Menlo Park OKs fee hikes for fields, child care


Fees for child care services and sports field use in Menlo Park are going up, after the City Council approved a revised fee schedule at its meeting Tuesday, March 23.

The city is increasing the rates in order to recover a greater percentage of its costs to provide such services. In general, the new rates are in line with what other jurisdictions charge, according to city management.

The council voted for a slightly smaller increase than city staff had recommended for Little League and youth soccer teams to use the fields, after representatives from two such leagues argued against the steep increases at the meeting. The council also voted for a slightly smaller increase than planned to people enrolled in the Belle Haven child care program, which receives a significant subsidy from the state.

The council rejected a recommendation by the planning department to make a resident pay the full cost of a second appeal of a city decision. The recommendation was aimed at preventing cases like a recent one in which a woman twice appealed a decision to award a permit to Safeway, so that she could air unrelated grievances to the City Council.

A majority of council members said they didn't want to restrict residents' ability to have a hearing before the council, while Councilman John Boyle argued that the city should try to do something to discourage frivolous appeals.

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Posted by Citizens For Fair Pension
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Mar 24, 2010 at 9:51 pm

All of these fee increases can only mean one thing, the city is spending too much money on other things: CITY EMPLOYEE PENSIONS AND BENEFITS.
It is time for all of us to act. Sign the petition that is circling around town by a group of concerned Menlo Park citizens. This is a grass roots effort, by ordinary citizens that want us as taxpayers to save money. Please listen to the facts, listen to the very good ideas on how to solve the problem, and sign the petition. They do have a website, I'm just not sure what it is.

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Posted by And I've Got A Bridge You Can Buy Cheap
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 24, 2010 at 10:19 pm

"This is a grass roots effort, by ordinary citizens that want us as taxpayers to save money"

Translation: The "usual suspects".

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Posted by it's a start
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 24, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Bridge, you might be surprised. The people involved in this effort are a real cross-section, from different political camps. It's not about politics, it's about the insane, out-of-control financial situation engendered by the current benefit structure.

The petition does not apply to existing employees, but only requires that new hires not be given ridiculous pensions. There doesn't seem to be any opposition, and why would there be? It's a no-brainer.

Now, if we can only do something about pensions of existing employees we'd be in better shape.

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 25, 2010 at 9:38 am

I would do ANYTHING if we can address the situation with the current employees and their bloated salaries.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 25, 2010 at 12:26 pm

This petition is trying to control future council members. That is what it is doing and it is a classic case of a minority group using a hit issue to try to restrict policy.

If this was a pure effort to get to a new long-term arrangement it would not tie down the hands of future councils.

This is the same people and the same games. Instead of Bayfront Park and fields, they are using anger and tea parties to find a wedge issue.

The council currently has 2 and 60 on the table. It is public and can be found on the SEIU website (in which they bemoan this council for pushing a two-tier).

Ask the petition people about the handcuffs on future councils and see how they answer it. What if we were offered a chance to share calpers costs in the future that could equal millions of dollars in savings, but the council in the future could not act because they would need to put it to a vote.

Wake up people. This is a tea party movement trying to manipulate you all into falling for it.

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Posted by Reasonable
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2010 at 2:25 pm

The Pension Reform initiative does not tie the hands of ANY future council if they want to reform more. It only states that council members cannot give MORE generous benefits to new employees (and existing employees) without going to the voters first.

Right now the non-police city employees, including all top management, has the CalPERs formula of 2.7% at 55 -- the most generous benefit allowed by the State for non-safety employees. Menlo Park City School District teachers don't even get that! They get what the pension reform stipulates -- 2% at 60.

Remember, these benefits are guaranteed, no matter what the stock and bond market does. They are guaranteed for life. After the Novemember elections it is almost certain that CalPERs will downgrade its rate of return from the unrealistic level of 7.75% to 6% (some say it may be as low as 5%). This issue isn't about hurting the city employees, but about getting a handle on unsustainable employee costs that are impacting all of our city services and infrastructure needs.

