Written by David Greenwald Thursday, 28 June 2012 09:46
On Tuesday evening, numerous members of the community came forward to speak to council about their concerns about the city cuts to tree trimming positions and the potential impact on the city's urban forests. Despite assurances from City Manager Steve Pinkerton that the level of service will be maintained through this move, city council has requested that consideration of the tree trimming positions and related issues come back to them at a future meeting.
Numerous members of the public spoke out on this issue during public comment.
David Robinson, a member of the Street Tree Commission, reported that the commission voted unanimously the week before to protest the cutbacks of the tree trimming staff. He said their basis was not emotion but hard numbers.
Mr. Robinson read a statement issued on June 12 by City Manager Steve Pinkerton: "Having a dedicated city staffed tree crew to perform tree maintenance is no longer a necessity to maintain the City's urban forest at its current level. Consolidation of maintenance functions city-wide and changing the way services are provided should actually produce greater service levels to the community."
Mr. Robinson argued that, while none of us can predict the future, "this statement is factless and based on absolutely no evidence that is apparent to anyone to whom I have spoken to."
Mike Maulhardt, another member of the Tree Commission added, "I believe the citizens of Davis expect our forests and parks to be exceptional."
"The care of the trees is really a joint venture between the city and the citizens," he continued. "As we go forward we obviously want to control costs, we want to be respectful of the city crew and we want to be respectful of the citizens and what they've done. They've just voted their pocketbook on Measure D."
"I think there's room for us to look at all manners of different efficiencies," Mr. Maulhardt said, explaining ways that the city might be able to save money within the existing system.
Dr. Greg McPherson, a Research Forester with the USDA Forest Service, in written notes to council argued that in "two years [the] program has gone from one of the best in the country to one of the most endangered."
Davis, he said, has more than twice the tree coverage of Woodland and West Sacramento and 10% more than Sacramento.
He said, "Green infrastructure that requires regular [maintenance] to promote our health and well-being - just like paving streets, flushing water lines, trees need care or they will deteriorate, consequence not only underperform but can become a greater risk when limbs fall. NYT articles documented awards of $1-4 million for damages from fallen branches, $560 M/yr."
He noted that in 2010-11, the city spent $800,000 or $36 per tree and $12 per capita. In 2012-13, the city is proposing nearly half of that, at $440,000 and just $20 per tree and $7 per capita.
The consequences, he argued, include reduction in tree planting, reduced support for TreeDavis to carefully prune young trees for structure and form, less community engagement, and reduced survival and health.
This also means lengthened pruning cycles for larger trees, increased demand for emergency response and lower levels of service and increased demand for service requested.
Finally, he cited reductions in tree health, increased treatment costs, lower performance (energy, air, water, carbon, property value, biodiversity, etc. benefits foregone) and reduced longevity, increased costs for removal and replacement planting.
In the city manager's presentation, he said that the city has contracted with West Coast Arborists since 2001 to perform the block pruning as per the City's Community Forest Management Plan that was adopted City Council in September 2002.
"The block pruning service provides the preventative maintenance to the City's Street Trees. West Coast Arborists currently provide general pruning and inspection as per the City's Community Forest Management Plan and bring issues of concern to the attention of the City's Arborist and will continue to do so as we move forward," the city manager reported.
However, Alan Pryor said that while most of the work done on the trees is done by an outside firm, not all of it was done by outside firms.
"There are a lot of functions that need to be performed by someone, particularly tree maintenance," he said. He cited 762 work orders for the two tree trimmers last year at the cost of roughly $300 per call. "These work orders were for off-cycle pruning, safety pruning, broken limbs, fallen trees and branch and weight reduction."
"It's imperative that all of these functions still be fulfilled," he said. "This is a service cut that will simply be unacceptable to the community if we don't find an alternative."
Mr. Pryor argued that it would not be economically advantageous to the city either, noting a study on the explosion of tree-related lawsuits against cities.
According to the city manager, "Citizens will continue to call the Tree Hotline to report issues with City Trees. The City Arborist will continue to review those requests and schedule service accordingly."
