Mountain View Voice

News - January 8, 2010

Outlook 2010: more tough times

Budget woes sure to persist in the year ahead — but will Hangar be left hanging?

by Kelsey Mesher and Daniel DeBolt

Most prognosticators will say that 2010 has to be better than its predecessor. Would the governor of California agree?

The state budget is once again short many billions of dollars. And when Sacramento is desperate for money the squeeze is put on local governments and school districts, so watch for further contractions at the local level. Just like last year.

On the bright side, there could be some good news at Moffett Field, where venerable Hangar One is due to lose its toxic pallor and get the new siding it needs to continue being the South Bay's most visible landmark. We're betting that Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and her friend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will finally get something done on this worthwhile project.

All in all, this is hardly a year for optimism, but there are glimmers of hope on the horizon.

Tough budget year

Mountain View officials are predicting a $4 million to $5 million deficit when it comes time to balance the city's budget in June, requiring some painful cuts to services and personnel.

After the city budget was cut to the bone to fill a similar gap last year, many are anxiously waiting to see if this year's shortfall will actually require laying off city employees. Council member Margaret Abe-Koga said city employees are being told their jobs are not safe.

"I don't see any way we'll be able to address our financial challenges without reducing positions," said city manager Kevin Duggan last week. "Whether they are vacant or filled, it's too hard to tell." City staff "need to understand what the council's and the community's goals are going to be."

In the schools, too, budget cuts will continue in 2010, and may be even harder-hitting than last year. The Mountain View Whisman School District predicts cuts of $2 million or more. At the community college level, Foothill president Judy Miner said tenured faculty could be laid off as early as March.

That leaves it to the community to come out in support of schools on the November ballot. Though generally parcel taxes and bond measures for schools are approved in this region, last November parcel tax measures in the neighboring Santa Clara Unified and Fremont Union High School districts failed.

This go-round, the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District has plans to place a bond measure on the June ballot; and because it would need only 55 percent of the vote to pass, we predict that it will.

School chief shuffle

Although nothing is official, look for Craig Goldman, current CFO of the Mountain View Whisman School District, to become superintendent after Maurice Ghysels steps down.

Ghysels put the transition in motion when he told the school board in November that he was looking for work outside the district. The board lost no time in naming Goldman as their choice to take over, although nothing can be final until Ghysels formally resigns.

The jockeying began after Ghysels, who took over as superintendent in 2005,admitted that he and Landels Principal Carmen Mizell were in a relationship and that both were in divorce proceedings to separate from their current spouses.

City Council elections

This November the city will hold an election for the three council seats held by Margaret Abe-Koga, Ronit Bryant and Jac Siegel, all of whom are expected to seek reelection.

And all three will be reelected, unless they face a serious challenge from an impressive newcomer or someone who has risen though the ranks of the city's volunteer commissions, which is unlikely.

Whatever happens, the election will be a chance for community members to evaluate the council's actions in what will be a very difficult year for city government.

School board elections

November elections may bring change to local schools. The terms of Mountain View Whisman trustees Ellen Wheeler and Phil Palmer expire this year.

In 2006 they ran unopposed, and in 2008 trustees Fiona Walter, Ed Bailey and Steve Olson ran unopposed as well. But several recent controversies in the district are likely to bring in some new candidates.

In the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, the four-year terms of trustees Judy Hannemann and Julia Rosenberg will expire, though neither has said whether they will seek reelection. Both ran unopposed in 2006.

Crunch time for Hangar

The Navy is scheduled to remove the toxic siding from Hangar One at Moffett Field in mid to late 2010, according to Kathryn Stewart, BRAC Environmental Coordinator for Moffett Field.

That means that the clock is ticking for NASA Ames to figure out a way to pay for the historic structure's restoration with new siding. Stewart said the White House Office of Management and Budget met with the Navy and NASA Ames in December and "made significant progress towards mutual understanding on various points" after negotiations between the Navy and NASA broke down over how to pay for Hangar One's restoration. She said all three parties intend to meet soon with Eshoo, who says she is ready to push for a bill to fund Hangar One's restoration.

We predict Congresswoman Anna Eshoo will be asked to find the needed $15 million in federal funding for the project, and that she will succeed.

Real estate horizons

Housing and office development will likely continue at a slow pace next year with the 53-home project at Grant Road and Levin Avenue one of the few projects to enter into construction.

