Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

The Bee Endorsed an Election Denier and a Water Seller. Why?

By Emerson Drake

The Modesto Bee Editorial Board chose to endorse Stu Gilman, a known supporter of selling our water, and Janice Keating an outspoken election denier. Not only does Ms. Keating claim the 2020 nation wide election was fraudulent but she casts aspersions on our current local elections. And Nick Dokoozlian is a young political opportunist with no experience.

The overriding question should be, why is the Bee taking this course of action? None of their three endorsements for the MID Board makes any sense. They’re aware that Bill Lyons has been selling water the question there is how much of it was “mined” and how much of it was free from the sweetheart deals from the past. Mining water refers to using wells along side of a river. As we’ve shown before Bill has a canal running across his property. The Lyons’ deal with MID was to give them the land in exchange for free water going down the canal.

Land use attorney George Petrulakis was Stu’s ‘advisor’ in his last election for the nominal fee of $10,000. A large amount Stu wasn’t required to pay at the time. And large when you consider the Board on pays $1,000 a month. But Georges fingers don’t stop there. He’s been behind Janice Keating since she was on the Modesto City Council and ‘supported’ her in her failed bid for the Assembly when she lost to Kristin Olsen.

But all of this is just background when you consider Garth Stapley wrote articles showing Janice not only took money earmarked for advancing MID’s attempt at selling our water to San Francisco back in 2011, she also spoke publicly in favor of the sale at a MID Board meeting back then. So he was well aware of her inclinations to take money for providing her public support.

To make things even more interesting in 2011 Judy Sly, former Bee opinion page editor, came out in favor of the water sale. Now Judy was near retirement and looking for somewhere to spend the rest of her working days. Needless to say it’s been suggested she received some help getting a position with the County soon there after. For her supporting Modesto’s Chamber of Commerce concerns proved useful.

A concern with the water sale was that we had to sell the water to San Francisco in both wet years and dry years. The amount of water MID has access to is limited by rainfall, storage and by contract since we split the water with the farmers for irrigation. The smaller the pie (water) the less there is for everyone to eat or drink as in this case. Modesto needs the water to blend with our polluted ground water to make it drinkable. During the last drought we were running pretty lean in the water department. If the drought had gone another year the excrement would have hit the oscillating rotary device.

We were almost forced to laugh when the Bee Editorial Board suggested Stu would be the best one to lower our prices since the “City Boys” Stu, John, and Paul had been in charge for the last five years and didn’t bother to give residential electrical customers an even break. Yes, we’re still subsidizing big customers like Gallo and others by giving them below cost prices (Garth wrote this story too).

Is the Bee suggesting Stanislaus County elections are fraudulent and using Janice as a tool?

We certainly hope not. We had the opportunity to see the County’s election division in action under Donna Linder. Every single vote is tracked and verified (to explain the process completely would take another 2,000 words) leaving no room for any doubts or concerns. We can’t speak for other states or counties but Stanislaus County is definitely legit. Maybe if the Bees’ Editorial Board went to see the operation instead of endorsing failed retread politicians they would be more retrospect in their endorsements.

Nick Dokoozlian is a field rep for Supervisor Mani Grewal with no experience, well except for sucking up to Mani. To the best of my knowledge Nick hasn’t been to a MID meeting in person and we haven’t seen his name on line in zoom meetings. He’s articulate but even if you sound good you need to know what you’re talking about. I guess in Mani’s and Garth’s world that isn’t important. Influence is.

The Bee Editorial Board knew or should have known that MID has what they call discretionary money (that’s what they call the profits from residential electric ratepayers) shortfall compared to prior years and if they were doing their due diligence they would know this and it’s no surprise to most of us that the MID Board run by the ‘city boys’ has scheduled rate talks regarding rate hikes for the week AFTER the election.

We need people who have fought to keep our water in the Modesto Basin and have studied the situation not people who are just looking for somewhere to begin being a lifetime politician. If you want to make a difference in the way people will be treated by MID going forward you need to get out and vote for:

MID District 2: Frank Damrell

Mid District 3: Robert Frobose

Mid District 4: John Boer 

Thank you.


Politics and the MID Election

By Emerson Drake

Is there anything we take more for granted in our daily lives than flipping on a switch and having the lights turn on or turning on a faucet to get a drink of water? The conversation today is to decide how best to keep these things we take for granted available and affordable and who best to support for the MID Board this election season. We go to as many MID meetings as possible and watch the rest on line to best understand what’s going on. We even listened to the Bee’s forum to be able to see and hear the candidates answering questions side by side as it were.

