Blogging Bayport Alameda

October 4, 2012

You asked, they answered: Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, City Council candidate

Filed under: Alameda, City Council, Election — Tags: , , — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

1. What is the hardest decision you’ve had to make in your professional life?

They were decisions I made in my first job after graduating from college. I was a probation officer for Plumas County, a small rural county in the beautiful Feather River Canyon, with only 4 probation officers in the entire county. We divided the county into quadrants and handled every case that occurred in our region – juveniles, adults, misdemeanors, felonies. The difficult decisions I made involved writing pre-sentence recommendation reports for the court that outlined appropriate sentences for adults convicted of crimes, or dispositions in the case of juvenile offenders. Working within sentencing guidelines, I still had discretion, when drafting my recommendations and conditions of probation, to consider the nature of the crime, input from victims and their families, whether this was a repeat offender, potential for rehabilitation and appropriate restitution. I was acutely aware that my decisions affected many lives and spent hours interviewing victims and their families, the defendant or juvenile offender, their families, law enforcement personnel, employers and teachers, in order to produce a thorough, well-reasoned recommendation. And my pre-sentence recommendations were almost always adopted by the court. I continue to approach the decisions I make as an arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau, and as a Planning Board member, in the same way.

My experience as a probation officer highlighted for me the importance of a good basic education – most of my adult caseload were functionally illiterate and my juvenile offenders were often struggling students – and the need for job training programs and jobs that pay decent wages so people, especially young people, are engaged in constructive activities and able to support themselves and their families. The importance of family, or some caring figure in a young person’s life also cannot be overstated.

2. Explain your understanding of the current state of the City Budget.

In June, the City Council adopted the Annual Budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013. Assistant City Manager Lisa Goldman reported that the City’s proposed expenditure budget, excluding transfers, is $160 million, 40% of which comes from the General Fund, the City’s main source of unrestricted funds. To address a projected $5.1 million budget deficit, all City departments reduced their budgets, but avoided reducing core services, e.g., no reduction in Recreation and Parks programs or hours of operations for Main Library and branch libraries. The City also relied on certain “one-time” funds, negotiated increased employee contribution rates to PERS (the state Public Employee Retirement System), and closed the city jail to close the budget gap. The current City Budget includes a 24% reserve, but Ms. Goldman cautioned that these General Fund reserves will be exhausted by Fiscal Year 2016-2017, unless corrective actions are taken. (Transmittal letter from Lisa Goldman to City Council, dated June 26, 2012)

3. Much is made of the City’s “unfunded liabilities,” briefly explain the issue and what solutions, if any, do you feel should be pursued.

The term “unfunded liabilities” applies when the City’s financial obligation for employee pension and retiree healthcare costs exceeds the actuarial value of the City’s assets to pay these obligations.

To cover its pension and retiree healthcare obligation, the City contributes a percentage of its payroll to CalPERS, the State pension fund it contracts with to manage employee benefits. In years when CalPERS investments perform favorably, the City’s contribution percentage can decrease. Conversely, when the rates of return on CalPERS investments are lower than expected, as they have been since the 2008 stock market crash, the City must increase its contribution to meet these obligations.

The major factors underlying Alameda’s unfunded liability are the decline of CalPERS investment returns and increased life expectancy of employees. Some steps have been taken to reduce the City’s unfunded liabilities, including agreements by police and fire unions last summer to reduce certain healthcare benefits, but more work needs to be done to ensure the city’s long-term financial stability.

Because pension obligations are governed by State law and existing contracts, they are more challenging to modify, whereas OPEB (Other than pension post-employment benefits) obligations such as medical, death and disability benefits offer more flexibility because they are generally determined by Memoranda of Understanding (MOU’s) with the City Council.

The City is pursuing methods to reduce both its OPEB and PERS costs. The City Manager appointed a Pension and OPEB Task Force to explore solutions to the City’s unfunded liabilities. Some possible solutions the task force discussed include negotiating with employees to pay more toward the employer PERS contribution, exploring a two-tier system where employees hired after a certain date are subject to a different retirement benefit formula, changing from using the single highest year of salary to an average of the highest three years when calculating benefits, and a combination of all of these options. I think all of the methods proposed by the task force should be explored, bearing in mind that there are no instant, “silver bullet” solutions to eliminate the unfunded liability. I would favor solutions that balance significant savings for the City with fairness to City employees. The Pension and OPEB Task Force will report its findings to the City Council in October.

