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Vallejo, CA

Time for CalPERS to face financial reality

I noted an article in the NY Times on this subject and thought I'd make a brief visit to see whether anyone in Vallejo was discussing the subject. Vallejo continues, despite bankruptcy, to maintain obscenely high retirement programs for public safety employees, utilizing CALPERS most expensive program of 3% at age 50, while all other employees receive a VERY generous 2.7% at at 55. Since police and fire employees are required to have no more than a high school diploma, this means that many of those in blue could retire at age 50 and receive for life, 90% of their highest year salary, plus lifetime medical and dental benefits. Considering that a firefighter with a modest amount of education and training beyond their high school diploma can make as much as $108,000 a years, retirement can be pretty sweet, especially at age 50. Any of the readers of this conversation hoping to retire at 50 with an annual salary of $97,200? I've long called these "gold plated" contracts and I'm shocked that there was no rollback of these benefits during the bankruptcy process. Of course, since management has a pretty sweet deal as well, perhaps they didn't feel it too important to press the matter. Eventually, cities are going to have to reduce benefits. At the moment, the City of Vallejo pays CALPERS 44.101% of salary paid to public services employees to cover the cost of that very generous retirement package. In comparison, they pay 7.65% for Social Security. Something is rotten in Denmark my friends. Good luck Vallejo. You're nowhere near out of the woods with such unsustainable retirement benefits for city employees.  (Apr 16, 2013 | post #4)

Vallejo, CA

Redevelopment Gone - What Vallejo Should Do Now ???

I've commented on this forum numerous times suggesting the City of Vallejo give up on its efforts to redevelope downtown, something that has occupied City Councils for the last sixty years. Finally, the governor, legislature and now the Supreme Court have said NO MORE. As many have observed, redevelopment has become a slush fund for developers, often for projects that would have happened without an infusion of tax increment dollars stolen from the County, school and special districts. Other projects have no business being pursued in the first place. Granted, Vallejo has bonded indebtedness that it must repay. But beyond that there is nothing left to do It is time to shut down redevelopment, layoff redevelopment staff, and either rename the Housing and Redevelopment Commission the Housing Commission or fold its duties into the Community Development Commission. Both CDBG and Section 8 are federally funded programs overseen by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Each has an annual application process. Both commissions are staffed within the Economic Development Department and could easily be merged. Granted, this will aggravate problems at City Hall since redevelopment funds pay for a portion of the City Manager and City Attorney operations since both also serve the Redevelopment Agency. Now the full cost of both offices will have to be paid from city tax revenues. But the agencies who have foregone tax revenues for so long really deserve a break. And the City will be forced to live within its means. Good luck with that Vallejo!  (Dec 29, 2011 | post #2)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Should 201 Maine be closed, and the tenants relocated at ...

When the Marina Vista Apartments were constructed in the mid-1960s with a loan guarantee from the federal government, they were considered one of the finest complexes of its type in the western United States. Representatives of the Department of Housing and Urban Development were so proud of the complex which was beautifully maintained, that they brought groups to tour the site. Contrary to some of the silliness expressed here, revitalizing downtown works only if residents with disposable income are attracted to the neighborhood and will avail themselves of services and frequent the stores. Building three residential projects within the boundaries of the Marina Vista Urban Renewal Project made good sense at the time, though the fundamental theory behind urban renewal was flawed. What proved problematic for Vallejo was not the construction of these projects, or the more upscale condominiums at the foot of Main Street, but rather the financial reality that the loan guarantee that included strict standards for maintenance and rentals came to an end after thirty years. When that happened all bets were off and the rental projects began to deteriorate to the state they are in now. Had the original redevelopment effort been successful, doubtless there would have been demand for higher quality, higher rent apartments and these units would not have slipped into disinvestment and lower rents. The second phase of the condominium project would have been completed where the ferry parking now resides, as well, bringing even more high income shoppers to the neighborhood. As anyone who has been around for a few years knows, however, redevelopment simply didn't have the desired effect. No one was willing to invest in this moderate income, blue collar community. So downtown remains a mess, now with mediocre housing at the periphery. They've only become a problem because nothing else attempted to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear that is downtown worked.  (Aug 6, 2010 | post #24)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo fire department closes two more stations, respons...

