Blogging Bayport Alameda

August 18, 2016

We’re all the same

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:08 am

Folks, I have the best set of emails ever that serves to clarify the rebuttal argument penned by Trish Spencer about the UMA.   Just to recap from the East Bay Citizen piece:

In the rebuttal, Spencer also attacks the city manager and includes a link to a website that features the salaries and pensions of state and city employees, including Alameda.
“After I voted against Measure__, I believe the City Manager retaliated by falsely accusing me of wanting to bankrupt Alameda and canceling my meetings with City Staff,” wrote Spencer.

In a strange kitchen sink email to the City Manager, Trish Spencer wrote this that addresses the whole meeting cancellation thing:

At our regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, July 25, 2016, at 9:00 a.m., you stated:

You will no longer be having weekly meetings with me because you no longer “respect” me after my vote against Staff’s recommended Utility Modernization Act (UMA), and my submission of a ballot argument sharing examples of omissions in the proposed UMA. In the future you will not treat me as “special,” and instead will interact with me in the same manner as you treat the other Councilmembers, which apparently does not include weekly meetings.

The standing weekly meeting between myself, Mayor, and the City Manager began when I was first elected mayor, during John Russo’s tenure, and I believe it is necessary and appropriate for the proper conduct of City business. Since you refused to discuss anything else with me today, and abruptly ended our scheduled meeting, I am hereby requesting that we reschedule today’s meeting for tomorrow, Tuesday, July 26, 2016, at either 2:00, 3:00, or 4:00 p.m. It is inappropriate and, frankly, unprofessional, for you to cancel meetings with me unilaterally and refuse to hold them in the future.

To which the City Manager wrote back to Trish Spencer:

Although we have spoken in person about this, I just wanted to respond by email as you requested below, although this does reiterate what I said during our meeting on July 25th, repeated in our office lobby area on Wednesday, July 27th, and included in that week’s Council FYI email.    As I said, we will continue to have monthly meetings during which we can go over the agenda for the up-coming Council meetings or anything else you would like to discuss.  These meetings will be scheduled in a manner similar to what is scheduled for the other four Council members, generally about twice monthly.  Other meetings for specific and more detailed briefings and meetings with staff will likewise be the same as with the other four Council members.  Although we didn’t discuss your meeting schedule with John Russo, the communication protocol I stated reflects both the Charter (Section 7-3) and the formal ratification of Administrative Instruction No. 36, Staff-Council Communication that then City Manager Jim Flint took to Council July 9, 1997  for a unanimous vote of support.

And, it was, indeed included in a very detailed email briefing to all of the City Councilmembers:

Council, Staff, and City Manager Communications

Consistent with my articulated commitments to you the week of March 7, 2016 to treat all Councilmembers equally and honestly and pursuant with the City Charter, Section 7-3, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that commitment and further outline how I can best manage the City of Alameda most efficiently and effectively.  In order to be able to retain staff’s focus on Council adopted initiatives and projects and to ensure staff can be as productive as possible to accomplish the ambitious list of Council referrals and direction, I respectfully request the Council honor Section 7-3 of the Charter by going through the City Manager to meet with and/or request action from staff, other than for inquiries and inconsequential administrative or procedural requests.  I will also continue to strive to provide the full Council with updates on City and staff efforts through this Almost Weekly Council FYI, all-Council emails, and our one-on-one briefings twice monthly. I would appreciate your continued feedback about this process to ensure things remain on the right track.

Look, it’s clear that staff is over-extended, between the late night marathon meetings and the nitpicky council requests/referrals, it’s about time that someone started performing the necessary triage and decide what issues need to be immediately addressed by staff and department heads.  The way that both the rebuttal argument and Trish Spencer’s initial email was phrased made it seem as though she was being retaliated against, but according to the City Manager’s email briefing the City Council was made aware of the proposed streamlining way back in March prior to the UMA vote.