4. Explain how you, as a member of the City Council, would address these issues facing Alameda; falling revenues, increasing costs, deferred expenses and Alameda Point redevelopment.

Falling Revenues: Alameda’s major source of General Fund revenue is property taxes; the second largest revenue source is a combination of other taxes — utility users, franchise, transfer, vehicle and hotel taxes. These tax revenues represent 75% of the 2012-2013 General Fund Budget. Sales tax contributes another 7%. To increase these major revenue sources, we need to assure that Alameda’s property values remain strong by supporting our schools because good schools are a major reason new families come to Alameda and the reason families with children stay here. By attracting new businesses and retail establishments to Alameda, we will create jobs and also increase revenue from utility user, franchise and sales taxes.

Increasing Costs: See responses to Questions 2 & 3.

Deferred Expenses: For some deferred expenses, such as road repair, we should be able to obtain Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) grants now that Alameda has adopted a Housing Element. It is essential to address deferred maintenance expenses for City infrastructure such as roads and sewer lines because these items often cost more to repair or replace when regular maintenance has been deferred. It can also leave the City vulnerable in emergency situations such as a bad storm or an earthquake.

Alameda Point Redevelopment: My vision for the future of Alameda Point aligns with the City of Alameda General Plan, the 1996 NAS Alameda Community Reuse Plan, and community input from subsequent Alameda Point workshops. That is, that Alameda Point would contain a mix of employment, open space, recreational, residential and retail uses, and would be transit-oriented, walkable and environmentally sustainable. The three steps I would advocate to implement that vision are:

  1. Completion of negotiations with the Navy regarding transfer of Alameda Point to the City, including any outstanding issues such as level and extent of clean-up still to be completed by the Navy.
  2. Amendment of the existing zoning for Alameda Point which is still zoned M-2/G (General Industry/Government Overlay) from its years as a Navy base. The Planning Board will soon consider recommending that the City Council approve amending Alameda Point zoning to include six sub-districts and a variety of land uses. This rezoning will ensure that redevelopment of Alameda Point is consistent with community goals set forth in the Reuse Plan and subsequent workshops, and also informs prospective Alameda Point businesses and development partners of what type of development will be allowed in particular areas.
  3. The City should begin actively marketing and promoting new business and employment opportunities at Alameda Point, to add to the growing collection of businesses currently located there and increase revenues generated at Alameda Point.

5. Explain your position on employee negotiations and the role of the public in this process.

Labor negotiations with public unions are governed by State law. In Alameda, the City Manager is the City’s principal representative in matters involving Employer-Employee relations, including wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment, but takes direction from the City Council on these matters. The City Council will deliberate new contract or MOU proposals in open session, at which time the public can offer input. There are other opportunities for public input, for example, the Pension and OPEB Task Force referenced in my response to Question 3.

6. As an elected official what is your specific role in promoting civic engagement as opposed to staff’s role?

A staff report of a proposed resolution to adopt a public participation policy included these excellent observations:

  1. An engaged public makes for better, and easier, decision-making at city hall.
  2. The best engagement always begins as early in the decision-making process as possible.
  3. Public engagement is a key component for community building and minimizes public distrust in local government.
  4. Successful public engagement requires investment up front.

(April 17, 2012 Staff Report to City Council)

The role of Staff is to present information to the City Council based on their research and investigation of a particular issue, and make recommendations to the council. Staff also conduct public workshops to inform and engage the public, for example, on the redevelopment of Alameda Point and recently, regarding the replacement of Fire Station 3. As an elected official, I would adhere to all of the principles listed above, to encourage civic engagement. As an Alameda resident, I would also have opportunities to interact informally with the public, outside of City Council meetings and workshops, which is another way to hear residents’ concerns and help keep community members informed of what their city is doing. In my 6 years on the Planning Board, I have had residents call and e-mail me about Planning Board issues, or stop me at the grocery store or at Peet’s, to ask questions or report a problem with some City department. I welcome these exchanges.

