Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

MID’s Circle of Life is a Tale of Spending Gone Wild

By Emerson Drake

Sitting in on Monday’s meeting was enlightening.  They told us they wanted to spend $72 Million on lateral lines and reservoirs to capture 25,000-40,000 acre feet water their ditchtenders over order.  It was referred to as both operational discharge (in their handout) and as “spill” by (MID personnel and their paid consultant Dr. Burt.)  This “spill” is the water they want to sell toSan Francisco.  So they want to spend the $72M to capture the water they want to sell toSan Francisco to get the money to pay for the system upgrades needed to capture the water.  If that isn’t going round in a circle I don’t know what is.

Don’t get me wrong, they’ve found a way to spend even more and that’s by spending $10M on Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or (SCADA) telemetry upgrades. These same upgrades were listed under completed work.

Completed Work


  • State-of-the-art technology
  • Major diversion points upgraded/automated
  • Installed new radio/tower system
  • Truepoint Database System
  • Enhanced scheduling and records
  • Improved billing and reporting
  • Ditchtender Laptops
  • Real-time monitoring from the field

We were told by the good Dr. Burt that MID bought first class state-of-the-art equipment yet now we’re being told we need to spend $10M more for this same equipment we already purchased.  Sound familiar?  Remember when the county squandered $10 Million on computer equipment that wouldn’t talk to each other?  I’m not saying it’s the same but MID’s staff keeps adding to their “Christmas wish list” like a greedy child.

Let’s talk about the Dry Creek Flume that Board President Tom Van Groningen keeps bringing up in dramatic theatrical tones.  Yes the flume has been around for 100 years and yes it did burn down once but now its in good shape working perfectly fine.  Their newest main concern is about a major earthquake possibly damaging it. Oh, and did I mention a MID staff member told the audience it would probably take only one week to get the flume up and running again, in the event that it were damaged in an earthquake.  A $10Million insurance policy against something that hasn’t happened in the last 100 years and with no guarantees the new structure could withstand a large quake. After all they say “quake resistant not quake proof.”

Now this wasn’t a concern of Director Van Groningen’s for the first 20 years of his MID Board term but suddenly he refers to it and its possible demise in hushed tones like he’s repeating a mantra over and over.

What’s the sudden difference?  Money, money and a possible legacy, and a chance to have a flume named after him resonate within him.

We have a staff that couldn’t bring a project in under budget and have it remain functional (remember the expensive roof and wall that were found to be rotting immediately after the building guarantee ran out) and of course the fiasco of a water plant extension where major portions need to be torn out and rebuilt at an unknown cost. But these costs will definitely run many Millions of dollars. 

And just how much are two biggest cheerleaders for the project being paid?  Dr.Burt, the MID consultant, will certainly be called upon if this spending spree goes forward.  And MID’s attorney, Tim O’Laughlin, has been making money all along and since water sales agreements are in his bailiwick is he championing the spree in order to yet again run up his billable hours?

We’ll find out about MID’s hired guns by sending a PIR to MID for this information.

We need to re-invest in StanislausCounty’s citizens, farmers and our economy by replenishing the water aquifer in a variety of ways it is the single best thing we could do.  The water table keeps getting lower and lower and the concentration of contaminates keeps getting higher and higher and the only real answer is to re-charge the water table, not to sell it and our selves down the river.


Modesto Irrigation District Continues to Deceive the Public

By Emerson Drake

There can be no doubt MID General Manager Allen Short and his staff honed their skills at deception.  They’ve progressed from telling out right lies in the past, to passing off partial truths as to be factual.

After MID held their four public meetings they were aghast to find out several people had attended all of them and had taken notes.  These notes displayed the ever changing story that Mr. Short used in an attempt to promote his water “give away” program.   Like some politicians, Mr. Short “adjusts” his rhetoric to his audience. The reason I use the term give away is Mr. Short never publicly takes into account the other uses for the water which would bring in more money to the valley than the selling of water toSan Francisco.  Developers in the Bay area are planning to use the water for a home development to be built on a salt marsh. 

