N-95 Masks in Short Supply-Can You Help?

Reports from the health field, from Facebook, from television news and Twitter, all substantiate the need for N-95 filter masks for our health care professionals. Locally, we have learned that Kaiser Richmond is facing a N-95 mask shortage. Can you help? Consider looking through your Emergency Kit for fires and earthquakes and donate some of your masks. We will be collecting them at several local homes. Please email us and we will send you the address for drop-off. elcerritoprogressives@gmail.com

Suppotr our first responders! N-95 Filter Masks needed.

Budget Woes in El Cerrito Amidst A World Pandemic

City Council to consider $2,000,000 cuts for 2020 budget.

It’s difficult to write or think about “business as usual” while the messaging sweeping across the nation leads with the Corona Virus – and rightfully so. Today, our city officials, cancelled public functions and closed programs throughout the city in an effort to responsibly respond to the health crisis facing our community and communities throughout the world.

El Cerritans, we do have another crisis and it will not simply go away. Our city is desperately underfunded, with limited reserves for any type of emergency, and as much as City staff has minimized the threat in the last two years, the time to act is now. Next week the City Council will be meeting on March 17th to begin discussion on making a 2 million dollar reduction to the 2021 budget. For more details on the history of this crisis, please follow the blog post from the El Cerrito Committee for Responsible Government.https://elcerritocommitteeforresponsiblegovernment.com/blog-2/

Due to the Corona Virus, the Council meeting will be limited to no more than 40 community members in attendance and individuals over the age of 50 or with underlying health conditions will be prohibited from the meeting. We urge all residents to watch on line at home. Please open the following document for complete information and access to online broadcasting of the meeting.

This is a time to come together to support our elected officials in making some difficult decisions. As progressives, we believe that cuts need to be made with consideration of our families and the most vulnerable in our community. Please join the conversation, watch the meeting and send your feedback to the City Council and the City Manager. Below is a flyer with more information as to how you can move forward.

Civic Engagement on the Rise as City Budget Falters

At the February 4th, 2020, City Council meeting, Finance Director Mark Rasiah and City Manager Karen Pinkos presented the council members with a City budget no longer balanced. On top of that, we learned that the city’s bond rating is now BBB, which means there can not be any new bonds (like a library bond) passed. With council members visibly upset and extremely disappointed, we learned that the promised balanced budget for 2019-2020 required some serious cuts. Mayor Lyman directed staff to come back with 2 million dollars in cuts at the next meeting (February 18th). Furthermore, the City faces ascending expenses and revenues that are no longer increasing at the same levels with literally no safety net.

How did the city find themselves in this mess? What happened to the reserves? Didn’t the previous audit of 2018-19 suggest that the City faced some troubling financial times and why were no actions take then? (See our previous blog post). Engaged citizens organized themselves into the El Cerrito Committee for Responsible Government, and are calling on the City Council for greater transparency and accountability. To learn more about the financial situation facing our city please visit their website.

In just a week, City staff will be hosting a Strategic Planning meeting for community input. In the past, the meeting intended to offer residents a space for visioning the future, to dream big, and prioritize needs. This year residents will be asked to prioritize services, and contest cuts in some areas and favor cuts in others. At the prior public meetings, residents have repeatedly spoken out about protecting the Fire Department staff and council reiterated that as a priority. City staff produced a non-strategic list of random cuts for a 2019/2020 balanced budget. This list included the removal of the annual 4th of July event from the budget as well as a cut in library hours and senior services.

What do you think? Please let the city staff and council know. You can do so using the strategic plan on-line survey due by Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day). You can also email the city manager and the council or speak out an any of the scheduled meetings.

The Strategic Plan OPEN HOUSE is this Wednesday, Feb. 12 from 6 pm to 8 pm at the City Council Chambers. There is also a City Council Strategic Plan Workshop is March 14, Saturday, from 9:30 – 2 pm also at the City Council Chambers. 

How can we be progressive rather than reactive amidst this financial challenge?

Some suggestions are:

Reduce operational funding from Departments where it is possible. This is the task of the Department Heads to audit their own internal expenditures. How much are they spending on consultants and why do they not feel that they have the expertise to address issues in their field?

Freeze positions and management promotions- no more new hires until the City can begin to institute new streams of revenue through the engagement with volunteers/citizens who do not charge consultant fees.