As usual several of the people running for the Board haven’t been close (the closest they’ve been to MID is paying their electric bill) to understanding the intricacies of what MID does other than moving the switches and faucets mentioned earlier. MID is facing several tough issues than must be addressed fairly for all and candidates without a clue will cost us, you and me, the ratepayers dearly. A couple are so closely aligned to special interest groups that no amount of facts, meaning understanding the hard truths they/we are facing, will ever allow them to serve us best.

Her are a few hard facts. Currently MID’s electric rates revolve around the cost of natural gas. We’ve been fortunate for several years that the cost of gas was cheap. Thanks to the fact our country went from an importer to the biggest exporter in the world, the cost of natural gas has sky rocketed forty percent in the last year alone. The plant in Lodi we have partial ownership in and our local Peaker Plants all run on natural gas. The current drought doesn’t seem to want to go away and these droughts have become more and more frequent.

Because of the current lawsuit, which MID lost but is appealing, they refuse to talk about the cost of water. But those who’ve been attending meetings for years remember when the Board supplied that important information. During an earlier drought, when allotments were reduced the Board decided they had enough water to sell additional water to farmers. The cost stated was $55.00 an acre foot. Normally we sell water to farmers for $16.25 per acre foot. As you can see there is a significant cost difference. A large shortfall for the water side.

In the years just before the lawsuit the MID Board had been slowly raising the water rates to recover part of the shortfall, estimated at $8M.

Some, but not all of the electric ratepayers had been making up the difference. Big businesses had been given ‘time of use rates’. The electricity used by these businesses was given such a reduced rate it was actually below MID’s cost. Several years ago there were approximately 112 of these businesses. Most of these but not all were located south of Yosemite avenue in Modesto in Beard industrial Park. The other major one is Gallo industries not all of which are in the Beard Industrial Park. Gallo in 2015 saved over $8 Million dollars according to a Modesto Bee article written by Garth Stapley.

I remind everyone about all the balls MID is juggling so we can better understand the pressure special interest groups are bringing to our doorstep during this election. MID’s own study in 2016 said the MID subsidizes big business, both electrical and water, higher than any electric company in central California and nothing has changed.

The lawsuit was filed in the spring of 2016. When Stu Gilman ran for, and was elected to, the MID Board in 2017, his main platform to his potential constituents was to get them a rebate for the overcharge for water and electricity. Immediately after taking office Stu voted join the rest of the Board in claiming the profits from the sales of electricity to MID customers was discretionary income not electrical profits. How can you trust a man who breaks his pledge to both his church’s congregation (House Modesto) and to everyone in his district?

It’s easy to envision the special interest groups circling MID’s Boardroom. The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce were and still are having heart palpations. The Farm Bureau, the Chamber, and Bill Lyons have vested interests, albeit greedy ones. The Farm Bureau doesn’t want higher water rates and the Chamber doesn’t want higher electric rates for its big businesses and Bill Lyons, like selling water.

How bad was/is the situation? From Garth’s article:

A Modesto Bee analysis of bond documents in June showed that MID saw a $106 million profit selling electricity in 2014, while farmers paid less than 17 percent of what it costs MID to deliver water, even after a series of irrigation rate bumps in recent years.

So who is left to pay the bills? Over 100,000 families and small businesses. Can the average family or small business afford to pay for the Gallo’s electricity or bear the brunt for farm water?

Should we sell our water to pay our bills?

Modesto’s aquifer, also know as Modesto’s basin, is running a water deficit of 100,000 acre feet a year. Without water recharge our water level will keep getting lower and lower. We’ve read about family wells running dry and deeper wells and or new wells have to be dug. The central valley gets nine inches of rain in an average year. Almonds and our green lawns both take about four feet of water to flourish. The water in Don Pedro is what maintains our life styles. We’ve witnessed to our south in Kern County and others how ignoring water levels causes ground levels to drop and aquifers to collapse and they can’t be repaired.

The truth is we don’t have any water to spare to sell. We need to store every acre foot we can and recharge, (put back into the ground) the rest. Anything else is short sighted and robbing our children’s future.

So lets talk about the candidates.

It’s really about who can we trust to make the hard decisions.

