Councilwoman Olga Diaz has admirable composure. Had someone “mansplained” to me as Mayor Sam Abed did to her at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, I’d have become angry and “old-lady-splained” back to him.
The meeting had not begun on a very positive note. Under “Oral Communication”, one lady complained about the odor from the Hale Ave. Resource Recovery Facility (AKA sewer treatment plant), and a member of the Escondido Country Club Homeowners’ Organization complained about the lack of oversight to the deserted club and the resulting increase in the homeless people living there, and the increase of criminal activity.
The big item on the agenda, however, was item 6, Adoption of Fiscal Year 2017-18 Annual Operating Budget and the Appropriations Limit (Gann Limit) for Fiscal Year 2017-18. The budget, as presented to the Council can be viewed at: https://www.escondido.org/Data/Sites/1/media/PDFs/Finance/PreliminaryOperatingBudget1718.pdf .
After the staff had made their presentation, only two members of the public spoke. Patricia Borchmann observed that the reliance on an increase in revenue was not realistic. Vanessa Valenzuela wished that the new budget format had included the breakdown of salaries that the older budgets had done. She wondered what was being done to reduce the expense of maintaining the Reidy Creek Golf Course, and noted that $500K (the cost of a new skatepark) was only ½ of 1 percent of the city’s budget. She felt that had the city properly allowed for public input, the budget would reflect what the public wanted. She wondered why the city no longer had a budget committee that met with the public as was done in the past.
Councilman John Masson said he really liked the new format of the budget. The salary information was available on the city’s website. He explained that the Reidy Creek Golf Course acted as part of the city’s flood control. (I’ve written about this boondoggle: https://ablueviewescondido.com/2016/04/05/beware-of-developers-bearing-gifts-of-golf-courses/ .)
Diaz said that when she had been on the budget committee in the past, there had been robust public input, which she missed. She had agreed with the proposal to end the committee, because she felt that all of the council members should be involved in the development of the budget, and hear from the public. That had not happened, instead there was very little public input into the budgeting process. She also liked the new format, but disagreed that details were unnecessary.
She then began to ask questions, partly, she explained, in order to make some of the budget information public. Information like the hitherto unknown fact that the city staff, under the guidance of City Manager Jeff Epp, was looking into the possibility of outsourcing the library services. This was something, she insisted, that the public should be informed of, and given the opportunity to comment on. It was interesting to watch the annoyed expression of the rest of the council and Epp as she disclosed this information. She agreed with Valenzuela that the individual salary schedule for the council and staff, should not be collapsed into a single expense item.
At this point, Abed interrupted her to mansplain that she should ask her questions of the staff privately and not take up time during the meeting.
Diaz replied that if there had been more details in the budget, she would have had known the answers to most of her questions. Collapsing the information into single items made it hard to compare to previous years. Besides, the public needed a chance to hear information like the outsourcing of the library.
Epp, barely containing his irritation, said that the staff was just studying the possibility of outsourcing, and he saw no need to rile up the public before they knew whether or not such outsourcing would save the city money.
Diaz again said that public input on such an issue was vital. The Escondido Library had a unique following within the city, it was critical to include the public about any library decisions.
Epp said the staff needed do their job first, before presenting the idea to the public.
Diaz said the public would be alarmed if it was kept in the dark about such decisions.
Councilman Mike Morasco also liked the new format, saying it was very user friendly and expressed the council’s (the council majority’s) belief system. The questions he had about the budget had been explained by the staff, when he had spoken to them before the meeting. (Unlike, he implied, the time-consuming process of asking his questions in public like Diaz.)
Councilman Ed Gallo was more direct. He boasted that he had met with staff before the meeting and they had answered his questions satisfactorily. He too really liked the new format. He credited Epp and the city staff for being “on the ball”.
Abed began by “addressing comments” that suggested the budgeting process had not been transparent, and had been secretive. There had been plenty of time for the public to comment at previous meetings like the council’s “Action Plan” workshop. That meeting, he remembered had not been well attended. (Well, if it hadn’t been held in the afternoon, when most people are working, maybe it would have had a larger crowd.) This meeting, Abed insisted, wasn’t the time to hash over the budget details. It was the city manager’s job, not the council’s, to oversee the details of the budget. All the salaries were posted on the city’s website, so the public had plenty of access.
Abed returned to his usual self-congratulation that the city, under his leadership, had, for the sixth year in a row, a “structurally balanced” budget.
The budget was passed with “four yes votes, Diaz voting no.”
The outsourcing of library services had not been discussed publically before this meeting. Typical of Abed and the council majority. They have expressed the belief that services like recreation and the library, need to take a backseat to police and fire. What they don’t say, but have shown by their votes, is that it is more important to support developers than to fund recreational and library services. They are now trying to squeeze more saving from library services, while previously blithely waiving millions in developer impact fees. The idea that a library, or a school, or a health system should be run like a business is a bit Republican doggerel that ignores the reality that privatizing such services increases the cost and deteriorates the services. Back in the 19th century, people figured out that schools are cheaper than jails. That lesson seems to be lost on this city council majority.