Court order halts Atherton layoffs


San Mateo County Superior Court granted a temporary restraining order Friday (July 15), blocking the layoff of Atherton town workers until a court hearing is held.

The town of Atherton had planned to lay off six employees Friday as part of its plan to outsource the building and planning departments.

The layoffs were challenged in court by Teamsters Union Local 856 under a section of state government code that the union says makes it illegal for the town to outsource the jobs it has targeted, according to union spokesman Peter Finn.

A court hearing on the issue is set for Aug. 11.

The outsourcing plan involved 13 town employees. In addition to the six layoffs, one employee has retired and another resigned. Five public works maintenance employees received job extensions through Aug. 31.

"We knew going into this hearing that this (granting a temporary restraining order) was always a possibility for the Judge to maintain the status quo so he can have more time to consider the law," interim city manager John Danielson said in an email. "We of course will respect the decision and have already asked the affected employees to return to work on their normal work schedules."

One former council member, Malcolm Dudley, challenged whether the town's finances were in such dire straits as to require layoffs. By his calculations, the $856,000 budget deficit could be solved through union concessions, building department revenues, and restoring rentals of town properties such as the pavilion.

"To me the motivation for calling this a 'crisis' is clear. They want to justify their action as something that is forced upon them because of circumstances. My feeling is that there are two major reasons driving this action. It reflects a strong anti-union sentiment and a strong preference for outsourcing over in-house employment," Mr. Dudley said.

Mr. Danielson responded that no matter what someone calls it, the town spends more than it takes in. Even by outsourcing the positions now in jeopardy, city management will still need to seek concessions from both union and non-union employees going forward to be sustainable, he said. "I don't want to lay off anyone in this town again."

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Posted by Jimmy Hoffa
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2011 at 7:53 am

No shocker here. The Orange County Superior court prevented Costa Mesa from doing the same thing for the same reasons: Web Link

On July 5, 2011 the Orange County Superior Court granted the application of Silver, Hadden, Silver, Wexler + Levine on behalf of the Costa Mesa City Employees' Association for a Preliminary Injunction prohibiting the City of Costa Mesa from contracting out municipal services that can be satisfactorily performed by current employees to private entities and from implementing layoffs of Costa Mesa employees as the consequence of such outsourcing pending a trial on the legality of that proposed conduct.

In March 2011 the City Council for the City of Costa Mesa reached a decision to outsource nearly all of the City services (except Police) to public and/or private entities for the asserted purpose of cost savings. The City then proceeded to issue Layoff Notices to approximately two hundred City employees to be effective on September 30, 2011 if the City was able to outsource those services to private contractors. This extraordinary action that the City Council sought to accomplish under the guise of "fiscal responsibility" has frequently been characterized in the media as the "ground-zero" for future similar actions by other public agencies in California.

The lawsuit filed by the Association contended that, unless enjoined by the Court, the City of Costa Mesa, as a general law city, would be acting in violation of California Government Code ''37103 and 53060 by contracting with private entities for municipal services which could not be considered "special services" within the meaning of those statutes, where such services were being satisfactorily performed by City of Costa Mesa employees. Pursuant to law, such "special services" are restricted to specified public services involving financial, economic, accounting, engineering, legal or administrative matters. Moreover, it must be established by the agency that the contemplated outsourcing involves specialized skills, expertise, or training not otherwise possessed by the public employees sought to be displaced.

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Posted by Jimmy Hoffa
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2011 at 8:31 am

The LA Times has started to latch onto the possibility that the Costa Mesa budget crisis is a means to an end, outsourcing. The possibility was recently raised by Costa Mesa's Police Chief on his way out the door.

Web Link

Then, there's the financial audit conducted by the Harvey Rose firm. Apparently, that audit of Costa Mesa's books showed the several weaknesses in the City's assumptions regarding reserves:

Web Link

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Posted by transparency
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 17, 2011 at 8:47 am

Mr Danielson states in the above article,
Mr. Danielson responded that no matter what someone calls it, the town spends more than it takes in. Even by outsourcing the positions now in jeopardy, city management will still need to seek concessions from both union and non-union employees going forward to be sustainable, he said. "I don't want to lay off anyone in this town again."