MID District 3

Nick Dokoozlian? He bragged during the debate that he was the only candidate who received both the Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement. Both of these entities are determined to keep you and I paying their electric and water bills without any changes. Or they’ll be like current Board member Paul Campbell and take their money and move to another state. We don’t believe being a Board of Supervisor field representative and political stand-in prepares anyone for the MID Board. So he’s a definite NO.

Nick’s opponent is Robert Frobose. A farmer who understands water conservation and was penalized by the Farm Bureau for standing up for Linda Santos against OID’s water sales outside the district. He’s a reasonable man who understands how much our water means to our future and how it’s time to take a close look at MID’s past practices. He’s earned and deserves our support.

MID District 2

Janice Keating? Janice, a contentious former Modesto City Councilmember, took from the then MID Board funneled through another company and spoke out in favor of selling our water to San Francisco back during the Board’s attempted bailout in 2011. Here’s Garth’s story detailing the events. The MID Board’s city boys with the help of the Chamber of Commerce tried to bail themselves out of a financial hole and were willing to use ratepayer money to pay for support. It was Larry Byrd, Nick Blom and Paul Warda that saved our water that year. The two city boys were desperate to sell the water to cover up their ineptitude and it was the farmers on the Board that saved our water. So she’s a definite NO.

Frank Damrell is her opponent. Frank has been going to MID meetings to understand the intricacies of the Board. He isn’t waiting like his opponent to roll up his sleeves and get involved with budget process. He understands everyone is going to need to be engaged in resolving MID’s issues and has the experience and the gravitas to fit right in. He’s against subsidies and deserves our support.

MID District 4

We discussed Stu Gilman’s many short comings earlier when he pulled a 180 degree reversal and after promising rebates on the campaign trail he he fell in lock step with special interests. Strangely enough he touts his support for the farmer to farmer water sales which benefited his favorite special interest, Bill Lyons. He supported Bill”s many interests by pushing what many refer to water mining, by using wells along the river to sell water out of MID’s district. When you pump water from underneath a river some suggest you’re stealing water from those down stream. There are several PRR, or Public Record Requests attempting to discover just how much water has been involved, but reportedly Lyons’ has made over $8 Million from these sales. Unfortunately MID is delaying releasing this information until closer to the election. Stu Gilman is a definite NO.

John Boer is the candidate we know least about. He understands how important water is to Modesto and Stanislaus County. He’s a volunteer fireman and farmer. While he may be the least polished he’s at least hard working, honest and will make up his own mind and not be swayed by special interests. He deserves a chance to prove himself and our support.

We support Frank Damrell, Robert Frobose, and John Boer as being in MID’s, along with yours and our, best interest.

District 2 Frank Damrell

District 3 Robert Frobose

District 4 John Boer

The Secrets they’re keeping From You

By Emerson Drake

Stanislaus County, the City of Modesto, the Modesto Irrigation District and the Modesto Bee ALL know what you’re about to learn. A Special Interest Group you know as Mapes Ranch and Lyons Property Investment Group (Bill Lyons) are taking Modesto Basin’s groundwater and selling it for their own personal profit. Not a big deal you say? When it’s to the tune of 10,000 acre feet worth $8.5M maybe it’s worth reading about and the water of course is completely free to them.

The email herein was sent to leaders of all of these groups several days ago. The sad thing is all of these groups had a hand in making it possible. Allegedly led by House Modesto’s and MID’s own Stu Gilman, MID has been led around by the nose with the help of John Mensinger and Paul Campbell.

The first eight pages are the important ones. The rest are the water agreement with Lyons Ranch we’ve talked about here before. Yes Bill Lyons is the only person in the District getting free water from MID

Why is everyone one staying silent? In the City Council alone both Mayor Sue Zwahlen and Councilwoman Rosa Escutia-Braaton have each taken $10,000 from Lyons entities. You didn’t hear them speak about the donations when approving the Stanislaus Groundwater Sustainability Plan. How will we be able to trust the Council to spend funds wisely when they are participating is this special interest theft (if you have a better term I’m all ears) of our water.

There will be more in the future but we needed to get these politicos off the snide.

City Council Meetings, What are they Hiding?

Just like a ballgame if you want to know what happened the box score isn’t the same as watching the game live. Yes they decided to put the one cent sales tax on the ballot but that was no surprise. The City Manager and the Mayor’s Cabal have been planning it for over a year while providing raises to everyone in sight that would help them enact this travesty. The reason for the raises? Because it reminds the Fire Department and the MPD that to keep the money flowing they should help push the tax increase. It worked on the anti-sprawl ordinance so they figure it’ll work now.

