Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

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The High Cost of Being a Resident of Modesto California

.By Emerson Drake   inflation
The City Council keeps raising the cost of living here in Modesto by charging us more for the necessities. Check your water and electric bill and you’ll find a 6% city tax  ($6.00 for every hundred dollars on your bill)  just for the privilege of living here. And now they want to raise our sewer bills even more to add on to the sewage treatment plant. The funny thing is, if you can call it that,  of the majority of the companies that use our sewage treatment facility, most of them DON’T pay that tax and one is even suing us for over billing. 
 
For the few companies that do pay the city tax there is a cap or max limit on the tax they have to pay.
 
Everyone encourages us to conserve water, and we should,  but now the city wants to raise our rates because they aren’t selling as much water and need a higher profit margin to cover their spending.  Because they can’t control their spending WE have to pay more. 
 
Residents are encouraged to conserve electricity but we pay more than large.companies, that chew through electricity at an ever increasing rate, 17 cents vs 10 cents per kWh, PLUS we pay the city utility tax and most of them don’t!
 
Now the City Council wants to give another set of one time incentive pay to MPD managers, totaling almost a quarter of a million dollars. Remember just a few short months ago we paid millions of dollars in one time bonuses to city employees. I guess we’re just lucky there are fewer of the MPD managers so our bill is less.
 
The really strange thing is there are actually people out there saying we should be happy paying extra to support big businesses, large corporations and the wealthy.  Talk about a sense of entitlement.

More Foul Play From the Chamber and Their Minions

By Emerson Drake   stealingmoney
Joan Trombetta Clendenin wrote a letter to the editor today against Marsh that isn’t available onliine yet that attacks Marsh. I find this interesting since it was her company Clendenin Byrd, a bookkeeping company that has election experience, connection to the Chamber and their No on Measure Committee that first broke election laws by failing to report thousands of dollars in LARGE election campaign contributions on a timely basis. By hiding their contributions they broke FPPC rules for clean elections and now she’s berating Marsh.
 
Unfortunately this is just another example of how far the Chamber of Commerce and their minions will go to promote special interest groups intent on taking money out of our pockets and placing it in theirs.
 
And maybe even more importantly it brings into question the Bee’s culpability in the outcomes of both ballot decisions. For that we’ll have to wait and see.

Our Options For Mayor Are Limited But Our Choice Is Clear

By Emerson Drake roadtrip

If you don’t mind lets take a short road trip. Lets get in the car at the Double Tree hotel on 9th St. in Modesto and go west on Maze Blvd also known as 132. We’re going to pass Carpenter Rd and Dakota Rd. Still heading west we pass Hart Rd and Gates Rd, past the old Yandell Ranch Airport. We’re even going to pass the large Mapes Ranch sign and go all the way to the river. Our journey was about 13 miles and took us around 23 minutes just to get here. Now lets turn right on the river and take it all the way to just past Salida to the north.

This is the area Ted Brandvold voted to give to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce complete control of for ANY kind of development they can dream up.   Now you know why the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, along with real estate people and developers are supporting Ted Brandvold.

So from 99 to past Mapes Ranch, to the San Joaquin river on the west, from here all the way past Salida to the North. That’s a lot of homes and farms and ranches for the Chamber to pave over.

The boundaries and votes I mentioned are all part of public record during Ted’s time on the Modesto Planning Commission. The plan was presented by Craig Lewis, Cecil Russell and “Broker Bill” Zoslocki all members of the Chamber, Craig Lewis is a realtor and Bill Zoslocki is a real estate broker while Cecil Russell is a lobbyist. All of these men support Ted for Mayor.  We need to hold Ted Brandvold responsible for his votes while on the Planning Commission.

Now you see why we need to vote for Garrad Marsh for Mayor of Modesto.

