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Green Gains, Financial Pains for City, Mayor Tells Chamber

Mayor Bill Jones listed key accomplishments and challenges for El Cerrito in his "State of the City" presentation Wednesday before the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce.

When Mayor Bill Jones gave an overview Wednesday of key issues and programs for El Cerrito in the future, first on the list was the soon-to-open El Cerrito Recycling Center.

"We're really proud of this," Jones told the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce  in a luncheon presentation described by the chamber as a "State of the City Address."

Jones announced that the rebuilt El Cerrito Recycling and Environmental Resource Center will have a formal opening on April 22, he said.

"Over 40 years ago when El Cerrito first started it, it was a novelty for a city, of our size anyway, to have its own recycling center," he said in his talk at the Mira Vista Golf and Country Club.

The new facility is built on the same site as the city's now-gone old Recycling Center, which began in 1971. It's located at the foot of an abandoned hillside rock quarry at 7501 Schmidt Lane.

The old one was "falling apart" and was not suited for present needs and recycling priorties, Jones said. He noted that it was designed in hopes winning the highest green rating, LEED Platinum. It features solar panels for power, recycled rainwater for flushing toilets and irrigation, and recycled building materials.

Another green accomplishment, he said, is the multi-city agreement to install solar power on municipal buildings. Last August, the Cty Council approved a to solicit bids to install solar power on 25 municipal buildings in the four cities.

Jones also welcomed the recent City Council approval, on Feb. 6, of the city purchase, using grant money chiefly, for new police and fire deparment radios, vehicle and base station for the new two-county public safety communications system known as the East Bay Regional Communication System (EBRCS).

El Cerrito is a founding partner in the system, which will allow police and public safety personnel to talk to each other directly on the same communication system during cross-jurisdictional crimes and other emergenices.

Under the current system, under which different police departments use different communications devices and systems, delayed responses can have critical consequences, he said.

"If there's a chase down San Pablo Avenue for some reason and it starts to go into Albany ..., our police have to call our dispatch and let them know the situation," Jones said. "Our dispatch has to call Albany's dispatch, tell them what's going on, and then Albany's dispatch gets that out into the police that are in the streets of Albany. And so, as you can see, as this car is speeding down, to try to get a coordinated program going and plan on how they're going to take care of this emergency goes through four stops."

When the new system becomes operational, "Albany will be able to talk directly to El Cerrito, street to street, officer to officer," he said.

The new system will increase the effectiveness of response to disasters, such as the devastating 1991 Oakland hills firestorm, he said. "In the aftermath of that was a series of reports on what went right and what wrong and what could be improved," Jones said. "At the very top of that was communication between agencies needs to be improved."

Another positive development is the on-going development of a new General Plan, bolstered by interim strategic plan efforts that provide policy guidance while the General Plan is being worked on, Jones said.

The problems confronting the city that Jones focused on were largely financial. He said the budget was "very tight" this year and that prospects for improvement in the coming fiscal year are not bright.

He said sales tax revenue, while not growing, is also not falling. Housing sales are up, but sale prices and assessed values have declined, which push revenues from property tax down, he said.

He also stressed that the city has "budgeted and continues to budget for full staffing" for public safety. "We have not decreased the amounts of police and fire on the streets," he said. He noted that there was a delay in staffing police because of the difficulty of replacing five officers retiring in the current year.

The city currently is holding three police positions vacant because the school district for three El Cerrito police officers assigned to El Cerrito High and Portola Middle schools is uncertain, according to City Manager Scott Hanin. If the school district doesn't continue funding for those officers in the next fiscal year beginning July 1, the department will need the three current vacant positions to make sure the three School Resource Officers can still be employed by the department, he said.

A major financial blow to the city, Jones said, was the loss of the city's Redevelopment Agency. The city is proceeding on the belief that it will be able to retain some of the funding and assets previously assigned to agency, he said, but city officials are aware that the future is .

The elimination of Redevelopment Agencies in California, effective Feb. 1, was approved by the Governor and state legislature last summer as part of the plan to balance the state budget. The state approved an escape clause that would let cities pay extra to keep their agency, but it was struck down by the state Supreme Court.

Jones also pointed to the city's so-far stymied hope to replace three old and out-grown public facilities: the public safety building housing the police and fire departments, the El Cerrito Library and the Senior Center. He said a lack of funding has prevented progress but that replacements remain a city priority.

Local Mom February 16, 2012 at 07:36 PM
So pleased he mentioned replacing the Library. That should be the city's #1 capital project priority.
Dorothy Coakley February 18, 2012 at 12:34 AM
As Bill (as a native son) knows, we dedicated the "new" police/fire department when I was in high school. Played flute in the band the day it was opened. The same library building was in use when I was going to Harding in the 1950s...so its much older. As for the senior center, well...it was "temporary" and is relatively recent maybe the 1970s? The senior center building is therefore the youngest of the bunch. (Go figure...) I rest my case. A new library building should trump. IMHO.

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