Personally, twice a month one-on-one meetings for each City Council member, weekly updates sounds about right in addition to the City Council meetings and the agenda packets that have to be reviewed.  It’s unclear why Trish Spencer thinks that she needs more face time with the City Manager and, in addition to that, meetings with other department heads.  And, it’s rather shocking that even with weekly meeting with the City Manager — at least during the John Russo regime and while Liz Warmerdam was holding down the fort — that Trish Spencer still seems absolutely clueless on how the City actually functions.

Anyway, more email goodness tomorrow.



  1. Lauren,

    You are criticizing Trish for wanting to be as informed as possible about the city she is mayor of? This is what happens when you don’t get your marching orders from Bonta or the unions. Also Russo thought he ran our town and that we ( including you ) should never question his wisdom. I am aware that you use this blog to fill your day Lauren, but as a newbie Alamedan you may want to understand why so many people don’t care for you , your way is not the Alameda way. Try to understand before you delete this.

    Comment by Master Blaster — August 18, 2016 @ 7:32 am

    • MB-what is the “Alameda way?”

      Comment by Jen — August 18, 2016 @ 9:37 am

      • The Alameda way is not hiding behind your keyboards critizing everything just so your day feels fulfilled. May the radioactive dirt Bayport is built on is affecting some of you.

        Comment by Master B — August 18, 2016 @ 8:19 pm

        • MB- I would argue that you too are guilty of hiding behind a screen and criticizing people as well. But that’s besides the point. The Mayor is acting like a 13 year old girl. Who is clearly lashing out because her feelings have been hurt and she isn’t getting her way. Its not uncommon for her to do this. It’s unfortunate that she’s doing it publicly and it makes her look foolish.

          Comment by Jen — August 18, 2016 @ 9:50 pm

    • Ah, the predictable blast of xenophobia and nativism from an entitled old-timer. How many years one must one live in this very special town before one’s opinions count?

      Comment by BC — August 18, 2016 @ 12:06 pm

      • B.C., let’s just use any old number, like from 1943 on. So if my opinion counts I think M.B. should find another blog like the one that goes around in circles all the time.

        Comment by John P. — August 18, 2016 @ 2:26 pm

      • Xenophobia you loser fuck? You entitled piece of shit. Go earn a living .

        Comment by MB — August 18, 2016 @ 8:17 pm

        • What a charming little man you are. But, alas, not as smart as charming. What would make you think I don’t earn a living? And what makes me entitled? (I’ll ignore the Trumpian loser insult as a product of one too many old fashioneds at happy hour.) I’m not the one claiming special status by dint of living in a small town for a long time. Check your privilege (as they say these days), native son.

          Comment by BC — August 19, 2016 @ 10:30 am

  2. It is so easy to imagine Trish running around telling different department heads things she wants them to be doing and responding to in the name of “constituent services.” Without strong direction from the City Manager it is easy to imagine them not knowing whether to deal with the Mayor’s pet issue of the day or the regular work that needs focusing on.

    Comment by BMac — August 18, 2016 @ 8:32 am

  3. MB- there are so many things wrong with what you’ve written…. where to start? Over ten years and Lauren is a “newbie”. Lauren has never deleted disparaging comments, even by anonymous trolls like yourself. What is the official “Alameda Way” and what makes you qualified to define it anyhow?

    Comment by MI — August 18, 2016 @ 10:49 am

    • Re: MI v MB, Where to start? I expected a little better comment from an Alameda oldbe like you anonymous MI. Anonymous MB, criticized Do for not pandering to Bonta and the unions, big deal. That Russo had an ego the size of the Posey Tube is certainly true. Ten years as an Alameda resident is not a newbe, so what? And the Alameda “way” is right here

      Comment by jack — August 18, 2016 @ 11:47 am

      • Honestly , you are all idiots who use the Internet as campanionship . Get jobs , find actual friends and spend time on your futures . .,,,,, or complain about me while I sit on my boat without a worry in the world .

        Oh ya! LMFAO – I’m a troll? Same names on every blog.

