City Recommends Police & Fire Cuts, Library Closure. (But it’s not San Carlos…)

February 23, 2010

…It's Burlingame.

In a stunning announcement yesterday, the City of Burlingame proposed sweeping cuts in its public safety sector, a library closure, and slashing all department budgets as it wrestles to close a significant budget deficit.   It's estimated that these cuts will save the City approximately $2.4M in the current fiscal year, which ends in June, and another $4.4M in the coming fiscal year according to this article in the San Mateo County Times.  The public safety cuts call for police department layoffs, and the closure of one of Burlingame's fire stations.   Hmmmm.

Deja Vu?  Almost…

Wow.   You could just about substitute “San Carlos” for “Burlingame” in this article, and you wouldn't miss the mark by much.   In some ways, that's not a surprise because the cities are so similar in many ways — geography, demographics, and even their downtown shopping areas.     Many home buyers often mention the two cities in the same breath when they talk about desirable communities to live in.

Here are some of the cuts that are being proposed by Burlingame.  Note how eerily similar they are to what San Carlos is currently contemplating:

  • Close the Easton Branch library
  • Close Fire Station 36 on Rollins Road, lay off 3 firefighters.
  • Reduce police force from 29 to 25 sworn officers through layoffs and attrition.
  • Staff cuts in Public Works, Park and Recreation Departments.

There is one area were the two cities seem to differ in their proposed budget cuts…

City Hall Feels the Pain.

The budget knife that will cut through Burlingame will not bypass City Hall.   In one of the more interesting twists, the proposal calls for a 12% reduction in pay to City Manager Jim Nantell, and a 10% cut in City Council pay.   This is interesting because Nantell, along with Finance Director Jesus Nava, were the ones who unveiled this plan in the first place.

With the current San Carlos City Council stipend of $300/month, cutting 10% out of our City Council pay would barely buy lunch in downtown San Carlos, let alone solve our budget crisis.   And frankly speaking, for the amount of time and effort involved being a Council Member, they are severely underpaid anyway.  It's worth noting that Councilman Andy Klein has already volunteered to return his entire stipend just to help the cause.

Some will give all, all will give some…

In reality, City Manager Jim Nantell's $4,310 pay cut is also a “drop in the bucket” in the big picture of Burlingame's budget woes (although it's probably a pretty big deal to him, understandably.)  After all, it comes out to a whopping 0.098% of the overall budget cut.  But the symbolism here is huge, and is something that will not be overlooked by residents of San Carlos since it's an area where the two cities seem to differ in their approach to solving a common problem.

Unless I am mistaken (and I'd be happy to print a correction to this assumption) none of the cuts that are being proposed by San Carlos affect the payroll of the City Manager nor his direct staff.    The perception of many San Carlos residents is that City Hall is coming out of this painful exercise completely unscathed, while in Burlingame at least everyone is giving something to the cause.  Or in other words, they're ALL putting a few drops in that bucket.


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  1. Arn Cenedella on February 23, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    I have consistently written about the need to reduce government spending both locally and on the State and Federal level. This run-away government spending has created massive defecits that negatively impact our nation’s economy and security.
    I have also consistently asserted that people employed by the government should NOT BE EXEMPT from our current economic situation. People who work in private industry have been laid off, required to work harder and longer for the same or less pay, have had salary and wages reduced, have had benefits cut. During this recession, governement employment has actually continued to increase while private employment has dropped. People in private industry are working harder than ever as numbers in their departments are reduced. Something is out of whack here. We, the people, DO NOT work to support government employees. Government employees should not be exempt from thae pain many private employees feel.
    It is good to see Burlingame City manager recognize this fact and not exempt himself for a pay reduction. San Carlos City employees should do the same.
    The problem is we have the “fox guarding the hen house” – the City staff responsible for salaries and employee costs have NO incentive to reduce the size of their departments or their own salaries.
    People need to stop saying YES to every tax issue that comes on the ballot. No government organzations will EVER reduce personnel expense unless forced to do so.
    Bravo to Burlingame staff. San Carlos city staff should do the same.
    I can certainly say our City Manager is not immune from the current economic slowdown. Many San Carlos families are having to live on less income, City staff should do not same.

