The city near the center of the Tri-Valley is at the center of a debate about cooperation among the five cities that have worked together for years -- Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin, San Ramon and Danville.
San Ramon recently dropped out of Tri-Valley Community Television, known as TV30, citing savings of about $80,000 a year. TV30 asked for $100,000 for the current fiscal year to broadcast city council meetings and sports coverage of San Ramon high schools.
Instead of continuing that arrangement, San Ramon City Council voted 4-1 in June to make the switch from TV30 to Contra Costa Television, CCTV, with Councilman Dave Hudson opposed. Most said TV30 wasn't giving San Ramon enough coverage to warrant the expense.
The switch also meant the end of San Ramon's participation in TV30's Mayors Report, which brought together the mayors from Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore and San Ramon. Danville, which doesn't receive TV30 broadcasts, was never a part of the show.
San Ramon will pay Contra Costa Television about $20,000 a year, and CCTV will broadcast its City Council meetings and a one-on-one monthly interview with Mayor Bill Clarkson. Unlike Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, covering both San Ramon and Danville, has never had its meetings broadcast.
Instead of a truck and staff that came out from TV30 to tape council meetings, they are now taped through three remote cameras with one operator, similar to council and school board meetings in Pleasanton; San Ramon also offers the meetings online, divided by topic so a viewer can select what portion of the meeting to watch.
The switch has left the other three cities involved in TV30 to pick up the slack, although TV30 Executive Director Melissa Tench-Stevens recently said the station is increasing its coverage of community affairs and is getting new sponsors to help reduce the subsidies paid by the cities.
San Ramon has also opted not to become a funding partner at i-GATE, Innovation for Green Advanced Transportation Excellence, a community partnership with Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national labs designed to move innovations done at the labs to private businesses. This area, one of six innovation hubs designated by California in 2010, focuses on green transportation and clean-energy technologies.
Brandon Cardwell, vice president of programming for i-Gate said the organization converted to a municipal funding model early in 2012, in which cities involved contribute directly to its operations. Cardwell said that previously, cities provided advocacy without a financial commitment.
"When i-GATE and its partner cities made the change to the municipal funding model, the city of San Ramon opted to assume the role of Associate Municipal Partner within the i-GATE system," he said.
While Danville, Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton have agreed to invest $25,000 a year as partners and affiliate cities like Brentwood contribute $10,000 a year, San Ramon has opted not to donate, Cardwell said.
"As an Associate Municipal Partner, the city of San Ramon does not participate financially in i-GATE or have a voice in governance of the organization, but the city does have the option to participate in i-GATE's initiatives by contributing in-kind staff resources," he said.
San Ramon was not represented at the i-GATE monthly meeting last week, although other mayors and city managers were there.
"When this topic came up a few months ago, I asked the city manager what was going on," Clarkson said. "He shared that i-GATE lost some funding from the federal government last year, and they asked us to make a contribution. The city manager chose, primarily due to our own budget issues, to not make one."
Those decisions were on top of a dispute about the Tri-Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, when Tom David, Marriott hotels' area general manager, sent the city of San Ramon a letter requesting that it ask the CVB to redirect fees it collects to market San Ramon.
"During my two years of involvement on the Tri-Valley CVB Board of Directors, I cannot recall any specific promotional activities, other than an occasional listing on their website, to market a San Ramon Hotel, community event or other business in the city," David wrote in a May 1 letter to San Ramon Economic Development Director Marc Fontes.
The city acted on the letter, voting 5-0 on a May 8 resolution to send a letter to the CVB board of directors asking it to "redirect the Tourism Business Improvement District fees generated by San Ramon hotels ... so that those funds may be better utilized to promote and market hotel stays in San Ramon."
The resolution notes that San Ramon hotels have 21.5 percent of all the rooms to which the fee applies. Those hotels generated nearly $404,000 to the CVB for 2010-11 and an estimated half-million dollars in 2011-12.
San Ramon's five-year contract with the CVB was renewed in 2010, leaving the city with three years' obligation to provide the visitors bureau with funds generated by San Ramon hotels.
Fontes said the city and CVB are looking for ways to market hotels in San Ramon and the other localities.
"We are currently working with the CVB about some potential marketing strategies that will affect San Ramon as well as other cities," he said, pointing toward sporting events like swimming and soccer that bring in people from other areas.
"We're just looking at how those can be better sponsored," Fontes said.
The Tri-Valley Convention and Visitor's Bureau does seem centered toward other cities.
In its glossy publication listing 42 events for 2011-12, San Ramon is listed three times; while the four other cities have Christmas holiday events listed, San Ramon's tree lighting ceremony is absent. Livermore, by comparison, has 11 listings and much of the publication is dedicated to Livermore wineries.
