Thank you El Cerrito.
I am honored to have been reelected by El Cerrito residents and grateful for the confidence this Council has in selecting me as the next Mayor. I look forward to working the next four years to get El Cerrito back on track.
I am so proud to be here tonight. My parents moved here from Sonoma County when I was just 2 ½, and with my brother I grew up at the bottom of Barrett Ave. I met my wife Michelle in Sacramento and we moved back to El Cerrito in 1993, had two daughters – Katie & Christina – and have been here for almost 28 years.
When I first ran for office in 2016, I said that because I grew up here, I knew what El Cerrito used to be like – and how far our city had come. I wanted to be a council member so I could continue to make it even better. That is still true, and it’s why I ran for reelection.
4 years ago, unfortunately, my election came on the same night that Donald Trump was elected. Thankfully now — we will have a new leader of our nation. So, LET US GIVE THANKS for that.
Beyond all of the problems that we and other cities have at this time, the fact that we will be replacing a despicable and dishonest president – should provide us with hope for the future. President-elect Biden’s themes of healing and coming together as a nation can hopefully put us on a path that rebuilds trust in the meaning of America – and that begins by telling the truth again.
The truth here, for our small city, is that many many challenges lie ahead — with a pandemic crisis the likes of which we have never seen, troubling city finances, a national economic crisis, pending housing and eviction issues, climate change, wildfire prevention and racial equity concerns. Our list of responsibilities is long. It will take the patience, creativity and involvement from all of us here to get through this difficult time.
And the truth for El Cerrito is that JOB #1 must be to right our finances before anything else.
Now as your Mayor, I may not have all the answers, and I may not be an accountant, but I promise during this difficult time to involve our community, continue to seek transparency of our city’s actions and be personably accessible to the ideas, comments and problems of our residents as best I can.
We can do this.
The concept of a “full-service city” is a wonderful thing – and of course it’s easy for me now to say that we probably should have been focusing over the past years on being a “pay-for-what-we-can-afford-city.” El Cerrito’s budget issues were troublesome before the impacts of Covid-19 – but the epidemic has and will make the situation much more difficult.
The truth is …With no reserves as a safety net to depend on, it will be years before any sense of solvency and financial sustainability can return to our city. It took a slap to in the face, but this City Council and staff have committed ourselves to making the hard choices, and I am pleased I heard similar commitments from the two newly elected councilmembers as well.
Going into 2021, we now have a process in place to review and respond to our ever-changing health and financial environment in ways that can help resolve our deficit and build reserves.
- This past year, Council changed our biannual budget process, cut more than $600K in Fiscal Year ’19-’20 and more than $5.5 million this Fiscal Year; We made cuts across all departments, instituted a hiring freeze, required employee furloughs, cut car allowances, and required additional management contribution to CalPERS; and in October we cut 5 staff and sadly we are probably not done as we monitor revenue impacts from Covid;
- We need to thank all of our Union brothers and sisters and their locals for stepping up and agreeing that their COLAs would be curtailed this year, saving the city revenue at this critical time.
- Our city manager and staff have said structural changes are coming to El Cerrito out of necessity — and that means the Recreation Department, our Police and Fire Departments — and all the others — must continue to look beyond what they have already done — to reorganize in ways that make our city work better and cut costs while keeping our residents safe.
I am personally no stranger to wage freezes, furloughs and layoffs in my life. Over my career in public service, financial deficits in the State Capitol, at BART, and the 911 attacks in New York resulted in me losing 2 jobs and my wages frozen for more than 8 years overall. Now I am on the other side, as Covid has extended the pain and hard decisions to most cities, public agencies and private businesses.
There has never been a time like this, and cutting services or staff is not something we take lightly. Doing either does not help the functioning of the city or assure timely responses to residents. Across the board, I can tell you we have a staff here of great caliber and productivity. But if we want to be able to pay for things like a new library in our future — we will need to demonstrate that we have taken deliberate actions to get our house in order.
We shouldn’t forget that El Cerrito has the bones and the infrastructure, the transit hubs, the development on line to be built, smart and diverse residents to help get us back to our pre-Covid potential…
But we need to make sure that As long as the effort here going forward is a collaborative one that relies on input from our residents, all 5-council members, the City Manager, Financial manager – hopefully and expanded role for the expertise of our Finance Advisory Board (FAB) with two newly appointed members. We should not be afraid to take the advice from our auditor and state auditor and anyone else to get back on track. Our pace must be deliberate, but I will not be shy about suggesting additional actions in all departments of our city if greater action is needed.
Going forward every new Mayor begins his /or her year in office with a list of their own priorities…so in addition to our necessary focus on our finances I want to mention 5 other things I would like to prioritize this coming year as well:
- Number 1, because we are surrounded by the Hillside Natural Area and bordering East Bay Parks, El Cerrito must continue to prioritize fire and vegetation management. I will continue to support our fire department neighborhood abatement program, work on new ways to get grants to prevent fires and do what we can to keep Fire Station 72 open.
- Number 2, Beyond the important symbolic actions this city takes to demonstrate support for social and racial equity, I believe we need to require that equity concerns are addressed whenever our city staff and Council make any decision. In addition to the existing environmental, legal, financial and strategic plan considerations that must be addressed on any Agenda Item at Council meetings. I think we need to also include “social and racial equity” as a consideration that must be reviewed at the same time.
- Number 3, We must also look ahead to a post COVID-19 world — Assisting our local businesses and developers to do what they do best – and help them generate revenue for the city as we continue to seek smart growth during a pandemic.
- First, I want to be part of any lobbying effort at the state and federal levels for critical funding that should come back to the state and local level to help retail, restaurants, theaters and prevent evictions.
- Second, we are at the beginning of a long development process ahead, as BART makes its plans for the Plaza Station. I want to make sure El Cerritans have opportunities to give important input and contribute to what will be a full range of housing, retail and hopefully a library in our city. BART has already conducted 2 public events on the project. I want more.
- And because we need to prepare for a longer-range recovery in El Cerrito…next year, I’ve already requested that we hold a public workshop to discuss options for generating new revenue streams.
- Number 4 — With our new President refocusing efforts to address Climate Change, El Cerrito must do the same. And, I also believe it is time for this city to move its plastic food ware ban to the Council for a vote when it will not detrimentally impact our retail and restaurants who have been decimated by Covid.
- Number 5 — I will make sure our famous pool (where I hung out and grew up) is open, used and protected – assuring that the amount of Measure H funds is prioritized for that purpose.
I want to thank the other candidates from this past campaign, and especially the victors for your upcoming service to our city.
Again, thanks to Rochelle and Greg for your service.
Thanks to my family – Michelle, Katie and Christina.
Finally, during this time I hope all El Cerritans will help keep themselves and neighbors safe and healthy. I again say that I know what El Cerrito used to be like – and how far we have come. As Mayor, I want to be a part of getting El Cerrito back on track – so we can all continue to make it even better.
We can do this.