Thursday, June 28, 2012

library, trash station, and now the gold line

Over on Twitter, our own David "D-Bomb" Allen (whom you can follow @DavidAllen909) is writing about his trip to the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) meeting in downtown LA, where they voted to extend the transit tax not indefinitely, just until 2069 -- and to kill the extension of the Gold Line as far as Claremont.  If he hasn't already written this up on his blog, I'm sure he's crafting a brilliant article as we speak.  Anyway, I'm sure he'll have more information for us, or at least more than 140 characters.

Hey, Universe, got any other slings and arrows for the West Inland Empire?  Bring 'em on.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


City council's favorite solution is to outsource. Privatize, privatize, privatize. It is always a shortsighted solution, which takes power away from the people. When the city outsourced the fire service to the county, they lost many chances for collaboration and pitted police against fire, fire against the library and parks, and so on.

They plan to outsource the parks, no matter how much the city's youth might benefit from current volunteer programs, and no matter how much money these volunteer programs might save the city. One youth cited the figure of 80K to me at the council meeting. In a city so strapped for cash 80K is a lot of money, or so they tell us.
The city is also considering outsourcing the library, although where is as yet unclear. Another bad idea. The American Library Association did a study on the problems of outsourcing, which you can read here. Even outsourcing to another public entity will cause:

  • ·         loss of jobs
  • ·         loss   of control over programming and collections
  • ·         difficulty in regaining the facility for the city
  • ·         loss of community involvement
  •        potential loss of access to space for community groups
  • ·         loss of accountability
Council did manage to find 400K. So why why not use that money to keep the library open for another three months while looking for additional funding. If August 1 is the deadline for a ballot measure, as stated at the council meeting, we should get moving. The public task force will meet every week at 10 am at the library to plan next steps for saving the library. Everyone is welcome.

To resist privatization, we need to take back people power in other ways as well. At the council meeting the main place for ordinary voices to be heard was outside the council chambers--once again the mayor found ways not to listen to his constituents, this time by slowing down the budget presentation. People came expecting to be able to be heard. Everyone was told to be on time, 6 pm sharp. By 10:00 pm, people were exhausted and discouraged. Many left. If the council won't hear us and persists in putting public funds and the people's power into the hands of private corporations, then maybe we need to find other ways to make Pomona a place for the people.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rancho Cucamonga: Cavalry to the rescue?

At 11:01 p.m. last night, the Pomona City Manager dropped word that the City of Rancho Cucamonga was interested in assuming control of the Pomona library, as a branch of its library, at a cost in the ballpark of the $400,000 placeholder indicated in the revised proposed budget.

So it appears that the cavalry may have shown up, contrary to my last post (and I do thank those who spoke, and butchered that Salinas analogy thoroughly - myself included).

The Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, which includes a library (left).
Many Pomona citizens are right to be skeptical, myself included. Mickey Gallivan, of the Pomona Valley Historical Society, after going on a rant about the lack of culture in the Northern California suburbs of Walnut Creek and Concord, asked if Rancho Cucamonga was trying to steal our history because Cucamonga has no history (although there may be more history than some folks realize). I am concerned that the proposed cost that Rancho Cucamonga may be proposing may be too low and not a good value for their constituents, who may end up not wanting to subsidize the noblesse oblige that their city manager appears to be engaging in - or may try to make up the difference later. Still others are concerned that Cucamonga staff will replace Pomona staff, and the institutional knowledge of our existing librarians and staff will be lost. Along with Ontario, Pomona is one of the few comprehensive public libraries in the Inland Empire, with a wide array of resources aside from popular books found at smaller libraries.

