Birds, Dogs and Debt! Oh My!

All Nippon Airways (ANA) hosted a reception last week in honor of a new direct flight from San Jose to Tokyo. The inaugural flight is scheduled for Jan. 11, 2013. ANA will also offer connecting flights to 22 cities worldwide. This is good news for SJC, because the new connection will create a positive economic ripple effect for San Jose and the region at large. A special thank you goes out to all those who advocated for a new direct connection to Asia.

While attending the event, I looked at the large ANA model of the 200-seat Boeing 787, and I thought about the council meeting from the previous day. The result of the discussion was to allow airport staff to shoot birds if they interfere with aircraft. When the time came to vote on this matter, one of my council colleagues expressed genuine concern and continued to question the best course of action.

It is very dangerous for birds to get caught in an airplane engine. Not only would such a scenario be fatal to the bird, but it could also cause the airplane to malfunction and potentially lead to a deadly crash. During council discussion, concerns were shared about the shooting of birds in vain and the net impact of such action as part of the grand bargain for airport safety.

It was also suggested that guns should be utilized only as a last resort, and that perhaps dogs could instead be deployed to scare away the birds. The suggestion of dogs being utilized in this capacity raised a whole new set of concerns for me, due to the potential cost and lack of practicality associated with implementing such a program.

I am a self-professed animal lover, and yet I still thought it was odd that a relatively lengthy council discussion would contemplate the life value of a bird over the potential death of 200 passengers on a plane. Human safety comes first in my book, plain and simple, end of discussion.

In the same meeting, the council reviewed the Comprehensive Annual Debt Report, which documents the total debt for the city of San Jose, currently a whopping $5.2 billion. This figure does not include unfunded liabilities for pension and health care, which would add an additional $3.6 billion to the total. At the Federal level, the national debt does not include unfunded liabilities like Social Security or Medicare. When unfunded liabilities are included, the National Debt catapults from $16 trillion to $70 trillion.

Once the meeting concluded, what struck me most was that the council discussion on the $5.2 billion debt was 15 minutes long, while the discussion on birds at the airport was 12 minutes in duration. Going forward, I am hopeful that the council will invest more time on the debt issue and, dare I say, less time discussing the fate of a flock of birds. Too bad we can’t shoot the debt.

There are many different forms of debt, but suffice it to say, we are tapped out. Onerous debt payments and servicing obligations take money away from the general fund, and therefore leave us with less money to pay for city services today. Whether we are looking into training a special service canine unit for avian abatement, or we are paying interest on our municipal debt, the money has to come from somewhere. This is why I take the role of a fiscal pragmatist seriously and advocate investing more time and effort on plausible solutions to reduce our municipal debt.

Pierluigi Oliverio is a councilmember for San Jose’s District 6.

21 Comments

  1. The birds that are considered for shooting are not sparrows or blackbirds and the like, but instead are more than likely hawks and others birds of prey that are looking for squirrels…just to be clear.  I still agree with the objective however.

  2. Perhaps the best way to convince birdbrain politicians of the necessity to shoot the birds would be to point out that, in a worst case scenario, the crashing of a large airliner in or about the airport could result in the death of hundreds of birds on the ground.

  3. “Human safety comes first in my book, plain and simple, end of discussion.” Ummmm, if that’s the case, why have you allowed the ranks of the police and fire departments (human safety departments) to become decimated? Is it painful to always be talking out of both sides of your mouth?

  4. Rather than discuss such trivial matters, why don’t you all try to figure out how to properly fund public safety and how to stem the tide of officers fleeing what was one of the most respected and effective police departments in the nation.

    Through the actions of you and your allies on the council, you have created the least-competitive police agency in the Bay Area. Bart PD is advertising right now to hire recruits and laterals and are paying over $20,000 more at entry level than San Jose’s top step and max out at more than $60,000 more than San Jose. Their officers also do not have to make contributions to their PERS retirement. This is, perhaps a somewhat extreme example, but illustrative of the reality of scarcity and competition.