In 2020 thirty-one Modesto employees made over $300,000 in compensation including the City manager and of course that was before they gave him a $25,000 raise.

The City Manager(CM) and Mayor have gone out of their way to spend our tax money. As one example they refused to get bids for the catering services for Modesto’s Centre Plaza which continues to lose $900,000 every year except this year when we lost $1.8M. As recent as this last Monday the CM laid the groundwork to steal another $213,500 from the Police budget(the majority for his own department) which is something he does on a regular basis. How many Assistant City Managers, Spokespersons and Public Relations people do we really need?

They claim our city salaries need to be higher to attract quality candidates. But when it’s the CM’s Human Resource Manager’s job to recruit do we really think they’re trying as hard as they claim? I mean if they spend the police money on police how can he have any money to buy friends to play with? Many suspect it’s the culture in both the MPD and the City that keep quality people away. But instead of improving the culture we’re forced to overpay for people like we just did for our new City Clerk.

On June 7th at the City Council meeting on an informational report we inquired about several extremely unusual bills that the City had paid. We were required to state our questions and told they’d be answered. So we did. The Mayor decided even though we had the Department heads, the City Manager who had approved the payments, the City Attorney who was responsible for many of the bills available for answers we were refused.

What are they hiding?

One thing for sure is this shows just how badly we need an independent auditor so we can get figures we can trust.

They live in a bubble of their own making by choice!

By Emerson Drake

Watching a Modesto City Council Finance Committee meeting can sometimes be illuminating. Occasionally it even helps you understand why as a governing council they keep tripping over themselves. I jumped in a (zoom) today a little late for the start of the meeting and heard Councilman J. David Wright expounding about the County library tax. This uninformed councilman believed the Library tax went on forever or in other words didn’t have a sunset clause. He said he wished the County would share some of the funds with the city. No big deal right? (pun intended)

But it was the silence from Mayor Sue Zwahlen sitting next to him that disturbed me. The City Manager was sitting on Wright’s other side and almost needless to say he remained mute. What does it matter?

Well the City is going to be placing a .01 cent sales tax, one dollar on the hundred, without a sunset on the fall ballot that will generate $39 Million dollars a year. That’s correct, a never ending tax. Now our library tax is only .125 (one-eighth) of a cent and expires every twelve years. If the public doesn’t renew the tax by vote it expires.

So what’s the big deal? It’s the prevailing mind set at Modesto City Hall to not worry about truth or fiction, but at all costs, don’t correct your superiors. Staff members and department heads never correct City Manager Joe Lopez and will almost fall on their sword before even considering to correct the Mayor or Councilmembers. There is an exception to this rule and that’s if a member of the council dares to go against something the Mayor or City Manager want to promote. Then our Mayor lets her fangs show.

Mayor Zwahlen doesn’t like dissent or even conversation. The Mayor believes no one has good ideas other than her cronies. She’s said several times during meetings, “we don’t need to talk about, it just vote.” When mistakes are pointed out the response is “there are people tearing down our efforts.” How can we ever be sure of having the best plan if all conversation that has a different view is eliminated?

Some people are concerned at the idea of giving this council $39 Million dollars to play with without restrictions other than it is to be dispersed or spent by them. We’ve funded the good old boys and their playhouses to the tune of millions, when is enough enough?


By Gaetana Rohrer-Drake

On November 2nd, I sent an e-mail to our mayor and city council members. I asked why they are not enforcing the Stanislaus County mask mandate, which says masks should be worn indoors at all places of business regardless of vaccination status.

I received one answer, that was actually a non-answer. Mayor Sue Zwahlen responded, stating that she wears her mask everywhere (however her own social media pages have plenty of pics of her without a mask), and that the mask mandate is enforced at city council meetings (which very few people attend in person). That does nothing to protect us when we are out and about in this community. Since she is a former registered nurse, I truly don’t understand her lack of concern. Yes, she has publicly promoted vaccinations but she and the council remain silent on masks. Stanislaus County had 167 new cases of covid the week I sent this e-mail. The same week I sent my e-mail, Doctor’s Medical Center published a letter noting the uptick in cases and encouraging people to get vaccinated and wear masks. I don’t understand the city council’s inability to do the same. Businesses are spreading disease by allowing customers to shop without a mask. Schools are spreading diseases by not enforcing the mask mandate. People refusing to be vaccinated and/or wear a simple mask are spreading disease. I understand that some businesses are concerned about the danger an employee may face by asking a customer to wear a mask. However, if we had the backing of our city council and an enforcement policy in place, some businesses may be prompted to do the right thing. Sadly, here in Modesto, we have no such leadership.

