ISSUES OF GREATEST IMPORTANCE TO RESIDENTS
The Issues reported as most important in surveys of our residents are organized here following the Democracy Tent Framework.
The role of a Democracy Tent is to provide a forum for all views to be thoroughly presented in a non-partisan, honest and complete way. Several of the issues are lightening rods for the strong partisan views held by residents with differing political philosophies. What a Democracy Tent can provide is the forum so that all views can be understood in a non-partisan way.
- PUBLIC SAFETY ISSUES
This includes such things as adequate police, fire, and medical emergency management resources. It includes the ability to deal with everyday life, such as safely getting to work, school or shopping; being able to deal with emergencies when first-responders may be overwhelmed.
Should the local Police function be outsourced to the Sheriff or other agency? Should Fire Protection Services obtained from Santa Clara County Central Fire District be rebalanced to reflect the reality of calls for service? Are we adequately prepared for flash floods, flash fires, earthquakes, loss of utilities? Is the town staff prepared for continuity of service in the face of likely emergencies? Are we safe in going from one location to another within town by car, bicycle, or walking? Are our students safe in going to and returning from school? Is the town transparent in letting the residents know of crime and accident problem areas? How do we compare with benchmark cities?
- INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES
This includes such things as the completeness of transportation networks: condition of roads, traffic congestion, streets designed for multi-modes of travel, public transportation, and parking.
Are we spending enough to maintain the condition of our network of streets not only to provide safe transportation but also to minimize the cost of future maintenance? Have we been creative enough to effectively deal with traffic congestion, including summer "cut-through" traffic? Are we doing enough to provide a safe network of bicycle, scooter, and pedestrian routes? Are we designing our streets for all modes of travel and not just automobiles? Do we have an effective parking strategy for shoppers, employees, visitors, students, and others? Have we an effective, up-to-date land use plan that implements best practices for mixing residential, office, school, commerce, etc. uses? Do we consistently follow our General Plan?
- ECONOMIC ISSUES
This includes such things as balanced budgets, government employee retirement costs, living wages, access to commerce, availability of housing, medical care, and transportation across the spectrum of incomes.
Are we spending too much on Police and Fire services? Are we spending more than we want to tax ourselves? Do we agree on the level of services we provide? Are we overpaying government employee post-employment benefits? Are we strategically managing our Unfunded Pension Liabilities and Other Post Employment Benefits for our town employees? Do we have an adequate stock of housing that meets forecasted needs as well as State mandated inventory? Do we need to fund our own Library or should our library be managed by the County Library System?
> Balanced Budget
One of the biggest challenges to a balanced budget is maintaining a dependable revenue base and a self-determined set of spending obligations. For San Francisco Bay Area governments, rising property values, and the ability to charge for municipal services are positive forces; one of the challenges is falling sales tax revenue as purchases patterns shift to the cloud. The rise of online retail and other transitions to more internet-based services is reducing the local sales tax base. Of course, the biggest threat is from inevitable economic downturns following the historical pattern of economic cycles. Our current growth cycle is now in its 100th month. In the history of the U.S. since 1854, only the expansions from February 1961 to December 1969 [106 months] , and March 1991 to March 2001 [120 months] were longer.
On the expense side, government employee retirement costs have been rising substantially faster than all other categories. The cause is the requirement to provide Defined Benefit pensions which are underfunded due to substantial shortfall in the portfolio returns of the government employee retirement plan providers (CalSTRS for certificated teachers, and CalPERS for all other government employees). CalPERS has been under-billing employers, expecting that market returns on their portfolio would remain at historical highs and substantially subsidize payments to retirees. The Federal retirement plan, Social Security, manages payments based on very low risk, government-quality investments, providing a return comparable to the rate of inflation. CalPERS has a very ambitious investment strategy that not only expects consistent returns at least 5% over inflation, but is supplemented by other, non-stock market investments, expecting even higher returns. The result has been that the CalPERS portfolio is unable to make up for the under-billing of employers. The result is a growth in the unfunded accrued liability (UAL) of at least 7.5% per year. Private industry, beginning in the late 90's realized that they couldn't take the responsibility for aggressive market returns and switched employee retirement to Defined Contribution plans, turning investment decisions over to individual employees. The California legislature does not provide local governments any practical means of offering Defined Contribution plans.
> Housing Supply
With the economy of the greater SF Bay area growing, the challenge is the supply of housing local to jobs. In addition to that challenge, Below Market Rate units are in extremely short supply. The consequence of local housing shortages is family spending on housing becomes substantially higher than the recommended 30%. Mortgage lenders experience higher default rates as spending on housing exceeds 28% of a household's budget. The solution is long commutes to distant bedroom communities, which not only reduces family time, contributes to air pollution, and road congestion, but also reduces workforce productivity. Productivity gains drive compensation growth.
California is forcing municipalities to deal with the housing shortages. This is one of the most polarizing issues with strong views held by most residents. In 2017, the California legislature enacted laws that pre-empt local zoning codes when cities fail to meet target housing objectives. All jurisdictions, including small towns with little stock of buildable lots, must comply with the State housing mandates by January 31, 2023, as well as progress milestones in 2020.
- QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES
This includes such things as libraries, parks, entertainment and recreational facilities. These are sometimes considered secondary infrastructure priorities.
Should we have more town-sponsored and town-subsidized community events? These include public music, summer street closings for downtown community themes, getting to know neighbors. Are we maintaining the small town atmosphere that most residents want? Does our town look like the residents care about each other and welcome visitors?