Mayor Janney: Property Value Increases Key to City’s Future

Rezoning for increased density, business permit applications and tourism focus of long-term goals to close looming budget deficits.

The City of Imperial Beach faces a $350,000 budget gap with the start of the new fiscal year July 1, and possibly a $1.5 million gap in the next two years.

City Council took immediate action on one of its short-term goals to incentivize staff to quit last Wednesday, and talked about the city’s long-term vision.

Mayor Jim Janney said Imperial Beach is already a “lean and mean” government and with possible state and federal tax increases, raising local taxes is not an option.

“If some of these employee incentives work, we are going to be at bare bones,” he said. “The disparity between our property tax revenue versus our sales tax, property tax revenues is much larger than sales tax. It is property value that drives those numbers.”

Janney said the city has to inspire property owners to do more with their land.

He said underutilized places to look are the 13th Street quarter, Palm Avenue, the north bay front and the west side of 7th Street that could hold more density if rezoned.

He said there is no motivation for current and prospective owners to move forward with rehab of old property or construction of new property.

“I think we should look at some of the zoning changes that would fit in the corridors that would not affect single-family residential areas,” he said. “We need a real bang for our buck here in these times.”

Councilman Ed Spriggs supported Janney and said with the public safety budget being the “guerilla in the room” that the city had difficult decisions to make. He said council really needs to grow a larger local economy and tax base.

He said at a recent economical development presentation the core point was identifying the city’s major assets and investing around them.

“Ours is in tourism, specifically manifested around the new hotel,” said Spriggs. “Every community needs to decide on where its growth engine is and who its anchor tenants are.”

He said along with the Port of San Diego the city has put out millions of dollars into the waterfront area and that is where investment is necessary. Spriggs said not to take a “scatter gun approach,” but to be strategic and focus efforts likely to have the best return.

“We know through our ecotourism study that tourism and ecotourism are keys to our growth,” Spriggs said. “The tourism environment also improves our quality of life because we can use some of those same amenities in this community. It is a clean industry and something we should all be thinking about more seriously.”

Spriggs said he was not looking to rezone Seacoast Drive, but to focus on what is available to work with around the hotel.

“This is not an area that we have had a consensus as a council,” he said.

Spriggs said businesses he spoke with would like to see the city streamline permit applications to get their businesses operating.

“That is what is going to drive filling in those lots, but we have to do as much as we can to attract more people coming in,” he said. “I think we need to listen to what the businesses are saying.”

Councilman Jim King said this is hard now because redevelopment was the city’s “basket of tools.”

“It is also the question of putting all of your eggs in one basket, and I don’t think we should do that either,” he said. “We are not on the decline, financially we are, but as far as Imperial Beach being a place to go, people love this place.”

Long-term goals was a discussion item only, no actions were taken.

Councilmember Brian Bilbray was absent.

To see all recommendations by city staff, see agenda item 6.3 on the attached agenda.

Earlier in the meeting, council unanimously approved a Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP) to create vacancies, providing flexibility to restructure city staff. VSIP offers a cash payment based on years of service and offered to all fulltime positions with the exception of city managers, finance director and fire safety positions.

Approved employees with 10 years of less receive $7,500, 11-19 years—$12,000 and 20 years plus—$20,000.

The city will pay $501 per month for a year to cover those under the city’s health plan, and $240 per month for those not.

Additionally law required the payment of vacation and sick leave where applicable.

Capped at $250,000 these onetime expenditures will be paid with contingency reserves. City staff said it is too early to give a savings estimate until it knows how many participate.


After Rooftop Jumps, ‘Superdell’ Prompts Ultralight Vehicle Restriction

Council limits flight rights after a flying sports buff paraglided off a rooftop beach property.

Considered by some the best paragliding pilot on earth, world champion Dell ”Superdell” Schanze recently took flight from a rooftop patio adjacent to the hotel replacing the Seacoast Inn.

Though Imperial Beach has no control over a person taking off from residential properties, the City Council tightened restrictions Wednesday night in an attempt to discourage incidents on city property.

Fire Capt. Tom Clark, director of the Public Safety Department, said passing the two ordinances prohibits anyone with ultralight vehicles from landing or taking off from public property—specifically beaches, parks and city streets.

It does not cover private property, but flights from residential buildings still break Federal Aviation Association rules and regulations.

The FAA handled the incident as an administrative citation. Clark said the incident happened on a weekend three weeks ago after Schanze conducted his first paragliding ground training class.

With Councilman Brian Bilbray absent, the council unanimously approved the ordinances, the first being an interim urgency ordinance that took effect immediately.

Clark said an ultralight vehicle is a person suspended or in a fuselage of an aircraft that is able to take off horizontally.

“Paragliders are a newer vehicle, and our current definition did not address that,” he said. “We have created a broad definition that lines up with the FAA’s definition.”

He said Schanze, the World Powered Paragliding Association Paramotor world champion, was aware of this loophole and the city was unable to deal with him directly on this violation.

