Blogging Bayport Alameda

September 15, 2015

Get money, spend money

Filed under: Alameda, City Council — Lauren Do @ 6:05 am

This City Council is definitely in a much better position, budget wise, than previous City Councils. On the back of staff reductions and savings from previous years — in addition to an improved economy — this Council found itself in the position of having a lot of reserves in excess of the 20% required.

In addition to spending more money than suggested by staff in the proposed budgets, Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese suggested that the excess money above the 20% required for reserves be spent down so — I guess — there isn’t the temptation to spend it. That one was a little hard for me to wrap my head around, that the City will spend money in order to not spend it, but I believe that the goal was to not have the buffer so that the City wouldn’t be tempted to backfill shortfalls in down years with the reserve buffer. Of course, one could say that is the whole point of a reserve, but personally I think it’s ironic that the City Council member voted in to be the fiscal conservative is the one that suggested the City spend money as opposed to continuing to sock it away in a rainy day fund.

Anyway as staff reliably always does, they came back with suggestions on how to spend down this some odd million dollars on non-recurring, one-time expenses.  Based on the laundry list that was given to the staff by the City Council. staff produced a report on why some of the ideas were better than others:


Naturally some people will want to fund other items because right now, the only fully funded item that can be touted during a campaign is “Emergency water supply and study” if actual physical water thingies get built.  The other items that will be fully funded are not nearly as marketable as, say, the Carnegie Building for the Pinball Museum to move in or if the City started offering health benefits for part-time employees.

Personally, I’d either keep in all in reserves or roll it into the “economic uncertainty/contingency” category and OPEB.



  1. Salt water pumps for the FD. When the Hayward fault moves, these pumps will save both buildings and lives.

    Comment by dave — September 15, 2015 @ 6:30 am

  2. Due to the current drought there are dying Trees on City Property throughout Alameda. This is an issue of Public Safety that is needs to be addressed before someone is injured or killed.

    Comment by frank m — September 15, 2015 @ 7:06 am

  3. I agree with Dave: salt water pumps for the Fire Department.

    Comment by Tom Schweich — September 15, 2015 @ 7:38 am

  4. “actual physical water thingies” emergency water supply tonight agenda E-6.

    Comment by MI — September 15, 2015 @ 8:04 am

  5. Increase the reserves for when the parcel taxes expire. Plan ahead so they don’t have to keep asking for more money during the rainy days. The salt water pumps when be my 2nd choice.

    Comment by Jake — September 15, 2015 @ 8:04 am

  6. The city has no parcel taxes.

    Comment by dave — September 15, 2015 @ 8:18 am

  7. So yesterday we had a significant water main break out at Alameda Point, and 14 hours later most residents are still without water. In talking with EBMUD to see what assistance they could provide, they noted that in a lot of areas water pipes are in a grid pattern, and when a line breaks water can be rerouted around the break in order to continue providing service. Alameda (or at least Alameda Point) has a one direction system and water cant be rerouted, I think investing in emergency water supply is an excellent recommendation.

    Comment by Doug Biggs — September 15, 2015 @ 9:11 am

  8. The very best thing to do with the money is to use it to avoid having to spend money later. OPEB funding is one of these. Add some of it to the account for that started a while ago by the last Council. Infrastructure spending to prevent later, more costly repairs/replacements is good as well. Pay for things that will leverage new, more efficient machines/technology cost savings. Any time we can do cost avoidance we are saving by spending. Sounds counter-intuitive, but it is not.

    Comment by Kate Quick — September 15, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

  9. Dave the schools do and the schools are part of the City…just a different fund.

    Comment by Jake — September 15, 2015 @ 4:52 pm

  10. I took a minute and thought really hard about it, but I just couldn’t come up with a polite response to #9, so: No comment.

    Comment by dave — September 15, 2015 @ 4:59 pm

  11. They should use the Extra money to help Alameda homeowners Pay for the Fees and Permits that have been Jacked hundreds to ten’s of thousands of Percent.

    These damned Fees and Permits are Threatening both homes and Lives.

    Comment by Brock — September 15, 2015 @ 5:30 pm

  12. 9. the City and AUSD are separate fiscal entities. Separate budgets. this surplus has nothing to do with parcel taxes for schools.

    Comment by MI — September 15, 2015 @ 5:51 pm

  13. This is a bad day to post on any subject other than Carol “Gotcha” Gottstein’s recent failure to launch, but since I have the time I’m going to post.

    Subject: Emergency Water Supply on Council agenda item 6-E, as one of several items listed for assigning “surplus” general fund dollars.

    AFD apparently did “extensive research on emergency water supply systems” for using salt water from the bay. Systems researched included water tankers (which were recommended and approved by council), above ground water mains supplied by portable pumps, underground water storage tanks placed throughout the city and an in-ground saltwater main system.

    For obvious reasons the AFD determined the tankers were “the most cost effective system that will have the least amount of impact on the operations of the fire department, such as additional staffing and training. This option is also the quickest to implement.”

    The tankers are 2500 gallon capacity. I believe they can draft water directly but the proposal is for the existing fire boat with 1000 GPM capacity to be used to fill two tankers in alternation. This seems like a welcome improvement, but I have questions about impact. I don’t know if there was a written report of finding beyond the agenda but I have several questions about basic details. For starters, how many minutes would it take for the boat to fill the tanker, and on average, how quickly could a tanker drive a a couple miles, discharge the water and return for a refill?

