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How muddled are the Pleasanton council's priorities

Uploaded: May 25, 2023

It’s wisely said that your budget—whether household, business or government—reflects your priorities.

The Pleasanton City Council has conducted budget workshops with staff the last two months and is scheduled to approve a two-year spending plan in June for the fiscal year starting July 1. Deliberations to date make you wonder about the priorities of the majority of the council.

Pleasanton Vice Mayor Jack Balch, an accountant by training, has been raising the alarm about spending to no avail. He’s questioned what he considered discretionary spending for a new skate park ($6.4 million) as well as repairs and upgrades to the historic Century House last year that has been closed for eight years.

Mayor Karla Brown blew off his concerns saying that the skate park decision has been made and should not be reconsidered.

Really, Mayor Brown. Must be nice to bat 1.000 on decisions and never have to rethink one.

The same council has deferred decisions about how to deal with PFAS chemical contamination above the state limit in one of the city’s three wells. The wells provide 20% of the water during summer months. The council approved a staff plan that amounted to a bandage to operate two other wells with PFAS below the state limits so it could eliminate a 15% drought cutback and meet anticipated water demand on hot days this summer.

Any urgency about providing a necessary service such as water compared to a recreational amenity? Priorities?

The city has enlisted a consultant to explore various options for the wells and water supply after the council balked at a $46 million plan for a treatment plant and new wells. With the Zone 7 Water agency, the city’s wholesale supplier, also exploring other long term options to diversify the water supply because 80% of it in a normal year comes through the State Water Project. The majority of this council, before Jeff Nibert was elected, quit participating in a joint study with valley agencies. Fortunately, the Zone 7 board is proceeding without financial contributions from its customers. The same trio also voted to fully fund restoration of Century House repairs and upgrades at $4.8 million, by taking $2 million out of the rainy day fund, arguing the reserves were healthy enough.

The other part of Balch’s underlying concern are the budget forecasts provided by city Finance Director Susan Hsieh. The current two-year plan is balanced by dipping into reserves and deferring projects, but falls into the red in the out years. That’s particularly challenging if the state goes into a recession. Two years out, a recession could result in a shortfall of $10 million the projections show. It gets worse after that and could hit $16 million in the 10th year.

Pleasanton’s situation is what cities and the state are facing. Some economists have been predicting the Federal Reserve’s tightened interest rates will trigger a recession—people are feeling the inflation at the grocery store but the country is not formally in a recession. California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst believes the state’s shortfall this year is $6 billion more than the governor estimated and it could soar if a recession hits.

If you read about the vacant downtowns in San Francisco and the impending refinancing of commercial office buildings at both substantially higher rates and diminished values, it’s no time to be betting on the come. That same dynamic could hit Pleasanton—major office complexes are up for sub-lease in Hacienda Business Park.

This is a season for priorities not “nice-to-haves.”

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Michael Austin , a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on May 26, 2023 at 6:26 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

Any other city council would freeze those funds previously approved for century house and skate park.

Pleasanton's water problems impact 80,000 people. Century house and skate park impact a couple hundred people.

The PPOA is rightfully asking for a new contract.

The PFAS contamination will only continue, impacting all the city water wells as they are brought online.

Fire season is here.
Rational people would understand these issues and take appropriate action.

Posted by Lillian Swanson, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on May 28, 2023 at 7:51 am

Lillian Swanson is a registered user.

Couldn't the city simply issue some municipal bonds for these projects?

Issuing more treasury bonds was how George W. Bush helped financed the Iraqi-Afghanistan wars. China bought $1.5 trillion of them and the interest is being paid-off by draining the United States gold reserves at Ft. Knox.

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Gatewood,
on May 29, 2023 at 9:52 am

Nancy is a registered user.

Please post information on how to contact the City Council so that readers can contact them directly to voice concerns.
thank you

Posted by MsVic, a resident of Mission Park,
on May 29, 2023 at 11:57 am

MsVic is a registered user.

Here is email address for city council.

Posted by Sharon P, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on May 29, 2023 at 2:37 pm

Sharon P is a registered user.

To Lillian Swanson
Per staff at the last Council meeting, our reserves in the water enterprise fund are so low that we can't borrow money at favorable rates. If you want to hear the full conversation you can watch the Council meeting on you-tube at Web Link

Posted by MsVic, a resident of Mission Park,
on May 30, 2023 at 11:46 am

MsVic is a registered user.

@Sharon, but our city enterprise fund (water) can borrow from the general fund (skate park, century house refurbishment projects) and those projects can go on hold. I also heard at the meeting that it would take 3 or more months to obtain a loan, and would take 1 or 2 council meetings to borrow from general fund. Even beyond water if we are not staffed properly in our police dept what kind of issues will that lead to? Priorities are all just wrong with the majority of 4 - Mayor Brown, Council member Arkin, Council member Testa and Council member Niebert. Thank you Vice Mayor Jack Balch for being the voice of reason and fiscal responsibility.

Posted by Lenora Prescott, a resident of another community,
on May 31, 2023 at 9:19 am

Lenora Prescott is a registered user.

If these water improvements are not made, will Pleasanton become like Flint, MI?

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