Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vallejo's leaders say city must live within its means

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen / Times-Herald
Posted: 05/01/2010 01:01:19 AM PDT

Acknowledging nearly unprecedented challenges facing the city and the state, speakers at Vallejo's annual Legislative Day event Friday nevertheless identified what few bright spots are visible in the area's dark economic landscape.

Mayor Osby Davis said there will be 20 fewer cops, one less fire station and reduced services in many of the city's departments until revenues increase and services can be restored. City leaders must adjust services based on what the city can afford, instead of searching for ways to raise the money to pay for existing levels of service, he said.

Despite dealing with a budget $20 million less than a couple of years ago, the city does have $65 million in revenues, and as long as it "lives within its means," will survive, he said. Davis admonished Vallejoans not to allow the city's current situation to define it.

"This is a circumstance we're going through and this is not how this story ends," he said. "There is reason for hope. There are opportunities all around -- the waterfront, I-80, the Fairgrounds -- all have potential for making our city what we want it to be."

Binding arbitration must go, he said, so the largest portion of the city's expenditures -- salaries -- is in city leaders' hands and rational budget planning can occur, he said. He expressed support for Measure A which eliminates binding arbitration from the city's union bargaining equation.

Davis also said that without passing a one-cent sales tax "we won't make it. A half-cent (sales tax) will maintain what we have and one cent will pull us out of where we are."

Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes said revenues are down and costs are up and Vallejo residents have to acknowledge a new reality.

"Things will never be as they were, but we will smile again. I have no doubt about that," she said.
Gomes said recovery will require avoiding quick fixes and finding sustainable, long-term solutions to problems. She echoed Davis' supporting of Measure A, calling its passage critical.

Not allowing the state to raid local coffers to pay its bills is also critical, Gomes and other speakers said.

Gomes also said reinventing the city's economic development department is essential, so potential economic drivers can be effectively pursued.

Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) recounted the past year from the state budget committee perspective, describing the battle to rescue California after losing a quarter of its revenues practically overnight.

"We lost $40 billion in the first half of 2009," Evans said. "We were in pretty dire straits and it was pretty chaotic. We were literally facing insolvency and (staff members) were actually exploring if or how the state could declare bankruptcy."

It evidently can't, she said.

Ultimately, $60 billion in solutions, including tax increases, widespread cuts, furloughs and other measures, were found, Evans said. This year, the state is in a healthier position, but "is not out of the woods yet," she said.

Evans advocated changing the super majority requirement for passing a state budget, saying a simple majority works for 47 other states and the federal government.

"Keeping our eyes on the good things happening in our cities is important in dismal times like these," she said. "We're Californians, and we'll get through this and be better for it."

Davis echoed this and got a standing ovation when he said, "I couldn't get up in the morning believing I'm mayor of a city with no hope. We can and already are overcoming our circumstances. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we're getting closer to it. It's only a matter of time."

Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824 or