Ed. Note: The following commentary is a summary of remarks Ballin made at the Aug. 3 San Fernando City Council meeting. City Councilman Jaime Soto working in tandem with members of a group calling itself Residents for a Better San Fernando have distributed a newsletter to local households. The newsletter produced by Soto includes the city seal and the names of fellow council members without their knowledge or permission. The Councilmembers have expressed their concern not only for his use of their names but they also took great exception to the newsletters content and have asked the city attorney to look into this matter.
Councilmember Jaime Soto referenced this City Council numerous times in his July newsletter regarding accountability. This City Council has been nothing but accountable and I take offense to any inference that we are not.
Our primary focus prior to Soto being elected — and it continues to be my priority as well as the other council members — is to save the City from bankruptcy and neglected infrastructure problems created by our predecessors.
Possibly Soto is not aware that due to the continued poor decisions by past council members and past management, the City is still in debt by approximately $4.5 million. That is after the several millions that have been paid off through the City Council’s difficult decision (prior to Soto being elected) to furlough and cut staffing, and implement every cost saving measure possible, including asking our residents to vote for a ½ cent sales tax increase.
As an example of a poor decision by past City council members, at one time the City had an $11 million dollar reserve. Instead of spending those millions on street, sewer, and infrastructure repair, $13.7 million was spent on an Olympic-size swimming pool, wiping out the City’s $11 million reserve on a swimming pool that clearly was not sustainable.
I was on the City Council when we made the difficult decision to raise sewer and water rates a few years ago to begin to address these issues. I must remind you in our effort to continue to address our neglected infrastructure, management presented and the City Council approved the Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget that allocates approximately $1.4 million to address our sewer issues. I feel that this is an excellent forward thinking start to a multi-year solution.
The current City Council did not create the problem of deferred maintenance; that was decades in the making. We are working closely with management to address the issue by approving a capital improvement plan that seeks to make upgrades in a systematic manner to the sewer system while also looking at ways for development to pay its fair share of sewer impact fees.
Councilmember Soto’s comment, “It concerns me that my colleagues on the City Council did not have the foresight or interest in holding the developer financially accountable or responsible…” is very offensive. If you really want to point fingers at a lack of financial accountability and mismanagement, you don’t have to look too far in the past when outraged residents launched a recall election to remove unscrupulous, irresponsible councilmembers. We have since worked to stabilize the city and have saved it from filing for bankruptcy..
There is a growing concern that misstatements by Councilmember Soto opens him personally, and the City, to possible legal action by businesses, property owners, and/or developers that follow the City’s regulations and pay the established fees for development. I am also very concerned about all of our staff and the perceived harassment by any Council member. Council members should not create divisiveness by our verbal and non-verbal actions. The entire City has already been down that road!
Last, but not least, images of what look like a payout on Councilmember Soto’s newsletter are personally offensive as they attack the integrity, reputation and professionalism of myself, my colleagues and the City staff that have been working tirelessly for the betterment of the community. Councilmember Soto, your misstatements and innuendo with your clip art are putting the City in harm’s way.
I would also like to state for the record that several residents, business owners, and City workers find your newsletter offensive and have stated they will take legal action.
In closing, as you have stated many times, the community is watching, the residents are watching, I agree with you, our residents are smart, and they do hold each of us accountable — you must fact check. Work has already been addressed on many claims in your newsletter. It appears you are trying to incite the residents.
What is your true motivation behind your newsletter and grandstanding? Your stance is oh so familiar; it has the same tone the City has already experienced.
I’ll just add one more important point. Despite the attacks, and divisiveness intended we will continue to move this City forward. Negativity and mudslinging didn’t work in the past, and the voters will not stand for it again.
Sylvia Ballin is the Vice Mayor for the City of San Fernando.