Category Archives: Benicia’s Budget Crisis

City of San Luis Obispo launches Sustainable SLO initiative (and Benicia could take note)

[Note from BenIndy: There are many paths to a balanced budget in a small town like ours. Paths that emphasize local economic development by enhancing active transportation safety and accessibility, minimizing fossil fuel reliance, and boosting both outdoor and indoor air quality set a course for a San Luis Obispo that is cleaner, healthier, and safer…and yet still financially stable and self-sustaining. San Luis Obispo and Benicia have a lot of common: SLO is another full-service town like Benicia, with a larger population but many of the same values.]

San Luis Obispo.

PublicCEO, January 29, 2024

San Luis Obispo has set big goals to reduce pollution and adapt to the climate crisis, and we’re making big progress. To highlight this work, the City is adding a new Sustainable SLO mark and illustrated graphic on a variety of public facilities and equipment in San Luis Obispo.

“The City of San Luis Obispo is leading on climate action, and we’re excited to tell our story over the next few months,” said Chris Read, the City’s sustainability manager. “Now through Earth Day 2024, we will highlight everything from our new electric buses to our recycling bins and will share resources for how community members can make changes to save money, reduce pollution in their own homes and businesses and help reach communitywide carbon neutrality by 2035.”

Community members may have already seen the new Sustainable SLO mark and illustrated graphic throughout San Luis Obispo and will likely be seeing it more often. Climate action is a major City goal for the City of San Luis Obispo and the City has been working for years from its Climate Action Plan to reduce pollution and make San Luis Obispo more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Sustainable SLO demonstrates how the City is leading by example by phasing out fossil fuels from public facilities and fleet vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from organic waste and restoring the beautiful natural ecosystems that make San Luis Obispo such a wonderful place to live. These efforts include but are not limited to:

  • Installing new bike lanes and using all-electric buses that make it safer and easier to get around,
  • Conserving open space properties throughout the greenbelt to protect natural resources,
  • Transitioning the City’s fleet to electric vehicles to save money and use less fossil fuels,
  • Installing new trash and recycling bins downtown to reduce litter and landfilled waste,
  • Adding more public-facing electric vehicle chargers in SLO so it’s easy to charge on the go,
  • Planting 10,000 new trees in streets, parks and open space areas by 2035,
  • Switching to energy-efficient lighting at City facilities to save money and use less energy, and
  • Installing a large battery at the Water Treatment Plant to save money and create a more resilient facility.

With generous federal, state and regional funding resources, incentives and technical assistance available to support climate action, it’s becoming easier for organizations and individuals to make sustainable choices in SLO. Over the next few months, the City will share more about Sustainable SLO and suggest ways organizations and individuals can take local action on the climate crisis.

“We’ll be telling this story on social media, local news channels and at in-person events,” said Lucia Pohlman, the City’s sustainability and natural resources analyst. “Everyone can find Sustainable SLO ‘in the wild’ to see tangible ways we’re making a difference. Hopefully, this will inspire community members to cut climate pollution and prepare for increasingly hazardous floods and fires. It’s no easy task, but with the community’s help, we can reach our goals and ensure our community thrives into the future.”

Learn more about the City’s Sustainable SLO initiative at www.slocity.org/sustainableslo and subscribe to email updates at www.slocity.org/Subscribe.

Vice Mayor Terry Scott: Why we should all support the upcoming BUSD school bond Measure C

Mary Farmar Elementary students. | Mary Farmar Elementary Facebook Page.

By Vice Mayor Terry Scott, January 23, 2024

Benicia Vice-Mayor Terry Scott.

My fellow Benicians,

Investing in our schools is an investment in the future of our community. The proposed improvements, spanning infrastructure, classrooms, and technology, are crucial for fostering an environment where students can thrive.

A strong BUSD school system not only provides a high-quality education but also contributes significantly to the overall well-being of our residents.

Improved facilities and advanced technology ensure that students have access to modern resources, preparing them for the challenges of the future job market.

As Benicia residents, we play a pivotal role in shaping the foundation of our community. Supporting this bond measure is an investment in the growth and prosperity of our town.

Passage of the bond measure will not result in higher property taxes.  In fact, because the way the bond is structured, the average Benicia property owner should see a tax reduction of about $30.00.

