The Leak That Wasn’t

This is an opinion article about the Board of Trustees of the Alameda United School District (AUSD).

Sometimes an important piece of news, and in this case a probable predictor of future news, almost slips past you. I must credit the Blogging Bayport blog1 for not only alerting me to this one but also highlighting the most important point that I might otherwise have overlooked.

On February 19, Blogging Bayport’s post of the day was a recap of a story that had appeared in the East Bay Citizen (EBC) two days before2. In that article, it was reported that AUSD board trustee Jennifer Williams had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). This would be a story of moderate interest on it’s own but then the article not only quoted the arrest report3 but went further to quote an email sent by Williams to her board colleagues about the incident. The e-mail was marked “privileged communication” that was “later determined to be a public record by the school district’s legal counsel”2. As Blogging Bayport theorized: “someone on the Board leaked the information to EB Citizen… the likelihood is slim that someone without any knowledge of the case was actively watching the police blotter.”1

And that’s what caught my intention. True, it’s possible as Blogging Bayport points out, that EBC was monitoring the Alameda Police log, which would have posted about the February 12 arrest no earlier than February 13 and with that information, decided to issue a public records request to the AUSD for any e-mails it may have and then received a ruling from the AUSD’s attorney in time to post a news article no more than four days later4.  There’s only one problem with that reasoning: the e-mail was sent by Williams at 5:49pm on Friday, February 145.  Valentine’s Day.  The Friday before the President’s Day long-weekend.  EBC published on the President’s Day, a day off for the AUSD.6

Note also the specific language in the story: “the email was later determined” to be public (2). Later than what? How could the attorney later determine something was public that was only known to exist by a half dozen people until it was exposed by EBC on a holiday Monday after it was sent at 5:49 pm on the previous Friday unless EBC obtained the e-mail by some means other than a public records request?  In fact, one wonders when the AUSD’s attorney had time to make this ruling.  Was this actually important enough for somebody with authority in the AUSD legal department to pause their vacation to make a ruling? It is worth noting that once I knew the e-mail existed and knew that it was a public document, it took over a week for me to obtain a copy of the same e-mail through a public records request7.  I‘m not a lawyer but that seems like a bit of ass-covering on behalf of somebody by the AUSD’s attorney.

So it seems it was a leaked. Except it wasn’t, because apparently you can’t leak public documents even if you didn’t know the document was public before you leaked it. And that all got me thinking, why was it necessary to leak that e-mail at all? It clearly says it was privileged information so one would think ethically, if not strictly legally, maybe one shouldn’t forward it to the press. And it wasn’t even necessary for EBC to have the e-mail in order to report the story. You could simply tip EBC to the arrest report that would have been there for anyone to read anonymously on the APD website. The only thing EBC would have to do, which it did anyway, was to call Ms. Williams to confirm that she had been arrested. On the outside chance that a totally different 51 year-old white female called Jennifer Kaye Williams had been arrested for a DUI that night, she would have immediately cleared things up.

It seems to me that whoever leaked this story wanted Ms. Williams and possibly others to know that they had done it. This was, in a perverse way, a power move meant presumably to not only intimidate and pressure Ms. Williams but also to be very clear who was doing it, all the while being deniable enough to deflect much scrutiny. It was, ironically for a school board, the tactic of a bully. This is not the stereotypical bully who simply walks up in the school yard and beats you up for your lunch money. No. To quote a currently popular Broadway musical about school life this is a different sort of bully: this is an Apex Predator.


  3. The Alameda Police publish a daily crime report log that includes arrests.  They do not make this available indefinitely so I have taken a copy and made it available here:
  4. The arrest occurred Feb 12.  The police wouldn’t post before Feb 13.  The EBC story is dated February 17.  So there were no more than 17 – 13 = 4 days between when EBC might have known about the arrest based strictly on public info and when they posted their news story about it.
  5. I made my own records request and received the e-mail quoted by EBC. My copy is here:
  6. See Shows that AUSD considered President’s Day to be a “District Holiday” in 2020.
  7. Susan Davis who manages these requests for AUSD acknowledged my request public records request by e-mail on February 20.  I received my response on March 2 (linked in a footnote above).

Is It Astroturfing? Maybe Just Turf-Patching?

This is an opinion article about the “Strong Schools for Alameda” campaign expenditure committee, primarily formed to support the 2020 Alameda Measure A Parcel Tax initiative.