"Services, depending on the complexity of the task, will continue to be performed by City Parks staff, West Coast Arborists or a combination of both," he continued.
"Currently when one Tree Trimmer is off, some of the work orders cannot be completed as scheduled due to only having a two person crew. Employee safety measures require a person must be on the ground if someone is up in a tree working ," Mr. Pinkerton added.
"Citizens of Davis are not expected to see a decrease in service, but contrarily may in fact see an increase in service levels since we do not expect to have the down time that the City has previously experienced due to employee vacations or illness," he said.
Rob Cain, the city's arborist, said, "Depending on when the discussion happens and continues, I think we can keep the service levels where they are now with the different options we have presented tonight."
But others are not so sure.
Sue Greenwald noted, "Many citizens want a wider discussion of the issue than an ordinance to allow people to trim their own trees."
"It's my understanding that we've already been cutting back on our tree services in our city and I think it is worth having a discussion as to what the best level of service is," Councilmember Dan Wolk said. "I know times are tight but I would like to see that brought back to us, sort of what our options are in terms of possibly going back to what it was maybe a couple of years ago."
Councilmember Wolk noted, "This budget cuts those tree trimmers starting July 1."
He asked the city manager to explain "exactly how the service levels are going be affected," by these cuts.
City Manager Pinkerton said that while some of this is difficult, given the nature of the employee contract negotiations, he said, "I can tell you there will be no diminution in service during that time."
The comment triggered snickering among city employees in the audience.
Councilmember Wolk responded, "I'm finding it difficult to understand from this budget how you can eliminate 29 FTEs and still maintain service levels."
Moreover as Sue Greenwald pointed out, the layoffs will have already been implemented before the public discussion occurs.
"The public has the right to be here and participate in the discussion," she said.
She clarified that she would be voting for the layoffs now.
Steve Pinkerton said, "We're already dealing with the new realities of how we're going to deliver service in the short term. But we're looking forward to coming forward on the 17th and showing you a number of different alternatives for dealing with that."
However, he added, "If council directs us to come back and change our staffing model we have the ability to do that."
Dan Wolk pointed out, "The staffing levels at least in that 17 day period will not be reduced."
However, Sue Greenwald clarified that by the time the council next meets there will be no street tree crew.
City Manager Pinkerton responded that the parks crew, in conjunction with West Coast Arborist, will be doing the work.
---David M. Greenwald reporting
I certainly hope that they can keep up with the removal of mistletoe from the black walnuts along Russell. Some of us who live in the area were alarmed a few years back at how extensive the mistletoe infection had become. We were told by the city that pruning out the mistletoe was on the schedule, but they were just backlogged. I think they said the pruning cycle was six to eight years, but my memory may be inaccurate. Some of the trees have been lost.
Assuming the net savings elimination of the two tree trimmer positions is $200,000 +/- including all benefits, that is approximately $300 per work order on average. I have not heard what it is expected to cost to have these duties fulfilled by West Coast Arborists or by other Staff Positions.
What I would really like to see is that there be some mechanism by which these services could potentially be provided by some of the really outstanding local tree service firms in the city such as Kiwi Tree or Davis Tree Works or Yolo Couty Arborists. These folks are truly experts and artisans and really know their business.
Just as there is a buy local food movement spreading throughout our city as evidenced by the success of our Farmers Market and Davis Dollars, I would like to see some of this outsourced tree pruning business go to our local service providers indtead of just being shipped off to a Southern California firm that only hires at minimum wage with no benefits.
I know there are some structural impediments to fulfilling this request such as adequate insurance coverage and level of certification expertise, but these are things our tree supervisor and city manager can work out with the local providers to see if there is a way to take these local dollars and keep them in the community.
Dan Wolk was very explicit that he thought this budget presentation by our city manager lacked “creativity”. And he is pretty much right but the city manager is in a crisis, bunker mode trying to deal with this budget. One thing he could do to show some creativity and sensitivity to our local economy is to require that the city’s urban forest supervisor, Rob Cain, do a complete search and report on the number and capabilities of our local arborists to see if the above tree maintenance functions could be transferred to them at the same price that West Coast Arborists might charge. If so, this could be a win-win. We get expert tree care service and we recycle our tax payer dollars into local firms that hire local workers instead of hiring minimum wage workers from outside Davis and then send profits to West Coast Arborists in Anaheim.
