Protector of the Golf Complex.
Fund-raiser for Alameda public parks.
Advocate for open space.
Who fits all of these descriptions?
If you said, Bill Delaney, chair of the recreation and parks commission and president of the Alameda Friends of the Parks, your answer is accurate – but it’s not the one we’re looking for.
The correct answer is, “Why, Mayor Marie Gilmore, of course.”
At least, that’s the conclusion one would draw from reading the Mayor’s campaign Website, which touts her as a supporter of golf, parks, and open space in three of the seven items listed under “accomplishments” during her first term.
Today, in our second column channeling the Washington Post’s The Fact Checker, the Merry-Go-Round will examine whether the record supports those claims.
But before we go there we want to start with the item on the list that made our jaw drop: that, among her other accomplishments, the Mayor “[i]ncreased budget reserves and decreased future pension costs.”
Now, the first part of that sentence is literally true. According to the annual CAFRs, the “unassigned” balance in the General Fund was $16.4 million as of June 30, 2011, six months after Ms. Gilmore took office, and $21.3 million as of June 30, 2013. (The CAFR for FY 2013-14 has not yet been issued).
Yet, as we previously have pointed out, the increase in reserves cannot be attributed to the superior managerial skills of the Russo/Gilmore administration. In fact, according to an analysis done at our request by City Finance Director Fred Marsh, the vast majority of the $4.9 million increase in the General Fund balance during this period resulted from funds transfers and other accounting maneuvers: write-off of a set-aside for an advance to the (dissolved) redevelopment agency ($1.3 million); receipt of an advance from Alameda Municipal Power ($1 million); re-payment of an advance by FISC ($960,000), and “redemption” of donations made to the Animal Shelter ($231,899) and Senior Center ($259,226).
So the Mayor is stretching the facts, to put it most charitably, when she solicits a pat on the back for the increase in the General Fund balance. But the further contention that Ms. Gilmore “decreased future pension costs” just isn’t true.
According to the official data published by CalPERs covering the first two years of the Mayor’s term, the City’s total future pension liabilities (discounted to present value) increased from $339.8 million to $368.8 million for public safety employees and from $242.2 million to $246.8 million for “miscellaneous” employees.
The picture is similar for “unfunded liabilities” – i.e., the amount by which future pension liabilities exceed the assets set aside to pay for them when they become due. According to the same CalPERS data, unfunded liabilities for public safety pensions rose from $71.5 million to $87.7 million and for miscellaneous employee pensions from $23.0 million to $25.2 million.
Far from decreasing, total future pension liabilities thus grew by $33.5 million and total “unfunded” liabilities by $16.4 million in the two years since June 30, 2010. (CalPERS has not yet released the data for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, but we would be astounded if the figures aren’t higher).
This increase in total future and unfunded liabilities was accompanied by an increase in the City’s annual employer contribution to CalPERS. According to the annual CAFRs, the amount paid by the City — from all of its Funds — went from $12.1 million in fiscal year 2010-11 to $13.6 million in FY 2012-13. And costs are expected to keep on rising in the future. Focusing just on the General Fund budget, Mr. Marsh has estimated that annual pension expense will go from $9 million in FY 2013-14 to $13 million in FY 2017-18.
Until now, the Mayor has not tried to deny publicly the incontrovertible fact that “future pension costs” have increased, not decreased, during her first term, and that they will continue to go up if she is re-elected. Instead, she has argued, as is her wont, that the reason lies in factors over which she has no control.
This is a not a total dodge. The Mayor legitimately can argue that many of the pension plans creating these enormous future liabilities were adopted before she was elected. She also legitimately can point out that CalPERS, not the City, determines the formula for computing the required annual employer contribution.
But the Mayor can’t deny all responsibility. Pensions are based on salaries, and, to the extent a city raises salaries, it also increases future pension liabilities and annual pension costs. And this is exactly what the Gilmore-led Council did when it approved new four-year contracts with the public safety unions in December 2012.
Those contracts provided for annual raises of up to 4% in 2014 and 5% in 2015 and 2016 (with a guaranteed minimum of 1.5% in 2014 and 2% in 2015 and 2016). For firefighters, they also established a “Career Development Incentive” program providing extra pay for “qualifying employees” – which meant most of them — of either 3%, 4%, or 5% “for achieving established standards in years of service, education, training, certification or qualification.”
