Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Mayor “Bully” O’Brien

Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien says, “It’s not the American way, to go against the majority”.  richardobrien  If that were true, America would still be a British colony. But what Mayor O’Brien is referring to is Hughson Mayor, Matthew Beekman’s vote on LAFCO. On March 25, 2015, Matthew Beekman, who serves on the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), cast one of three votes supporting an equal farmland mitigation formula which applies to the nine cities in Stanislaus County. LAFCO policy requires that one acre of farmland be set aside and preserved for each acre that is lost to residential housing development. The formula was discussed and implemented because the City of Patterson was requiring too little in mitigation fees from developers to preserve equal quality farmland. Read the Modesto Bee’s April 11, 2015 “Our View: Trying to overturn LAFCO vote is wrong” on the reverse side of this flyer for more on the issue. Matthew Beekman followed LAFCO rules which state pursuant to Government Code Section 56325.1:

“While serving on the Commission, all commission members shall exercise their independent judgment on behalf of the residents, property owners, and the public as a whole in furthering the purposes of this division. Any member appointed on behalf of local governments shall represent the interests of the public as a whole and not solely the interests of the appointing authority.” The mayors of six of the nine cities in Stanislaus County are caving to pressure from developers and are holding a hearing to remove Matthew Beekman from LAFCO. Riverbank resident, David Tucker is embarrassed by the mayor’s words and actions. He wrote the following letter to the editor of the Modesto Bee on April 6, 2015:
Re “Mayors move against ag vote” (Page A1, April 5): I am ashamed to be a citizen of Riverbank. Our mayor, Richard O’Brien, implies that fellow mayor Matt Beekman of Hughson is unAmerican communist for supporting ag-land preservation by his LAFCO vote.
DAVID TUCKER, RIVERBANK

Matthew Beekman followed the rules. He voted his independent judgment. He voted for fairness in preserving ag land. And now our mayor wants to make him pay for his vote.

If you disagree with the mayor’s words and actions as David Tucker does, let Mayor O’Brien know. Write him an e-mail at: robrien@riverbank.org and/or write a letter to the editor of the Modesto Bee before May 13. On this day, the hearing will be held to remove Beekman from the LAFCO board. You are welcome to attend and voice your opinion. Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 6 pm Turlock City Hall Chamber 156 S. Broadway Ave., Turlock

Local Candidates Didn’t Want You to See What They Were About to Do

By Emerson Drake                       modestologo

On Wednesday March 25, 2015, the Modesto City Council held a special meeting away from video recording devices.  Ostensibly it was to decide if they should send a letter in support of five other cities in Stanislaus County regarding a decision the Local Agency Formation Commission better known as LAFCO, made.  The Commission isn’t sexy or well known but is vitally important when it comes to setting boundaries and settling disputes.

But let us begin the conversation  with a little ground work.  LAFCO was intending to set actual values to the in-lieu of fees part of the mitigation discussion.  Several cities proposed setting their own fees.  For example LAFCO research suggested for the fees to be meaningful the price needed to be around $7,000 per acre and Patterson for one, was proposing $2,000 per acre of prime farmland.

The Special Meeting with NO Video Recording

LAFCO’s intention of visiting the fees has been public knowledge for several weeks.  They notified the Modesto City Council by email two weeks prior to the meeting according to Mayor Marsh.  And of course they posted their agenda as required by law.   The special meeting was requested by Council members Kenoyer, Cogdill, Zoslocki, and Lopez.  The topic of the fees could have been dealt with at the last meeting of the city council but instead they choose to have a meeting not in their official chambers but in a small meeting room, 2001, on the second floor.

Six members of the public were present Craig Lewis, Brad Barker,  Cathy Zoslocki, Kevin Valine,  myself, and Tom Halan,  the Patterson City Attorney ( if I got that name wrong I’m sorry, who just happened to be in the building on other business).

When the Council members weighed in Jenny Kenoyer said she didn’t understand what LAFCO was intending to do  and she didn’t appreciate the last minute meetings with out prep time.  Dave Cogdill complained about  the cities losing control of their mitigation fees.  Bill  Zoslocki claimed it was an over reach by LAFCO.   Dave Lopez said LAFCO was over stepping their bounds and claimed Jenny Kenoyer agreed with him.  He also blamed Mayor Marsh for not writing a letter supporting the other cities. During the meeting Kenoyer never commented on Lopez’s remarks.  And John Gunderson said he needed more time to think about whatever it was LAFCO intended on doing.    Marsh tried to explain LAFCO was just setting a price so there would be a level playing field for all of the cities but Kenoyer and Gunderson just had a blank look on their faces.  The others just kept repeating their previous comments like mantras. Just saying the same thing over again.  The work of developer special interests was obvious.

Now I realize this sounds like just sound bites but it was the entire text of their statements at this point.   Each of them, talked twice and they just repeated their brief statements.

Members from the public

Brad Barker went first and was the most eloquent and informative.  He carefully explained to Kenoyer and Gunderson what LAFCO’s intent was and walked them through the chaos that would ensue if each city could set their own fee levels.  The Patterson City Attorney just restated the cities should be allowed to keep control of their own fees.  I reminded the Council of the Patterson building fees which were woefully short on being able to build the needed infrastructure for the tarffic which eventually come  and that the County had to step in to pay for the costs of rebuilding the roads.  Also having seen the blank faces of Gunderson and Kenoyer,  I tried once again to explain what was happening later on that night at the LAFCO meeting.  Craig Lewis read some of Ed Persike’s op ed piece from the Bee that day and also trotted out the book the Coming Jobs War which actually says to do the exact opposite of what he, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and the developers are pushing for.  But unfortunately as we learned at a Modesto Planning Commission meeting, most of the commissions members who opened the book didn’t read past the first few pages (one to two pages) and unfortunately, the general public has read even less.  But pretending to relay information from a book gives the air of knowledge.  Unfortunately it just makes it easier to manipulate them.