  2. JJ on February 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Perhaps this news will dampen the fear that SC prop values will plunge b/c of the refusal of its ” foolish” residents to approve a tx increase. Cities in Ca & all over the US are in the same situation b/c their governments overspent for yrs & residents, now strapped for cash, are saying “Enough.”

    P.S: The only times I hear SC & Burlingame mentioned in the same breath is as follows: “I really wanted to live in Burlingame but couldn’t afford it, so I settled for a house in San Carlos.”

  3. Michael on February 23, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Arn and JJ, I agree; the truly foolish people were the lemmings that voted for Measure U. The politicians try to train the public into thinking we have to give more and more to sustain our quality of life so they can keep spending.

    If government spent as many of us do, they would figure out how to make the money they have go as far as possible. the attitude of “it’s not my money” has got to stop.

    I spend my company’s money as if it were my own; more people and the namely the government employees, must do the same.

    I’d love to hear the rationale for taking more and more money out of our pockets and expect it to help the local economy unless it’s absolutely necessary.

    Mr Weiss, we are waiting for your response.

  4. PRM on February 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    If you please, those of us with whom you disagree would apppreciate your keeping the insults to yourself (i.e., “foolish lemmings”). Thank you in advance for polite consideration toward your fellow citizens.

  5. Another JJ on February 23, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    So let me see if I’ve got this straight…opponents to Measure U suggested San Carlos’s budget shortfalls were the result of incompetent city managers making bad decisions….so when a comparable city experiences similar budget issues the natural conclusion is…Measure U was foolish? I’d think a much more appropriate conclusion is that despite what you heard from Measure U opponents, our budget woes aren’t solely attributable to mismanagement within San Carlos. Other factors are at play that have hit “model” cities like Burlingame.

    The other key takeaway is what Chuck already highlights in his post. It was politically foolish of the city to pursue a tax measure like Measure U before making a symbolic gesture of sacrifice. The City Manager sacrificing $5k is a drop in the bucket and makes no meaningful impact on the budget, but it communicates that everyone is in it together, which goes far at the ballot box. It even got Arn to say “bravo to Burlingame”…

  6. Terri on February 23, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Yesterday, Craig Baker the school Superintendent, issued a statement detailing the drastic cuts that he is proposing. This includes a significant reduction to the district staff including his admin assistant. It was so refreshing to see transperency and honesty in his proposal, including his current impasse with the teacher’s union regarding an effort to reduce compensation benefits. Mind you, the school district is 2.2$ mil in the hole.
    Now contrast the zilch coming out of our City Hall! The best idea is to sell Crestview Park and the Community Center on Chestnut St.

  7. Michael on February 23, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Don’t forget the $900,000 accounting error in the school district budget after passing the school parcel tax…still no real explanation or who exactly was responsible (or if any heads rolled on that one).

    I think we are all aware of the state’s role in EVERY city’s budget woes, but let’s focus on the people we have trusted to MANAGE our city, ALL issues considered. Clearly, some cities are fairing better than others. Plus, I think we all agree, it could be much worse here in San Carlos and hopefully we will not see just how bad it can get.

    And my apologies to the lemmings, et al. It was directed to the people I spoke with (and those of the same mind) who were clearly voting based on the hype of armagaedon. Others that voted yes perhaps looked at it as a potential fix-all. Curious as to why any on this blog voted yes. Both views (I believe) are flawed. Very simply, handing more money over to a government that shows no interest in sharing the pain is no way to spend any of our hard-earned dollars. Afterall, we passed the parcel tax for our schools and look what happened there?

    Let’s stop the local spending snowball before it rolls over all of us (Unless the much bigger FEDERAL snowball beats it to us).

  8. Another JJ on February 23, 2010 at 10:09 pm


    I think one reason you struggle to understand why anyone would vote yes on Measure U is you have a knack for mixing and matching comparisons.

    Here are some examples:

    1) $900k accounting error — clearly that was disturbing….but did the $900k accounting error actually change the reality of the school districtbudget? No it didn’t…it just changed the timing of when the district was aware of the hole.