Enacting a new tax is a difficult and thankless task. This is especially true when the threshold to enact is two thirds of voters and many of those voters must vote for a new tax on themselves. It gets even more awkward when you will be the chief beneficiary of the new tax and are also doing most of the spending to get that new tax passed. Even if you are never troubled with cognitive dissonance, it can’t hurt to give yourself a little cover; maybe manufacture a third-party to do some of the work on your behalf.

Which brings me to “Strong Schools for Alameda”. According to its website it “is a grassroots organization of parents, teachers and community leaders leading the campaign to pass Measure A to attract and retain quality teachers and provide our students with the outstanding education they deserve”. This might well be true. What is definitely true is that it is a “Committee Primarily Formed to Support a Ballot Measure”. This is a legal term of art for a group that collects and spends money in a political campaign. In this case, the committee exists to support the 2020 Alameda Measure A, which would add a new parcel tax to the bills of Alameda residents to fund raises for Alameda teachers (as well as other district staff).

Is Strong Schools a “grassroots” organization? I would say no. Grassroots is a term that has no rigorous definition but is normally used to connote an organization that has been built by individuals in a community to enact some kind of positive (in their opinion) change. Given that this is a campaign expenditure committee (often called a PAC), asking whether it is grassroots is really asking where its money is coming from. You would expect that such an organization would be getting most of their money from small cash contributions from members of the Alameda community. In terms of what I can verify from filings made with Alameda County where Strong Schools (FPPC #1422449) does its reporting their contributors are as follows:

Alameda Education Association (AEA): $2000 (cash)1
Alameda Education Association (AEA): $1800 (in-kind)1
Alameda Firefighters’ Local 55: $1000 (cash)

That’s it. $38001 from the teacher’s union and $1000 from an allied union. Now, it’s possible that there have been small contributions not yet reported, because they are being made late and past the reporting deadline (we won’t know until after election day). Of course it’s also possible that a group of highly-motivated citizens incited merely by excitement at teacher pay increases, gathered on the Saturday directly following the district’s vote to ratify a labor agreement giving teachers raises, rushed out and registered the domain name “”. You know, just in case it might be useful someday. I do it all the time.

It is tempting to call this astroturfing, a tactic whereby a special interest group funds a fake grassroot organization to create the appearance of broader interest in that group’s goals than might really exist. I think this a bit of a harsh label here. For one thing, it would be overly dramatic and a little unfair to lump a local teacher’s union in with Big Tobacco and Walmart. That’s why I’m going to try to coin the term “turf-patching”.

Anyone who has ever maintained a lawn (which are mercifully going out of style in drought-prone places) knows about turf-patching. Maybe the family dog has given extra special attention to a specific area of grass and it’s gone yellow or brown; an eyesore in the middle of your otherwise perfect green patch. In order to resolve this, you would typically come in and give some new grass roots a hand: by scarifying or stripping the dead patch, laying a bit of soil and re-seeding the area. Oh and keep the dog off it.

That’s what Strong Schools is. There might be some real grass growing out of those roots in the form of motivated parents and students. But for the patch to exist and the roots to have a chance of growing, it takes a motivated gardener with the resources and self-interest in having it succeed.


  1. A previous version of this article stated that AEA had given Strong Schools $2800 in cash and $1000 in-kind and added that amount to $2800, all in error.  The numbers stated in the article are now the correct ones as stated in AEA’s January 23 Form 460-A amended filing.

The Cost of Being Quaint

This article is part of a series. Please refer to the Addendum article ( for additional notes. Inline notes that reference the Addendum will signify this with the label Addm.X where X is the number in the Addendum.


  • This is an Analysis article about the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD).
  • Alameda has a lot of neighborhood schools for its size, and small class sizes. Many people consider this a positive aspect of living here.
  • But this also creates a higher cost structure since we need to staff these extra schools with teachers, librarians and other professionals.
  • And because our primary funding is proportionate to our number of students, the district has more people to pay with the same dollars. One inevitable outcome is lower average pay.

Although Charm Can Grow on Trees

The first time I came to Alameda, my impression was that it was very quaint. The combination of old houses, tree-lined streets and small, neighborhood business districts give Alameda the feel of a small town. With a video rental store, independent movie theater and a by-the-scoop ice cream store almost on the same block, it sometimes feels like a place out of time.