At the end of the short meeting Kenoyer and Marsh voted against sending the letter and Cogdill,  Zoslocki, Gunderson, and Lopez voted for the City Manager to send a letter in support of the other cities.  In other words,  at this point in time in the City of Modesto,  special interests rule.  After the meeting they each stuck to their short sound bites.  Especially Gunderson. He had that feral, almost goofy look  he gets.  You know the one a child gets when they think they have fooled you and just kept saying he needed more time to consider everything over and over again as if that explained everything away.

The Four Who Were Shills for Developers Promoting SPRAWL

dcogdillbzoslockidlopezjgunderson

The Bottom Line

LAFCO, thanks to Terry Withrow,  Jim DeMartini,  and Matt Beekman made us all proud and went forward and set the price for land fee mitigation in the amount of $7,000 per acre.

The following are the letters sent by various groups both for and against LAFCO’s proposal.

commentstoLAFCO

Modesto Workforce Alliance Falls Down on the Job

By Emerson Drake     workforceallchamber

So a local hotel is looking for breakfast attendants, housekeeping staff, maintenance personnel, and front desk clerks but can’t find an easy way to post on the Modesto Workforce Alliance website. These people are getting state money to run the unemployment office here in Modesto. The County is giving the Alliance $94,000 in taxpayer money to help develop business and bring jobs.  While at the same time the Alliance is receiving $64,000 from Modesto taxpayers for the same alleged services. To create  job postings looking for workers should be a no-brainer but it isn’t an easy task, as a matter of fact you can’t. So I called the Alliance for a phone number and guess what?  They gave me a number but no one answered it. So I called the Board of Supervisors and asked for assistance. Supervisor Monteith was on hand and is looking into it as you read this.

We sure aren’t getting much for all that money.  Mr. White  (Alliance CEO) I’m told by your office that you are working on updating the site by next year.  I think you need to step up your time table.

 

MID Staffs’ Secret is Bill Lyons’ Cash Windfall

By Emerson Drake   MIDpic

Ahhh secrets, several years ago they were the meat and potatoes of MID’s existence. Why respond to public record requests if you don’t have to? Most recently we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of MID’s farmer to farmer water transfer program and the Return Allocation Program by requesting the names of those selling water and the amounts.  Unfortunately time and time again we’ve been refused access to these records of a public resource.  When MID’s staff announced they were going to hold private meetings with those same farmers who participated in last years programs we adamantly  argued against such secrecy.  Unfortunately the Board remained silent.  When we threatened to go public staff relented by saying they were going to contact all irrigators. But you and I know who they are going to listen to, all you have top do is follow the money.  When Directors John Mensinger and Paul Campbell originally started pushing hard for these programs you had to wonder why.  After all these two Directors, who publicly call themselves the “City Boys,”  were promoting a ‘farmer to farmer’  program which, of the actual farmers on the Board, two weren’t supporting and one was just willing to listen and eventually supported.  The self-proclaimed “city boys” seemed out of their bailiwick.   After all Campbell and Mensinger spend much of their time attacking the water irrigation price structure.  But maybe there was a reason.

Two $5,000 Campaign Donations

The two largest campaign donations by far came from Bill Lyons to these two men (Mensinger and Campbell).  But why would Bill Lyons decide it was to his benefit to have his political puppets push so hard to pass the Farmer to Farmer Transfer Program?  In a Garth Stapley article of 4/22/14,  Mr. Lyons claimed he was responsible for 54% of the 1,060 acre feet of water in the Return Allocation Program, which in the end delivered a check to Mr. Lyons of at least $ 302,400 and likely more. Unfortunately MID has decided to keep the actual amount and recipients a secret from the very public that own the company.  But his big killing, monetarily, was in the Farmer to Farmer  Transfers. Irrigation_Operations_Report

Lyons Sweetheart Deal

Unbeknownst to most of the public Bill Lyons and Mapes Ranch negotiated the rights to pump for FREE any water that comes down  MID’s canal that cuts through his property going to the river. His is the only entity with the ability to steal this public resource.  Maybe this was one of the reasons he and his then puppets, Tom VanGroningen and Glen Wild, were pushing the water sale to San Francisco.  Maybe Bill Lyons envisioned acting as a toll booth collector for any water MID might attempt to sell down the river.  At the January 22 meeting MID General Manager Roger Van Hoy characterized the MID meeting where the Lyons sweetheart deal was passed, as open and public. This meeting was before Roger’s employment with MID and according to Former MID Director and Board President when the deal was passed, John Kidd is asked about MID meetings back then he likes to say, if there were three members of the public at a meeting then word must have gotten out that someone was bringing donuts.

lyonsmapescomtract

The crux of the issue:  Stealing Water From the River

Bill Lyons has the ability to sell water allocated to his land and then replace it FREE from the canal or to use his many large industrial sized pumps located along the river to supplant his ‘sold’ water.  At least in OID’s proposed ‘fallowing’ program they don’t allow the farmer to replace the water by pumping ground water.  Most hydrologists agree that using large industrial pumps located close to a river reduces a river’s flow by increasing river bottom seepage.  And obviously taking water from MID’s canal before it gets to the river reduces flow to the fish and the delta thereby increasing salinity in farmland down stream.

