Ok, there’s no time for the usual formulaic opening now…. you know the one I always use…
“So ahem! Heya Pittsburgers, do you like (x)? So does your old pal, Zorro. Well, do you know who really does/doesn’t like (x)? The people running the City of Pittsburg (“CoP” because, reasons)…”
Yeah, that one. Well, I don’t have time for that today! The reason I don’t have time is because stuff is happening, fast! It didn’t have to be this way. Fast. Rushed. But this is how the CoP likes to roll. They flit from scheme to scheme, from crisis to crisis, and they keep all of us constantly on the wheel, rolling to the next immediate problem. All the while, they hope that we go along with them and never stop to see where we are, how we got here, how it could have been avoided.
Case in point: all of us here at the PV have been trying to make people aware of the CoP’s confusing, contradictory, circular stances on the current CalPERS crisis. I say “current,” but this has been on the horizon for a long time. People have been sounding the alarm for a decade, but even the anti-planners at the CoP have long been aware that the city would be facing a $7.5 million bill.
So, naturally, they took a hard look at the budgets, forestalled some expensive and unneeded projects, and made an appeal to sane planning and controlled growth.
Hahahahhahahahahaaa! Just kidding.
Sorry. Can you imagine? No really, this is the CoP. They actually decided to damn the torpedoes and pursue some long-term, crazy expensive projects that no one – other than the CoP mis-managers – needed. Faced with an impending financial Armageddon, the CoP threw caution to the wind and decided to spend, baby, spend.
How much? Well, we wondered that, too. So we had our Research Department (it’s just Mama Leone and it’s shameless how hard we make her work!) hit the archives and come up with some hard numbers. We limited the scope because the CoP spends like there’s no tomorrow when it is funding a councilmember’s affiliated agency or pet project. Or when they’re throwing money to family and friends in real estate development. But here are just a few of the big projects the CoP pursued and funded since 2012 – this being the last date that anyone could (sort of but not really) claim ignorance of the CalPERS bill.
1. City Park improvement.
In 2014, the CoP decided to improve the baseball fields in City Park. The reason? “Something, something, business, something.” Essentially, the CoP upgraded some baseball diamonds so they could start a minor league team. Ok, fine. Never mind that the park is not actually adjacent to any businesses, and is right next to the freeway so if baseball games did actually draw any new people to town, they could drive in and drive out without spending any other time or money in our fair city. Never mind that, there is no time!
So, the cost? Initially $350,000. Then, more costs! Running to the tune of $75,000, giving us a total of $425,000. Now, upgrading some baseball diamonds for hundreds of thousands of dollars might seem like a decent idea for a city that’s flushed with cash and facing a bright financial future, but it is an unneeded extravagance with little actual payoff for a city that is strapped for cash. And, it is straight up irresponsible for a city with a $7.5 million bill on the horizon.
It is the fiscal planning equivalent of responding to an overdue rent notice by spending the rest of your cash on a PlayStation. It is the reasoning of a twelve-year-old, and it is what passes for planning in the CoP.
So now, facing this “crisis,” the CoP proposes huge cuts to all kinds of extravagances, including (are you ready for this?) cutting $50,000 a year for “baseball” in 2018 and 2019. That is from an annual budget of $75,000. So in 2014 as they knew the “crisis” was imminent, the CoP pushes $425,000 to upgrade baseball fields, requiring $75,000 annually for their upkeep, and a few years later, when nothing else has changed except that baseball teams have started playing on the fields, the CoP claims that they have to drastically cut the funds needed to maintain those same improvements.
Based on the City’s figures, a conservative estimate of total costs for the improvements and maintenance of the fields since 2014 is between $575,000 and $650,000. Those are some expensive peanuts and crackerjacks.
But, don’t pay attention to that, there’s no time! We must act now!
2. Other city park.
Nothing says “ready for a financial crisis” like spending a whole buttload of money on parks that people don’t use, Pittsburgers, and nobody knows this better than the CoP. So, since 2013, the CoP has been building and completing a little park in Old Town. You’ve seen it – that patch of grass with the completely unused Bocce Ball courts and the public restrooms no sane person would go into (unless that person was an undercover police officer) next to the Farmer’s Market. In 2013, the CoP pitched this project as running about $900,000, which in the grand scheme of things, didn’t seem like a terrible price for a park with bocce ball, whatever that is… Most people were just relieved there was one goddamn square foot of land in the city that the CoP was not putting a new housing development on. Still, $900,000 is a lot of money with a financial crisis peeking its head around the corner, so maybe we didn’t really need this…
But don’t pay any attention, there’s no time, bocce ball! PlayStation!
Total actual cost of the park since 2013? Are you sitting down? Including dedication and infrastructure costs, power, sewage and recycled water hook-ups, according to public records the CoP has spent $3,464,412.
Are you with me, Pittsburgers? The CoP saw the current $7.5 million crisis coming and rushed to plan, by spending $4,000,000 on playing games in parks. That is one expensive gaming system.
3. Fake BART
Your pal Z has had a lot to say about the new eBART (see here and here, for instance), and still has a lot to say about it. Everything from its inconvenient location, its lack of infrastructure support, roads, parking, and so forth that will ensure that a perpetually congested central hub of the city will get so much worse. Then there’s the shoddy design, precarious staircase, lack of escalator, lack of a station agent, and so on. In short, it is a monument to the CoP’s shoddy planning and penchant for cheap flash with no substance.
But, for today’s purposes – because we are in such a hurry now! – let’s just talk about the cost. Because BART did not need a station on Railroad with no infrastructure to support it, the CoP tried to sell the agency on the idea. And they failed. Did they decide to focus their efforts on some more rational planning to provide infrastructural support to their residents? Ha, no, that would be for losers.
The CoP wants a PlayStation, now! You’re not the CoP’s real dad, you can’t tell it what to do! (Door slams).
In 2012, knowing the city would be facing the CalPERS financial crisis, the CoP decided to double down! The new idea: they (we) would pay BART to build the station. The original pitch to the people of Pittsburg? The cost would be $500,000. The actual cost? Including design and construction: $4,800,000. I am going to say that again, because it sounds important: Four Million and Eight Hundred Thousand freaking American dollars.
Yup, one unneeded park upgrade, one unneeded park build, and one unneeded movie set of an eBART station – for which the City spent a grand total of $8,914,412.
Now, because we are in such a hurry, I will wrap this up with a mathematical formula. Try to follow along, because it seems a little complex for the people running this city.
$8,914,412 > $7,500,000
Or, in other words:
$8,914,412 is greater than $7,500,000 (by a lot).
But we are supposed to scurry along behind the CoP’s rush to cut stuff we actually need – like police services. And to support some stuff that could be pruned – like the $1,000,000 for IT Services? (How much porn do you guys have to scrub off of City computers?) And we’re also supposed to agree to mostly huge cuts to things that actually benefit the city and draw people here – like the California Theater. And as long as we pretend that this crisis was unavoidable and has no history, we are just running the CoP’s stupid, rigged race.
There is a City Council meeting Monday, June 19 at 7:00 pm. Though, if recent experience is any guide, the CoP will hide behind locked doors until 7:30 and refuse to talk about anything the annoying citizens want to talk about because there is no time!!!! They have friends to reward, houses to build, games to play! Let’s show up and tell them they need to slow the hell down before they make the final budget vote and demonstrate how they’re going to continue funding the things that are actually good for Pittsburg.
That is, after all, their damn job.