Vallejo’s struggles capture CA city perils

Vallejo’s struggles capture CA city perils

Vallejo logoAfter three years spent in bankruptcy, 2008-11, running the city of Vallejo is still a struggle.

Facing a weakened police force and a failed experiment in citizen-driven budgeting, Vallejo’s structural challenges have persisted. In the wake of the pension crisis that helped plunge the city into bankruptcy, residents have become resistant to spending more money.

Hungry for cash, the City Council has turned its attention to a raft of proposals for big-ticket projects like large new casinos. Meanwhile, law enforcement has attempted to staff up even while suing the city for modifying proposed pension benefits during its bankruptcy proceedings.

All told, this portrait of a precarious, ailing city has cast doubt even on bankruptcy as a reliable fix for the budgetary woes imposed by public pensions — a challenge still unmet across California.

Spending confusion

Vallejo residents have recently encountered several unexpected developments in city budgeting. In a bid to avoid a second bankruptcy, they narrowly voted in a 1 percentage-point increase in the city sales tax in 2011. As CityLab reported, however, concerns mounted that the increased revenues would simply be funneled back into Vallejo’s broken budgetary system.

As a result, Councilwoman Marti Brown advanced a radical notion. Cooked up during Brazil’s 2005 World Social Forum, so-called “participatory budgeting” was designed to give residents a direct say in how budgets were allocated. Over strenuous objections, Brown worked with the Participatory Budgeting Project to squeak their approach through the Vallejo City Council with a 4-3 vote.

That’s when things took an unpredictable turn. As CityLab recounted, residents’ initial skepticism turned to curiosity, and soon citizens had produced some 800 potential budget items. By May 2013, the shortlist of expenditures was ready for a vote. And once it came time to allocate funds for the winners, city council meetings became a hotbed of civic engagement. “For the first time with participatory budgeting, you had a packed room, rooting for the budget,” city manager Dan Keen told CityLab. “They had a stake in the budget that they had imparted.”

The elation, however, was short-lived. The program’s operating costs, reaching $300,000 a year, have been tough for Vallejo to swallow at a time when basic services like law enforcement require more funds. The chunk of Vallejo’s money allocated for participatory budget spending has been cut by two-thirds, down to $1 million. Although increased citizen participation brought a brief wave of city pride, it failed to surmount Vallejo’s structural challenges.

Police drama

Vallejo’s new police chief, Andrew Bidou, came into office with a clear mission: grow. “At its lowest staffing point, the Vallejo Police Department had seen as few as 77 sworn officers on duty, for a city of about 120,000 residents,” the Times-Herald reported. “Bidou said he’s looking to get 110 officers on duty and that the department is on track to meet that number by the end of the year” — up from the current tally of 101.

Though many in Vallejo have strongly supported a return to pre-bankruptcy levels of policing, law enforcement was part of the spending problem that drove Vallejo toward insolvency. Vallejo police refused to negotiate away from their unaffordable pension agreements with the city.

As a result, Vallejo declared an impasse in contract negotiations and unilaterally included police in its $300-a-month cap on medical benefits for retired public employees. That led to a lawsuit brought by police. After a year of legal wrangling, a hearing date has been set for December.

Although the case has yet to progress, the expenses faced by the city could, once again, threaten bankruptcy.

A search for funding

Amid the uncertainty, Vallejo has lurched from budget proposal to budget proposal.

Measure E, a $239 million bond that would have renovated sites throughout the local school district, won 59 percent of the vote on Election Day, but fell short of the two-thirds of votes necessary to make it law. Now the City Council has been confronted with a series of offers for massive casino construction.

In partnership with Native American tribes, not all of which possess reservations, developers have promised thousands of jobs and millions in revenue.

Opponents, however, continued to worry that embracing casinos as a way out of Vallejo’s challenges would be more of a gamble than ever.

It’s a cautionary tale for Stockton and San Bernardino, both of which are working through bankruptcies — and for all California cities.