Directors Mensinger and Campbell’s Decision Unethical and Immoral JohnMensinger PaulCampbell

In City of Modesto politics taking this kind of campaign donation would require the precipitant to recuse themselves or step back from the discussion and decision. MID has no campaign limits effecting this discussion. We’ve requested for MID to have this discussion several times but have been ignored, which of course sets up this dilemma.  As we’ve pointed out this has been an issue for years. VanGroningen, Wild and Warda received money ($5,000 – Lyons seems to find this to be the required amount to purchase MID Directors) from Lyons and were behind the attempted water sale.  Fortunately for all of Stanislaus County, Paul Warda changed his mind.  Don’t let anyone fool you. Director Warda’s change of heart was the one and only reason the water sale didn’t go through.  So Bill Lyons can be defeated, but not easily.  Remember he managed to get MID to spend $248,000 on convincing the public the water sale was a good thing and currently is one of the main movers and shakers behind Modesto’s attempt to annex Wood Colony and Salida.

Secrecy and Openness

In the ‘Farmer to Farmer’ program, 3,300 acre feet were passed, transferred at  unknown prices by unknown people, but handled by MID staff at a significant cost of staff (both office and field) time.  In the Return Allocation Program we cut checks of approx. $540,000 to people whose  names we aren’t allowed to know.  As a side note we/MID were stuck with $328,000 worth of unsold water costs. They want us to take it on trust that all was investigated and is on the up and up.  We, with what we believe is good reason, don’t trust staff.

To be fair Director Byrd did request staff to reconsider but the Board’s attorney response was “That is how we handled it in the past.”   There is no legal requirement and Public Record Requests show the Board didn’t vote for secrecy on this issue.   We’ve seen how MID staff’s past practices actually work against the ratepayers best interest.  Why would we expect things to be different/better if we keep following past procedures and dong them the same way?

Here is MID’s Public Record Response when asked for the people who participated in the buying and selling of our most public of resources, our water.   farmertofarmerPPRandredactedresponse

Trust MID’s Staff?  Not me, how about you?

 

Bruce “Dark Side” Frohman, Methinks Thou Doth Protest Too Much

By Emerson Drake    Darksidepic

Okay I know the title is a misquote of a line from Shakespeare that has entered the common  vernacular but seldom has it been more appropriate.  Public Record Requests (PRR) are a valuable tool in trying to peek behind the curtain  of deceit that sometimes appears when dealing with public entities and  public figures.  We use it here on the Eye on a regular basis, as do others .  In this instance a  PRR was made in an attempt to discover any ongoing correspondence between Modesto’s Mayor, Council, and Staff.

                                              Some Context 

Much to my surprise  an exchange of ‘curious’ emails between  Modesto’s Mayor Marsh and former one term  Modesto City Council Bruce “Dark Side” Frohman were among the several hundred that were turned over.  It’s common knowledge,  at one time prior to being elected Mayor,  Marsh was an advocate for the preservation of prime farmland.  Soon after the election it was revealed he (Marsh) not only attended the private Modesto  Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee meetings but publicly stood quietly on the sidelines while the Modesto Chamber and its members plotted to extend Modesto’s General Plan boundaries West and North to the river.  What was unknown  to the public at this time Marsh was a co-conspirator with his own plan.

In the past Dark Side had  been publicly siding with Denny Jackman and others for the preservation of prime farmland while pushing development onto less productive soils..but something changed recently.  After the Council withheld it’s previously promised support for a watered down version of RUL last spring and refused to place it on the ballot Denny was forced to seek signatures for his Stamp Out Sprawl initiative.

Mayor Marsh had been throwing the Board of Supervisors (BoS) under the bus at every opportunity.  He actually started using them as the boogie man and the reason for his land grab.  To “protect the farmers” he claimed.  And of course it came at a price, over 1,000 acres of prime farmland and the ability to place retail businesses inside the Beckwith Dakota Triangle.  This is akin to starting a small fire in a tinderbox forest and not expecting the Rim Fire which we experienced last year to develop. The Rim Fire eliminated hundreds of thousands of acres of forest and Marsh’s big-box retail would eventually eliminate the family farms in and around Wood Colony.  But he doesn’t care.

So when I wrote three sentences to my private facebook friends I didn’t expect the hoopla that ensued. Here is what I wrote.

“Stamp Out Sprawl has new opposition. Bruce Frohman has gone over to the dark side and has contacted Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh to co-author the con or opposition to SOS on the ballot. More to come. Watch EyeOnModesto.com for more information including the damning emails to be released soon.” 

These sentences spawned five articles from both Dark Side and the sites owner.  Each one funnier  than the prior one from my perspective since they flail out at anyone who commented  either on the sites’s stories or on my facebook follow-up.

Dark Side made the usual protestations, the statements were taken out of context, that his privacy was violated and I should have asked for permission, that Marsh’s emails were being monitored and  maybe my favorite was that it was  Orwellian. My response was: Your email wasn’t between private citizens, it was sent to the Mayor of Modesto at his ‘official’ city email so there was no expectation of privacy. It was obtained by a public record request which focused on developers in the Salida area, so asking for permission to publish it would seem to be a moot point.