According to an analysis prepared by Mr. Marsh for Council in December 2012, even if the firefighters and cops receive only the guaranteed minimum raise, the salary increase will boost the required employer contribution for pensions over the term of the contract by $850,586. The “career development incentive” program will add another $675,298. Moreover, since Mr. Marsh came up with his estimate before CalPERS made significant changes to the formula used to calculate the required employer contribution, the actual increase resulting from the raises and incentive pay will be even higher than his December 2012 numbers.
We’d surely like to hear during one of the candidate forums how the Mayor reconciles facts like these with her claim that she has “decreased future pension costs.” Michele Ellson and Dennis Evanosky, are you listening?
Now on to golf, parks, and open space.
According to the Website, among Ms. Gilmore’s accomplishments is having “[p]rotected and [r]ehabilitated” the Golf Complex. But if you were to ask any Golf War veteran which member of Council merits thanks for saving the Mif Albright par-three course, defeating Ron Cowan’s “swap” proposal to turn the Mif into a housing development, or preserving the traditional 36-hole layout, the only name you’d hear is former Councilman Doug deHaan.
In fact, the record shows that, as a Councilwoman and later as Mayor, Ms. Gilmore went along every step of the way with the scheme to bowdlerize the Golf Complex:
- In November 2008, she voted to close the Mif and to hire Kemper Sports, a Chicago-based golf management company, as the interim operator;
- In March 2010, she voted to direct the City Manager to negotiate a long-term contract with Kemper, which repeatedly insisted that it was financially impossible to continue to operate two regulation 18-hole courses and a par-three course;
- In January 2011, she reacted favorably to Kemper’s proposal to down-size the two regulation courses from 36 to 27 holes;
- In July 2011, she voted to direct the City Manager to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with Cowan for the swap and a lease with Kemper for long-term operation of two re-configured courses.
To Ms. Gilmore, golfers were just another interest group to be placated. “As Council members we run into this situation all the time, where members of the community come and they advocate for whatever their particular interest is at that moment and everybody’s really passionate about it, and I understand that,” she lectured the golfers at one meeting. “Unfortunately, as Council members, we have to look out for the best interests of the broader city.”
Likewise, to her, the Golf Complex was just another asset to be exploited. She made no apologies for using revenue generated by the golf courses to subsidize the General Fund budget, “mainly public safety.” And when Cowan emerged from the shadows with the swap proposal, she saw the issue solely in terms of dollars and cents. “I think the only reason we’re even considering this is because there is the potential to get a certain amount of cash in hand that the city does not have,” she said. “That cash is what is driving the discussion.”
In the end, Council bowed to public pressure and turned down the swap. Ms. Gilmore did not stand in the way. Indeed, to some she facilitated this decision by submitting a Council referral to direct the City Manager to “seek alternative options” to Cowan’s proposal. (Others would say the referral was designed simply to buy additional time for Cowan to rally support by pitting one part of the youth sports community against another). But in no event can she take a bow for what even she now trumpets as a positive outcome.
Now to parks.
According to the Website, Ms. Gilmore is “[l]eading funding efforts for Jean Sweeney and Estuary Parks.” We had not read or heard of the Mayor’s involvement, as a leader or otherwise, in this endeavor, but perhaps she was working behind the scenes, so we decided to seek information from the organizations who are publicly involved with fund-raising efforts for the parks.
We started with the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park Fund, a private charitable organization that was formed to raise funds for the Sweeney Park and that already has secured a grant from the Alameda Community Fund. Co-chair (and former Councilman) deHaan told us that “to best of my knowledge the council has very little involvement to date in obtaining funds.” We turned next to Alameda Friends of the Parks, another private charitable organization that has raised funds for all Alameda parks for many years. Mr. Delaney, the FAP president, told us that he, too, could provide no information about the Mayor’s role in the efforts to get grants for the Sweeney or Estuary Parks.
At Mr. Delaney’s suggestion, we then contacted recreation and parks director Amy Wooldridge. In reply, Ms. Wooldridge sent us an email reporting that the Mayor had written a letter of support for the City’s pending application for a grant for the portion of the Cross Alameda Trail that runs through the Sweeney Park and had “directly spoke[n] with Assemblymember [Rob] Bonta and Congresswoman [Barbara] Lee to garner their support for the project.” As a result, the email went on, “I received letters from both, which I feel is a critical component to our anticipated success with the grant application.”
