Six Questions For City Council: Patrick Dean

LA MESA -- Patrick Dean has been a chef, a waiter and is a father and La Mesa resident who has regularly attended City Council meetings. Among his interests in city affairs has been on on-going desire to see increased care for the environment and sustainable living in La Mesa. A candidate for city council, his answers below are the second installment in our "Six Questions'' series.

Question 1: Could you please list what you consider to be the three most pressing challenges facing La Mesa today?

First, our budget. The news is full of stories of layoffs of municipal employees and even towns unpaving roads because they cannot afford to maintain them. We do not want to go down that road (no pun intended). The city's budget comes from tax dollars earned by the hard work of La Mesans; City Council must always remember that and be sure to use its budget wisely.

Secondly, keeping the public safe by keeping burglaries and crime down and fire protection services properly funded is high on everyone’s list. Put pressure on gangs to keep them out of our city. Simultaneously offering activities to kids to keep them out of trouble will greatly assist this, while improving their health at the same time.

Lastly, water is an issue, as nobody likes rate hikes. I would like to see us maximize the everyday opportunities to save water without decreasing our quality of life. For example, the city might find it can save money as well as water by replacing grass with drought tolerant native plants on city property. The city should help families and businesses implement strategies in ways that hopefully saves them money while simultaneously conserving water.

Question 2: Given La Mesa's central location and its public transportation assets, how do you think the city should approach the development pressures that are arising even amid an economic downturn?

In answering this question, we must also answer "How might we make La Mesa the best possible place to live? In this lies a delicate balance between undertaking grand projects that incorporate the bold innovations and protecting the quaint small town character that is the foundation of our lifestyle and our homeowners’ property values. By carefully considering any project brought before the council on its own merits, we can achieve both goals. Wise, sensible multi-use developments, especially along our transit corridors, that don’t flood the market will be the key to insuring that our bigger developments don’t negatively affect the property values and traffic in our lovely single family neighborhoods. That being said, I am not in favor of exemptions that allow for current height requirements to be routinely skirted to foster the growth we need. Our dynamic location allows La Mesa the potential to be the premier destination in the East County. We will continue to mature as a destination if we are careful and forward thinking, insuring a continually increasing quality of life for all of our residents.

Question 3: La Mesa recently partnered with surrounding cities to form a consolidated fire service. Should the city seek similar consolidations in other services, for example police services?

Council member Dave Allen spearheaded an impressive effort in our recent consolidation, and should be praised for the excellent work he did on this project. I think that using the economies of scale in public services should be considered. We need to be open to exploring all of the possibilities of providing our citizens with the cost savings they deserve. Of course there is much to be considered before going to such an agreement. How much in cost savings are La Mesans willing to gain at the risk of possibly losing control over decisions that so deeply affect their daily lives. We are lucky to have such an excellent police force with officers who know this city inside and out. The question is what will we have to give up in order to recognize these savings? Can we ensure that we do not end up supplementing another municipality’s’ services at the cost of our own? If citizens aren't getting more than they are giving up by consolidating services, then we shouldn't do it.

Question 4: The cost of public pensions has been receiving a lot of attention recently. Do you support proposals to reduce pension benefits for new city employees? Why or why not?

With so much pressure on the city’s budget, thanks in a large part to forces outside of our control, it is important to find ways to maximize the value of our citizens hard earned contributions. Unfortunately, there is strong evidence that instituting a two-tiered pension system, in which employees hired before a certain date get larger pensions than newer hires, just does not produce the desired results. There are just not that many new hires in this economy to make the cost savings worth the disruption caused when two people doing exactly the same job are compensated differently. The inevitable result has been an equalization of benefits, undoing the initial goal of saving money by reducing or eliminating pensions. Most city employees do vital jobs for us and our families while not receiving exorbitant salaries. We need to understand that defined benefit pensions are an economically efficient system of compensation. The main problem in the budget is the loss of revenue due to Prop 13 and we should agitate Sacramento to find real solutions to this problem. Even if it was a way to save money, would we really want to balance the budget on the backs of public servants?

Question 5:How do you assess the condition of public parks and facilities in La Mesa?