Instead of me listing some of the phrases he used, here are Dark Side’s own words:    “Regarding Mr. Drake’s comment, I have no expectation of privacy when I write an email. However, I was quite surprised that the Mayor of Modesto’s email is being monitored so that those who may disagree with Mr. Drake’s viewpoint can be attacked without opportunity to respond. To have emails monitored in such a fashion seems Orwellian. Characterizing me, a private citizen, as having gone to the dark side for wanting to participate in the discussion is insulting and unreasonable. It is regrettable that some folks cannot engage in a discussion without name calling and personal attacks.”

Now compare my three sentences to what Dark Side wrote.  Kind of funny isn’t it?

After using over six hundred words in response to my three sentences, the one thing he didn’t supply is the email exchange:  From Frohman to Marshl: Subject: Denny Jackman Urban Limit Line Initiative  Bruce ‘Dark Side‘ Frohman’s exact words to the mayor on August 27, 2014 were: I would like my name to appear on the ballot argument opposing the initiative.  “Would you consider co-authoring a ballot argument, including me as a signatory?”

Is ambiguity involved?  Could there be a misunderstanding?  Is he undecided?  Were his words twisted out of context?  At least now you know why he was blustering and making all kinds of claims and  accusations.

               Lets get to the Heart of the matter…the Emails

Click on the link and you see the entire email exchange. Frohman_emails

Its almost understandable that the Mayor put further contact off for several months.  The purpose here isn’t to demonize anyone but with so many futures at stake in Wood Colony,  Salida, and Modesto knowing who REALLY supports you and who is drilling a hole in the bottom of your life boat IS important.

Bruce, your own words tell us you HAVE gone over to the Dark Side.

 

 

 

 

City of Modesto Knowingly Violates State Labor Code

By Emerson Drake   modestoarch (1)

On September 23, 2014 a citizen of Modesto stood up during the public comment period of the Modesto City Council and asked if applicants for jobs with the city were going to be required to provide passwords or sign-on to their social media accounts. The concern is that there are questions prospective employers are not allowed to ask applicants such as their religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, race,  sex, and disability status.  Some of this protected information is easily obtained when looking at someone’s social media accounts.

Modesto Police Chief Galen Carrol was asked to respond.  He replied that it was important to see what an applicant is posting and gave as examples, excessive drinking, nude photos of themselves and others, illegal drug use among others.  While we shared some of the Chief’s concerns, it is illegal to ask an applicant to sign into their social media accounts in the presence of a background investigator or hiring supervisor.

California Labor Code 980 section 3-a & b  Passed 9-27-12 effective 1-1-13

LABOR CODE, SECTION 980

980. (a)  As used in this chapter, “social media” means an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet web site profiles or locations.

(b)  An employer shall not require or request an employee or applicant for employment to do any of the following:

(1) Disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing personal social media.

(2)  Access personal social media in the presence of the employer.

 

Oops….so the Chief is blatantly violating state labor code and he dmitted, no flaunted it, in front of his boss, Interim City Manager Jim Holgersson, and the City Attorney Adam Lindgren.  The City Attorney has been found wanting in several decisions he has made and actions he failed to stop….from violation of free speech rights (signs in the council chamber ato not allowing a second public comment after a proposal has been changed), and now he’s either clueless or complacent…we’ll let the reader decide.

On Monday the Council will interview Jim Holgersson for the permanent job of City Manager.  It’s our point of view that he isn’t up to the task due to failing to protect the rights of Modesto’s citizens from intrusive and illegal questioning by the city staff he currently oversees and the companies he’s outsourced the background checks to.

On April 16, 2013, a legislative review committee considered the potential need for a law enforcement exemption to Labor Code 980, but decided it would probably be unconstitutional and chose not to make such an exception.

The Stanislaus Sheriff’s Dept Doesn’t have a StingRay but is Missing Military Equipment

By Emerson Drake  sheriffsbadgelogo

After hearing and reading how the Sacramento Sheriff’s Dept. had purchased a “stingray device”  we decided to make a Public Records Request to discover if the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Dept. had made a similar purchase. News 10 broke the story about a device that mimics a cell tower and can take information from your cell phone and tablet without your knowledge.  The scary thing is the police haven’t applied for warrants or told judges or defense attorneys about information they might have obtained. According to the News 10 report the deputies have been trained to lie in court as to how the information was obtained. These devices have been proven to have been purchased by Sacramento, Oakland and San Jose Police Departments.

“The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department may be keeping judges, prosecutors and the public in the dark about the use of a controversial electronic surveillance tool known as the StingRay, according to new information obtained by News 10.

Despite evidence showing the sheriff’s department is utilizing the device, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office and Sacramento Superior Court judges said they have no knowledge of StingRays or similar tools being used in Sacramento.”

Here are the results from our two requests:

Mr. Drake,

Your email dated August 1st, 2014 requesting documents related to a “stingray device” was forwarded to the Office of County Counsel for response. You specifically asked, “…if the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Dept. or the District Attorney owns and or operates a ‘stingray” or like device.”

Neither the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Dept. nor the District Attorney’s Office own such a device, and therefore there are no public records in that regard.

Additionally, pursuant to California Government Code 6254(f) and California Evidence Code 1040 the County deems any records related to investigatory files, or records of investigations, exempt from disclosure by express provisions of law.

