Thursday, June 24, 2010
It’s been a peculiar year in Pacific Grove politics. After a series of resignations and new appointments, the City Council majority has swung from the reformers to the old-schoolers. The changes set the stage for a feisty November election in which all but one council seat are up for grabs.
A year ago, four of seven councilmembers – Mayor Dan Cort, Pro Tem Vicki Stilwell, Deborah Lindsay and Bill Kampe – tended to agree on new ideas like entering into a public-private partnership on the P.G. museum, exploring a water-saving reservoir and green-lighting a downtown farmers market.
Despite last summer’s failed citizen campaign to recall the four allies, all but Kampe have since resigned. Then-councilwoman Carmelita Garcia took Cort’s place on a coin toss, and the council appointed three new members to fill the vacancies. One, Robert Huitt, is a former councilman; the other two, Ken Cuneo and Dan Miller, ran unsuccessfully for council in November 2008.
The reconfigured council appears focused on balancing the budget, keeping the city’s business owners happy and steering clear of new environmental initiatives.
“The changes are hopefully for the better. I get the feeling [the current councilmembers] are doing things for the community. Before, I think it was getting off track,” says Miller, who was appointed June 1.
Kampe is more reserved. “The good news is, we have a resilient process and we’re still able to function in spite of the turmoil,” he says, “with the inevitable differences in views.”
The council recently passed a balanced 2010-11 fiscal year budget, which doesn’t change much in terms of city spending or revenue. A recently adopted city tax on short-term vacation rentals is expected to generate $100,000 annually, and the new budget boosts the city’s library contributions from about $450,000 to $600,000.
On June 23, the council considered a November ballot measure to impose a parcel tax of $90 per single-family and $45 per multi-family residence, which would shore up stable library funding. The measure needs a two-thirds supermajority to pass; a similar initiative last November barely failed with 65.9 percent approval.
Also under discussion was a voter-sponsored initiative to limit P.G.’s retirement account contributions to 10 percent of employee salaries. “Everybody wants some sort of stabilization with the finances, which is real hard to get with [state pension fund] CalPERS losing money hand-over-fist,” Miller says.
But Kampe is cautious about the measure, which he says could open the city to bankruptcy. “We would not have the estimated $34 million to buy our way out [of CalPERS], and that would create a default,” he says. “It’s almost certain that it would create a legal challenge.”
City Manager Tom Frutchey has asked the council to postpone its vote on a Joint Powers Agreement consolidating regional fire services, which he estimates could save P.G. $350,000 per year. Similarly, he says, a proposal to share police administration with Carmel could save about $400,000.
Meanwhile, the upcoming election continues to loom large. The vote could swap out six of P.G.’s seven councilmembers, with the exception of Kampe, whose term expires in 2012. Councilwoman Lisa Bennett is the only incumbent who’s announced she won’t run in November.
Brushing off rumors he’ll give up his secure seat to run for mayor, Kampe says: “I think I’m going to enjoy this election season as a spectator sport.”