I love the parks of La Mesa. My daughters and I spend a lot of time in them, especially Harry Griffen Park. I think that the City does a great job of allocating the available resources to maintaining them. They truly provide the sparkle to our jewel of the hills and I look forward to finding ways to upgrade them over time. I am especially fond of the great design of Briarcrest park, which I think shows how attractively sustainable design can be achieved. We need to embrace local water resistant landscaping where we can. I would like to find a way for hand washing facilities be upgraded to and be available at every park. I would also like to give a thank you special shout out from my daughters to the workers who fixed the tire swing at Harry Griffin. Life just wasn’t quite the same without it, thanks for fixing it so quickly.

Question 6: La Mesa is approaching its 100th birthday. How would you describe the city it has become and what would you hope the city's legacy will be at its 200th birthday?

My family laid down its roots here because La Mesa offers such a vibrant mix of everything a family could want. Our schools are exceptional because our parents care so deeply and work so hard to assist the teachers and administrators who put their all into educating our kids. Our government works because of the input, oversight and contributions of our citizens. Our roads are better, parks nicer, and services more efficient because so many public employees work so hard to make that so. We are continually making strides in improving the present and future of our city. This is why I want to be so involved in this process. I would like the legacy of our city in one hundred years to be one in which we confronted the inevitable roadblocks and setbacks with levelheaded deliberations that resulted in workable solutions assuring that our children are given the city we are borrowing from them is better condition than we received it. It is time that La Mesa become a leader is planning a sustainable future. This will result in a prosperous, fair and just future for all of La Mesa’s residents.

Next installment Tuesday: Incumbent Ernest Ewin

Part 1 of series Mark Arapostathis:

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Comment by Russell Buckley on September 5, 2010 at 2:33pm
Dear Officer Raybould. Thanks for joining the pension discussion. We need to continue to shed light on this very important subject. I will start by answering the" one question" you posed to me - that is why didn't I run for City Council. Seems like an odd question. But: First, I am pretty satisfied with the three officeholders who are running. Second are personal reasons that I will keep that way. Third, I am, at least for now, largely a one trick pony. My "trick", as you know, is the pension issue.
I became interested in pensions in the fall of 2008, as Prop L was being debated. The Union Tribune opined then (and since) that Prop L was necessary not for the reasons given (fending off gangs and fixing potholes) but to maintain lavish pensions for public sector employees. I don't know that the entire $6,000,000 annual tax imposed by Prop L could have been made unnecessary by pension reform - but most of it could have. The California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility estimates that our State can save $500,000,000,000 (at all levels) over the 30 years after reasonable reform is implemented. That is a lot of money, even in California. When I realized the enormity of the pension problem, throughout our state, I decided to focus what spare time I have on pension reform. I have not limited my pension reform efforts to the La Mesa Police union or to the City of La Mesa. I have spoken at several Helix Water District meetings and a couple of times at the County Water Authority. I have been involved, to a lesser extent, in pension issues in the City of San Diego and at the State level. I'm not finished.
At the time that Prop L was passed La Mesa was granting safety workers pensions of 3% at 50 and non-safety workers 3% at 60. Both of these are 50% higher than the program that was in effect in 2000 - before the big giveaway. Non-safety also participate in Social Security. Taxpayers were paying both the employer and the employee contributions to the pension system. Pensions are guaranteed for life by taxpayers. The 50% increase in pensions granted in 2003 was done retroactively! Giving credit where it is due - the City Council and the unions agreed to require employees to start paying the employee portion of pension costs that were formerly picked up by taxpayers. That is part of the solution. We now need meaningful pension reform for new hires.
You bet that the unions were/are running the show. Their latest goal at Sacramento is to forbid the cities whose budgets they break to declare bankruptcy unless the union controlled assembly gives its OK. Union sponsored politicians continue to gut almost every pension reform bill that is proposed - even very modest ones.
Meanwhile, the cost to the taxpayer for lavish pensions continues to increase dramatically. None of us knows when the escalation will end. As of the March 2010 public budget meeting the City was about $27,000,000 under funded in its pension contributions. Helix Water District continues to raise rates while maintaining obscene pensions. Pension spending is a major reason that our state is broke. Pension costs are the 600-pound gorilla.
I haven't seen the latest MOU with the police or fire unions. It isn't posted yet and I don't have any contacts within the negotiations to keep me informed. The non-safety agreement, which is online, changed pension multipliers from 3% at 60 to 2.5% at 55. They receive Social Security on top of their pensions! Can you believe that retirement age was just reduced from 60 to 55? As a reminder, full Social Security, when it was set up in the mid 1930's, used 65 as retirement age. It has since been increased to 67 and there is a lot of talk about 70. A very fair multiplier for non-safety would have been 1.5% at 65. If you think differently, I would like to hear your justification.
You mentioned several City expenditures that you think are frivolous - a new fire truck among them (what did the fire chief have to say?) But you forgot one expenditure that your team brought up at the Impasse hearing (after the 2009 negotiations) -- you then criticized the council for hiring six new police officers to fill vacancies. At that time, you wanted the money to be redirected to continuation of taxpayer funding of the employee part of pension costs. I expect that the Council's budget decisions are sound, but I will let others defend them. I want to repeat what I said at the Impasse hearing about savings within our budget: being a public sector employee is not a "for profit" job. It doesn't allow you to root around in the budget and find monies to claim as your own. If you identify legitimate savings, those monies should be returned to their rightful owners - the taxpayers.
You took a cheap shot at me (certainly no surprise) by saying that I hide behind my computer or speak for three minutes. I sit in front of my computer and sign what I write with my full name. I have appeared at 15 to 20 public hearings and spoken my piece, in the three minutes that I am allowed, clearly and directly. If you know of other ways for me to get my message out, please let me know. If you want to have a discussion (public or private) about pensions, please let me know. It will be wonderful to continue to open the publics' eyes.
One final comment; Anyone who thinks the police union graciously accepts reasonable changes in public sector pensions needs to watch the tape of last years publicly broadcast Impasse hearing. Among other things, you (personally) threatened to walk the streets to ensure that the three council members who supported imposing the requirement for employees to resume paying their "portion" of pension costs, and who are up for reelection, are defeated. Not exactly a gracious acceptance in my book.
Comment by Jeff Raybould on September 2, 2010 at 2:41pm
Mr. Buckley, While I'm not the type of person to get into a debate over the internet or try to sell the LMPOA's side to you, I do feel it is necessary to respond to at least of your daily comments or bi weekly rants and raves at the council meetings. Not one time over the last couple years has the LMPOA gone to the public to complain about our pension. We did not fight the fact when the City made us pay our contribution last year, nor did we fight this year to go to a two tiered retirement. We understand this is a costly matter to the City. We have and will continue to work with the City to make it through these tough times.

However, please educate yourself on the topic that you seem to live and breathe; our total compensation package which includes our retirement. A retirement that we gave up raises over the years to get. A base salary package that is at the very bottom of the barrel yet we provide the City of La Mesa residences with top of the barrel service. So please don't blame us all the time, because the City also agreed to these benefits when it was saving them money. Why weren’t you at the council meetings at these times to stop this before it became the crisis that you preach it is today? Because, it was saving you money at that time.

You continuously write and speak to people not to listen to us about these issues or the "other side of the story". Yet I challenge you to find one person outside of our membership that we have told the "other side of the story" to. If you really want to get upset about wasting money, then why don't you look at the statistics about the number of police officers, and for that matter all City of La Mesa employees over the last 5 years who have not made it through training. Not making it through training costs the City about $100,000 per police officer. You will be surprised at all the money the City has wasted. That amount won’t even include all the employees that we invested time and money in to leave the City for a better position outside the City. Consider us a costly training ground!

In a recent comment that you posted on August 29, you stated the following: “Public sector unions have consistently beaten our City Councils and Boards of Directors in contract negotiations”. Please explain to all the readers when this occurred “consistently” with the LMPOA and the City of La Mesa?