Sincerely,

Robert J. Taro

Deputy County Counsel

Office of Stanislaus County Counsel

 

We had concerns since the Sacramento Sheriff’s Dept. felt it was within their rights to lie to the public regarding this device we wanted to ensure the information was void of deception so we made the second request.

Dear Mr. Drake,

Your recent request at the Board of Supervisor’s Meeting on August 12th, 2014 requesting documents related to “records and grant applications with the Harris Corporation since 2005″ was forwarded to the Office of County Counsel for a response.

Pursuant to Government Code section 6253, this email is to inform you that we have determined that your request seeks copies of disclosable public records in the possession of the County, and that the County intends to provide records responsive to your request.

You will find those records attached to this email in two separate attachments. The first attachment contains several documents that include a “Supplier Payment History Report” as well as several invoices. Please note that the “Supplier Payment History Report” is a summary of the purchases made from “Harris Corporation” during the time frame you requested. The invoices are titled “Oracle Account Coding Strip”. You will see that these invoices are all from the “Emergency Dispatch” aka “Stanislaus Regional 9-1-1″ department from 2010 and 2011.

Even though the “Supplier Payment History Report” reflects purchases made in 2005 and 2007, I have been advised that we do not keep invoices from that long ago, therefore there is no other “record” of invoice.

In addition to those documents, you will also find a spreadsheet of purchases from the Harris Corporation during the time frame you requested.  Please note that there is a description of the purchased items on this spreadsheet. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these is a item that cost $24,605.04. That item is described as a “Crash Kit for Microwave” and was purchased in 2005. I have been advised that it was purchased for “Stanislaus Regional 9-1-1″.

It does not appear as if any of these items are for a “Stingray or like device” that was the basis of your original request.

I would also note that a “Grant Application” is usually made to a State or Federal agency. An award of a grant generally results in the receipt of funds used to purchase equipment, labor, or other services which would be reflected in these attachments I have provided.

We feel that the attached records comply fully with your request.

If you have any further questions or concerns based upon the above, please feel free to call.

I can be reached at the Office of Stanislaus County Counsel – (209) 525-6376.

Sincerely,

Robert J. Taro

Deputy County Counsel

Harris_Corporation_4  Harris_Corporation_Spreadsheet

AllGov reports 

10 California Police Agencies Suspended from Pentagon Program for Losing Weapons and Gear,  Stanislaus Sheriff’s Dept is Among Them

Most of the California suspensions occurred last year. NBC Bay Area reported last week that the Napa County Sheriff’s Office lost an M-16 assault rifle and was suspended on May 6. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department didn’t know where two M16A1 rifles were and was suspended in October 2013.

Suspended agencies don’t have to return all their military equipment, but can’t order any new stuff. If an agency screws up bad enough, its status is downgraded to “terminated,” but that has only happened to seven of them.

Other suspended agencies listed were: California Highway Patrol-Sacramento, Arcadia Police Department, Huntington Beach Police Department, Maricopa Police Department, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department, Stockton Police Department, Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department and Sutter County Sheriff’s Department.

So almost needless to say we filed a Public Record Request to find out what had gone missing at the  Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Dept.   We’ll keep you informed  when they make their response.

A hearty thank you to one of our readers for bringing this issue to our attention.

 

City Council Theatrics, a Glimpse behind the Curtain

By Emerson Drakeroyalty-free-vector-of-a-comedy-and-tragedy-theater-drama-mask-logo-by-john-schwegel-51421

We’ve all read the fairy-tale version Mayor Marsh, city staff, Cecil Russell  (lobbyist from the Chamber), Ryan Swehla,  and David White from the Alliance, staged for the public and the Modesto Bee, but is it the truth?  One thing we can assure you of and that is that it’s NOT the whole story.

Thanks to a public records request we discovered Mayor Marsh and Josh Bridegroom from the city and Ryan  (NSP2 funds debacle) Swehla had been having conversations behind the scenes regarding the purchase of the old JC Penny building at 11th and J streets.  As you may recall Swelha is wired into city staff because of his business relationship with former Councilman Joe Muratore.  Muratore was forced to return a $58,000 real estate commission payment from the sale of an apartment complex to avoid felony charges. On top of this it seems city staff had set aside $1.2 Million for his and Swehla’s apartment project while several other developer’s projects languished due to a lack of NSP2 funds.

Is this all about sales commissions?

In order for Swelhla and Muratore’s company NIA Benchmark to make the sale to Valley First Credit,  Modesto would have to make concessions of approximately $445,000 in parking revenue to Valley First Credit. These proposals/demands are listed in the email suggesting they  have  already been discussed and acquiesced to by the Mayor and staff.  It would leave a sour taste in citizen’s mouths if they thought it was all being done for realtors, especially these two ,considering their histories. It would be a hard sell if not impossible.  So they decided to reinvent the story.

Is David White more familiar with downtown businesses than Swehla and Muratore?

It belies credulity that a newcomer to Modesto is more aware of business conditions than those who control more than 2 Million square feet of office space and represent many of the lots ready for development, yet that is what we are supposed to believe.  Benchmark is always out in front of the crowd.  Remember, they were cornering  the Salida market when all hell broke loose regarding the  backroom talks taking place over Modesto’s annexation desires. Of course Muratore was in on the initial discussions behind the scenes before Marsh and  Cogdill Jr. took his place.