Retain needed services including library hours and Senior services. We need to rethink how people with less resources often highly utilize what are considered non-essential services. To many these services are indeed essential? What would be the impact on those residents if the services were cut? What would that mean for isolated seniors who use the Center as a means to break their isolation and/or have a meal. What does significantly reducing library hours mean for working families who cannot afford to order their books from Amazon or Barnes and Noble and use the library for computers, printers, and other services that they may not have access to otherwise.

Expect the City Manager and the Finance Director to be accountable to the City Council and provide adequate and timely information so that our elected officials can make informed decisions on our behalf. Expect the City Council to hold them staff accountable and ask the tough questions.

Involve residents by engaging in a transparent budgeting process that allows us to review the assumptions, the analysis and the outcomes of the prepared budgets.

Address the overtime issue of the Fire Department. Overtime Pay was a factor in the poor financial health of this city. This year it is budgeted at 1.2 million dollars. It is not sufficient to get a verbal reassurance that overtime is cheaper than other alternatives. Citizens need a written analysis of staffing patterns vs. overtime. How much revenue is reimbursed? That information needs to be provided to the City Council and the public via the city website. We all cherish the work of the Fire Department but this is an issue not only in El Cerrito. Other cities have cut down on overtime, how did they achieve this?

Engage this very talented community in a task force to create economic development in the community and have a staff person dedicated to this task. When this issue has been brought up many citizens have lots of ideas but city staff seem to disregard them all. This is a crisis it is time to think outside the box.

Citizens need to do their part too. We must hold council accountable. This new transparency is coming forth due to regular citizens demanding a town hall meeting and asking the tough questions. Everyone needs to engage in the manner they can.

We would love to hear your comments on even more ways to help El Cerrito resolve this fiscal crisis in a transparent, accountable, progressive, and compassionate manner. Please comment below with your ideas!

Drones are here: why the City Council should take action

Unidentified Drone spotted at El Cerrito rally in 2019

The ACLU, Oakland Privacy, and El Cerrito Progressives have been requesting the city to adopt an ordinance on police surveillance since 2017. Despite these requests, the police chief has pushed to rely only on internal policies and procedures, which may be changed at any time without public input.

We fully respect many of the policies being offered by Chief Keith; however, an ordinance would provide greater accountability for an issue as important as surveillance in our community.

Sometime in 2019 and without public knowledge, El Cerrito Police acquired a drone. In October the police held a poorly advertised and poorly attended public meeting to hear public comment. Only groups already aware of the situation attended the meeting in addition to one or two concerned community members.  At the meeting, Chief Keith presented the draft Drone Policy, listened to public feedback and informed attendees that the next step for adoption of the policy would include a revised draft presented to City Council. At the meeting, members of the varying organizations advocated for consideration of an Ordinance, to strengthen both accountability and transparency for the acquisition and use of all surveillance technology. Chief Keith and City Manager Karen Pinkos continue to resist this idea, ignoring long-term concerns about the prevalence of surveillance tech. 

We are calling on the City Council to take a long-term view of surveillance policies in our city. We ask the Council to codify their beliefs, practices, and transparency about police surveillance in a city ordinance.

The advantages of an ordinance:

  • Surveillance technology is multiplying rapidly and will grow more extensive and privacy-challenging over time. This is just the beginning.
  • A policy may be changed at any time for any reason. An ordinance is only changed after a public process. Protecting citizen privacy should not rely purely on voluntary acts by unknown future city officials. Making these policies into law ensures that our beliefs and practice will continue in the future, no matter who is in charge.
  • Frequent public discussion slows “surveillance creep” and encourages surveillance to be used only when the benefits outweigh the drawbacks
  • More frequent communication and accountability to the public improves community trust of the police force.

What you can do:

Attend the El Cerrito City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 21st at 7:00 p.m. at El Cerritio  City Hall. Make you voice heard. To make public comment, simply fill out a comment card provided by the City Clerk at the time of the meeting.    

If you cannot come in person, you can view the meeting via the City’s website either live or the next day, and respond via email to the City Manager, Police Chief and City Council Members.  

You can join El Cerrito Progressive’s efforts to continue to advocate for a Surveillance Ordinance. Fill out our Google form here.