Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Shouldn’t We Expect Better From the Modesto City Council

By Emerson Drake

The following is a letter written to the Modesto City Council by a citizen of Modesto concerned about the direction the Council has taken.  It’s an important read so please do so.

2020 01 27 letter City Council address redacted

The letter says it all so we’ll add nothing to it.

 

 

 

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?

The Modesto City Council and How They Spend Our Money.

By Emerson Drake 

It’s always interesting to see what the Council is trying to slide by us on the Consent Calendar.  This week we have nine items that if they get their wish will not be discussed and if all goes as usual will be voted on and more than likely passed unanimously and moved on without some much as a ripple in their wake.   So if it’s business as usual with the Council they’ll spend $4,237,168.00 without explanation or comment.  In order to have any conversation on any of the consent items a member of the Council has to “Pull” an item off consent.  A member of the public, by filling out a simple form, is allowed to pull an item too.

Generally speaking the public seldom pulls anything off of the consent calendar.  That’s where we step in. We have a tendency to speak up, ask questions, and pull items from consent.   Often asking the questions they would prefer not to answer.  We keep requesting the department heads  bring the necessary information to the Council meetings but until recently they have claimed to be unable to produce it for the public at the Council meetings, and the Council, on the advice of the attorney, has refused to allow the public to present the information during the council meetings.   If you haven’t read the on line agenda packet before attending the meeting you’ll never know the what, why, or especially the how because you won’t find it at a meeting.

In the past they had the department heads along with all of the relevant information available at Council meetings.  Now they’re only sure to be available at the agenda review meetings which are held on the Monday at 4:00 PM, before the routinely scheduled Council meetings on Tuesday.   Unfortunately the ‘Gang of Four’ have a tendency to be too busy to attend.  So if you hear them ask for more information during a Tuesday night meeting you’ll know they were too busy running their business empires or running for another office other than the one they were elected to (Mani Grewal for state senate, Bill Zoslocki for the Board of Supervisors, and Doug Ridenour for Mayor).

Recently they were awarding Rank Security a contract expanding their roll in Modesto.  They went from a $168,560 contract to a $3,699,756.00 all on consent.  After we pulled the item we asked the question if there was an RFP or a request for proposal. It means the same thing as putting out a bid for services.  The Deputy City Manager answered that yes we had.  But the truth later delivered by staff was they had piggybacked on a Stanislaus County bid for county wide security services. What wasn’t mentioned that night was that the bid was 18 months old and that Rank hadn’t made the list of qualifiers for the contract. That’s right. Rank wasn’t ranked by the County. We had to do a public Record Request to discover this.  But our Council members were determined to give the contract to Rank.  After all Steve Rank, the companies owner, is the President of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and three of the for members of the Gang of Four are running for office and they need his and the Chambers support.

All of this went down on the Consent Calendar item #6 on Sept. 25, 2019.  Councilman Bill Zoslocki didn’t have a clue if any RFP had been done.  No one on the Council said one word . They didn’t know.  They were going to vote for this contract no matter what.  $3.6 Million and they weren’t going to ask any questions.

The Consent Calendar  is where they try to slip things through that they would prefer to keep quiet.  We will continue to pull these questionable items. We’ll continue to ask the hard questions. And when they take our tax money and give it to their backroom buddies we’ll continue to call them out.

Why Won’t They Listen to Us and Here Is What We Suggested

By Emerson Drake     

The Modesto City Charter is the set of rules that governs the way Modesto operates.  And since ‘special interest groups’ via George Petrulakis wrote more than two thirds of the Charter it’s almost understandable that these same interests don’t want the public being alerted let alone involved in significant changes for the benefit of those who live, work, and raise our families here.

Recently we discussed some of our concerns in a recent  Bee op-ed piece but here we’re focusing in on the first of a series of suggestions to improve our charter and the plight of our fellow citizens. Getting some of the council members to listen seems to be a major obstacle so lets start at the beginning.  We read the above in its entirety to the Council during the public comment period on 10/8/19.

In an earlier story we documented a least one member of the council nodding off, spacing out (spinning aimlessly in their chairs if you prefer) and another using their phone (texting and emailing) during meetings.  From back on the 4/29/19 when we first (but not the only time) recorded Councilman Doug Ridenour  nodding off during a council meeting to documenting Councilman Grewal who has what some might call an addiction to texting.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a small meeting or in the middle of council meetings he just can’t seem to set his phone down for more than a few minutes.

