Typhoons, whether real or if we think of them in a metaphoric sense, can suddenly and unexpectedly alter history and our lives. First, let’s consider the real thing. In December 1944, uppermost in Admiral “Bud” Halsey’s mind, as he directed the aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers of Task Force 38 near Luzon off the Philippine Sea, was fighting the next sea battle with the Japanese fleet. Task Force 38 was conducting underway-fueling operations, which requires the tethered fueling ships and the receiving ships to maintain the same course. Despite warnings, the task force headed straight into what would be called Typhoon Cobra. Three destroyers were sunk, over 100 aircraft were washed overboard and 790 sailors lost their lives.

After the disaster, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Ocean Areas, wrote to the fleet “To insure safety at sea, the best that science can devise and that naval organization can provide must be regarded only as an aid, and never as a substitute for good seamanship, self-reliance, and a sense of ultimate responsibility which are the first requisites in a seaman and naval officer.” Admiral Nimitz’s wisdom can be applied in the many aspects of life in how we react to challenges.
The qualities of good seamanship – looking forward, being flexible, taking decisive action while you can, putting safety first – can be applied even when we face our own typhoons or less dangerous tropic storms. Good seamanship is called for when we can foresee that sales in the company that we work for will drop dramatically. Will I lose my job? Can the company be turned around in time?
Good seamanship is also needed to ensure that local governments serve the needs of local residents. The City of Auburn faces several financial challenges that need to be addressed in a thoughtful and forward-looking way. When SB 400 was being considered by the California Legislature in 1999, a bill to significantly increase pensions for state and local workers and especially for peace officers and firefighters, Governor Davis’ Administration told the Legislature that it wouldn’t cost a dime. How can that be? Because investments made by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) would earn 7.5% each year and pay for the increased pension costs. SB 400 was signed into law. The CalPERS prediction was completely wrong. In February, CalPERs handed the City of Auburn a huge five-year pension bill that will result in an erosion of our 30% General Fund Reserve starting in 2016 and create a $600,000 structural deficit in 2020-21. This doesn’t include higher and yet unknown health care costs caused by the federal “Affordable Care Act.”

As a former Officer of the Deck aboard the aircraft carrier, USS MIDWAY, I know that it can take a while to turn a ship in a new direction. Good seamanship demands that the Auburn City Council turn the helm and take decisive action now. We need to work together to implement a 2020 Plan that will reduce expenditures and boost revenues. The 2020 Plan should include four major goals. First, let’s use our new Performance-Based Budgeting process to streamline city operations and ensure that providing vital municipal services to residents is our first priority. Second, let’s keep a minimum 30% General Fund reserve in place so that we are ready for an emergency. Third, let’s continue to implement our innovative “Transparency in Bargaining” policy to ensure that the City Council is not irresponsibly adding new salary and pension costs on future generations. Lastly, let’s think creatively and implement smart economic development that creates jobs and improves the quality of our lives in our town. For instance, let’s explore ways to expand the Streetscape program to Elm Avenue, boost business at the Auburn Airport Industrial Park and improve the infrastructure and appearance of our section of Highway 49.

Published in the Auburn Journal on June 4, 2014