We need new direction.
Our roads are crumbling, our pension fund is $13 million underfunded, and our city council is paralyzed by infighting. Our officials have spent too much time tied up in the politics of the past.
We need to come together as a community again, and it cannot wait for another political power struggle. While City Council is rattling sabers, they are also kicking the can on looming costs that are increasing every year.
Pave the Roads
Our streets are falling apart, and each year we wait to take action, the cost of repairs increases. A poorly-designed infrastructure bond proposal was pushed through without citizen input, and was ultimately rejected. The back-and-forth obscured the issues more than it brought clarity. Get the context
Since then, City Council has failed to take action. I will draw on experience working in long-range planning to make sure we establish a long-term plan for maintaining our city’s infrastructure into the future.
Click to see Luke’s approach
Since infrastructure maintenance is a recurring cost, not a one-time expense, we should start working it into our annual budget. This is a foreseeable expense: we shouldn’t pay for it with a bond issue, but factor maintenance into our long-range planning.
In addition, we need a more-energetic council that will negotiate with the State and County to get our fair share of the revenue we produce. They own several of our most important streets, and we need to make sure U City is a top priority for them.
Fix the Pensions
Our pension fund for city employees is $13 million underfunded. Across the US, cities that kick the can on finding solutions are being forced to cut services and raise taxes. The mistrust and paralysis in U City politics is putting our future at risk. Get the context
We need to switch to a defined contribution plan for new employees, the same way private sector did years ago. That way, we can honor our commitments to current staff and make realistic promises in future. Click here to read Luke’s full policy paper.
Click to see Luke’s approach
We have to reach a fair solution that works for both our citizens and city employees. We’ve known for years that we need to establish a defined contribution plan for new employees. Now, we need the political will to actually get it done. I will also work to build partnerships with surrounding municipalities, so we can pool our pension funds, save costs on managing investments, and give better returns for taxpayer dollars.
We also need to build our tax base by creating a more intergenerational economy. We need someone who can attract young entrepreneurs and energize new growth. I will make building up Olive into an innovation corridor a top priority, using my experience with 21st Century approaches to development and fluent Mandarin skills to create the new partnerships we need to make it happen.
Find a Home for our Police
Our police station has been condemned. The City was ordered to move our police force out for their own safety. We are paying $3 million just to put our police in a temporary location, and City Council still has no long-term solution.
We paid for one study to compare the costs of building on a new site against rehabilitating the original historic building. Amid the mistrust on the Council, we then paid $40,000 for a second study to see if the first was correct. But neither study is even asking the right questions.
Click to see Luke’s approach
Our police building is a historic building. The only way to preserve historic buildings is to give them modern uses. Before we can do a balanced cost assessment, we need to put out an RFP to hear ideas from the community about what can be done with the original building if it is no longer used to house our police. Different options have different costs, and we cannot accurately measure the costs of building on a new site until the community has agreed on an alternative use for the old one.
In addition, we need to engage our police force in the decision-making process. The concerns of our men and women in uniform need to be made clear to both our elected representatives and the whole community.
Finally, we should use a bond issue to pay for the new construction, wherever it takes place. We are buying a new home for our police force: we should take out a mortgage to pay for it.
Luke brings a fresh start.
I am an outsider’s insider: your 22 year old neighbor with world-class policy expertise. I have experience working inside government, from the Planning Department of San Jose to the DC Senate Office to our own City Hall. I graduated from Stanford University’s data-driven research honors track. I am a national merit scholar, a product of our public schools, and a skilled communicator (in both English and Chinese!) I can get the facts and help our community make sense of the issues.
More than that, University City is my home. It’s been my home since my parents moved here when I was three months old. It’s been my community through thirteen years in our public schools. After graduating Stanford, I turned away from opportunities in China and Silicon Valley to come back to U City. This is the community I grew up in, and this is where I want to make a difference.
Learn more! www.lukebabich.com/meet-luke
Luke brings strong communication.
Representation starts from communication, and Luke is a strong communicator who has the energy to make conversations about the issues accessible to all. We need a government that engages its citizens and reflects our community values. Luke is the only candidate we’ve ever had who took no part in U City’s past political fights. Luke brings an impartial perspective, a commitment to U City’s future, and experience working in government to get all the facts.
Dignity in U City Politics
An elected representative from my ward was censured. Another was recalled. I stand against both actions. We have elections so that our representatives can step down with dignity, and remain a part of our community. I will always stand up for dignity and democratic process in U City politics.
Our contract with Gateway is a fiasco. But going back to a 1980s ambulance system doesn’t make sense either. We need a studied, 21st Century solution that gives top-quality care at a price taxpayers can afford.
How is Gateway performing so far?
Our Fire Chief said that for now, Gateway has performed comparably to what we had before. Gateway’s response times are actually substantially faster than they were under UCFD, see: (1) Gateway’s data (2) U City’s data. However, we need data about quality of care on the scene and Gateway’s billing practices to do a holistic, balanced evaluation.
