Budget Memo Season

Last week was the deadline for councilmembers to submit their input in writing to the mayor. Budget memos are only allowed to be signed by one councilmember. Here are some of the budget memos I submitted:

Outsource Park Maintenance
In 2007, I proposed a pilot program specifically to outsource park maintenance at the Rose Garden Park. At that time, my proposal was refuted by the council.

Now, 2011, the Parks Department has put forward a proposal to outsource park maintenance as a way to continue to provide service.  The potential cost savings deems this action worthy of council’s support. Currently it costs $4.1 million to maintain parks (and keep bathrooms open) that are two acres or less in size.  If the City outsources this activity, the cost is said to be reduced to $1.3 million providing a possible $2.8 million in savings.

$12.8 million is the cost to maintain the parks larger than two acres. Outsourcing park maintenance for these parks would most likely yield at least 50 percent in cost savings. This savings could save 36 police officers from being laid off if the council chose to use the savings for this purpose.

If the savings is more than 50 percent than those dollars could go back to the Parks Department to pay for the watering of the parks. The goal is to reduce watering at parks from $3 million to $2.5 million. Therefore, the City should try to save as much money as possible to pay for watering to avoid killing the lawns during summer. Additional savings could go to maintain “dog poop bags” (In fact, there is no reason why the stocking of dog poop bags could not be done by the private contractor.) If there are additional savings, perhaps the city could remove the policy of not opening any new parks and instead use the additional savings to move forward with opening parks city wide.
The Healthy Neighborhood Venture Fund (HNVF) began in in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. These monies are a result of the tobacco industry settlement.  At that time, other municipalities used these funds to pay for infrastructure costs.  San Jose, however, decided to use these costs on starting a new program, HNVF. 

For the past decade, the City has given out tens of millions of dollars to non-profit/charity groups with limited oversight.  Further, these monies go to pay for the staff of the non-profits/charities rather than to the services themselves.  Instead of having these funds go to groups outside of the City Charter, I suggest using the millions of dollars on services within the City of San Jose Charter as listed below:
Six police officers
Two attorneys
Two planners (focused only on economic development)
One city clerk
One auditor
One information technology specialist

The traditional 24 hour shift may not be the best utilization of our skilled workforce. We should know if there are any advantages by staffing alternate shifts of 12 hours, 10 hours, etc….to keep all fire apparatus running including re-opening the now closed fire station on Communications Hill.
Water Pollution Control Plant
Investigate cross training of police and fire fighters on disaster preparedness of the WPCP.  This would allow the Alviso Fire station and police officers to be funded by Environmental Services Department (ESD) 24/7. Council should make it policy that the crossed trained fire fighters and police offers are on call for the WPCP and therefore should be paid by fees.

Thanks and praise to all those who have died in military service to our country allowing you and I freedom on this past Memorial Day.


  1. Pierluigi,

    All are thoughtful uses of General Fund monies.

    While it’s too late this year, do you suppose it would be political suicide were a council member to recommend investigating methods needed to divert money away from the Special and Capital Funds. 

    I think most people understand that tens or hundreds of millions of future dollars could be diverted by changing the City Charter and/or putting a measure on the next ballot.

    On that same subject, are you planning on holding a District meeting on this subject?  We, the voters, could all benefit from restoration of city services, e.g., police and fire headcounts,street maintenance, library hours, etc.

    • As we exchanged notes last week I think it is important for people to hear directly from the budget director and city attorney on the legalities of special funds like bonds or fees regulated under Prop 218.  Maybe Aug/Sep would be a good time for that.

      Restrictions on funding were created so that certain things get built or certain services are provided. If all the money was in one bucket you might only get one thing or one service and nothing of something else.


      • Pierluigi,

        Thanks for your reply.  Yes, I understand that funding restrictions can serve to ensure that select projects and services are adequately sustained.

        I believe the problem is more of having a 20th Century budget plan in a 21st Century environment.  While we once had ample tax revenue to sustain fancy and frilly things, that’s no longer the case.

        Instead, we all need to get serious about substantively cutting the size of Capital and Special Accounts, so that we might fund the mainline services that are due the residents.

        As I’ve often said, 90% or more of SJ voters don’t give a whit about downtown but, in spite of that, we’ve managed to divert billions in tax increment revenue to the RDA, while shortchanging things like our schools.

        I’m of the mind that we need to fund safety, education, roads, etc. to the level to which we’re entitled.  Arbitrarily directing money into Special and Capital Accounts no longer makes any sense.  To the extent the City Charter can be revised and municipal ordinances can be changed by voters, we need to move forward post haste.

