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On January 25, 2011, the City Council had on its consent agenda item number 55, “City Fleet Needs — Master Lease agreement to Fund Vehicles and Equipment.”

Pursuant to Section 99 of the City Charter, the item required six out of the eight votes to pass.

At the meeting in January, the item was continued. Why? No one would say. But that day, Council member Emerald was absent from the proceedings. That meant that only one council member could vote no on the loan. If two voted no, there would not be the six required yes votes, and the request would be rejected.

Yesterday, February 8th, the item was back on the consent agenda as item 55. This time, Council President Young was absent from the proceedings. Once again, there was the possibility that the item would not garner the six votes required. And, once again the item was continued — with no explanation, despite my request for one.

So what is this item that the mayor and council find so important that they must manipulate the agenda to ensure its approval? Pension reform? Reinstatement of vital services? Expense cutting policies? No, quite the contrary.

The mayor wants to spend $21 million to purchase new vehicles for city staff. He also wants to spend $1.3 million on new GPS Systems for all city vehicles.

In the past year, the state of California has sold off thousands of the vehicles in its fleet, and this year spent just $5 million replacing only those vehicles most in need.

Compare that $5 million for the state to the $21 million the city is intending to spend to upgrade its fleet. How can the City Council justify spending 400 percent more on new vehicles than the state, when the city is in the process of cutting city staff, cutting the services they provide and contracting out whole departments to managed competition?

I have the deepest respect for the Independent Budget Analyst. Her reports are usually sharp, specific and clear. But her report on this item seems to be nothing but innuendo. She explains that vehicles have a certain shelf life and must be thrown out once that time has passed. She states that maintenance will be higher but gives no facts to back-up that statement. And she says that if everyone has the same GPS system, the city will save money, but gives no idea of how much.

She gives no facts, no specifics. No basis for spending a whopping $21 million, which is about half of the deficit for next year’s city budget. As council members keep harping on about the pension and how it is draining our coffers, they seem to continue to authorize enormous expenditures such as these instead of following the lead of the state and spending less.

Governor Brown’s representative stated in the Union-Tribune the other day that his actions will “force the agencies to use the remaining fleet more efficiently.”

Shouldn’t we do that?

And as for the $1.3 million for a GPS for everyone, that is a shocking expenditure. As the IBA reports, it’s not that everyone at the city doesn’t have them already, it’s just that the city wants matching GPS systems for everyone.

Let’s get our priorities straight. We can stop the fire station brown-outs or buy new matching GPS for all city vehicles. We can have our potholes filled, our libraries kept open, our police funded and our parks maintained or we can spend $21 million on new vehicles.

I suggest the council just say no. Ask staff for a specific list of urgently needed vehicles. Ask staff to show facts about how much the city will actually save if it spends $1.3 million plus all the interest and loan fees and installation costs on matching GPS Systems.

This is too much money to be approving on the consent agenda, and too much to be spending when the city faces such extreme financial distress.

I am told the item is going back to council on February 15, 2011. I’ll get back to you if it does.

Theresa Quiroz lives in City Heights.

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