Monthly Archives: December 2014

Jim Hardy’s Retirement

Last week our long time City Manager, Jim Hardy, announced that he would be retiring at the end of June 2015. Jim has been with the City well over 30 years and has been our City Manger for the past 21 years.  Under Jim’s stewardship Foster City has grown and thrived.  His leadership for these many years has been outstanding and much of what our City is we owe to him. I hope each of you will join me in thanking Jim for his service.  Later in 2015 we will hold an event to honor him and I am thinking that we may not have a venue large enough.  He leaves an outstanding legacy and he will be missed very much.

When I first started with Foster City as a member of the Planning Commission back in 2006, our senior staff were all in their positions for a long time.  Over the intervening 8+ years many have retired and we have many new members of our leadership team. In fact, once Jim retires there will be only one member of the senior management team that has been on the team longer than I have been working for the City. That is quite a turnover and has presented us with issues that prior City Councils have not had to deal with. Not that the newer members of the leadership team are in any way less qualified that those they replaced, but turnover of that magnitude presents challenges in maintaining the City’s identity and focus as an organization.

I think that so far, those that have joined the team have been excellent in incorporating the City’s goals and personality into their various departments.  We have not been without a few missteps, but that is certainly to be expected and none of those were major problems for the City. More importantly, the focus and goals of our City have been preserved and our City continues to be an amazing place to live, work and play.

Complicating this senior staff turnover is, as I have discussed many times before, the fact that our City is now built out and as such we need to change our approach to future economic growth and our overall position from reactive to proactive in order to keep what we have while minimizing impacts. I think that so far we have done a pretty good job at that and I have seen a lot of new programs and ideas from our staff as we make these transitions.  These things will be the keys to our future and since we are in a time of change, monitoring that change will be critical as well. Someone as strong and committed as Jim Hardy will be necessary for us to succeed and so we must take great care in the selection of his successor.

Starting in January the City Council will begin the process of looking for a new City Manager.  Our first efforts will be at the selection of a recruiting firm to assist us in the search. I am sure that we will have many meetings on the issue and that we will solicit public input on the process.  For me, I hope to keep the search wide and to look for someone not only with the appropriate prior experience, but someone with strong and proactive leadership skills who can understand Foster City and work with the Council to make it even stronger.  Whether that person comes from our current staff or from the outside, I know that we will find a candidate who hopefully will be there to lead us for the next 21 years!  This is not a process I want to see us rush through nor do I want to see us select someone just because that person is the best available.  We need to take our time and find the right person for our City.  It is too critical to our future for us to get this wrong.

I will write further on the process as we move it forward, but would, as always, appreciate your comments.

Happy Holidays!

Building Housing Value Without Building Housing

The Economic Development Strategic Plan covers a number of issues. One of the underlying ideas inherent in the plan is to increase the value of existing assets as an alternative to adding assets.  In plain english, make what we have worth more rather than adding more to what we have.

Governments are well known for giving money away, often for a good public purpose.  Governments, however, do not seem to be as good as investing money in its assets. For example, when the proposal to make loans to HOAs to encourage water conservation first arose, our staff was unable to find a similar program anywhere else in the state.  They found programs where money was given away, but none where the money was invested in the form of a loan, providing a win-win to the property owner and the City without having to simply give the money away.

Fortunately a majority of our Council saw the wisdom of looking into making such investments and we are currently studying our first pilot program right now. My vision for these investments goes way beyond this and I see the value as increasing property values though upgrades and improvements such that additional revenue can be generated from our existing housing stock and so significant additional housing growth becomes unnecessary.

Before delving into this, I think it is important to say that I am not against growth.  What I am against is growth for the sake of growth. I think that responsible growth can be good for our City but it must be done by taking into account alternatives to such growth, the limits and restraints of our infrastructure and the impact that growth brings to our existing residents and businesses.

That said, I think there is substantial opportunity for us to grow the value of our existing housing stock. One of the ways that the Economic Development Plan calls for doing this is in the type of investment discussed above.  A majority of our population lives in multi-family developments and HOAs. Many of these are reaching and exceeding forty years of age.  Historically, wood built structures, which most of these are, have significant deferred maintenance issues around the time they reach forty years of age.  We have seen such issues at the Admiralty and more recently at Island J.

What we have seen from these projects is that after the deferred maintenance is completed, the property looks new and the units become worth more.  What that means from the City’s perspective is that when these units sell, they sell at higher prices and thus the owners pay higher property taxes and the City generates greater revenue.  Thus, by encouraging upgrades and completion of deferred maintenance we can increase the value of our existing housing stock without increasing housing.

My suggestion has been to develop a loan program to encourage other multi-family and HOA developments to undertake such upgrades and deal with deferred maintenance.  We can encourage this by making loans at less than market value but much more than the City currently gets from its investment portfolio. In that way the City makes more than it would otherwise yet the property owner(s) pay less to do the work than they otherwise would.