Ms. Wooldridge’s email also gave the Mayor credit, albeit indirectly, for funds obtained for Estuary Park. The City received a grant from the State Department of Housing and Community Development, which, the email stated, HCD would not have made had Council not approved a Housing Element in July 2012. In addition, Ms. Wooldridge pointed out, Ms. Gilmore voted for a resolution authorizing the City to apply for $500,000 in Measure WW funds for Estuary Park. (Technically, the matter was on the consent calendar, so no vote was taken specifically on that item, but the Mayor didn’t oppose it).
Those are the facts about the Mayor’s role. We guess you could call this leadership (Ms. Wooldridge’s email does). Call us underwhelmed.
In addition to boasting how Ms. Gilmore protected the Golf Complex and is leading fund-raising efforts for the Sweeney and Estuary Parks, the Website also claims, more generally, that the Mayor has established a record of “[a]dvocating for more parks, open space and good local jobs.”
Like everyone else on Council, Ms. Gilmore indeed has proclaimed publicly that she supports parks and open space. “It’s not a question of whether we value open space,” she told the public at the June 3 Council meeting. “All of us do.” A month later, she chose even more dramatic language: “We’re all very passionate about parks,” she declared, dispassionately. Apparently, she also proselytizes for parks privately with City personnel. “The Mayor is a strong supporter of parks and constantly pushes for park development and the required funding,” Ms. Wooldridge’s email averred.
If this constitutes “advocacy,” perhaps the Mayor’s claim is well-taken. But one might ask: What has she done to match action to words? Pose that question to the people who conceived and promoted the initiative requiring the City to re-zone Crab Cove from residential to open space and you’ll get an answer that doesn’t jibe with the Mayor’s self-portrayal.
As Ms. Wooldridge’s email suggests, the Mayor remains proud of her role in pushing the Housing Element through Council in July 2012. But it was that document that slapped the multi-family residential zoning on the Crab Cove property in the first place – even though it was not necessary to meet the City’s RHNA quota. We can’t be sure the Mayor understood the impact of her vote on the ability of the East Bay Regional Park District to acquire the land to expand Crown Beach State Park in accordance with Measure WW. But she knew about it soon enough – when EBRPD sued the City – and she spurned pleas from citizens to resolve the litigation by changing the zoning voluntarily.
We also don’t know whether Ms. Gilmore was leading the resistance from behind or simply following the course set by City Manager John Russo. (It wouldn’t surprise us if it was the latter). Unlike Vice Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C., she did not submit op-ed pieces under her name to the Sun belittling the arguments made by those who wanted Crab Cove re-zoned to open space. Indeed, as far as we can tell, Ms. Gilmore said nothing publicly at all.
The park supporters, like the Golf War veterans before them, then resorted to the initiative process and quickly obtained the number of signatures required to place a measure on the November ballot. At that point Council could simply have adopted the initiative as an ordinance and ended the matter (and, in all likelihood, the court battle with EBRPD).
Instead, Ms. Gilmore urged conditioning adoption of the initiative on enactment of a “companion measure” that would identify options for paying litigation expenses if the re-zoning required by the initiative led to a lawsuit. “It’s like if you’re parents, you want to give your kids what they want, you want to make ‘em happy – and, by the way, I’m not comparing the residents to kids, it’s just that as a parent I know how hard you try to please your kids – and you may have limited means in which to do that, and you make choices, right?” the Mayor explained to the adult crowd of initiative backers. “[W]hat we’re trying to do is put the City in the best position to give the residents what they want without potentially blowing our budget.”
Except for Councilman Chen, Council went along, but when the “companion measure” came up for a second reading, the Mayor insisted on amending it to make even clearer that she had no intention of spending any General Fund revenue –- around 75% of which goes to the fire and police departments – to pay for Crab Cove. This message needed to be sent, the Mayor said, “because, as Council member Tam so eloquently stated, the City Council in setting the budget and appropriating money throughout the year has different priorities. Our No. 1 priority is health, welfare and safety of the citizens.” This time, Councilman Chen joined the majority, but the Vice Mayor and Councilman Tony Daysog voted, “No.”
In a way, it was the Golf Wars all over again. Sure, you people out there may want more parks (or a renovated Golf Complex), Ms. Gilmore seemed to be saying. But my priorities are different, and I’m going to make sure we don’t spend so much money on your projects that there won’t be enough to “protect public safety” by giving the fire and police departments what they want.