    Meanwhile, back in the South Bay, SJPD is investigating its 45th homicide, NOT 44th. #44 was reported on Monday and passed in a hospital, the result of an incident from last week. However, we all know that the number of homicides is just one metric by which to measure crime in San Jose, and certainly not the most accurate. Crime is up in every single category, with some – such as rapes – seeing triple digit increases. Don’t think for an instant that a rape or an Assault with a Deadly Weapon has much – if any – less impact on an individual victim or that victim’s family than a homicide.

    People in San Jose are being victimized in unprecedented numbers in San Jose, but you guys in City Hall continue to fiddle Chuck Reed’s tune, singing the party lines and acting as though this all is an anomaly and that, under the current conditions, San Jose’s police officers will somehow be able to turn things around. Chuck Reed lies and says that San Jose is hiring laterals, plural, when the reality is that San Jose’s hired exactly ONE lateral.

    He then goes on and lies about the hiring process, saying there are 300 officers ready to be backgrounded for an academy. Really, there are three hundred *applicants* ready to be backgrounded which sounds impressive until you put the number into the proper perspective which is this: in every group of applicants, at best, 1/2% (0.5%) are actually viable candidates for the academy. So, congratulations. You might get, at best, 15 or so recruits in the Academy. While, on the one hand, this is needed and important, it’s also numerically irrelevant in light of the attrition that is ongoing. San Jose just lost 5 officers to other agencies this week a few others since the beginning of December and 16 retirements so far for December. Furthermore, I think the rate of attrition has increased since June, not decreased, as more and more law enforcement agencies hire officers AWAY from San Jose PD. In another lie, Mayor Reed stated that he thinks re-assigning the handful of officers assigned to the background unit will help with the attrition issue and that somehow digitally managing will maximize resources. But he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that San Jose has pretty much reached the limit of what those minimal resources remaining can accomplish.

    A further sign of the malaise afflicting SJPD is the fact that, to date, no command staff officer in SJPD has submitted an application for the position of Chief of Police. EVERY SINGLE OFFICER AT EVERY SINGLE LEVEL of the PD understands that there is no way to successfully lead the PD under current conditions. San Jose has massive retention problems brought on by Measure B, V and W. They further understand what Chief Moore stated, finally, bluntly: that dealing with the City Council is like dealing with a brick wall and that Mayor Reed is an absolutist. Lastly, they understand that it will be a nearly impossible task to fairly, justly and ethically lead the department with respect to disciplinary matters so long as Ladoris Cordell continues to interfere as she has – a practice for which she must surely feel emboldened considering her contract was renewed.

    There is only one way to solve these many problems: allow Measure B to fail in court, restore wages, accept the offer of the PD and FD to roll pensions into the PERS system, and admonish Ladoris Cordell to restrict her conduct and speech (as well as that of her office) to be consistent with her Charter Mandate. No more questioning officers during disciplinary hearings. No more intrusion into matters related to the uniform. Leave her NAACP and ACLU membership cards at the door to her office and simply be the statistician she was hired to be. Lastly, the council and Debra Figone need to guarantee a prospective chief that he will not be disciplined or fired for speaking candidly and frankly about conditions in the city.

    Do those things and the PD has a chance of recovering and restoring staffing levels. Do those things and the PD has a chance of finding a suitable Chief of Police. Sadly, I do NOT see the PD recovering in the near future nor through any efforts of the majority of the current administration.

    • No matter what my moral is, I do a good job at work. That’s what they pay me for. Measure B is great for San Jose. By the way, if there weren’t so many fake disability pensions this wouldn’t have happened. If your mood affects your work so much, please leave.

      • oh they are, 6 officers resigned last week, and 8 more at the end of the year.  Good luck on replacing them.  And most of the command staff looking else where too.

        • Specifically:

          Two officers were sworn last week by LGPD
          Three officers were sworn last week by Santa Cruz S.O.

