City Hall Spending: Time to Face the Truth

Kim Lefner
San Juan Capistrano

In the midst of the worst recession in decades, it’s a mystery why the City is proposing to spend our declining tax revenue on such items as a Diversity Sustainability Action Plan, preschool and after school programs, lobbyists, consultants and grant writers. With the City Council’s recent acknowledgement of another two million dollar revenue shortfall, do these programs and services make sense? They certainly don’t appear to be essential public services.
Here are some examples:

Diversity Sustainability Action PlanCost: $825,000 annually. According to City Staff, the Plan is: “Empowering individual Cultures to Come Together, Confronting Challenges and Working Together in the Common Interest of the Community”.
Perhaps someone (anyone?) can explain why City Staff is proposing to spend $825,000 on such a plan, especially when according to the City Council the City to be effectively broke. If feel-good programs actually worked, you’d think that our crime and graffiti problems would have improved by now, considering the large amounts of money the city has already spent. Spending more money in this way may be great job security for those proposing the programs, but it is impossible to identify how the public is served by this expenditure.
Lobbyists and Grants We are spending over $150,000 annually to hire lobbyists who identify tax dollars for grants and “funding opportunities” from the State and Federal government (according to Agenda item #G1a, January 5, 2010). While some of these grants may be attractive, are they really necessary? Keep in mind that these “grants” are never free. They are funded by our tax dollars paid to other arms of government.
Often of these grants require local matching funds of 25%. Others require a 50% match. The usual justification for seeking grant money goes something like this; “If we don’t apply for it now, we’ll lose it forever”. That mentality is why I have cupboards full of stuff I don’t need and will likely never use from trips to Costco. It’s hard to say “no” when it’s “such a good deal”, whether you need it or not.
Consultants While an exact figure is not available, it appears the City will spend well in excess of $350,000 on consultants. Records indicate that up to $90,000 was authorized to update the Historic Town Center Master Plan from 1995 (I wonder how much we originally spent on that plan?) plus up to $250,000 for a related Environmental Impact Report.
We’ve also spent more than $50,000 for an Open Space environmental consultant to tell us about Open Space grant “opportunities” such as the Measure M “habitat restoration” grants that must be matched with money from our General Fund. Our leaders recently committed $1 million in matching funds for such projects, despite the fact that our Open Space funds are exhausted.
All of this suggests a failure of leadership on the part of our elected officials. It seems they are on a marathon spending spree eerily similar (albeit on a much smaller scale) to the Federal government. All the while, City tax revenues for general expenditure continue to decline.

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