Alameda’s schools add to its quaintness. We have a total of 21 schools in the district (including charter schools) of which 10 are elementary schools. Alameda has a total area of a little over 10 square miles1 of which a big portion is the old base, meaning there’s a good chance that any given home has an elementary school less than a mile away. Being able to walk their kids to school is an aspect of Alameda that many people feel strongly about.

Figure 1: Average Students Per School (click for larger image)

But there is a cost to this. Alameda has a lot of schools for its size. On the basis of our enrollment, we have one of the highest numbers of schools in the county. In Figure 12 we see that only Oakland and Newark have fewer students per school. It’s important to note that this is a very crude measure and lacks some important nuance, but it hints that one of the reasons we have less money for teachers is that we have to support more infrastructure per student, while our number of students is the biggest driver of how much funding we get3. That makes it hard to live within our means.

Figure 2: Student to Teacher Ratio (click for larger image)

We see this reflected in our school staffing, which is the primary cost driver in a school district4. Let’s first look at the labor cost that is held to be most dear in this current election: teachers. Figure 2 shows that Alameda has an average of 19 students enrolled per full-time equivalent teacher (FTE). The county average as shown by the horizontal line is a little over 20 students5. This seems like a small difference but there are over 11000 students enrolled in the AUSD. By rough figuring, if we reduced the ratio to the county average we would reduce our FTE by about 30. If we take AUSD’s salary plus health cost number of about $78,000, this would be savings of about $2.34M or enough to give the remaining teachers an average raise of $4142 per year6.

That’s almost half way to the roughly $9000 needed to bring Alameda teachers to the county average based on AUSD numbers7. But teachers aren’t the only cost center: school districts employ an array of professionals who keep the schools running. Let’s look at two that are specifically called out in department of education statistics: certificated administrators and pupil services staff.

Figure 3: Student to Certificated Admin Ratio (click for larger image)

Figure 3 shows the ratio of enrolled students to certificated administrators. Certificated administrators are staff that, like teachers, have a recognized certification but who aren’t providing teaching services directly to students. They include jobs like principals and coordinators. Alameda comes well below the average of about 274 students per administrator8.

Figure 4: Student to Pupil Services Ratio (click for larger image)

Figure 4 shows the ratio of enrolled students to pupil services staff. Pupil Services staff are those people we all remember from school, who provide services to students but aren’t teachers, like nurses, librarians and counselors. Alameda is again well below the average of 255 students per pupil service employee8.

I don’t have solid numbers (yet) on what an average staff member in each of these categories costs the district to employ but let’s say they make $50,000 per year. This is probably a low estimate since we are including professions like nursing and school principals who are often better paid than that. If we were to again reduce our workforce to the average in each of these categories we would find a savings of about $850,000. So our total savings is now $3.2M or enough to give our 565 FTE teachers a total raise of $5646. Now we’re at over half of the $9000 we need and we haven’t even considered regular office and maintenance staff9.


Of course, this is a very superficial way to do budget analysis, but it demonstrates why having more schools for our number of students makes things more costly: each school needs it’s own nurses and librarians and so on, and the resulting smaller class sizes mean we need more teachers. Our funding is tied to the number of students we have, so each dollar gets stretched across more salaried workers; it should be unsurprising that to make the math work, we have lower salaries.

In my next article, I will get more rigorous by comparing the district’s categorized costs to that of others.


  1. See under “Area”:,_California (Accessed Feb 19, 2020).
  2. Until this article I have used “ADA” (see Addm.1) per student denominated ratios. uses enrollment instead for ratios involving staffing. I think this is because different districts account for charter school enrollment differently. For consistency, I have followed their convention. Note that Enrollment is almost always larger than ADA.
  3. See my previous article,
  4. AUSD spent $87M of $110M in general fund expenditure on salaries and benefits in 2017/18 according to This is normal if you look at other districts.
  5. The numbers I’m using from are suspiciously rounded whole numbers but I’m only looking for rough numbers here anyway.
  6. Conservatively, current enrollment at 11,299 / 19 = ~595 FTE. Reducing the ratio to 11,299 / 20 gives 565 or a reduction in about 30 FTE. $78000 times 30 = $2.34M and $2.34M divided by 565 = $4142.
  7. See my previous article,
  8. According to
  9. For administrators 11,299 / 241 = ~47 and 11,299 / 274 = ~41 for 6 reduced headcount. For pupil services 11,299 / 205 = 55 and 11,299 / 255 = ~44 for 11 reduced headcount. So combined we have 17 less head count times our $50,000 estimated cost makes $850,000.

