San Clemente Times
Leading up to the San Clemente City Council election on Nov. 6, the San Clemente Times is publishing six questions, one each week, that we’ve asked each individual who qualified for the ballot to answer. Be sure to look for next week’s edition when we publish answers to the fifth question. The list of candidates is published in the order of the random alphabet the California Secretary of State recently drew.
Week 4: What would you do on City Council that maintains San Clemente’s financial stability?
Gene W. James
There needs to be a top-down review of budget items using a method known as “zero based budgeting.” The answer to financial stability doesn’t lie with tax revenue or gimmicks such as the transient occupancy tax; financial stability comes with prudency, wisdom and planning. As stewards of the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars, councilmembers should be looking at today’s spending and how to wisely cut going into the future. It is a level of business acumen that just doesn’t exist with the current Council. The Outlets in a proper partnership with the city would bring in millions to the city’s coffers.
While we have an excellent AAA bond rating, I am shocked by how many lawsuits have been brought against our city. This is a strain on our financial stability. As your City Councilmember, I would respond to emergent issues from a position of strength that does not leave us open to litigation. I would be pragmatic in driving fact-based decisions that take measured risks while ensuring the high-quality service levels our community is accustomed to be protected.
I would support our local businesses, environment and the Spanish village aesthetic that we have in San Clemente to maintain our financial stability. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is to start a new business in San Clemente or even grow one. By taking away some of the regulation and permitting delays, local business would thrive. It’s our beaches and Spanish architecture that brings in the bulk of our tourists. By keeping our beaches clean and our city well-kept, more money will be pumped into the economy and, in effect, our community will thrive.
Tiffany Joy Robson Leet
A vote will be had in this November ballot to increase the hotel tax. This and any other taxes as well as fees related to doing business, living or visiting in San Clemente need to be specifically allocated to citizen-approved funds and appropriate reserve funds. I do propose that we consider residence parking permits at a nominal fee that can be allocated to our parks and beach funds. We need to review and alter any existing or self-renewing contracts to limit inflation or increases without proper review We can prop up our local businesses and grant expansion permits to existing business. We can stay small yet solvent.
Curtail unrestrained legal costs, which have cost the taxpayers $5 million the past two and a half years. Only enter lawsuits the city “has” to enter and not “wants” to enter for politically or emotionally charged reasons. Consider an in-house attorney, hire a separate litigator, capping the current legal services contract. The city forecasts deficit spending by 2020, and we must ensure prudent rainy day funds. While the economy is strong, the city must deal with the old City Hall—lease it or sell it. The third floor of the “new” city hall has wasted space that could be leased.
It is unacceptable that the city of San Clemente’s legal fees are 250 percent of what they were just three years ago. This increase in legal fees is largely the result of poor decision-making by our City Council and their failure to comply with mandated laws, and would be the first place I would start with implementing change. With my background of starting, building and expanding an international organization, I will be able to bring a new perspective to City Council and improve the city’s financials.
As your Councilwoman, I have worked for four years in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce to promote a thriving local economy. I will work with our businesses to increase opportunities for economic development. I will continue to provide for San Clemente’s financial stability through long-term financial planning and I will protect its AAA credit rating. I have voted for a balanced budget each year and will continue to do so.
Our city enjoys a favorable AAA bond rating and has operated for many years with financial conservatism to ensure our fiscal security. Unfortunately, we may be in a deficit operating position in 2019-20 for the first time in many years. As a councilmember, I would engage in vigorous scrutiny of our city’s expenditures. As a business leader, I’ve always been guided by facts and reason, while always on the lookout for a “better idea.” I will bring this sensible, vigilant mindset to our city’s finances, which will be critical, especially during the coming years.
We have maintained a AAA bond rating and balanced budget for years. City staff is doing an excellent job with our financial resources, including fighting for critical community values on our behalf. We won our battle with sober living homes/Sovereign Health. We proved our VRBO ordinance is strong and will result in better neighborhoods. We will be victorious over the toll road. Six years ago, my infant son was rushed to San Clemente Hospital and I credit their quick action with saving his life—we need our hospital/emergency room back. I will fight for the community values that ensure financial stability.
The city currently has a system in place, which was started by our previous assistant manager, Pall Gudgeirsson, and needs to be continued. It has been recognized as one of the best and has received awards. It is long-term financial planning, which projects income/expenses several years into the future. Creating small businesses and developing commercial developments that reflect our Spanish village by the sea development standards on vacant lots in San Clemente creates future financial stability. If elected, I will contact the owners of those vacant lots, especially along El Camino Real, and encourage them to develop good developments.
I will focus on fiscal responsibility and ensuring resources are devoted to areas we need it most. Our yearly legal fees are 250 percent what they were just three years ago and climbing; in fact, legal spending was over $2.2 million for the last fiscal year. While legal and administrative fees have significantly increased, spending on police services has not kept up with the increased demands. San Clemente may have the lowest officer-to-resident ratio of any beach town in America. I will focus on reprioritizing our budget without increasing taxes.
Knowing the budget cycle is essential. It is critical that Council input is made early, preferably before the mid-year review. Much of the budget is contained in restricted/enterprise funds with extremely limited/no flexibility but provides for critical infrastructure. The General Fund accounts for approximately $70 million of the city budget. Almost half of that goes to safety. The General Fund accounts have to be closely scrutinized to maintain Financial Stability. My eight years’ experience on the Planning Commission have prepared me for this critical Council function. State law requires Planning Commission review of portions of the budget for General Plan consistency.
Editor’s note: Ed Ward and Kathy Ward are not related