7. Who is funding your campaign and which groups and individuals have endorsed your candidacy?

My campaign contributions to date have all come from individual donors. A full list of my endorsements can be found on my website:

I have been endorsed by a growing list of organizations and individuals, including the Democratic Party, City of Alameda Democratic Club, National Women’s Political Caucus – Alameda North, East Bay Young Democrats, Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club, Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Alameda Firefighters, Alameda Police Officers, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 and Teamsters Local 70.

Endorsements by elected officials include Congresswoman Jackie Speier, County Supervisor Wilma Chan, former County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, Mayor Marie Gilmore, former Mayor and current City Councilmember Beverly Johnson, Councilmember Lena Tam, former City Councilmembers Frank Matarrese and Hadi Monsef, School Board Trustees Ron Mooney and Niel Tam, Oakland City Councilmember Pat Kernighan, AC Transit Board President Elsa Ortiz, AC Transit Board Member Chris Peeples, East Bay Regional Parks District Director Doug Siden, and East Bay Municipal Utility District Director Doug Linney.

8. What current American (not a relative) do you admire the most and why?

President Barack Obama. While I have not agreed with every action the President took in the past four years, I greatly respect and admire his intellect, determination and the calm dignity with which he has conducted himself with foreign leaders and in domestic affairs, faced with a Congress that often seemed more concerned with assuring Obama was a one-term president, than solving our nation’s problems. Add to that his tenacity in pursuing the Affordable Care Act, with a shout out to Chief Justice John Roberts. Four more years.

Bonus Question: There are multiple seats available in the races for City Council, the School Board and the Hospital Board. Besides yourself, who will you be voting for in your race and why?

I’ll pass on this one.


  1. 1. But what was the most DIFFICULT decision you made. Probably the least difficult was leaving the parole system job.

    2. Dumb questions get boilerplate answers.

    3. A. The big bone of “unfunded liabilities” (State law and contracts) belongs to the state and we can’t do anything about it.
    B. OPEB, the little bone needs gnawing but I’ll agree to anything as long as it’s fair.
    C. Left unexplored is any talk about future employee bones.

    4. A. Falling revs: Spend more on schools, and making us pretty and attractive so business will swarm to our shores.
    B. Increased costs: See boilerplate, big bones, little bones and unexplored bones.
    C. Deferred ex: Road repair; go get MTC Grants in the meantime everything deteriorates .
    D. Point stuff: I agree with everybody else.

    5. A. Go see Russo, whatever’s left go see #3.

    6. A. Civic engagement: What’s my new job?: I don’t know so go read a staff report. Whatever it says, I will sign.
    B. Plus, I’ll spend a lot of time interacting with my public e-mail buddies.

    7. Who paid for your gig: My buddies and a bunch of big shots in the Demo crew.

    8. Who do you like: Hollow man in empty chair.

    9. Who else: Nobody.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 4, 2012 @ 8:52 am

  2. Having served for the past eight months with Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, I can say that she is a thoughtful, independent policy-maker who listens to all sides and works to find consensus while not losing sight of the goals and vision of our community. She has the experience, knowledge and know-how to help continue the City’s positive direction. She fights for the City and its people, standing up to developers and pushing staff to always produce the best solutions by asking a ton of important questions that lead to real results.

    Alameda will be lucky to have her serving on the City Council if voters opt to support her, which they definitely should, there’s no other candidate for council who is as prepared or knowledgeable about the issues, and she has a clear, years long track record to prove it.

    Comment by jkw — October 4, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

  3. Few have done more to improve our quality of life and civic services in Alameda than Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft. She was a driver behind the campaign for the new library, she served ably on the hospital board, and I’ve watched her provide effective leadership on the planning board for years. Marilyn also supports a wildlife refuge at Alameda Point. I’ll be voting for Marilyn.

    Comment by William Smith — October 4, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

  4. I do not know her so I’m judging strictly by her answers to the questions above. All those things you say may be true, but they don’t come across in her answers, in my opinion. Maybe she needs you two guys editing/proofreading her public announcements.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 4, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

  5. She seem’s like … shallow water

    Comment by mom — October 5, 2012 @ 7:27 am

  6. I support Marilyn for City Council. I worked closely with Marilyn on the successful campaign for a new library. She worked hard, worked collaboratively and was a very effective spokesperson for Library 2000.