I believe the biblical injunction says: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." I have to chuckle at the wailing and gnashing of teeth as another fire station closes. Vallejo's firefighters have stood firm in resisting change that has come to Vallejo largely because of the massive contraction in the American economy. The house of cards came crashing down and with it the value of homes and of investment accounts. With tax revenue plummeting, cities, counties and states are mightily burdened in trying to find creative ways to keep government operating. I've read the international firefighters union handbook on how to respond to fiscal crises and the basic stance is to make the city bleed by forcing them to make reductions in staffing that result in closing of fire stations. Don't concede of salaries and benefits but rather force closures. The strategy worked and Vallejoans are squealing like stuck pigs. I haven't been following the unfolding drama in Vallejo of late so I don't know all the details. Thanks heavens for small favors! But I said at the beginning of this journey that bankruptcy was going to happen, that things would get much worse before they got better and that REAL concessions would be required of ALL city employees before this journey ends. I stand by every word of that statement. Passing Yes of A is a good thing in the long run but it hardly solves any current problem. There are long years ahead that will be equally challenging since this problem doesn't exist only in Vallejo. Vallejo has for decades been the poor stepchild of the flourishing Bay Area, so even when things begin to turn around in the region, which won't happen quickly or soon, Vallejo's problems will linger. I've no idea what will turn things around in Vallejo. Nothing I witnessed or participated in during my years on staff at City Hall was ultimately effective. We won a few minor victories but monied interests seldom saw much to cheer about and hence were not inclined to invest in the community. The one thing that is certain is the political arena will remain a nasty meat grinder that spits out staff and politicians quite regularly. Vallejo is an angry union town with an absent middle class that only sleeps in the town but doesn't give a damn about what happens at City Hall. So the narrow interests and dingbats have full sway. Enjoy the ride everyone. I'm totally bored with rhetorical rugby so I'll leave the board to the rest of your restless souls. I'm going to go for a hike on Mount Tam...  (Jul 20, 2010 | post #67)

Vallejo Times-Herald

why didn't the th report about the police layoffs in oakland

As I read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle I couldn't help but recall all the Vallejo police officers who abandoned ship early in the bankruptcy process who reported proudly on this forum of the great deals they were getting in Oakland. Last in, last out means they're the folks most likely to receive a pink slip. Once again, fire played the game better, getting guarantees of no layoffs, which means the police take the fall. Trust me, this is not the last word. Oakland, like Vallejo, is in a world of hurt financially. There will be plenty of pain to go around before things get sorted out. It is just possible, that 3% at 50 will go the way of the dodo bird. It is definitely time to not only create a two tier retirement system, but to rework the existing system so ONLY those years worked following agreement of 3% at 50 are treated according to that formula. Years worked under the old agreement would then be calculated using that older formula. It wouldn't save a great deal of money, but it is morally justifiable solution to what was a travesty brought to taxpayers by politicians hungry to wear the union label. I've little doubt that had the provision for 3% at age 50 for public safety and 2.7% at 55 for everyone else in public service were submitted to taxpayers before being implemented, they would have been soundly defeated at the polls. They are perfect examples of governance by mushroom theory, keeping the voters in the dark and feeding them shiit.  (Jun 26, 2010 | post #3)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo's ferry station project key to economic recovery

It has been an uphill struggle since as a Navy town Vallejo has catered to both workers at Mare Island and enlisted men whose idea of a great time is getting a tattoo on Tennessee and checking out their next ride at one of the used car lots. Add to that the fact the military families on limited income were happy to find furniture stores on Sonoma Boulevard whose idea of advertising was to put sofas and chairs on the sidewalk next to the traffic. Trying to convince City Council that perhaps a bit more attention might be paid to reducing the size of signs, or attending to design issues when approving a project, was often a thankless task. I recall one planner who moved to a community where the City Council actually had high standards and were more demanding of staff when it came to design approval. He marveled at the difference. Vallejo remains by and large a blue collar town with quite a few white collar folks spending the night but totally disconnected from local politics. In addition, as I've said often, when you don't get very much love, as has certainly been the case for Vallejo, you're inclined to give away the store when you get a little bit. I was quite shocked that Vallejo actually put conditions on development by Walmart that contributed to their going elsewhere. They also said no to an LNG facility at the end of Mare Island. Unfortunately, demographics still leave Vallejo the poor stepchild when it comes to attracting developers. Hanover Group told staff that they worked for over a year to convince a restaurant operator to build on the waterfront. They said every one came to the same conclusion, that when Vallejoans go out for dinner it was seldom to an expensive restaurant of the sort Hanover Group hoped to have near their condominium project. Needless to say, none of their plans came to fruition and none of the later developers have done as well an Hanover did with that lovely condominium project that was half built. I certainly wish Vallejo well. I poured my sweat and tears into trying to help elected leaders realize the potential that is so often talked about. I recall the first time I saw Vallejo when I arrived to the Bay Area via I-80. I came across the hill and saw this beautiful city built on hills overlooking the Bay. It was later that I came to work for Vallejo, but I'd always held that image in my mind. It took a few years of battling windmills to appreciate the complexity of local politics and the social and racial dynamics of the community that so complicate decision making. I can't say I regret my decision to leave. Vallejo is a meat grinder. So far as I can tell it always has been. Good luck!  (Jun 22, 2010 | post #53)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo's ferry station project key to economic recovery