While I appreciate the sentiment and gesture from Rancho Cucamonga, it is important that this proposal be thoroughly vetted to ensure that it meets Pomona's values. While it certainly seems more favorable than a private company running the libraries, the devil is in the details. There needs to be enough money to fund this adequately, and not spend down precious reserves, or else the city may be better off shutting down the library, after all, to preserve its credit rating. Revenue needs to be an option, to fund these services properly for the long term.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Looking at fire - the last place to cut

When I retweeted a story this morning about the fire cuts, I got a response from a reader (since deleted), "you obviously do not live in Pomona and have to [sic] no vested interest in how it will affect the community. Thanks"

It's a common concern from Pomona residents, concerned about the closing of fire stations and not aware of the other hard choices made over the years to parks, police, the library, and other community services. As a Pomona resident, I have to deal with the fact that our citizens have expressed, on numerous occasions, their lack of willingness to pay to maintain the services that we have. But let's take a look back at what is actually being proposed, and past efforts at bringing fire costs down the line, after the jump.

Fire Station 188 - Phillips Ranch

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Just a reminder, if you haven't seen it elsewhere:  Tomorrow (monday) there is a 10am meeting at the library -- a meeting that essentially is standing in for the promised task force (harrumph) on how to save the library.  Everyone is welcome, and if you can make it, you should try to be there.

Tomorrow night is a meeting at 6pm at City Hall.  You might wish to be there for that too.  (I'm not entirely clear on the agenda for that -- anyone want to add information?)

One other reminder:  M-m-m-my Pomona is a community blog.  If you'd like to be one of the authors, just drop me a line and I'll send you an invitation.  Although no one would blame you if you refused to join a club that would accept you as a member.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Possible solution for the library

It's in the revised budget staff report.

The plan is to spend $400,000 (instead of $1 million) on the library after August 15, by contracting with a third party, municipal or private, to begin near August 16, 2012. This $400,000 would come from a swap of gas tax funds for general funds, and this means that funds that would have gone for sidewalk repair and replacement just got deferred (since the gas tax only pays for two thirds of the cost of maintaining public streets).

Also included are various items that could still be cut (such as senior meals, code enforcement reduction, after school programs, crossing guards), revenue sources (selling city property, billboards, trash transfer station fees, selling future cell phone tower revenue, and tax increases), and a discussion on the fire consolidation. Very little time is spent on the revenue projection, other than it is low - no other contingencies appear to have been made for other shoes to drop such as the local property transfer tax and hotel tax failing.

More details on the library after the jump.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

trash/library petition

If you're opposed to both the closure of the library and the opening of the waste transfer facility, a resident has started a petition, which you can check out (and sign) here.  It's moving up on 100 names now (after only a day); the goal is 500 names.  Make yours one, if you agree with the sentiments!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Trash station theater continued

Also notable is that trash station theater has been continued to July 16. If the organizers on both sides turn out their crowds, this could be an epic meeting - starting at 6 p.m. (one hour early), but with possibly hundreds of speakers - and all without the city council realizing that, if they go too late, that legal action will be taken on the decision.

Competing visions of the same facility.

Oh, and I did misspeak - after further review, the statement of overriding considerations is not subject to referendum. But there are enough grounds for CEQA and Federal Title VI lawsuits to keep this project bottled up for years to come (assuming someone can pay the lawyers).

Monday, June 18, 2012

make that "next week"

Apparently (as you know, I'm 357 miles north) city council postponed the library discussion till next week, purportedly to allow for time to hunt for ways to save the library.  I'm just a bit cynical; after all, they had all spring to work on this.  Surely they didn't walk into chambers, clap their hands to their faces like Macauley Culkins, and exclaim, "We had no idea that people would be so opposed!"?

The delay seems like a win for the council.  Fewer people will probably show up next week, and if they do manage to find some kind of solution, it will look as though they were responding to the public.  Kabuki theater, as Calwatch said a few days ago.

Yes, it's cynical to view things this way.  But how did I get so cynical?  By going to council meetings.

I look forward to hearing more from folks who were there or are otherwise better informed.

Library vote tonight

"A vote against the library is like a vote to burn books."
Overheated rhetoric? Or accurate statement?

If you haven't read my entire series, we've covered the legal case that the city manager has said led to the large budget shortfall, compared our situation to Salinas and told Pomonans why the cavalry will not rescue us, and looked at a campaign to raise taxes in Troy, Michigan, and how some city council members actively campaign against tax increases to support public services like the library.