        Comment by mB — August 18, 2016 @ 4:42 pm

  4. 1: It is a sad state of affairs, indeed, that we have now come to *expect* irrational and contradictory statements, actions, and proposals from our top elected official. I wish that my original hope (in 2014) that our mayor would “grow into the job” had come true, but the opposite seems to have transpired. As far as I know, irrationality, contradiction-as-the-norm, and obstructionism have never been part of “the Alameda way,” whatever else MB defines it as…

    In my perhaps paltry 19 years as an Alameda resident, homeowner (12 years), renter (7 years), engaged citizen (300 or more city meetings attended), worker, taxpayer, volunteer, and voter, my sense has been that *rational dialogue* was always part of “the Alameda way,” but both “rational” and “dialogue” are operative and equally significant terms in that phrase…

    Comment by Jon Spangler — August 18, 2016 @ 11:01 am

  5. This is somewhat inside baseball. There was a stir in the local sports media earlier in the season over closer Santiago Casilla’s response to being replaced in a game by Manager Bochy. Fans didn’t like Casilla’s reaction. City Manager Keimach’s written response to the Mayor, however, doesn’t strike me as particularly unreasonable. Healthy tension between Council and the City Manager is desirable. Where it is absent, you get the City of Bell.

    It seems the City has come to count on large transfers every year from AMP to sustain the general fund. Fortunately, AMP supplies relatively stable income stream. The opposite example would be Venezuela that funds huge political patronage programs with an income stream tied directly to volatile and falling commodity markets (oil). That, plus a heap of authoritarianism, is a recipe for Venezuela’s current problems.

    Assuming AMP can provide for general maintenance, upkeep, improvements, etc. and still manage the annual bonus for the general fund, while keeping rates lower than other electric utilities, that is a good story. Hopefully, it is not a story too good to be true.

    There is a concern that the transfers – plus expanding the utility tax to cover wireless not currently taxed — are intended to plug budget gaps caused by increasing compensation expenses for City employees, including those already represented by unions that are the most politically powerful lobbies in the City. That is true, but it probably still be a problem even if the unions were not such big players. And, the City already imposes the maximum sales tax rate under state law – so where do you turn? That said, there is every good reason, while respecting the service of City employees with fair compensation (b/c, first of all, if you don’t, they quit), to elect City Council members who will seek office not as agents of those lobbies, but as agents of the City as a whole. Future budgets will be difficult enough without having to factor in political debts. (And if the ARC strict rent control measure passes – with assistance from the firefighters union as has been reported – we could have future reductions in property and transfer taxes that are significant to the budget).

    Relatedly, there has been much talk about protecting the most vulnerable with proposals not, in fact, specifically targeted to the most vulnerable. In thinking about what to do with the surpluses transferred from AMP to the City, perhaps some thought should be given to maintaining flexibility for using more of the surplus for expanding or filling gaps in electric bill assistance programs (capped so as not to encourage excessive use) for the most vulnerable.

    I understand that part of this entire issue is that there is a class action lawsuit brought supposedly on behalf of Alameda ratepayers by an LA law firm alleging a portion of the transfers to be a form of tax not properly enacted into law and that the ballot measure is hoped to be an easy way out of it by asking voters to ratify past practice. I know little about it, but even when a court has to approve a settlement, the law firm or firms always seem to come out better than everyone else. As in baseball, my gut instinct would be to say, “beat LA” and vote for the ballot measure.

    Comment by MP — August 18, 2016 @ 11:36 am

    • Thanks MB for explaining “why” not only the Mayor, but taxpayers need to not blindly accept City Manager or staff recommendations. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul.

