Tuesday night's City Council meeting was an interesting mix of celebration and tragedy. The opening segment featured the winners of the Anaheim Beautiful Christmas Lights contest, and it was incredible to see the efforts folks put into their homes, even with the economy being the way it is. See the winners at http://www.anaheim.net/article.asp?id=2084
Once the awards were given, the frustration began. Anaheim faces a $6 million budget shortfall this year. Of that $6mil, half of it will be cut from Community Services, which manages parks, libraries, etc. The head of Community Services, Terry Lowe, is a good man, who truly cares about his staff and his community, and this has to be killing him. Terry understands his payroll is not made up of numbers on employee badges, but names, and people, and families, and mortgages, and at this time of year, Christmas presents. Members of the unions who represent our employees packed the Chambers, begging for their jobs. Members of the community came to speak about how hard these people work. I do not think anyone in that room is saying that staff does not deserve their jobs, everyone gets how hard they work. The issue is how to cover those paychecks once they are written. Six million bucks is a lot of change to scrounge out of the couch cushions, and I do not envy the City Council, or the Department heads right now. Everyone wants to keep these folks working, the frustration is funding the funds. Kudos to City Council for stopping to respond to Public Comments, and reassure these workers that they are not cutting willy-nilly.
Then the frustration really began. For decades our Redevelopment staff has been issuing Rehab Loans, to homeowners in need of money for improvements. The loans carry a low interest rate, and are "silent seconds", paid back at the time of refinance or sale of the property. As the loans are repaid, the money is cycled into more loans, which regenerates improvements in perpetuity. But at least three of our Council members instructed staff to look into shifting the loans into grants. They wanted to give away home improvements valued at $10k each, to homeowners whose properties had a "high percentage of code and graffitti problems."
Eventually the fund would be depleted, in an economic environment when that money will not be replaced by other sources. Council members Kring, Hernandez, and Sidhu all copped to suggesting this, which surprised me since it sounded like a Galloway scheme. I admit it, I fear for our City when Curt Pringle leaves, as he was the only one who caught this insanity, pulled it from the Consent Calendar, and wrestled it to the ground before killing it.
It would be kind of fun if we could figure out how to take those Community Service employees, many of whom specialize in laying sod, planting trees, painting buildings, fixing lights, and put them to work improving the neighborhoods that need the rehab money.