      • When I went to the city’s budget pages I was able to read every single budget item you guys published. Very few of them states they were restricted per 218. Most said by municipal code which means the council can easily amend those codes and free up money in these tight times.

        • Excellent… you and I should chat about this.  A grassroots effort is likely needed.  I don’t see any of our politicos championing the issue.

  2. Pierluigi,

    1) Parks Maintenance- I agreed with you about the parks outsourcing in 2007 and 4 more years of watching our parks deteriorate under the ‘care’ of an apathetic and poorly organized Parks Department has confirmed that you were right. Let’s outsource their maintenance now. Better late than never.

    2) HNVF- I’ve seen the salaries that some of these ‘non-profits’ pay themselves. Your proposal makes a lot more sense than continuing to hand the money over to these carpetbaggers. (Frankly, I think the tobacco settlement money ought to be given back to the shareholders from whom it was stolen.)

    3) Fire- Don’t know much about it but based on your opinions on the first 2 topics, I trust your judgment.

    4) WPCP- Same as #3.

  3. Thanks Pierluigi

    It is refreshing to see San Jose Council member propose reducing costs by actually following Council’s   PUBLIC PRIVATE COMPETITION POLICY 0-29

    Over the years, the role of government as a monopolistic provider of public services has
    evolved into a role as a partner with the private and non-profit sectors in the delivery of public
    services.  Government has chosen to involve others in service delivery due to limited resources,
    increased demands, and to the recognition that partnerships can leverage the quality and costeffectiveness of services delivered to the public.  At the same time, government continues to
    deliver many services competitively in-house and also retains the responsibility for core services
    that require a certain level of government control and accountability.

    With an overarching goal of providing quality services to the public in a cost-effective manner,
    the City of San José mirrors government-wide trends in service delivery.  In addition, city
    employees continue to provide high quality, cost-effective services and to use Continuous
    Improvement practices to enhance the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of City services.
    Recognizing the value and quality performance of City employees, Council Policy 0-29 sets
    forth a preference for using City employees to deliver City services.

    It is not in best interests of residents and taxpayers for Council to not vigorously implement PUBLIC PRIVATE COMPETITION POLICY

    Council politicians seem to frequently work for benefit of campaign contributors and their next election by promising political supporters public tax funds rather than working for public good – sad and wasteful tax spending

    Keep up the good work for residents and taxpayers

    • Officer X,

      First, this is not the Councilmember, just a citizen so I hope he will answer your question.  However, where do see the required funds coming from the City to support the grant.  The grants are not free, there must be money set aside to support the grant in order to apply for it.  Apprently the Chief felt he could only support enough for the 10 positions, not the entire 53.  The money would have to come from somewhere within the PD budget.  Also, do you know how much of the current PD budget goes towards supporting grants already in place?

      • You are correct. The grants come with strings attached, so a city either has the money lying around or a city would have to cut something else to meet the requirements. For me as I have stated prior that if we can run other city departments differently this would allow more money to be spent on other departments.  It would be interesting to see if Officer X,Y,Z would support my ideas on outsourcing park maintenance and reducing funding to non-profits to save police officer jobs.


        • Interesting because you always seem to find “money lying around” for the A’s and causes such as MACSA (1.6 MIL I recall last week).

          The decision on grants could have come later in the summer while conducting an effort to come up with “strings” monies. As well,…shouldn’t this issue been discussed/debated in open council, exposed to the “sunshine”, with some public input?

          Are you fearful of disagreeing with Figone/Reed here in “public”?

  4. The City of San Jose should have the right to harvest body parts from anyone who expires within the city limits.

    Whether you are a visitor or resident of San
    Jose, if you die in San Jose, then city officials should have the right to harvest your lungs, liver, kidneys, eyeballs, heart or any other body parts from you.

    Dead people don’t need their body anymore.

    Harvesting and selling body parts could help fund police, fire, parks and library services.

    • I sort of like this idea.  Then let’s have a death tax.  If you die within the city limits then the City can sent a $1,000 bill to the family of the dearly departed.

      I would also support a fart tax.

      This will put the City of San Jose, Capital of Silicon Valley, on the map.

  5. Pierluigi, as a devoted downtown resident, I am so distressed about the situation in our parks, although I must say the situation is uneven. Ryland Park is delightful, and I have no problem taking my grandchildren there. St. James’ playground is OK, although the main part of the park is a gathering place for homeless and drifters. I expect it’s a drug park too, although I rarely see police there.

