City safety employees face choice – pay cuts or pink slips

Soon-to-be vacant Gottschalks building courted by business suitors
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Laying off portions of the notebook while realizing that of all the employees being let go by various government entities, none of them appear to be public-relations types. Odd, isn’t it, where some priorities are? … Meanwhile, the City of Auburn has its own dilemma concerning government employees. Earlier, the City Council approved using reserve funds to keep the next round of layoffs at a minuscule level. However, that vote was predicated upon city employees agreeing to what’s being termed a “voluntary” 10 percent cut in their paychecks. So far, elected officials, department heads and mid-level managers have agreed to the cut, but the next level of employees — mainly the public safety contingent — is balking. The cops and firefighters should make no mistake here. The process is simple: either agree to the terms and keep layoffs down to no more than two, or opt out of the scheme and watch as many as a dozen of your former colleagues become unemployed. In fact, the city already has a list of which 12 will be let go, although it has not as yet made that information public. City Manager Bob Richardson said there was such a list, but would not confirm the number of employees on it. On the other hand, he did admit that the council has basically given him a drop dead date of May 1 to get these sticky negotiations resolved. After that date, one of two things happens: Either the council decides to dip further into its reserves (not likely to happen), or the layoffs begin. Thus far, the city has been playing the game according to Hoyle, going so far as to offer any employee the opportunity to come in and take a peek at the books. My unsolicited advice is for each and every worker to do so, rather than depend upon a translation from your union rep. There’s no such thing as too much information, especially when it’s your job on the line. ... Gottschalks?: With Gottschalks going gonzo on us, the next question is how long will the site of that emporium remain vacant, especially in light of the current economic condition? Surprisingly, the correct answer may be “not long.” According to Richardson, the city had already heard from would-be suitors even before Gottschalks’ demise became official. And once rigor mortis began setting in, those inquiries became both official and numerous. Richardson said at least three would-be successors have asked about the site, and he went on to describe one of them as “a perfect fit” for the building, although refrained from specific identifications. Meanwhile, up Highway 49 from the city, rumors grow that Trader Joe’s has studies showing that a move to North Auburn makes good economic sense, even during the present fiscal crunch. Rich Colwell, the county’s chief assistant CEO, recently told the Meddlers that it would be up to Trader Joe’s to confirm or deny a possible opening at North Auburn’s Plaza, but we’d know more in six months. ... New at Old Town: Some of the brighter Old Town entrepreneurs are not sitting back waiting for the economy to improve on its own. Instead, they’re becoming quite proactive in moving ahead on their own. Ty Rowe, the Bootleggers operator who heads up the Old Town Business Association (OTBA), admits that the group has been looking into “embracing the history of the gold country.” One of the ideas being looked at is resurrecting the old gazebo that used to occupy the street space adjacent to the post office. If brought back, the gazebo would be used for events and as a bandstand. Other ideas being discussed are getting the Native Sons to bring the historic wagons to town, get a working blacksmith, touch base with the museums and heritage festivals, and put on some re-enactments of the old days. Without thinking, I blurted out that the idea suggested Knotts Berry Farm North, but Rowe said the theme would be Old West but without the kitsch of Knotts. On the whole, the idea makes good sense, because it’s a buyers’ market out there. If Old Town (and Downtown, for that matter) don’t entice the customers with ambiance they can’t get elsewhere, those paying customers will then go elsewhere. Rowe said the OTBA continues to work with its Downtown counterparts. “There’s been a lot of duplication of effort in the past,” he says, “but we’re finding we can get more bang for our buck if we work together. Old Town can’t do it all be itself, and neither can Downtown. Both have a lot to offer together.” While other business districts decry the current bad old days, Rowe said a sense of optimism is prevalent in Auburn. “I’ve been here 16 years and this is the most energy I’ve seen. There’s a real sense of community here, and if we can communicate the fact that we’re the gateway to the gold country — especially with our rivers, trails and hiking — we have a real opportunity here,” he said. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. He can be reached at