41 comments

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  1. LetitCollapse
    LetitCollapse 14 November, 2014, 11:47

    Do you notice that whenever these cities have their financial backs up against the wall they always opt for the vices, like gambling, to save them? lol. And since we all know that gambling brings criminal activity and social disintegration with it, like prostitution, drug dealing, robbery, and families whose breadwinners lose all their money at the gambling house and can’t feed, house or clothe their kids. Gambling is ADDICTIVE! Now, you would expect the cops and our moral political leaders to oppose these gambling houses, knowing the onslaught of deterioration that accompanies them. BUT NOPE!!! THEY WELCOME GAMBLING HOUSES WITH OPEN ARM!!! THE COPS LOVE ‘EM BECAUSE THEY BRING IN MORE CRIME WHICH GIVES THE COPS JOB SECURITY AND FORCES THE TAXPAYERS TO HIRE MORE OF THEM!!!
    It’s all a racket, folks. These greedy, money-grubbing con artists are tearing your cities, state and nation apart at the seams. You will find that, in the end, the ONLY solution to this incredible mess will be a full and unambiguous collapse. Now, I don’t know what will arise from the dust. There is a possibility that it might even be worse than what we have today. But what you see happening in society will not change on it’s own through the action of our leaders. It will get progressively worse until the only option left is collapse. Sad, but true. 🙁

    Reply this comment
  2. bob
    bob 14 November, 2014, 13:11

    “In a bid to avoid a second bankruptcy, they narrowly voted in a 1 percentage-point increase in the city sales tax in 2011. As CityLab reported, however, concerns mounted that the increased revenues would simply be funneled back into Vallejo’s broken budgetary system.”

    Ya think??? Duh.

    All over the state the idiot sheeple have voted to tax themselves even more to try to keep a bankrupt system going so the trough feeders can continue feasting off the taxpayers. And since it will never be enough the trough feeders come back with more tax increase and bond proposals.

    Reply this comment
  3. NTHEOC
    NTHEOC 14 November, 2014, 14:12

    Now this is real news!! Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins is closing in on signing a deal that is worth $325 million.
    To put that in perspective, Angels star and new AL MVP Mike Trout signed a six-year extension this year worth $144.5 million. Well back to DOOMER talk 101. WE ARE ALL DOOMED, THE SKY IS FALLING, PENSIONS ARE BK’N ALL THE CITIES IN AMERICA, CALPERS IS UNFUNDED! ITS ALL COLLAPSING IN ON US!!!
    CalPERS Fund
    Market Value
    Reflects market value, as of market close on 11/13/2014.
    $296.4 Billion
    BUT,BUT,BUT You are all trough feeders, whaaaaaaaaaaa!
    Suck it DOOMERS……

    Reply this comment
  4. NTHEOC
    NTHEOC 14 November, 2014, 14:14

    Looks like the OCFA got a new fire chief!! retired out of CALPERS with a nice pension right into a new county job with a nice payday!!!

    Reply this comment
    • LetitCollapse
      LetitCollapse 14 November, 2014, 16:50

      NTHEOC – you mean the guy that was forced to retire because he fought the OCFA union and the pols turned on him? I think his name was Richter? That that who you’re referring to?
      Oh, and which dept is he working for now and who appointed him? Government is one huge incestuous bunch of scheming scoundrels who always protect their own, right or wrong. It’s the sign of a declining empire. The fire depts are crooked as a witches nose. Scandals everywhere about departments hiring relatives and friends of the firefighters and screwing the kids who are excellent candidates but get turned down due to no inside connections. IMO those are criminal acts and the ones responsible should get fired and do jail time. Government is supposed to be equal opportunity employment that hires on merit, not on connections. Repulsive. Don’t any of them live by moral codes anymore??? Are all of that that damn dirty??? Sickening! 🙁

      Reply this comment
  5. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 14 November, 2014, 16:45

    Why worry about Northern California wastelands. Amazes that doomers cannot find peace in their tortured lives.

    Take care of your own. You have Constipado to fret over….the dude is showing tomitis symptoms. Not pretty!!

