City Manager Gives ‘State of City’ Talk

Dennis Evanosky Nestled among barrels of aging wine at the Rock Wall Winery on Alameda Point, City Manager Jill Keimach spoke to a group of Chamber of Commerce members and their guests last Friday about the current state of the city of Alameda.

 

Chamber of commerce hosts official event on the Point

City Manager Jill Keimach delivered her second annual report to the Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Feb. 24. She began her talk by asking members of the audience to choose their favorite colors. She introduced a high-tech, real-time method to vote by way of Smartphones. The audience watched as their choices appeared on the screen behind Keimach, finally settling on the color blue. 

Keimach then told her audience her favorite color is purple. She explained that her choice perfectly blended the colors blue and red that represent the Democratic and Republican parties. Purple, she explained, best represented her role as a public servant: nonpartisan and apolitical.

She looked back on 2016 and said that — despite her vision and goals — life got in the way. She pointed to uncertainty that today is stronger than ever. “Economic uncertainty is forcing our business owners, investors and developers to pause as they try to predict the future,” she said. This uncertainty, Keimach said, includes changes to the tax structure, which has impacted housing tax credits and the construction of affordable housing.

Keimach also expressed her fear that the federal government could step in and deport some 70 percent of undocumented restaurant workers. She pointed to the anxiety this uncertainty places on employees and their families, as well as on restaurant and other business owners and the entire fabric of the local economy.

“Our community has come together for positive action,” she said. She pointed to the volatility and anger around the country and said that she was “so proud that our community is becoming much more involved in a positive way.” Applause interrupted her speech as she recalled Alameda’s high school students marching to City Hall and the compassion the community expressed for the Islamic Center of Alameda.

Keimach reminded her audience of the City Council’s call for making Alameda a sanctuary city and the school district echoing the Council with a “safe harbor” resolution. Both come with a price tag. She asked her audience to turn to their Smartphones and let her know how concerned they were about the loss of federal funding: 43 percent of the audience said that they were somewhat concerned, while 35 percent said that they were  very concerned, and 22 percent said they were not concerned.

Keimach told her audience that the City Council and staff joined a conversation with other sanctuary cities in Alameda County. During that discussion, hosted by Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office, Keimach said that she learned that the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment protects us. The 10th Amendment states that all powers, except those explicitly stated in the Constitution, lie with the states and the people. The 10th Amendment prohibits the federal government from coercing state and local officials. The threat of eliminating federal funds amounts to coercion.

She also pointed to court cases strengthening the requirement that an action must connect with the funding. For example, the federal government can only potentially eliminate funding to law enforcement if officers refuse to remove undocumented residents. She pointed out that, with this test, just $17,000 is at risk: the amount that the Alameda Police Department received from the federal government. 

Keimach then focused on Alameda. She told the audience that the City Council recently held a goal-setting workshop. First on the list: a sustainable budget even during times of economic uncertainty. She said that three goals rose to the top during the discussions: affordable housing in new developments and the construction of workforce housing; a homeless policy and plan; pro bono and other low-cost services to immigrants and refugee residents.

“Tough financial decisions that the City Council will be making highlight the difficulty in how to balance the numerous requests for funding,” she said. “The Council has to ensure that our funding is spent prudently for our long-term financial sustainably and that all our services meet the needs of our residents.”

She again turned to her audience and asked for their top three priorities. Thirty percent answered “critical infrastructure improvements”; 17 percent said taking care of Alameda’s homeless; and 16 percent opted for transportation improvements, including a city-wide shuttle.

Keimach wrapped up her report by asking the audience to choose their favorite city departments. Public Safety came in first, followed by Community Development and Public Works.