Maybe they’re too busy to listen and this might help. Stockton had a problem with this a few years ago and they wrote the ordinance to address the issue. It’s at the bottom of the page that accompanies the introduction.  Our suggestion is to add this to the Modesto Charter.

Will it help?  Who can say but I can voice without hesitation that if they aren’t on their phones they would have a better chance of listening to the public. Then again just minutes after this was read into the record Mani was back texting.  And yes we have pictures of that too. 

 

Every meeting we’ve attended that Mani has been at he spends much of his time texting. Apparently his eyes are on the bigger prize, the California State Senate.  But how could we count on him to pay attention there?

They Promised Effective, Responsive, and Transparent Government and This Is What They Gave Us

By Emerson Drake 

 

It’s a strange world we live in.

We made two Public Record Requests (PRR).  The object of the first one was to get information from the City of Modesto regarding how the City Attorney obfuscates the amounts Modesto pays for legal fees in general,  including those we have to pay to his firm, Meyers Nave. City Attorney Adam Lindgren had his para legal respond (see accompanying picture) by scrambling their response.  Adam took exception to my characterizing his response as ‘scrambled’ at the 8/13/19 Council meeting. We can only presume he prefers the term ‘randomizing.’

Each of these entries is him cannibalizing parts of budgets of other departments  to use for legal expenses. In other words he gets to spend other departments’ money for his legal costs without it being reflected against his office. He likes to say this has been an ongoing practice but this basically was initiated  soon after his firm took over as City Attorney.   So lets review…stealing from other department’s budgets for legal fees is a “past practice” that he started when he and his firm took over being City Attorney in 2013. He justifies it by simply calling it past practice.

Another interesting observation is that his department received the files in chronological order but as you can tell he made analyzing the costs more difficult by his, and we’ll use the term Adam apparently prefers here, ‘randomizing’ their response.  This picture is shown as an example of the technique he employed and not the information inside the files themselves.

His response to the he second PRR is more of his modus operandi (read method or technique). It was a simple request designed to discover when he knew Monica Houston brought the problem of purchasing property around Rt. 132 to light and when he recused himself from the discussion like an ethical attorney would.

Sent: Tuesday, July 16, 2019 4:10 PM
To: Stephanie Lopez; Dana Sanchez
Subject: Public Record Request
Ms. Lopez,
I would like all emails sent and received by Monica Houston during her time as Modesto’s City Auditor in chronological order (starting with the first through to the last). I would also like any schedule or meeting calendar of hers that might still be on your servers.
Thank you,
Emerson Drake
A straight forward, no guile,  just a simple request for information the public is entitled to by law.  His response should be seen to be appreciated.  In order to read the files you first have to download them.  The file itself is from Modesto City servers and is ‘untouched’ by human hands.  In other words the city is completely responsible for the contents and they can’t been altered by anyone else.
https://cityofmodesto.box.com/s/h4vf2kej05oty0wy4r64ef6pj4xrov1g   Their response of 2,470 pages has not one email that Ms. Houston generated.  The responses provided were agendas and conference invitations. This is what the City refers to as a rolling release and we can expect more releases in the future.
So that the Council members can’t deny they have either seen or ignored this response, I asked Kathy Espinsoza from the City of Modesto to forward the email response I received so the Council members wouldn’t have an excuse not to open the file.  The Gang of Four (Bill Zoslocki, Mani Grewal, Doug Ridenour, Jenny Kenoyer) controls the city right now.  Maybe they’ll approve of the response from the City Attorney and if they do, they’ll allow the cover-up to continue.  After all, he’s not only covering up for himself, he’s covering up for them, too.   We’ll find out Tuesday 9/3 at the city council meeting.
The following is the entire series of emails pertaining to the PRR. The latest is at the top and the original is at the bottom.  Read them and decide for yourselves if Adam Lindgren is being responsive to a citizen’s legal request or if he’s doing his best to delay things to keep himself and his cohorts out of trouble.

