HomeCity NewsCity Council Budget Draft Prioritizes Safety, Housing Element

City Council Budget Draft Prioritizes Safety, Housing Element

San Marino city staff recently presented priority initiative proposals to the City Council, which “straw polled” each item to indicate if it will be included in the fiscal year 2024-25 budget draft to potentially be approved end-May.

To kick-start the presentation, City Manager Philippe Eskandar shared the eight critical success factors that have guided staff. Some of these factors include having engaged and connected residents, and a fiscally responsible and transparent city government.

“These are things we really hold near and dear to us, as city staff, and we want to make sure we uphold the principles of this Council,” Eskandar said. “These are things we utilize and how we approach our priority initiative process.”

Touching on the first critical success factor, Community Engagement Manager Nicole Tibbet reviewed survey results, which identified how the public ranks the priority initiatives. The survey, which was available for four weeks between Jan. 26 to March 3, saw more responses than Tibbet said she had ever seen previously.

“This year, we really wanted to give the community time to not only go over the priority initiatives and watch the Council meeting where they were all presented, but also have a ton of time for this to seep into the community and get as much feedback as possible,” Tibbet said.

“We had 77 responses total, which have been the most responses gathered on a survey during my tenure, so that’s an impressive feat, and we’re very glad to see so many residents engaging in this survey.”

The highest-scoring priority among residents was the implementation of traffic safety recommendations, and the lowest priority was the cost of service study.


Eskandar dove into the first priority initiative, which involves educating the community on the Public Safety Parcel Tax with outreach and educational materials. This effort would include direct mailers, social media and website content, as well as community meetings like town halls and Q&A sessions.

Voters have supported the Public Safety Parcel Tax, a tax dedicated to pay for paramedic services and fire and police protection in the city, since 1983. The tax will return to the ballot this November for renewal.

“Now, many in the community are fully aware of what the Public Safety Tax is and what it means and the importance of it to the organization,” Eskandar said. “However, as we do have new residents move into town and operations change, we believe it is important to continue on this education path to let the community know exactly how vital this is.”

The priority initiative on the Public Safety Parcel Tax would come with a $5,000 cost for educational materials and expenses for filing the paperwork, Eskandar said.


Police Chief John Incontro tackled another initiative under the umbrella of public safety: the consideration of bringing a body-worn camera pilot program to the San Marino Police Department.

This initiative would include training officers on the policy, procedures, use, storage and release of data, including auditing data to ensure the integrity of the department, as well as educating and training all city departments on the importance of the body-worn cameras.

“We are one of the few police departments in the region and the state, and probably different parts of the nation, that do not utilize body-worn cameras,” Incontro said. “I have been a proponent of this, and I think this is an outstanding opportunity for us to have additional measures to show transparency to the community, so they know what their police department is doing, how we are doing, why we are doing certain things.

“The public will have an understanding of what we do and they will then have an opportunity to hold us accountable if we fail to do the job that we were sworn to protect and serve.”

Incontro said the department would be able to review the camera footage and audit it, with the city’s management analyst who is expected to be hired. The body-worn cameras would be supervised for quality assurance.

For example, if there were to be a complaint against an officer, Incontro said an audit of the officer’s performance would be done to determine what happened and if any action needs to be taken. The body-worn cameras can be used for investigations, and it can also reduce liability, Incontro stressed. The camera data would be used in conjunction with witness, officer and complainant statements.

Incontro said the key to success for this program will be having a strong policy that follows a model of the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Justice, assistance from the federal government, the California attorney general’s office and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Implementation details such as when the cameras will be on or off will be determined in the policy.

Currently, the city ordinance cites two years to keep data. However, if the officer filmed an arrest, depending on the type of arrest, it could be held for the time the prosecution needs it. If there is no appeal, it could be several years, or in the event of a significant incident or arrest, it could be a lifetime. That’s the same with SMPD paper reports and the department’s in-car video.

Vice Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey expressed concern over the program.

“Almost every major city has critics and major oversight boards that routinely deal with this, so I don’t know. Are we going to have all that? Are we going to have a police oversight board? … I don’t know if they are needed. I want to know how far we’re going to take this and make sure it is done the right way.”

Incontro responded to her first question by saying that the decision to have an oversight board is the Council’s decision, not his. He added that there are advantages and disadvantages.

