Jim is committed to changing Belvedere’s City Government. Here are some of the problems he will work to solve. Please see the next page for Jim’s solutions to these problems.
1. The Planning Department is in desperate need of reform. Why?
A. The Department is neither accountable nor customer friendly. This is not a subjective opinion; a city sponsored study 5 years ago showed wide-spread dissatisfaction among those who had just built or remodeled their homes with the Department. The Planning Department has failed to make substantive changes since the release of the study. As a result, things have gotten worse, not better, over the past five years.
B. The Department is overstaffed and highly paid. Currently, the Planning Department of Belvedere, population 2,000, is more expensive than Mill Valley’s Planning Department, population 13,300. According to the 2009 Belvedere Financial Report, the Planning Department receives more funding ($1,447,646) than Police ($1,423,375) and Fire Departments ($1,012,688) (according to the City of Belvedere’s Statement of Activities and Changes in Net Assets for the fiscal year that ended in June 2009). While some form of Planning Department is necessary, the current Department’s number of employees, high pension, health care, and salary costs come at the expense of our municipal budget, and by extension, taxpayers.
C. Overall, the Planning Department is too involved in the lives of Belvedere homeowners. For example, if a homeowner does not want “earth tones” as the paint color for a remodel, the homeowner has to request approval from design review and a non-refundable fee of at least $500.
2. The combination of an overzealous Planning Department, permitting fees, and arbitrary fines make it harder to build and renovate in Belvedere, which in turn lowers property values for everybody and discourages families from purchasing property.
A. In 2004-2006 study, Belvedere was #1 in America for the cities with the highest cost per building permit according to an online survey.
B. Planning employees are infamous for being inconsistent and keen on imposing fines. In fact, city employees have an incentive to issue fines because fines are already factored into the budget before they are levied. If police captains established similar traffic ticket quotas in their budgets before actually issuing tickets , they would be fired.
C. There is little to no recourse for homeowners when the Planning Department overreaches its boundaries.
3. Collectively, the City Council is not spending taxpayer money wisely.
A. An employee of Planning and Development is also the principal of Code Source/Code Green in Sebastopol, a company that directly benefits from a business relationship with the Planning Department. This constitutes a clear conflict of interest.
B. In 2005, the City entered into a $400,000 home loan agreement with its City Manager at an annual interest rate of 2.38%. At the time, this was a better rate than comparable interest rates available on the market.
C. For a town of 2,000, the City overpays its current City Manager. In 2008, the Belvedere City Manager made $212,520. Fairfax, with a population of 7,500, paid its City Manager $149,312. Larkspur, with a population of 12,000, paid its City Manager $208,704. San Anselmo, with a population of 12,400, paid its City Manager $193,295. All of those Marin cities had much larger populations but paid their city manager less. For comparison, Debra Figone, the city manager of San Jose, population 948,000, was paid $248,000 for the last fiscal year. Senator Dianne Feinstein has a government salary of $174,000.
4. Current members of the City Council have not been addressing these problems. A new and independent voice is needed.