          All had about 14 years or more with SJPD and had broad experience in special ops, investigations and/or training.

          This week, Redwood City PD swore in:
          1 former SJPD Captain
          1 former SJPD sergeant
          7 former SJPD officers
          All had extensive special operations experience particularly in gang enforcement and investigation. The minimum tenure of these officers was, I think, 11 years. Most had 13 or more. You can only imagine how many years the Captain had. I would guess 20 or so.

          So, in 2 weeks, the PD has lost 1/3 the number of people as are in the academy right now. That academy won’t hit the street until next year, by which time, the gains they represent will likely be completely offset by further attrition. The PD will likely be even further in the red by then. All told, the losses incurred over these two weeks adds up to somewhere between 250 and 300 years of experience. Add that to the thousands of years of experience lost with the nearly 150 + other officers who’ve resigned or taken early retirement in the last couple years.

          This is scarcity and the free market at work. It isn’t simply an issue of morale or mood. It’s a question of economics and whether or not Measure B will permit employees to pay their bills. It is extraordinarily difficult to hire or replace police officers. As I noted above, less than 0.5% of applicants ultimately make it into the Academy and still fewer complete the Academy and Field Training. The only answer to this is to BE COMPETITIVE with other agencies.

          Also, Prescient, in past posts, you’ve claimed that San Jose has experienced too many fake disability retirements. You’ve been challenged to substantiate these assertions with statistics and facts. The only one of which I know is Pete Constant, who has conspicuously and blatantly abused his disability pension. Furthermore, it’s a spurious assertion, since the only thing a disability pension does is change the retiree’s tax status and withholdings. The pension payments don’t come out of the general fund and don’t hurt the general fund in any way. Got any more red herrings you want to trot out?

        • Ironic that Pete is now the chief cheerleader for pension reform and goes on national radio and TV stations ripping on his former coworkers. He knows no shame.

        • Officer Anonymous,
          The employees offering their services to the highest bidder is only half of the supply/demand equation- the half that puts upward pressure on costs to the consumer. What you’re forgetting is the part that is missing- the balance-the half that would put downward pressure on wages thereby keeping a lid on costs.
          Imagine if there was only one plumbing company in town and by law the people were required to go to them for their plumbing needs. Without competition they could charge whatever they want. The cost of plumbing would skyrocket. If their employees demanded higher wages then the San Jose Plumbing Company would simply meet their demands, pay ‘em what they want, and put their rates up yet again. The people will just have to pay it, they’ll know. Who else are they going to go to?
          Fortunately this is not the case. On the free market providers of goods and services have competition. Sure they have to offer competetive wages in order to retain employees but those wages are kept affordable because all the companies must compete for business. If they’re overly generous to their employees then to cover their payroll costs they’ll have to put their prices so high that nobody will do business with them. If they don’t get any work they’ll go out of business and disappear from the marketplace.
          SJPD and all government agencies have an effective monopoly. The only market forces to which they are subject keep their size and cost ratcheting ever upward There’s no natural economic force working to limit costs. Government employees conveniently ignore the absence of this crucial component of the Laws of Economics and that’s why it’s necessary to remind them that they don’t work in the Real World and to ask them to quit pretending as though they do.

        • The real world does not have a tree where you can go and pick police officers off it.
          Every officer that leaves San Jose makes this place worse off.

          We have no gang unit, no narcotic unit and no burglary unit. That’s fine. Thats what the mayor, city council, and the majority of the people who voted want.

          We have had over 300 stabbings and shootings in San Jose this year alone.
          That is the real world I live in everyday. You should thank your local cop for doing his job, so you don’t have too.

          “Real World,” the wolf came to Connecticut today. John Galt, have you ever scene a dead child as a result of gun shot? I have. I have scars in my head that I will take to my grave.  So don’t tell me about your real world.

          God bless those kids!

        • You offer up a terrible example and arguement in an effort to support your point.  What other alternative is there for a police force for the City of San Jose?  Try this…NONE.  This is not considered a monopoly either, just a fact, that this is a service that your local government provides.  This is the only policing service provided to the citizens and visitors of San Jose; there are no other choices. 