The city council has the authority to require the police chief to enforce the mandate. Are you willing to quietly risk a potentially deadly disease due to the lack of backbone in our elected leaders? Willing to risk the health and/or life of your children? Your grandparents? Those among our community who have weakened immune systems? Because that’s what is happening to all of us right now, due to the apathy of our city council. It’s amazing how rapidly some of them went from being enthusiastic about doing what’s right for Modesto (during their campaigns) and now suddenly they don’t want to rock the boat if it will mean they risk not being re-elected.

As an example of how little they want to hear from the people they represent, at the last city council meeting, Mayor Zwahlen said “to avoid discussion, let’s just vote.”

So here are the names and e-mail addresses of all our city leaders. Please feel free to e-mail them and voice your opinion. E-mail all of them, not just the one who represents you. Or better yet, make your opinion known in person at a city council meeting. At least there the mask mandate is enforced and you will be safe! And even better than that? VOTE THEM ALL OUT!

Mayor Sue Zwahlen – Szwahlen@modestogov.com

Rosa Escutia-Braaton – Rescutiabraaton@modestogov.com – District 1

Tony Madrigal – Tmadrigal@modestogov.com – District 2

Chris Ricci – Cricci@modestogov.com – District 3

Bill Zoslocki – Bzoslocki@modestogov.com – District 4

Jenny Kenoyer – Jkenoyer@modestogov.com – District 5

Jay David Wright – Dwright@modestogov.com – District 6

Or you can reach them all with one e-mail addressed to Council@modestogov.com

Again, I have received only one response to my e-mails. It shows just how much our representatives care about communicating with us.

To the city council members…y’all need to grow a pair and be concerned for the people you represent and not your future re-election bid.

MID: The Water Wars Continue

By Emerson Drake

We thought the water wars were over but in fact we’re in the middle of another one. As always in an organization as large and important as the MID or Modesto Irrigation District is, there is lots of room for shenanigans. And if you throw the OID or Oakdale Irrigation District in, well then things get much more interesting.

In both organizations we have three Directors that want to sell water outside of the Stanislaus Basin and two that don’t. In MID and OID memories of the water wars of 10 or so years ago are still fresh. The public uproar to the attempted sales burned them so in their opinion it’s vital that everything go smoothly. Remember how the drought brought the Dom Pedro Reservoir down to the size of a creek? Last year our rainfall was half of normal. And the water levels have been falling throughout the OID and farmers have needed to drill deeper to ensure their water supply.

OID wants to sell water to Brisbane instead of re-charging the aquifer and they need MID’s canals to do it. Everybody sees the Merced Irrigation District ready to sell water for $300 per acre foot and the salivating starts. OID’s past Brisbane water conversations have been centering around a 50 year agreement followed by a 25 year agreement at $500 an acre foot. OID attorney Tim O’laughlin was MID’s attorney for the attempted water sales to San Francisco, and is now the OID attorney and also represents Mahi Pono in Hawaii. Most will remember them as Trinitas before they were sold and expanded. O’Laughlin has a history of promoting water sales for Districts where the resident owners (both MID and OID are publicly owned utilities) haven’t always agreed with the sales. Hence the obvious need to control the Boards majorities.

OID has subsidized its farmers by selling water in the past but the falling water tables from 55 to 90 feet have opened many eyes. Some of the farmers we’ve talked with within the OID service area are willing to pay more to keep the water local. The water underground is like a savings account for everyone but OID seems to be willing to gamble everyone’s future for what could end up being pocket change today. It makes it easier to get reelected.

MID uses the electric side to subsidize their water to farmers but they also use residential electric customers to subsidize the cost of electricity for big companies like Gallo and those south of Yosemite. But they have a power broker/farmer/developer in Bill Lyons, who for years called the tune for MID’s Directors to dance to. After Directors Blom and Byrd and later Jake Winger were elected, that stopped. After Stu Gilman was elected and then turned his back on his constituents everything started to go back in the power broker/developer Bill Lyons favor. To my knowledge Bill Lyons is the only one who pays for two lobbyist/lawyers Stacy Henderson and Bob Fores to sit in the gallery meeting after meeting, or more recently on zoom to manipulate the outcomes, many for his advantage.