 

—–Original Message—–
From: Dana Sanchez <dasanchez@modestogov.com>

To: westernpalms@aol.com <westernpalms@aol.com>
Sent: Fri, Aug 9, 2019 3:24 pm
Subject: Public Records Request of July 16, 2019 Ref: 3194

Dear Mr. Drake,
This email is in response to your written request for public records received by the City on July 16, 2019.  We are treating your request as a request for public records in accordance with California Government Code Section 6250 and following (the California Public Records Act, or “the Act”).  The Act requires that public agencies make reasonably identified, non-exempt public records available for inspection or provide copies upon payment of the direct costs of duplication.
The City is required to notify you within ten (10) days whether the requested records will be disclosed.  (Gov. Code section 6253 (c)).  On July 26, 2019, the City notified you that we would need an additional 14 days to respond pursuant to Government Code section 6253(c). This response fulfills the City’s obligations under the Act.  Responsive, non-exempt public records have been recovered.  The City anticipates it will complete its review of these documents within the next few weeks, and will disclose these records to you in batches in a rolling release.
When the City makes the responsive records available to you, it will redact all information determined to be privileged or exempt from disclosure under the CPRA or other applicable law. These redactions will include, but not be limited to: (i) Government Code section 6254(c) (incorporating privacy exemptions found in the United States Constitution and Article 1, section 1 of the California Constitution), which exempts certain private information from disclosure where the release of such records would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy(ii) Government code section 6254(a), which allows for “preliminary drafts, notes, or interagency or intra-agency memoranda that are not retained…in the ordinary course of business” to be withheld when the public interest in withholding the records clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure; (iii) Government Code Section 6255 “deliberative process privilege,” implied by California courts from the “public interest exception.” Under this exemption, records containing information which could expose the public agency’s decision making process in such a way as to discourage candid discussion within the agency and undermine its ability to perform its functions are exempt from disclosure; (iv) provisions of the Evidence Code related to privilege.”  (Gov. Code § 6254(k).)  This provision incorporates records subject to Evidence Code section 954, which exempts lawyer-client communications from disclosure.  Government Code section 6254(k) also incorporates records subject to Code of Civil Procedure sections 2018.010 through 2018.030, which exempt attorney work product from disclosure. Records responsive to your request are being withheld according to these exemptions. Additionally, records responsive to your request are being withheld according to Government Code section 6254(b), which exempts from disclosure records pertaining to pending litigation or to claims made under the Government Claims Act until the pending litigation or claim has been finally adjudicated or settled; (v) Government Code section 6255 or “catch-all exemption”, which exempts records from disclosure where the public interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
Below is the link to the first batch of your rolling release.  You will need to download the documents before you can view them.  Please note, this link will expire in 30 days.
If you have any questions about this matter, please contact me at dasanchez@modestogov.com, or by phone at (209) 577-5487.
Sincerely,
Dana Sanchez
Administrative Office Assistant III (Confidential)
City Clerk’s Office
1010 10th Street.  Suite 6600
Modesto, CA.  95354
(209) 577-5487
FINAL_LOGO_1a_S
Ref: 3194
From: westernpalms@aol.com [mailto:westernpalms@aol.com]
Sent: Tuesday, July 16, 2019 4:10 PM
To: Stephanie Lopez; Dana Sanchez
Subject: Public Record Request
Ms. Lopez,
I would like all emails sent and received by Monica Houston during her time as Modesto’s City Auditor in chronological order (starting with the first through to the last). I would also like any schedule or meeting calendar of hers that might still be on your servers.
Thank you,
Emerson Drake

Another Attempt to Transfer Our Money to Their Pockets

By Emerson Drake 

A response to the Bee’s Editorial Board’s “The timing is right for Modesto to dramatically improve downtown“.

Once the Unicorn Glitter and Fairy Dust settles to the ground and stops blinding us we’re reminded of why Modesto can’t dream about having nice things like a vibrant downtown. The short simple answer is our business community and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.

We witnessed what happened when they decided where to build the new courthouse. Greedy businessmen using backroom deals and the Chamber who has controlled the Council for years decided it was more important to over pay for the land to make a few people richer than to pick a more logical location like the former Modesto Bee building.

What we were left with was land we overpaid for and will have a concrete edifice (courthouse) that will always be empty at night and on weekends. That isn’t much of a draw or overly appealing for the tourists and visitors they claim they want to attract.

