Sunday, July 15, 2012

Slurry Sealing, Ferric Chloride, and Root Foaming: The Exciting World of the Consent Calendar

Many of you have probably looked at a City Council agenda and noticed that the large majority of items are located under "Consent Calendar".

And if you've watched a City Council meeting, you've also noticed that the "Consent Calendar" items are usually passed as one item with no discussion, no debate, and take less time to pass than it took me to type this paragraph.

However, rest assured that a lot of work goes into a "Consent Calendar" item by myself and City staff before a City Council meeting.

The History of the Consent Calendar

Under parliamentary rules governing City Council meetings, Consent Calendar items are reserved for items that are deemed to be non-controversial.  They allow a City Council to save the bulk of it's meeting time for issues in which there is a need for a serious public debate.

Thus, you'll see a lot of Consent Calendar items deal with the routine maintenance of our City infrastructure dealing with items necessary for the health and well-being of our City. 

The Public Works Department usually has several items on the Consent Calendar.  Items like "2011 Citywide Slurry Seal Project" (dealing with sealing and maintaining our streets).  Or "Supply of Ferric Chloride for Wastewater Treatment Plant" ("for sulvite control in the transfer of dewatered biosolids in order to minimize crystallization within the pipes" -- say that ten times fast!).  Or "Root Foaming for City Sewers" ( to control the growth of tree roots). 

All of these items are important to the City, and because they deal with the expenditure of over $100,000 or City funds, by law the contracts for these services must be approved by the City Council.  Thus, they make their way onto the Consent Calendar. 

Working Behind The Scenes to Ensure a Smooth Consent Calendar

While it appears that the City Council and City staff spend mere minutes passing the Consent Calendar at the formal meeting, rest assured that there is a lot more done behind the scenes with each item.

First, City staff spend days, weeks, and months negotiating, analyzing, and working on each contract or issue put up on the Consent Calendar.  If an item is not fully prepared and vetted, it does not make it to the Consent Calendar.

Second, each Consent Calendar item is presented to the City Council with a full staff report written by a City staff member who is an expert in their field.  Every fact and figure is summarized to the City Council, and more detailed information is often provided as attachments to the report.  City staff are also available to answer any questions raised by the Council up until the Consent Calendar is voted on. 

Finally, as your elected representative, I go through each and every Consent Calendar item before a City Council meeting.  Because I am responsible to represent each resident of San Mateo and need to ensure the wise use of your tax dollars, I do the following for each item:

  1. Thoroughly read each staff report and attachments
  2. Do an internet search of each company the City is contracting with to read about the company, check consumer reports, and check the license status of companies requiring contractor's licenses, business licenses, etc.
  3. Where necessary, I follow up with an email or phone call to the City Manager or appropriate City staff member to get additional information.
Only after I have done all of the above steps am I willing to leave the item on the Consent Calendar and pass the item without discussion.

There have been times in the past where I have removed an item from the Consent Calendar.  Click HERE to see the minutes of a council meeting in 2010 where I pulled an item from the Consent Calendar. 

Anyone Can Pull An Item Off The Consent Calendar

If I am not satisfied at any point during my review of a Consent Calendar item, I will ask to pull that item off the Consent Calendar so that the item can be reviewed in a full public hearing. 

That is the key to remember:  An item on the Consent Calendar may be pulled by a Councilmember or anyone else at any time before it is voted on. 

Many times, my questions will lead to an item being pulled in advance of the City Council meeting.

However, in the majority of cases, our City staff is so professional, their reports need no questions or follow-up.

Thus, while Consent Calendar items may seem mundane, with little work done on them, now you know how much work is done by City staff and your City Council to review these items and ensure a healthy City for all of us! 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Oversized Trucks in Our Neighborhoods? Come Be Heard On This Issue!

One of the growing complaints I've received from neighbors throughout San Mateo has been the parking of commercial trucks in residential neighborhoods.  Our current City ordinances unfortunately do not give our local police and code enforcement officers the necessary tools to enforce the parking of commercial vehicles in a fair and equitable manner. 

Thanks to the hard work of our City Staff, on August 1, the City of San Mateo Public Works Department will host a community workshop to discuss the issue and begin collect input to address this important topic. 

If you have been affected by this issue or want your opinions to be heard, I urge you to attend this community workshop on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 from 6-7:30 PM at the Main Library in downtown San Mateo. 

Click here to see a flyer, or contact me for more information. 

Come be part of the discussion on oversized trucks on residential streets

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July

On the 236th birthday of our great nation, may everyone have a wonderful 4th of July!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Allegation of Discrimination at San Mateo High Schools

This weekend, the San Mateo Daily Journal published an article about allegations of discrimination against students within the San Mateo Union High School District.

While the City Council does not deal directly with issues within the school district, a few months ago I was asked by students within the district to help address their concerns of discriminatory treatment. 

You can read the Daily Journal article here, or see it printed below. 

Last week, I issued the following statement to the media regarding this issue:

"Earlier this year, it came to my attention that students of Chinese heritage were complaining about discriminatory treatment in their placement at schools within the San Mateo Union High School District. After meeting with the students and their parents (who asked that their names not be disclosed), I arranged a meeting with Scott Laurence, the Superintendent of the High School District. Mr. Laurence and I discussed the issue and continue to keep our lines of communication open on this issue.

The students and parents also received referrals to various civil rights groups, but I do not know the status of those referrals.

As an elected representative whose community encompasses the San Mateo Union High School District, I believe any claim of discriminatory treatment against ANY group within our community must be thoroughly investigated to ensure that all people are treated fairly. I applaud Superintendent Laurence for meeting with me, am confident that the School District will cooperate in the federal investigation currently underway, and am willing to assist with mediating or monitoring the situation on behalf of my constituency where appropriate."

Please note: The City of San Mateo and the City Council has not taken a formal stance on this issue.

District investigated for discrimination
June 30, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Does the San Mateo Union High School District discriminate against certain students when it comes to school assignments?

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating such a complaint, a spokesman confirmed this week. While details of the complaint are sparse, the allegation is that “the San Mateo Union High School District discriminates against students of Chinese descent in enrollment, by holding them to different standards — for demonstrating residency or guardianship — than students of other races or national origins,” according to the U.S. Department of Education spokesman.

Those who have met the families who lodged the complaint explained it stems from students who live in Millbrae and had hoped to attend Mills High School. Instead, students were sent to Capuchino High School.

The school assignment policy generally calls for students to attend the school of residency. Students living in Millbrae and those who went through the Millbrae Elementary School District, for example, are most often assigned to attend Mills. There are exceptions to that, however, said Kirk Black, associate superintendent of human resources and administrative services, speaking generally about the policy.

For instance, students may have requested and been approved for a transfer, have a sibling or senior privilege for a school outside of their normal assignment, to be part of a program like English language development or special that are not available at all schools, or may be transferred to make up units. School capacity issues can also play into assignment, he said.

The district declined to give further details but did provide a statement.

“The Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint, and the district is fully cooperating with the investigation. We cannot, however, comment on the substance of an ongoing investigation,” according to the statement.