City Council candidate Gerard Valbuena Dumuk
Gerard Valbuena Dumuk
Everyone has a certain set of life experiences and skill sets that they can bring to the table. What makes me a great candidate is that I'm an ordinary guy, doing an extraordinary job.
As a firefighter I work for Cal Fire, the the largest multipurpose emergency service and resource protection agency within the United States, with 3,000 employees. My ranger unit alone is responsible for over 1.35 million acres of state responsibility area as well as local responsibility area. Cal Fire is an all risk agency responding to over 300,000 calls for service per year. Along with fire suppression and emergency medical services, we are trained in all aspects of emergency responses.
Recently Cal Fire assigned me to administration. I was one of a handful of people responsible for the inner workings of the Santa Clara Unit, which covers 5 counties including Contra Costa, Alameda, San Jose, San Joaquin, and Santa Clara. We managed finance, human resources, cost recovery, and budget for the unit, which encompasses 16 fire stations and 32 fire apparatus. It was like a small government.
Formerly a licensed paramedic, I have also spent a number of years working in the private sector for an ambulance company providing advanced life support as well as basic life support transport services to the citizens of Solano County.
And somewhere in between, I was the chef/owner of a renowned restaurant in San Francisco which earned numerous awards and accolades including best sushi, best new restaurant, best chef, and best place for a first date from publications including the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Sf Weekly. Numerous publications such as 7x7, the San Francisco Chronicle, and San Francisco magazine lauded Midori Mushi as well.
In a nutshell, I am a well rounded guy with a wide range of life experience.
If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
1. Accessibility to education. I plan to advocate for and preserve the programs that exist in our communities, which connect our youth to mentors, and young adults to vocational training. These are the programs which make good men great. We are faced with threat to our public schools system: our community colleges face cutbacks while the jails get funding. I see something inherently wrong with this. Without community college I would not have been able to go to a fire academy, I would not have been able to attend an EMT class, which led to paramedic school, which led to my career as a fire-fighter. I will fight to preserve these institutions, tooth and nail.
2. Local “mom and pop" economic development. This means retaining and vitalizing our neighborhood commercial districts and small businesses.
3. To take a practical and pragmatic approach to fiscal stability.
What is your vision for the future of Alameda Point, and what are three steps you would take to implement that vision?
We stand to be the largest landlord in the east bay. Our first steps should be to secure and finalize deeds with the Navy. We should also strive to keep them liable for any life hazards on the base, both existing and yet to be discovered, in perpetuity. The potential for future findings should not be disregarded.
Concurrently, we must market and attract businesses that make sense for the city of Alameda, with regards to impact on the environment, the community and fiscal stability.
State law limits the steps local elected officials can take to address employee pension and benefit costs. Given these restrictions, how would you address the city’s unfunded pension and health care liabilities?
First thing we need to do is flip the panic switch to the “OFF" position. The fund managers at PERS are not investing for the short term. There is a lot of hyperbole on investment losses based on the recession, but if you look at PERS on a 20 year scale they look pretty good. Not too long ago the annual rate of return for PERS was close to 30%. This year the rate of return is closer to 1%. The message I must get across is to concern yourself with the average, currently hovering at 7%. The long term investment strategies for PERS are sound, however they can stand to make some adjustments for the global market.
The issue of retirement spiking (the process of cashing out using credits as their final compensation calculation) has been addressed most recently with the passage of AB 340. Overall this practice did hurt the system tremendously, but it will heal.
There is a fiduciary responsibility to handle these funds in a manner that is fair to the employees and the taxpayer. Generally speaking, 70 to 80 percent of the pension cost or pay out is covered by earned profits from the investment return. The rest is covered by employee contribution. This, as well, has been addressed by AB 340: all new employees are required to pay half the “normal cost" of their retirement. Normal cost is the cost of the pension minus any unfunded liabilities. In general we stand to see an overall increase in the employee contribution rate that is fair to both the employee and the taxpayer.
Let PERS continue to do what is does best. Let them continue to invest our money, so that they can make money, so that people can retire. Historically PERS has done an exemplary job. They are investing for the long term.
The legislature passed AB 340 overwhelmingly, by a vote of 66 to 9. This new pension reform bill will trickle down to the local level and I recommend that we hunker down and weather the storm.
Do you think there are unmet housing needs in Alameda? If so, what are they and how would you address them?
Demographically speaking there is a general shortage of senior housing. For every man, woman and child, there has been historically a lack of accommodation for a grandparent or two. I am an advocate for senior housing as there are many benefits. For starters, having a grandparent around completes the family unit. I can attest to that fact, because I lived in a household that included my grandparents. They watched me after school, helped me with my homework, influenced me as a young person and motivated me to excel in school. They even paid me to bring home good grades.
Affordable senior housing also meets the affordable housing requirement imposed on our city by the state. In addition, Housing and Urban Development will enter into rent subsidy contracts for a period of thirty years which is the life of the loan. If we are creative about our funding options senior housing can prove fiscally sustainable. Unassisted affordable senior housing also comes with an underlying economy in the form of care providers, and health care workers. Seniors are also users of public transportation, they carpool, generally commit no crime and are usually active members of our communities.
Are there any city services that you believe are underfunded? If so, how would you raise revenue or what would you cut to pay for them?
In almost any government agency, local or federal, there are always a few departments that can stand to see a little bit of a jump start.
The city's current revenue model includes income from sales tax, property tax, cost reimbursements, and other taxes. But the potential proceeds from Alameda point have yet to be seen. However we shouldn’t act like we already have it. Nothing is so under funded that we need to sound the sirens just yet. Acting responsibly with our checkbook means not making any agreements that we cannot reasonably expect to pay for. I don’t plan on following the examples of our past lawmakers who have repeatedly made commitments that the next administration had to sign the check for.
City Manager John Russo has said he would like to implement more public-private partnerships in order to continue providing services at a reduced cost to the city. Do you agree? And if so, which services currently provided by the city do you think could be sourced through private contracts?
I am indifferent so long as it honors existing contracts and agreements with public employees. On the other hand, I feel that I should bring to light some public-private partnerships that exist. Cal Fire, my employer, has 4 bargaining units as well as hundreds of private contractors from single owner operators on up to multi employee privately owned companies. Statewide, there are 21 bargaining units and thousands of private contractors. This hybrid formula of providing services to Californians has proven to be sustainable and cost effective thus far.
How could city government improve the way it does its job?
Despite our current national recession, the City of Alameda has comparably done a fine job of governing our resources. There are 3 cities statewide currently in bankruptcy filings. We can learn from their mistakes and proactively adapt our policies insuring our survivability in the long run.