Thursday, June 3, 2010
It sounds so familiar: Salinas is cutting wherever the heck it can to make it through another malignant budget cycle, the feds are eying the city’s gang problem, Chinatown redevelopment inches ahead, and Mayor Dennis Donohue remains optimistic despite the city’s boom-and-bust/bang-and-bang back rotation.
Here’s what’s different: On Tuesday, June 8, the City Council will likely approve its budget and further embrace restructuring City Hall, following a private business-led committee’s calls for fewer department heads, more code enforcement, fewer health benefits, more police pay cuts. With sinking revenues, the committee wants Salinas to change its spend-while-the-coffers-are full approach. “People expect a market correction, and I agree with that,” Donohue says.
The city, faced with a $12.4 million deficit next fiscal year, is still poised to eliminate more than 90 jobs and lay off 40 employees, says Finance Director Tom Kever, adding that a $4 million shortfall is projected in 2011-12.
Besides consolidating departments, the city is negotiating with several private groups to take over public facilities: Monterey County Aquatics Team wants to run the Aquatic Center; Go Kids, Inc. is eyeing the Firehouse Recreation Center; and El Camino Real Salinas Futbol Club is kicking around the decision to direct El Dorado Recreation Center.
Although Salinas isn’t winning awards for fiscal prowess, White House elites toured the city last week as part of a national initiative that will examine youth violence and could lead to federal checks coming the city’s way. Salinas is the smallest city involved, Donohue says; other cities include Memphis, Detroit, Boston, Chicago and San Jose. City leaders will go to Washington, D.C. in September.
“The fact that [Salinas’ gang violence] has shown up on the national radar is critical and important,” he says. “This city is in a position to able to deal with what has been a very tough and entrenched problem.”
The national network, Donohue says, builds on the success of Operation Knockout, which netted arrests of Norteño gang leaders, and Ceasefire, a carrot-and-stick strategy that calls gang members into a meeting with cops and social service providers.
Gang violence still lingers, however, and the question remains whether the city will be able to keep crime under control once President Barack Obama’s and Attorney General Jerry Brown’s surrogates leave town. Police Chief Louis Fetherolf still wants a larger police force, and Donohue alludes to the possibility of another tax measure down the road.
On the economic development front, Chinatown renewal consultants again presented plans to add a pedestrian and bike crossing on Tuesday, June 1, to connect downtown to the Soledad Street area, develop a social services campus, and restore the Old Republic Café. But first the city is counting on the Monterey County Housing Authority’s rehab of nearby affordable homes to stimulate redevelopment. A move to make the area an historic district is under way.
A lithium-ion battery maker and second electric car maker may set up shop at the Firestone industrial park, joining Green Vehicles, says Jeff Weir, economic development director.
Looking ahead to the November election, Donohue has drawn two potential opponents: retired Sheriff’s Office employee Rick Cope and former high school trustee Margaret Serna-Bonetti. Serna-Bonetti is trying to solicit donations with a pink flyer entitled “Imagine a New Mayor.” Imagine that.