Mr. Buckley, I often wonder if you pay attention to the entire council meetings to hear all the issues that are going on. Why haven’t you complained about the City purchasing a residential house for over $350,000 this year to turn it into a parking lot? Why haven’t you complained about the City purchasing a new fire truck at well over $1.2 million last year? Why haven’t you complained about all the money that the Redevelopment agency owes to the City? That number (well over $30 million) in itself is very scary yet the City keeps taking on more debt to the Redevelopment Agency.

Mr. Buckley, you seem to have the answer for all these pension problems and ways to get the City out of the financial crisis that people claim the City is in, so I pose you one question. Why didn’t you run for council to help solve these problems? Whether or not I agree all the time with all the council members and potential council members, I do give them credit for stepping up to the plate and running for the position instead of hiding behind their computer or speaking for 3 minutes during public comments.

Jeff Raybould
President, La Mesa Police Officers Association
Comment by Russell Buckley on August 30, 2010 at 9:09am
Hi Jill. Good to hear from you. You are simply wrong about government workers salaries. I have several studies, using government data, that show the opposite - government workers are paid more than those in the private sector. More important than studies comparing salaries is the demand for government jobs. I just heard the Superintendent of a small east county school district speak last Friday - she said she received over 500 applications for two open teaching positions. With rare exceptions, government jobs openings generate an abundance of applications. I have heard from a good source that fireman is the most applied for job in the country. However, even were there to be a shortage of applicants for public sector jobs, the way to solve that problem is to offer more pay - not to burden our kids and grandkids with outrageous pension obligations (i.e. Dave Burk's $12,000 a month) paid to people whose services they did not benefit from. Most private sector workers don't receive pension. Instead they must struggle to get by on Social Security and a 401k type of plan. It is absolutely unfair to require them to also take responsibility for gold plated public sector plans. It is an undeniable fact that our State and most of its cities are sinking fiscally because of excessive public sector salaries and benefits - particularly pensions. We must elect representatives who have the courage to stand up to the public sector unions and say no.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on August 30, 2010 at 9:02am
No refutation of Russell's argument could be based--as is Jill's below--on what could be at best (and this is assuming the truth of her claim) a single exception to a general rule. And, of course, to know that it's is true, we would first have to know a lot more about these supposed "job[s] where people can easily make six figures. [Whereas, she claims] UCSD paid $75k/year plus fantastic benefits."

The Willie Brown quote that I read at the HWD meeting is, I believe, perfectly apposite for everyone who is willing to look honestly at this problem:
“The deal used to be that civil servants were paid less than private sector workers in exchange for an understanding that they had job security for life...But we politicians — pushed by our friends in labor — gradually expanded pay and benefits . . . while keeping the job protections and layering on incredibly generous retirement packages. . . . This is politically unpopular and potentially even career suicide . . . but at some point, someone is going to have to get honest about the fact.”

Sadly, it looks like Russell is right. La Mesa still lacks kind of leadership willing to "get honest about the fact."
Comment by Andi Esposito on August 30, 2010 at 8:58am
This series is an excellent idea, and I look forward to hearing from the rest of the candidates. These are all important issues to us as we look forward to retiring in La Mesa and as we seek ways to better know the community that will become our future home. Thanks!
Comment by Jill Richardson on August 29, 2010 at 11:58pm
I feel the need to refute what Russell Buckley has said as a former employee of the state. I worked at UCSD in a job where people can easily make six figures. UCSD paid $75k/year plus fantastic benefits. Despite the wonderful benefits, the pay was incredibly low for the job. Unfortunately, the result was NOT money saved by UCSD.

We were constantly interviewing applicants for open positions. Many applicants were quite qualified but would not take the job once it was offered due to money. Often, our team was understaffed. When we were able to hire people, typically they were not yet trained and required lengthy and expensive training to get up to speed. And once the training was completed, they still lacked experience. Sometimes people left once they were trained to seek higher paying positions. No doubt UCSD spent quite a bit on the hiring process it was constantly engaged in. They also took a loss in productivity because our understaffed team could never complete projects in a timely fashion the way UCSD wanted us to do. We just didn't have the staff on hand to do what was needed. Had UCSD been able to recruit experienced, trained staff by paying a salary comparable to what was paid in the private sector, I feel confident that they would have probably saved money in the long run by decreased turnover and increased productivity. I left because I was tired of working with an understaffed, overworked, frustrated team and because I felt like I was being taken advantage of by being paid unfairly.

