San Leandro City Councilmembers come in two flavors: some have a desire to sit and listen and to engage speakers with profuse thanks and softball questions. Others just talk like 21st Century versions of William Jennings Bryan. San Leandro Councilman Bill Stephens is the latter.
It is common for the council's lone conservative to launch a measured, somewhat folksy soliloquy on the city's affairs. Monday night's finance meeting once again put the city's once-robust budget and currently mildly troublesome situation (as opposed to other Bay Area cities) in the spotlight.
Residents were not happy earlier this spring when word traveled one of the their popular public swimming pools would close for the summer. Within the same vein, the safety of children crossing the city's street before and after school has only heightened concerns to the extent the ubiquitous, but ominous phrase "quality of life issues" has again been loudly raised by families in San Leandro.
To judge the council and Mayor Tony Santos' comments Monday night, the solution is for everyone to do their part. Pulling one up by your bootstraps in a conservative canard not usually linked to the clearly liberal council, Stephens excluded. The consensus was so thorough that some heard the faint sound of Whitney Houston singing her 1986 hit "The Greatest Love of All", the part when she says:
I believe the children are our are futureAside from wrapping your child in bubble wrap to blunt the force of a speeding car or simply telling them to run, REALLY fast, blaming those who are unable to help is just about as plausible a solution as the others. The question becomes how did this mayor and council become so blind to such simple solutions and pitfalls? How do you put yourself in the position to be susceptible to charges of being lax on saving a local hospital, nearly closing a popular recreation spot for chintzy reasons and now allowing critics to portray you as putting the city's school children in harms way?
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
You may be surprised that Stephens' response also calls for you to do more and used the word "prioritize" on three occasion without being clear on whether the safety of children is paramount over pruning the city's trees and filling in potholes. The public seems to be saying we can put off trimming the Bougainvillea's on East 14th before cutting crossing guards. Here is Stephens' entire speech Monday night:
It's been a long evening and some of you have been busy with your children since this morning. It's not easy being a parent. Most of us know and we're concerned about your children. We're concerned about all the children in the community. We're concerned about all the community members and their safety. That being said, we recognize that we're in for very difficult fiscal times ahead of us. We have to take out about, I estimate, $6 million—8 percent of our budget—and we need to do that this year. We cannot continue to deficit spend and it's going to require us to prioritize and I'm not saying anything any of you have not said.
The major costs to the city are safety—police and fire. That has always been the priority of the city. We're going to have to look at their compensation because that's where the biggest money is. Once we get that solved that might help us sort out some of the other problems. We have various employee groups that are working with us and we're going to have to continue to work together.
We have infrastructure needs—some we cannot ignore. We can't allow our street lights to go out. We can't allow our signage to deteriorate. We have to try and maintain our roads, somewhat, and we haven't been funding that to the degree we should. We have to look at the sidewalks. We have to maintain cleaning up after the trees lest they start jamming up our sewer lines. So, we have a number of things that are pressed against us and are hard for us to avoid.
We have wonderful libraries we do not want to have closed or days and hours reduced. We have wonderful park and recreation programs. We're going to have to curtail those. We have our community-based organizations that help support the indigent, the poor and the needy. We're going to have to look at curtailing that maybe by a half. We're going to have to look at everything. We're all going to have to work together. We're going to have to volunteer more. There are some of you who are volunteering to max right now and putting forth a great deal of effort and there are some who are doing virtually nothing. We see that everyday. I appreciate your comments. This has not been an easy year for any of us, but we're listening and we're trying to make sure we have the best that we can for our community and prioritize along with what the community desires.