That different larger funding source that was mentioned by the Bee Editorial staff was, YOUR Tax Dollar$ and mine, since 34% of DoMo’s budget is comes from the public trough.

Now bringing more people downtown would be considered a good thing especially by the high priced restaurants that pay minimum wage to the vast majority of their staffs. Now these workers can’t afford to live downtown or in Modesto for that matter but hey the ruling class needs serfs to feed and comfort them. Please read their Published opinion in the Bee titled Timing is right for Modesto to dramatically improve downtown

Modesto City Council’s Response to Potential Future Conflicts

By Emerson Drake 

AN URGENCY ORDINANCE AMENDING TITLE 4, “PUBLIC WELFARE, SAFETY AND HEALTH” OF THE MODESTO MUNICIPAL CODE BY ADDING CHAPTER 23 TO IMPOSE CERTAIN TIME, PLACE AND MANNER REGULATIONS AS TO PUBLIC ASSEMBLIES

SECTION 1. FINDINGS

A. The City Council of the City of Modesto hereby finds as follows: revisions to the City’s Municipal Code implemented by this Urgency Ordinance are immediately necessary as an emergency measure in order to respond to preserve the public health, safety and welfare. Specifically, the revisions and amendments to Municipal Code Title 4, Chapter 23 included in this Urgency Ordinance are essential and immediately necessary to improve the City’s regulation of public assemblies, and thereby ensure the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare in the City of Modesto.

B. The City Council desires to amend Title 4 entitled “Public Welfare, Safety and Health” of its Municipal Code by adding Chapter 23 in its entirety, entitled “Restrictions on Use of Specified Items During Public Assembly ” to provide critically needed rules regulating the use of certain objects that may be weaponized during demonstrations, rallies, protests, counter-protests, picket lines, marches, or assemblies on public property so as to safeguard against violence and promote peaceful assembly for Modesto citizens, police and visitors alike. These regulations serve to deter violence, property damage and any bodily harm to individuals that wish to engage in peaceful protests and demonstrations.

  1. In developing this Ordinance, the City Council is mindful of the legal principles relating to regulation of activity in public forums such as sidewalks, streets and public parks. The City Council does not intend to unconstitutionally suppress or infringe expressive activities protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution or the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution, but instead is enacting reasonable content-neutral time, place and manner regulations that address the need to prevent violent, dangerous and hazardous situations from arising and to promote the safety of both the public and the police.
  2. D. The revisions to the City’s Municipal Code implemented by this Urgency Ordinance are immediately necessary as an emergency measure in order to respond to recent developments regarding a proposed public assembly that is seeking a permit for August 24, 2019, and which raise serious and alarming safety concerns regarding protecting citizens and police alike from violent disputes, and in order to reduce the threat of serious bodily injury or property damage during this proposed event and for future public events in Modesto. Specifically, the amendments to the City’s Municipal Code Title 4 adding Chapter 23 included in this Urgency Ordinance are essential and immediately necessary to ensure the orderly implementation of restrictions on specified items used at public assemblies to reduce the likelihood of violence and property damage and to ensure the safety of the general public, event attendees, counter-protestors and the police, and thereby ensure the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare in the City of Modesto.
  3. E. The City supports peaceful protests, demonstrations and events. Unfortunately, some individuals have used protests and other public assembly events as “cover” to commit acts of violence, arson and vandalism. It is the intent of the City in enacting this Urgency Ordinance to ensure that public assembly events are peaceful and safe.
  4. F. There is an increasing concern about violence at public events and about violent clashes between those with opposing views. Numerous public protests, demonstrations and rallies conducted throughout the nation in cities such as Charlottesville and St. Louis, as well as cities throughout California, in Berkeley, Oakland and Laguna Beach have erupted in violence between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, and violence against law enforcement personnel.G. On August 12, 2017, a car was deliberately driven into a crowd of people who had been peacefully protesting a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The driver of the car espoused neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs. In 2017, violence also erupted during a series of protests that place in Berkeley, California near the University of California campus. The violent interactions predominately occurred between groups with opposing viewpoints, including white nationalist groups and Antifa groups.