    2) Parcel tax…you seem to think it did no good b/c the school district has a deficit; that’s not an appropriate comparison; it’s not like the choice was between a school parcel tax and a balanced budget. The reality is without the parcel tax the budget deficit would be even larger and more extreme

    Regarding Measure U, I too am disappointed that local government didn’t do more to demonstrate a spirit of sharing costs (like Burlingame). But if you remove emotion from the equation, ask yourself this…what is the bigger cost:
    a) $50 on every $10,000 of sales tax eligbile expenses in San Carlos
    b) massive cuts in police, fire, parks & recreation + potential incremental fees (e.g., parking meters/enforcement) + potential declines in home values from higher crime, less parks, etc.

    Reasonable people may have different answers to that question. But for my money, the risk of b) far outweighed the known costs of a).

  9. Michael on February 23, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Another JJ,

    I truly believe that as long as we keep agreeing with our local government that raising taxes is the solution, we will continue to be faced with passing more costs (to us) so our government can spend more.

    These parcel taxes, measures, propositions, proposals, etc don’t seem to have a reliable framework.
    I think that if Measure U passed, we would still be discussing further cuts. It does not ever seem to have an “ending” point.

    Frankly, I would not be surprised if the $900,000 school deficit was kept under cover until the latest parcel tax went through, Then, after “discovering” it when they did, we would be so worn down to renew the about-to-expire former school parcel tax out of desperation (since of course, we are already paying it, so it’s not really more money out of our pockets, right?).

    Pennies out of our pocket at a time turn into dollars. For all the money we have all elected to throw into the pot, it seems we are no better off (probably far worse) than we were before. Convince me that whatever fix is put in front of me will be a viable solution instead of part of a shopping list of “causes” we are all so compelled to fall victim to.

  10. Another JJ on February 23, 2010 at 11:22 pm


    I certainly sympathize with the big government rhetoric and am all for eliminating waste. The problem is, the cuts I’m reading about (police staff, firehouses, parks, youth center) don’t strike me as excess waste as all. In fact, those strike me as pretty important quality of life and safety expenditures within our community. So here is my challenge to you, Matt Grocott, or whoever please specifically identify the $3.5 MM of waste to cut. If Measure U and increased revenue isn’t the answer, then let’s cut to the chase and hear the details. What should we be cutting. We hear the same platitudes about big government or no taxes or live within means…many people agree with those thoughts in spirit but it’s time to move the debatebeyond rhetoric and into action. It would also be helpful if this exercise is grounded in some sort of reality (i.e., fire everyone at City Hall vs. based on comparables, here’s what can afford to go at City Hall).

  11. Reuben on February 23, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    Perhaps it’s not so surprisingly that Burlingame has found themselves in such a hole. Given every California municipality’s over-dependence upon sales tax receipts, the Burlingame revenue base is under assault as folks just aren’t buying as many Porsches from Rector or Barcelona chairs from Design Within Reach!

  12. michael on February 24, 2010 at 12:24 am

    AJJ < I don't think Matt Grocott appreciates your slam, nor do I. He clearly has no friends on the council in spite of some of his substantive ideas (ie the utility tax). I have never used the words big government and my views are not rhetoric. Cuts have to come in smaller pieces instead of Big chunks (out of your pocket and mine) of revenue to solve the problems. They will add up. So far, I have seen no give and take on behalf of the city and that's where I have a problem.

    Cuts to city employees' pay HAVE to happen; not pay cuts to future employees who have yet to be hired. But kudos to Andy Klein for foregoing his stipend. Any other volunteers????

    Hometown Days is a luxury and not enjoyed by all in San Carlos. We got along for years without a Farmers Market and if there are costs involved that the city shoulders, cut it…non-essential. The art and wine festival…NON-essential. The tree lighting ceremony…cut; Why do we have a flashing red light FOR YEARS at the intersection of Laurel and Holly? Waste…there is a cost involved there and why is a stop sign not adequate if they never plan to activate it?

    The Senior Center…if those who use it can't pay to support it, sell it. Our seniors already get preferential treatment when it comes to new taxes, not to mention the token property taxes they pay if they've owned their homes since 1973; They should have banked enough money to kick in $30-$40 a month to be memebers…just like a senior gym, right?

    The youth center…if parents can't afford childcare or provide afterschool entertainment for their kids, too bad; sell it. We never had youth centers growing up…we went home, we did our homework, we had dinner, had friends over…WHY DO WE NEED THIS?