“One of the things about this city is that we have a minimal amount of use of force. We have a very small [number] of complaints,” he said. “However, when we do have complaints, whether it be racial bias, whether it be a complaint of an officer being rude, whether we have a complaint of an officer who may have lied, we will have the information through the body-worn cameras that will either prove, disprove or shed light on other measures we can look at for different evidence that is available to us.”

Incontro said the request has also gone to the Police Officers Association and it is supported by them. The association will be involved in reviewing the policy of the program and will be working with the city’s human resources manager. He also added that his officers welcome the use of body-worn cameras. The program has reduced liability, the number of complaints and use of force in other cities across the country.

“I believe that is something we should have so that we can save the city money, save our officers and keep them here so they are able to feel comfortable when they are doing their job. It is a very positive piece of equipment and again, as I said, it is not an end-all to every problem,” Incontro said. “Basic supervision, the hiring of ethical officers, civilian employees, is what makes the difference. … The cameras are just a documentation of that outstanding behavior.”

Shepherd Romey said she sees more cons than pros.

“We are not in a situation where we, thank goodness, have a lot of violent crime and murders and things that this would necessarily help,” Shepherd Romey said. “Our officers, I believe, usually come after a crime has occurred … and I don’t think that these cameras will help in that regard. Otherwise, I think it’s going to [snowball] into a lot of the HR Department’s time and city manager’s time and our chief’s time and [other people’s time] when we have a small department for no real good. It’s not going to help us. It’s just going to cost us money and staff’s time, and I think it really leads to problems.

“Everything I’ve read from Philadelphia, New York, even here locally in L.A., including some small cities, it’s just turned into a monster — that once you go down this road, it’s a huge commitment to the public to be transparent and to hold police accountable. So, this is really a problematic use of time and resources for me. Again, I think this kind of idea is a silver bullet, but I don’t know if all of us have thought about it enough.”

Councilman Tony Chou responded, stating his position on body-worn cameras.

“I’m very supportive of just more objective, less bias, more data,” Chou said. “So, from that standpoint, I think it would be beneficial. … I do hear everything Council member Shepherd Romey is saying, and I think we can’t be perfect, but we should definitely weigh these concerns to the Public Safety Commission and have them really implement this into our policy if we move this forward.”

The Council voted 3-1 to add this to the budget draft, with Shepherd Romey voting “no.”


Parks and Public Works Director Amber Shah reviewed the implementation of traffic safety recommendations initiative, which incorporates various traffic calming and traffic safety improvements throughout the city in accordance with the in-development Residential Streets Traffic Management Policy, as well as complete evaluation of three intersections and “quick fixes” that were identified through the Citywide Traffic Circulation Study.

Shah, who also serves as city engineer, said the current budget has two Capital Improvement Funds, with a $75,000 traffic calming allocation geared toward the conclusion of the study which is already moving forward to address the “quick fixes.” The 2024-25 fiscal year budget anticipates a $150,000 impact for remaining traffic calming and safety improvements.


Community Development Director Isidro Figueroa gave an overview of the general plan update initiative, which has available funding for $600,000. This effort will include the housing element, which is currently being updated, and the safety element.

“One of the benefits of being out in the community and at different events is the interaction I’ve had with our residents, and one of the things I’ve discussed with them over the past two years is their involvement in the general plan update,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa hopes to begin the community engagement in the summer with the website update and a resident mailer, for which staff requested an additional $5,000.

“This is actually an opportunity for our residents to apply for the general plan steering committee, which is important because obviously we want the involvement of our residents,” he said. “…This will provide an opportunity for new voices to join in.”

Figueroa said the steering committee will include about 16 participants, with the application process reopening in April. Previous applicants are not required to reapply.

The City Council has authorized a consultant contract. Figueroa said staff has communicated to the firm the importance of preserving San Marino’s community neighborhood character “to the extent possible.”

“They have done a great job listening to our concerns,” said Figueroa, who added that the city is currently finalizing a housing element draft and conducting community outreach within the next month. Next, there will be public hearings, and it will go to the Planning Commission, City Council and hopefully it will be “on track” to submit the housing element to the state by July of this year.


Figueroa also spoke about the planning for the future of the Stoneman campus initiative, which he said goes hand-in-hand with the general plan and the housing element. The Stoneman campus proposal will be submitted alongside the housing element.

