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By Roz Rogoff

About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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More on City Council fireworks

Uploaded: May 3, 2013
Well my last blog on the "fireworks" at the last City Council meeting was rather sedate for a meeting with fireworks. Also I didn't use up nearly the number of column inches promised to me by Councilmember Scott Perkins. So I'm extending my blog by another 10+ column inches this week.

Actually most of the fireworks, if it can be called that and not a rant, came from Councilmember Jim Livingstone. If there were fireworks they appeared mostly in his face, which turned bright red as he grew angrier and angrier.

Jim often says his most important concern on the Council is public safety. The Police Department reported a slight increase in crime last year, and Jim was angry because the cost of holding elections in odd years could pay for another police officer. So I understand why Jim was so rankled by past attempts at going to even year elections.

But Jim made some claims in his tirade that I feel need to be answered. He basically called San Ramon voters stupid for not voting to go to even years when we had the chance, twice.

"If I recall, the people turned down even year elections. The people were wrong. They don't get it!" Jim believes Councilmembers should make the decision. "Everybody weigh in on this, that's garbage. . . . If we'd done this five or ten years ago, we'd be a million dollars richer today," he calculated.

Nope, not quite. The first time this was voted on was a little more than ten years ago. In 2002 the Gang of Three put Measure H on the ballot, which would go to even years by lengthening the terms of all Councilmembers.

The Gang of Three consisted of Nancy Tatarka, Donna Dickey, and Jerry Cambra. I was very happy to see Nancy Tatarka looking well, energetic, and happy recently. The City Council dais was not a happy place eleven years ago.

Dave Hudson should remember this. He was on the City Council at that time and meetings ran long into the night in part stoked by bickering between Councilmember Hudson and Councilmember Donna Dickey. Neither one was willing to give the other one the last word.

When Measure H was put on the ballot by Tatarka, Dickey, and Cambra, Vice-Mayor Wilson and Councilmember Hudson opposed it. A large group of past city leaders mobilized to fight Measure H to prevent the Gang of Three from extending their terms.

Jim Livingstone now believes the City could have saved up to $1M from past elections if we changed to even years ten years ago. So according to Jim we would be a million dollars richer if Measure H had passed. Not likely! If the Gang was still in office in 2004 they would have blown that million along with the $1.5M they already spent on plans for a Civic Center that would cost up to $200M to build and $1-2M a year to operate. So that phantom million dollars would probably not be in the City's coffers now.

The next measure to go to even year elections was Measure Q, which was put on the ballot by the City Council in 2008. Why didn't that pass? Heck I don't know. It might have been the circuitous wording that confused almost everyone.

"Shall the following be added to Article III of the City of San Ramon Charter: Notwithstanding any of the above, if the general municipal election date is changed to the date of the statewide general election, the unexpired term of an incumbent Mayor shall be extended by one year or reduced by one year? If the term is extended, that individual may serve a total of nine years as Mayor."

Now tell me what that means. Well I knew what it meant because Dave Hudson said he wouldn't even consider shortening terms. If Measure Q passed, Hudson, Wilson, Livingstone, Perkins, and Rowley intended to lengthen the Mayor's term and vote to extend their own terms to go to even years in 2010.

I wasn't so much against Measure Q as I was putting it on the ballot in 2008. I argued it should go on the ballot for the regular election in 2009 when it would not cost an additional $50K. So not only did Measure Q not save money, it cost money we didn't need to spend.

I opposed Measure Q in 2008 and wrote the opposition to it in the ballot pamphlet. Former Mayor Curt Kinney and his wife Jeanne also signed it, so my name may not have been the influencing factor. The measure lost by a mere 169 votes, but 12,431 voters voted No.

Measure P was also on the ballot in 2008. This would have changed the Charter to enable the City Council to set the Mayor's salary. That one lost too.

Maybe voters didn't like Measure P and voted No on both P and Q. Or maybe they didn't like the idea of term extensions. Or maybe they really wanted to keep City elections in odd years. Voters in San Ramon like being able to vote in a calm atmosphere, without all the hoopla of State and National elections. Voters who vote in odd years are motivated to know what's going on and who's who on the City Council. City elections are an afterthought in even year elections, competing for attention with the elections for Governor or President.