    H. At these events, devices such as poles, sticks, signs, wood and metal pipes, bats, chains, projectiles (such as rocks, concrete, pellets and ball bearings), as well as certain types of containers including glass bottles and containers filled with flammable or noxious substances and aerosol sprays deployed to cause flames or attack olfactory systems, and other items have been used as improvised weapons resulting in injuries and property damage. Demonstrators have also carried shields, thrown objects at police, used fire accelerant to light fires, used large poles and sticks as weapons to threaten bodily harm and to attack businesses. Rigid-support materials used on signs have frequently been used as weapons and turned upon police officers, marchers, or other demonstrators.

    I. The City of Modesto could see similar occurrences in its jurisdiction. The City Council does not want to take a “wait-and-see” approach. The City Council has a reasonable basis to believe that failing to enact regulations limiting the use of objects that can be weaponized at public assemblies increases the risk that violence will occur at a public event in the City.

    J. Event organizers have sought a permit for use of City facilities for a straight pride event to be held on August 24, 2019. The flyer associated with the event invites the public to join in a celebration of: heterosexuality, masculinity, femininity, babies born and unborn, western civilization, our wonderful country and Christianity. The website associated with the flyer, NationalStraightPrideCoalition.org, among other things, makes reference to whiteness/Caucasian as being the “mass majority biological racial component of the developers of the western civilization,” that “West is Best” and that its fundamental principles and values are under attack.

    K. Event organizers have invited the Proud Boys to attend the event. The proposed event applicant has stated he is a member of the local Proud Boys organization. The Proud Boys have been designated as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center and its members are known to participate in white supremacist rallies, events and organizations. Members of the Proud Boys are reported to have been violent during prior protests.

    L. The straight pride event is advertised as being open to the public. PRISM which stands for Pride-Solidarity-Multiculturalism is organizing to protest the straight pride event. The City estimates that the crowds drawn to the event as both supporters and protestors may reach as high as 1,000-2,000 people. MoPRIDE a Modesto organization providing support to the LGBTQ+ community has offered safe places for people during the event as personal safety and potential violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community is a serious concern.

    M. Anti-fascist (“Antifa”) groups are aware of the event and there is credible evidence to believe they will attend the event/counter-protest in large numbers. Antifa groups are known to wear masks to obscure their identities and are reported to have been violent during prior protests. There is an increased risk that if individuals wear masks or use other apparel to cover their faces and conceal their identities they will utilize their anonymity to commit acts of violence or vandalism without concern of identification and apprehension, disturbing the ability of others to safely assemble and demonstrate peacefully.

    N. During the City Council’s August 7, 2019 meeting tensions ran high as both opponents and supporters of the straight pride event spoke. There were large numbers of people in the audience and many speakers. The organizer of the straight pride event spoke and identified his organization as a “peaceful racist” group. Applicant Grundmann and other Council attendees were highly animated. The City has a reasonable basis to believe that these tensions are likely to accelerate and to increase the likelihood of clashes at the proposed straight pride event.

    O. The City has credible evidence that there is a heightened risk of violent conflict that may take place at the proposed public event in the City on August 24, 2019. The City’s Police Department is already planning significant security measures to address the heightened safety concerns for the proposed August 24, 2019 event, including possibly requesting reinforcements from other law enforcement agencies. However, these measures alone will not prevent the threat to public safety from the weaponization of objects used by demonstrators.

    P. The adoption of this Urgency Ordinance to limit the use of specified items at public assembly events is a necessary and critical tool for the City to have in place to ensure the safety of the general public and its police. Q. In addition to the above factual findings, the City Council in enacting this Ordinance does hereby also take legislative notice of the various principles and decisions regarding the regulation of public assemblies, including but not limited to, the following:

    1. Public streets, sidewalks and parks are the archetypes of a traditional public forum where the government cannot favor one speaker over another based on the viewpoint of the speaker . See Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U.S. 474, 480-81 (1988); see also Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 828 (1995). The government may regulate First Amendment activities in traditional public fora, such as streets, sidewalks and parks when such restrictions are reasonable time, place and manner restrictions that are: content neutral; narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest; and leave open ample alternative channels of communication. See Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 473 U.S. 788, 799-800 (1985); see also; Bay Area Peace Navy v. United States, 914 F.2d 1224 (9th Cir. 1990).

