The Mayor’s Week in Review: Jan. 21-27

Andy Berman, Mill Valley's Mayor, writes his weekly review, with some inside news, reminders and reflections, and whatever else comes to mind.

Why can’t we just all get along? This past week seems to be highlighted with divisiveness. Among other things, we watched a neighborhood divide over the way to balance the property rights between two of its neighbors, and our Planning Commission Chair share his frustration with staff over policy. I always take this stuff personally; I hate family fights. And while I am not Pollyanna about our town, I also know it’s near perfect, and that we have a tremendous amount to be thankful for. I know we can all get wrapped up in the immediate details, but this coming week I ask all of us (myself included) to step back, take a breath, think about ways to find compromise, build some consensus, and be leaders in solution orientation. 

Let’s start with a Hooray! for the good – which is the perspective I’d like to take this week:

Hooray! for the ultimate volunteers -- those who risk their lives: The Mill Valley Volunteer Firefighter Annual Installation Dinner took place last Saturday night. Everyone should know that our volunteer firefighters have a long and rich tradition of service to Mill Valley. Volunteers were actually serving the community starting in 1893, 8 years before the city incorporated in 1901! This year’s Officers include: President - Rich Riechel; VP - Travis Terrell; Secretary - Drew Betzner; Treasurer - John Thompson; and Sergeant of Arms - Fred Martin. This year’s Board of Directors includes: Ron Vidal, Greg Moore, Pat Costello, Mike St. John and Tom Welch.

We also had two new firefighter trainees join our team. Anthony Alviso (who I met the other night) comes to us from Burlingame and is a state licensed paramedic. Jameson Schwab (who started last week) has been a volunteer with Marinwood Fire and has been seasonal with Marin County Fire. He is a state certified hazardous material technician and is currently attending paramedic school.

We thank you all. And do you know who else we thank? The women who stand front and center in this action. Hooray! for women.

Hooray! For more money for Mill Valley: Rick Misuraca just keeps on working – right into his recently announced retirement. The latest accomplishment? Securing a $26,000 grant out of the Cosco Busan Oil Spill Settlement. These sums will be used to support the Bayfront Park Recreational Bay Access Pier Rehabilitation project.

Hooray! for the 49ers being in the Super Bowl, and mazel tov to one their most rabid fans – Jack Goldman – for becoming an adult this weekend too. Game on Jack!

Hooray! that Mill Valley has a AAA credit rating: Need I say more?

Hooray! for all the work Mill Valley has done on pension reform: I’m not afraid to talk about the “P” word because I’m proud of where we sit – even though we know there’s lots more work to do. Mill Valley has always prided itself on strong ties with its represented work force and together we have taken steps to address this important issue so the health of those relationships remains intact. Look at these major steps we’ve done so far:

  • Seven years ago, we pooled our risk inside PERS with other similarly sized cities, and when we did that, we issued pension obligation bonds to pay off a $6.8 million unfunded liability with PERS. We are servicing the bonds in the ordinary course of business.
  • By taking advantage of the lower interest rates on the market relative to that offered by PERS, the city is saving approximately $1.2 million dollars, or $50,000 annually over 25 years.
  • Second Tiers: We have created a tiered system, including most recently (in 2011) implementing a second-tier plan for non-safety employees. This plan reduces the benefits formula from 2.5 percent at 55 to 2 percent at 55.  
  • In 2011, the city also negotiated a second tier for some safety employees and management employees whereby employees pay 3 percent of salary (instead of 0 percent) towards the retirement plan.  
  • Second Tiers have had a combined annual savings impact of over $66,000! 

And now we have help from the state. The Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) was signed by Gov. Brown in September 2011, and is now effective. Although PEPRA is a broad and complex piece of legislation, in essence it provides:

  • a) reduced benefits formulas for new Safety and Miscellaneous employees with the employees obligated to contribute 50 percent of the annual pension cost, and 
  • b) removal of “special” pays from the benefits calculation and a mandatory 3-year average compensation for benefits calculation in order to prevent “spiking.” PEPRA will reduce the retirement costs for new employees by approximately 40 percent.

Yes, there's more work to do, but we have good partners in it (our employees), and we are well positioned for the journey.

Hooray! for our revitalized Chamber of Commerce: Here’s one of those topics that has divided the community, and the council frankly. Council policy has been and continues to be to support our Chamber and business community, and we are pleased to see a revitalized Chamber is helping Mill Valley get in the news.