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“Broker Bill” Zoslocki Makes a Cheap Joke at the Expense of Modesto College Students

By Emerson Drake    bzoslocki (1)
At last night’s Modesto City Council meeting Councilman Bill Zoslocki once again embarrassed himself and all of the Citizens of  Modesto. For those who aren’t aware, Zoslocki was a developer involved in the Village 1 fiasco and at the same time he was the President of the local Building Industry Association.
 Some Background
 At that time he actively purchased influence in our local government using campaign donations. Now he’s on the flip side of the coin. Councilman Zoslocki, when not pandering to special interest groups,  is busy selling HIS influence in local government. Zoslocki likes to call himself a broker now. A broker of influence, so we’ll start referring to him by the name he prefers Broker Bill.  Broker Bill made his money by NOT paying the proper amount of building fees thereby forcing new home buyers to pay Mello Roos fees out of their pockets instead of his. This was accomplished by purchasing influence and maneuvering the then council to lowering the building fees to below actual cost.  Some have estimated conservatively these ‘missing funds’ to be between $15 and  $20 Million.  Missing only if you forget the developer/builders got market value but paid significantly below actual costs to the city.
Last Night
But last night at the council meeting Broker Bill denigrated all of MJC’s students, young adults, single mothers and fathers, people returning to college trying to improve their job skills, and others just wanting to expand their horizons. at our local MJC by calling them too cheap to purchase a parking pass.  What the City Council and especially Broker Bill chose to ignore is that MJC has been in existence since 1921 and now serves over 18,000 students each semester.  Last night the Council voted to ban students from parking on Myrtle Avenue.  Now city policy says if you want to have this type of restricted residential parking you must buy a yearly pass.  But both of the Council members are running for office,  Mayor Marsh in a March run-off and Broker Bill has had eyes on Kristin Olsen’s seat in the state legislature this coming fall.  Both of these men vowed to make the parking passes free for residents living on Myrtle.
Pandering to Voters
So while we have sympathy for the residents parking situation near MJC they chose to live there knowing the college was near by.  Now suddenly ‘students’ are made into second class citizens.  The many of these students most likely live in Modesto and we all know MJC doesn’t have sufficent parking for 18,000 students between their two campuses.  But Broker Bill and the Mayor want those votes, so students be damned.  Actually both basically said student parking wasn’t their problem, at least as long as they don’t park on city streets.
 
A Wake Up Call Regarding Costs
Just for the Mayor’s and Broker Bill’s information when you add up the fees the cheapest semester could easily add up to over $1,134 and that doesn’t count units per class and enrollment fees.  The most expensive, or as my Grandson who is enrolled there put it, the most unfortunate semester,  can cost $4937 again not counting units per class and enrollment fees.  So not allowing the students to park on the very city streets their gas tax dollars (remember Modesto steals the gas tax dollars from the entire County) paid for is just another way for Broker Bill to laugh in their faces and  say “Let Them eat Cake.”

Whose Electric Bill Are You Paying?

By Emerson Drake      stealingmoney

A short time ago we received MID’s response to a Public Record Request.  It contained the Kilowatt sales and  total revenue received by rate class from 2010 through 2014. The word total is important here because some rate classes have demand charges which are difficult to explain and for most of us, including me, to fully evaluate and understand.  So total means all revenue received with no exclusions.  For this conversation we’ll focus on 2014.

Detail                  kWh                  Revenues in $Millions                Cost per kWh

Residential      868,341                      156,132                                       .179                                                                                                                                                     Commercial     725,487                     105,539                                       .145                                                                                                                                                     Industrial        768,952                        79,797                                       .103                                                                                                                                                       Other               138,545                         18,403                                       .132

As you can see residential is paying 20% more than commercial and over 40% more than industrial for each kWh they use.  MID suggests the rate disparity is  because of the cost of service. When detailing the ‘cost of service’ it all depends on what costs numbers you count and what ones you ignore.   But interestingly enough most other utilities in Central California don’t have the extreme disparity.  Lets look at the numbers as a whole. MID likes to say using rounded numbers that each of the three big rate classes uses about one third of the electricity MID sells.  But as a total of revenue, Commercial generates about one third of the revenue that Residential uses and Industrial is little more than half.

When MID was pressed about costs back in June, by the Bee’s Garth Stapley,  the response was,  “The Bee asked for a demonstration showing how Netniss computed his profit estimate, using updated numbers, Van Vuren said it might not be possible, but we can get close.”  A few days later, Netniss declined.  He said that in November, he was trying to be helpful without considering journalistic intent.”  I would suggest it’s obvious not only do they NOT want scrutiny they refuse to provide information if it will be used against their goals.

