Council workshop focuses on upcoming city priorities

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A facilitator leads city officials in brainstorming goals and priorities for Seal Beach. Photo by David N. Young

School safety, a restaurant on the Seal Beach Pier, animals on the beach and a possible ballot measure are just a few of the issues discussed during the city of Seal Beach’s fifth strategic planning retreat held Wednesday, March 7, at Old Ranch Country Club.

The mayor and all council members, the city manager, city attorney, police chief and all city department heads and some city staff members were in attendance. There were also a few members of the public in the audience.

The main purpose of the six-hour meeting was for city officials to discuss the city’s three-year goals and to analyze what is being done to achieve those goals. Most of the three-year goals were established at the city’s first strategic planning retreat in 2016. Similar planning meetings have been held roughly every six months since then and the goals have been altered over time.

The current three-year goals are:

• Provide a quality beach and pier environment, including potentially a restaurant. (“potentially” was added at the March 7 meeting)

• Achieve short-and-long term fiscal sustainability

• Improve and maintain infrastructure and facilities

• Attract, develop, compensate and retain quality staff

• Enhance public safety

They are not listed in any priority order.

Before tackling the three-year goals the meeting focused on what facilitator Marilyn Snider of Snider and Associates called a S.W.O.T. analysis. She asked about the city’s accomplishments since the last retreat in October 2017 as well as the internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats facing the city. Attendees simply called out suggestions and they were all put on lists. Included on the list of accomplishments: the city’s authorization to hire two new police officers, the approval of a Tidelands lease agreement and holding a school safety town hall meeting.

What made the external opportunities list? A new Hof’s Hut, suggested Mayor Mike Varipapa and the new Bay Theatre added by Seal Beach Police Commander Steve Bowles. Included on the external threats list was federal tax reform suggested by Finance Director Victoria Beatley and past judicial reform ballot measures added by City Attorney Craig Steele. A lack of resources, lack of staff and lack of funding dominated the list of internal weaknesses. (You can see the complete lists on the city’s website www.sealbeachca.gov under “Quick Links”). The meeting then focused on the biggest task of the day: reviewing the three-year goals and revising objectives on how to best achieve them. City officials broke up into small groups and each group addressed one of the three-year goals. Here is a brief look at some of what was discussed and decided regarding each goal.

Provide a quality pier and beach environment

During the meeting City Manager Jill Ingram questioned if building a restaurant on the pier should still be part of the goal. The plan calls for building a pier that is able to support a restaurant but Ingram questioned if the establishment of a restaurant should still be defined in the goal.

District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton supported the inquiry and said that some constituents in Old Town don’t want a pier restaurant. The group officially changed the goal to read: Provide a quality beach and pier environment, including potentially a restaurant.

In other pier developments, the group created an objective tasking Public Works Director Steve Myrter with bringing to City Council for consideration a construction contract for pier improvements at the June 11 meeting.

At the strategic retreat, city officials also decided to develop a public education campaign regarding animals on the beach and pier.

Lieutenant Chris Pierce of the Seal Beach Marine Safety and Lifeguards Department said there are a lot of complaints about animals on the beach. Pierce said beachgoers who are asked about their animals on the beach often say their pets are service animals. Service animals are allowed but must be on a leash.

Achieve fiscal sustainability

At the last strategic retreat in October 2017, recovering new revenue from the oil industry was discussed as a potentially valuable source of cash for the city. But the past strategic objective to hire a consultant to recover oil revenue was left off the new list.

A contract with previous city contractor Greg Kirste of Municipal Petroleum Analysts was pulled from consideration from the agenda for the Dec. 11, 2017 council meeting. At the time, Finance Director Victoria Beatley said it was pulled because the contract was still being negotiated. During a brief break at the meeting, Beatley said that “nothing is off the table” regarding current negotiations with the oil consultant but she added that other things have come up.