Now it's your turn to speak out - tonight at 6:45 p.m. Be prepared to stay there for a while - past midnight, I've been at Pomona council meetings in the past that have ended in the 2 o'clock hour - and let your voice be heard.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pomona library closure: Where's the money?

Recently, the Troy, Michigan Public Library won a major advertising award for its satirical campaign, Book Burning Party. The Troy City Council placed a 0.07% property tax increase to fund the library and prevent cuts to other services, stating that the library would be closed if the tax didn't pass. The local Tea Party was focusing public attention on the tax increase, and the election was a low-turnout summer election that generally skews conservative. In order to re-frame the conversation, some library supporters posted signs for a book burning party following closure of the library, only to reveal two weeks before the election that this was all reverse psychology - although not without some passionate discussion generated, and dismay from some library supporters who wanted a more above board campaign. Even today the deceptive method of this advertising (hat tip Metafilter) has caused controversy.

Unfortunately, Pomona residents may never get to vote on this decision. While two City tax increases are on the ballot in November (increasing the hotel tax and the property transfer tax), no general tax increase is on the ballot, nor the "fire services tax" explicitly referred to as a condition of the County Fire approval to close down Fire Station 181.

In fact, the last time Pomona had to vote in a tax increase, it was actively opposed by City Councilmembers. That would be Measure SP, otherwise known as the "Mendoza tax increase", which was on the ballot in the November 2010 general election.

For those unfamiliar with local politics, John Mendoza is a local community activist that currently serves as the elected representative for North Pomona on the Three Valleys Municipal Water District. Over the years, he has pursued various initiatives for the city and the school district, such as the recent effort to partition school district voters into districts.

The Mendoza tax would have increased the utility tax by 2% for 26 months. Passage of the tax would have generated $3.9 million for this fiscal year and $3.575 million for the next fiscal year, enough to fund the library and pay off County fire. But Councilmember Freddie Rodriguez helped stop it, on the basis of a fanciful notion of wooing Fry's Electronics to the city. While long term developments like the proposed Target Center at the former auto center property were in the works, they will take a few years to start generating funds due to the long environmental process these projects take. Other councilmembers were either openly opposed to it or stayed silent.

Surprisingly, public employee unions did not get behind the initiative either, seeing that there was not any organization other than Mendoza himself behind the measure. They may have also been scared off by the previous Mendoza tax, a 1% increase in the utility tax, which also drew no organized campaigns in favor of the measure, and failed as expected.

In this informational review dated in 2008, the City Manager also discusses other sources of revenue, such as fully charging the cost of street lighting or landscape maintenance to taxpayers, instead of paying it through the general fund. Still others, like the trash transfer stations proposed on the east end of town, have been mired in an ongoing proxy war between two large waste haulers. Both of those could have generated enough money to save the library, and not at any large destruction to the City's image, as this list shows.

It certainly seems, however, that city leaders have no belief that the voters of Pomona will accept any tax increases or revenue enhancements, even when the remaining options are presented to them.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pomona library closure: Lessons from Salinas

The last big city to consider closing its library was Salinas, California in 2005. Salinas is demographically very similar to Pomona - heavily Latino, similar size, and comprised mainly of working class people with some rich areas. Salinas was short of $9.2 million and tried to raise taxes, which failed, and thus led to the proposed library shutdown. The closures received national attention and significant hand-wringing, yet there doesn't appear to be as much attention here paid by the national media (although hopefully this will be changing.)

