by Concord Councilman Edi Birsan.
Local Elections are sometime beauty contests amongst the status quo candidates and other times about priorities. Local issues are everywhere and if you do not ask or look for what is important to you, then you wind up being told what they are by media hype, and the barrage of glossy mailers that will flood us. Demand answers, demand substance and get involved. In Concord, here are some priorities we are facing.
Directly elected mayor exists in some of our cities such as Martinez, Antioch, Richmond and San Ramon. This brings the political back room into the political front room of an election. Cities where there has been disruption of a traditional rotational system, such as in Concord, when combined with a history of political advancement to higher offices, are the prime candidates for switching to Directly Elected Mayor.
Defined rotation for offices like Vice Mayor is part of the political back room issues. Antioch has a unique system in which the highest vote getter in the Councilmember race is the Vice Mayor. This puts the issue directly in the hands of the voter.
Empowered over site committee on the development of the Concord Weapon Station is an issue in Concord in that there is now a process for putting people on a Community Advisory Committee but no one is quite sure what the powers will be and what status will be given it by a future Council. Do we want an appointed board to be able to overrule an elected Council? Do we want a Council able to ignore the recommendation of a citizen board?
Require Councilmembers to have their primary residence in the city was a big issue several years ago in Concord when a Councilwoman had her primary residence in Sacramento and used her sister’s apartment to support ‘domicile’ under state law to be able to hold a seat on the City Council. We have a Federal constitution that allows Congressmen to live anywhere in the state and not restricted to their city so that state legislators could not change their district and throw them out of office. However, a city does not have a variable geographic district and thus what do we want to do with the residences.
Have a City wide meetings on the value of election districts or mixed at large and local representatives. Cities with diverse neighborhoods and of a certain size (possibly 100K) have a great potential to have disproportionate or no representation of various groups. The offset of the advantage of having ’someone like us’ vs having someone who represents us vs the real fear of creating artificial divisions in a community that pushes one neighborhood against an another is a topic for discussion.
There is also the political impact on the costs of an election. Districts of 25-35,000 people become within reach of active candidates without a lot of money for mailings (social media has not hit effectiveness in local elections yet). For example, in Concord to mail to high propensity voters costs about $17,000 for each piece.
Opening up of police and city service substations in troubled neighborhoods has an immediate effect of showing the Blue Flag locally. In the long run the question is does it contribute to a reduction in the growing gap between police and communities? Some believe so and that having community rooms in small sub police stations and activities there increases positive interactions with police that pay off in the long run. There is then also the issue of who staff’s it and if Community Service Officers in uniform are trained enough to do it.
Body Cameras for police is a growing issue that is inevitable given the advance in technology and the demand for accountability. While we are spared the angst that other counties are suffering with on police shootings, one of the big benefits for the police is the swift discharge of claims against the police for misconduct.
With 59% of the budget going to police service should we add more? The classic problem of how much is too much? It is not unusual for a city to spend 50% on police services, or 70% with police and fire departments. In central Costa County we have the Consolidated Fire District so we concentrate on Police. What is the need and what is the level of acceptable expenditures. Note that we want a highly trained police force that is doing more and more social work such as dealing with homeless. You have to pay for skills or take the consequences of the lack of them.
Preventive support via the Family Justice Center and Homeless Ou reach, how much do we spend? This is a classic case of how much do we invest in preventive services. We know that prevention is cheaper than damage recovery, but it takes a generation to commit to doing it. Is the current generation willing to take the gamble on themselves that they are willing to pay more for the government to have these resources or do they prefer the ‘personal responsibility and everyone take care of themselves’ sort of approach. With 40% of the violent crime in Concord being domestic violence, the current Council has pushed for the Justice Center, but is it sustainable for the next 20 years?
How far can we expand Volunteers In Police Services (VIPS) is the ‘free’ support for the police. However even though the volunteers are not pulling a salary, they take resources in training, monitoring, and equipment. How much authority do we want to give them and what investments in screening and over sight can we accept? As the overwhelming majority are retirees what about the recruitment being active for young people and are they responsible enough?
Upgrade the Community Service Officers training to handle more duties to free up line police. San Jose is leading the way with CSO’s that have greater training and able to step into more roles than the current Concord or other cities in Contra Costa have. The more we put into a CSO the less we have to spend on Sworn regular police. I believe the ration on costs is something like 3 to 1 so for every 3 CSO officers we could have one regular policeman.