Those who oppose this reasonable grass roots effort always go to the personal attacks, because they never have any valid arguments against it. I am NOT a member of the "Tea Party" movement, far from it. And, I support the pension reform effort.

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Posted by Henry Riggs
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 25, 2010 at 3:47 pm

This is a big tent effort to solve exactly one problem - the ongoing commitments that cannot be met, a coming disaster for everyone including those who think they "win" these benefits. A wide range of city volunteers and former and present leaders support this (current council is not legally allowed to take a public position pending a contract). Take a look at the endorsements page on

The big risk is a repeat of 2007 when newly elected council members were told a 35% increase in benefits would only cost the city 2% more in payments, did not have the experience to question this math, and even made it retroactive. Council members are essentially volunteers, not actuarial administrators; up to 3 are newbies after an election and they CANNOT rely on staff in this awkward situation. Once enacted, the commitment for lifetimes of higher payments cannot be undone when the smoke clears. It has to stop.

The initiative will help future councils by taking the bomb off the table and let council direct negotiations within safer limits. It's a small step, but it's urgent.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 25, 2010 at 7:26 pm

2 @ 60 is on the table now, Mr. Riggs. Just what does your pet project do in addition to that other than simply tying the hands because you think you know better. Run for office if you think council is made up of weak policy makers, but don't create a system that cuts council off at the knees. How many hypotheticals do you need?

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Posted by What Truth?
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 25, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Truth - What exactly do YOU want? It is always about YOU, and your fiscally irresponsible agenda. Mr. Riggs is trying to save taxpayers money, the entire state is bankrupt because of the unsustainable UNION negotiated contracts. I cannot for the life of me believe that you are even faintly against something like this??? If you'd like, you can start paying MY taxes. This is giving taxpayers the right to vote in or out future benefits. You are making no sense. Stop with all of the political banter, there ARE in fact many people from both sides of the political spectrum, you are going to be very surprised when you see who they are.

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Posted by it's a start
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:09 pm

The petition does not prevent the council from cutting a better deal. All it says is that the council cannot raise benefits without public approval. So yes, it is limiting future councils, but only in a single specific way. The benefits outlined in the petition are still very generous compared to those available to people who work in the private sector, and they could always be modified with public approval.

The fact that both Henry Riggs and Chuck Bernstein are among those endorsing this effort should tell you a lot about how broad the base of support is. Call Chuck a teabagger and you'll be laughed out of town.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 26, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I don't believe in policies that may sound good today, but actually restrict policy makers in the future. We cannot know what tomorrow holds. We don't know if there will be statewide reform, we have no idea what the economy holds in the future, how contracts will be structured and how contracts will be managed. This stuff is not just as simple as a bunch of guys trying to do right. Chuck is anti-union and has been forever so don't try to tell me this is not about politics. This is a classic case of an effort by one minority group to take advantage of anger or whatever to create policy.

The bottom line is I will bet you our current council will get the 2 @ 60 before this ever comes to vote. It will then be only about tying down future councils or not.

That is the debate. Chuck and Henry talk a lot but neither has had the guts to run and sit on council. I don't either, but at least I respect the role enough not to think I know better.

I know Henry and Chuck don't.

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Posted by Ro must go
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I don't believe in refusing to act because something might change in the unforeseeable future that will make today's choices obsolete or problematic. If anything in our system proves to be impeding our city's progress, it's not that hard to get a couple thousand signatures on petitions and insist on change. Taking a wait-and-see approach for everything just ensures that nothing will ever improve except serendipitously, and I for one don't expect fate or good luck to do the trick.

With this current initiative, I expect that council action may preempt an official vote occurring. But at least council will have gotten the message that the community is aware of the financial crisis and won't just sit back while council buries us under a mountain of future benefits.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 26, 2010 at 4:42 pm

So I guess you want some hypotheticals?