Actually, the initial plan for the Marina Vista Urban Renewal project called for the freeway to run along the water's edge, much as the Embarcadero freeway did in San Francisco before it was torn down. The current parking lot used by ferry patrons is on land that was to be part of the freeway right-of-way. The downtown exit was to be at Main Street. The post office, library and city hall would all have backed up to the freeway. Sadly, when urban renewal was first implemented the designers favored demolishing everything and creating huge swaths of vacant land that might attract developers who would be saved the time and expense necessary to aggregate small pieces of property. They understood even then that developers were much attracted to the possibility of building on raw land at the periphery of town where acres of parking would be available to patrons. The first real shopping mall was opened in the mid-fifties to much excitement in the development community. Over the decades, it became increasingly clear that urban renewal was a flawed approach to redevelopment. Subsequently, there was more of a premium placed on preserving what is unique and building on a smaller scale. Unfortunately, for Vallejo, all the charming buildings along the foot of Georgia Street had already been demolishedThe condominiums built at the foot of Main Street were intended as a first step in the kind of revitalization you mention, but Hanover Group had a difficult time finding buyers willing to drive through town to live there. That, of course, was before the Vallejo Ferry came into being. The ferry at that time was still taking workers over to Mare Island. I honestly don't know if there is sufficient traffic using the ferry for developers asked to invest in the neighborhood. I also believe there existence of so many below market rate rentals is a disincentive to developers of upscale housing or commercial properties. That is a monumentally tough sell.  (Jun 22, 2010 | post #44)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo's ferry station project key to economic recovery

I appreciate the fact you care for Vallejo, but obviously, you neither know the history nor have the least understanding of how development occurs. Trust me, if the Vallejo waterfront which faces the Napa River and former Mare Island Naval Shipyard and downtown Vallejo, were in Tiburon, development would happen so fast your head would spin. BUT, the Vallejo waterfront IS on the Napa River across from former Mare Island Naval Shipyard in a mixed race community with a blue collar history, whose more affluent residents are living primarily east of Interstate 80 that they take to there jobs elsewhere in the region. Vallejo to them, is essentially a bedroom community. When they go shopping, they go elsewhere. When they seek recreation, they go elsewhere. To reach downtown you have to travel miles on city streets through neighborhoods that kindly stated are tacky. Drive down Tennessee Street, South Vallejo Boulevard, Wilson Avenue and tell me I'm wrong. Fisherman's Wharf is on the waterfront of an international city that attracts millions of tourists from all around the world, with unobstructed views of one of the great bays in the world. Vallejo can't evict everyone, for the simple reason, there is virtually no development ON the waterfront. Vallejo has been trying for decades to get someone, ANYONE to build a new restaurant on the waterfront. As a joke, when a friend left city employ a LONG time ago, he gave me a faux coupon that entitled me to a free drink at his expense at the first new restaurant built in the redevelopment area. i've NEVER been able to redeem that coupon because NOTHING has been built. It has been demonstrated more times than I can count, that developers who are invited to risk their own money to create a commercial enterprise downtown in Vallejo, who do their own careful analysis of resident's incomes and how they spend their money, have ALL concluded that they'll take free money offered by the city but won't spend their own money. It is a sad tale but true.  (Jun 22, 2010 | post #42)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo's ferry station project key to economic recovery

