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SAN JOSE ELECTION 2014 and THE MYTH OF AMERICA’S “SAFEST BIG CITY”; The impact of Measure B pension reform (editorial, part 3 of 3)

Today, San Jose Voters will decide the new mayor of the city, as well as (perhaps) the fate of further negotiations in regards to Measure B pension reform, enacted back in Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 2.07.10 PM2012.  Whoever becomes mayor, the legacy of past legislation will have repercussions.

Question: What has been Measure B’s impact to San Jose residents, either then, now or in the future?  What’s the so-called “promise” to voters, as constantly reiterated by politicians and political groups?

IMG_8979In two previous editorials, de·Anza Post looked at both the “fuzzy math” of crime rates issued by San Jose City Hall, as well as the formative political moniker known as “America’s Safest City.”

The doubtful claims and premises — as brought into consideration in these two previous editorials — continue in regards to Measure B; which, as it currently stands, is not truly the original text of which voters approved.  It’s the product that was created as when Judge Patricia Lucas, of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, overruled certain provisions.

San Jose’s Measure B (2012) deals with issues that are not unlike those of other cities, but it was poorly thought out from its inception; that is, even before it was brought to Superior Court.  If there’s anything of which voters should be upset, it’s the waste of time, money and resources that put forth such legislation.  Politicians should have know that it was unconstitutional and ineffective before the measure was set before voters.  Add to that, its troublesome impact on negotiating, aside from bitter strife and litigation.   Who benefits from this contrivance? It’s certainly not the taxpayer.

San Jose residents should not forget that the court decision against the city was of national significance, getting the attention of newspapers like the New York Times, which reported, just before Christmas 2013:

Judge Patricia Lucas of the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled that San Jose, the third largest city in the state and the self-described capital of Silicon Valley, could not make its employees pay an additional 16 percent from their own pockets toward their pensions or switch to a less generous plan. But her ruling endorsed voter-approved cuts to wages and some health benefits that are expected to save the city money.

In this election, it’s out-terming Mayor Reed and many of the currently seated council members that are continuously putting an emphasis on San Jose’s dilemma under the crux of Measure B pension reform; although a few minority council members have since changed their positions, realizing that the original premise is damaging.   For example, mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo’s colleague,

For example, mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo’s colleague, Councilmember Don Rocha, broke from politics-as-usual at City Hall, challenging Liccardo’s position from Measure B.  Recognizing the festering predicament, Rocha asked fellow City Council members to reconsider, back in April 2014.

Liccardo has continued to campaign with the idea that he is Mayor Reed’s successor, while largely denying and downplaying the faults of Measure B’s legacy.   Indeed,  his campaign agenda seemed to be working the same deal that Liccardo and Mayor Reed tried to sell to San Jose City Council back on 28 August 2013, if not even earlier than that, such as when Reed first campaigned for mayor.  In news speak, Liccardo’s current platform, including his recent editorial opinion, can be explained by simply “back-filling” what was said then.  Toss in a few more bells and whistles and sell it as “innovative.”

In news speak, Liccardo’s current platform, including his recent editorial opinion, can be explained by simply “back-filling” what was said then.  Toss in a few more bells and whistles and sell it as “innovative.”

Back then, even Councilmember Kalra rightfully turned it down, saying “On the surface, this seems like a reasonable idea.  However… this proposal was more about timely politics than about meaningful policy.

Whoever becomes mayor, that person will have to lead and negotiate with fellow council members, as well as with city employees.  That includes not just the police force and firefighters, but all areas of city government.

Is what Liccardo’s plan calls a “dividend” truly a new or real deal?  Liccardo offered 10% then, and increases it to 11% now; but, realize that his original offer was previously planned over a four-year duration.  It’s hard to see how that can be seen truly as a “pay raise,” such as he likes to call it.

As the original argument against Measure B said, “City employees don’t receive social security and… employees rely on their pension for retirement security.”  But, before Measure B even passed, city employees were already taking pay cuts of 10% to 18%, while also continuing to contribute up to 17% of their pay toward retirement.   In other words, they lost a significant percentage of pay; then, in turn, transferred more of that percentage of devalued income into retirement pensions — greater than the percentage of their pay cut — so as compensate.  In other words, they compounded their loss in that process.  Still, consider that these employees will additionally pay for taxes, groceries, rent, mortgages, gas, etc., just like the rest of us.