At the September 22nd meeting John Mensinger, Stu Gilman, and Paul Campbell were waiting to attack Larry Byrd with the help of Lyons lobbyist/lawyers hired minions, Stacy Henderson and Bob Fores.

The Board’s attorney, Wes Miliband and Interim General Manager Ed Franciosa, needed to get together to put on the last minute addition so the Brown Act presentation wasn’t officially on the agenda. The attorney said it was the first time he’d made a public Brown Act presentation in the 10 years he’s been with the MID. They were setting the table for the plotted ambush.

As soon as the non-agendized Brown Act presentation was completed Director Byrd made a short statement and then Stu Gilman jumped in. Then John Mensinger interrupted Board President Campbell to sic Stacy Henderson, followed immediately by Bob Fores, on Director Byrd.

Now the Brown Act says one Director may talk with another but the majority, in this case three, Directors can’t discuss the same topic in private. I encourage everyone to watch the video of this session and decide for themselves if these three were, well let’s be nice, and call it on the same page. Of course the outside lawyer for MID and the General Manager needed to know what was going on especially with this the presentation not originally act being on the agenda. Public Record Requests have been made but MID’s lawyer insisted on an extension which will have the requested documents arriving after the next scheduled meeting. Surprised?

The strange thing is these, should we say possible conspirators, were preparing to say that Director Byrd might have allowed someone to be present in his truck during closed session, in itself a potential Brown Act violation. Director Byrd completely denied the allegation.

At about 2:12 into the meeting Director Mensinger starts raising his voice demanding that this be brought to the next open meeting. When Director Mensinger said “we want to agendize this for discussion and action“, who is we? Was it John Mensinger, Stu Gilman, and Paul Campbell? Were the three Board members acting in collusion?

Wouldn’t that act itself be a Brown Act violation?

Candidate Reminds us of an ‘Excusable Homicide’ From 20 Yeas ago Today

By Emerson Drake 

While listening to the Modesto City Council District 3 candidates forum I was surprised when Janice Keating reminded viewers of the Alberto Sepulveda case from 20 years ago today.   I suppose it was to remind listeners of her experience on the City Council. But it reminded me of the parallels of two stories about police officers having family on the council when they made, shall we just call them mistakes.

1.  It was about 6:15 am on 9/13/2000 when the Modesto Police Department (MPD) executed a Federal search warrant for Meth trafficking (no drugs were found) but that didn’t stop veteran swat team member David Hawn from pointing his gun at the boy’s back even after the 11 year old had complied and was laying face down on the floor.  The Benelli 12 gauge shotgun is used by law enforcement around the world because of it’s reliability and the fact it doesn’t accidentally discharge, is the gun that Hawn was holding when it went off and killed young Alberto.

At first the MPD officers tried to blame Alberto’s 14 year old brother Moises for causing a disturbance but that was ruled out.  Then they talked about how big Alberto was for his age (11) then they decided to go with the idea that the Benelli misfired causing the death.  But during three subsequent investigations no matter how many times they tried they couldn’t make the shotgun misfire. MPD’s Chief Wasden and a variety of officers mostly unnamed, attempted to manufacture excuses, but after the three investigations the best they could come up with was a farce about the radio and or his knife some how snagging the trigger. The simplest explanation was that Hawn had pulled the trigger but the officials stayed as far away from that as we would expect.

Influence is sometimes helpful and this time it worked in Officer David Hawn’s favor. Now we would expect a circling of the wagons for another MPOA member but David Hawn’s brother Brad Hawn was also a Councilman on the Modesto City Council.  So despite the public outcry the killing was declared an accident or excusable homicide. Modesto paid $2.55 M to the family and the Feds paid out $450,000.

We were in attendance during many of the Modesto City Council meetings back then and the first thing we learned was that when it comes to the MPD if you don’t make a complaint in writing it didn’t happen. Many people came forward saying they went to the Police station and talked to someone there who listened to their story and told them they’d get to the bottom of the issue and that there was no reason to fill out a complaint form. When questioned Chief Wasden would say time and time again I have no written complaint of that problem.

2.  Sometime around August 16th Mike Warda an attorney for the Phenos, a dispensary on McHenry Ave. attempted to contact Councilpersons Kristi Ah You, Mani Grewal, Tony Madrigal and Mayor Ted Brandvold in an attempt to get some assistance.  Only Ah You responded. It’s understandable why Warda didn’t try to contact former MPD officer and now Councilman Doug Ridenour Sr. since the complaint was regarding Ridenour’s son, MPD officer Doug Ridenour Jr.

