, June 25, 2022

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Vallejo council gets first look at new budget, renames park for MLK

  •   7 min reads
Vallejo council gets first look at new budget, renames park for MLK
Vallejo City Hall.

VALLEJO – The Vallejo City Council is poised to carve out at least $350,000 in discretionary funds from the upcoming fiscal year budget to distribute to local nonprofits.

A handful of councilmembers supported the move as the council got its first look Tuesday night at the city’s proposed $290 million budget for 2022-23.

District 6 Councilmember Cristina Arriola expressed trepidation with the allocation in which each of the seven councilmembers will be free to donate $50,000 in taxpayer funds to nonprofits of their choosing.

“I feel very uncomfortable with accepting that money,” Arriola said. “It feels like a token, for me, to be able to give it to my pet projects and there (are) so many groups out there that are needy.”

The council was provided $400,000 in discretionary funding last May for the current fiscal year. Arriola said she’d like to see her portion go to the Participatory Budgeting program which allows city residents to vote on funding various city projects. In recent years, the participatory budget program has been reduced as the city shifted funds toward other needs in the city.  

Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz, District 3, said she would gladly take Arriola’s allocation.

“I know my community, we know our community. Staff can do so much but we’re out there, we live here, we know who’s doing what,” Loera-Diaz told Arriola.

City Manager Mike Malone is projecting a structurally balanced budget as general fund revenues are expected to top $131 million with expenditures to reach $130 million. The city is projecting an 8.9% increase in general fund revenue, which includes an increase of nearly $5.5 million in sales tax revenue, and a $1.5 million increase in property tax revenue. Sales and property taxes account for a combined 59% of the city’s general fund.

Much of the council discussion centered on adding two additional code enforcement officers to handle an increasing workload. Malone said code enforcement has four budgeted positions but half are currently empty and the city has struggled to fill them. Malone said the city will re-evaluate the code enforcement budget in January to see if two new positions can be added with the goal to assign a code enforcement officer to each council district.

“We were just afraid that if we add the positions right now they would sit there anyways until after the first of the year because of the lack of success we’ve seen thus far in filling the ones that we currently have approved in the budget,” Malone said.

He also said his office is looking to move code enforcement out from under the Vallejo Police Department. That proposed move would require the creation of a new management system, Malone said.

The section handles various violations like junk and trash on private property, deteriorating housing, vacant buildings, weeds and overgrown vegetation, and graffiti, among others.

Loera-Diaz said code enforcement “is a top priority.”

“I see them as bringing in revenue as well with that enforcement,” she added.

The Vallejo Police Department is expected to receive a $4 million increase pushing it to a proposed $57.9 million budget; Vallejo police will continue to account for 45% of the city’s general fund expenditures, despite some calls for the community to redirect funding away from the force. The department had a  $45.5 million budget during the city’s 2019-20 fiscal year.

Rekha Nayar, finance director, said most of that $4 million increase comes from a general liability allocation. Nayar said general liability is an internal fund which allocates different amounts to each city department. During the past five years, the number of claims have increased against the city’s police force.

“Whichever department had a higher number of claims, they get a portion of that,” Nayar explained.

The $4 million increase also includes $838,000 for salaries and benefits and $300,000 for vehicle maintenance and replacement. City hall is recommending that the number of budgeted sworn police positions remain at 132, while the force receives 12 additional non-sworn positions boosting the civilian staff from 57 to 69. The city has struggled to hire police employees as well, with 70 of 201 allocated positions vacant as of April.

Vallejo police account for 19% of the city’s overall budget.

The council also addressed the number of city sponsored events, which includes $15,000 for the annual Mad Hatter parade, $40,000 for the Waterfront Weekend event, and a $10,000 allocation to the Empress Theater for various events.

Malone said city hall is looking to create a separate events budget from the general fund, saying that the city receives requests each week from groups seeking funding.

Meanwhile, McConnell said he had concerns that a growing cannabis black market was hurting the city’s ability to collect its marijuana tax. The city is projecting just over $3 million in cannabis revenue for the new fiscal year. McConnell said he would like to see some sort of financial analysis to see if it would be worth it to take enforcement action against illegal dispensaries.