In other words, they lost a significant percentage of pay; then, in turn, transferred more of that percentage of devalued income into retirement pensions — greater than the percentage of their pay cut — so as compensate.  In other words, they compounded their loss in that process.  Still, consider that these employees will additionally pay for taxes, groceries, rent, mortgages, gas, etc., just like the rest of us.

Still, consider that these employees will additionally pay for taxes, groceries, rent, mortgages, gas, etc., just like the rest of us.

So, if San Jose only maneuvers to control the rate of pay of city employees — including police, fire, and others — then, how will it negotiate on such contracts, as well as compete with other cities?  Can this be a winning game?

While San Jose politicians continue to demonize San Jose police and fire as mere “labor,” demeaning their unions and so on; these professionals are nevertheless as skilled and specialized as the rest of us and deserve the right to the greatest pay and compensation of which the market will provide.   And, quite frankly, there’s nothing we can do about that.  San Jose’s weakness is another city’s gain.

It’s our decision, in turn, to decide if we want to pay for the best talent, or that of the average, mediocre… that which is the less-than-expert.

The bottom line of which San Jose residents must recognize — regardless of all the political bickering — is that it must compete in the global pool of talent, not just in regards to fire and police, but all its city employees.  In that regard, it’s really no different than any institution, public or private.  Once you go do down that slope of lower pay, unskilled and untalented workers, it’s a hard road towards recovery.

Indeed, it doesn’t make sense to advocate for a strong mayor if the people who run the city are less experienced and incompetent.  What you have, in that regard, is nothing more than a bully that manages a growing pool of ineffective people who lack morale.

We could be allocating top money towards hiring and maintaining an expert staff of experienced police officers and other employees; but, instead, some politicians want to appropriate those monies back into the population; although distributing it over a slower period of time and to less qualified personnel.
Mayor Reed’s plan, re-conveyed through Sam Liccardo, can offer pay to a staff with lowered retention levels and lesser experience.  Meanwhile, the exit rate of new personnel is escalating and expected to get worse, in addition to the loss of those senior members.   In other words, Liccardo is leading the way to a tragic storyline.

The reality is that San Jose’s Police Department is barely “back-filling” its existing staff positions, while also “milling” out diplomas to new rookie cadets that won’t have nearly enough Field Training Officers (FTOs) to mentor them.

Some student cadets may want to live in and work for the City of San Jose, even claiming that the Police Officers Association was discouraging them from graduation and taking jobs from the city.  That seems to be sad, but it’s not as though San Jose’s police union and its president are the only persons saying this.

In fact, even though many students attend vocational schools or four-year universities with the intention to graduate and enter a given field; still, it does not mean that it’s going to be a sensible decision or pay-off.  How many students could have benefited from honesty, before they sued the college and/or loan provider and ended up at a dead-end job?  Furthermore, it’s not as if the Police Department is the only department of the city at which employees are exiting to seek work elsewhere.  Again, it was Councilmember Rocha that stood apart from others at City Hall, stating that recruitment and retention problems are noted in many city departments.

Information from the San Jose Police Officer’s Association recently showed that San Jose only had 40 FTOs, down from 46, as of August 2014 when the mayoral race became competitive.  That’s compared to 26 new Police Academy personnel, down from 29; that are expected to graduate as of 7 November 2014.   Therefore, it’s questionable how any cadet would muster well in the academy, aside from after graduation, given these realities.  Yet, the mayor, politicians and main newspaper press of San Jose don’t seem to talk about that much.  Instead, many of them conspire to just hash out more controversy.

These numbers are important; because it reflects the progression and ratio of quality personnel that will become bona fide working patrol officers at our city streets.  What is more, it reflects the trend from where San Jose was historically established; to where we’re at situated right now; as well as to where we’re destined.

Mayor Reed and candidate Liccardo bring forth fuzzy numbers in regard to the analysis.  It’s like cherry-picking the facts; when the reality gives the public a much far worse crop.

What matters is not simply “sworn” officers; but, the working patrol officers, less that of the healthy sworn-solo officers.  When last checking the numbers, back in August, they translate and break down like this:

Working patrol officers were recently at 445, below the minimum 492.

Those working patrol officers are included within the healthy sworn-solo officers, which are a total 889.

The difference between working patrol officers and these others amounts to 444.

