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Cassidy: Fix Pensions To Improve City's State

After his speech the council voted 5-2 to okay $443,000 in early retirement pension incentives for 4 city staffers. Controversial industrial area zoning change approved 6-1.

 

Mayor Stephen Cassidy said the city has a balanced budget now but must "stabilize" its pension costs to avoid deep deficits in the years ahead, especially when a temporary sales tax boost expires.

But not long after his remarks, the council voted 5-2 to authorize up to $443,000 in pension incentives, paid over a 20-year period, to induce four senior city employees to take early retirement.

Cassidy and City Councilwoman Pauline Cutter dissented.

The council also voted 6-1, with Cutter again dissenting, to amend the zoning code to exclude recreation and entertainment businesses from the industrial area.

the change is tied in part to the city's legal battle with the Faith Fellowship Worship Center.

State of City

Though balanced now, Cassidy said the city budget is headed for red ink. His remarks hewed closely to in February at which City Manager Chris Zapata predicted a $7 million deficit in 2018 when the Measure Z sales tax boost expires.

Monday night Cassidy cited employee pensions as a fast-growing cost that must be curbed by negotiating with city unions to require them to pay into their own retirement funds, which they do not presently do.

"San Leandro can no longer afford to pay 100 percent of the cost of employee retirement benefits," he said.

Cassidy said the city spent $4.7 million on retirement benfits in 2000. This fiscal year the city will spend $11 million and next year retirement outlays will rise to $12 million, he said.

Cassidy touched on other topics, including:

  • the widespread attention given to the Lit San Leandro ;
  • the growth of local companies like the privately-owned ;
  • the projected opening of the new downtown garage by late summer adding 130 parking spaces;
  • a CalTrans committment to resurface East 14th Street between Davis and Thornton Streets, starting this summer; and
  • the return of the Downtown Farmer's Market on April 18th

The complete speech and slide presentation are posted on the mayor's web page.

Pension Sweetener For Early Retirements

Not long after Cassidy's speech, the council heard a staff presentation urging that pension-related early retirement incentives be offered to four senior employees who had been part of the now-disbanded redevelopment agency.

The council was told that the inducements could costs up to $443,000, stretched over a 20-year period, if all four eligible employees took the offer.

If the council offered no inducement and instead issued layoff notices, the four senior employees, earning about $100,000, could bump lower-paid staffers and so cost the city money to keep them on the payroll, staff said.

Councilwoman Pauline Cutter suggested that, as an alternative, the city make a one-time inducement offer that it could afford. Cassidy noted that adding long-term expenses to the city's pension obligations ran counter to his main goal. They voted in the minority as the measure got the other five council votes.

Zoning Change And Fellowship Case

The council also voted to change the city's zoning code to exclude recreation and entertainment businesses from the industrial area that runs along Interstate 880. The move is part of a legal scramble meant to bring the zoning code into compliance with court decisions, staffers told the council.

City critic Marga Lacabe noted that adult entertainment would still be allowed in the industrial area, but not church assemblies, recreational facitilities or regular entertainment forums.

"Naked dancing would be okay but not ballet," she said.

the council considered the issue, a city attorney said the changes would strengthen San Leandro's hand in its long-standing legal dispute with the Faith Fellowship -- where $4 million dollars in legal fees and settlement or damage costs could be at stake, according to a Wall Street Journal .

Fellowship pastor Gary Mortara attended the meeting but did not speak.

Cutter cast the sole vote against the changes, noting that the city's own planning commission had opposed the changes, as had the Chamber of Commerce.