The owners and landlord of Phenos complained of harassment threats and the rudeness of Doug Ridenour Jr, along with several other MPD officers.  MPD Chief Carroll said it was a misunderstanding and that his officers did not engage in any misconduct, including harassment and retaliation.

Here’s the rub… if you’re a business and you make a complaint against an officer you have a potential problem.  If you make a complaint against a former Modesto Police Officers Association President you might have a much bigger problem.  If your dad’s a City Council member and a former police officer that is running for Mayor you might have a major issue both now and into the future.

What does it matter if your company has brought in over $250,000 in tax revenue so far this year (we have a PRR checking this) compared to having police officers chasing away your clientele both now and into the future.  Now Chief Carroll knows this and is keeping his cards close to his vest forcing the dispensary to make the first move.  So lets flip the narrative by introducing a wildcard.

We made a Public Record Request for Ridenour Jr’s body camera along with the body cameras of his buddies that were visiting the dispensary that day. Store surveillance won’t have the sound that the body cameras could provide.

As noted above, it was and maybe still is an ongoing problem with MPD.  They discourage citizens from filing complaints, so then the Chief can deny knowledge of a problem that a citizen has complained about.  Or you file a complaint and you or your business might pay the price.  In Modesto justice can be expensive.



Is the Modesto City Council Stonewalling the Public for Personal Profit?

By Emerson Drake 

In the spring of 2015 the Modesto City Council and Staff made a commitment to the citizens of Modesto to create an Effective, Responsive, and Transparent Government.  Unfortunately, the reality the majority of the Council has created is completely different.  Modesto isn’t being run by the entire Council, it’s being dictated to by a group with the smallest of majorities.  Council members Bill Zoslocki, Mani Grewal, Doug Ridenour, and Jenny Kenoyer also know as the ‘Gang of Four’ flex their muscles with great regularity and have the voting block to ram their policies through the Council at will.  To solidify their power grab they’ve become linked arm in arm with Modesto City Manager Joe Lopez and City Attorney Adam Lindgren.


For us, the people of Modesto, to try and find out what’s going on behind the scenes an effective tool is supposed to be making Public Record Requests (PRR) supported by the Brown Act.  City Attorney Adam Lindgren doesn’t think much of the public’s right to know. His actions suggest he believes we should be treated like mushrooms (keep us in the dark and feed us ****, well you get the drift.)  The Brown Act suggests we should get a response to a PRR in 10 working days. There is at least one PRR dating back to June of 2019.  A partial but non responsive response was received in September 2019, but nothing since despite having it brought up in several Council meetings. The Gang of Four believes it’s in their best interest to keep us in the dark.


That’s not overly surprising since a complete email disclosure from the PPR would show how the Gang of Four, along with the City Manager and City Attorney, conspired to force City Auditor Monica Houston out of office and caused them to decide to pay to pay $225,000 in tax payer money as hush money. For them, buying Monica’s silence was better than the truth coming out. The truth could bring sanctions from the State Bar Association, which along with the exposure could potentially cause Adam Lindgren and his firm (Meyers Nave) to lose the very lucrative, multi million dollar Modesto City contract.


We’ve come to understand these elitists (the Gang of Four, the City Manager and the City Attorney) believe they can get away with anything they choose and quite honestly so far they have.  Imagine, the City Auditor has the temerity to do her job of ensuring the rules in place are being followed, even if it might cost the City Attorney and Meyers Nave windfall profits. It becomes easy to see why they felt the need to get rid of the Auditor. After all what better way to send a message to the rest of City Staff, that it’s our way or the highway.


Is there any better way to garner political support during an election year than to borrow an outdated quote for business from the County known as a request for proposal or (RFP) that was over 16 months old. The security company involved in that RFP didn’t fulfill the basic standards of the request set by County rules and was disqualified.  Then the City awarded them a $3.7 Million contract based on the outdated and unqualified county RFP. That the company head just happens to be the President of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and a player in Doug Ridenour’s and Joe Lopez’s regular poker game couldn’t hurt when three of the Gang of Four, Grewal, Zoslocki, and Ridenour are running for office this year.  Heck, that sure buys a lot of good will, they might even get the Chambers’ endorsement.


