Editor's note: This corrects the quote about how the employee pensions will increase.
City Manager John Pietig appeared affable, informative and funny at a recent dinner meeting of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy.
Pietig addressed a group that included many who spoke publicly in favor of a complete change in the administration when former city manager Ken Frank retired.
However, Pietig appears to have won the respect of even the most skeptical with his response to the December disaster, slogging through rain and mud to oversee rescue and restoration efforts.
"The council got together with John after he was appointed and he said he needed a test — so we had a flood," said Mayor Toni Iseman. "He was calm as a cucumber, and he probably had no sleep for several days. The response by city employees is a measure of his kindness."
Pietig's first talk at a conservancy meeting, which was held Monday, included 2011 priorities that came out of the council's retreat in January, the top priority being the city budget.
"It's a challenge," Pietig said.
And it will get worse.
"Starting next year [city] employee pensions will increase $1.6 million over the next three years," Pietig said. "However, the council and Ken [Frank] set aside a revenue smoothing fund."
As a result the city is solvent although revenue is flat.
"We will be trying to do more with less money," Pietig said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to pick up about 75% of the tab to repair city infrastructure damaged in the floods and the cleanup, Pietig said.
"It is important to educate people about creek maintenance so we don't have containers or cars in it," Pietig said.
Pietig added, "Disasters are not an if, they are a when."
Pietig announced that Laguna Canyon resident Jan Perkins has been hired to facilitate a workshop, approved by the council at the Feb. 1 meeting, to gather input from the public on what should be done before, during and after a disaster. The date of the workshop will be decided at Tuesday's council meeting.
The council also specifically approved the 10-member Laguna Canyon Flood Mitigation Task Force proposed by Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, who, along with Councilman Kelly Boyd, will represent the city.
Applications are being accepted for the seven at-large members.
Pietig suggested a city newsletter to be mailed in September about preparations for floods and fires might prove useful.
Follow-ups to the flood include the scheduled opening Thursday of the Small Business Administration office, which assists flood survivors in getting low-interest loans to repair or replace damaged property.
The Animal Shelter renovation is underway, but restoration of the creek in front of it presents more of a challenge and adds a significant increase in the cost.
"It will take some time," Pietig said.
In the interim, the city will work on the parking lot, which was undermined by the flooding creek.
"The Boardwalk hopefully will be ready by summer, but we are now operating on FEMA time — they have to come out, inspect it and say yes," Pietig said.