30 years ago.
In a time of political upheaval, environmental collapse, off-the-chart weather disasters, and widespread corruption, our representative government at the state and federal levels is stalled and gridlocked. Instead of being quick on our feet, we are dead in our tracks. Although a majority of our representatives can agree on changes that would address the challenges around us, a minority that represents corporate and wealthy interests stops those changes. And they can do it because of two rules _ filibuster and two-thirds majority.
The filibuster rule allows 40 senators to stop legislation already passed by the House. When you consider that those 40 could represent as little as 18% of the U. S. population, you realize how undemocratic the filibuster can be. For example, Republicans (and a few so-called Democrats) abused the filibuster rule to stop the will of the people over 200 times in the last legislative session.
The two-thirds rule in California started with Proposition 13 in 1978. People were upset over skyrocketing property-tax assessments. Republican Howard Jarvis used that anger to pass both a freeze (of sorts) on property taxes _ and a two-thirds vote requirement for the passage of any new taxes. Because of the "2/3 rules," it takes more than 2/3's of the Assembly and of the Senate to pass any legislation that requires revenue _ and almost everything does. It takes only 27 out of 80 Members of the Assembly OR 14 Senators out of 40 to block legislation. This situation is unique to California. No other state has total minority rule in the legislature.
So, here we are 30 years later with a fiscal crisis. Democrats and moderate Republicans have attempted to live with Proposition 13 while continuing to provide the state services Californians expect _ freeways, higher education, prisons, assistance to needy families and essential funding to local government and school districts. But you can make a dollar stretch just so far.
In the state's current fiscal crisis, California's public schools stand to lose $5.3 billion on top of $7.4 billion in cuts last year. That is clearly having an impact on our local schools. Our library services are threatened. Funds to maintain our streets have fallen to half of what is required to maintain them, so expect more potholes and cracks. Milpitas has reduced its full-time workforce from a peak of 500 to 390 recently, a 22% cut while the City's population continues to grow. A certain level of per-capita revenue is needed by the City to maintain infrastructure and services. As we fall below that revenue threshold, expect a lower quality of life here in Milpitas. As they say, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.
Both revenues and expenses of the City have been falling the past few years, but revenues have been leading _ thus our fiscal problems. As Councilman Armando Gomez has said "We don't have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem." That statement is supported by a USA TODAY report that in 2009 Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency.
Even in this fiscal crisis, and presented with a realistic solution from the Governor, a minority of legislators is intent on scuttling the solution. Republican legislators here and in Washington, D.C. are committed to the failure of the resident executive. Rather than work with the majority to solve our problems, they dig in their heels desperately trying to stop change, i.e. maintain the status quo that is destroying the middle class and bankrupting this country. One is tempted to ask "How un-American is that?" Instead, I ask "Why keep rules that allow this kind of behavior?" Let's return to the days of majority rule when the middle-class was healthy.
We may not be able to do much about the filibuster rule, but we can change the two-thirds rule. Join Grassroots for Democracy ( http://grassrootsfordemocracy.com/ ) in pressing for a change in the Constitution that simply changes the word "two-thirds" to "majority" in two places. It is simple, understandable, and fair.