Just to point out how they like to give money to their friends, we can’t leave out how the City Manager, Joe Lopez, who is allowed to approve contracts without Council approval up to $50,000, recently came back with an increase to what we think of as ‘City Manager Specials’ when he upped the contract to Management Partners from $42,900 to $152,900 on 12/10/19.  Before we go any further, we need to mention that it’s recognized by many that the City Manager despite his, lets be polite, less than exemplary performance record in each of the multiple positions he has held with the city, had been brought up through the ranks because of his “go along to get along” business demeanor (yes man). It was former City Manager John Holgersson who was personally responsible for bringing Mr. Lopez up through the ranks.  When the current City Manager was questioned by Councilwoman Kristi Ah You during a recent council meeting about Holgersson’s relationship with Management Partners, Mr. Lopez looked surprised and stumbled around looking for a plausible answer that didn’t let the cat out of the bag.  When she made her question more specific Mr. Lopez again acted surprised, without much success when she  pointed out his picture was on Management Partners website and was designated as a  Partner.  For those who don’t remember Holgersson was a Consultant with Management Partners who recommended himself and was hired as Modesto’s City Manager then was ultimately fired.  And yes, the Gang of Four made sure this $110,000 addition to the original contract went through.  After all, City Manager Joe Lopez helped them down play the $700,000 we continue to lose every year and will do so into 2022, thanks  to the Gang of Four kicking the can down the road over Modesto’s Centre Plaza. We’ve been losing $700,000 a year since 2012 while waiting for the catering contract to expire in the spring of 2019.


There’s no end to their hubris.  The self serving hiding of emails prevents exposure and helps ‘associates’ save their lucrative contracts.  They also play fast and loose with the procedures and pass out millions of dollars in contracts to their friends, and have distributed over $100,000 of taxpayer money to old allies.  The Gang of Four provides political cover by using their votes on the Council and ensuring the City Manager can continue to dispense money as they see fit to his and their friends.  Possibly the greatest concern is the cornerstone, if you will, the Gate Keeper of the secrets, the sphincter of information, the City Attorney Adam Lindgren.


Don’t go away thinking this is the entire list because it isn’t, not by a long shot.  These are just a few of the most recent trials and tribulations we’ve been forced to endure.  One of the more insidious ways they silence their opposition on the Council is to bring up topics during closed session that aren’t on the agenda.  In closed session, the only things they are supposed to talk about are the items on the agenda.  Once the item is discussed (even though it’s not on the agenda), they cannot discuss it outside closed session.  If asked,  they can tell you they talked about items not on the closed session agenda but can’t say what they were.  The purpose of doing that is to hide information/discussions from the public.  So if a city council member feels something that was discussed should be shared with the public, they are prevented from doing so. And, you guessed it, the City Attorney threatens them with legal troubles if they do.


We’ve watched from the sidelines as these people attacked one female department head and ran her out of town.  The big question now is who will be the next target of their witch hunts?


We can no long stand silently on the sidelines while the Gang of Four and their two henchmen steal democracy from Modesto.








Endorse Bill ‘The Profiteer’ Zoslocki for Supervisor? I Don’t Think So.

By Emerson Drake 

In today’s Editorial the Modesto Bee’s Editorial Board endorsed Bill Zoslocki for the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.They made statements that I will only refer to as cringe worthy. Here are a few if our thoughts regarding their decisions.

It’s interesting that the Bee refers to Bill ‘The Profiteer’ Zoslocki as a builder and yet fails to mention his roll as a major architect in the Village I debacle. It was the biggest bait and switch in Modesto’s history ever perpetrated.

WE shouldn’t overlook the loss of taxpayer funds in the lowering of builders fees which instead of going to the city ended up in the builder/developers pockets.

As far as Zoslocki being levelheaded during council meetings we’ve seen him come unglued and personally attack a member of the public who dared to file for a spot on a public committee. When it comes to integrity we’ve witnessed Zoslocki support a witch hunt of Modesto City staff. He eventually supported the paying of $225,000 in hush money to keep the truth of his involvement from coming out

Here’s a quote from Bill Zoslocki from 2002 where he’s scrambling to blame the city officials for the Village One debacle instead of those like him who were pulling their strings. Bill Zoslocki, a Village I developer, said “the city made several decisions in 1997 that helped spur construction. The city eliminated some parks from the plan and shifted the cost for some planned roads to adjacent property owners. Both moves reduced the fees, and the different approach to roads made developers feel more comfortable.”

Yet The Bee gives the edge to Bill ‘The Profiteer’ Zoskocki. I’m wondering why. Aren’t you?

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