I think a good part of Town's budget on the spending side has gone to items over the past three or four years that have been wasteful, not needed and particularily apparent in the misuse of parcel tax monies that went for expenditures not specified by the ballot language. How can the Council authorize an expenditure of $10,000 to produce two meetings to promote the library in the Park given the current financial crisis they describe?
So the real issue is whether the Town has a spending problem and not a revenue problem. Two or three council members like Mayor Dobbie and Widmer have rushed the outsourcing effort giving the mandate to Danielson to get it done. The Park expenditures, road improvements continue unabated and the effort is going to be made to further erode town employee morale and quality of service by reducing salaries and benefits. We have been swept up in this outsourcing business by business types whose solutions might be applicable to business but not
small town government. Mr Widmer proudly describes himself as an "outsourcing expert"!Transparency has not been good here and in the rush to go down this path we apparently have also brought on a lawsuit in the months ahead if the same set of circumstances exist.

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Posted by Taspayer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 17, 2011 at 9:01 am

The taxpayer's view is pretty different than the employee's view here, which I believe is being stated by an employee named transparency.

We need roads here, transparency. The residents also want and need a park and a library [portion deleted].

Danielson has said he doesn't want to make more layoffs. That's a clear message to the cops that they need to come up with $200K in concessions.

That isn't so bad. 25 cops all making over $100K coming up with $200K in concessions is a lot better than 12 employees all making under $100K coming up with $500K.

If [portion deleted] and the cops weren't so greedy, the town could just come to some amicable agreement with them and move on.

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Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2011 at 10:44 am

While attending Jon Buckheit's party last night I heard someone whom I'll refer only as a very well informed insider say that the real reason Danielson is outsourcing public works and building is that these two departments have been co-opted and can no longer be trusted to perform the regulatory functions they are responsible for.

The term incestuous was used to describe the relationship that has evolved between the Building Department, the Public Works Department and the select few in Atherton that have ingratiated themselves with these two departments.

In short, I learned that Danielson's move to contract for building and public works services is akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I learned that outsourcing building and public works is being done to gain control over two departments that have been compromised, that have been unwilling or unable to fulfill the regulatory purpose for which they were established.

As such I believe Danielson is doing the right thing for the wrong reason. He should be commended for having the courage and foresight to address the corruption that has been endemic in these two departments. However, Danielson should also be excoriated (if not fired) for the tactics he has employed.

Atherton's biggest problem is honesty. Atherton cannot admit its own failings. Guerra's demotion which was disguised as a voluntary retirement is a case in point. Rather than admit Guerra was a failure as a chief, Danielson and the Town have tried to keep up appearances and try to create the illusion that Guerra, like his two predecessors are riding off into the sunset, even though Guerra will remain on the payroll until he burns off the 900 hours in leave he has accumulated.

Atherton's biggest problem is honesty because Atherton cannot seem to come to grips with the fact that a few bad apples within Police, Building and Public Works have spoiled the image of the entire Town government.

Danielson in my view has lost all credibility when he says that the Town spends more than it takes in and that is the reason why Public Works and Building must be contracted out.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Town has adopted a full-cost recovery policy for Building and it has for many years successfully used temporary help to cover the ebb and flow of work. To use a well worn expression from the South "that old dog won't hunt".

The simple fact of the matter is that Police is the most significant drain upon the Town's resources, yet Danielson has yet to even whisper the possibility of consolidating police services with another jurisdiction.

Furthermore, Danielson moved to outsource public works and building without considering the results of the two efficiency studies of public works and building he commissioned. Additionally, Atherton seems to have failed to consider an approach that would have avoided the legal trap that it appears to have fallen into.

Rather than outsource building and public works, it could have considered contracting with another governmental entity.

I wish the Town best as it tries to wrest control over police, building and public works. However until such time as Atherton is honest with itself with respect to its true motives and until such time as Atherton carefully considers all of the alternatives that are available to it Atherton, I fear is doomed to failure.

Jon Buckheit's party was a blowout by the way. Good times were had by all.

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Posted by Question
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Not to be snide, but why does Atherton need a library? Is the library well utilized? I'm a pro-library person, but the MP and RWC libraries are decent sized, have good programs are accessible and these are tough times. Moreover, residents can order books from anywhere in SM County.

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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Yes, Question, and by that logic, Menlo Park and Redwood city would like to invite Atherton residents to use MP's public parks for soccer, lacrosse and Little League(after all, Atherton shouldn't need to bear additional expense of hosting youth sports). MP & RWC have plenty of police and fireman. Let's donate those too. Why have public works or code enforcement...seems a waste with all the nearby talent.