A broad search for revenue was carried over from previous retreats. The strategic objective requires Beatley to “research, evaluate and recommend to the City Council for direction options for new revenue sources, up to and including a new ballot measure.” Although it wasn’t specified what the ballot measure would cover, during a later discussion about public safety, City Manager Jill Ingram suggested a possibility when referencing this specific objective. “We have a financial objective in there that ties into presenting council, you know, potential new revenue sources and those sorts of things,” Ingram said and added, “There’s a potential that we could end up with a ballot measure, let’s just say, that involves funding for public safety.” But the clock is ticking if the city wants to sponsor a ballot measure. The tentative date for Beatley to present her revenue options is June 1. City Clerk Robin Roberts said the deadline to put a measure on the upcoming November ballot is Aug. 10.

Beatley is also expected to present a five-year financial projection for the city to be considered by City Council in August. And we could learn more about potential sewer and water rate hikes this summer. By July 1, Public Works Director Steve Myrter is expected to make a recommendation on fee increases to the City Council.

Improve and maintain infrastructure

A lack of adequate street lighting and its impact on public safety was mentioned on more than one occasion at the strategic retreat. In response, the group created an objective to evaluate the issue and make a recommendation at the Aug. 13 council meeting. Also at that meeting, City Council is slated to consider the prioritization of updating facilities in poor condition listed in the 2017 Facilities Condition Assessment.

Attract and retain quality staff

Seal Beach has been without an official Community Development director since Jim Basham resigned in May of 2017. City Manager Jill Ingram is now tasked with filling the position by July 1, according to a new strategic objective.

Hiring a code enforcement officer is also expected to be recommended by Sept. 1. Talks between the city and the Police Officers Association and the Police Management Association have been going on since last year. By July 1, Assistant City Manager Patrick Gallegos is expected to present Memoranda of Understanding to City Council regarding the contract negotiations.

Enhance public safety

School safety was on the minds of city officials at the planning retreat. An objective was created to “ensure increased visibility of Orange County Fire Authority at local schools to help increase school safety.”

OCFA Battalion Chief Robert Acosta said the aim would be to do daily checks on local schools beginning April 1. Seal Beach police officers regularly check on local schools as part of their routine patrol.

A major decision is looming regarding the future of Seal Beach’s relationship with the OCFA.

The city must decide whether to continue what’s becoming a costly contract with OCFA.

At the retreat, city officials created an objective for City Manager Jill Ingram to make a recommendation to the City Council regarding the OCFA contract at the June 25th council meeting. A committee made up of city-appointed residents of Seal Beach is also currently examining the issue.

At the last retreat in October 2017, city leaders were focused on hiring more police officers. Last November, council approved borrowing money from a pool fund to cover the first-year salaries for two more officers.

But the city still needs to find long-term funding for the officer positions. With that in mind, the group established an objective to present to council at the June 25 meeting long-term funding needed to pay for the new cops and to “meet increased public safety operational needs.”

The city’s finance director, police chief, marine safety chief and OCFA division chief will work together to tackle this objective. It was during discussion of this objective that Ingram mentioned the ballot measure. As for police staffing, Interim Police Chief Joe Miller is due to request funding from the City Council for an Independent Police Services Study at the April 9 meeting.

The study, among other things, will examine staffing within the department. The department currently has 33 officers on the force but has funding to hire two more officers. Miller has said he wants to increase the number of officers on the force to more than 40.

Another objective was made regarding the city’s summer lifeguard staffing. The Los Alamitos Unified School District changed its school year calendar so that beginning next fall, classes at all campuses will begin in early August and end in May. This change means a shift in how lifeguards will be staffed during the summer. By Sept. 1, a new Summer Lifeguard Deployment Plan is expected to be presented to City Council.

What’s next?

City Manager Jill Ingram often provides updates on the strategic plan at council meetings. The objectives are thought of as flexible and are often modified and updated, a point Councilwoman Ellery Deaton wanted to emphasize during the meeting.

From last October to the current meeting there were 23 objectives listed and 13 of those were considered completed or on target to be completed, according to the city’s tracking. Some objectives were carried over and given a new target completion date while others were eliminated. The latest strategic plan has 26 objectives to be completed between now and September.

Again, you can see all of the goals, objectives, list of accomplishments and the S.W.O.T. analysis on the homepage of the city’s website at www.sealbeachca.gov under “Quick Links.” The next Strategic Planning Retreat is tentatively scheduled for September.

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