    2. The First Amendment does not protect violence. See N.A.A.C.P v. Claiborne Hardware Co, 458 U.S. 886, 916 (1982).

    3. In response to potential angry or inflammatory speech, the City of Modesto may increase its police presence; enact security measures to ensure the safety of the public; arrest those who actually engage in violent conduct; and may enact time, place and manner regulations to maintain safety during public events. See Collins v. Jordan, 110 F.3d 1363, 1372 (9th Cir. 1996); see also Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307 (1967); Long Beach Area Peace Network v. City of Long Beach, 574 F.3d 1011, 1024 (9th Cir. 2009).

    4. The City of Modesto has a substantial interest in safeguarding its citizens against violence and in protecting police and demonstrators alike. See Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703, 724-25 (2000); see also Vlasak v. Superior Court, 329 F.3d 683, 689 (9th Cir. 2003). Specifically, case law has confirmed that Modesto may enact regulations to make sure that materials used for signs and sign poles, as well as other objects, are not used as weapons. The City takes legislative notice of the City of Los Angeles regulations restricting certain objects at demonstrations and has modeled this regulations in keeping with the Los Angeles provisions validated by the Ninth Circuit in the Vlasak decision. See Vlasak, 329 F.3d at 689; see also Edwards v. City of Coeur D’Alene, 262 F.3d 856, 863 & 866 (9th Cir. 2001).

    R. It is imperative that individuals engaging in peaceful expressive public activity do so without fear of violence and that law enforcement personnel dedicated to protecting such activity be allowed to do so without suffering injury. This Urgency Ordinance provides a narrowly tailored content-neutral mechanism to reduce the risk of violence at demonstrations, rallies, protests, counterprotests, picket lines, marches, or public assemblies in the City of Modesto. Among other things, the restrictions limit the objects that can be used for signs, but still allow for signs to be utilized. Likewise, the restrictions limit the use of facial covering that obscure one’s identity at these specific public events (with exceptions for religious and medical reasons) without banning costumes or other expressive clothing. The restrictions are also directed at limiting other items (such as baseball bats, aerosol spray, weapons, glass bottles, shields, bricks, and rocks) that can, and have been weaponized, while still allowing for peaceful expressive activity.

    S. On August 13, 2019, the City Council held a public meeting during which it considered the adoption of this Urgency Ordinance pursuant to California Government Code § 36937 and the Modesto Charter § 716. Both California Government Code § 36937 and Modesto Charter § 716 allow the adoption of such urgency ordinances to take effect immediately to ensure the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare in the City of Modesto.

    T. The restrictions on use of specified items during public assembly adopted herein are necessary in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare by providing a mechanism to limit and prevent violence and promote peaceful assembly. These are content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions that allow for peaceful public expressive activity. The restrictions are narrowly tailored to address the City’s interest in safety and preventing violence and to the extent they burden expressive activity they leave ample alternatives for communication. The regulations make public assembly safer by banning objects that can readily be weaponized without depriving people of the opportunity to demonstrate, rally, protest, counter-protest, picket, march, assemble or otherwise engage in peaceful free speech activities.

    U. These regulations adopted herein are necessary in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare by providing a mechanism to address the potential violence and companion property damage and personal injuries that have accompanied public protests, rallies and demonstrations in cities such as Berkeley, Oakland, St. Louis, and Charlottesville.

    SECTION 2. AMENDMENT OF MUNICIPAL CODE.

    The City of Modesto Municipal Code Title 4 (Public Welfare, Safety and Health) is hereby amended by adding Chapter 23 in its entirety as follows:

    CHAPTER 23 RESTRICTIONS ON USE OF SPECIFIED ITEMS DURING PUBLIC ASSEMBLY

    Section 4-23.01 Purpose

    (a) To ensure the peaceful expression of free speech, the City of Modesto has adopted the following provisions to limit the use of certain objects that may be weaponized during demonstrations, rallies, protests, counter-protests, picket lines, marches, or assemblies on public property in order to safeguard against violence for the citizenry of Modesto.

    (b) The City of Modesto adopts these content-neutral, time, place and manner regulations to ensure for the safety and welfare of all individuals. These regulations allow for the peaceful expression of differing ideas and views while reducing the risk of violent conflict by prohibiting the use or possession of weapons, or objects that may be weaponized during demonstrations, rallies, protests, counter-protests, picket lines, marches, or public assemblies.