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Marga Lacabe March 21, 2012 at 01:09 AM
The best part of the night, Tom, I felt was when - after my careful first amendment argument against banning entertainment from part of the city - the City Attorney, Jayne Williams, responded by saying that the "first amendment, free speech analysis does not pertain to entertainment in general", which could not be less true. I mean, there are dozens of court decisions saying otherwise. The Supreme Court last considered this issue in 2010, when it ruled that video games were protected speech under the 1st amendment. In that instance Scalia, writing for the majority, said: "California correctly acknowledges that video games qualify for First Amendment protection. The Free SpeechClause exists principally to protect discourse on publicmatters, but we have long recognized that it is difficult to distinguish politics from entertainment, and dangerous to try. “Everyone is familiar with instances of propaganda through fiction. What is one man’s amusement, teaches another’s doctrine.” Winters v. New York, 333 U. S. 507, 510 (1948)." I called Williams on her inaccuracy later, and I was not kind to her. The question I'm left with is "could she really be so inept that she would speak about 1st amendment jurisprudence without knowing the first thing about it"? And if so, why does the City Council trust her? What does it say about them, Cassidy in particular who is a lawyer and should know better.
Allan Lindsay-O'Neal March 21, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Unbelievable, but typical of the "city before citizen" mindset we've come to expect from the people we supposedly elect to represent us. The answer to this mess is easy: tell these four "employees" to take their case to Sacramento. Jerry Brown took their jobs away, not the City of San Leandro, so they have no business asking city taxpayers for anything more than what they've already got. Shame on the City Council for not thinking this through. Execrations upon them for not thinking of the citizens here at all.
Marga Lacabe March 21, 2012 at 02:51 AM
I have to say that for my part I asked them to do exactly that: to put the citizens of San Leandro first. With that money they could have restored community events like the Cherry Festival and the Tree Lighting, extend the ours of the libraries and the aquatic center and restore social services, which have been almost completely eliminated. What was funny is that earlier in the evening, the Optimist club donated $8K to the Parks department to do kids activities. I'm starting to understand the tea partiers more and more. Why accept taxation when it's used for the private gain of the few?
Justin Agrella March 21, 2012 at 04:14 AM
"Why accept taxation when it's used for the private gain of the few?" It has been that way around here since the 1880s when that crooked councilman Manuel Garcia(they were "city fathers" at that time) was finally kicked off the council for malfeasance. He still owes my great grandfather money! I'll vote for a tax increase? Never.
Fran March 21, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Let's not forget these numbers are all guesstimates. If history is any guide, I'm sure it will cost us more. They city manager was skeptical as well as to the so-called savings. I'm glad they will finally be fixing E-14th street. I've never seen a main thoroughfare in such poor shape. It was downright embarrassing. lol.
Chris Crow March 21, 2012 at 03:39 PM
It was very sad to see the city ban entertainment from the industrial zones. The 2 other cities in the Bay Area that have Fiber Optic Loops, Santa Clara & Palo Alto, both alllow entertainment, recreation & assembly uses (church's & union halls) in their Industrial zones. Those cities are comparable in size to San Leandro as well. It just doesn't make any sense. Complying with the law left the city with two choices - 1. Completely exclude entertainment, recreation, & assembly use form the industrial area, but leave in Adult Entertainment, Health & Fitness centers, Daycares, and schools. or 2. Allow Entertainment, recreation, & assembly use the same opportunities as adult entertainment, health & fitness centers, daycares, and schools. SMH...The city chose the first option, making it even more confusing on just we want moving into our industrial zone. There was an unexpected silly silver lining though. The Community Development Director was forced to set the standards on what a "Health & Fitness" center could be. When queried about the San Leandro TriplePlay, the community development director described the Batting Cage Facility, with Pitching Tunnel, Basketball court, that often hosts birthday parties, and offers wholesome fun & recreation to people as a Health & Fitness Center. Of course I thought how could this be since Mini-golf, Bowling, and Roller Rink are all listed under Recreation in the zoning code. cont....