So Why are 95,819 Residents Paying So 12,693 Business Accounts can Live High on the Hog?

Traditionally MID has been run by businessmen and farmers, yes I know farmers are businessmen, but their costs have been offset by the residential customers who have been paying a premium.  Recently a dairy farmer who pays the lower commercial rate commented that if people didn’t like what they were being charged “they could just shut off the switch.” Frito Lay who pays the lowest Industrial rate generates $2.2 Billion a year  in profits. And yes some of these profits are because they pay a lower rate than sick senior citizens on fixed incomes (the MID CARES program).

So Lets get Back to the Cost of Doing Business Argument

Just like in Mountain House it’s all about what costs you count.  In Mountain House they count basic infrastructure only.  They don’t count the cost of running the transmission lines or the transformer costs among others.  They only count the costs of running the lines from transformers to the street and then to the building site. For example in Beard Industrial Park they recently had to add a powerhouse and multiple transformers for the new area the City of Modesto approved and just as importantly, because of equipment failure they had to replace several very expensive transformers an older area of Beard.  These don’t count against “the cost of doing business.”

What is the most expensive time to purchase electricity?  In the summer, and when do you think most of the industrial power is used? You guessed it, in the summer.  Does this factor into the cost of doing business?  Not according to MID.  So according to MID, 164 industrial users use almost 1/3 of the electricity MID sells, yet only paid $79.7 Million of the $359.8 Million of the revenue MID generated.

The public is constantly being sidetracked by a conversation regarding water subsidizes but these costs are but a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of the electric subsidies residential ratepayers are forced to endure.

The Chamber Thumbs Its Nose at the Fair Political Practices Commission Rules and the Public

By Emerson Drake   followthemoney

They say the truth is stranger than fiction and that has never been more obvious than in this election cycle.  The Modesto Chamber of Commerce, or at least three of their members,  have been pulling out all stops in an attempt to steal Measure I from the public.  Their two campaign flyers are filled with falsehoods, innuendos,, and blatant lies (that’s as kind as I can be at this point) and now their obfuscating the source of their money.

It’s bad enough they don’t list the FPPC number on either of their flyers.  And yes it is required but they have also managed through a series of ‘mishaps’ to make it almost impossible to follow the money.

Where Did the Documentation Go?

So we contacted the County Clerk’s office to try to follow the money trail.  Here is the official version: The Modesto Chamber of Commerce faxed to the County Clerk’s office their 497’s which is the document required when a contribution of $1,000 or more is received and it is supposed to be filed within 24 hours of receipt..  But since this is a city Measure it is supposed to go to the City Clerk’s office.  ‘Unfortunately’ it was misfiled in the manila folder (no matter how many times people and the BoS have requested, the County Clerk’s office refuses to place these documents on line) of another Political Action Committee or PAC  account of the Chambers.  This is extremely strange considering 497 documents weren’t supposed to be accepted at the County Clerk’s office period.

For another unknown reason a clerk was rummaging through the outdated PAC file and discovered the document (how lucky for us was that?).  It was then forwarded to the City Clerk’s office 11 days late.

Some interesting Coincidences

There is a history between someone who now works at the County Clerk’s office in the election division with access to campaign statements and the Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber and the Bee’s former opinion page editor, who for the last 10 years supported three candidates to the Modesto Irrigation Board, all of whom were sponsored by Bill Lyons (who wanted to sell the free water he gets from his special arrangement with MID).  The cabal of three at MID that was in place three years ago, Tom VanGronigan, Glen Wild and Paul Warda, who were supported by the Bee and the Chamber during their election campaigns) were pushing to sell our water to San Francisco.  The Bee, Chamber, and Bill Lyons  supported the sale which after much intense public discussion was turned down despite the Bee’s endorsement.

Now we see the most current aligning of stars with Bill Lyons pushing against Measure I (he has property in the Beckwith Dakota Triangle –  read Wood Colony, that he wants to develop) along with the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and (at this writing the Bee hasn’t made a public comment) with a friend possibly in position to obfuscate the public knowledge of the money trail.