Hooray! for the spirit of collaboration around our General Plan work:  The GPAC made good progress last week in another 3-hour session, working though the draft Goals, Polices and Programs offered from the Natural Environment, Hazards, Arts and Community Vitality working group sessions. We next tackle Mobility in a brief session starting at 7 p.m. at City Hall on February 7. From there, it’s getting a draft General Plan to the GPAC in March, and the GPAC getting that draft to the Planning Commission in April. Net/net: we remain on track.

Hooray! for the weather: Man it’s been a glorious week. It’s in the teens back east. That said, there’s rain in the forecast, and as a father of young drivers, I can’t help but share these simple reminders for rainy weather driving:   

  • Turn on your lights (CA law requires your headlights to be on when your wipers are on anyway)
  • Avoid sudden moves, try to drive in the tracks of the car ahead, reduce your speed and allow for additional stopping distance
  • Avoid hydroplaning by making sure your tires have proper treads and are properly inflated.
  • If you do hydroplane, keep the steering wheel straight and take your foot off the gas. Don't hit your brakes or try to steer. As you slow, the weight of the car will cause it to settle down onto the road again.
  • Be very cautious in light rain or mist. Oil and dirt on the roadway surface make driving extra slippery.
  • Remember, puddles can hide potentially damaging potholes.

By the way, if you want to get extreme weather alerts, or updates around emergencies, or crime in your neighborhood, you can register your cell phone today at www.alertmarin.org – the County of Marin's new emerhency alert system – to receive these type alerts from the County of Marin.

Hooray! for our smoking ordinance: Mill Valley got a huge lift to a B Grade from the American Lung Association for updating our Municipal Code to restrict smoking from most public spaces, such as parks, playgrounds and outdoor events. I’m guessing the blue haze above City Hall during Furthur may have prevented the A, but that haze comes with our heritage of tolerance – something we all love about the town. 

* * * * *

Hooray! for all of you too. Thanks for listening. Let’s work together to continue doing more good things.


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Debbie G. January 28, 2013 at 04:27 PM
You are amazing Andy in all that you do for so many! Hooray to you !!
Debbie G. January 28, 2013 at 04:27 PM
You are amazing Andy in all that you do for so many! Hooray to you !!
Andy Berman January 28, 2013 at 06:12 PM
You are too kind. It's all about community, and in this regard we are all in this together, doing our parts for the whole. It's my pleasure to serve. Andy
Bob Silvestri January 31, 2013 at 03:17 AM
Re: David Rand's criticism of the Planning Department, I have to suggest, Andy, that "taking it personally" is a big mistake and counterproductive. And it has nothing to do with being thankful or not, though we're all thankful to be able to live here. What's been going on between the Planning Commission and the PD is nothing new. I've talked with you and the City Manager, and other council members about the failures of the Planning Department to do their job many times in the past 5 years. We've specifically talked about the dysfunctional nature of the PD's terminology in "recommending" projects. We've all seen this coming and David Rand had a lot of guts to bring it up. Let's not dismiss the messenger because his style may have been less than perfect. The PD repeatedly and increasingly, it seems, disregards PC recommendations to applicants (years of study sessions on the Kite Hill project, and Von der Werth befor that), fails to back up the PC even when in the PD's position is in violation to the Municipal Code (the recent Walnut Ave. house PD "recommendation" without even noting it needed a variance), and generally acts defensive and dismissive when the PC doesn't rubber stamp the PD recommendations. This has been going on for at least 10 years. There's something amiss with the "culture" at the PD that deserves scrutiny. Thanks for all you do.
Thrasy Bulus February 01, 2013 at 11:00 PM
The Planning Dept. tries to make sense out of the contradictory mess of the Municipal Code and associated rules. We have a 19th-century urban-scale core, with suburban-scale building regulations grafted onto it. The rules encourage tear-down and sprawling ostentation--both inimical to "small town character." The building profession and associated lawyer/consultant class grow rich off the process, while anyone wishing to preserve, maintain and enhance the urban-density core has to fight 20 different battles to do anything. The PC only considered 21 projects. That alone evidences a broken process in a town of 13,000. Whether they approved 8 or 18 doesn't much matter. They only considered 21. Another commission to study and issue yet more contradictory mandates will not solve it. If we cared, we would start over with a process where people would be encouraged to enhance their properties at a level consistent with the existing neighborhood fabric, but where no one is encouraged to overbuild. The whole concept of a variance should go away, replaced by a presumption that your property can be pretty much like your neighbor's, which varies block by block. For this we could build a consensus, except among those bent on turning us into Malibu. It is the massive overbuilding that creates the traffic etc. We need a process much more like mediation, and nothing at all like the essentially litigious one we have.


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