I would ask the Council to request the city manager to look into this and come back with a detailed report to Council to see how we could transfer some of this work to our own local and beloved arborists
"Steve Pinkerton said, 'We're already dealing with the new realities of how we're going to deliver service in the short term. But we're looking forward to coming forward on the 17th and showing you a number of different alternatives for dealing with that.'"
Clearly to me, Pinkerton has been saying all along that he is in the process of hiring a private company to take over the tasks now performed by the two city workers. However, as long as those two have jobs with the city, and as long as the possibility remains that DCEA will play ball in order to save all 9 DCEA jobs, Pinkerton cannot publicly admit that he is ready to outsource.
It is for that reason that Pinkerton will wait until the meeting of July 17 to announce his outsourcing plan. And it would not surprise me if Pinkerton moves in this direction with other tasks now performed by city employees, if it appears that the bargaining units are not ready to accept the Rifkin Reforms which Pinkerton wants made in all labor contracts.
I want to thank the Vanguard for reporting what actually happened at the Council meeting on Tuesday. I went to the meeting and was one of many people who spoke in opposition to the cutting of the city tree crew, yet the Enterprise article did not print one comment from the public and glossed over the fact that many people testified on this issue. What was also important was that a significant of these speakers were professionals in the arboriculture field as well as Tree Commission members.
I am also aware of many emails that went to the City Council, the City Manager and the Tree Commission from Davis citizens and from even more arboriculture professionals and academicians and even a former City Parks Superintendent. The Tree Commission made a strong statement to the Council and City Council in opposition of the tree crew cuts.
It was appreciated by many that Mayor Pro tem Dan Wolk raised concerns and pointed out that it defies logic that slashing the work forces does not compute with the City managers assertion that the level of service will not decrease. Many of us opposing the tree crew elimination agree with Wolk on that point.
It is also appreciated that Council member Rochelle Swanson added language that asked for a full staff report on the urban forest. I look forward to that materializing in the near future hopefully and what will result from it.
It is appreciated that Sue Greenwald raised the concern that voting on the budget at almost midnight and when a new Council will need to deal with the outcome did not seem to be a good idea.
Yet, the budget was passed. So the public will be interested in seeing the outcome and the consequences of Tuesday’s vote.
One point that was raised that has not been responded to is why is the City Manager is not "cutting from the top" since the City has an excess of $100,000+ salaried “Administrator's” which we simply can no longer afford. There is an excellent letter to the editor commenting on this in Thursday’s Enterprise letters to the editor.
Finally, one comment brought up by some Council members is that they had asked for input on our community’s priorities regarding the budget. Had any of us had any idea that our Urban Forest department would be eliminated, there would have been plenty of feedback. Who could imagine such a cut would even be considered following Measure D’s passage? It may be late but the Council and the City Manager have now got that feedback. The message hopefully is loud and clear that our urban forest is, by all means, a priority. We all are looking forward to see what is done with that feedback now.
Eileen: As you may remember, ten years ago I advocated "cutting from the top" by 10% for senior staff, and the reaction was huge: outrage; how could I propose that; etc etc The DE story had the biggest type font since declaring WW II over (I think), and did the stinging bees coming swarming over my proposal. TImes have changed. It was obvious that we were spending way too much money, even then, and it has taken the Vanguage what --- 4 years ? -- to fully out the fiscal debacle led by Saylor and Souza. How much tree trimming can you buy for that Measure S sales tax increase we voted for in 2004 then Saylor stole it in 2005 from the parks dept (advertised main recipient) and gave it to his union friends at the Davis Fire Dept that he needs for his political career.
I had a brain injury case years ago caused in Davis by a California Sycamore that shed a branch. Learned from a UCD tree expert that these trees should be safety-trimmed every 5 years (that's the standard), and anything past that is a risk.
I lost a vote on the CC to block the senior staff's new policy to lengthen the 5 years to 8 years. That is too long without a safety inspection and trim!