Traffic and Roads
We have brought forward $22million for Road Repairs, and advance repair machinery, is that enough? We know that in Concord we need more than twice that number to keep the roads from over all declining, but with the injection of the current amount we slow the decline and improve the high volume roads. What amount do we spend and if Measure X fails the city will have less money to fix roads.
What alternatives do we have to more cars in the city? A free shuttle and if so where and when and how much to we spend? We currently have a free shuttle with Federal Grant money from the Monument Corridor to other areas. Could and should we do the same for say going down Concord Blvd to BART? What about building a BART station on Oak Grove and David by the Neighborhood Park to take pressure off of Treat. Is an autonomous bus system or car system viable at this point?
Bicycle lanes and sidewalks, who gets the priority and where? What is the percentage of people that can be realistically shifted to bikes? What is the cost benefit analysis for that shift? The growth of the bike population can be seen in the July 4th parade where each year they have more than doubled the number of participants. BART is planning a major expansion at the Downtown BART station for bike services.
Reducing Fees on Secondary (Mother in Law units) already started how low do we go? The fastest way to stop development is to have high fees on low cost development. The Water district had at $32,000 connection fee for making a new detached building be it a studio size or a 1 bedroom. Likewise, the city had fees of about $17,000. These have been reduced roughly to $17K and $5K but if a tiny home or a mother-in-law unit costs $60,000 to make having $22K in fees still seems like a lot. So do we lower it still and what about the benefits that the fees are supposed to support? Are in effect subsidizing the new people who will use our Parks, and benefit from the water storage investments that have already been made.
Affordable housing what does it mean in terms of city action- in lieu fees or direct ownership of units by the city do we want government projects that were a disaster in the east coast? What about combining some affordable dee restrictions with secondary or tiny housing to get youngsters and retirees into home ownership? What role for government? Which bring us to the next topic:
Rent control or Best Practices enforced and if so at what level of owner operation: 30 units or 60 units or more. There is a clear cultural and practice divide between the small landlord investor and the corporate one. Small landlords tend to have below market rates because of fear of losing a good tenant and are very much involved in the maintenance and upgrade of the street that they invest in. The large scale displacements and large rent increases seem to come from the larger landlords and may be driven by finance opportunities from banks to turn over the properties rather than go for a stability strategy.
Do we expand the home refurbishment incentives such as a permit free month for home repairs and upgrades and do we divert some city funds to help people upgrade their properties that they live in and commit to stay in them?
We have a growing divide of the new generations from the shared values reflected in our history from the prior generations. This is emphasized by the large technological divide between the divisions and the expectations of interactions through technology more and more. Will having Historic markers in the city build the common story of who we were and begin to make us more cohesive or do we need an APP that fires up each time you pass a local area like a haunting Pokemon to bring history to your face so it can sink into the back of your mind.
Actively support the expansion of the library services as a community center is a hot topic since there is still a large group who feel that libraries are old fashion. Yet in Concord the library has 859 visitors on average daily. The city pays for the weekend availability as well as two nights a week. Should we expand it to 5 nights a week and build on another meeting room or two?
Having a cultural festival in different parts of the city is a way to showcase our diversity as well as to throw a highlight on the segregation of it. Right now in the Monument Corridor we have the December celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe but everything else is in Todos Santos area. With a large Filipino community, we need to have a recognition of some of that culture as well. Gone are the days of the Pow Wow/Cowboy Days and Black Bart Sales, but maybe they should be brought back to remind people of our development from a small land grant crossroads to the largest city in the 4th wealthiest county in the 6th largest economy in the world.
Expand the concert series to bring back Jazz to Brubaker Park where it started and then spawned the Pavilion that brought the concerts to Todos Santos. The Singing Flag was a success for 25 years at the park until the church sponsor decided to take their energies in a different direction. Why not restart it/
Assign each Councilmember a high school and their feeder schools to work on upgrade of school-city interactions.
Local issues are everywhere and if you do not ask or look for what is important to you, then you wind up being told what they are by media hype, and the barrage of glossy mailers that will flood us. Demand answers, demand substance and get involved. Call me if you want to meet and talk as I will listen. Edi Birsan 925 798 3537.EdiBirsan@gmail.com