    Comment by Carl Halpern — October 7, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

  7. carl
    lots of people worked on the library … lots of people like to use it as part of their accomplishment list. It took a community to build it! why do YOU think her accomplishment outshine her peers?
    I see shallow leadership and a thin resume with plenty of firefighter money to buy her a city council seat!

    Comment by mom — October 8, 2012 @ 8:03 am

  8. I am very disappointed that, while on this Planning Board, Ashcraft has shown a poor understanding of disability access issues. She wants to force everyone to walk as far as possible from their vehicles to the front access door of city buildings “because its healthier for them”, without considering that such conditions actually deny access to people with limited mobility. That’s why our new Main library has the ridiculous situation of its parking lot located in the BACK as far from the front access door as possible! She also voted [with John Knox White] against South Shore merchants using their portable sandwich-board signs out in front of their businesses when open to make it easier for customers to find them, because to her, they look like “clutter”. When you are using a cane, or push walker, your line of sight is constrained to what’s directly in your path & you shouldn’t have to fall over craning your neck to read a small print sign overhead. Marilyn may be globally well-intentioned, but practically speaking, she is out of touch with a large part of our Alameda community.

    Comment by vigi — October 8, 2012 @ 9:59 am

  9. Mom – Ezzy Ashcraft was the co-chair, which means that she had a major role in the successful campaign. Whenever she mentions it, she highlights the many others who were involved, she doesn’t say that she built the library, she says that she helped get it built. I think Carl answered your question as to how her experience was pertinent when he said:

    She worked hard, worked collaboratively and was a very effective spokesperson for Library 2000.

    Vigi, neither Ezzy Ashcraft nor myself voted against the signs you mention, we asked questions and raised concerns, and in the end voted to support the program, which included the signs you mention. As Ezzy Ashcraft has been one of the strongest voices on the Planning Board to ensure universal design and disability access issues, I would challenge you to find one place where she advocated or voted to support moving disability access further away from the access of a building. I expect that if you actually choose to try and find one, you’ll see that Ms. Ezzy Ashcraft has done exactly the opposite, always working to ensure priority access for the disabled community.

    Comment by jkw — October 8, 2012 @ 10:47 am

  10. Vigi, I would think that sandwich board signs in front of stores on the sidewalk would be a hindrance to the disabled. Also do you really think the library would look better with a parking lot in front of it??. I think Marilyn Ashcraft has done an excellent job on the planning board and in the community in general. Not many of us commenting on this site have invested the amount of time and effort she and others running for council have in this community.

    Comment by John P.(L) — October 8, 2012 @ 11:43 am

  11. jkw … lots of people worked on the library …

    Comment by mom — October 9, 2012 @ 6:50 am

  12. To “Mom”

    The campaign for the new library was a five year effort which culminated in the successful parcel tax in 2000. Library 2000 was created in 1996 when the first library parcel tax was voted down. At that point many were discouraged, some with good reason because they had been working for a new library for more than 20 years. For four years, Library 2000, a small group with not more than 20 members, worked on building support and then organizing the successful parcel tax campaign.

    “Lots of people worked on the library … lots of people like to use it as part of their accomplishment list. It took a community to build it! why do YOU think her accomplishment outshine her peers?”

    It was in 2000 that Library 2000 expanded to run the successful city-wide campaign. Marilyn played a key role during the initial period and then as a major leader of the city wide campaign. I would have no problem if Marilyn listed work on the library as
    one of her “accomplishments” and I’m sure many who were involved with the campaign for more than 5 years would not have a problem either,

    Carl Halpern

    Comment by Carl Halpern — October 9, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

  13. The library’s one minor thing that’s water under the bridge. Her answers on the things that really matter don’t impress.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 9, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

  14. Of all the candidates running for city council seats, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft has the best understanding of local transportation issues and the most Planning Board experience.

    Her questionnaire answers are uninspiring–one person I know characterized her writing as “too lawyerly.” (I agree.)

    But watching her in action as the President of the Planning Board and in other leadership positions and knowing how seriously she takes sustainability in her own life as well as public decisions, I am certain that she will represent Alameda very well and very conscientiously.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — October 9, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

  15. She rang my doorbell in 2010 and again recently. Both times I asked her what she would do to fix the retiree expense problem. Both times she said she’s ready to take on the unions.

    But she took their money. Cross off list.

    Comment by Jack Schultz — October 10, 2012 @ 6:43 am

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