Here are some major differences between Salinas and Pomona:
  • More libraries in the community. Salinas had three libraries in the community, with the main library built as part of the 1950's era civic center, one assumed when the city annexed unincorporated land, and one built as a result of population growth in the 1960's. When Pomona built its civic center, they built one large library, but never created branch libraries. Even in the boom times of the 1970's, Pomona did not develop branch libraries. 
  • Lack of connection to the local library. Many people in Phillips Ranch and North Pomona are closer to County libraries. The County libraries are much smaller, but offer a similar set of popular reading material and more importantly offer access to the entire County system, with many times more books than one individual library can. Interlibrary loan is generally clunky and expensive, so the advantage of placing a hold, for free, from the County system is a benefit for the savvy reader.
  • Salinas is the only game in town. In addition to the County libraries, Ontario has always had a deep collection - the best in the Inland Valley, even 15 years ago, and I went on trips with a friend's parents who consciously avoided Pomona to go to Ontario. Ontario had a large AV collection, and was open until 9 pm - Pomona always closed at 8, even pre-budget crisis, and its AV collection was modest (and gutted in the early 2000's to be replaced with the computer lab). And Ontario is only six miles  away. In contrast, the nearest big library to Salinas is Monterey, 18 miles away.
  • More local flavor. Salinas had John Steinbeck, and hosted the National Steinbeck Center. Pomona has some local authors but none with the international renown. It also is why Salinas got national attention immediately, while even Los Angeles media has been slow to pick up on the story.
  • We're inured to budget brinksmanship. With school districts issuing pink slips every year, only to be rescinded, and government agencies announcing cuts "to the bone" that ultimately have no impact on the average resident, it numbs the public. When Salinas proposed closure, it was unique.

One thing is for certain - the horses to save the library will not be coming from outside the community. Later we'll look at another key difference with Salinas - our city leader's refusal to seek additional revenue, and even oppose community-led efforts to generate funds.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Budget showdown on Monday

It's going to be a long Monday in Pomona.

Already various interest groups have fired up their e-mail lists and discussion groups. Local 1014, the firefighter's union, has placed an all-call to their membership on the closure of Fire Station 181. There is a Facebook group, "Don't close the Pomona library!!" created by a library employee. In addition, overlooked by the media, the latest installment of trash station theater happens Monday as well, with the city manager requesting the public hearing for the Pomona Valley Transfer Station be scheduled, denying trash station opponents' claim that State time limits have expired and that the project is therefore denied.

Here are the key items to look for:

  • Item 12 is the scheduling of a hearing for the trash station appeal. Possible hearing dates are July 2 or July 9. To avoid legal challenges, these hearings must end by a time certain and so could be continued indefinitely, as the Planning Commission used three meetings to hear the appeal. In addition, City Council could choose to deny a hearing, although that would trigger legal action from the proponents. But because of this risk, proponents and opponents of the trash station will spend their time convincing the council of their merits, and so all of the issues likely brought up at a public hearing would be heard now. The project itself has been modified such that all trucks leaving the facility will be CNG and the diesel fuel station has been eliminated.
  • Item 13 is a discussion of the "realignment" of fire services. It includes the closure of Fire Station 181, next to the Civic Center, and moving various equipment around the city, reducing the fire contract by $1.96 million or 8%. The firefighters' union has proposed instead that the city join the Consolidated Fire Protection District, instead of contracting in a fee for services arrangement. In this manner, property taxes move directly to the fire department, similar to the situation in cities created after Proposition 13 was passed. 
  • Item 15 is the state-mandated budget public hearing. Thirty positions are eliminated, with the closure of the library and the outsourcing of park maintenance. There are also accounting shifts in gas tax funding for street maintenance and internal services. Legally the budget must be adopted by the end of the year, or the previous year's budget continues on a month to month basis.

For those of you who don't go down the city hall often, the council chambers is small, with a capacity somewhere around 200 with about 40-50 people accommodated in the lobby. There is a loudspeaker that will blast the proceedings to the plaza. For those with cable or FIOS, meetings are also broadcast on the public access channel (Channel 29 for those with FIOS), although the quality of the audio can be questionable.

The meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., and although the city code only permits to go to 11:00 p.m. the council can choose to extend the meeting indefinitely. However, meetings have tended to be called at 7:00 p.m. or later due to straggling for council members to leave closed session. With the items on the agenda and public interest this meeting could last well beyond midnight.