“If we can drive the $3 million to $4 million then I think it might be worth an undertaking,” he said.

Council renames park in honor of Martin Luther King

With no opposition, the council authorized renaming a portion of Marina Vista Memorial Park to Martin Luther King Jr. Park, which is located behind the John F. Kennedy Public Library.

The African American Family Reunion Committee requested the name change, as a way to honor King and link Martin Luther King Unity Plaza to the new park. The two spaces are next to each other. The city changed the name of Unity Plaza to honor King in 2006.

“While the plaza has a small, hard surface gathering space, over the years, the green space adjacent to the plaza and behind the library, has unofficially become known as Martin Luther King Park,” Angela Jones with the African American Family Reunion Committee told the council.

Jones said the renaming should help the park be found on wayfinding maps, while also highlighting King’s work to ensure civil rights for all.

“Creating this new park…would demonstrate the city’s commitment to honor his tireless work to advance civil rights for all people, including all residents of the city of Vallejo, and to provide spaces and places for residents to enjoy and celebrate the cultural diversity that makes Vallejo a great place to live, grow and thrive,” Jones said.

Founded in 1989, the nonprofit committee hosts the annual Juneteenth Celebration at the park each third Saturday of June. The event, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans, includes cultural displays, free health screenings, and dozens of small vendors. Vallejo’s Juneteenth event is scheduled to be held on June 18 after being canceled the last two years due to COVID-19.

Jimmie Jackson, president of the Vallejo branch of the NAACP, called in to the meeting to express support.

“We, as one of the most prosperous cities in Solano County, have not given recognition to Dr. Martin Luther King,” Jackson said.

Loera-Diaz said the renaming was “long overdue,” adding that the civil rights leader was “representative of all of us.” The first-term councilmember said she’d like to see new signage up before this year’s Juneteenth celebration.

Council gives final approval to ban smoking in multi-unit homes, amend firework ordinance, and authorize police HQ study

The council also approved the final reading on several items, including prohibiting smoking in and around multi-unit residential buildings in Vallejo. Both tobacco and cannabis smoking would be banned inside all units, common areas accessible and used by residents or the public. Designated outdoor smoking areas would be allowed.

Cannabis advocates argued that the ban would hurt those who rely on smoking cannabis to ease chronic pain. The council voted 4-1 on May 11 to implement the ban. Arriola initially opposed it on May 11  but changed her vote on Tuesday. Both Mayor Robert McConnell and Councilmember Hakeem Brown, at large, recused themselves due to conflicts of interest. McConnell owns several rental properties while Brown owns and operates a cannabis business.

The action amends a city ordinance regulating smoking in public and workplaces. It declares secondhand smoke a “nuisance”' and empowers private citizens to initiate legal action to stop it, such as a lawsuit.

The council also approved amending the fiscal year 2021-22 capital improvement project budget for a police department relocation feasibility study.

Both McConnell and Arriola opposed the action, which moves $500,000 from the general fund to the police department headquarters project budget. The council directed city staff to begin looking at moving the police department headquarters to the current JFK library in the downtown area following community opposition to placing the police force inside a two-story building along the city’s waterfront.

Vallejo purchased the 400 Mare Island Way property for $13.5 million in early 2019 with the expressed intent of transforming it into a new police headquarters. A portion of the community opposed an idea that the city apply for a $30 million loan from the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (IBank), to fund design and retrofit work.  

The new study is expected to analyze whether the police force would fit in the library building, while also assessing the feasibility of moving the library into 400 Mare Island Way. City staff has previously said that the weight of books has a different impact on the structure of a building and the city would need to see what type of retrofit work would need to be completed at 400 Mare Island Way should it serve as a library. The study is tentatively expected to be completed in September.

In addition, the city council approved a second and final reading of an amendment to Vallejo’s fireworks ordinance, in an effort to deter the use of fireworks in the city.

Under the new ordinance, people caught using fireworks can be fined $1,000, plus pay for any costs the city incurred for disposing of the fireworks and emergency responses to unlawful use of fireworks. Also, the the host of any gathering where fireworks are set off will be liable for response costs.

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