What about saving $250K every other year year by not holding odd year elections for ten years? Well 2003 was the year of the recall of Governor Gray Davis and election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even though that was held in October, a month before the City's election, some of the costs were offset by mailing literature at the same time.

In 2005 there were eight state-wide ballot measures that offset some of the cost of the City's odd year election. In 2007 we had no election because the Mayor and two Councilmembers, Scott Perkins and Carol Rowley, all ran unopposed.

We cannot always predict what will happen in an election year. We can have an odd year election with no opposition like 2007, and skate by with no cost at all. We can have an odd year election like 2005, with a host of initiatives to share the costs, or the really wild and wacky 2003 with the recall election in October and our odd year election a month later.

Even if the cost is only $40-$50K to put a measure on the ballot in even years, it's still a cost. And if there's no election because nobody runs in the odd years, it's still a savings.

So No, Jim, we wouldn't have saved a million dollars by now if Measure H passed in 2002. Maybe we would have saved $500K if Measure Q passed in 2008, but that's a big "MAYBE." Some of those savings might have gone to the increase in the Mayor's salary if Measure P had passed.

Let's give the voters one more try. If it is turned down again, it means voters want to keep elections in odd years even if it costs more. Jim's saying, "The people out there should be concerned about $250,000. To me it's a no brainer!" sounds a little arrogant to me.

Sometimes cost isn't the only factor. Our City's founders changed the elections from even years to odd years to avoid the "noise" of State and National elections. So maybe those 12,431 voters who rejected Measure Q do "get it." Maybe they like the way our elections stand out in odd years and want to keep them that way.

That was in 2008 before the brunt of the recession hit. We know there's a budget crunch now, and as I said at the Budget meeting, now is the time to change. There will always be a core of voters who prefer odd years, but I still believe giving voters the choice is the right thing to do.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by mloliver, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 3, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Excellent retrospective, Roz.

First of all, there is a disconnect between the summary of your blog, and the complete blog. Bob P commented and it doesn't appear here. I happen to agree with him. (I usually do.)

Not that it matters anymore, but I have always spoken against the extension of council terms by council decree. I felt the same when I sat at the dais. If the terms had been extended during the reign of the "Gang of Three" (coined by the CCTimes,) You are so right, the million would have been gone several times over. I don't remember just how badly the City's reserve was eroded, but I hope somebody has those figures and can fill them in. It was astronomical. There is little if anything to show for those millions.

There were many advantages to becoming a charter city, but a few problems could occur as well. The Charter Commission gave careful consideration to the Mayor's remuneration, and fixed the Mayor's salary relative to the rest of the council so that it would require a vote of the people to change it. The city of Bell didn't have such a provision, and the corrupt council nearly bankrupted the city.

This decision belongs in the hands of the public, not the elected officials.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on May 3, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


Thanks for letting me know about Bob's comment. I'm copying it below:

"Posted by Bob P, a resident of another community, 5 hours ago

From my perspective there can never be a 'down side' to having voters weigh in on things that are important to them. Too many elected official mistakenly think its about them, when its not. The electorate may not 'get it', but they voted for you."

I used to have all of the financial information from 2002, but either I threw it away or gave it to Diane Schinnerer. You might ask her if she still has it.


Posted by Raymond, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 5, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Rogoff says that the million dollars saved by changing the election cycle would have been spent in other ways so that there would not be an additional 1 MegaBuck in the city's coffers.

Rogoff needs to understand the fundamentals of municipal finance. Of course the money would have been spent elsewhere! That's not the point. The point is that instead of wasting the money on a strange election cycle, that money could/would have gone to projects that would have benefitted the entire community.

Rogoff obviously doesn't understand this.

Posted by Resident, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 6, 2013 at 8:42 am

Roz understands better than you think. She was referring to the very wasteful spending patterns of the "Gang of Three" back in the early part of the previous decade. They spend millions on plans for a city center that would cost many millions more to build and operate. The operating costs of the planed library alone would have gone up by over $500,000 per year with very little new revenue to support their grandiose plans. Not all government spending is equal. Some is spent well and some is not.

Posted by Raymond, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 6, 2013 at 8:54 am

Dear Resident,

You also don't understand municipal finance. The topic is saving money by changing our election cycle. It's obvious that you're trying to muddy the water by remembering wasteful spending from over a decade ago. What does that have to do with anything?