As part of the housing element, the City Council identified the vacant portion of Stoneman, on an estimated 1.66-acre area, as a viable housing site. He also said it is conducive for a project such as a senior living project.

Staff is also looking at a public-private partnership, conserving the historic school site. Within that school site, the city is looking at a public partnership that will hopefully enhance the school site and potentially provide recreational opportunities for the community on the 1.2-acre school building site, which will be managed by Community Services.

Eskandar chimed in, saying that he and Figueroa are happy to meet with community members on the subject. They have been doing just that to prepare residents for what’s to come and get their input.

“This is one of the most consequential things this community will do and the outreach component of it is absolutely the most important piece,” Eskandar said.


To build upon fiscal health, Eskandar said staff included an initiative to conduct a cost of service study. The last study of its kind was done five years ago.

Eskandar said he expects to bring in an expert to study fees with finance staff.

“As you can imagine, the economy has changed significantly,” Eskandar said. “Our costs, as an organization and service provider, have changed dramatically, so now is the time for us to go back and look at these costs and make sure we are charging the right fees for the right services so those are borne by the right classes in our community.”

The cost for a fee expert to conduct the study is estimated at $35,000, and this may involve policy updates to reflect required fee changes.


To strengthen fiscal transparency, the city is searching for a finance director to join them. Eskandar said they are aiming to onboard a recruitment firm to assist in the search, with $28,000 already allocated in the budget this year.

“We are searching far and wide for the right person that respects San Marino and understands how important our finances are,” Eskandar said.


Another initiative top of mind for staff is enhancing service delivery. The city is continuing its efforts to improve internal processes for applications and public-facing operations, as well as improve security on digital platforms.

Figueroa said there is an opportunity to make serving the public easier by implementing a public-facing permitting/permit management system and Public Works asset management program.

“Currently we are spending way too much time trying to locate files, trying to research public records requests, permits and so forth instead of actually assisting our residents,” Figueroa said. “So, we are trying to assess what we have, what we need and what we can potentially acquire so that we can have better delivery service.”

The new system would improve permit tracking, provide real time information on the city website, map identifying construction projects, streamline access to public record requests, improve efficiency within city departments, improve record maintenance and reduce staff research time to focus on personalized service.


Shah also presented the idea of implementing an asset management program for all city infrastructure, facilities and fleet assets to include software licensing, start-up/training and collection of an asset inventory and condition assessments.

The program will enable staff to better respond to the community’s needs, reduce potential liability exposure for the city, proactively manage the city’s assets, create and track work order history tied to individual assets, ensure compliance with state laws, regulations and best practices, and more effectively and efficiently plan and budget for routine maintenance and capital project needs.

“Based on the information we have available, we don’t have the records or the inventory to really assess or make smart decisions on how we are executing the work that our Public Works staff do, whether it’s the budget, routine maintenance or capital project needs in the best way,” Shah said. “What I am currently proposing would help us better respond to our community’s needs.

“It would also help us to proactively manage our city’s assets, create and track our work order history and not only track work orders but physically within the system tie them to specific assets. … We would literally be able to go into the system, find that asset and see what work has been tied to it and have that record when it comes to defending ourselves against any potential litigation.”

The annual ongoing budget impact is for a total of $150,000, including $25,000 for software licensing, one-time costs of $35,000 for implementation/training, $40,000 for road-level asset collection, and $50,000 for sidewalk condition assessment.


Contributing to enhancing service delivery, Eskandar spoke on the city’s move toward fleet modernization through an Enterprise leasing model. He said the city could implement an open-ended, municipal fleet leasing program to upgrade the city’s aging one with less upfront capital.

With this program, staff would be able to establish a proactive fleet replacement plan and lower the average age of the vehicles, maintain a manageable and predictable year-over-year fleet budget, reduce staff time associated with procurement of vehicles, lower vehicle fuel and maintenance costs, and save upward of $500,000 over the next 10 years. The program would also feature no mileage restrictions, no abnormal wear and tear, and no early termination penalties. The city would also have all rights of ownership and can install any aftermarket equipment.

Currently, the city has three vehicles that predate anti-lock brake standardization, eight predating electronic stability control features, and 27 predating back-up camera standardization.

The first-year implementation for 16 vehicles would be $165,000, Eskandar aid.

The 2024-25 FY budget is scheduled to be brought back to Council for potential adoption on May 31.

First published in the March 28 issue of the San Marino Tribune


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