Let’s come together to empower our schools and, in turn, empower our future generations.

Sincerely,

Terry Scott
Vice Mayor
City of Benicia


Visit the Benicia Unified School District’s Fact Page for Measure C for more information.

There, you’ll find a letter to parents and guardians, an FAQ for the measure, and the BUSD Facilities Master Plan.


Visit BelieveInBenicia.org to learn more about Benicia’s Resiliency Plan, sign up for updates from Benicia City Manager Mario Giuliani, and join the effort to help shape Benicia’s future. While some workshops have already occurred, there is still time to add your voice! Look for the red, bolded text below to see upcoming workshops, and please fill out the community survey (also linked below).

UPCOMING MEETINGS

Community Survey
January 15-26 – Community Survey Link
In Person Workshops
January 18 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Public Library
January 25 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Community Center
Virtual Workshops via Zoom
January 17 • 6pm
January 24 • 6pm – Join the meeting

Steve Young & Mark Hughes: What is the future of Benicia? Voters will help decide 

Former Benicia City Council Member Mark Hughes. | City of Benicia.
Benicia Mayor Steve Young. | City of Benicia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Steve Young and Mark Hughes, January 22, 2024

[A note from the authors: Some may be surprised to see both of us as authors of this opinion piece. We served together on the Council from 2016–18, and while we did vote differently on a variety of issues, we respected each other’s point of view. We never ran against each other, but did support different candidates in various elections. But the one thing we never doubted was our mutual commitment to the betterment of the City. We both know that our financial situation is dire, and that these revenue measures will help keep Benicia financially stable moving forward.]

Slowly, Benicia residents are becoming aware of the extent of the fiscal challenge facing the City. There is an ongoing annual deficit of $6.5 million. Currently we are using reserves to cover the deficit, but those reserves will only last one more fiscal year.

Then what? There must be a combination of budget cuts and new revenue if we are to put off cuts to programs and services that Benicia residents have come to expect. Part of the reason for our rapidly increasing costs are the same as those affecting all of our residents, such as higher energy costs for fuel and heating/cooling, increasing health care costs, as well as the cost of virtually everything the City buys. In short, the City’s expenses have been increasing year over year, while revenue has been stagnant.

Some people point at recent raises given to City employees as the problem. The fact is that our employees were falling further and further behind other local area governments in compensation, and we were losing trained employees to other cities and counties, as well as finding it very difficult to recruit and hire new employees, especially those with specialized skills.

The simple fact is we cannot cut our way to a balanced budget; we also need additional revenue. The City’s two main sources of revenue are property taxes and sales taxes. Because our town is so attractive to families and others, there are relatively few houses for sale. This low turnover rate, combined with Prop. 13, has resulted in essentially flat property tax levels for several years. It’s also important to note that Benicia only receives approximately ¼ of the property tax collected, with the remaining money going to State, County, and School agencies. 

Sales taxes have also been relatively flat, with very little new development for more than a decade. And while a small town, no-growth attitude is what some people love about Benicia, it comes at a real cost.

In response to this situation, which has been brewing for more than a decade, the City Council is facing up to the challenge by proposing reductions in expenses, and two tax increase measures that will appear on the March 5 ballot. The first tax measure is Measure A, which will raise the local hotel tax paid by tourists and guests from 9% to 13%. The second tax measure is Measure B, which will ask voters to approve a 3/4 cent increase in the sales tax, from 8.375% to 9.125%. This increase represents 75¢ for every $100 spent. The increased tax would generate $5-5.5 million/year, and go a long way towards eliminating the deficit, and maintaining the programs and services the City currently provides. This sales tax increase, if approved will be overseen by a Citizens Review Committee, and will be in effect for 12 years, at which time it will sunset.

What will happen if the measure fails? This is where the conversation becomes much more difficult. While the City Council unanimously supports this measure, the only responsible thing to do is to hope for the best, but plan for the worst, in the event that it fails. The City has been, and will continue to ask citizens to share what services are most important to them, because if Measure B does fail, the City will need to consider budget cuts and service reductions in all areas of the city, including Public Safety, Parks, Library, Public Works, etc.  In addition, it is likely that most of the Boards and Commissions would be eliminated, as well as the Grants that the City provides to the Arts, Culture and Human Services organizations.