White makes the perfect Frontman

David White, being new to Modesto needed a feather in his cap to get a little credibility/gravitas but this might not have been the way to get it.  He has been going around telling his different audiences what they want to hear.  When he talks  to the City and County he promotes business parks and bringing new businesses to Modesto.  But when he was thanking the MID Board (3 of the 5 are farmers) for their $10,000 contribution, in advance he denies looking at farmland for business parks and stresses local business.  Heck, speaking out of both sides of his mouth the way he does,  you’d think he was running for office.  Getting credit for allegedly bringing 70-100 jobs, after five years can’t hurt.  What falls by the wayside is these jobs were already in Modesto located at Orangeburg and College.

To Balance the Parking Fund, Parking Meters Will be Installed.

Timing is everything and this is no different. The Council and their committees will be entertaining a proposal from the Downtown Improvement Association  to re-install the parking meters they recommended be removed years ago.  There is little doubt they will be suggesting a PRIVATE company administer/own these meters.  To understand better try reading Griftopia by Matt Taibbi. Our council has a history of wanting  to privatize city jobs not always for the better…. well, except for those who get our money.

The sale hasn’t gone through

Yes the sale hasn’t gone through.  What was lost in the stage play was the air in the basement of the Penny building isn’t of the best quality.  The county used to rent space there but had to give it up because of environmental concerns.  To sum it up, this whole dog and pony show was staged this way so a realtor could get his commission, a newcomer could get his spurs, the council could claim a victory of sorts and get some of the annexation stink off of themselves (it didn’t work regardless of whether or not this sale goes through) and the parking concessions are being done at the taxpayers/store customer’s expense.  After all the  street parking is free now so why should we pay for it?

Here is one of  the emails we drew information from  Swehla and Marsh

Attn John Gunderson Please Try Being Informed and NOT just Opinionated

By Emerson Drake    jgunderson

On July 26th Modesto City Councilman John Gunderson wrote an article under Community Columns John Gunderson: Clear thinking needed on Salida annexation issue where he makes several dubious and completely wrong claims.  Now we can’t tell you if just can’t comprehend what he reads or is just being malicious.  What we can say is when he relayed his columns to fellow council members, staff and others (yes the result of a public record request) where he claims to have done the research himself. The above photo is the Councilman’s ‘official’ picture.  The below one is the one he posted of how he see’s himself on facebook.  jJohnGunderson

Unfortunately Councilman Gunderson  has been wrong on this issue for a long time but to make specious claims he says he researched? well here is Katherine Borges’  response in its entirety. Her original post 

Fun from Cat and Gundy -or- John Gunderson Salida Facebook post #4 and my reply

 
John Gunderson’s new profile pic of “me”. Which ironically
(and eerily) looks just like my cat.

Well folks, Modesto City Councilman John Gunderson is at it again. I must really crawl under that guy’s skin because he can’t seem to go a week without a Facebook post on Salida. This week, he regurgitated an e-mail I wrote to the council in June regarding a tip I received from a Salidan that Modesto had hired a consultant to help them annex Salida. 

 
My cat. Rescued as a kitten
from the intersection of
Woodland & Carpenter.

While both Mayor Marsh and city planner, Patrick Kelly replied that the city didn’t hire Keith Bergthold as an annexation consultant, there’s something still amiss here. Why would Bergthold tell his Fresnan friend that he had an eighteen month contract otherwise? Perhaps it was just being bandied about and was all verbal at that point? Either way, its DOA now because the city can’t very well go and hire him after denying that they hadn’t. And how effective would he be with any kind of collaboration building with Salida? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.)

 
Councilman Gunderson can’t help but crank up the old propaganda machine starting right in the second sentence with, “Think the Goodwin Study would have been enough, the annexation concept was proven to be a bad idea.” First of all, anyone want to wager that Councilman Gunderson has NOT read nor thoroughly examined the Goodwin Study? Because if he had, he would know it shows that Modesto would stand to rake in $22.8 million a year in revenue in annexing Salida at full build out of the Salida Community Plan. How does that prove the annexation concept is a bad idea? And if it were proven to be a bad idea, then why is Modesto keeping Salida in their general plan? Councilman Gunderson wrote in his community column just two weeks ago that, “…the majority of the Modesto City Council feels (annexation) is still a possibility“. And he says I have “nothing to worry about???”

And once again, the councilman nay says Salida incorporating, “Should stop worrying about incorporation for Salida as well because that can’t happen either.” I previously responded to his comment about whether or not Salida can be incorporated, but it apparently didn’t register in his brain so I’ll say it again, “Keep in mind that no one has ever applied to incorporate Salida as a city. If no one has ever tried, how does anyone know whether or not it can be done?

 
Available land in
Beard Industrial Park
What he also doesn’t seem to comprehend is only supplying water in exchange for land -IS- extortion when you supply water to other areas without forcing them to turn over their land! To put it into language he’ll understand, its known as an “out-of-boundary service agreement” and the council approves them all the time. And once again, I’m going to call him out on his double standard for trying to justify water extortion by saying “Modesto ratepayers deserve better” when Beard Industrial’s sweetheart deal costs ratepayers and the city millions upon millions each year. The city of Modesto supplies both water AND sewer to Beard without annexing the land. (Read more about Beard)
 
Lastly, Councilman Gunderson said, “Modesto’s water should be leveraged for the best possible outcome that helps pay for services for residents of Modesto proper, not the surrounds.” When the City of Modesto purchased the Del Este Water Company in the mid-1990’s, they took over the existing wells and infrastructure in Waterford, Grayson, Del Rio, part of Turlock and Salida. So technically, they bought Salida’s (et al) water so its not “Modesto’s water” he wants to “leverage” to begin with. Our water comes primarily from wells in Salida so he wants to leverage our own water against us! Additionally, development occurs in all of those other former Del Este served communities and yet, Modesto does not “leverage” the water by extorting land from them; except in Salida.

