At this evening's meeting, Alameda City Council will consider a 10% increase in staffing in the city's Transportation Planning Unit.

If you're a Salesforce employee, you're perhaps wondering how Alameda's Chief of Transportation managed to win 500 new staff members. You're also probably wondering how many of them are based overseas. Just thinking about extreme differences in timezones is making you tired...
If you're a Google employee, you're perhaps wondering how Alameda's VP of Transportation managed to win 50 new staff members. You're figuring this VP must have claimed that large language models are, somehow, related to transportation...

The city's Recommended Workforce Changes Mid-Year 2023-24 will increase the Transportation Planning Unit's staffing from 3.0 to 3.3 FTE.

The increase in headcount is 3/10 of a "full-time equivalent" staff member.

"Full-time" means 36 hours per week for many City of Alameda positions. (The legacy of Great Recession-era budget cuts?) So the increase in headcount will effectively mean the city is allocating an addition of ~10 hours per week to transportation planning.

This increase is filling a gap left by existing Planning department staff who were temporarily split between transportation-related and sea-level rise adaption projects, so it's less like an increase from 3.0 to 3.3 FTE and more like a recovery from 2.0 FTE. (More on the side-effects of this reduction in capacity in a moment.)

If you're a Meta employee, you're perhaps wondering if your employer even has 2.0 FTE contractors who are fluent in some of the languages in which armed struggles are planned and promoted on your employer's platforms...

Alameda's staff are talented, dedicated, and collectively punch above their weight. They leverage county funding, state funding, and federal funding, along with outside consultants and contractors, to get a lot done. (More on these external means of funding in a moment.) But these staffing numbers do show how constrained their own resources are.

The local advocacy group Bike Walk Alameda wrote to City Council highlighting some of the unfortunate effects of these constraints (with my own underlines for emphasis):

Dear Mayor Ezzy Ashcraft, Vice Mayor Daysog, and Members of the City Council,
As you review budget adjustments and Recommended Workforce Changes, we urge you to consider whether the proposed staffing changes, like the net .3 FTE addition for Transportation, are enough to achieve our adopted goals around climate, safety, and equity, namely:
● Greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 50% of 2005 levels by 2030 (Climate Action and Resiliency Plan and Climate Emergency Resolution)
● Low-stress Backbone Network by 2030 (Active Transportation Plan)
● Zero traffic fatalities or serious injuries by 2035 (Vision Zero Action Plan)
As you’re aware, these plans, in conjunction with shorter-term work plans, include prioritized projects, programs, and actions with timelines designed to meet those targets. But we’ve been slipping.
Staffing for this work has been lean since before the pandemic. Sensitive to the delay of important transportation projects, Bike Walk Alameda started tracking project completion more closely last year. We found that more than half of capital projects planned to begin or complete construction in 2023 slipped.

Their letter includes a link to the Bike Walk Alameda website where they've been tracking the progress of capitol projects for traffic safety and transportation improvements in recent years across Alameda.

I'm mainly joshing about the nature of staffing at Salesforce, Google, and Meta β€” there's little in common between the public-sector City of Alameda and a for-profit "FAANG" company. But in one respect it is worth making the hypothetical comparison: the City of Alameda has a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Does the city want to properly "staff up" in order to seize this opportunity on behalf of its residents, businesses, and visitors?

I'm referring to the "$1.2 trillion for transportation and infrastructure spending" authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Biden on November 15, 2021.

City of Alameda may not be competing against Oracle and Microsoft to capture marketshare of medium- and enterprise-sized businesses like Salesforce is. Nor is it competing against TikTok and sunshine and puppies and parents to capture the eyes and minds of teenagers like Meta is. But the City of Alameda is competing to win competitive grants to fund local improvements to infrastructure β€” in a race against known challenges like deferred maintenance and novel challenges like rising bay and ground water levels.

This isn't a zero-sum game. Alameda just applied for a $50mm grant from FEMA to address sea-level rise along the edges of San Leandro Bay. City of Alameda is the lead agency, with Oakland's city and port and neighborhood groups participating as well. (This grant application is thanks, in large part, to the city now dedicating the majority of a project manager FTE to preparing for sea-level rise.*) I've also written recently about the collaborations and the funding sources enabling the new water taxi between Alameda's West End and Oakland's Jack London Square.

But even if this isn't a zero-sum game, the $1.2 trillion dollars in federal funding that are coursing through the maze of state and regional institutions is a limited-time opportunity. Do Alameda's City Council and City Manager want to compete effectively to secure as much of this funding as possible to fix and improve local infrastructure for ourselves and our neighbors?

* Correction: When I first published this post, I wrote that "This role is itself being funded by county funds from Measure BB" and implied that Measure BB is covering staff time related to sea-level rise. That's incorrect, so I've removed that sentence.