      Comment by Captain Obvious — August 18, 2016 @ 12:20 pm

    • Here’s a good explainer from the City Manager’s email to Trish Spencer regarding the errors in her ballot rebuttal specific to the transfers:

      Third, the $2.8M transfer from AMP to the General Fund cannot be spent on AMP’s infrastructure (and is also not a blank check). As we stated in the staff report and discussed at length in person, Proposition 26 requires confirmation by the voters of any cost of service that is not directly related to the utility, such as the purchase of energy or cost of providing and operating the electrical distribution lines. The maintenance and replacement of the City’s streetlights and this long term transfer of the funds, if not passed by the voters, could be argued in court that it is not a direct cost and therefore could not be retained by either the City or AMP. It therefore could not be spent on AMP infrastructure if not passed by the voters. If it is passed by the voters, however, the City Council could choose to spend it on AMP or City infrastructure. You made the opposite argument.

      It’s not clear that the amount proposed for transfer could be used for electric bill assistance because of the Prop 26 issue that was addressed in an Assembly bill that proposed a low-income rate assistance program albeit for water, specifically:

      The cost of service mandates related to Propositions 13, 26, and 218 would make it difficult for POUs to provide a program to support low-income customers.

      Comment by Lauren Do — August 18, 2016 @ 12:38 pm

      • I don’t necessarily disagree with the first point although it is stated in more definite terms than in the “abundance of caution” approach recommended back in June – maybe too definitely with respect to spending or reserving for AMP infrastructure. I’m not arguing against the ballot measure. I do urge care and caution as to the use of the money.

        As to the second point, if the AMP revenue at issue in the ballot measure is properly transferred as general funds (including by means of the of the ballot measure), I would think existing law wouldn’t prevent a portion of it from being properly by the City for low income electrical assistance, including by bouncing it right back to AMP to administer. The City, not the POU, would “provide”; the POU might administer (as it is equipped to do under existing programs).

        Comment by MP — August 18, 2016 @ 1:35 pm

        • As to the second point, if the AMP revenue at issue in the ballot measure is properly transferred as general funds (including by means of the of the ballot measure), I would think existing law wouldn’t prevent a portion of it from being USED properly by the City for low income electrical assistance, including by bouncing it right back to AMP to administer. The City, not the POU, would “provide”; the POU might administer (as it is equipped to do under existing programs).

          Comment by MP — August 18, 2016 @ 1:40 pm

        • There definitely would be more flexibility if, and only if, the transfer is made to the City. However, the Mayor of the City of Alameda has not only opposed memorializing the mechanism to ensure the flexibility but is putting out incorrect and bad information about the ballot measure.

          So discussions about what to do with the transfers is premature if the measure doesn’t pass in the first place and it appears that if Trish Spencer had her druthers then the money would sit, in limbo, unable to be used by either the City or AMP.

          Comment by Lauren Do — August 18, 2016 @ 1:50 pm

        • I don’t know if it’s a premature discussion or not . Maybe discussing the potential uses, or assurances about what the money won’t be used for, makes it a more attractive measure. Of course, most of the money in question — for good or ill — is already out the door (and it is an assumption essentially built into future budgets). I don’t know if the ballot measure ensures or guarantees anything on that score, but like you I’d rather increase my prospects and lower the risk of scrambling to replace money already spent.

          Comment by MP — August 18, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

      • Reading this thread makes me appreciate Jerry Brown’s frequent veto statements that basically say, “No, we have too many laws on the books already.”

        Comment by BMac — August 18, 2016 @ 2:09 pm

        • I had the same thought

          Comment by MP — August 18, 2016 @ 2:20 pm

  6. As someone who has been a homeowner here since 1973, and still considered a “newbie” by some (also 7th generation Californian), I know some bona-fide oldy moldys who pay attention to nothing but rumors and slanders and have about zero in the way of understanding of the City’s government. Some still think the Council directs the School Board. While Lauren has not resided here for a very long time, she has made it her business to understand how things are organized, who the players are, and does some pretty damned fine research to get the facts. Would that all our residents be so engaged in the reality of City politics. Time does not intelligence or even knowledge, make. Yes, John Russo had a larger than life personality, but he did get us off the dime with the transfer of the Naval Air Station and got City Hall’s corporate culture changed to be much more transparent and service directed. Maybe some have forgotten his predecessor, Anne Marie Gallant, who was a true disaster as a City Manager and wanted to sue us for zillions, as she had the last three governmental entities she worked for. It took a lot of hard work on the part of the Council and City Manager to put things to right after what she left.
    There should be some tension between Council and City Manager and no “rubber stamping” by either, however, Council and Mayor should always recall they are the policy makers, and the City Manager is empowered to carry out that policy on a day to day basis. This is an important separation of duties that makes for a good representative government.