Speaker cards are in the lobby and the city clerk reserves the authority to not accept cards submitted after the meeting has begun, although in practice speaker cards are accepted until the item has actually begun. The time limit is three minutes or at the discretion of the mayor. They go to the table in front of the public seating area. Generally they are not called in any particular order, with the exception of other elected officials who may be recognized earlier.

I've also been informed that the Los Angeles bureau chief for the New York Times is pursuing a story, either about the library itself or framing this and other budget decisions in a national context, to be published in the next few days. So interest is not waning on this one.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

news coverage of the library

Of course our beloved D-Bomb is on the case.  His article -- with a big photo of Ms. Lois! -- has been picked up by a number of the other Singleton newspapers, I gather.

Inside Palmdale vs. State Board of Equalization

So what was this decision that busted a million dollar hole in the city budget?
Palmdale vs. State Board of Equalization.

The chronology is as follows:

  • Out of state retailer sells goods from Pomona warehouse, thus all California purchasers have to pay California sales tax, which since this retailer has no resale permit in the state, is allocated to all agencies in the county (the "warehouse rule".)
  • Retailer pays $9.6 million in taxes over 14 years.
  • Pomona files an appeal in 1994 challenging this rule, which is exhausted in 2000.
  • The rules change in 2006.
  • Pomona files an appeal under the new rules in 2008.
  • State Board of Equalization grants hearing in 2009. 
  • Board staff recommend granting $4.8 million to Pomona, or 50% of the disputed amount.
  • The elected board overrules staff and grants Pomona $7.1 million, or 75% of the disputed amount.
  • Cities for which the money gets taken away from sue the State Board in 2010.
  • The Superior Court overturns the State Board decision in 2011.
  • Following legal back and forth, parties settle, such that the cities that sued the Board withdraw the lawsuit, the State Board's decision is reinstated and the State pays Pomona the $7.1 million, at which point Pomona would pay each city an individually agreed upon amount. Pomona reimburses each of the other cities a total of about 51% of the Board-ordered amount, such that the City of Los Angeles recovers about $2 million and the others a smaller amount. As a result of the settlement, everyone has to tell the appeals court to go along with the withdrawal of the judgment, pretending that the lawsuit never happened.
  • The appeals court refuses to go along with this, and voids the settlement, noting that the City of Los Angeles would have lost $2.32 million under the State Board's decision, and that the State Board overreached in making the original decision in the first place. Therefore, no funds are paid to Pomona at all.
The appeals court noted the following:
Today, all cities in the state are in need of funds to provide adequate police and fire protection, libraries, public parks, and other public services.  [...] Cities and their residents — the public — have a right to know why a city is losing or gaining millions in local sales tax revenues, that is, a right to know the Board‘s grounds for reallocating those taxes. 

Citizens also have a right to know why the City was counting on over a million dollars in funds that didn't actually exist. Did the Finance Manager count on this settlement revenue in Fiscal Year 2012-13, out of a sense of optimism, instead of waiting for all appeals to expire? Did the City Attorney, in believing that a deal had been cut with every other party, think that the appeals court would just rubber stamp the decision? Why was this revenue even booked in the first place, considering the endless amount of legal fees that this lawsuit seems to have consumed? 

These are questions that no one will answer in public because of "litigation" and "negotiation with employee representatives", but it deserves to be asked. This failure to consider contingencies does not speak well of City management.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

woe betide us?

Word on the street is that the public library is closing for good on August 15, with all the employees -- every last one of 'em -- pink-slipped. Can anyone confirm or deny this (preferably the latter)?

All I can think of is that this is some kind of ploy to get the citizenry to accept the outsourcing of everything to the county, but as far as I'm concerned, outsourcing is part of what got us into this financial swamp to begin with.

The one thing I know for sure is the old adage: Closing libraries in a time of plummeting test scores (to say nothing of gang activity) is like closing hospitals during an epidemic.

The image is from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Children's Room website -- soon to be gone, but never forgotten.