“This ordinance gives us the ability to deal with him immediately, send back his application for a business license and having a school here and then refund his business license fee,” said Clark.

Attempts to contact Schanze for comment were unsuccessful.

Anything off the ground is under the control of the Naval Outlying Landing Field Imperial Beach tower.

Schanze was here conducting a four- to five-day ground school, Clark said.

Clark said that along with the lifeguard captain they discussed the requirements of the ground school with Schanze, and his class was limited to ground only training, but over the weekend, Schanze jumped off the rooftop patio of a rental property.

He also conducted powered air operations north of Camp Surf near U.S. Navy land, an issue Clark said the Navy took up with Schanze.

“If he lands on our beach, then we can have this ordinance in place,” Clark said.

“He plans another flight training class here in May and looks to establish a business in Imperial Beach. We have narrow beaches, we have construction and congestion with buildings and people and FAA regulations restrict him from flying near buildings, water and people. Then we have to determine whether it was an emergency landing: did he do it safely and then make the decision whether we do the administrative process or not.”

Clark said Schanze’s ground school is designed primarily to teach people to handle the winds without leaving the ground.

But in his application, Schanze wanted short glides towards the ocean, to fly to the Coronado Islands and the ability to fly out from any residential home in the city, according to Clark.

“Mr. Schanze is a unique individual,” Clark said. “He is a Libertarian, as he doesn’t like to follow the rules and regulations. He has a history of jumping off large buildings as a BASE jumper and parachutist. This is his latest venture.”

Schanze Base-jumped from the 125-foot historical Astoria Column in Oregon June 2011, resulting in his arrest. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, he has also had run-ins with the law in Utah.

Councilman Ed Spriggs said he frequently sees ultralight vehicles in the morning flying near his home at the south end of Seacoast Drive.

Clark said a loophole exists. When Ream Field is not in operation and in FAA controlled airspace, one could probably fly down at the end of Seacoast Drive in the unoccupied building area.

All flights must be approved by the FAA.

He said the only thing to do is to gather the person’s name, take pictures of the vehicle and forward it to the FAA.

Southwestern College to Take Contractors to Court

Following release of the college’s own external audit, the Governing Board announced Wednesday evening the college district will file lawsuits against fired contractors.

After a closed session meeting Wednesday evening, the Southwestern College Governing Board announced plans to file suit against Seville Construction Services, BCA Architects, Echo Pacific and employees throughout as defendants.

Governing Board President Norma Hernandez said the board gave direction to legal council to initiate litigation.

“The substance of the litigation will include challenge to the procurement of contracts related to the corner lot project and conduct related thereto,” she said. “The vote was unanimous.”

Investigators raided the homes of SWC former trustees Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez March 20. One week later, former vice-president of business and financial affairs Nicholas Alioto and Dana Grimes, defense attorney for BCA Architect Paul Bunton appeared before Judge Michael Smyth March 26.

Charged with two felonies, perjury and filing false instrument and one misdemeanor of wrongful influence, Alioto plead not guilty to all charges.

If convicted on all charges, Alioto faces a maximum of four years and two months in prison and a $10,000 fine. He was booked and released April 1 and is scheduled for status report on May 18.

Grimes submitted a written admission of guilty to one misdemeanor charge of aiding in the commission of a misdemeanor. Awarded a $55 million contract in April 2010 for architectural services for SWC’s corner lot project, Bunton faces a maximum of six months in jail and fines up to $1,000. The court set a sentencing date of June 19.

Henry Amigable, former Gilbane/SGI employee in the SUHSD investigation, plea bargained his case and similarly plead guilty to a misdemeanor count avoiding felony charges of offering a bribe and obtaining a thing of value to influence a member of a legislative body. Amigable is due in court for sentencing June 22 and faces up to six month in jail and $1,000 in fines.

Hired as program director by Seville Construction Services, Inc. in March 2009, Amigable was the firm’s program manager when awarded a five-year, $2.75 million contract for program management services for the college’s corner lot project in November 2009.

In addition to evidence collected by the DA’s investigation leading to search warrants and charges, SWC’s current Governing Board approved the hire of independent forensic auditor Scott Seo of Seo Consulting, Inc.

In April 2011, to perform a focused special review involving the award of contracts related to Prop R and the activities of the Southwestern College Foundation. Governing Hernandez said the board is fully cooperating with the DA’s office and released its own internal audit on March 14.

Seo reported documentation stating selection of firms awarded contracts was inadequate and the price negotiation processes “took place in a vacuum and lacked transparency.” He stated there was not enough documentation to verify Seville’s contract and that the governing board did not have sufficient information provided to recommend the highest bid out of three finalists for program management.

In investigating the $4 million corner lot project awarded to Echo Pacific, Seo reported that the construction company had an unfair advantage in its revised cost proposal and there was no mention of the lower cost proposal of Barnhart Balfour-Beatty, who was awarded the construction management at risk contract for the college’s Central Plan/Field House.