In case you were wondering why Councilman Gunderson is so fixated on Salida its because if Salida were annexed, we would be assimilated into his district. That’s right, we would be the constituents of a man who feels water extortion upon us is justified because the majority Modesto residents in his district “deserve better” than the Salidans.

“The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” – Aldous Huxley

Stay tuned for more “fun” from Cat and Gundy…at some point in the next 7 days – –
________________________________________________________________

 
More fun from “Cat”. Think the Goodwin Study would have been enough, the annexation concept was proven to be a bad idea. Catherine has nothing to worry about on that. Should stop worrying about incorporation for Salida as well because that can’t happen either. Refusing City of Modesto water for new development within the Salida TPA… refusal is extortion? Modesto ratepayers deserve better than that. Modesto’s water should be leveraged for the best possible outcome that helps pay for services for residents of Modesto proper, not the surrounds. Development outside of a city’s limits is a losing proposition because of the State’s mandated property tax distribution scheme. 

salidakat@
Sent: Wednesday, June 04, 2014 12:48 PM
To: COUNCIL; Brad Wall; Patrick Kelly; Terry Withrow; Vito Chiesa; Dick Monteith; Jim DeMartini; Bill O’Brien; Marjorie Blom; George Petrulakis
Subject: SALIDA ANNEXATION CONSULTANT
To the Modesto City Council:
I received the following from a Salidan today, “My father lives in Fresno and is friends with a man named Keith Bergthold. Keith told my dad he was hired by the city of Modesto to see what can be done about annexing Salida.”
I’ve met Mr. Bergthold at the Carpenter’s Church General Plan presentation in May and I also attended the April Stanislaus Community Foundation breakfast that was connected with Fresno Metro Ministries.
So you can fire Mr. Bergthold because HELL WILL FREEZE OVER before you ANNEX SALIDA or the Kiernan Corridor! Get that through your thick skulls!! How many different ways and from different people do you need to hear that before it sinks in?!? It doesn’t appear that turning out hundreds of people to voice that works since both Salida and Wood Colony have done that!!
I’ve told you once if I’ve told you a thousand times, we are willing to work with you if you want to develop the Kiernan Corridor (although I don’t know why since you are so IMPOSSIBLE, OBSTINATE and DYSFUNCTIONAL about our communities) BUT YOU’RE NOT GOING TO JUST TAKE SALIDA NO MATTER WHOM YOU HIRE!!! Your status quo land grab days are over!!! Get a clue!!!
Since you have a contract with Mr. Bergthold, why don’t you have him use his remaining time in educating you about “build up, not out”. Fresno has done well with that. Look around their Kaiser Hospital and then look around Modesto’s. And in the meantime, LEAVE SALIDA and WOOD COLONY ALONE you greed-driven sellouts!!!
Very sincerely,
Katherine Borges

On Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 1:53 PM, Garrad Marsh wrote:
Katherine,
You are wrong about Mr. Bergthold being hired by the city. Mr. Bergthold has not been hired (or to my knowledge even contacted) by any City of Modesto employee or elected.
Garrad

From: Katherine Borges [mailto:salidakat@
Sent: Wednesday, June 04, 2014 2:02 PM
To: Garrad Marsh
Cc: COUNCIL; Brad Wall; Patrick Kelly; Terry Withrow; Vito Chiesa; Dick Monteith; Jim DeMartini; Bill O’Brien; Marjorie Blom; George Petrulakis
Subject: Re: SALIDA ANNEXATION CONSULTANT
Mr. Mayor,
WHO hired him then? I was told he has an 18-month contract. Emerson has filed a public information request with the city. Even if it turns out that you’re right and the city has nothing to do with it, then you need to find out who working to annex Salida on your behalf. I want nothing to do with this man and will not contact him. His e-mail is: Keith.Bergthold@
Katherine

On Jun 4, 2014, at 2:47 PM, “Patrick Kelly” wrote:
This is to confirm that the City did not hire Keith Bergthold. Keith represents Fresno Metro Ministries and has volunteered his time to work with Stanislaus Community Foundation to look at asset based community development. At Keith’s request, the City presented the General Plan Amendment proposal at a community workshop (hosted by Metro Ministries) held on May 8, 2014, intended to inform the public about Modesto’s General Plan Amendment currently underway. At Keith’s request, the workshop also included a presentation by Carlos Yamzon, Executive Director with StanCOG about the 2014 Regional Transportation Plan / Sustainable Communities Strategy. The intent of the presentation format was to share with the public Modesto’s General Plan Amendment proposal in context of StanCOG’s regional plan.
Patrick Kelly, AICP

From: Keith <Keith@
Date: June 4, 2014 at 3:37:17 PM PDT
To: Patrick Kelly < >
Cc: Katherine Borges <salidakat@ Garrad Marsh < >, COUNCIL < >, Brad Wall < >, Terry Withrow < >, Vito Chiesa” < >, Dick Monteith < >, Jim DeMartini < >, “Bill O’Brien” < >, Marjorie Blom < >, George Petrulakis < >, “Brent Sinclair” <>, “kberg@ <kberg@>
Subject: Re: SALIDA ANNEXATION CONSULTANT

Thank you Patrick. I have no idea where such false assertions mentioned below with respect to the City of Modesto and Salida or contracts with the City might originate. I have been volunteering with various groups in Modesto, Fresno, Madera, and Kern around community building for healthy people and healthy places – which is a regional initiative and goal of Fresno Metro Ministry. Please have people contact me directly to confirm my activities and intent. Thank you again for sharing this information. Regards, keith

 

How Recent Supreme Court Decisions Harm All Of Us

By EOM Contributor  ladyjustice

First I’d like to provide some information on the recent decisions, then I will explain why I think they are harmful to all of us.