This is of course about salary and not pensions, but I think we must keep it in mind when talking about compensation of city employees that if we don't compensate them fairly (and I don't mean extravagantly, but fairly and in-line with what they are worth) then we as the residents of La Mesa might be the losers in the long run because our city won't be run as well.
Comment by Russell Buckley on August 29, 2010 at 7:59pm
Sorry Mr. Dean, you said one more thing I just can't let go without comment: that is "... the main problem in the budget is the loss of revenue due to prop 13.. ". I wonder if you know just how heavily Californians are taxed right now: In case you don't, let me remind you: California has the 2nd highest state income tax in the nation: 9.55% at $48,000. 10.55% at $1,000,000; Our state is by far the highest state sales tax in the nation. 8.25% (not counting local sales taxes); We have the highest state car tax in the nation – at least double any other state. 1.15% per year on value of vehicle. Our corporate income tax rate is the highest in the West - 8.84%; Our gasoline tax is highest in the nation. Just about the only place we are not on top is personal property tax (read Prop 13). Our property taxes are about in the middle of the pack. Really, Mr. Dean, aren't we paying that enough?
Comment by Russell Buckley on August 29, 2010 at 7:09pm
Mr Dean - you seem totally oblivious to our Cities financial predicament and to the unreasonably generous pensions that taxpayers are forced to provide for our employees. The pensions are fundamentally unfair - and certainly unnecessary. Please try to remember that every dollar spent on a public sector employee must first be taken from the wallet of a taxpayer. There needs to be a balance - and that is not now the case. To keep this reasonable in length, I will focus on your response to item #4:
(1) Where in the wold is his "strong evidence" that instituting a two-tiered pension system ..... just does not produce the desired results". Over time, it will save millions of taxpayer dollars. I challenge you, Mr Dean to prove there is not money to be saved.
(2) Our previous decisions to retroactively award a 50% increase in pensions (2001 and 2003) are a large part of what got us into this mess. To say that fixing that major mistake is off-limits is irresponsible and foolish. It sounds like the rhetoric I have heard from union representatives.
(3) City employees do vital jobs - but so do the rest of our citizens: dental hygienists, plumbers, car mechanics, restaurant owners - and the list can go on forever. Why do you feel the need to put public sector employees put on a pension pedestal? Most public sector employees do their jobs well, I'm sure. But, so do most others who pay the tab for unreasonably generous pensions and then have to worry about funding their own. Our recently retired Fire Chief - Dave Burk, receives almost $12,000 each month, with built in cost of living increases, guaranteed by taxpayers no matter what. He worked for 30 years, could have been as young as 50 when he retired (I don't know his age) and paid little into the pension system. A private sector worker would have to have saved millions of dollars to enjoy such a generous pension. Why is he treated so specially and why do you feel it reasonable to take money from taxpayers who struggle to provide for their own retirements to support this extravagance?
(4)_ Where do you get the idea "... that a defined benefit pensions are an economically efficient system of compensation"? They may be efficient for the recipients - but they are a screw job for taxpayers. Taxpayers bear 100% of the risk for CalPers not meeting expectations! Just take a look at the amounts we the public is paying to support these gold plated pensions.
(5) If you really think we are balancing the budget on the backs of public sector employees, just check on the number of applicants for the next job advertised. Mark Weston, Director of the Helix Water District, told me last year that HWD advertised a single meter reader position and received over 1000 applications - some with masters degrees. Getting a job in the public sector in California is akin to wining the lottery - one is taken care of for life. Get real!
(6) Finally (because I'm getting tired of refuting such obvious nonsense), the State can't help us. They are broke and them some. They have the same problem of ridiculously generous pensions that La Mesa does.
Comment by Patrick Dean on August 29, 2010 at 3:28pm
A big thank you to La Mesa Today for giving me a chance to reach out to voters in La Mesa. Please check out my website if you want to learn a little more about me:

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