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Posted by answerlibrary
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm

This might answer the question asked by question. Atherton has a library already but also has $4.5MM in dedicated funds that only can be used for library purposes. It came from property tax assessments.Many in Atherton are not opposed to the library being improved or rebuilt in its present location but not in Holbrook Palmer Park. The following appeared in the Almanac last week in Viewpoint:

Viewpoint - Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Letter: Build library at existing site, not in park
How fortunate we are to have the money and energy to build a new, efficient, and seismically safe library for our town. How tempting it is to overbuild the facility just because we can. A sincere "thank you" to those who are working diligently on planning.

As almost 40-year users, supporters and observers of both the existing library and Holbrook-Palmer Park, here are our thoughts. From listening and learning at the two informational meetings this past week, we are fearful that the library consultants are envisioning a new facility which is too big and too complex for us.

The term being used for the new library is "community center," encompassing meeting rooms, indoor-outdoor study spaces, teen gathering areas, possible food and drink amenities as well as comfortable seating, acoustic separations, computer and laptop facilities, enhanced collection areas, efficient staff work spaces, etc. Atherton is a unique, sleepy little town of fewer than 8,000 residents, many of whom live in gated and walled residences; Atherton has no commercial venues by choice. Atherton does not have the same requirement for a "community center" as perhaps Menlo Park or Belmont. In the current planning, are we perhaps seduced by the mentality of "If we build it, they will come"?

Having overheard an Atherton library staffer tell a group of patrons this week that the new library will likely be built at Site B, Holbrook-Palmer Park, we wonder if the two meetings this past week were for appearances rather than substance. Since 1972 we have witnessed improvements to the park (with attendant wear and tear) and remember well a multitude of "improvements" which were fortunately not allowed: swim club, putting green, bonsai garden, art gallery, etc. Our judgment is that it would be a huge mistake to locate a new library/community center at Site B, Holbrook-Palmer Park, because it would be yet another attraction for increased auto traffic and parking, wear and tear, maintenance and expense to our already strapped budget. Far more appropriate, in our opinion, would be to build at the existing library location, Site A, because a new library would continue to be an asset to the adjacent neighborhood rather than a diminishment to the inherent natural ambiance of Holbrook-Palmer Park.

Stuart and Bill Awbrey, Rittenhouse Avenue, Atherton

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Posted by Question
a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Thank you, Answerlibrary. It's interesting info and it sounds like wherever it'll be, it'll be a great resource and gathering place. I'm glad to learn that the funds are robust.

To that snide Central Menlo - since the COUNTY has reciprocation at all the libraries, that's why I thought Atherton might not need a library. In other words, if they were short on cash, pay to use another local library and still be able to make use of the interlibrary county program. Take your snideness to the library and enjoy a nice, relaxing book!

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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Question ??
Of course the county has lending recriprocation (a service that our family uses and enjoys). The idea is that I wouldn't want Atherton residents (or anyone) to abolish their library as a cost-saving measure...with the idea that the can of course rely on neighboring towns for their library services.

That seemed to be your suggestion, but please accept my apology if I misunderstood you. I'll admit, my motives may be less snide, than perhaps selfish. As Menlo Park residents, we use the Atherton library as often as Menlo Park's...and on occasion, Redwood City, as well. I have always appreciated the comfortable, cozy environment that the Atherton library offers, filled with excellent and entertaining programs (especially for the kids).

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Posted by Jimmy Hoffa
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm

The initial verbal injunction against Costa Mesa issued in early July has now been firmed up with a written order. Costa Mesa has been told no outsourcing until the case has been heard. Of particular note was the judge's refusal to soften the employee's requested injunction language.

1. Contracting out to any entity which is not a "Local Agency" within the meaning of California Government Code Section 54980 for services currently performed by City of Costa Mesa employees represented by the Plaintiff Association and 2. laying off City of Costa Mesa employees represented by the Plaintiff Association as a result of contracting out to any entity which is not a "Local Agency" within the meaning of California Government Code Section 54980 for those services currently performed by such City of Costa Mesa employees.

Web Link

The order remains in effect until trial which probably won't occur before September 30.

Atherton faces a similar outcome. The Council may be forced back to the drawing board, seeking alternatives which require teaming up with other local municipalities.

The bigger question: Is this trend political or based in true financial crisis?

"But of course, this was never about the budget. Republicans know that California is a deep-blue state, and they could never get away with doing what Scott Walker did in Wisconsin at the state level. So they’ve been doing it at the local level – starting in conservative bastions like Orange County, and hoping they can then succeed elsewhere. But even in conservative Orange County, they’re learning they can’t get away with it."

Web Link

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