To make this even more enticing, we can streamline and reduce the permitting cost, offer certain types of equipment at cost and develop programs that offer third party services and products at reduced costs.  One example that we are working on now is the program to offer solar panel installation at a reduced price by grouping with other cities and use our collective purchase power to get the price reductions.  We have also looked into programs to allow property owners to pay for solar installations though their property tax bill so that the cost follows the ownership and because the payments are made in installments, can, for some, become more affordable.

These types of programs just begin to scratch the surface of what we can accomplish by going forward with our Economic Development Plan, partner with our resident property owners and implement programs that increase the value of our existing housing stock. Increasing the value of what we currently have effectively reduces the need to have more.  That, is, as you will see as I write on additional parts of the Economic Development Plan, the primary impetus of the Plan.  As I said in my Council Corner, what we need to start doing today is to change our City’s economic model as that is the only way to reduce our need to grow incessently.

If you agree, share this with others and tell the other Council Members how you feel.

Foster City – Housing and Economics – Time for Change

Before I delve into the subject of housing and economics in Foster City, I want to again take a moment to tell you all what an honor it was to have served as your mayor last year.  Thank you for the opportunity to serve, I hope I served you well.

This past year most of us heard loudly and clearly that the people of Foster City are concerned about the impact of continued housing development in the city. Some residents have suggested that we adopt an ordinance providing a temporary moratorium on housing development.  Of course, the problem with that solution is that if we can pass an ordinance establishing a moratorium, we can just as quickly pass an ordinance revoking the moratorium.  Thus, a more long term and practical solution is what we really need.

Three years ago, before we even began to see these impacts, Council Member Perez and I, along with the CEO of the Foster City Chamber of Commerce and a group of City staff and City residents, became members of a City Council task force, the purpose of which was to study how to change the economic model under which our City operates and to come up with an economic development plan.  The reason for this effort is that we are a young city and as such have relied primarily on housing growth as our economic engine. In fact about 80% of the general fund revenue for Foster City comes from property tax!  However, as we came closer to being fully built out, it became clear to me, and others, that continued reliance on housing growth was simply not sustainable. Thus, we needed to find other ways to grow our revenue, including finding ways to make our existing assets more valuable.

As a group we, as members of the task force, worked together for two years and last February we bought our strategic plan to the City Council for adoption.  On February 10, 2014, the City Council unanimously approved the plan.  Unfortunately, just one month later the funding was pulled and the plan basically remains on hold.

I urge each and every one of you to read the plan.  You can find it on our website – www.fostercity.org.  From the home page hover over the button that reads “Projects & Initiative” and then click on the link that reads “Sustainable Foster City.” From that page there is a menu on the left and you can see the plan and download it by clicking on “Sustainable Foster City Plan.”   The plan is not very long and it is not very technical, but you will see in that plan that there is only one mention of housing and that is affordable housing (a subject I will cover separately later this year).  The rest of the plan is an outline of how to start to change the economic engine of Foster City so that it has greater balance and no longer relies so much on housing growth.

Today I feel even more strongly than I felt three years ago, and even last year when we presented the plan, that we are already suffering the impacts from an economic model too focused in one area, and that failure to change will only increase those impacts.  It’s like an investment portfolio that has only one asset type. Impacts become more powerful and risk increases over time. Thus, in my opinion it continues to be imperative that we change the economic model and move forward with the plan.

Some say that we are in good shape and do not need to change.  I am sure that the leaders in Detroit felt much the same way when the auto industry appeared to be thriving.  Unless we can learn from other’s mistakes we are bound to repeat them.

The solution is not to impose a temporary moratorium that can be undone as quickly as it is done, but to change the economic model through investment and diversification.  Again, please read the plan and please let each of us on the Council know that you support it and that you want us to move it forward.

I think we are already seeing the impacts of the delays in implementing the plan.  We need to move forward while at the economy is strong.  We need to be leaders, we need to innovate and we need to work hard until we succeed.  Our other choice is to do nothing and hope that we do not end up the way Detroit ended up.  I, for one, am not willing to take that chance.

Since I only write a Council Corner once every five weeks, I have set up a blog at charliefc.com where I will cover, on about a weekly basis, some of details of the plan and other issues that I feel are important to Foster City.  I hope you will follow the blog and add your comments. No City funds are being used to pay for the blog.

Those are my thoughts.  You can always share your ideas with me by email at cbronitsky@fostercity.org or call me at (650) 286-3504.

Comments on Foster City Issues

Coming Soon

I started this blog to allow me to post about issues I feel are important to Foster City and to give the people of Foster City a chance to comment on my thoughts and give their ideas and feedback.  I hope you will make good use of this as we plan for our future. I expect to publish my first blog post in early December 2014.

Thank you

Charlie Bronitsky, Councilmember