That means that half of the sworn-solo police force is not directly out on the street patrolling, but mostly performing other work.  In other words, think of these other officers working in an office, administrating, or doing other jobs that are not directly “patrol” oriented.

But, more appropriately to Mayor Reed’s or Councilmember Liccardo’s question:  how many of those officers are actually on the street at any given time?

Hypothetically, of the said lot, let’s consider that these San Jose patrol officers work 10 hour shifts/4 day a week.   That means, per shift, there’s a much smaller fraction at regular patrol at any given time.  To compensate for personnel loss, many officers are now working overtime.   As of June 2014, San Jose Police spokesperson, Albert Morales, told television KTVU/Channel 2 that “Day shift and swing shift will be asked to holdover for a minimum of three hours; midnight, two hours. Again, we’ll take volunteers.”

The actual number of entire San Jose Police officers is 1,020, of which 1,109 are authorized and 954 are sworn-solo.  But, how do we account for the differences?

It means 11 officers are currently “unauthorized,” as well as that 65 are currently considered “not-healthy” to serve.  Disabilities account for 33, modified status 23, and 9 of those are at military or family leave.  In other words, these people are carried on staff, but not working.

But, let’s go back to square one:  the trend from where San Jose was historically established, to where we’re situated right now…

Historically, San Jose had a patrol of 600 officers; whereas, this means that the city is currently at a loss of 155 patrol officers.  These are the real numbers, right now and what’s particularly relevant.

Resignations and retirements are running up by the year:  139 for 2011; 106 for 2012; 118 for 2013.

Beyond considerations of the overall police force, consider its specialized departments.  For example, the city is currently talking about scrapping its motorcycle force.  It seems questionable how a Mayor and certain city council members can say that San Jose cannot afford law enforcement staples like a motorcycle unit, but then advocate investing in other programs of what’s usually a secondary requisite.

Even odder is that the city uses motorcycle units to staff its community service and development programs; which are funded by state and federal grants.  But, imagine School Safety, Education, and Neighborhood services — aside from Traffic Enforcement programs — without motorcycles.  The city’s own website says, “Speed, one of the leading causes of collisions, is enforced through the use of laser and radar devices. Each motorcycle officer is equipped with one of these devices.

The police department is not the only area of San Jose government that is subject to budget politics and appropriations.  For example, the fire department is also operating without proper apparatus and personnel, as previously pointed out by de·Anza Post, especially throughout last summer’s drought and dry conditions.   In just one instance, a single 5-alarm fire at a house in Almaden had drawn out considerable resources from other neighborhoods, leaving already under-served areas in even more dire circumstances.

Making good on promises to the voters?  Back on 22 July 2014, de·Anza Post also reported that “San Jose City Council recommended to decrease Willow Glen’s Fire Station 37 reserve by $350,000; that is, while continuing delays on building that station and making plans to build and open facilities elsewhere in the city; all the while leaving other problems open-ended.”

While politicians talk about giving voters what they want in regards to Measure B, not only had they poorly set that up; but, they also haven’t exactly delivered voters’ requests from a measure that was voted in as far back as 5 March 2002, in which 71.7% voters approved City of San Jose Measure O, “911, Fire, Police Paramedic, and Neighborhood Security Act.”  At that time, the measure gave power….

To improve San Jose’s fire, police, and paramedic response times by: adding and improving fire stations and police stations, training facilities, and creating state of the art 911 communications facilities…”

Stakeholders in the Willow Glen community felt that needs here were not being appropriately represented; so, they brought forth another action, in which the passing of Measure O was followed by an election as of 4 November 2008, wherein City of San Jose Measure L, “Fire Station Construction,” passed with 64.53% Yes votes.  That measure — which was never made good —  read as follows:

To improve fire suppression, emergency medical services and increase essential emergency facilities available for disaster response within the Willow Glen area, shall the City be authorized to construct a single-company fire station on up to ¾ of an acre on a portion of the Lincoln Glen Park parking lot?

