Did You Know? By Bonnie Donovan
Budget hearings have been in session for the past two weeks. We all know that the city of Santa Barbara and everyone have been hit financially by the closures caused by the pandemic. Each city department presents its budget, which amounts to cuts and wish-list requests.
“Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship”
— Benjamin Franklin
Perhaps taking a cue from last week’s column about spending other people’s money, the Santa Barbara City Council’s recent work session includes spending $168,139 of City Hall’s proposed $4.1 million operating budget, to fund a new bilingual community outreach officer.
Said Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon, “I think the city is doing so much that isn’t fully appreciated because we don’t have that community engagement officer.” Wow. Spend $168,139 of Santa Barbara tax dollars because our City Council cannot find ways to effectively communicate among their constituents. Interesting.
This is the City Council who will decide the fates of our iconic State Street, and the future use or “reuse and redevelopment” of the Macy’s and Nordstrom’s buildings. The City Council decides how to “re-purpose” those privately owned businesses located within a corporate leased downtown mall.
This is the story of Paseo Nuevo. Can you imagine a private property owner renting a property to a tenant and in trade, the tenant builds a parking structure that the landlord (city) needed, in exchange for lower rent for 75 years? Then the private landlord changes its mind and wants to raise the rent even though they still own the parking lot.
If the city had been prudent with our money, they may have not been in that predicament of giving away the farm, of brokering a deal that the city now wants to renege on, under the guise they think they can do better. Two years ago, the city decreed by Ordinance 5885 that private landlords must renew a tenant’s lease “exactly the same” every year the tenant wants to renew.
Why does the city not have to abide by their own rules? Why does the city government get to give itself special treatment? It is crooked, period.
City Council states that a lack of communication exists with the public. For example: “Saving the Ortega Park Murals from the 1970s.” To better inform the public, this City Council suggests hiring another translator, a “bi-lingual community outreach officer position for $168,139.”
A Spanish translator was hired in 2018 for $96,000, to translate for emergency events in the city. Is this new position just another PR person for the city?
Whose job is it to keep the citizens apprised of what the city is doing for its citizens with their money? Do the Spanish speaking residents need more explanation than the City Council can adequately provide although three of the council members speak Spanish? We have district elections for their representation.
When you sign up for “firstname.lastname@example.org” to be notified electronically (by email) from the city’s web site of “good things” the city is doing, including meetings and agenda, in the upper right corner is an arrow to “Select Language.” There are 108 choices. Surely, we could save the taxpayers $168,159 annually.
So if the present City Council needs to hire someone to help them communicate with the different factions of Santa Barbara, then who could they hire to assist their dialogue with the thousands of citizens here who disagree with their four-story buildings downtown, with their plans to change the face of State Street, with their plans to phase out retail in favor of high-density dwelling units, for their own clean energy company, etc.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
— George Bernard Shaw
Other examples where the city flagrantly spends our money come to mind. Hiring employees; the city espouses that to get the best employee, one must pay top wages. However, some of the city’s recent choices and pay rates did not get us the best for the city.
To name a few, Police Chief Lori Luhnow did not work the five years required to be vested (hired July 18, 2016 – retired February 2021), yet walked away with a pension. In fact, the pension seemed to be the only part of the city in which she was vested.
Was the city better during or after her tenure? She said she needed a friend, so she was allowed to create a civilian position and hire her acquaintance from San Diego. How will we ever know if we got the best person for that position? ($206,938 wage and benefits)
And then, there was the chief before Chief Luhnow, Chief Sanchez. The city gave him a sweetheart deal, loaning him the money to buy a house, “it is so expensive to live here.” So expensive, he bought a second home and sent his children to private school. His experience level was as police chief from San Rafael. Top dollar for the top performer?
What will the city offer for the next “best” chief money can buy?
When Pam Antil, the assistant city administrator left for a city administrator position elsewhere, (a great loss) she was replaced by the public works director, Rebecca Bjork. Why wasn’t Ms. Bjork hired at 25% or less than Pam Antil’s salary, at her departure, which was $312,682.99 with benefits? Why not have some savings since Ms. Bjork is new to this job? Shouldn’t top dollar get us top drawer?
Another idea to save some taxpayers dollars: A landscaper from Los Angeles just replanted the plastic pots at the crossings on State Street Promenade.
If the Los Landscaper was chosen because of the price he bid, why wasn’t Public Works, the Parks Department or anyone of the 1,044 city employees assigned the tasks? Or better yet, why not invite the public to bring cuttings from their yards to participate? Succulents were planted and are often part of green waste as people manicure their yards.
Where was Rob Dayton or the new hire Jason Harris for some community outreach? By the way, this is the second planting of “said” pots.
After all, the City Council doesn’t seem to have to reckon with accounts payable the way the taxpayers do.
The list goes on, but how can the city and the City Council justify a newly created position at $168,399, especially with the city’s Google tool of translation on the website? The city has such a shell game going on — it is hard to figure out.
It has been recently observed that “our town is circling the drain outside the walls of city hall.” We repeatedly watch our city leaders throw our money down the drain; they are so out of touch with reality.
The city of Santa Barbara has four part-time jobs openings with a starting date of January 2022. Interviews will be held July through November. Salaries and “bennies” (benefits) start at $91,000 and go up to $110,000. Fairly good for part time!
All holidays are off, working weekends is rare, and the work schedule is normally one or two days a week, depending on commitments.
Job benefits for Santa Barbara City Council and mayor include insurance, retirement package and a car allowance. Job requirements are the ability to read a script, praise staff, tell staff how much you appreciate them for doing their job, look the other way and vote unanimously, even when you are “uncomfortable.”
To be eligible for an interview, 100 signatures are required from Santa Barbara registered voters to “file the papers.” (No experience is needed).
NO FIESTA PARADE
By the way, we are disappointed with the decision not to hold the Fiesta parade in August. We all expected that by then we would be in a place to continue this annual historic celebration that would mean so much to us this year. Is it due to the fact that the State Street Promenade prevents our annual parades?
For something upbeat, we extend our best wishes for a happy 89th birthday to Larry Donovan, a longstanding businessman who has contributed so much to the community of Santa Barbara.