    Section 4-23.02 Restrictions

    (a) No person shall utilize, carry, or possess the following items or articles while attending or participating in any demonstration, rally, protest, counter-protest, picket line, march, or public assembly:

    1. Any length of lumber, wood, or wood lath unless that object is 1/4 inch or less in thickness and 2 inches or less in width, or if not generally rectangular in shape, such object shall not exceed 3/4 inch in its thickest dimension. Both ends of the lumber, wood or wood lath shall be blunt;

    2. Any length of metal or plastic pipe, whether hollow or solid; provided, however, that hollow plastic piping not exceeding 3/4 inch in its thickest dimension and not exceeding 1/8 inch in wall thickness, and not filled with any material, liquid, gas or solid may be used solely to support a sign, banner, placard, puppet or other similar expressive display. Both ends of any plastic pipe permissible under this subsection shall be blunt;

    3. Signs, posters, banners, plaques or notices, unless such sign, poster, banner, plaque or notice is constructed solely of soft material, such as cloth, paper, soft plastic capable of being rolled or folded, or cardboard material no greater than 1/4 inch in thickness;

    4. Baseball or softball bats, regardless of composition or size;

    5. Any aerosol spray, tear gas, mace, pepper spray, smoke canisters, or bear repellant;

    6. Any projectile launcher or other device, such as a catapult or wrist rocket, which is commonly used for the purpose of launching, hurling or throwing any object, liquid, material or other substance, whether through force of air pressure, spring action or any other mechanism;

    7. Weapons such as firearms, knives, daggers, swords, sabers or other bladed devices, axes, axe handles, hatchets, billy clubs, ice picks, razor blades, nunchucks or martial arts weapons of any kind, box cutters, pellet or BB guns, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), dynamite, conducted electrical weapons (CEWs), including, but not limited to, Tasers or stun guns, metal/composite/wooden knuckles, or any chain greater than 20 inches in length or greater than 1/4 inch in diameter. This section also includes toy or replica firearms unless such toy or replica is fluorescent colored or transparent;

    8. Balloons, bottles or any other container such as water cannons or super-soakers, filled with any flammable, biohazard or other noxious matter which is injurious, or nauseous, sickening or irritating to any of the senses, with intent to throw, drop, pour, disperse, deposit, release, discharge or expose the same in, upon or about any demonstration, rally, protest, picket line or public assembly;

    9. Glass bottles, whether empty or filled;

    10. Open flame torches, lanterns or other devices that utilize combustible materials such as gasoline, kerosene, propane or other fuel sources;

    11. Shields made of metal, wood, hard plastic or any combination thereof;

    12. Bricks, rocks, pieces of asphalt, concrete, pellets or ball bearings; and

    13. The wearing of a mask, scarf, bandana or any other accessory or item that covers or partially covers the face shielding the wearer’s face from view and conceals the wearer’s identity, except for coverings worn due to religious beliefs, practices or observances or due to medical necessity.

    (b) It shall be unlawful and a misdemeanor to violate any provisions of this Chapter.

    (c) When feasible, excluding exigent circumstances, a warning shall be issued before enforcement of the provisions of this Chapter. Such warning shall be sufficient if provided orally, by posted signs or by amplified announcement.

    (d) Authorized peace officers, or employees, agents or representatives of the City, shall be exempt from the provisions of this Chapter when such officers, employees, agents or representatives of the City are engaged in official business of the City.

    (e) Nothing in this Chapter shall prohibit the imposition of specific conditions for activities expressly authorized under a permit issued pursuant to Modesto Municipal Code Section 4- 8.01 et seq. (Regulation of Parades) or prohibit the modification of these provisions for such permits issued pursuant to Section 4-8.01 et seq. upon a finding by the Chief of Police that such modification will not impair or threaten public safety.

    (f) Nothing in this section shall prohibit an individual from carrying a cane or using a walker or other device necessary for providing mobility or access so that the person may participate in a public protest, demonstration, rally, picket line or public assembly.

    SECTION 3 SEVERABILITY.