    Comment by Kate Quick — August 18, 2016 @ 1:01 pm

  7. Master Blaster, No one is a newbies if they lived here more then one election cycle and pays taxes (renters actually pay property taxes as part of their rent). There is no such thing as the “Alameda Way”, and even if there is who really cares. The number of people who have lived here less then 10 years most likely outnumbers those who lived here 30 years or more the rest are in their “middle” years sort of speak.

    Comment by Jake — August 18, 2016 @ 3:40 pm

  8. Jake?
    “Newbe” is a quaint term oldbes use to bully those who have islandized after they themselves have immigrated to the island. They are mostly old farts who have little use for anyone who wasn’t born here.

    Comment by jack — August 18, 2016 @ 6:39 pm

  9. Read your City Charter. The City Manager runs the City with direction from the Council. If 4 other Council members can guide the City with 2 meetings a month, why can’t the Mayor? Mayor is a ceremonial head, not a full time job. That’s why he/she doesn’t get paid. Let City Staff do their job, let the City Manager do her job.

    Comment by Eyeroll — August 18, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

    • Exactly. I believe that is something MB as well as some others don’t understand.

      Comment by Jake — August 19, 2016 @ 8:03 am

    • I know who you must be, Eyeroll–a relative or beneficiary of the criminal city manager of the City of Bell!
      See MP above “Healthy tension between Council and the City Manager is desirable. Where it is absent, you get the City of Bell.”
      The only person who thinks the city manager should do his or her job without any interaction with the mayor is woefully ignorant of recent California politics. Eyeroll, get a clue. Do some research on the management of the City of Bell. City of Vernon, too. If you look, you’ll find other small California cities victimized by their city staff. Some of us just don’t want it to happen here.
      And I don’t know what “your” city charter says, but I don’t see where Alameda’s City Charter says that the Mayor is a ceremonial position only.

      MP, you should read the actual lawsuit. A libertarian’s dream. It may be prosecuted by LA lawyers, but the plaintiff is an Alameda resident with standing to sue: Zachary Ginsburg. Allegedly lives at 2270 Otis Drive; phone 864-3325. Why don’t you call him up and ask him about it?

      Comment by vigi — August 19, 2016 @ 9:25 am

  10. The Mayor and the rest of the Council are elected by the majority of the citizens of this city to reflect their (the voters) wishes for the future of this city. The City Manger’s and the City staff’s mandate is put those wishes of the electorate into as near to the reality of that mandate as fiscally possible. If they can’t do that job then either the voters or reality will replace them though the voter box.

    Comment by jack — August 18, 2016 @ 8:28 pm

  11. Vigi, Alameda City Charter Article IV sec. 6.1 “The Mayor shall be the official and ceremonial head of the City.” Article VII Sec. 7-1 “The City Manager shall be the Chief Administrative Officer.” Sec. 7-2 (A) the City Manager shall “administer and execute policies and undertakings formulated by the Council.” The Council, not the Mayor. No I am not related to anyone at City Hall. I am a former resident who hopes to return to Alameda soon, but I don’t want to return to a City that is financially and morally bankrupt. I never said the Mayor and City Manager should not meet. The City Manager should absolutely meet with all Council members to discuss the direction of the City. The City Manager meets with all Council members several times a month. She is doing her job. Spencer is doing what’s best for her not the City.

    Comment by Eyeroll — August 19, 2016 @ 12:41 pm

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