The first sentence is correct, the second is fantasy of the sort that has fueled repeated attempts to turn the sow's ear of downtown into a silk purse filled with gold coins. I'm sorry to rain on your parade Kim, but this effort has been going on since 1956 when the Marina Vista Urban Renewal Project was approved by the federal government. Redevelopment then involved bulldozing buildings, regardless of condition or charm, creating roads and parking lots, constructing a few civic buildings on a rather grand scale and then inviting private entrepreneurs to buy land much reduced in price that already had streets, curbs and gutter, utilities, and, yes, parking lots, on which to construct their buildings. The first takers were bankers and downtown had four big ones in the heart of the redevelopment area. Other developers took advantage of guaranteed financing to construct Marina Vista Apartments that carried with them a contractual obligation to keep units affordable. When that didn't solve the problem the city in its infinite wisdom expanded the redevelopment area to include the rest of downtown. That carried with it street improvements, building rehabilitation and another generation of exclusive development agreements. In case you haven't noticed, most of the banks that once occupied downtown have left. The post office is being torn down and the plaza at was once the foot of Georgia Street has been torn up. And downtown is still filled with vacant buildings or with shops offering rather tawdry products and services. Vallejo is NOT close to turning around its downtown. Of course, since most of the money being spent on this latest venture comes from outside the community, I guess there is no serious problem with making one more effort at breathing life into downtown. What is a City Council to do, acknowledge that downtown is a loser that must from now on fend for itself? That won't likely happen, but you'll have to forgive those who've been around for decades who've seen the repeated failed experiments with the same vacuous promises trumpeted as they began.  (Jun 22, 2010 | post #28)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo's ferry station project key to economic recovery

Perhaps construction of Vallejo Station coupled with completion of the parking structure will be a catalyst for change downtown but frankly, I doubt it. The fact it "opens up" seven acres for development is rather humorous considering that land stood vacant for years and the closest it came to development was when Hanover Group proposed a two phase condominium development that would have used that land but didn't simply because they only built the first phase. That, of course, was AFTER the parking lot that had served Mare Island employees was removed so it could be available for development. You can imagine my surprise when that land was turned into another parking lot, this time for the Vallejo ferry patrons. I understand the rationale for using a transportation terminal to funnel people through downtown. That was the same theory behind tearing up the plaza between the post office and library, believing all those commuters parking near the waterfront and using the ferry would opt for driving into downtown via Georgia Street. I believe it is pretty clear that commuters returning home after a day in the city who were offered to opportunity to visit a seedy neighborhood with very little of interest declined the offer and headed home instead. Not much possibility of stopping at the supermarket when one doesn't exist. My guess is that folks passing through Vallejo Station will not be mesmerized by the offerings of downtown. Frankly, I haven't been in the neighborhood recently, but reports of conditions at the Marina Vista Apartments, or whatever they're presently called, suggest downtown is not an appealing neighborhood to hang out in. That is a shame since even when those complexes on either side of downtown were the pride of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, filled with families and elderly who took extremely good care of the property, little private development that would have drawn customers happened downtown. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is right now to attract investors actually willing to spend their own money to make something happen. I understand the political impulse to revitalize what was once the center of Vallejo. Perhaps one day, one initiative will turn things around, but frankly, I doubt Vallejo's downtown will ever be anything to write home about. Of course, the same can be said of many towns in the Bay Area. Shopping generally has moved to malls surrounded by parking lots and located close to freeways. At best, downtowns can be hubs of government activity or become charming neighborhoods with historic buildings and boutiques/antique shops. Unfortunately, downtown Vallejo has little charm and NO significant State, Federal or County presence. City Hall and the Library simply don't cut it. As I've noted before, the definition of insanity in 12 Step programs is "doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result." Perhaps one of these days those elected by the citizens to provide direction to the community will conclude it is time to STOP pouring money into downtown and begin focusing on development in other neighborhoods. Good luck Vallejo.  (Jun 22, 2010 | post #7)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Bay Area taxpayers collect less than what the region pays...

I note this piece comes from the San Jose Mercury News, a sister to the Vallejo-Times Herald owned by Media News Group. My first comment is that it is rather nice for once to read a well written article on these pages. The Times Herald staff is rather weak when compared with a first class paper like the Mercury News. Perhaps with experience they'll get better. I'd make one observation to this analysis. In addition to the fact that rural California has few high paying industries or jobs, is the reality that housing costs are enough lower in those counties that many folks on limited income migrate to take advantage of lower costs. These, of course, are typically the folks most in need of governmental assistance. That isn't too say counties such as Marin are without low income neighborhoods or assisted housing, but ordinary rents are extremely high. It is a very fortunate person who qualifies for and actually receives housing assistance in this county. Finally, I doubt that the suffering of folks at the margins of society will move conservatives or libertarians toward greater compassion for their constituents, regardless of what this analysis demonstrates. It is good to remember that religious conservatives often equate one's economic well being as a measure of one's righteousness. This belief has a very long history in American thought and surely affects many on the right who demonize those requiring support from government.  (Jun 21, 2010 | post #17)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo Measure A narrowly leading in early returns