In his letter to Senator Feinstein he makes clear his desire to “make friends” with bay area politicians to secure their support for the central valley in the future. What wasn’t made clear until recently is over 100 of these same politicians have signed a petition against this development.  Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

As we’ve said before, MID meetings are never realistically portrayed by the Modesto Bee.  Speaker after speaker gets up and gives MID’s Board of Directors, .metaphorically speaking, “both barrels” against the proposed water sale.  The Farm Bureau has spoken out against the water sale as have many farmers who remind us the water table keeps getting lower and we need to recharge our aquifer if we expect it to last.  Our cities are pumping water out of the ground; the politicians and developers are paving over prime recharge land and now MID is selling the water to the bay area instead of “investing” the water locally.  We have land on the west side of the county that remains fallow because of the lack of water.

When appealing to MID’s ratepayers didn’t work, Mr. Short fell back, regrouped, and decided to go directly to the business community and arranged a discussion with Modesto’s Chamber of Commerce.  Nothing wrong with that except the Chamber decided they didn’t need to hear other points of view and they being men of industry could separate the wheat from the chafe. 

But I ask, how can anyone make an informed decision without hearing all of the facts?

Several truths are known, MID has a recent history of bungling everything it touches.  Take the water plant as an example, MID created a list of 100’s of construction design errors and construction defects.  Who is going to pay the potentially $100’s of Millions to redesign, tear out and rebuild this water plant expansion?  Probably the ratepayers and citizens ofModestowill. Yes there is an ongoing lawsuit against Black and Veatch but the blame could go either way or more likely be apportioned.  Again who cleans up the mess by picking up the bill?  Ratepayers!

Recently a ratepayer was asking questions at a MID Board Meeting Board. President Tom Van Groningen had a citizen escorted out by a hired badge and gun for disagreeing with him. 

We understand the lure Allen Short and staff are facing, a chance to play big wig, get lots of free lunches all paid for by someone else, You and Me.  Until they ”discovered” this new revenue stream no one had made a big deal about these suddenly needed improvements.  After all, paying down the $1.3 Billion in debt three of these Board members (four if you count their leader Allen Short) racked up they decided it wasn’t sexy enough so instead of making our selves financially sound lets spend it!

Did anyone from the Chamber of Commerce ask that question?  Not from what I heard.

Tonight on local cable there will be a discussion of MID’s proposed water sale on the Assyrian Channel (23 on Comcast). It will be available by streaming video at


Other articles of interest:


How Much Does Birth Control Cost?

By EOM Staff

President Obama’s health care plan was intended to make health care more affordable and more accessible to all Americans.  The Republicans have attacked that idea and turned the discussion to whether or not insurances should cover birth control.  We are not talking about religiously affiliated employers….we are now talking about any employer.  Republicans would like to make it so your employer can choose not to cover birth control because he may have a “moral objection” to it.

Some GOP hopefuls have recently stated that birth control isn’t very expensive.  The average American woman will spend 30 years of her life trying to prevent pregnancy.  If her insurance doesn’t cover contraception, here are the estimated costs….

A shot 4 times a year for 30 years = $32,000

An IUD that has to be replaced every 5 – 7  years = $17,000

The pill (the most effective and most common form of contraception) = $67,000!  

That’s almost $2300 a year, for 30 years!  Not very expensive?  Imagine being a low-income woman trying to prevent pregnancy and having to spend almost $200 a month for contraception!  It’s expensive even for a professional woman with a good income.

Contraception is basic health care for women.  Allowing insurance companies and/or employers to choose not to cover it, will only result in even more unplanned pregnancies, more children and families living in poverty, and fewer opportunities for education for those children.

It’s all part of the continued war on women.  Take away our reproductive rights and we are kept out of the workplace (it’s hard to hold down a job when you have a baby every 18 months) and our ability to support our families is drastically reduced.