Statewide unions agree to share the calpers at a low percentage, say 13% and anything over that they employees share cost. The savings is in the millions for many cities. A huge win statewide. The unions in return wish for a 2 @ 55 for ten years minimum (making this up so bear with me).

Each city is able to set this as givens in the next negotiation. But let's say our next negotiation is not for two years. Council does not have the authority to re-open and improve on 2 @ 60 so we will have to set up a special election which does cost money by the way, get signatures and hold a vote.

And in this town, we are so predictable.

Can't you see the potential issues when you tie down legislators? Don't you get that basic element? You say council can improve on a deal, but a share at 13% is big improvement, but 2 @ 60 stays.

Make it 10% share and the numbers are just silly.

Why can't you see this logic?

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Posted by Costco
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 26, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I think you are on the council.

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Posted by Dharma
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 26, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Tie down legislators from spending? Perish the thought.
As for a hypothetical offer of better contributions by employees in exchange for retirement at 55, yes, that would not be available and it would have to be a different deal. No take-it-or-leave-it deals are gonna fly - and no trick math that makes a bunch of engineers volunteering as councilpersons bite the worm.
The current negotiating system is set up to make one small group very rich and the city budget is again short $2 million plus. Soon a bunch will begin to retire and it hasn't even begun what it will do to strip city services. Smell the coffee "truth".

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Posted by it's a start
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 26, 2010 at 5:48 pm

It is really hard to envision such a scenario -- transferring costs from cities to employees -- actually gaining any traction, but if in some parallel universe it did occur, we'd see it coming from months and months away and would have time to readjust.

If we don't take action, nothing is going to happen. The system isn't going to fix itself.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 26, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is what CAN be done:

"Bankrupt Vallejo cuts firefighter pension costs

By Ed Mendel
VALLEJO — Bankrupt Vallejo’s city council approved a firefighter contract this week some city officials said may start a new trend: smaller pensions for new hires and a bigger bite from paychecks to pay for pensions.

The firefighter union agreed to cut pensions for new hires to 2 percent of final pay for each year served at age 50, down from the current 3 percent at 50, a previous trend advanced by state legislation a decade ago that critics contend is “unsustainable.”

A new two-year contract with no pay raise, narrowly approved by a 4-to-3 vote of the city council, also increases the pension contribution from current firefighters to 13.4 percent of their pay, up from 9 percent.

The widely watched municipal bankruptcy filed in May 2008 produced a landmark ruling from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael McManus in Sacramento, who overturned a Vallejo contract with an electrical workers union last September.

Public employee unions, concerned that bankruptcy might become a way for deficit-ridden cities to overturn labor contracts, backed unsuccessful legislation requiring cities to get approval from a state commission before declaring bankruptcy.

But so far, the bankruptcy mainly has produced a complex court battle that already may have cost the city $7 million in legal bills and a bitter split on a city council that unanimously voted 7-to-0 for bankruptcy two years ago.

Among the complications: city revenue has plunged during a deep economic recession, dropping 30 percent since the bankruptcy to a projected $54 million. And the city charter requires binding arbitration when labor talks fail, limiting the ability to impose new contract terms.

“There is no bankruptcy law that talks about negotiating new agreements,” Marc Levinson, the city’s bankruptcy, told the council Tuesday (March 23). “You default to applicable non-bankruptcy law, and that’s the city charter and binding arbitration.”

The city negotiated new contracts early last year with managers and the police union, which included a pay raise for the officers. The electrical workers union contract was overturned by McManus after mediation failed.

The electrical workers appealed the decision on their contract. Arguments were heard earlier this month by U.S. District Judge John Mendez in Sacramento, who is not expected to issue a ruling until May.

At the city council meeting this week, supporters said the new contract with firefighters is a step toward helping the city recover and avoids the risk that binding arbitration would produce less savings.