    I recently was among those who volunteered in the National River Clean Up in the Guadalupe River Park. Too depressing. The worst of the trash is embedded in roots and fallen trees that are washed up the river during the winter. Removing this requires heavy equipment, and all we could do with our hands was to remove some surface trash. A private contractor or public employees working with a construction company could do it. Guadalupe River Park is one of the best things that San Jose has ever done to save its floodplain and create a green space in its urban heart. It’s one of the reasons we live downtown. If you allow this park to die, you undo years of work and money that created this gem. Why try to attract residents and conventions to a place whose center is a sewer?

    • Downtown Girl,

      I was so happy to read that you think Ryland Park is “delightful” and that you take your grandchildren there. Great!

      If you are not already aware of it, Rotary Ryland Pool is open for summer swim and swim lessons. More information can be found at the pool operator’s website:  http://www.calsportscenter.com/swim/sanjose.shtml

      In addition, CA Sports Center (the pool’s operator) is also holding “summer camps” in Ryland Park…you may want to consider looking those too.

      Thanks again, your comments made my day. grin


    • Downtown girl,
      I’m impressed that you participated in the cleanup of Guadalupe River. On behalf of myself, the mallards, and the steelhead trout, I thank you for your efforts.
      I agree with you. It IS depressing. And it’s very difficult to get at the trash to clean it up. The Guadalupe River is pretty trashy until you finally get upstream of the last homeless encampment. That’s right. It IS the homeless bums who are responsible for probably 95% of the debris. (And 100% of the shopping carts) Get upstream of Blossom Hill Rd. and the creek is pretty pristine. Better yet, walk along a tributary of the Guadalupe, Los Alamitos Creek up in Almaden and you’ll be amazed how clean it is. Why? No bums.
      We’re currently paying the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the Army Corps of Engineers millions and millions of dollars to rework the riverbed one section at a time. The idea is to create a more natural and conducive habitat for the wildlife and to make the stream less prone to overflowing it’s banks and causing flooding in the adjacent neighborhoods. Laudable goals to be sure, but these efforts are being undermined because neither our city nor the water district have the political backbone to see the project through and to actually attain the stated goals, by consistently policing the riverbanks and evicting the people who are causing the pollution.
      And so our tax dollars are wasted once again. We’re throwing away our money and we have to put up with a river park that should be beautiful, that could be beautiful, but isn’t.

      • Many years ago several of the agencies that help the bums were moved out of DT SJ, with the specific purpose of getting the bums out of DT SJ.  It failed.  They’re still there.

        I walk along The Mighty Guadalupe frequently.  There are a lot of folks camped there.  Most are benign burnouts, druggies, alcoholics, and schizophrenics; but a few are prettyy scary.  And a few aren’t bums, seem to have jobs to go to, but still can’t afford an apartment.

        Once a year or so the police have a campaign to clear out the encampments.  The denizens are back within hours.

        Scary, benign, or employed, they generate a lot of trash into The Mighty Guadalupe.

    • With apologies to Paul Robeson- GRHS.

      Old Man River- San Jose version

      His banks are crowded
      With bums besotten.
      Our cleanup efforts
      Are soon forgotten.
      But Old Man River. He just keeps rollin’ along.

      Old Man River.
      Our Guadalupe.
      Extremely trashy.
      And somewhat poopy.
      But Old Man River. He just keeps rollin’ along.

    • You and me
      We toil and fuss.
      Scroungin’ for containers at the Greyhound Bus.
      Tote that cart
      Full of cans
      Get a couple bucks from the recycle man…

      Bad at livin’
      Worn out from tryin’
      We’re tired of livin’
      But scared of dyin’
      Like Old Man River
      We keep on rollin’.
      We just keep rollin’ along.

  6. Pass,

    Be careful what you wish for.  I’m sure that Chuck-O and his crack city attorney would very quickly change the definition of death.  Next thing you know, they’d be chasing you all over town.

  7. > The City of San Jose should have the right to harvest body parts from anyone who expires within the city limits.

    I’m not sure this is legal.  Under Obamacare, everyone is entitled to a free kidney transplant, a free heart transplant, a free lung transplant, etc.

    I think the federal government already owns all body parts within the city limits and everywhere else.

    • “Under Obamacare, everyone is entitled to a free kidney transplant, a free heart transplant, a free lung transplant, etc.”

      The California prison system has long been a provider of transplants for career criminals incarcerated here.

      Several years ago a lifer @ San Quentin got a heart transplant performed by Stanford surgeons, for which they billed the taxpayers $500k, despite the fact that this career criminal had terminal cancer.  He died of cancer a mere few months after he got the new heart.