Apparently, the GOP didn’t pay attention to statistical analysis of the voters in 2008.  Almost 2 million more women than men voted that year.  And we will be out in force this year….voting against anyone who wants to take away our rights!

MPD’s WAKEUP Program is Going to Hurt Modesto’s Youth

By Emerson Drake

“What does not work in crime prevention is just as important as what works. It is counterproductive to use scarce budget funds and waste the funding support on programs that do not work, or that may make things worse. Throwing good money after bad  reduces the public’s trust in their government.”

Wrote Anthony J. Schembri, Secretary Florida Department of Juvenile Justic


From the 500 citations generated, this stringent process yielded nine studies that met the methodological demands to be included in the final analysis. These studies were conducted between 1967-1992 in eight different states throughout the U.S., with Michigan being the site for two. The collective sample was 946 juveniles with an average age ranging from 15 to 17 years old, a racial composition between 36%-84% white, with only one study including girls (for complete breakdown by study see Petrosino et al., 2003). The focus of investigation was on the proportion of each group (Scared Straight or control) that re-offended.

The results from the re-offending rates show that the Scared Straight-type intervention

increases the delinquency outcomes during the follow-up period. This means that those youth who went through these types of programs have higher recidivism rates than those youth who did not go through the programs. It is important to remember that the treatment and the control groups were randomized, meaning that each youth had an equal probability of being placed in either group, thus assuring that each group is comparable and essentially identical at the outset of the experiment. This guarantees that any difference between the two groups is due to the intervention itself, and not to any characteristic of the youth in each group.




 Modesto’s Police Department should have learned this lesson the first time but since we didn’t we’re doomed to repeat it.  Don’t fall for what feels good, insist on what actually is good for our children.


MID is Being Challenged for its Exorbitant Charges

Dear Allen:
Under the tenets of the California Public Records Act, and on behalf of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association, I make the following requests for public records and information:
(1) Please provide me with all documents that the District used to determine that 25 cents per page for copies of public records is reasonable.
(2) Separate from No. 1 above, please provide me with all documents The District used to determine that the fee the District charges for copies of video records is reasonable.
(3)Separate from No’s. 1 and 2 above, please provide me with all the documents that the District used to determine that when the District provides damaged, incomplete or unusable DVD’s to the public, it is required that the public spend its time and energy to bring the unusable DVD to the MID offices and surrender that public document, prior to the District providing a replacement DVD, which would require yet one more trip, and expense, to MID offices.  
Thank you, Dave Thomas, President, Stanislaus Taxpayers Association


Information Regarding Controversy Surrounding Dryden Golf Course

By Emerson Drake

We’ve been asked to make inquires about Dryden Golf Course.  The origin of the course and concern about funding attached to it.  The following is the response we received from the city. We will be scheduling time in the immediate future to peruse the mentioned documents.

We are extremely appreciative of the time and effort the City Clerk, Stephanie Lopez and her staff with a special mention to Cathi Erbe, have put in to help us with our information quest.

Mr. Drake,


Research to fulfill your public records request has been completed.  All paperwork for the acquisition of the land for Dryden Golf Course has been gathered.  Land was also obtained from Kenneth H. Durand and Gladys S. Durand, so these documents have been included.  Documentation for this was very old and rather fragile and could not be scanned, so paper copies are available.  You are welcome to look thru them, and only pay for the ones you want.  If you take the entire stack, the total for 173 pages would be $17.30.


Federal funds were not used for the acquisition of the property.  The only reference that could be found to connect Dryden Golf Course and federal funding was back in 1997 when there was a flood.  Resolution 97-677 (A Resolution Authorizing Staff to Submit a Flood Disaster Relief Application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Disaster Relief Initiative Funds) contains an attachment that says “The City also hopes to receive an additional $587,096 FEMA reimbursement for damage done to the City-owned Dryden Golf Course”.  Resolution 98-161 amended the annual budget to include the supplemental CDBG allocation for the HUD disaster relief program.  The $650,426 that was awarded was the amount that was requested to be used for the residential parcels on the south side of Hillside Drive, and that’s where all the funds were applied.