We’ve now examined four of the seven “accomplishments” identified by the Mayor on her Website. Let us turn briefly to the rest:
- Ms. Gilmore has “maintained 100% funding for city-sponsored educational opportunities.” We hope our readers will forgive us, but we simply don’t know what the Mayor is talking about. (We sent her an email asking for clarification, but she never responded). So we’re left to guess. It’s certainly true that the City sponsors educational programs at the library for Alameda school children and “lifelong learners.” (We’ve attached a list provided by the library’s Jane Chisaki). But we’re not aware of any attempt to reduce funding for these programs that Ms. Gilmore thwarted. During the most recent budget process, a Council member did speak out against staff’s proposal to cut library hours, but the objector was Vice Mayor Ashcraft, not Ms. Gilmore.
- Ms. Gilmore “took control of Alameda Point at NO COST to taxpayers.” The agreement between the City and the Navy for transfer of 509 acres of land at Alameda Point in fact provides for no payment by the City to the Navy as long as no more than 1,425 housing units are built (and a $50,000 per unit penalty for exceeding the cap). But until now, Ms. Gilmore has not claimed responsibility for this result. According to the staff reports prepared at the time, the idea of a “no-cost conveyance” actually came from the Navy. Back in June 2011, the City had asked the Navy to transfer – for free – 45 acres at the Point as the site for a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory campus. Soon thereafter, “the Navy agreed to negotiate a no-cost conveyance of not only the proposed LBNL Second Campus site, but the whole of the EDC Property.” These negotiations resulted in a term sheet approved by Council in October 2011 and an agreement signed by Mr. Russo in January 2012.
- Ms. Gilmore has “increased public safety services and purchased [a] new Rescue Boat for [the] Fire Department.” Here, the Mayor is being not only entirely truthful but far too modest. We presume that the “increased services” to which she is referring is the fire department’s “Basic Life Support” program, which furnishes an ambulance for “inter-facility transports,” like schlepping a patient from the hospital to a nursing home, and which has lost money in each of the two years since it began. Maybe her reference also encompassed services to be offered at the new Emergency Operations Center, whose design and construction will cost the City more than $4 million. (Or maybe not. In response to a recent question from Vice Mayor Ashcraft, Public Works Director Bob Haan told Council that, once the EOC is up and running, only one employee will be working there full-time).
Likewise, the fire boat is only one of a long list of equipment purchased for the fire department during the Mayor’s first term. She could have cited, in addition, two new ladder trucks, three new fire engines, and one new and one refurbished ambulance, all of which were bought with borrowed money (total cost, exclusive of financing costs: $4 million). And there’s also a new “rescue vehicle,” four new pickup trucks, five new “interceptor utility vehicles,” and a new “fire chief command vehicle” for former IAFF Local 689 president and current fire chief Mike D’Orazi, all of which were bought for cash (total cost: $827,120). Even a Congressman in the old “pork barrel” days couldn’t boast of a more impressive record.
Which leads to us to this final observation: When, of all the accomplishments cited by the Mayor, the easiest one to substantiate involves her efforts on behalf of the fire department, it’s really not too hard to determine where her priorities lie. Hers is a record the firefighters’ union cannot help but love. So what if she hasn’t done much for the budget hawks or the open-space backers? She can just claim that she’s advanced their agenda, too. Then we’ll see if you really can fool all of the people all of the time.
General Fund balance analysis: 2011 CAFR; 2012 CAFR; 2013 CAFR; Available Fund Balance Changes FY 10-11 through 12-13
Pensions: 2012 CalPERS annual valuation report (safety); 2012 CalPERS annual valuation report (misc); 2011 CalPERS annual valuation report (safety); 2011 CalPERS annual valuation report (misc); 2012-12-11 staff memo re IAFF MOU; 2013-06-11 Ex. 3 (responses to Council questions); 2014-06-03 presentation re mid-cycle update
Golf Complex: 2008-11-06 CC minutes; 2010-03-16 staff report re selection of Kemper; 2010-03-16 CC minutes; 2011-01-25 staff report re Kemper 27-hole proposal; 2011-01-25 CC minutes; 2011-07-12 staff report re swap proposal; 2011-07-12 CC minutes
Crab Cove: 2014-06-03 staff report re initative; 2014-06-03 CC minutes; 2014-07-01 staff report re companion measure; 2014-07-01 6-G Revisions to Ordinance; 2014-07-15 companion ordinance; 2014-07-29 final version of companion ordinance
Library: List of library programs
No-cost conveyance: 2011-10-05 staff memo re no-cost conveyance
Fire department equipment: “City Stuffs Stockings for AFD Firefighters”; 2014-07-15 staff report re fire equipment purchase