Been there, done that. I don't care how much Vallejo firefighters make or where they rank. I KNOW the public safety unions have played the political game with consummate skill, thereby gaining for their members salaries and fringe benefits that are UNSUSTAINABLE. I know you agree with that characterization. The difference between the two of us, is that you're still engaged in the conversation. I'm not certain why you've chosen not to register and establish your nom de guerre, but I sense you're not jumping all over the place like so many the troglodytes who post on this board. I did my heavy lifting before you arrived. I returned recently only to join in the celebration of the Yes on A victory AND to encourage those concerned about excessive compensation to keep engaged with the political process in coming months and years. All this jockeying for position in either claiming the meaning of the vote or the righteousness of the participants is what I call rhetorical rugby. I've played the game often in other arenas and know well how it is played. But it bores me to tears. If I comment on this board, it will not be to challenge factual statements. I leave that to others, like yourself, who are prepared to delve into that level of detail. In truth, I won't likely be around much for any reason. I spent enough years immersed in the craziness that is politics in Vallejo that I KNOW there is no easy road to sanity there. I expect it will remain an eternal pisssing contest that leaves a smell on everyone involved. I like the calm of Marin much better and the trails on Mount Tamalpais are beckoning now that summer appears finally to have arrived. So fight the good fight. I hope you're enjoying yourself!  (Jun 21, 2010 | post #217)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo Measure A narrowly leading in early returns

IF the VFD is the lowest paid department in the 20 survey cities, all I can say is HALLELUJAH... it couldn't have happened to a greedier bunch of malcontents! I did a salary survey when this process began three years ago, using the fourteen cities in the fire contract AND cities in the region. At that time Vallejo public safety classification salaries were second only to the City of Santa Clara. As you well know, the public safety unions have essentially given the City of Vallejo the finger for the last decade, unwilling to make any real concession that would acknowledge the city's financial plight. And please don't embarrass yourself by listing the salary concessions, which were in fact deferral of projected increases, not actual reductions in salary OR benefits. Yes, salary and benefits HAVE been reduced, but as a result of bankruptcy proceedings which the unions fought tooth and nail. We witnessed their rather lame attempts to stop then slow the process. We remember the Rose Report with its shoddy analysis and fundamental misunderstanding of fund accounting. Perhaps they would have faired better had they been wiling to actually negotiate changes needed to keep Vallejo afloat, but they'd become too accustomed to years of getting their own way to believe it could actually happen. Hats off to Joe Tanner for calling the unions' bluff. With regard to the person who seeks a promotion, they can do what anyone else does. I went to graduate school on my own dime and prepared myself for my next position. I didn't expect my employer either to pay for that education, or give me a salary bump because I did. AND I expected the newer, more responsible position would carry with it the increased salary that recognized my improved qualifications. As we all know, that is not the fire union way, which involve milking the system for all its worth. Finally, while I have no quarrel with how the person identifying him or herself as Captain presents himself on this board, I've ALWAYS posted under my registered name, Vallejo Visitor. I don't live in Vallejo, though I did for many years. And I did work for the City of Vallejo, also for many years. What I speak about I understand from first hand experience.  (Jun 21, 2010 | post #208)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo Measure A narrowly leading in early returns

And what I said, which you ignore, is that IF the education is ESSENTIAL to the position, it should be listed as a minimum qualification and reflected in the salary schedule, as happens with planners, engineers, accountants and just about everyone in local government EXCEPT public safety classifications. IF it is not required, then there is no rationale for giving a salary increase when someone receives a degree. You simply can't have it both ways, regardless of your eloquent explanation of the need for the pearls of wisdom gained through such education. As I've said, additional pay for education not required to fulfill the requirements of the job is simply a ripoff. The real master at feathering the next, however, is not the police union but rather the fire union. If you doubt me, check their salary schedule some time. It is rife with possibilities for taking home higher wages. Extra pay for being trained in hazardous materials? And that shouldn't be part of the minimum requirements of the job? An Assistant Fire Chief who ISN'T required to have a bachelor's degree but gets extra compensation because he does? For these and other reasons I refer to these contracts as gold plated. You certainly haven't convinced me otherwise.  (Jun 20, 2010 | post #182)

Vallejo Times-Herald

Vallejo Measure A narrowly leading in early returns

I wasn't referring to academy training which I know to be required for both police and fire employees. I'm referring to compensation for degrees earned either before or after employment. You'll have to educate me regarding a State of California mandate that police officers MUST have a college degree. In fact, I'm very educable. Please give me a reference to the State code implementing this requirement. A Google search lists nothing related to this subject.  (Jun 20, 2010 | post #180)