Island Talkback: Mayor says Alameda is solvent
Headlines recently claim that Alameda is on the verge of “bankruptcy.” I want to set the record straight: Alameda is solvent. Like other cities in California, we face a very serious financial situation. However, we are set to make the tough decisions necessary to move our city forward.
These dire headlines stem from comments made by our city auditor and city treasurer during last Tuesday’s special council meeting regarding our budget. Like many cities in California, we have financial issues created by a variety of factors, including increasing health care and pension costs, reduced tax revenues due to the weak economy and a reduction of state funding. However, it was irresponsible for the auditor and treasurer to claim that the city will be “bankrupt” in two years.
We should absolutely discuss the city’s financial condition and the plan for going forward. However, it is irresponsible for elected leaders to toss around terms like “bankruptcy.” It’s like screaming fire in a theater: You’d better be right and have the right motives, because you can hurt the city you are trying to help. In this case, these statements could hurt Alameda just as we are trying to improve our city by bringing businesses like America’s Cup and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs here. We may very well make LBNL’s short list, but this episode will make our work harder.
And make no bones about it – we have some tough decisions to make. We need to:
· Make further cuts – and we were looking at those cuts even before last Tuesday’s meeting
· Address our contracts with our unions
· Involve the public in these discussions for their input
During the last two years, Lena Tam and I repeatedly asked our former interim city manager, our lead negotiator on those contracts, to move forward in negotiations with police and fire. We were ignored. Our bargaining units were ready and willing to negotiate and be part of the solution, but our ICM canceled many scheduled meetings and never pursued this issue. Our auditor and treasurer should have joined us then and focused on the most critical issue since their fiscal sustainability report was released two years ago.
While this important issue was ignored the last two years, this new council and this new mayor have been addressing these contracts and issues like our pension situation since January. But it is only one of the many solutions we need to solve our fiscal challenges. This is a problem that developed over 30 years and we can’t turn all of that back in one swing. But we are starting on the right track – in full public view.
The road ahead will not be easy. Our financial challenges, like those of most California cities, is very real. We will succeed because Alameda residents will be part of the process, one done in good faith, with transparency and public input. Now is the time for dialogue and hard work to make difficult decisions – it is not the time for irresponsible claims. That does not move Alameda forward.