    If any portion of this Ordinance, or its application to any person or circumstance, is for any reason held to be invalid, unenforceable or unconstitutional, by a court of competent jurisdiction, that portion shall be deemed severable, and such invalidity, unenforceability or unconstitutionality shall not affect the validity or enforceability of the remaining portions of the Ordinance, or its application to any other person or circumstance. The City Council of the City of Modesto hereby declares that it would have adopted each section, sentence, clause or phrase of this Ordinance, irrespective of the fact that any one or more other sections, sentences, clauses or phrases of the Ordinance be declared invalid, unenforceable or unconstitutional.

    SECTION 4. EFFECTIVE DATE/URGENCY.

    This Urgency Ordinance shall be passed and adopted at one and the same meeting and shall become effective immediately. The reasons for this urgency are set forth in Paragraphs AU inclusive.

    The foregoing ordinance was introduced at a regular meeting of the Council of the City of Modesto held on the 13th day of August, 2019, by Councilmember(s) ____________________, was upon roll call carried and ordered printed and published by the following votes:

    AYES: Councilmembers:

    NAYS: Councilmembers:

    ABSENT: Councilmembers:

    APPROVED:_________________________ TED BRANDVOLD, Mayor

    ATTEST: BY: __________________________________ STEPHANIE LOPEZ, City Clerk (SEAL)

    APPROVED AS TO FORM:

    BY: __________________________________ ADAM U. LINDGREN, City Attorney

MID’s Crossroads, Transparency or Cover-up, PRR’s and Lawsuits – How Much and Who is Paying?

By Emerson Drake

Which road will The Modesto Irrigation District  travel, the straight and narrow road of sunlight and transparency or the one full of twists and turns trying to stay in the dark shadows of duplicity?  MID’s latest outside council is a firm chosen by MID’s General Manager Scott Furgerson called Atkinson, Anderson, Loya, Rudd & Romo to respond to PRR’s and to attend meetings to provide legal counsel and to respond to Public Record Requests (PRR).

On February 7th we requested the cost for responding to a PRR in order to compare the costs between in house and outside counsel. It was refused.  They claimed that asking for documentation regarding legal matters, in this case their bills, falls under attorney client privilege (their entire response is included in the insert.  Claiming an invoice to a public agency is covered under ‘privileged’  is a new on us.  After you read their response you have to ask yourself what are they hiding And you have to know we haven’t given up getting to the bottom line cost.

Accountability: Another looming crossroad is who is going to pay for the legal defense for Director Mensinger and GM Furgerson in the hostile workplace/harassment lawsuit and will there be consequences if they lose or if hush money is paid.  Should ratepayers be forced to pay for the legal defense?   The suit alleges John Mensinger created a hostile work environment, which employers are required by law to prevent, and the GM stood by using the ‘he’s my boss what can I do’ defense for his alleged inaction.

Should elected officials be held accountable?  Recently in Turlock Gary Soiseth lost his bid for reelection and many claim his micro managing and his creating a hostile work environment were contributing factors. This same player was given the opportunity to resign rather than to be fired for his job at MID.  Maybe Mensinger and Furgerson admired Soiseth’s management style and took it as their own.  His antics didn’t upset them since even though they had been paying him for months when he didn’t show up for work, they used his services through another company waving their new catch phrase ‘for the good of the district’.  We have to ask do they even know what that means?

If GM Furgerson helped to create a hostile work environment by his inaction should he be fired?  If by his actions Director Mensinger created a hostile work environment should he resign?  Should ratepayers be forced to pay for their legal defense?

 

 

MID Fires Two Female Attorneys But Keeps a Male Attorney

By Emerson Drake 

Firing the women and keeping the men?  Have we come to expect anything else?  Surprisingly enough, or maybe not considering the new female unfriendly direction MID has taken, they broke precedent.  In the past whether it was meter readers, made surplus by smart reader technology, or executives that couldn’t do their job so they created one (read the second highest paying job at MID), MID made the effort and offered/found jobs for employees rather than firing them.  But not so with these women.

Why the rush?  With General Manager Scott Furgerson on vacation was it the puppet master Director John Mensinger speaking for Board President Paul Campbell like he does during MID meetings?

And why are they hiding their invoices to their newest attorneys from Public Record Requests?

MID has become as transparent as a brick wall.

We continue to thank our mailbag contributors who are helping us let the sun shine in.

 

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