The San Marino City Council gathered last Friday to discuss the 2024-25 budget process overview and outline priority initiatives, introduced by San Marino City Manager Philippe Eskandar for the next budget year.
“While this is being presented initially by myself, I had to give kudos to all the staff — our department heads, our analysts, our managers. Every staff member from the front desk all the way up has helped us throughout the year with the [2024-2025] budget process to get us to this point,” Eskandar said.
“This is one of the most important, heaviest lifts for city staff and the City Council. This is our work plan for the year — our policy guide for the year — so we take this very seriously, and today we are excited to kick this off.”
Given the scope of these items, Eskandar said the initiatives will likely be multiyear projects.
“We’ve intentionally not loaded up very heavily on priority initiatives for this next year, so that we can focus on executing these initiatives really at the highest level possible,” Eskandar said.
Some of the most pressing initiatives brought before Council for consideration include fiscal health, traffic safety and neighborhood preservation.
PUBLIC SAFETY EXCELLENCE
The Public Safety Parcel Tax will return to the November 2024 ballot as the city asks the community to continue to help fund police and fire departments in hopes for a safe community. The city will produce educational materials to present fact-based information about the parcel tax.
“The Public Safety Parcel Tax generates $3.5 to $4 million in revenue for the city that we are very dependent on,” Eskandar said. “This will sunset next year, so we will be making sure that the Council and the community understand the impact of these monies and how far this money goes.”
Eskandar said San Marino delivers top-tier public safety services thanks to the tax.
“San Marino delivers public safety services that are the best in the region, if not the state,” Eskandar said. “… Our police and fire services I can say can outrun anyone. We have some of the best … because the community continues to fund the police and fire services through this Public Safety Parcel Tax.
“Absent this parcel tax, there will be very important conversations this Council will need to have about what to do to fill that gap.”
Additionally, the police department continues to look at ways to improve operations through modern technology, such as investing in body worn cameras for patrolling officers.
PRESERVE RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOODS
The Capital Improvement Program Budget process will begin in March as the city continues to look at ways to preserve and improve infrastructure for streets, water and waste.
Staff will continue to work with a consultant and the state to submit a certified housing element. There will need to be continued community engagement and plans created for the ongoing progress on the Stoneman Property Plan.
In preparation of the General Plan update, staff is beginning to convene a General Plan steering committee and additional consultant help will be required for the task. The Capital Improvement Program is scheduled for review at the March 29 City Council meeting.
BUILD UPON FISCAL HEALTH
The city aims to enhance the efficiency of San Marino financial operations. In order to ensure the city is collecting appropriate revenues for services and permits, officials must conduct a cost-of-service study every five years to ensure it is charging the community appropriately for its operations.
The city is also working to build on the public’s trust in the financial stewardship of the city. As San Marino recruits a new finance director, the city will also look for ways to build on its transparency with the public about its finances and future opportunities. As a result, the city would include an increase in community engagement and transparency reports/tools.
San Marino would also like to improve digital services and tools for residents by incorporating better information technology tools to enhance customer service.
Areas of improvement could include a better permitting system, a financial system with increased transparency, and a comprehensive human resources system to ensure faster recruitment/onboarding of staff to decrease unnecessary vacancy time.
City officials are also interested in an enterprise fleet modernization. Staff is researching the cost-saving benefits of changing the way the city purchases, stores, tracks and maintains its fleet vehicles. San Marino staff believes there are potential operational efficiencies in moving to a leasing system and its accompanying comprehensive fleet management software.
VACANT HOMES INITIATIVE
City officials also provided updates on previously approved initiatives, which included the Vacant Homes program. Since its launch, Eskandar said the code enforcement staff has canvassed the city, resulting in vacant home registrations increasing by 59%.
“That’s a really good start for us to chip away at in the first year. We’ve gone up from 16 registrations to 39 registrations,” said Eskandar, who said the city is continuing with this effort and will be sending out a citywide mailer to educate homeowners. “As this letter goes out, it will allow code enforcement staff to work through the next tranche of vacant homes. Staff will also continue to revise this outreach throughout the process.”
STONEMAN PATH FORWARD
The city has identified three potential options for the Stoneman site project, Eskandar said.
“We’re working with the state’s Department of Housing and Development to really flesh out those options. … We need to research the ramifications of those options on our housing element in compliance with state law,” he said.
“When we’ve completed working internally on these three options, with the state and HCB, we then will be back to speak with the City Council and undertake a fairly robust community engagement process.”
Eskandar said the city will dedicate months this year to engage the community in discussions about Stoneman and the possibilities at the site. The city manager also said that he looks forward to obtaining community input for Stoneman as well “for the Council to use that in the calculus of moving that forward.”
The community engagement process is set to begin sometime in March.
“This is one of those big community watershed moments for San Marino, and we want to make sure we execute this the best we can,” Eskandar said.
As part of the General Plan update, the housing element is also being fine-tuned. The state requires the city provide opportunities for developers to build a certain number of housing units.
The options for the 1.2-acre Stoneman site include housing, a potential senior living project or recreational opportunities. The housing element deadline is September.
TRAFFIC SAFETY INITIATIVE
The citywide traffic improvement initiative is focusing on the evaluation and update of all signage and restriping of the school zones for the safety of students and pedestrians, Eskandar said.
“We want to make sure our school zones are in full compliance with California Manual of Uniform Traffic control devices,” he said. “The city’s on-call traffic engineers are completing this evaluation with the submittal of the report to identify any recommended improvements.”
As part of the evaluation, city staff will be looking at solar radar signs and is working with the San Marino Police Department to identify locations where additional solar power radar speed signs may be beneficial.
Eskandar said staff has also been working on the development of a plan for residential streets.
“This policy will help guide the uniform procedures to address resident traffic concerns,” Eskandar said. “We’re very excited to get this out there to help the public understand the process … so the Council can then budget for the infrastructure.”
A February town hall will be focused on budget updates and gathering community feedback on these initiatives. The results will be included in the staff report presented to Council that same month.
The cumulative list of potential budget priorities from the Council and the community is scheduled to be decided at the March 13 City Council meeting.
First published in the Feb. 1 issue of the San Marino Tribune