          I don’t recall any discussion about our police force asking for outrageous compensation, but when neighboring cities are offering better compensation for trained police, and engineers and maintenance workers, and all other forms of service you pay for, don’t be surprised when they all leave.  When you don’t get the service you pay for, despite continuing to pay the taxes and fees, you should be angry…angry at the politicians for not fixing the problem. 

          I see the local economy getting better, but our city is not. Your services are declining.  Why?

        • Just correcting OA’s erroneous belief that public worker’s wages are governed by the laws of economics.
          I’m not, in this thread anyway, offering any opinion on whether San Jose pays it’s police officers enough. Just a general caution about why government spending goes up and up and up and why the State deficit goes up and up and up and why the federal debt is now $15 trillion dollars.

        • J.G. we’ve had this conversation before, but I think I need to try to re-frame the argument. In the free market, the only way to drive down costs is by creating more supply. Using your logic, there would be some alternative organization to offer police services. A private entity, if you will, which might, theoretically, offer law enforcement services at a lower cost.

          Unfortunately, that private entity would still have to contend with the same basic issue: lack of supply of quality candidates who meet California POST standards for hiring. There are, obviously (or there should be obvious problems) with utilizing a privatized police force. Furthermore, such an organization would have to contend with the same set of issues that government agencies presently do: a diminishing pool of qualified candidates. The only way for them to widen the pool is to lower hiring standards by some means. They can’t do what other private entities do: hire candidates from other countries to drive down costs. There’s no H1B visa program for cops. It’s far easier to hire engineers than police officers.

          See, you keep thinking of the City and the City’s PD as the entity(s) which provide the services. They do no such thing. The only thing they do is provide the infrastructure by which those services are provided. It is individuals who provide those services, certain types of individuals and those types of individuals are comparatively scarce. We are harder to find than clerks, mechanics and many other types of municipal employee. It is that scarcity which drives up the costs and the only ‘natural economic force’ available to limit costs would be an expansion in supply of viable candidates for law enforcement. This expansion of supply is unlikely to occur. So, for now, at least, agencies around the Bay Area, the state, and the nation are faced with the same problem: competing with one another by trying to offer wages and benefits sufficient to lure officers and recruits away from other agencies.

        • 5 trillion of that debt belong’s social security. I do not belong to that program, but my federal tax’s that I pay go and pay for that unfunded liability. Why should I pay for that?

          How would you like to 50% of your take home pay for your retirement. I think you should. It’s only fare, right?

          I think every American that belongs to social security should pay more.

          Think before you speak.

        • Yep. Social Security which I’ve been paying into all my working life, knowing the whole time that it’s nothing but an ill-conceived pyramid scheme of which, for the good of my country I’d gladly give up all the benefits that are owed to me if we dissolved the entire program this minute. I’ll make you and every other American a deal. You look after yourself in your retirement and I’ll look after myself.

        • Of course it’ll never happen. The people are addicted to their entitlements.
          Big Koolaid has us right where it wants us.

      • Pres,

        dont understand your hatred for D/P retirements.  As Pete Constant and his fake retirement is a poster child.  I worked 30+ years for SJ and had a 56% disability but retired on a service retirement.  I worked with Pete and he scammed his.

        Measure B has nothing to do with a DP retirement. City still pays the same only retirees get a better tax break.  I agree it is a joke, but do not tie it to Pension Reform.  Research the facts!

        DISABILITY RETIREMENT IS A JOKE, BUT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PENSIONS OR MEASURE B.

      • I highly doubt you do a good job at work, and I am sure you dont earn your pay.  And your “moral” (morale) is bolstered by your ability to hide your inefficiency and total lack of expertise in your chosen field.

        Pretty bad statement, right?  Considering I know nothing about you, or what you do.  You make the same blanket statement, and expect others to respect your opinions?  Dont be so ignorant.