Especially since the mid-2000s to current day 2014, fire station issues have been resurfacing; that’s in addition to police staffing issues; flood protection infrastructure; and, finally, a “Sanitary & Storm Sewer Improvement Project,” such as that on Bird Avenue over the last year.
 In short, San Jose not only needs to re-consider budgeting for its emergency services; but, also reconsider for many other areas of its government.  In turn, residents need to ask where this funding is being prioritized and appropriated.
While San Jose’s Fire Station 37 is postponed indefinitely from being built; it’s Station 33 at Communications Hill that is completed, but which has remained closed, indefinitely.
Traditional neighborhoods are under-served; whereas, newer neighborhoods are built, but not adequately planned and accounted in budgets.  To add to this insanity, even though the city recognizes its predicament with inadequate response times, it has chosen to fold to such a challenge, ignoring the need for essential services in one of San Jose’s most central and popular neighborhoods; while continuing to build elsewhere with a questionable growth plan.
In all these years, the Mayor and Councilmembers have chosen to delay, reframe the issues and pass budget memos; but, they have never found a way to fulfill the expectations of city ballot Measure L from 2008, aside from appropriately and fairly empowering Measure O, as its precursor.
While it postpones building and opening these prior said fire stations, in addition to others, nevertheless the city somehow finds the money and priority to continue with yet other projects, like Station 21.    Within the Public Safety section of a report, “2013-2017 Adopted Capital Improvement Program — Use of Funds (Combined),” it compares Station 21’s own 5-year total use of funds and construction projects cost to that of Station 37’s projected course.  White Road’s Station 21 will cost $6,133,000 to Willow Glen’s $620,000 at Lincoln Avenue.  In other words, Station 21 will take the lion’s share of these budget dollars; which, for an amount of “Total Neighborhood Security Bond Fund Projects,” adds up to $7,193,000.
Those remaining amounts aside from those pertaining to Station 37 and 21 have already included: Fire Station 19 – Relocation (Piedmont) for $20,000; as well as, $420,000 for a South San Jose Police Substation.  Both of these later amounts are from the 2012-2013 year.

That’s still not the final price tag for Station 21.   Let’s go back to square one, whereas to cite the said memo from 16 May 2014, which was made in preparation for the 10 June 2014 Council Agenda, item 2.24, tagging station 21 against Station 37:

As per the “cost summary/implications” accounting, the footed “TOTAL PROJECT COST” for the “Fire Station No. 21 Relocation Project” will be:$9,443,300.  (Just under 9.5 million dollars).

When the city says it doesn’t have the money, that seems to be yet another questionable  claim, relative to further investigation and in-depth budget analysis.

In these editorials, de·Anza Post has looked at statistical numbers pertaining to the performance of emergency services, including fuzzy math, doubtful premises and inappropriate claims.   It’s a political game that can include hidden budget appropriations; but, Mayor Reed and his political legacy also seem to have a habit of “misquotes” and misinformation that poorly represent of the situation.

As of early  as February 2012, NBC Bay Area reported that “Internal emails and documents show some fuzzy math behind pension cost projections used to sell a fiscal disaster in San Jose.”

That month, the story was also picked up by Crooks and Liars, stating:

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat, is pushing a ballot measure that would cut city employee pensions and is basing his case on a pension liability number that was made up, he was told not to use, and overstates the real liability by nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. Reed based his claims of a crisis on a figure of a $650 million city contribution to pension costs for the next five years on a comment from Russell Crosby, director of retirement services for the city of San Jose. Crosby has since said that he made the number up off the top of his head and that he told Reed not to use the number. The number overestimates the actual costs by more than $200 million.

But, even beyond that, as of 7 April 2014, Douglas Rose, President of the State Association of County Retirement Systems, and a Trustee serving on the San Diego County Pension Board, said of Mayor Reed, that his incompetence cost San Jose 94 Million dollars:

The Mayor of San Jose, California Chuck Reed’s mismanagement and neglect of the San Jose pension systems has cost taxpayers and system members well over $94 million dollars the past three years.

Mayoral Candidate Sam Liccardo and Mayor Reed claim that San Jose doesn’t need to spend more money to get a “safer city.”  In fact, they claim that we cannot pay retirement costs and salaries, aside from budgeting a host of other resources and services.

In turn, San Jose residents should look at election day as being their Jerry Maguire moment.  Before it’s said, “You had me at hello,” it’s needed to be learned how to say that famous line by actor Cuba Gooding, Jr.,  when he got Tom Cruise to shout-out:

“Show me the money!”

To borrow an over-used buzzword from more recent years, that would be a real “game-changer.”

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This entry was posted on Tuesday 4 November 2014 by in CA, Opinion & Editorial, Politics, San Jose, San Jose City Hall & Council, Technocracy.

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