Median Plan Won’t Take Root Yet

Absenteeism and lame-duck status all but paralyzed the City Council in its meeting of last week. A three-man remnant dispatched a few housekeeping items, but weightier issues were shelved for another day. And council.
They’ll become part of the purview of Steve Talt and Dr. Steven Huang, the newly elected City Council members who will assume their roles on Dec. 9, joining Dr. Richard Sun, Richard Ward and Dr. Allan Yung.
Yung, Ward and Dennis Kneier, who lost his council seat in the Nov. 3 election, gingerly picked their way through the evening’s agenda. They had the dais to themselves because Eugene Sun, another election casualty, and Richard Sun were absent. Kneier gleefully noted on a couple of occasions that some of the more nettlesome issues would soon be someone else’s worry.
Chief among them is what to do with the two northernmost medians on Sierra Madre Boulevard. The city stopped watering the lawn on all of its medians in the late spring, in response to an edict by Gov. Jerry Brown. Now the city, in its efforts to convert the two medians to a drought-tolerant landscape, is caught in something of a time vise. The city applied for turf-removal rebates from the Municipal Water District of Southern California and was approved for $38,688. But that came with a time constraint: To qualify for the money, the city must complete the conversion project by Dec. 26 — or no later than Feb. 26, if it is granted a 60-day extension.
The way the rebate program is set up, San Marino would have to go out of pocket for the work, then be reimbursed for its costs. This necessitates an up-front appropriation by the City Council.
But if this decision were to be left for the new council on Dec. 9, the delay in proceeding on the work could obviously jeopardize the rebate money.
Ultimately, the three members of the council opted to take a tentative step forward, approving Kneier’s motion that city workers begin killing and removing the existing grass, and that a landscape architect return Dec. 9 with a modified design for the median irrigation and plantings. “At that time,” Kneier said, “that [new] council can decide whether to appropriate the $38,000.”
Windy conditions precluded the spraying of herbicide at the beginning of this week.
Members of the public voiced concern about making a hasty decision on the median design and the appropriation — a position also voiced by Talt during public comment at the council meeting immediately before the election. Even City Manager John Schaefer expressed the opinion that the council was “rushing into this,” and said a more measured approach would be advisable, even if it means forsaking the rebate money. The design, after all, is to be a prototype for median conversions on Huntington Drive and the rest of Sierra Madre Boulevard.
The landscaper, Steve Ormenyi, was asked to return Dec. 9 with a design that uses drip irrigation rather than spray heads, provision for a walking path the length of the medians and a design less crowded with plants, using California natives in one of the medians, Australian shrubs in the other.
Then the decision of whether to proceed with this project — and allot money for it — will fall to a new configuration of the council.
POLICE PAY
The council was asked to approve tweaks to a proposed memorandum of understanding between the city and the San Marino Police Officers’ Association, then pass this matter, too, along to the new council. The three councilmen did so.
The memorandum reflects months of negotiations. The last agreement with the police union expired at the end of June. This one would be instituted retroactively and run only through July 9 of next year.
The agreement does not include any salary adjustments for the San Marino force, but it does stipulate $77,422 more in benefits. Asked what that represents in terms of an increase in current compensation for the police, Finance Director Lisa Bailey calculated that it is a 2.2% bump.
COMMITTEE ON HOLD
Still another matter continued to Dec. 9 was the formation of an ad hoc budget committee, comprising two city councilmen and members of the community who have expertise in accounting and finance.
In the midst of the discussion on the police memorandum of understanding, Ward said, “I agree with the concept of having a survey [of salaries in other municipalities] and knowing what we’re dealing with and how our compensation pay scale compares with everybody else. Up to now, I’ve been under the impression that they compare reasonably.
“But starting next year, in January, we’re embarking upon a more rigorous budget process. We’re going to be taking each department one by one, and figuring out what the objectives are, what the achievements are, what the compensation is and so forth. In the coming year, we will be able to do an even more thorough job of vetting the salary and the compensation scale for each and every department, and arriving at a position we’re going to take with regard to various employee associations.”

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