While we will say without any qualms and with many thanks from us that County Clerk Lee Lundrigan looked into events and has been most helpful in explaining the much traveled documentation: an unknown someone in her office ‘accidentally’ accepted wrongly submitted faxes and misfiled these important documents and then someone in her office fortunately discovered the mistake nine days later and then forwarded the documentation the the City Clerks office where it was placed online for the public on Monday afternoon.

Another  Coincidence

When checking for updates on the Campaign documents, yesterday, Oct. 22nd was a mandatory reporting day, the former online  497’s were missing.  According to the city Clerk’s office the missing documents along with any updates will be online by day’s end.

Why does this matter?

There are several reasons, actually violating FPPC campaign laws would be one.  But during an election season opponents and the public have a right to know how much money is involved and where it’s coming from.  Since the Chamber and their three donor amigos and their friends like George Petrulakis are very familiar with election laws and rules it’s our opinion this has been willful and orchestrated.

The Subterfuge Behind the NO on Measure I Campaign

By Emerson Drake  chamberlogo

When it comes to misleading the public, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce is second to none. We’ve watched while the Chamber pulls strings behind the scenes and gets City Council members to say and do the strangest things but for today lets focus on their No on Measure I campaign.

The Campaign started out by breaking the Fair Political Practice Commission (FPPC) rules.  When the Chamber mailed their pack of lies to voters they didn’t include the FPPC number which is required.  Wondering why?  Well the Chamber filed their original paperwork with the City Clerk’s office without the FPPC number and without stating where their money came from.  Days later the Chamber filed their required  497 forms (for donations over $1,000 dollars) with the County Clerk’s office. But that isn’t where city candidates are supposed to file. Since they advise political newcomers on procedure you’d think there had to be a reason.  There was, it took eleven days for the forms to travel the two blocks between the County Clerks and the City Clerk’s office.

Maybe this was because Judy Sly, the Bee’s former Opinions Editor, was seen working behind the counter at the County Clerk’s office in the immediate area where the filed campaign forms are kept. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not, but it is interesting.   Remember Ms. Sly and the Chamber’s lobbyist and CEO Cecil Russell were some of the few people to be in favor of selling our water to San Francisco and the result would have been Bill Lyons making even more money. You ask what does the No on I campaign have to do with selling our water?  Bill Lyons is the answer. This is always an informational  litmus test  but I digress.

The Money Behind No on I 

The money behind the No on I campaign came from Craig Lewis, ($3,000) Chamber expansion committee chairman and Board Director, David Ginelli ($1,000) Chamber Chairman of the Board), Cecil Russell head lobbyist and CEO of the Chamber, and last but not least the Chamber of Commerce themselves to the tune of $3,000.   Anyone noticing a theme here?  No wonder they were trying to keep this information away from the public.  You just have to love lobbyists and their organizations. Well not really but you get the drift.

Ahh the Unions 

The Modesto Police Officers Union (MPOA) didn’t provide funds but allows the Chamber to use their name in the flyer and yes, for a group that claims to be concerned about public safety there is an unusual history here.  Now most officers are good people but their union is a lobbying organization with their prime purpose is supposed to be for the officers and the public, but is it?  Back in 2008 the City opened its books for the MPOA and explained there was only so much money but the union demanded a raise.  So the city offered the MPOA a choice.  You can have your raises but we’ll be forced to lay-off our youngest officers with families.  The Union said in no uncertain terms lay them off.  They weren’t concerned about having fewer officer on the street which, according to the No on I campaign’s propagand,a will make us less safe.  It was all about the money then like it is now.

Claims by Current Politicians

Mayor Marsh and Councilman Gunderson like to say the county will do something similar like they did with Beard Industrial Park back in 1963.  In August of 2011 the city requested an out of boundary service application.   LAFCO required the land owners to sign a waiver preventing them from protesting being annexed by the city.  But Marsh, Gunderson, Zoslocki and the City of Modesto actually have petitioned Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to rescind their waiver policy and on Jan. 22, 2013 LAFCO gave Marsh, Gunderson and the rest of the City Council their wish and voted to allow the change.  So it really doesn’t matter what the County did back in 1963 if Modesto is going top continue to bend over backward to SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS like the Chamber, Beard Industrial,  realtors,  and other developers and then mislead us.  We’re just in for more of the same lies we’ve been fed for a long long time.