Also, our contract was not well-negotiated. While things are comparable for now, the biggest problems with our contract are long-term. One of the main reasons for outsourcing ambulance service was that our City was unable to collect on more than $1 million of unpaid ambulance bills. Ambulance service was losing the city money at a dangerous rate. When a private company collects less than they were expecting, they can only (1) cut service or (2) over-charge those who are able to pay. Our contract did not put in place effective mechanisms to detect these problems early and exit the contract if things start to go wrong. Also, we should have negotiated for less than a 5-year term, to have the flexibility to address problems moving forward.
Was fatigue really a factor for our ambulance drivers?
Yes. Before our contract with Gateway, U City ambulance drivers were working 48-hour shifts. That is standard for firefighters, but there are many more ambulance calls than fires. The data shows—and our Fire Chief confirms—that the 48-hour shifts were exhausting for our ambulance drivers. Changing to 12-hour shifts was an important improvement to public safety. However, we could have achieved the same improvements without outsourcing, just by reforming our in-house service. Read more: https://medium.com/@luke_babich/c5c1eb83f949
How do the qualifications of Gateway medics compare to those our firefighters?
Gateway’s medics pass the same state certification exams that our firefighters do. However, that does not mean Gateway medics are using that training with the professionalism our residents deserve on-scene. I’ve heard troubling accounts from neighbors who received bad service, and these need to be addressed. We should establish a system to follow-up with residents who use ambulance service, and study the quality of care they receive. Read more: https://medium.com/@luke_babich/10bd8bae8670
Why is Gateway’s data different from U City’s?
Read here to learn why, and for discussion of what we can do to get reliable data: https://medium.com/@luke_babich/learn-more-why-are-gateways-and-u-city-s-data-different-a694cf568d8c#.qcrd7xhrp
Where did all this data come from?
This data has been publicly available for a while. The response times were sunshined and published on Nextdoor months ago. The only new piece of data here was the geographic data of where calls were coming in from, used to create a map of U City ambulance calls. Several residents asked to learn more about the team involved in the work, you can read bios here: https://medium.com/@luke_babich/a55691b70d33
We should be asking Centene to give priority to U City residents when hiring for this project. U City residents should be our government’s top priority. And we need a government that works proactively to make sure U City residents are a priority for all our partners, too.
How will the Centene development generate revenue for U City?
See the original conversation on facebook! A neighbor asked for more information about how Centene’s property in U City will generate tax revenue. Centene has been paying taxes on this property through their holding company. Even as a vacant lot, it has been generating revenue for U City. After development, it will generate even greater revenues. The question is, how much greater? First, it’s important to say that Centene’s current plan is to put retail on the first floor and a parking garage up above, to qualify the construction as “mixed-use.” So we will benefit from some new retail, but as I’ll explain below the benefits are minimal, especially compared to what we could be getting. Land and improvements are assessed separately. After the Centene project is completed, the assessors most likely will not change the assessed land value. But they will add on the value of the new improvements, the new structures that have been built on it, and those structures will increase the total taxable value of the property. The square footage and total value of an office tower is much greater than that of a parking garage. Office development also brings soft benefits that a parking garage doesn’t: if exciting new businesses set up shop there, we can include them as U City businesses, and they can be used by our city staff and Chamber of Commerce to help market U City. Most likely, we should be pushing for residential development. *Most of our sales tax actually comes from population, not retail.* U City is part of a “pooled sales tax” system, where sales tax collected from the businesses of many municipalities are aggregated together, then distributed back out according to each city’s population. Dense residential development would help us stop our slipping population numbers and stabilize our sales tax revenue. In addition, residents use and pay for utilities, while parked cars don’t. U City should definitely be negotiating for one of those outcomes. However, it’s possible that because of the awkward shape of the parcel, it would be too difficult to negotiate the logistics of building a residential tower, with half of it potentially spilling across city lines! That’s why in the video I focused on a lower-hanging benefit: priority hire. Conversations about priotity hire are already taking place around the country, and a lot closer to home. The other $1 billion project underway in our area is the NGA headquarters project in St Louis city. Last Spring, the executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council announced the Council’s goal of making sure that 23% of all labor hours on the project were done by city residents. Learn more: http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/ready-to-help-build-nga/article_2ff40f3e-3708-5723-bf69-5108c3eddbd2.html Happy to talk more! Write me anytime.
Is priority hire a real possibility?
Yes! Priority hire goals are new, but increasingly common. The other $1 billion project underway in our area is the NGA headquarters project in St Louis city. Last Spring, the executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council announced the Council’s goal of making sure that 23% of all labor hours on the project were done by city residents. Learn more: http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/ready-to-help-build-nga/article_2ff40f3e-3708-5723-bf69-5108c3eddbd2.html
We need an energetic and outward-looking City Council to find and advocate for solutions like this.