A significant number of Daly City commission meetings, in particular those dealing with development in the Peninsula city, were canceled in 2009 as a result of the city’s economic woes, according to the former mayor and other city officials.
More than half of Daly City’s monthly Planning Commission meetings were canceled this year. Additionally, one-third of the city’s monthly Parks and Recreation Commission and one-quarter of the Library Board of Trustees meetings were called off.
City Manager Pat Martel said that when there are few agenda items to discuss, she consolidates meetings. She typically puts five or more agenda items on a consent calendar, she said.
“We hold meetings as we have agenda items,” Martel said. “If we don’t have agenda items, we don’t have a meeting.”
Sal Torres, who was mayor until mid-December, said canceling meetings also helps save the city money by reducing the paid hours for city staff, such as minute-takers, who help run and facilite meetings. Commission members are volunteers who do not get paid for their participation at the meetings and other related events.
“If it’s a matter of saving $100, when you’re in a situation and you have to decide, you’re always going to err on that side of saving money. It just makes sense,” Torres said.
This fiscal year, Daly City — the largest city in San Mateo County with a population of more than 101,000 residents — faced a challenging $4.6 million deficit, said Torres, who called the shortage a “big, red hole.” The city’s operating budget is approximately $72 million, according to city documents.
Nearly half of the city’s revenue is derived from property and sales taxes, according to city documents, meaning the economic downturn has had a significant impact on Daly City’s revenue base.
Torres said city officials have had to make difficult decisions to balance the books, making cuts to after-school programs, having workers take unpaid furlough days and increasing fees for residents.
“It breaks your heart,” he said. “We have to make these decisions. These are not easy decisions to make. They’re always gut-wrenching.”
Additionally, city employees went without salary and benefit increases and the city eliminated more than 40 full-time positions.
Torres said after sitting more than a decade on the council that this year has by far been the most difficult for the city.
“It’s been a very, very, very challenging year for me,” he said.
Denise Kelly, vice chair of the Planning Commission, has been on the commission for five years and said the number of development projects in the city this year has been the lowest she’s seen.
There were no major development plans on the agenda for the six meetings held in 2009; the matters before the commission were minor, including permits for a tanning salon, a two-story addition at an auto repair business, a residential deck replacement and a design review and environmental assessment for construction of three single-family homes.
“This is the first year I can think of where it’s been this bad. We’ve only met like four or five times this year,” Kelly said. “People just don’t have the money to invest in projects right now.”
Torres described the situation as a Catch-22.
“Obviously, it’s different this year. Banks are scared to finance businesses so businesses can’t finance projects,” he said. “No one’s going to develop if they can’t get into finance.”
The planning commissions for other major Peninsula cities — including Burlingame, Redwood City, San Mateo and South San Francisco — kept up more frequent meetings, with some cities meeting more than once a month.
Daly City does not have a legal obligation to meet regularly since it is a general-law city that abides state laws, opposed to a charter one that mostly governs itself. The city is only legally bound to post notices when canceling meetings, and can cancel due to lack of business or failure to establish a quorum, City Attorney Rose Zimmerman said.
The three monthly meetings for the Library Board of Trustees, canceled near the end of the year, were all called off due to a lack of a quorum.
The canceled meetings didn’t prevent the board from getting its work done, according to the California Association of Library Trustees and Commissioners. The organization called the city’s commission a “model board” and noted that that they had recently taken on a half-day training for board members.
Commissions help to represent public
While cities are governed by an elected body, commissions typically provide a second layer of representation, decision making and insight for specific areas of city involvement, including planning, libraries and parks and recreation, among others.
While City Council members make about $1,400 a month in Daly City, commissioners volunteer time to meet monthly to review city concerns and make recommendations to the council. Commissioners are appointed by the City Council for set terms. They are asked when they apply to be a member of a city commission if they have the time to attend necessary meetings and other commission events.
The Planning Commission, according to municipal code, prepares the city’s long-term general plan, makes recommendations to the council for projects that support the general plan and holds hearings and makes recommendations on matters concerns zoning and subdivisions.
The Parks and Recreation Commission provides advice on budget matters relating to the city department, offers “advice and community perspectives” as well as “promote and stimulate public interest” in recreational programming, holds hearings on matters pertaining to planning and development of parks and recreation programming and capital planning and proposes activities and resources to direct the future growth of the parks and recreation system, among other duties.
The Library Board of Trustees, according to the city, advises the library director, “advocates literacy for all ages and all people”, communicates residents’ needs to the council and library staff and helps facilitate fulfillment of the library’s “future needs and vision.”
The city manager assembles each commission’s agenda, sometimes consolidating meetings if there are few agenda items. Meetings are also canceled if they fail to reach a quorum — the minimum number of members needed to legally make decisions for the group.
A low number of agenda items elicit citywide cancellation of commission meetings. More than half of Daly City’s monthly Planning Commission meetings were canceled this year:
One-third of Daly City’s monthly Parks and Recreation Commission meetings were canceled in 2009:
One-quarter of the monthly meetings for Daly City’s Library Board of Trustees were canceled this year:
Source: Daly City