Maybe the City Manager should get back that Measure S money that Saylor gave to his union friends in fire, and pay for some tree safety work?
Or, how much tree inspection and trimming can you get if you eliminate the 4th member of those 4 member crews that race out in two trucks to non-injury fender benders?
Rich and David: would either of you compute the answer?
The concept of FTE, or FUll TIme Equivalence is commonly used to measure staffing; I would like us to start using that 4th extra member of the fire crews as the standard for what we can save, and how much things cost.
Eileen: thanks from all of us for your efforts on this one. I know it's mostly a thankless job, and all-volunteer for you.
"Assuming the net savings elimination of the two tree trimmer positions is $200,000 +/- including all benefits, that is approximately $300 per work order on average."Where you get your annual number of "work orders"? Does all the work that these two folks do get reflected in work orders? How does the $300 compare with the cost for the average work order completed by the contractors we've been using? Maybe we should calculate he much we pay our firefighters "per fire on average."
I sure support you "Shop Local" approach. We use Kiwi services, and it would be worth paying more for this kind of expert, local talent.
But, city council has got to let Pinkerton know what's important in the drive to cut city costs. He revealed his tin ear by announcing the tree trimmer cuts the day after our overwhelming support for spending more money on parks. We shouldn't be surprised if he takes his cost-cutting assignment seriously in the future.
"It's my understanding that all layoffs of 'live bodies' are line workers. The other 20 positions are vacant positions which are being removed from the books."Sounds as though you've got it nailed, SODA. Wouldn't want to toss out any management people in these difficult times. It would be interesting to look at the actual costs of the "management team"--as opposed to the number of positions--both before and after the announced cutbacks.
I wanted to follow up with posting the letter to the editor that I referred to yesterday from the Wednesday June 27 (not Thursday) Enterprise. The letter by Mary K. Williams had some very salient points and data that people may be interested in regarding salaries and raising the issue of just how the City Manager is selecting who gets cut.
Interestingly, there are far more lower salary service employees being laid off, and not nearly as many high salaried administrative or management level. The six figure salaries are astonishing of this upper echelon which seems to be immune from the same “streamlining” process being drastically applied to the City service employees. Obviously the cost savings are 2-3 times more if cuts are made at the top six figure salaries rather than at the bottom of the salary scale where the service and clerical salaries are.
Below is the web link and the letter that was in Wednesday's Enterprise letters to the editor by Mary K. Williams:
We need facts on city layoffs
I will be attending the City Council meeting this week to hear comments regarding the recent dismissal of employees, directed by City Manager Steve Pinkerton. I am especially concerned about the dismissal of the two remaining tree trimmers, particularly since the announcement was made immediately after the tax assessment for parks was passed. And, there is no apparent plan in place to care for the city’s trees and to maintain levels of service in our parks.
In this time of fiscal concern in the city of Davis, I find it interesting that Pinkerton, when hired in 2011, was paid at the 95th percentile of cities within our three-county comparison with average experience and had no particular performance goals that demand a high salary. There was a 35 percent pay increase between the old city manager in 2009 and this new city manager in 2011, a $45,000 difference. Why?
I also note that between 2000 and 2008, salaries rose far faster than the city’s tax revenue. A large amount of increases came to upper management rather than rank-and-file employees. Who provides most direct city services — upper management or rank-and-file employees, and whose salaries come cheaper?
I believe Pinkerton’s cost-cutting employee reduction should be thoroughly questioned and explained to the public. Why are cuts being made to the rank-and-file employees rather than to management? What, exactly, is the plan for the city’s trees and park maintenance? How can Pinkerton work more effectively and harmoniously with collective bargaining units?
Furthermore, I believe the City Council should have a clear vision and given direction for the city manager in dealing with the fiscal issues of Davis and management of employees. Does the City Council value and cultivate an amicable and cooperative relationship with city employees? What is the charge of the City Council to the city manager? The public deserves transparency in all of these issues. I will be a voice insisting on this.
Lastly, public perception in our city’s politics means everything! Facts and figures and response to the public from the city of Davis regarding this current topic of employee terminations has been slow in coming. Why?
Mary K. Williams