How Our School District Is Funded

This article is part of a series. Please refer to the Addendum article ( for additional notes. Inline notes that reference the Addendum will signify this with the label Addm.X where X is the number in the Addendum.


  • Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) gets a little less revenue from basic state and county funding than average.
  • A combination of a different mix of students and bigger transfers to charter schools make the bulk of the difference in our revenue levels.
  • However, our very large existing parcel tax raises more than enough funds to fill this revenue gap.
  • And several other districts that pay their teachers better receive less LCFF funds and indeed, less overall General Fund revenue.

Show Me the Money

When the subject of a new parcel tax came up on Nextdoor in the fall, a number of people asked the same question that I did: why does AUSD need more money? One common answer was that we don’t get enough money from the state and county. “Enough money” is a hard term to quantify. It’s even harder to believe when, as the AUSD has already told us, there are plenty of districts in the same county that somehow get enough money to pay their teachers better. So how much money do we get1?

Let’s first look at a general revenue breakdown. School funding falls into four general categories: LCFF, Federal, Other State and Other Local. LCFF is the basic funding that generally forms 70-80% of most district’s funding. It combines state funds and county property tax transfers. “Federal” consists primarily of federal education grants and normally aren’t very substantial. “Other State” consists mostly of program funds from the state that aren’t in LCFF like each district’s share of lottery funding. Last, “Other Local” consists of city and county level transfers not part of LCFF. Parcel taxes are accounted for in this last category2.

Figure 1: Basic Revenue Per ADA by District (click for larger image)

Figure 1 shows the districts sorted left to right by overall General Fund3 revenue. We can see, as with many of these comparisons, that Alameda sits somewhere in the middle. Two important bars to note for Alameda are the blue one for LCFF and the black one for “Other Local”. By inspection, we see that our LCFF is smaller than average and our “Other Local” is above average. I already showed in my previous4 article why our “Other Local” is larger: because our existing $0.32/sq.ft. parcel tax brings in over $1300 per ADA. But let’s look at that blue bar. What is LCFF anyway?

LCFF or “Local Controlled Funding Formula” is a program that was enacted in 2013-14 and basically consolidates the way the state provides money to counties and creates rules for how counties then combine that money with local tax dollars. This combined amount is then doled out to school districts as their main form of funding5. Each district gets a different amount based on the formula. So where does Alameda rank?

Figure 2: LCFF Per ADA by District (click for larger image)

In Figure 2, we see that Alameda is a little below average in terms of basic LCFF funding. The black horizontal line is the county average. Alameda received $8547 per ADA compared to the average of $8884 and we are exactly the median. The average district gets $337 per ADA more than we do right from the start. Notice though, that all of the districts that get even less LCFF are ones that pay their teachers better. Conversely, Oakland is the only district that pays teachers even less than Alameda4 and it receives the most LCFF per ADA in the whole county. There isn’t really a strong correlation between LCFF funding and how much a district pays its teachers.

Why do we get less LCFF? A detailed explanation will require a whole separate article, but the simple answer is that the general formula favors certain types of special needs students. For example, having more low-income and English as Second Language (ESL) students will cause more LCFF funds to be distributed to a district. Alameda has fewer of these students than many other districts5.

Figure 3: Revenue Transfer to Charter Schools (click for larger image)

One last item to highlight is the amount of money that Alameda transfers to charter schools. As Figure 3 shows, Alameda diverts more LCFF money per ADA to charter schools from local property taxes than any other district except Oakland. Notice two key things: first, most districts, including the ones that pay their teachers better, have little or no charter school transfers. Second, if you eliminated that transfer and were able to add that money back to the overall LCFF, Alameda would actually have an above average rate of LCFF funding.


In our quest to find the money to pay our teachers more, we have taken a very high-level look at district revenues. Although we do get a bit less money from the state and county through the LCFF and we do transfer more to our charter schools, the amount is too small to explain our low teacher pay. Plenty of better paying districts get even less LCFF than we do (Castro Valley, Pleasanton, Dublin). And with our much larger existing parcel tax we already fill the gap6. So from a revenue perspective, there should be enough money. Then where does the money go?

In my next article I’ll look at expenditures. That’s where things get really interesting.