      When queried about this seeming idiotic move, the warden told the reporter that this lifer had “rights”.  Yeah, right!

  8. Outsource! Outsource! Outsource!

    Funny that open office didn’t even bother trying to autocorrect that word.  It’s got a lovely red line under “autocorrect” but not under “outsource”  Maybe the programmers too have felt the sting of it.

    PL.. Since you love Oracle so much, and since OO seems to understand the word “outsource” so well, why don’t you look at dropping MS products now?

    I’m typing this on an ubuntu desktop (you could ask the webmaster to check the user agent for this post in the logs to verify that)

    Just a helpful suggestion.  You won’t hurt any jobs, you won’t piss people off, you’ll make Larry E. happy (and your stock options will rise) Sure there’ll be a transition period, but I’m sure Oracle would be more than happy to train/install (for a price)

  9. Pier,
    “The operating costs for light rail are expected to increase by $3 million in the next few years and will eventually add $6 million to the current $38 million operating budget.”

    Contrast our 40 million a year outlay with…

    “Measured against six other comparable transit agencies in the United States, including Muni, the VTA’s system underperforms on ridership as well as resource efficiency. Despite having one of the most populated service areas and one of the highest population densities by service area, the VTA serves the second lowest number of bus and light-rail trips annually. From an operating perspective, the VTA serves the fewest bus trips and light-rail trips per revenue hour of the six operators, while also having very high costs per revenue hour for both bus and light rail. The VTA has the lowest farebox recovery rate, at 12 percent, and the highest cost per trip served. In addition to low productivity, the VTA’s fixed transit infrastructure is poorly used: It has the lowest trip density per light-rail route-mile of the six transit agencies.”

    This is absolutely appalling.

    How much of this 40 million a year lightrail outlay is San Jose on the hook for?
    What can be done to eliminate San Jose’s lightrail obligations?

    • VTA is not the only transit agency who’s playing games. Remember a couple of months ago, we were warned that Caltrain service might be sharply cut back? Well, now everything’s right with the world, as the Mercury reports “Despite crisis, Caltrain plans record spending:”

      Of course, that means that we’ll be asked to approve YET ANOTHER TAX:
      “The spending hikes—coupled with criticism of the agency’s board, which spent three years unanimously approving every proposal it saw during the agency’s financial crisis—comes as most observers expect the agency to place some sort of tax measure on the November 2012 ballot to fund service for the long term.”

      Bend over, here it comes again.

  10. Novice,

    You’re beating a dead horse here.  The VTA is so deeply entrenched that nothing short of a geological catastrophe could ever change the politically correct behemoth.  Fare recovery could drop to zero percent and we’d still have a thriving VTA, sucking up every dollar of revenue possible, much like a celestial black hole.

  11. For the past decade, the City has given out tens of millions of dollars to non-profit/charity groups with limited oversight.  Further, these monies go to pay for the staff of the non-profits/charities rather than to the services themselves. Do you have a list of those?

        • As Gomer would say, “Goolly Sgt. Carter”.  If you remeber the show correctly, Gomer was the hero, sincere, do the right thing person of the show and Sgt. Carter just a goof.  This is not Councilmember Oliverio, just a citzen and supporter who hates to see all these cheap shots at those trying to deal with the facts and the issues just because people like you can not effectively argue the facts.

      • Ok. I just got done reading that list of organizations to which monies are distributed and the amounts and, once again, i feel like bashing my head into my desk. It looks like about 90% of those line items could be eliminated as San Jose has NO BUSINESS being involved in them. For example:

        Asian Law Alliance: $443,395. Really? That’s like paying an group to sue San Jose

        Ballet San Jose: $263,014

        Bay Area Legal Aid: $34,234

        Black Chamber of Commerce: $212,947

        Cinequest San Jose: $158,135

        Contemporary Asian Theater Scene: $16,200

        Cross Cultural Community Services Center: $218,990

        Ethiopian Community Services: $104,086

        Filipino Youth Coalition: $96,000

        Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: $172,579

        Institute for Business Performance: $3,708,877

        That’s over $5.4 million that I just can’t comprehend the city just giving away. I didn’t even make it halfway through the list. Please, citizens, read for yourself. The amounts of money distributed and the organizations and purposes to which these moneys are put is just stunning. If the rest of the city runs like this – and there’s no reason to think otherwise – it’s no wonder San Jose is in such a mess. Talk about recklessness, irresponsibility even, dare I say, corruption or, at least, conflicts of interest?

        • > Ok. I just got done reading that list of organizations to which monies are distributed and the amounts and, once again, i feel like bashing my head into my desk.