    Reply this comment
  6. Hondo
    Hondo 14 November, 2014, 17:28

    This is why we need (and are going to get) concealed carry. The Dems have broken the budgets with the out of control govt salaries and pensions. The only recourse is massive budget cuts. That means no new police, or street lights. 10 years ago LA spent 3% of their budget on pensions. Now it’s 18% and in 5 years well over 20% and rising. For all you Democrats, that amounts to LESS GOVT. That means less police on the streets. That means fewer courts to try the thugs and fewer jails to house them.
    The answer is to ‘lock and load’.
    Hondo………..

    Reply this comment
  7. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 14 November, 2014, 23:48

    Dead ender….Rummy coined that personal description….anyone who challenged Necons.

    Doomers and gloomers love to be ruled, but they are not dead enders YET!

    Reply this comment
  8. desmond
    desmond 15 November, 2014, 02:08

    Nococ, You epitomize the most hated generation. The $300 billion in assets is yours, the $425 billion in liabilities is for my generation. We will get our pound of flesh, if not from you, certainly from your despicable spawn. We will harvest their organs with garden tools. Think of that these holidays.

    Reply this comment
    • Donkey
      Donkey 15 November, 2014, 06:29

      Desmond, ntheoc is your generation. The RAGWUS feeder cares not which generation fills the trough, they only care about feeding. And why not, the RAGWUS has made it all legal, no matter how immoral their scam. 🙂

      Reply this comment
      • T ted god
        T ted god 15 November, 2014, 23:12

        Hey Duncey
        Didn’t u say u were leaving cwd during your last fem hissyfit

        Reply this comment
        • Donkey
          Donkey 16 November, 2014, 13:05

          Never TCS, the only time I take a break from CWD is when I am in remote locations with no internet connection. I missed a couple of weeks while plowing trough the Grand Canyon on a rafting trip.

          Are you ever going to commit on a topic? Oh, right, that would require a thinking process, something of which a RAGWUS feeder is devoid. 🙂

          Reply this comment
    • t ted t system inc
      t ted t system inc 16 November, 2014, 06:58

      Desmond and all doomera

      If we are at some future time considered “the most hated generation” it will not be because of our pension system which at 300 billion and reformed doing quite well thank you, but because of a real doomy problem our generation had done little about that in 50 years will be catastrophic and dwarf all doomera hyperbole.

      That of course is carbon loading and climate change.

      But u doomera are also the deniers, birthers, Roswell alien fan clubers, fake moon landing morons, WTC inside job whack jobs and tea baggers.

      So
      Good luck with your sad dramas!

      Reply this comment
      • ricky65
        ricky65 16 November, 2014, 18:56

        Amazing reading through these threads how the leftie posters such as God-in-his-own-mind Ted (Dr. Dymento) and his faithful toadies like Ahaul and NTHEOC obsess with the term ‘doomers in every gol- dang post.
        To be sure, Apocalypto is nuts. And his annoying rants would be best confined to the rubber room in which he resides. But just as even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, the man (?) still brings up some good points now and then.
        Stories like this about Vallejo confirm much of what he and Donkey post about. Our government IS TOO BIG and we do have too many people riding in the cart instead of pulling it. If we continue to overtax the producers, drive out businesses and pay obscene salaries and pensions to our public employees the system will eventually collapse. That doesn’t mean the end of Cali or the United States or ‘doom’ as our resident lefties here assume. But it will mean a much different country and poorer economic situation for everyone. Think Greece as your eventual economic model.
        So when you call people ‘doomers’ I find it amusing. When we forecast danger ahead it is based on actual historical models of what can happen, and has happened to Socialist countries the world over as recently as this decade or as far back as the decline of the Roman Empire.
        You folks are the far more dangerous, crazed and radical ‘doomers’. Take the issue of so-called man made climate change, for instance. Every single one of the resident lefties on this page are on board without a scintilla of factual evidence to support your positions. Not one working computer model has actually has proven to work or predict the current twenty year hiatus in warming. But still the climate ‘doomers’ press on with their untenable position. In fact they even double down with ever more hysterical rantings and proclamations of impending doom.
        My advice is to not feel so superior because to me it appears you folks probably better fit the term of a true ‘doomer’. Dr. Dymento and crew probably need a rubber room much more than ol’Apocalypto.