And please believe us when we say that these are definitely not intended to be scare tactics; it really comes down to basic math.

We love our town, and the quality of life that we enjoy here.  Please join us by supporting the City’s strategies to address our financial challenges.

We ask you to support Measures A and B on the March ballot, and encourage you to ask your friends and neighbors to do the same.


Visit BelieveInBenicia.org to learn more about Benicia’s Resiliency Plan, sign up for updates from Benicia City Manager Mario Giuliani, and join the effort to help shape Benicia’s future. While some workshops have already occurred, there is still time to add your voice! Look for the red, bolded text below to see upcoming workshops, and please fill out the community survey (also linked below).

UPCOMING MEETINGS

Community Survey
January 15-26 – Community Survey Link
In Person Workshops
January 18 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Public Library
January 25 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Community Center
Virtual Workshops via Zoom
January 17 • 6pm
January 24 • 6pm – Join the meeting

Elizabeth Patterson: Blaming “stagnant population growth” for our budget crisis is wrong…and risky

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007–2020.

Stephen Golub submits many interesting and important writings in the BenIndy, the local newspaper, blogs and so forth.  His insights are helpful.

But I am disappointed about his statement about “stagnant population growth” as one of the reasons for the city’s budget woes.

It seems he has unintentionally been captured by the influence of “development machine” (which happens to be the title of a 25-year-old University of California book on developers and their practices).  A casual reference to “stagnant population growth” does not make population growth itself a legitimate path to economic prosperity.  For just a few examples, this EPA report titled “How Small Towns and Cities Can Use Local Assets to Rebuild Their Economies: Lessons from Successful Places” highlights what small cities can do for economic health with a stable population.

It is true that we need to provide for housing, and I like the idea of tasteful additions of duplexes, ADUs and multifamily units as infill development.  But, of course, it is the developers who build – not the cities – and developers have shown their true intentions when they have the chance to build expensive housing instead of affordable or middle-cost housing.  They go for the higher profit.  We are told they have to do this because of the fees, time to process and so forth.

But a recent incident in San Jose demonstrates that this is false.  In this case, the developers were approved with entitlements for high-density residential and mixed-use.  Perfect.  But when they learned that San Jose may have been late in approving its housing element, what did the developers do?  They resubmitted their plans under the “builders’ remedy” for high-end single family units and condos.  

Anyone read The Ox-Bow Incident?  You should.  It would teach you about what the “market can bear” the intentions of the commercial class – in this case, the railroads.  And yes, we are being railroaded into building anything, anywhere, no matter what.

So, back to Stephen’s piece.  The population growth issue is being used by the city in support of sprawl development out by Lake Herman Road.  Now back up a second and think about population growth and the need to develop outside of the city’s urban footprint.  If it were true that we must have population growth to thrive, when does it stop?  We just keep having population growth to the end of time?  Of course not.  This is a failed concept and people should stop saying that we must approve development inconsistent with the city’s General Plan due to stagnant population growth (General Plans regard the constitution of land use development and fealty to them is the law, not a choice).

To be clear, Stephen does not say he supports sprawl development.  He doesn’t.  In fact, he supports the East Fifth Gateway mixed-use plan. It’s a good plan and needs city initiatives to encourage development. But he does use the “stagnant population” theme, which is troubling.

I suggest that we dig deeper into this concept of population growth and connect the dots of congested roads, long lines at National Parks, food shortages and pollution.  There is a connection.  It is not likely that we will solve problems like these by having more people.

And lastly, population growth is projected to begin to decline near the end of the century.  This is certainly true in the US and California.  We could wind up with lots of empty residential development just like we are seeing with the over-built, retail commercial development that we were warned about years ago.

What then, is the answer?

Consider economic development with the increasing need for manufacturing that is green, more local shopping at smaller, more community-based stores, not to mention the arts and entertainment. Our aging population  will need services and housing accommodations over the next 25 years.

Thoughtful development with these needs in mind will create a place that people want to visit, shop in and work in.  This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it does take hard work and we, the people, need to do our part and help with city revenues for our infrastructure.  And maybe with less stress the city council and staff can focus on the future so clearly described in the General Plan.

Elizabeth Patterson

For safe and healthy communities…