It isn’t About  Jobs, It’s All About Developers and Their Greed

The local developers own land and want to develop it no matter what the cost.  Here in Modesto we watched as the family farm across from Big Valley Grace  was forced out of business because of encroaching developments.  They were promised by the city the “right to farm” but when complaints started coming in the were forced to give up land they’d farmed for years.  Sprawl advocates say farmers can always buy more land but that really isn’t true. Prime farmland like in Wood Colony and North of Kiernan is irreplaceable.  Not only is it the best water recharge land there is, but more crops can be grown on this land than almost anywhere in the world.

The Questionable Candidates and Their Questionable Statements  kristiahyou

dougridenoursrMani GrewalDespite what candidates like Doug Ridenour say (Doug doesn’t really say it he just repeats it but the people being paid to run his facebook page do) California law pushes homes to be built near jobs not highways.  So if the Chamber’s preferred candidates, Kristi Ah You, Doug Ridenour Sr. and Mani Grewal will be honest for a moment, don’t hold your breath, they’ll be forced to acknowledge if business parks are built in Wood Colony then homes and SPRAWL will soon follow.

Don’t Buy the Lies, Vote YES on Measure I

 

MID’s Fun With Numbers

By Emerson Drake    MIDpic

The Tuesday meeting of the Modesto Irrigation District Board was another head shaker.  The topic of our interest was the 2016 rate workshop which was conducted by MID’s Planning, Pricing and Risk Manage,r Jimi Nitniss.  Now Jimi, whose compensation package comes to around $195,000 a year, has questionable goals and apparently has way too much time on his hands.

How Do You Lower Rates and Remain Revenue Neutral?

If you take a look at your bill you’ll notice a fixed monthly charge of $12.50, an environmental adjustment and a capital adjustment. And of course the really bad news, your electric usage.  But MID Staff has a way for you to lower your electric rates but at the same time pay the same amount for the first 500 kWh.  Huh?  That’s right some might call it smoke and mirrors but MID says it’s all the rage with other utilities.  MID_2016_Residential_Rate_Design

“This Will Make the District Look Like Heroes”  PaulCampbell

That’s a direct quote from MID Director Paul Campbell at Tuesday’s workshop.  See it isn’t about making things better,  it’s about making them appear better.  Staff wants to raise your fixed fee from $12.50 to $20.00 and charge less for the first 500 kWh.  So the cost is a wash or revenue neutral. BUT  MID gets to say they have the lowest residential rates around.  So how does this help us?  It doesn’t.  It’s all public relations. The electric rate remains the same for everything  more than the first 500 kWh  used, .18 per kWh.  Lots of fanfare with little or no effect.

The Driving Force Behind the Change

Jimi says since Turlock Irrigation District (TID), Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District (SMUD), and Roseville all do it it must be a good idea.  The idea is to have fixed cost on your bill to more accurately cover MID’s fixed cost.  But it still doesn’t cover it all of the fixed costs, all it really does is pretend to lower your bill, which of course it doesn’t do. To our mind it’s like a placebo for electric ratepayers.  And at the end of the day you still have the headache.

Our suggestion

Most people don’t realize just how much the residential ratepayer subsidizes industry in Modesto.  Right now you’re (residential) paying .16 per kWh in the summer and .13 per kWh in the winter.   Large industrial  businesses around Modesto are paying as little as .05 per kWh summer and .03 Per kWh winter rates.  Do you know that .03 is cheaper than the cheapest power MID buys (Don Pedro hydro is almost .04) but hey as long as homes are paying .16 and .13 who cares?  If MID wants to emulate Roseville and SMUD and virtually ALL of the utilities in the Bay area they will bring industrial and residential closer in line.  For these bay area companies don’t use they residential rates to subsidize their industrial base like we do.  And if you’re curious farmers and ranchers  are paying  .10 per Kwh summer and winter.  Forget the water subsidy, open your eyes to the electric subsidy.