        Reply this comment
        • Ted
          Ted "Eddy Baby" Steele, Associate Prof. 16 November, 2014, 20:13

          Oh my Ricky— THAT was a RURG little buddy. I’ll NEVER read it.

          Sorry little buddy!

          Reply this comment
          • ricky65
            ricky65 16 November, 2014, 20:36

            Wasn’t really meant for you “Fast Eddie” because I understand your fears.
            Its hard to read or think when you’re curled up in a dark room in the fetal position cowering in fear. The constant thoughts of the impending doom of “carbon loading and climate change” can just be too much to bear sometimes.
            Speaking of carbon loading, I think its time I shut down my commentary and venture out to find a nice plate of pasta with some toasted sourdough baguettes and a nice glass of Chianti. Doom on, Teddy!

    • bob
      bob 17 November, 2014, 19:58

      We will harvest their organs with garden tools. Think of that these holidays.

      Don’t harvest Teddy’s…might get Ebola.

      Reply this comment
  9. JPR11
    JPR11 15 November, 2014, 16:33

    Vallejo, Stockton and Detroit are the end of result of a closed political system. The Democratic election efforts are funded by unions, which in turn receive taxpayer paid benefits. Any reasonable system of check and balance does not exist. We recently had a person running for state senator. He acknowledged support from 30 unions on his first election mailer. Immediately recognizing the error his way dropped it from the second mailer. If you noticed, pension reform is not discussed and basically remains unchanged. Wait until L.A. officially hits the skids! And what about the state school system and it’s $70B unfunded liability!! Who is going to pay? Who else!

    Reply this comment
  10. ricky65
    ricky65 16 November, 2014, 18:03

    Amazing reading through these threads how the leftie posters such as Teddy Bore (Dr. Dymento) and his faithful toadies like Ahaul, NTHEOC,etc. obsess with the term ‘doomers in every gol-dang post.
    To be sure, Apocalypto is nuts and his annoying rants would be best confined to the rubber room in which he iresides. But just as even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, the man(?) brings up some good points now and then.
    Stories like this about Vallejo confirm much of what he and Donkey post about. Our government IS TOO BIG and we have too many people riding in the cart instead of pulling it. If we continue to overtax the producers, drive out businesses and pay obscene salaries and pensions to our public employees the system will eventually collapse. That doesn’t mean the end of Cali or the United States or ‘Doom’ as our resident lefties here assume but it will mean a much different country and poorer economic situation for everyone. Think Greece as your eventual economic model.

    So when you call people ‘doomers’ I find it amusing. When we forecast danger ahead it is based on actual historical models of what happens, and has happened to Socialist countries the world over as recently as this decade or as far back as the decline of the Roman Empire.
    And just who are the true ‘Doomers?
    Let’s take the issue of so-called man made climate change, for instance. Every single one of the resident lefties on this page are on board without a scintilla of factual evidence to support their positions. Not one working computer model has actually has proven to work or predict the current twenty year hiatus but still the climate ‘doomers’ press on with their ‘doom and gloom’ position. They even double down with ever more hysterical rantings and proclamations of impending doom.
    My advice is to not feel so superior because to me it appears you folks probably fit the term ‘doomer’ more correctly and probably need the rubber room more than Mr. Apocalypto.

    Reply this comment
  11. LetitCollapse
    LetitCollapse 16 November, 2014, 18:30

    “To be sure, Apocalypto is nuts and his annoying rants would be best confined to the rubber room in which he iresides. But just as even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, the man(?) brings up some good points now and then.”