    I have kicked in for these and many other programs/events, etc and never used them, yet I still pay and others enjoy them…let them pay for them, otherwise, they go. When did people start to expect the city to entertain them at the city's cost?

    Library costs…cut the hours to bare bones…many people have computers and other resources and if they want to use the library, schedule your day around it. Every school has some sort of library resource, so above and beyond is a luxury.

    Darken some street lights…BRILLIANT. Foist yet more work onto the over-worked police department when our neighborhoods will welcome thieves, vandals and delinquents.

    Agree or disagree with my ideas, but they are better than over and over forcing more responsibility on the citizens of San Carlos, when the responsibility is the office of the city manager…let him manage and that includes figuring out what we can do without.

    With my $11,000 in property taxes each year, should we all have to continue to get nickel and dimed by the city, not getting the BASIC services that SHOULD already be incuded?

  13. Michael on February 24, 2010 at 1:23 am

    …plus, we, the citizens of San Carlos are already PAYING the city manager and his staff to MANAGE the city. None of us should be burdoned with having to come up with ideas to run this city. So much for paying to recruit top talent (unless $250k is considered secondary compensation)…I can see where that got us.

  14. Another JJ on February 24, 2010 at 3:23 am


    I don’t believe I “slammed” Matt Grocott or you — that certainly wasn’t the intent. Rather, I was just trying to bring the dialogue away from general beliefs on taxes and government spending to the details of what must go since Measure U didn’t pass. I think that’s an entirely fair and appropriate question — do you disagree? And I’m not clear why it’s a problem to direct that question to Matt Grocott or others that were against Measure U.

    Thank you for addressing the question and providing a list of things you cut. Here’s what I saw in your post: stipends, Hometown Days, Farmer’s Market, Lighting Ceremony, Art/Wine Festival, Flashing Red Light, Senior Center, Youth Center, and Library. I don’t disagree with that list, as that sounds less critical than the police, fire, and parks cuts on the list (although, I would note that if you think turning street lights off is a bad idea b/c it could strain the police force, closing the youth center may not help the cause either).

    But here’s the tricky part — how much in savings does that collectively represent? I suspect the first half of that list barely makes a dent. Overall does that list even cover 1/3 of what’s needed?

  15. Bill on February 24, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Michael, great list of proposed cuts and I agree with all. But JJ is right, they dont amount to much. Police/Fire represent the majority of city spending and thus need the biggest reform. Heres my list: explore options for consolidating services with other municipalities. Cap or eliminate runaway overtime pay. Bring retirement benefits in line with private sector. Establish more efficient “medical services response team” in lieu of fire department (70% of fire department calls are for medical aid, which is a hugely inefficient waste of resources). Start penalizing residents who waste police/fire time with nuisance calls–repeat offenders calling about barking dogs, lost kitties, frequent “chest pains”, etc. Bill businesses who attract a disproportionate amount of crime–Jack in the Box, Home Depot, downtown bars and the like. All common sense steps that would save real money, but the unions won’t like them.

  16. Iamnoone on February 24, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    I agree that the “common sense” approach is to move towards “pay for use”. If people do not feel the cost of their actions and behaviors, they will not change their behavior accordingly. The City of Tracy is putting up a brave proposal to bill for services that unfortunately is being criticized out of hand.

  17. Anonymous on February 24, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    AJJ, I know my ideas are not the solution, but don’t you think that these few things should be cut to further reduce spending? They may be a small part of the solution, but they will continue to cost the city money until they are cut or alternative ways to fund them can be found. And if the youth center closes, when do parents step in to hold up their responsibilities as parents raising their children? I am aware we cannot legislate responsibility, but until we stop implimenting “crutch” babysitting programs for parents who perhaps were never equipped to be parents in the first place, where does it start?

    Bill, good ideas as well and as I said, enough fixes, big and small, can add up to a solution. Does the city see that we untrained, pedestrian citizens can come up with substantive ideas? Can they show us that they are worth the money we are paying them by coming up with more solutions and making the cuts necessary to survive this current crisis?