          . . . .

          > Institute for Business Performance: $3,708,877

          I have NEVER heard of this group/organization/post office box.  If the taxpayers are paying some mole on a telephone in Costa Rica or Maui $3.7 million to improve business performance in San Jose, it’s not working.

          Sending 37 taco vendors in roach coaches to Standford Business School for a $100K a pop would probably do as much to improve business performance.

        • > federal money used for job training/placement .  . .

          And how many OTHER federal and state programs are there for “job training/placement”?

          It seems like every time I turn around, some Democrat politician is thumping his chest and boasting about all the “job training/placement” funding he miraculously conjured into being solely as a result of his charisma and force of personality.

          What’s different about the “Institute for Business Performance”?

        • Institute for Business Performance is receiving their money from WIA funding which is federal money used for job training/placement and cannot be used for/ nor comes from the genereal fund.

  12. What are your thoughts on changing the fire shifts from 24 hours?  Where’s the advantage or savings?

    • Through data we know that there are certain hours of the day/night that have higher calls of service city wide and also by geography. Perhaps we staff higher when there is more demand and lower when there is less demand?

      Allowing the Fire Chief to comment would be ideal.


  13. Don’t want to be impolite Mr.Councilman but your suggestion of spending the Healthy Neighborhood Venture Fund on additional city employees is the type of thinking that got San Jose into the mess it’s in.  If you have a deficit, you stop spending until you get your budget in balance.  The employees you recommend, do not add value in near term. If you were to recommend additional parking control officers, that I could understand.

    If you folks hadn’t spent so much money in the past on construction projects downtown, I doubt you would have funded your pensions so inadequately.  The city hall was supposed to be “no net cost” according to the proposition in 1996 and instead turned out to be “a substantial net cost” that never had a dedicated tax to cover the “what if”.  That’s just one of the bigger mistakes.

    I admire you for your dedication but I think hiring people is the wrong message to send the public.  Especially police officers that will eventually cost the city about 170K a year.  Please get your budget into shape and start appreciating your employees whenever you see them. Tell them things will get better. If you are going to take away their money at least show them some respect and consideration.  This mess wasn’t their fault. We both know the fault is due to actions of past and current city leadership. I am an ex-Marine NCO and I always looked out for my men. Your employees are your men and I hope that when you see them you always remember that.  Especially when they’re pissed at your for doing things that you have to do.

    Good luck.

    • No offense taken and do appreciate your feedback.

      I think redirecting money from services that are not in the City Charter and allocating them to services that are in the City Charter is what we should do. 

      I would argue that police, planners, attorneys, auditor, city clerk, IT person are bread and butter of running a city. These positions do add value in near term and long term. I understand you view it differently however I was elected to the City Council and not to Federal, State or County office.


  14. To them I say, get off of your collective arses and put measures on the ballot to shift future funding of the Capital and Special Accounts to the General Fund.  Don’t continue to spew lies and nonsense about how that simply can’t be done. All it takes is 6 out of 10 Council votes! Pier lets see, the National average staffing for FF is 1.25 per 1000. SJ has 0.6! So going to 10 or 12 Hr shifts means hiring double! Are you out of your mind! You are already the lowest staffed! I find it insulting that you are so stupid. You don’t even know how the FD operates! Why not do a ride-a-long and educate yourself! And for lowering staffing at night. Bright move! The biggest and deadliest fires happen at night when no one sees the fire early! Quit insulting us residents with stupid comments. It’s people like you that wreck it for the rest of us who research before putting foot in mouth! BE CAREFUL THE RECALL EFFORT HAS BEGUN!

    • Remember you work for the residents.
      24 hour shifts are old world and allows fire fighters to live out of State while working a limited number of days per month. We should switch fire fighters to the same shifts as police officers. 

      By Leigh High school we have speeders and I see the need for more police and not for fire fighters.

  15. San Francisco FD is staffed at 2.55 FF per 1000. SFFD has 10 Battalion Chiefs for a City of 49 Sq. Miles. In SJ we have 1 Battalion chief that covers 50 Square miles with a ratio of 0.6 going soon to 0.5 FF per 1000. This city in the Bay area not comparable to you? OK then the City of Santa Clara fire has 2.55 Firefighters per 1000 with NO wildland urban interface. Less than 1% of FF’s retire with 90%retirement. Divorce rate is 84%. Life expectantcy is 8 years after retirement. How much anguish, death, destruction do you think is worth paying FF’s? And 1 last fact, Firefighting is the MOST stressful job in the world more stressful than the President of USA! Remember these facts when you slam a FF at your bar!