  1. The district has scoped their argument around teacher pay to Alameda county. This is reasonable but it means I am only considering “enough money” in that context and ignoring broader questions, which also frequently crop up like, “Does California spend enough on schools?”
  2. California Department of Education. “California School Accounting Manual, Part II Standardized Account Code” Structure” (Accessed Feb 11, 2020). See the section on Object Codes 8000–8999 starting on p.108.
  3. See Addm.3 on General Fund accounting.
  4. See
  5. See Addm.2 on LCFF.
  6. Our combined $337/ADA deficit in LCFF plus the $550/ADA we transfer to charter schools adds to $887/ADA whereas we have seen our parcel tax raises $1364. So we already fill the gap with $477/ADA left over.

Why Does Alameda Underpay Its Teachers?

This article is part of a series. Please refer to the Addendum article ( for additional notes. Inline notes that reference the Addendum will signify this with the label Addm.X where X is the number in the Addendum.


  • This is an Analysis article about Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) and its funding.
  • The AUSD has placed a ballot initiative on the March 3, 2020 Primary Ballot that would add an additional 26.5 cents to the existing 32 cent per sq.ft. parcel tax.
  • The new tax would raise around $10.5 million for increases to teacher and staff salaries which, according to the district, are some of the lowest in the county.
  • But Alameda already raises one of the highest parcel taxes in the county and is about average in terms of overall spending per student (ADA). So why don’t we have enough money to pay teachers more already?

Distinguished Politics

Back in November, I received a four-page, full-color flyer from the Alameda Unified School District. On the surface, this was an advertisement celebrating AUSD’s Dr. Pauline Stahl, who was named 2019 “Teacher of the Year” for Alameda County. I am sure this was well-deserved. The “Genomics and Biotechnology Pathway” and the “Restorative Justice” programs that Dr. Stahl helped to found seem like laudable achievements worth recognizing. The county awards this accolade but the city’s school district was interested in doing more than just celebrating it.

On opening to the second page of the flyer we are immediately told that “Alameda is proud of our talented educators….. But in order to keep our schools strong, we need to continue attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers .. ” 1 And what follows is a graph, which I have reproduced below (see Fig. 1; same data, my graph), that shows that “Currently, AUSD teachers and staff are among the lowest paid in the county” 1. The logical progression from achievement to grievance is followed by the inevitable on page 3: “a March 2020 ballot measure is being considered at rates up to $0.23 per square foot of building area…” 1.

Figure 1: Alameda County Salary Comparison (click for larger size)

Since then the district board has approved language for a measure on the 2020 Presidential Primary Ballot2 that will raise $0.265 per sq.ft. of additional parcel tax. This coincided with an agreement with AEA, the main union that represents teachers in Alameda, to provide a 4% salary increase in the current year. If and only if the measures passes, employees will get 8% more next year and a retroactive additional 1% increase in 2020.3 As the press release points out, all employees and not just teachers will get these increases because contract increases for all AUSD employees are tied to what the teachers negotiate.

Whether or not this is good policy, it’s definitely good politics. Early polling for a parcel tax showed Alameda could hit the necessary two-thirds of votes if voters were provided with “additional information” about teacher pay and how the tax revenues would be spent4. Add to that the advantage of placing the initiative on the 2020 presidential primary ballot. This ballot will not include serious Republican contenders and will likely be dominated by voters most energized by presidential candidates whose platforms include higher taxes to fund government services.

So far, so good. The district has crafted a clear message and placed their initiative on what should be a favorable ballot. But this left one serious question in my mind: why are we in this position? After all, didn’t we re-confirm a parcel tax just a few years ago? I admit I didn’t really know much about the school district before this new initiative. And after a little research, I had more questions than answers.

Naught for Teacher?

An obvious first question is to ask: “Do we spend less than other districts?” If we pay our teachers comparatively less, one might assume that we spend less in general. However, while we are far from the biggest spenders, we are basically average. At $12,159 per ADA (See Addm.1 for more on ADA), we spend slightly less than the county average of $12,200 but we are are slightly above the median spending of $11,796 (See Fig. 2; the horizontal black line is the county average). Furthermore, districts like Pleasanton, New Haven and Livermore who are among the best in teacher pay, all spend less per ADA. 5

General Revenue By ADA By District (click for larger)

So where does the money go then? Most other school districts are able to pay their teachers better and many seem to spend less overall while doing it.