Let’s start with the Hobby Lobby decision first.  The court has ruled that Hobby Lobby can deny insurance coverage for particular types of birth control based on the fact that it goes against their deeply held religious beliefs.  The contraception mandate provided for in the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) had exemptions for birth control coverage for institutions or businesses whose PRIMARY purpose was the promotion of their religious beliefs.  Hobby Lobby’s primary purpose is the selling of craft items.

Hobby Lobby particularly opposed IUDs and morning after pills believing that they were similar to abortions.  IUDs are very effective and very popular among women.  They are also very expensive.  Morning after pills are necessary in circumstances where a woman may believe her regular birth control has failed or in cases of rape and/or incest when the woman may not have been protected by any kind of birth control.  According to the 35-page dissent written by Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, this decision was so poorly written that it leaves the door open for any employer to deny coverage of ANY type of  birth control.  She also says that even though this decision was only about birth control, again it’s so poorly written it leaves the door open to denial of coverage of such medical procedures as blood transfusions and mental health treatment if your employer is a Jehovah’s Witness or a Scientologist.

Now I would be more believing of Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held religious” belief concerning types of birth control if they didn’t import the majority of their products from China where millions of women are forced to have abortions every year due to China’s one child policy.  I would also be more believing of their reasoning if they didn’t invest millions of their pension plan money in pharmaceutical companies that produce the very type of birth control they object to.  Apparently where Hobby Lobby is concerned, having to pay for birth control violates their religious belief, but making millions of dollars by investing in that very type of birth control, and buying their products from China, is in no way a violation of their religious beliefs.  As far as their beliefs go, money trumps religion every time.

Now about the “buffer zone” around clinics that provide abortions.  The court ruled that one particular clinic in Boston violated the free speech of citizens because their 35 foot buffer zone included a public sidewalk.   This particular clinic was built very close to the public sidewalk in a crowded urban area.  I understand the reasoning that public sidewalks can’t be excluded.  But because of this decision women seeking a legal medical procedure at this clinic will now be forced to push their way through a crowd of potentially violent protesters.   It will also result in more clinics trying to do away with buffer zones. Protesters were always able to voice their opinions outside the buffer zone and still be heard.  They claim they want to engage in “gentle conversations about other options”.  If that were true, why have there been 6800 incidents of violence, 2500 incidents of trespassing, 42 bombings, 17 attempted murders and 8 murders at clinics in the last 15 years?  This is not a free speech issue, but it is very much a safety issue.  By the way, the Supreme Court has a 185 foot buffer zone around their building.

Now about how this effects us all:

*Since the advent of the pill, women have been able to continue/finish higher education at a much higher rate than before.

*Having a higher education means that women can provide better financial support for their families.

*Women who can better help provide for their families results in fewer families needing public assistance (food stamps, housing aid, health care) which is provided through our tax dollars, thereby saving all of us money.

*Women who space when they have children and how many they have are healthier and their children are healthier than women who have too many children in too short a time period.

*Having more children than a woman can care for or afford will result in more children going hungry, which in turn will result in poorer education for those children, because study after study shows that kids can’t learn when they are hunger.  So we will have more poorly educated people in our future work force.

*Not being able to afford birth control will most certainly result in many unplanned pregnancies.  Those women will have to drop out of the work force for a period of time, which will financially harm their families and our economy.  When and if they return to the work force will depend on how much they can afford to spend for child care.

Hopefully, men will realize how this effects them, too.  Since it’s primarily women who are responsible for birth control (although I would certainly like to see this change), men will now be fathers sooner and perhaps more often than they would like.

Yes, I realize the court decision on birth control doesn’t mean that women can’t go out and get that birth control.  But affordability equals access.  Birth control can be very expensive.  An IUD can cost up to $2000.  The pill can cost $50 – $75 a month.  If you are a minimum wage worker, that is a significant amount of money.  And as we know, women are paid considerably less than men in the workplace to begin with.

Access to safe and legal abortions is being greatly reduced in many states.  Now the affordability of the most effective types of birth control is being reduced for thousands and potentially hundreds of thousands of women.  It seems to me that everyone should wish for fewer abortions to be performed in this country.  Affordability of birth control can help accomplish that.  But when you can’t afford birth control or when your birth control fails, ending a pregnancy safely for women who desire to, should always be an option.  It’s 2014, but women’s rights are more along the lines of 1950.

I get the “religious beliefs” idea.  I really do.  But when your religious beliefs infringe on other peoples lives in this most personal and private way, something has to give.  The ability to access birth control and a safe termination of a pregnancy will benefit women, men, children and all families.  This is the greater good.  And when your religious beliefs interfere with the greater good….well, you know where I stand.

 

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