But despite the disappearance of numerous projects out of the city's planning pipeline, planning issues will continue to make news this year as the city completes the update of its General Plan, which will guide future development in the city. And the City Council may approve zoning changes to encourage development of the industrial areas in the Shoreline business district as proposed by planning director Randy Tsuda.

A big question this year is whether the city's two major housing developments move forward — the already-approved 450-home Mayfield project at 100 Mayfield Ave. and the proposal to build 550 homes on 28.5 acres on Ferguson Drive. Mayfield was approved last year after years of planning, but a new owner has yet to indicate when construction would commence. The South Whisman project may also be delayed until the housing market recovers.

Trails extended

In late spring construction is set to begin on a pedestrian bridge over Highway 85 that will extend the Stevens Creek Trail from the Sleeper Avenue area just south of El Camino Real into the Dale-Heatherstone neighborhood.

Not long after that, construction may also begin on a pedestrian tunnel under Old Middlefield Way for the Permanente Creek Trail, along with a nearby bridge for the trail over Highway 101, connecting several residential neighborhoods to Shoreline Park and the city's largest job center in and around Google's headquarters.

Hospital costs rise

Named "the most technologically advanced hospital in the world" by Popular Science magazine in its December 2009 issue, El Camino Hospital will continue to be an industry leader in medical technologies — but at increased costs to its patients.

In January the hospital will complete construction on its new Center for Advanced Radiotherapy and CyberKnife Radiosurgery. The CyberKnife allows physicians to pinpoint solid tumors in the body and use radiation treatment without incisions or anesthesia. Beginning in February the Center will take on patients, and use the facility to teach visiting physicians how to use the CyberKnife and other forms of radiotherapy.

With the best, and likely priciest, new technologies available at the hospital, patients could see an increase in fees this year. El Camino CEO Ken Graham told journalists in September that they last raised their prices in June 2008, and that the new hospital facilities would not have an "immediate" impact on pricing. He said at the time that a price increase was not expected for at least another year — which points to a hike in fees in the middle of 2010.

Comments

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 7, 2010 at 9:35 pm

"The city budget was cut to the bone."? Then how does one explain hiring back three retirees for more than $100 an hour figure? I just don't buy that this city can't operate on a much leaner and ethically sound budget. Something really stinks here in Mountain View, and it's not coming from the sewers but from city hall. I say let the city go bankrupt and let's start off anew.

And as for the schools, no wonder we are in the mess we are in when the entire school board runs unopposed. The current school board must be booted out. We need new blood and new ideas. I can't stomach much more of this nonsense.

And the community should not tolerate the idea of a tax hike to support the schools as long as Ghysels' contract allows for him to be bought out to the figure of more than $300,000 over 18 months. That's where your hard earned tax dollars will go, and no doubt to fattening another round of early retirements to the tune of way over $100,000. See the San Jose Mercury article for more details. Web Link

BTW, these are two reporters Kelsey Mesher and Daniel DeBolt are future Pulitzers if they keep up the great reporting in 2010.


Posted by Don Frances, Mountain View Voice Editor
on Jan 8, 2010 at 10:37 am

Don Frances is a registered user.

Enough,

First of all, thanks for the nice comment about our writers. I agree they're doing a great job.

Secondly, I'd like to clarify something we maybe didn't explain properly: having city employees retire and collect pensions while returning to work at an hourly wage (even a high one) is actually much cheaper for the city. This is for two main reasons, 1) the city no longer needs to cover those employees' health benefit costs, and 2) the majority (I think around 75%) of the pensions are paid out by CalPERS, not by Mountain View proper.

Overall, from the taxpayer's perspective, this may seem like a screwy and/or unfair system. But from the perspective of someone running a city and managing that particular city's budget, this is a money-saver.


Posted by Will Joseph, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jan 13, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Come on Mr. Frances, wise up.
You sound like an apologist for the free spenders and their beneficiaries, or else you have fallen for their argument hook, line and sinker.
How much do their benefits really cost? New blood could surely be brought in, at lower cost, both benefits and salaries. Why in the world do we need to pay fat 6-figure salaries for HR and library people?
And the money from CalPERS isn't free.
If we groom more people for the top jobs, there will be more people available to fill the posts, at lower salaries; that's Economics 101, the law of supply and demand.
Can the city and/or state declare bankruptcy and and blow off all the cushy pension obligations for bureaucrats. (Leave firefighters, police, teachers' pensions intact, but pencil-pushing bureaucrats can get private sector jobs, the same as the rest of us.)



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