"That (book) is definitely one of our concerns," Fontes said. "It's leading us to consider what kind of weekend stays to promote in San Ramon and the other cities."
Online, the CVB lists four events for San Ramon until the end of the year: a recurring posting for the farmers market at Bishop Ranch; an ice cream social at Forest Home Farms, one event at the Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center, and Art in the Park. Livermore has a dozen listings online; Danville has 13, Pleasanton has five, including a recurring ad for Pleasanton North Rotary, and Dublin has no online listings for events.
But Geoff Sarabia-Mason, CVB's vice president of tourism sales, said the bureau is doing some things to increase hotel stays in San Ramon and across the Tri-Valley.
"We had a very nice meeting with San Ramon about three weeks ago," Sarabia-Mason said. "It was basically about ways to be better partners. One of the things we're going to help them with is getting things posted to the website. They'll send us an email at the beginning of every month, and then we'll help them get things uploaded onto the site."
He also said the CVB is adding new technologies including booking engines and standalone websites to drive tourists to particular events, allowing them to book a stay and an event ticket at the same time. Cities will also refer calls about sporting events and tournaments over to the CVB, which will allow it to direct people toward specific cities for hotel stays.
Seeking D.C. dollars
Former San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson used to travel to Washington, D.C., with the other Tri-Valley mayors for the U.S. Mayors Conference each January to meet with legislators as a unit. Clarkson and San Ramon were absent from this year's pilgrimage.
That was due to a scheduling conflict, Clarkson said. While the other mayors were in Washington, he was in Sacramento at new mayors' training. Clarkson has already committed to making the trip next year, and said he'd pay for it out of his own pocket.
Past trips have brought in money for transportation -- particularly for interstates 580 and 680 -- and for the East Bay communications system.
Mayors weigh in
Clarkson and Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman disagree on San Ramon's level of involvement with the other Tri-Valley cities.
"We spent a number of years working very, very hard to form solid relationships between the cities," said Hosterman.
Those, she said, include Tri-Valley Housing Opportunities, TV30, i-GATE, the CVB, "and other issues of importance, including lobbying in D.C. together on issues of regional importance.
"When Mayor Clarkson was elected, because of their budgetary issues, whatever they are, he felt compelled to cut out whatever was not necessary to the budget of San Ramon. They started going methodically though their budget and started cutting out items."
Hosterman said she talked with Clarkson, telling him she and the other mayors wanted the city to stay onboard, and asking him to give the partnerships six months to a year to see their value.
She said she thought San Ramon's recent moves were a loss for residents, and said hopefully, with a different budget or different leadership, the city would come back.
"We'll make it really easy for them to rejoin us," Hosterman said. "I do hope that in the future they will rethink the value of our shared partnership and perhaps rejoin us in our efforts to improve the quality of life for the people of our region."
Clarkson, however, said the city is still very involved with the other four Tri-Valley cities.
"The first thing I did after I was elected mayor was that I contacted each of them. I was very proactive," he said.
Clarkson noted that Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich has been a mentor. Arnerich took office, again, last month after Candace Andersen was elected to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.
San Ramon does have significantly more cooperation with Danville than the other cities. Besides both being in Contra Costa County and involved with monthly meetings with mayors of all 17 other Contra Costa cities, the two cities share a school district and work with both the school district and county on the Traffix programs designed to cut traffic congestion around school times. San Ramon and Danville also conduct disaster drills with the school and San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District and both cities work with Contra Costa Transportation Authority on transit issues.
Clarkson said the only substantive change made by San Ramon's leaders was dropping its involvement with TV30, which he said was done only because of the savings. He said the city is still working with the CVB to send tourism money to San Ramon, and that the city is still active in both the Tri-Valley Affordable Housing Committee and the Tri-Valley Transportation Council, which works with the other four cities as well as Alameda and Contra Costa County on area-wide traffic solutions.
Beyond that, Clarkson said, he meets quarterly with the other mayors, and the city is still involved with East Bay League of Cities. He said San Ramon is still committed to the East Bay emergency communications system, which is starting to come on line.
Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti said San Ramon will always be part of the Tri-Valley.
"All the cities continue to work well together. Obviously it was a disappointment to us as well as Pleasanton and Livermore not having them part of TV30," Sbranti said, adding, "as i-GATE has success, San Ramon will want to come back."
He said leaders from Dublin and the other four cities "continue to have dialog" with their counterparts in San Ramon, but said Clarkson may have a "different perspective than his predecessor," Abram Wilson.
"From what I've heard, they've had pretty significant budget challenges. We've all faced them. I don't want to criticize another city," Sbranti said. "We all have to do what is in our own city's interest."