If you would like to watch the workshop you can see the magical effect of the rate adjustment on the MID Board.  There will be a public hearing in November, so stay tuned.

A Voice That Went Unheard at the ‘ Stewardship Council’

By Emerson Drake   dontbesilent

At Monday’s meeting of the Stewardship Council I ended up sitting next to John Kitchell.  John is a retired Physicians Assistant who has been working with the Homeless for many years.  After around the room introductions John, like the rest of the public,  was ignored.  Fortunately for us John had a list of ideas that resonated with myself and several other members of the public in attendance. Unfortunately due to the council’s exclusionary policies these suggestions might no be heard.  I wanted to share some of his ideas with you.

Here Are A Few Possible Solutions To The Homeless Problem

Recommendations for correcting the growing problem of homelessness in this nation include the following:

*Increase the range and improve the access of services available to homeless and other indigent people.

*Increase the supply of adequate, low-income housing and decent shelters.

*Develop programs for homeless alcoholic persons, drug abusers, and those at high risk of health care problems.

*Create community facilities in which homeless people can safely convalesce from diseases or temporary exacerbations of chronic illnesses.

*Encourage volunteers, especially students and professionals in medicine, nursing, allied health, social work, law and dentistry, to provide services for   homeless and indigent persons.

*Mitigate the larger problems of unemployment, lack of job training, lack of education, and lack of hope that perpetuate the problems of poverty and     homelessness.

In addition, the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force on the Homeless Mentally Ill has recommended the following:

*Graded and supervised community housing.

*Adequate, comprehensive, and accessible psychiatric and rehabilitative services with outreach services when necessary, and

*Accessible crisis services.

County Committee Says Next Meeting will Be Public and Then We’ll Decide

By Emerson Drake  collectivewisdom

The County Committee called  ‘The Stewardship Council’  met this morning for about three and a half hours upstairs at Greens Market.  The meeting  was part infomercial,  part Joel Osteen “all you need is hope” sermon,  and part new wave transcendentalism.  The members were told to expect a member to invest sixteen hours a month on this project.

Stan Risen Takes Exception

Mr. Risen walked into the room came directly over to me and accused me of lying in my last piece.  His outrage hinged on the phrase ‘religious affiliation.’  I had checked my notes prior to writing so I wondered why his umbrage.  So I asked him…didn’t he say that for a group to be considered for a grant that the groups leadership would have to be multi faceted with a segment of the leadership from the faith based/religious sector?  He replied yes, but I never said religious aspect!

Now I understand, we were talking semantics

While it is necessary for a group to successfully  request a grant they have to have what they now refer to as  ‘all ten mountains’ which includes people from a variety of backgrounds, entertainment, business, and faith based or religious, there doesn’t have to be a religious affiliation.   To most of us it sounds like we’re arguing the meaning of the word “is”. Okay,  it’s a Clinton reference for those too young to remember.  The bottom line is organizations requesting grants don’t have to be religiously affiliated BUT they do have to have a religious or faith based segment in their hierarchy and action plan.  From my point of view he’s playing politician and parsing words and to my way of thinking in the end you get the same result.  Since there wasn’t an audio recording of the meeting this will have to suffice since there are people on both sides that remember the wording differently.  But you do get to decide if there is really any meaningful difference in their intent.

Three separate times during the meeting John Ott a County paid facilitator from the Center of Collective Wisdom, used the phrase “every proposal will include” then a variety of ways to say someone from  faith based communities.

Delay on decision to include the public

I imagine the reason for postponing a decision on whether or not  to include or exclude the public, is to hope the indignation over the Stan Risen’s and John Ott’s insistence for for secrecy subsides. They like to point out the Board of Supervisors gets the ultimate decision on who gets the  money.  The real truth is the Board would be hard put to deny Terry Withrow and Stan Risen their “Focus on Prevention” at that late date.  In for a penny in for a pound, or should I say $1 Million Dollars.

The next meeting is July 31st.  Believe it or not they went through the entire month of July, except for the Fourth, and this was the day that they fewest would be absent.

 

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