“I think that leaving it up to an arbitrator … for me, given the strides that occurred here, the ‘two at 50,’ that’s monumental,” said Councilwoman Erin Hannigan. “That isn’t something that’s happening in other communities just yet. But I think it will be from here on forward.”

As Mayor Osby Davis congratulated the firefighters, he made an apparent reference to labor negotiations that often make comparisons with benefits for other unions and public employees in other cities.

“I think you made some major ‘gives’ that probably won’t be liked by your fellow unions and other people,” Davis said. “But I think you did a Herculean job, at least to my viewpoint, in trying to help us come up with a solution.”

Among the savings in the firefighter contract are health costs, limited to 75 percent of Kaiser health plan rates. The total compensation for a firefighter/paramedic with 10 years of service is $178,000, down 23 percent from $230,000 in the old contract.

Opponents, pushing for more cost savings, said the firefighter contract seems to assume that revenue will plunge no farther, the police union will make cost-saving concessions, and voters will approve a sales tax increase this fall.

“The fact is consultants are running this city,” said Vice Mayor Stephanie Gomes. She said the four persons sitting at the table in front of the council as the contract was presented by negotiator Sandy Salerno were all consultants, not staff members.

“I agree with you in a sense, Vice Mayor Gomes, that consultants are running the city,” said Davis. “But we have to make the final decisions. We have to tell them ‘no’ or ‘yes.’”

Gomes and the other opponents, Councilwomen Marti Brown and Joanne Schivley, said the city has been trying to erase its deficit by cutting services rather than using bankruptcy to restructure government.

“We have squandered the opportunity and a lot of the money that bankruptcy provided and used,” said Schivley.

A report to the city council last December said police staff dropped from a high of 155 to 104, nine fire companies were cut to six, and staff paid by the general fund was down 31 percent to 340.

“We also need major pension reform,” Said Schivley. “Every time you pick up the paper you are reading that anymore. Municipalities, counties, the state acknowledge that these pension benefits are not sustainable.”

Vallejo’s current long-term obligation to the California Public Employees Retirement System is $195 million, Rob Stout, city finance director, told the council. He said $100 million of the obligation is from investment losses in the stock market crash.

To avoid a rate shock, CalPERS has adopted a three-year phase in of higher pension contributions. Stout said the Vallejo plan is to make an early payment of $4 million more than CalPERS requires.

He said the early payment avoids making other budget cuts “year after year” to cover the higher pension cost. He said delaying the payment would be “borrowing” with about $350,000 in interest payments.

A chart in a tentative city workout plan last December showed a payment of 18.7 percent of payroll next fiscal year under the CalPERS plan. The city proposal is 32.6 percent of payroll.

Vallejo had been paying nearly all of the cost of health care insurance for retirees and their families. The city plan last December was to make cuts reducing the long-term retiree health care debt from $135 million to $34 million.

Some retiree health care cuts have been negotiated with the unions, such as a $300 a month cap on insurance payments for some firefighter retirees. The city imposed other retiree health care cuts earlier this year without union agreement.

A group representing at least 464 retirees and 53 surviving spouses filed a suit this month challenging all of the retiree health care cuts. The suit said some retirees paying little or nothing now must pay $873 to $1,219 a month for health coverage.

“Many will have to spend large portions of their monthly income on medical premiums and others will have to choose between medical care and other necessities,” said the suit.

Reporter Ed Mendel covered the Capitol in Sacramento for nearly three decades, most recently for the San Diego Union-Tribune. More stories are at Web Link Posted 26 Mar 10 "

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 26, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Increasing pension contributions is key. Good article.

No I am not on council. I have been here for years arguing positions that I believe in. It is a minority position on this forum it seems. I supported this current council and still do, but I do not always agree with them. And I am okay with that. I do believe in respect for public volunteers and that may set me at odds with those of you who seek to "throw em all out."

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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Mar 27, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Fix the pension and benefit system, or declare bankruptcy. It really is that simple, in the long term.

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