    I notice that you never challenge my comments with specific arguments. You’re just like all the rest…..you got a 2hp brain pushin’ a 10 ton mouth! hah. 😀

    Reply this comment
  12. Bill Gore
    Bill Gore 16 November, 2014, 20:33

    Libbytrolls: stupid spin-scripted programmed assclowns

    Reply this comment
  13. S and P 500
    S and P 500 17 November, 2014, 02:38

    The union money-stealing machine is breaking down. Stockton and Detroit retirees lost their health benefits and COLA’s. LOL–cities aren’t afraid to default on those. That $300 a month cap on Vallejo retiree health benefits is hilarious–some generic drugs can cost that much. I know that’s a mean thing to say but it’s about time public workers start living in the real world that they’ve been stealing from.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/generic-drug-prices-skyrocketing/

    Reply this comment
  14. Marti Brown
    Marti Brown 17 November, 2014, 20:48

    Cal Watchdog calls this investigative reporting? This editorial is filled with so much misleading information and, in some cases, completely erroneous “facts” that one hardly knows where to begin. So, let’s start at the beginning.

    * Participatory Budgeting (PB) has been around since 1989 – NOT 2005- and was first started in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
    * I worked with my three former colleagues (who voted for PB in 2012) to approve the first city-wide PB process in North America – not “squeaking” PB through with the PB Project.
    * The $300,000 budget to staff and administer PB Vallejo has nothing to do with providing basic services such as law enforcement. The roll up costs (e.g., salary, benefits, pension) for one police officer in the City of Vallejo costs ~ $250,000 per year. So, the PB admin budget could potentially allow for the city to hire one more police officer. Hardly a silver bullet. And the sales tax revenue used to fund PB expires in 2022, so it’s really not a long-term, sustainable source of funds for ongoing expenses such as hiring employees.
    * PB was never intended to “surmount Vallejo’s structural challenges.” It was intended to take ~ 2% of the total city budget and give it back to the people to decide how to spend on a whole variety of quality of life projects, which it did and continues to do. PB is not a “failed experiment,” because it’s moving forward next year and, again, it was never intended to do the things that this article tries to profess.
    * To read the last paragraph connecting the school bond to the casino proposals, you’d think there was a correlation and the school district is the one that decides development proposals. The school bond was put forward by the School District with its own governing board, because of its failing infrastructure. The casino proposals are before the City Council – a separate governing body from the school board – as a result of a Request for Qualifications (RFQ). Anyone can respond to a RFQ that doesn’t mean the city has “turned its attention” to casinos because it’s “hungry for cash.” It means casino developers responded to the RFQ and the city has a responsibility to respond to those proposals.

    Lastly, this story does a complete dis-service to the real issue and sobering conversation that must continue to occur in the State of California: the need for ongoing public employee pension reform. That should be the focus of this story – not all the other distracting sub-plots that were outlined.

    Reply this comment
  15. Vallejoan
    Vallejoan 17 November, 2014, 22:10

    There are so many flaws and errors in this article, it borders on absurdity. Mr. Poulos, did you speak to ANYONE in Vallejo?
    The City issued an RFQ for proposals on Mare Island. Some were for casinos. If, Mr.Poulos, you understood local government, you’d know that the council at least must “hear” the proposals. Therev eye other proposals that had nothing to do with casinos. No decisions have been made.

    Warning, this site is as bad as fox news but call themselves a non-profit. Don’t give them any money.

    Reply this comment
  16. harry1425
    harry1425 18 November, 2014, 16:51

    This is a sad story. I proposed a financial plan to the Council about a year before they formally filed BK. They did not even contact me or pose any questions.

    I am suggesting there is a way out under several proposals. 1) Cut your expenses to match revenues. 2) Take pay cuts (85% of the City’s budget)now (deflationary depression is coming. 3) Subvention of state revenues geared toward emerging from bankruptcy. 4) Sell derivative assets that are not recognized and not booked (where is the CPA industry or GASB???). 5) Financial statements should disclose the 15 year history of the pension’s UAAL on the CAFR supplemental schedule so everyone (residents, taxpayers and investors) understands what brought the bankruptcy to fruition. 6) Privatize services under a cost benefit study and 7) Pray (humbleness brings solutions.

    Well run government is a business. Add politics to the equation and over time it is like mixing oil and water.

    Reply this comment

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