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December 8, 2022

Inflation Mandates Government be More Accountable, Transparent and Efficient

Across the world and here in Scotts Valley, people’s paychecks are being stretched like never before. With U.S. inflation running at its highest rate in the last 40 years, virtually everything requires more money—bacon now costs what steak used to, eggs are approaching $5 a dozen, families cutting back vacations are realizing travel costs for even a three-day weekend are though the roof, and let’s not even talk about the pain that comes with filling up your gas tank nowadays.

What makes these hikes even worse is that wages aren’t coming close to keeping up with these increases. And just as bad, we’re rarely seeing increases in efficiency or service that come close to justifying these higher costs.

This poses a special peril for government, especially one that’s both as lean and dependent on public support for its very survival as is the City of Scotts Valley.  

While several long-term city efforts are about to bear fruit both for our local economy and already unmatched quality of life, such as the opening of Target and the taproom The Hanger at Skypark, there is more our government can do to deliver results for its residents while being more transparent and accountable. 

Next week I’ll share a highly specific reform plan that will detail how we can do better. Until then, I’d like to focus on two foundational items that should be a priority for our City Council, especially with rapidly rising costs that are slamming everybody’s pocketbook:

Guarantee Scotts Valley police competitive pay

In March 2020, the voters of our community backed Measure Z, a temporary sales tax that gave Scotts Valley one of the highest local sales taxes anywhere in California, 1.25 cents per dollar.  A tax this high was sadly necessary to give our officers long overdue pay increases that had previously devastated our police staffing levels and cost us more than one great cop who left for higher pay elsewhere.

With inflation through the roof less than a year and a half later, other jurisdictions are providing pay increases for their officers even though their police contracts are not up for renewal. Why?  Because they know that’s what’s necessary to retain and attract great cops.  

To prevent a future exodus of officers driven by higher pay in surrounding jurisdictions, I believe Scotts Valley should prioritize police such that, at a minimum, they’re guaranteed to receive competitive pay within Santa Cruz County every year. In the future, if the Scotts Valley Police Officers Association is willing, I’d like to see the city automatically raise our officers’ pay annually by freshly calculating the average officer salary within the county and adjusting accordingly. 

It seems to me that if any strategic plan is going to enshrine spending priorities that aren’t essential, surely it’s not too much to ask that we also codify appropriate spending on our city’s most important resource, the outstanding women and men of the Scotts Valley Police Department.

Achieve key objectives through greater focus

It’s no secret that the challenge of our time in California, even before the recent inflation surge, has been the difficulty of residents who aren’t wealthy in making ends meet, especially as it relates to housing.

In recent years, I’ve talked about four ways we can do better in providing housing for our residents: extending our affordable housing overlay to cover the entire city, completing our General Plan update to increase residential zoning where it makes sense, aligning mis-matched requirements such as parking so there are no surprises with development proposals, and making progress on the Town Center.  

The latter point includes significant elements outside of our control (market conditions, land valuations, changing state regulations, etc.) such that despite very real recent progress, we still have a ways to go. The first three points, however, have been entirely within our power to enact for years.

So why haven’t we? It’s not because the city doesn’t care or that our staff isn’t efficient. Quite the contrary; we currently have what is in many important ways the strongest employee team at City Hall that I’ve seen in my time on the Council. The challenge is that amidst competing priorities, to say nothing of global pandemics, under-staffing and evacuations because of wildfires, the tyranny of the immediate can take priority over longer-term priorities in the city just like it does in the private sector.

The way to rectify this is through a real strategic planning process that’s used by the private sector, non-profits and even many governments. This includes one in which competing priorities are widely and thoroughly discussed with all stakeholders beforehand, forced-choice exercises guide the difficult task of ranking one preference over another, and achievement is defined ahead of time by objective metrics of accomplishment within certain time periods to keep everybody laser-focused on key objectives such as providing housing for our teachers, cops and workforce.

By creating a multi-meeting process that’s heavily advertised to the public, every six months the City Council can set these priorities in conjunction with detailed assessments from staff of what’s possible within our existing resources. This will let everybody—staff, councilmembers and the public—know what will be prioritized and achieved.  And given clearly defined metrics to alert us to obstacles and show success, the city’s accountability on these key priorities will be transparent for all to see.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in Scotts Valley know what a true treasure our community is. The City of Scotts Valley’s effectiveness has and will continue to play an important role in the success and desirability of our town. However, like any other organization that values results and is dedicated to improvement, we can do better.  With rising costs threatening so much of everyday life, there’s no better time for some common sense reforms to make us more accountable, transparent and efficient than ever before. I’ll provide more detail on those steps next week.

Jim Reed is the Vice-Mayor of the City of Scotts Valley. In his day job, he serves as the Chief of Staff to San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, a position he’s held since the Mayor’s first day in office in 2015.


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