What about that parcel tax we just renewed? Maybe other districts raise much more from their parcel taxes and that’s how they pay their teachers? Nope. Alameda has one of the highest parcel taxes (per ADA) in Alameda county. And many of the districts with highest teacher pay also have little or no parcel tax (See Fig. 3).5

Parcel Tax per ADA By District (click for larger)

This is my first in a series of in-depth articles to analyze the revenue and spending of the Alameda Unified School District. Do we really need to nearly double our parcel tax to pay our teachers better and why? How are a lot of other districts able to pay so much better with little or no additional parcel tax at all?


1. See scanned copy of flyer (may open new tab or download pdf).

2. Scuderi, Pasquale et al. “Ballot Language and Resolution Ordering Election for the Alameda Unified School District Creating Local Support for Retaining and Attracting High-Quality Staff Measure of 2020” (Accessed February 4, 2020).

3. Scuderi, Pasquale et al. “Board of Education Ratifies Tentative Agreement with AEA 
AUSD. (Accessed February 4, 2020).


4. Taveres, Steven “With low teacher pay, Alameda USD did polling for a parcel tax. The results are passable” East Bay Citizen (Accessed February 4, 2020)

5. District financial data is based on public records published at (Accessed February 4, 2020). Data is for 2017/18 budget year, which is the latest available at ed-data at the time of writing.

AUSD 2020 Measure A Addendum

This is an Addendum article to my series analyzing the financing of the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) in the run up to the vote on AUSD Measure A on March 3, 2020.  If the measure passes, it will effectively increase the current annual parcel tax from $0.32 to $0.585 per sq.ft. with certain limits and qualifications.

(1) ADA or Average Daily Attendance

is, according to the California Department of Education, “the total days of student attendance divided by the total days of instruction” (  This is the most common denominator used to measure and compare resources in the state public education system. It is not the same as enrollment.  Enrollment is simply the number of students registered in a school district near the beginning of the school year.  ADA takes into account the fact that, on any given day, some number of students are out sick or have some other unplanned absence.  It also accounts for the fact that during the school year, some students are moving into or out of the district, or are dropping out.  So ADA tries to smooth out these inconsistencies to give a rough idea of how many students are going to school in a district on an average day. It also allows us to make more meaningful comparisons between districts of different sizes because our numbers are roughly on a per-student basis.  This series will express most figures in terms of “per-ADA” but if it is easier, just think “per-student” and your understanding will be close enough in most cases.

(2) LCFF or Local Control Funding Formula

In the 2013/14 budget year, California quietly (for those of us not involved) overhauled the way state school districts receive their basic funding.  According to their website (, Accessed Feb 11, 2020), “the LCFF establishes uniform grade span grants in place of the myriad of previously existing K–12 funding streams, including revenue limits, general purpose block grants, and most state categorical programs”.  The resulting framework constructs a complicated formula for how school districts qualify for basic funds plus additional aid to help provide for special needs students like those from low-income families and those who are not proficient in English.  This is a very rich and complicated area that I intend to produce a Factual Background article for in the future.  For readers of this series, it most important to understand that this framework is the cornerstone of local education funding in modern California and along with Prop.13 property tax controls, explain a lot about why things are the way they are.

(3) General Fund

The California Department of Education publishes a formidable tome called the “California School Accounting Manual” (, Accessed Feb 11, 2020).  According to the manual: “The general fund is the main operating fund of the LEA. [Local Education Agency which includes Unified School Districts” (p.8)  Except where indicated, when I’m quoting financial figures for school districts I am talking about the general fund.  There are several things to note about the general fund.

First, as it says, it is for “operating funds”.  This means it is used to pay salaries, buy books and fund all the other day-to-day expenses in running a school district.  It is not to be used for capital projects like building, expanding or doing extensive repairs such as we have recently seen with Alameda High School.  That comes out of a separate “capital fund”, which is funded through issuing debt authorized by bond measures and not from ongoing revenue levies like property or parcel taxes.

Second, the general fund is intended to be segregated into “Restricted” and “Unrestricted” funds.  Restricted funds are ones that can only be used for certain purposes.  For example, if Measure A passes, the funds raised can only be used for salaries (in theory) so these would be accounted for as Restricted.  For simplicity, I am playing a little fast and loose when talking about these general fund money; I don’t think it generally has big effect on my conclusions but I must caveat it.

Last, because I am not considering other operating funds, it is possible that I am missing some details; this is something I hope to address the down road with more ongoing analysis.