    The most recent issue of Alameda Magazine had an article on emergency water systems around the East Bay. According to the article the County has a 2500 tanker. According to the article this vehicle “would likely take too much time to move around be very useful in large-scale conflagration”, according to Charles Scawthorn, a UC Berkeley researcher and principle at the disaster-response consultancy SPA Risk who has been modeling quakes for 40 years. The 2500 capacity is supposed to supply one hand line for ten minutes, which is described in the article as about enough to combat one blazing single family home. Thinking about this as a lay person I don’t know that I’ve seen a fully involved fire at such a home being extinguished in ten minutes.

    The article states that Berkeley FD proposed a plan to construct a system of cisterns, pipes and pumps which citizens for various reasons were not ready to approve ( like digging up the neighborhoods). Instead Berkeley passed a bond for 9.6 million for an above-ground fix, this fix includes six miles of 12″ hose and one Hytrans pump from the Netherlands. I recall the cost of a pump being around $500,000, but cannot stand by that as accurate at this time. I am very curious to know exactly what Berkeley did acquire and at what cost and exactly what plan they have for deployment.

    In discussing Alameda the article cites $1.5 million for hoses alone, but it is unclear if that would be for an extensive above ground pump system. The article also states that Alameda is an island, therefore our fire boat can act as a de facto water source for combating blazes “just about anywhere in the city.” As an island we are surrounded by water on all sides, but the entire south shore is very shallow. I don’t know the draft of the fire boat, but we do know that the Coast Guard was not able to deploy a boat for rescue to a drowning man at South Shore due to draft issues. However, pumps could presumably access the lagoons along south shore.

    The two tankers approved by Council at the September 15 meeting will cost $800,000 in total. In addition “staff” ( presumably AFD) requested an additional “$75,000 to retain a consultant to study other methods for emergency water delivery systems as a means of redundancy”. What I suggested to Council is that it might be good to know precisely what Berkeley got for $9.6 mill before deciding whether to invest in these tankers which cost exactly one twelfth of $9.6 million or 8.3%.

    With very limited personal knowledge or expertise I am loath to second guess the professionals at AFD, but based on the few facts I’ve been able to glean I am compelled to ask some common sense questions. In considering the costs of an emergency system, several things come to mind. Among those are that the seismic event predicted for the Hayward fault is a once in 150 year event. Investing huge sums for such a rare event warrants some serious consideration, but a single 4 bedroom Victorian has a current market value of $1 million. You do the math. We have approved $12.6 million dollars for an emergency command center (sorry, I’m confused if we get a replacement for Fire Station #3 out of that amount). When one thinks of the emergencies which would require such dedicated infrastructure as a central commend center there is really on one event which comes to mind, and that is a major quake. ( pardon my ignorance, but I still don’t understand exactly what capacity is lacking is using the current police station site.)

    If Berkeley has spent almost $10 million for a system which has six miles of hose, how much would a system cost for an island which is two miles across and seven miles long? The answer to this and other basic questions don’t require $75,000, maybe just “dropping a dime” for a phone call to Berkeley. In any event, we should not let the subject rest with the purchase of two tenders of dubious efficacy. If the AFD research was extensive, I’m not sure how they came up with the $75,000 figure or exactly what we might hope to learn from such an investment, but it seems unfortunate that with $0 for a study this long over due discussion about emergency water supply will probably languish and whither on the vine. Can we allocate a lesser amount like $10,000 to keep this long over due discussion from ending?

    Comment by MI — September 17, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

  14. I’ve been waiting to have time to condense post 13 for general use such as letters to the editor. Meanwhile, I just viewed the tape of the presentation by Chief Long and Deputy City Manager Haun the night of the meeting, since on that night when I came home the live feed was down.

    It is interesting that Chief Long based the recommendation of tenders over pumps system largely on his assessment that deploying the pump system would be exhaustive use of man power and the main hose is 12″ diameter which would block streets. He further states that the water tenders would each require two fire fighters. He dos not give a number for the boat, but I’ll guess it is two to four persons. In the event that all water is lost to the fixed hydrants system, there will be no way for the rest of the fire fighters to fight a fire, so why not have everybody working to deploy a salt water pump system? Otherwise they can all gather at the new multi million dollar commend center and do what? A twelve inch hose can be navigated with a portable ramp. Both of these issues did not dissuade Berkeley from investing in a system and they only have bay water at one border. We have a massive advantage over any city in the region in that our historic island is 2 miles wide and seven miles long.

    Long also states that when he spoke to FEMA the man he spoke to recommended tankers and he mentioned they were deployed in San Bruno during the gas explosion. I was told by Ken Gutleben that he spoke to the same FEMA representative and he made a point of emphasizing that we are an small island. Ken told me at that point the FEMA guy said salt water pumps would be most appropriate. I’m almost certain Ken also told me our boat has a capacity of 1000 gpm, but in his presentation to council he says the capacity is 2000 gpm. The technical issues involved in assessing these systems are very complicated and it is easy to get confused. From the tape I now understand from Robert Haun that the study amount was directed at a fixed underground pipe system the costs of which could be very prohibitive. Perhaps we need to consider that system since the oldest water main in the City was just replaced and we are now commencing to slowly replace them one at a time, but the cost and time for that system to be installed might take years. According to how seismologists measure time, we are not yet “overdue” for a Hayward event, but we are beyond the average time between events which is about 146 years. We passed that marker a couple years ago. We are definitely “due” and with each passing year the odds increase.

    Comment by MI — September 21, 2015 @ 11:08 pm

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