    I think that if the unions can’t see that lowering pay and benefits while keeping their members employed is a better solution than putting some of them on the street, there should be a way to disband them and the members should speak up. Afterall, as far as I understand (and having been a former union member), they all still receive their full compensation whether I walk a picket line, get laid off or not. Unions need to reinvent themselves to conform to the times. Shouldn’t our city leaders be equipped to deal with these unions and if they are not, we need to find people who do know how to negotiate with them (if that is possible).

  18. C on February 24, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Bill is correct. During Mayor Randy Royce’s recent “State of the City” talk at Hiller Museum – and now on the City Web SIte Home Page, the Mayor said that 52% of the General Fund are Police & Fire expenses – and when you add in Parks & Recreation (18%) – those three departments make up 70% of the total. So it’s not too surprising that we’re hearing about potential cuts in Police and Parks & Recreation as part of making up the City’s $3.5 Million General Fund budget gap.

    The December City Council meeting (see has an agenda item that has suggested cuts from all departments. To Bill’s comment on Fire, that is a bit interesting. The paragraph from the Fire Chief in this report from the City suggests that any cut that San Carlos would make to the Fire Department actually increases expenses. Hmm….

    There’s also an agenda item from that December Council meeting (again on that covers the Fire Department and does discuss concepts to reduce Fire costs – including something along the lines of a medical services response team that Michael mentions – along with contracting with neighboring agencies (San Mateo, Cal Fire, Redwood City, Menlo Park, etc.). It’s worth a read.

  19. PRM on February 24, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Your tone toward parents is offensive; it was parents that raised a good portion of the funds to construct and endow the youth center in the first place and of course there is upset at the possibility that that may all now be for naught. If that is not demonstrative of parents taking responsibility for their children then I don’t know what is. A household of two income-earning (and hence tax-paying) adults could hardly be defined as ill-equipped to be parents.

  20. AL B. on February 24, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    The bottom line is the City has done a poor job of saving money over the years. Some cities like Foster City and Menlo Park have HUGE reserves. Most cities have reserves that could cover their shortfalls, but refuse to use it because they deem it for emergencies only. However, they continue to spend money foolishly. Now they are forced to make cuts that can and will impact us all. By no means do I think someone should lose their jobs, but if need be, the majority of cuts need to administration positions. Someone told me the City has THREE city managers. Does a city of our size really need three when most cities only have one maybe two? I know that is only one small example, but it’s a start. On the flip side I also think residents of San Carlos have been pampered by the city and maybe now is the time for all of us to pay for some of these items. Don’t be fooled, we will all pay for these shortfalls one way or the other. We need to start holding ALL our elected officials responsible for the fiscal decisions they make.

  21. Anonymous on February 24, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Clearly not refering to parents such as yourself PRM. I think you know the type to whom I am referring. Although your children may use the youth center, however, the city cannot afford to support it any longer. I think it was a flaw that any private funds were raised to start it in the first place, since now that we are at this point, there are sore feelings that it may close.

    It is a perfect illustration that the city entered into a venture it could not sustain. It’s not a basic need and does not generate revenue, so it should never have been built.

  22. PRM on February 24, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I can only speak for myself but I think many parents would support a pay-for-use business model to keep the youth center open; the question is whether or not city leaders have in the past or will now be willing to spend time and effort to find such a solution, rather than elect to just close the doors and have another vacant space at Burton Park.

  23. C on February 25, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    Well, it looks like Menlo Park is having budget problems as well. See the story in the Mercury News today at regarding their drop in Sales Tax and Hotel Tax revenues.

    Menlo Park was in fine shape for awhile after their voters passed a new Utility Users Tax a couple of years ago. But last year the Menlo Park City Council decided to give the Police Sergeants a 30% pay raise and Police Officers a 25% pay raise (see which certainly impacted their financial condition.

  24. SQL on February 26, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    The best bet is to turn over the Youth Center to a private after school/daycare provider. Either that or just sell the building. Maybe a sporting goods store can occupy the premises since a lot of San Carlos parents are into athletics. Barring that, maybe some company can use it as warehouse space.

  25. Bill on March 3, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    In the spirit of a “pay for use” approach, how about the “Mustang 5K” race directions spray-painted all over city streets around Burton Park last weekend? This misguided action that has defaced our streets will require serious cleanup. Will our overtaxed city employees be asked to remove at taxpayer expense, or will the organizers of the race be held accountable and forced to clean and/or pay for this misdeed?

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