Welcome to Alameda Clarion


  • This blog is meant for people who want to stay on top of important issues of policy and governance in the City of Alameda.
  • The goal of the blog is to be an easy-to-consume source for data and analysis on important issues including responsible governance, election transparency and, tax and funding policy.


I never wanted to credit Donald Trump with any decisions that I ever made. But, for better or worse, this blog exists largely due to Donald Trump. I used to be a bit of junkie for federal politics. My favorite weekly TV show was “Washington Week”, my favorite podcast was Slate’s “Political Gabfest” and my favorite periodical was the “Economist”. Then, within a matter of weeks in 2016, Trump won the presidency, Gwen Ifill died and I just couldn’t look anymore.

In early 2017, I decided I should turn my attention toward local politics. I had moved to Alameda in 2012 and I realized I didn’t even know who was on our city council. So I shifted my energy to reading local newspapers, joined Nextdoor and started attending council meetings. I did that for several months until that Borenstein opinion piece in October, 20171.

Who really runs Alameda? I was both outraged and obsessed. The following year I joined with some people who had mostly been gathered from Nextdoor to protest City Manager Jill Keimach’s treatment and eventual firing. That fall I watched Jim Oddie sneak back on council due to a third place showing and a technicality (a third seat opened when Marilyn Ashcraft won the mayoralty and vacated her seat).

I was deflated to say the least. Had nobody followed the Keimach controversy? Did they not know how Oddie had violated the charter? But when I heard from some people afterward, people who don’t really follow politics, it turned out they hadn’t. That’s when I started to put together the idea of this blog.


The motivation for this blog started with the Keimach controversy but that isn’t its only purpose. I have decided that there is a potential gap in coverage of Alameda. There are already several active blogs covering Alameda on top of the constantly declining coverage from traditional media2:

“Alameda Merry-Go-Round” ( is a blog run by long-time resident Robert Sullwold, a local lawyer who picks his battles under the motto: “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”. His analysis generally contains a lot of interpretation of the law, given his expertise as a lawyer. He positions himself as an outsider to the “Inner Ring” of local power.

“Blogging Bayport Alameda” ( does do a good job putting out daily content and is much better at staying on top of council agendas than I would ever have time to do. The blog has also been around for a long time and attracts a lot of dedicated commenters. Actually, I often find the comments as interesting as the posts.  It positions itself on the side of local power including vaguely apologist posts for Councilmembers Vella and Oddie.3

So where do I expect to fit in? The first thing I have noticed is that it is hard for people to stay on top of a lot of issues. It can be very time-consuming. For example, just a single post by Sullwold on the release of the Grand Jury report from back in June weighs in at around 3200 words; that provides a very valuable resource for those of us who are very interested but the casual reader will probably stop reading after 500-1000 words.4

The other thing I have noticed after being involved in several animated Nextdoor discussions is that a lot of people don’t have a good reference for the facts on many issues. That is a shame. California citizens have access to a huge amount of public data. From employee salaries to pension liabilities to in-depth financial information for each agency, the challenge is often to condense a data set to a meaningful description of the situation. It’s here that I feel that I have something in particular to contribute: I have worked in software development for over two decades and analyzing data is quite familiar to me. 

So these are my goals:

  1. To provide brief, well-referenced analysis of policy issues affecting the citizens of the City of Alameda.
  2. To provide a trusted clearinghouse for pertinent data and, where possible, easily consumed, narrative-driven discussion.
  3. To write as an outsider: I am not employed by any government agency nor do I have an association with local employee unions, governing bodies or elected officials.


  1. Borenstein, Daniel. “Borenstein: Who runs Alameda, city manager … or the fire union?” (accessed January 13, 2020).
  2. I am ignoring which, though it is also powered by WordPress, positions itself as more of conventional local news publication. It is also run for-profit and full-time by Steve Tavares, as far as I can tell.  I am also ignoring Ronald Parodi’s excellent “Teaching On The Island” (  Although it is conversational and data-driven, it covers only the Alameda Unified School District.  Parodi is also a teacher employed by the AUSD and so, although his analysis is very objective in tone, he still writes as an insider.
  3. See for example, “Dud” ( “[with reference to the content of the Keimach tapes] it appears that a lot of the hurt and the bad feels originated from a place of miscommunication all around..”
  4. It is true that has done a good job of synopsizing most of the events, but it only covers this one issue of the Fire Chief selection and subsequent Jill Keimach firing.