Chris Crow March 21, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Well it turns out, according to the community development director that other than those specific listings in the definition of recreation, sporting & fun type activities and all other recreation is considered Health & Fitness centers. This is great news of course because Health & Fitness centers are "permitted" in the industrial zones, and do not even require a Conditional Use Permit. Given this new clarification I would assume that now even more recreation type businesses are able to move into the industrial zone than before since most are not specifically listed under the definition of Recreation and therefore could consider themselves health & fitness centers. So where we once thought the city was limiting the ability of Rock Climbing Facilities, Indoor Soccer Fields, Indoor football, paint ball, laser tag, roller coasters, theme parks, and other fun activities that involve some level of physical exertion, in fact the city has OPENED up even more space to these types of businesses and fun. I suppose if a theater wanted to show a Richard Simmons movie we could call the theater a health & fitness center too. I am excited to see companies come in and take advantage of this newly created loophole in San Leandro. I commend the City Council and City Staff for orchestrating the exact opposite of their intentions. Truly shows vision and cunning to protect their butts in court, and at the same time, loosen the rules on recreation in the industrial zones.
Chris Crow March 21, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Didn't you hear Miss Fox's "per se" when she talked about our First Amendment rights. "Entertainment isn't a first amendment protection, per se". She did not lie, per se, she left the question open to interpretation of the council, circumventing the strict scrutiny that a court would require, and probably the ethical requirement that she provide sound legal advice. (shrug)
Fran March 21, 2012 at 04:23 PM
I know, what a bunch of BS. Reminds me of the Grocery Outlet debacle. Is it a grocery store or is it a supermarket. The church could argue they are a form of health and fitness. Clapping, swaying, and whatever else goes on there, I really don't know. LOL. Admittedly, I am confused about this and don't really understand it. And to tell you the truth really do not want to. I did listen to Deborah Fox get her A** handed to her by the judge, regarding the difference between a wrestling match and church assembly, so I can't wait to see how this all plays out in the courts.
Chris Crow March 21, 2012 at 05:18 PM
I do commend the Mayor however in his acknowledgement that this entire zoning change was not handled properly and "mistakes" were made. He admitted the BZA, Planning Commission, or the Council Committee the idea came out of back in September 2011 were not given the full legal context in which the decision had to be analyzed. Admitting that the city does make mistakes, is a novel way to solve problems. I hope the city uses this new found humility in future situations.
David March 21, 2012 at 07:17 PM
As you mention above, one of the points of Lit SL is to compete with established centers like Palo Alto. It would be counterproductive to put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage, and the City should reconsider the decision. Never mind the legalese.
Marga Lacabe March 21, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Chris, yes, "per se", but I think Scalia's quote above tell you that entertainment, per se, is protected speech. And I can't think of any type of entertainment that the supreme court has deemed to not be protected free speech. All the ones listed in the Zoning code have, indeed, been deemed to be so. So both Fox and Williams were stating something untrue. Are they incompetent, too lazy to research or willfully misleading the Council? Your guess is as good as mine.
Marga Lacabe March 21, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Once again I have to thank Chris Crow and Fran from pointing out something which I hadn't realized until now: the changes that the city has made make no difference at all under RLUIPA. You see, the City is trying to comply with the Yuman decision, that says that assembly religious use has to be treated in equal terms with recreation and entertainment uses. But what matters is not whether the permitted activity is labeled "recreation" or "health and fitness" or "cuchi cuchi", it's what that activity entails. In this case a bunch people who congregate to play baseball are treated differently that a bunch of people that congregate to pray. And that's just not kosher under RLUIPA. I'm sure that the Church's attorney figured this out already (and if not, he will after reading this), let's see how long it takes for our attorneys to do the same.
Justin Agrella March 21, 2012 at 09:16 PM
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 section that you are likely looking at is: (3) EXCLUSIONS AND LIMITS- No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation that-- (A) totally excludes religious assemblies from a jurisdiction; or (B) unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction. I am sure they are going to try to thread the needle and say that the church can go anywhere else but where they actually want to go and that will be the essence of their argument---defining the jurisdiction as that of the city limits not specific areas of the city. The saving grace for the church just depends on where the case falls. If it gets to the federal level then they have a chance.
Marga Lacabe March 21, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Justin, it's actually sections (a) and (b)1 that are at issue. But this case has gone all the way to the Supreme Court and is now set to go to trial.
Justin Agrella March 21, 2012 at 10:22 PM
They are going to lose then. The Supreme Court has taken a hard line on such cases. I wonder how much it is going to cost us(the taxpayer) when they(city government) lose this case.

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