The only question is, "Do we want to save a significant sum of money merely by changing our election cycle or not?" I know my answer, but some folks want to dream up imaginary "gotchas" which have no basis in present day reality.

Let's save the money folks. If the city fathers (and mothers) decide to waste it, then we can vote them out of office.

Posted by Jim Gibbon, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 6, 2013 at 11:56 am

The last projection I have seen for running for City Council office was about $30,000.00 per candidate. Just imagine the cost of get your message out on even year elections.

It is important to hear from our voters but I think they already understand the consequences of an even election. Having them tell you to keep it in odd years is a political exercise in futility. There are no winners except talking points to be gained. The people have spoken and the council should listen.

What we really need is new blood on the council. We should look for new voices that represent the younger generation and those new residents in the Dougherty Valley. We have two chances to do that in this November election if we are allowed to have an election.


Posted by Scott Perkins, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 7, 2013 at 7:41 am

In my first election cycle, in 2003, I raised about $13,000 and spent about $12,000 to get elected. In the most recent election I raised almost $15,000 and spent a little over $14,000. I also received the most votes. One doesn't need to raise and spend $30,000 to get elected to office. One must work hard and have a message that resonates with the voters to get elected. Money alone won't do it.

There is some new blood on the council - Bill Clarkson, Mayor and Phil O'Loane a resident of Dougherty Valley. 40% of the council has been in office less than 2 years. And two seats are up for election this year on the council plus the Mayor's seat.

I fully expect there will be an election in November 2013.

Posted by Bob P, a resident of another community,
on May 7, 2013 at 9:33 am

Scott, I think Jim means 'new blood' that thinks like him. He has been wanting new blood ever since the Gang of Three did their hit and run job on the city. Now its the 'younger generation' that needs a voice on the council.

There is the possibility that the voters will reject even year elections again, there is always the chance that things won't go as anyone hoped. Then where does that leave things?

Also, it seems that Raymond is the only one who understands city finance, maybe he should run too?

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on May 7, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Well just to put this in perspective for Raymond, the City's total budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 is $81.2M Web Link

The $210 thousand that the City could save every other year comes to .00012% of the City's annual budget.

Gee that's too much to let go every year! What was I thinking?


Posted by Gnit Pickard, a resident of another community,
on May 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Actually ma'am, it's a lot closer to 0.0013 = 0.13% of the City budget (but who's counting?). A small number, to be sure, but about a thousand times bigger than you suggest.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on May 8, 2013 at 1:12 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


That's why I'm a writer and not a mathematician. I used my calculator and it put all those zeros in front.


Posted by Raymond, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Then you should never comment on financial matters, Roz.

Posted by Sam Ramon, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 8, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Then you should never comment on anything, Raymond.

Posted by Raymond, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on May 9, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


I don't get LWF? Not an acronym I recognize, but Raymond has the right to comment on whatever he wants to.

My math skills have eroded over the years. When I was in high school I was in an advanced placement math class, one of only two or three girls, but that was 55 years ago and before cheap calculators. I've been very spoiled by calculators.

I'll agree with Raymond that I'm not good with budgets, especially my own, but I can figure out that $105,000 a year isn't much in an annual budget of $81.2M.

Councilmember Scott Perkins said (I hope I get this right) that it costs about $90K a day to run the City. That means the annual savings from even year elections comes to a little over one day's expenses; so it isn't very much.

However, I was the one Councilmember Dave Hudson is referring to who asked to go to even year elections at one of the Budget Workshops. I don't recall my exact words, but I know I said I didn't care if they extended their terms. I don't remember if I said they should vote for it themselves.

I believe (and again my memory of recent activities isn't as good as my memory of the past) I was the only resident at the two or three Budget Workshops I attended. The rest were all Staff and Councilmembers.

Glenn Wohltmann's article about the January 29, 2013 Budget Meeting Web Link was attended mostly by Staff and a few City volunteers. Harry Sachs asked a question, but Harry is now a candidate for City Council. I didn't attend that meeting because I was recovering from my auto accident a few days earlier.

Only one person (not me this time) showed up at a budget hearing in April Web Link

Glenn closed that article with "The city will hold two review sessions for the budget, on May 13 and 14, with a final vote set for May 28." I might try to go to one of those, especially the vote on May 28.

Raymond, if you are still reading this, I look forward to meeting you there. I'll be the lady in the hat.


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