Chris Rowe of Echo obtained a trip to Napa Valley by bidding $15,000 at the Southwestern College Foundation Gala “Havana Nights” held in March 2010.

Donated by BCA and advertised as “a weekend of golf and wine tasting in the beautiful Napa Valley” with Vice President Nicholas Alioto, Seo reported Rowe, Bunton, Alioto and Amigable went the weekend of June 25, 2010. This trip came immediately after initial RFP deadline and prior to revised proposals on June 30, 2010 and Echo’s corner lot contract.

With a new plan in place, Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish announced the governing board postponed all corner-lot construction for one year to redevelop the college’s infrastructure before sending out new RFPs. Part of the plan is to complete the corner lot parcel 10 years earlier than the original plan.

“This is part of our commitment to ensure the public’s money is used appropriately,” she said.

Bob Temple, interim vice president of business and finance said the approximate $8 million spent is largely work completed and moving the project completion date earlier will bring a significant savings to the college.

“I believe that to the extent that the projects are being completed sooner, any cost that have been spent to date will be recuperated with the dollars that will be saved by expediting the project,” he said. “Only the corner lot has been stopped. The work on the central plant and field house and other projects are still going forward.”

Layoffs, Sports Park Shutdown Called Options to Close I.B. Budget Gap

Council hears staff, union and resident advice amid possible shortfall of $1.5 million over two years.

Hoping to avoid layoffs and a possible shutdown of the new Sports Park, city leaders Wednesday night discussed ways to close a budget gap of at least $777,000 over the next two years.

City Manager Gary Brown asked council members to seek new ways to cut costs and raise revenues ahead of the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

Brown said staff is looking at minimum deficits of $327,000 for fiscal 2012 and $450,000 for fiscal 2013—but indicated those amounts could double if things don’t work out with public safety negotiations.

“Like most governments, a big chunk of our expenses in the range of 70 to 80 percent are in staff,” Brown told the council.

Besides layoffs, he said money-saving options include offering incentives for early retirement or separation and eliminating or reducing staff positions performing redevelopment functions.

Mayor Jim Janney said he said he could not support layoffs at this time. He called the budget goal is a hard target to hit, because it keeps changing and tough decisions are necessary.

“I would support the idea of coming up with an incentive program to see if there are members of the staff that would be willing to move on,” Janney said.

Imperial Beach residents and a local union rep opposed the prospect of pink slips.

David Garcias, president of the Service Employees International Union, encouraged the council to look at some of these costs as smart business people.

He said a large share of the council audience were Sports Park employees concerned about losing their jobs. Garcias urged the council to review fee structures of other cities and look at doing the same in Imperial Beach without eliminating the current structure.

“Sports Park plays a vital role in the community to the kids in the community,” Garcias said. “Shutting it down would cause worse problems than it would solve.”

I.B. resident Stephanie Kinnamon said she is proud of how the council turned the city’s image around, but said closing the budget gap on the “backs of children and seniors is appalling.”

“You do not want to obliterate your community and make it less desirable,” she said. “There are lots of ways to make up these funds, and looking at your list you have plenty of good ideas to make up these losses of funds in the short-term.”

Councilman Ed Spriggs said rather than cutting expenses by whole departments staff needs to talk with all constituents with a specific monetary goal in mind.

“Leave to the people that know the programs the best to do it, and see what their recommendations are,” he said.

Janney said he believed that agenda items seemed misrepresented and the ideas behind staff’s recommendations were not necessarily an all-or-nothing decision.

With Councilwoman Lorie Bragg absent, the council agreed to delay talks on long-term solutions to the April 20 meeting.  (Other options are listed in attached PDF from staff report to the council.)

After two hours of discussion and several recommendations from council members, the council directed staff to examine the following proposals.

  • Offer early retirement/separation packages for city employees and continue negotiations with city safety services
  • Work with all Park and Recreation services with a predetermined cut in expenses and seeing what each program can do to reach that goal.
  • Negotiate with Little League officials to take back maintenance of the ball park and possibly charging fees for out-of-town users.
  • Continue negotiations to take part in the Big Bay Boom 2012 countywide Fourth of July fireworks but not eliminate the city’s pier portion of the event.
  • Look at the possibility of controlling vacation rentals on Seacoast Drive in a designated area, increasing Transient Occupancy Tax revenues.
  • Increase parking enforcement, and study the feasibility of adding parking meters.
  • Sell advertising space on lifeguard towers, ball field fences and other city facilities.
  • Look at temporarily suspending the public relations contract and revamping its long-term goals.
  • Hire an agency to boost collection of parking ticket fines.
  • Offer city staff the option of taking additional furlough days throughout the year.

City Manager Brown said council’s recommendations his rough estimates of savings is $230,000 to $375,000 and staff will come back to council after reviewing with latest figures and new recommendations.

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