There has been only one green fee increase, on July 1, 2004, where $1.00 per 18-hole round was to be dedicated to the golf fund reserve (not specifically Dryden) for capital improvements.  The “transfer” of this dedicated capital money has since stopped because of the decrease in green fee revenues and their inability to cover operating expenses.

City of Modesto to Hold Public Hearings

NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING A public hearing will be held by the Council of the City of Modesto on Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at 5:30 p.m. in the Chambers, Basement Level, Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th Street, Modesto, California, to consider approving copy fees at $010 per page for black and white and $.20 per page for color for public documents. All interested people are invited to attend at the above time and place and will be given time to be heard.

If you challenge the proposed fees in court you may be limited to those issues raised by you or someone else at this public hearing or in writing prior to the public hearings.  If you have any questions call 577-5396 or 577-5369.

MID Attorney O’Laughlin Gets $102,280 for January from Ratepayers

By Emerson Drake

With some people there is no end to greed and it seems Modesto Irrigation District attorney Tim O’Laughlin of O’Laughlin & Paris LLP is no exception.  He went out of his way to troll for business on Tuesday denying a ratepayer the right to discussion during the Consent Items portion of the meeting.

Director Byrd had asked questions regarding Consent Item #1, a motion to approve Warrants in the amount of $970,523.55. He had question relating to the details behind the costs regarding several items.  Some of these were answered completely by staff and others vaguely with the caveat they would provide further detail at a later date. 

While the individual items were under discussion it was thrown open to public questions.  When a ratepayer asked for information regarding two items on the warrant list they were told by Tim O’Laughlin that they would receive their answer via Public Records Act or (PRA).  What many aren’t aware of is attorney O’Laughlin’s company gets paid extra to process these very requests.

Now MID’s own guidelines say that discussion will only take place if an item is pulled.  The question should have been answered immediately but O’Laughlin decided to create some work for his own company and denied the ratepayer the answer. During the meeting it was pointed out to the Board, that when addressing theCountyBoardof Supervisors or the Modesto City Council regarding Consent items, the answers are forth coming immediately.

A conversation with MID Board President Tom Van Groningen after the meeting suggested the questions should have been answered at the time of the query and the situation would be rectified by the next meeting.  On that we’ll have to wait and see. Not that we doubt Director Van Groningen’s word but in the not to recent past Dave Thomas of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association had worked out an arrangement with MID General Manager Allen Short, only to find out at the next meeting that Mr. Short tossed the agreement aside and continued on as he had previously. It was suggested attorney O’Laughlin had something to do with the change of heart. So until we see if O’Laughlin is allowed to continue to drum up business for his own firm, the only position we can take is to bide our time until the next meeting.

The larger question remains as to why MID’s own attorney is allowed to generate unnecessary work for his company.

The answer to one of the questions, the Chamber of Commerce is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year and MID decided to spend $1,000 of ratepayers money to buy a page in their “special” anniversary issue.

You can decide for yourselves if you believe this is a judicious way to spend your hard earned money.

By the way, the Chamber of Commerce will be receiving a private presentation of the   MID water sale propaganda before the rate paying citizens do.  When queried, Cecil Russell, the Chambers CEO, wasn’t concerned that they wouldn’t hear both side of the discussion.  He believes these “Businessmen” can discern what needs to be done without all of the facts.

We believe, just as in a political debate, both side of a discussion should have the opportunity to present their points of view.

No offense to anyone but maybe the ratepayers who have spoken up against the water sale should have bought a page in their anniversary issue too.

For February 27th on Athens Abell’s ‘On Watch’ cable television show proponents for the sale of water have been invited, Josh Vanderveen and a representative for the Latino Roundtable either Armando Flores or Ruben Villalobos have been invited as they have been outspoken at MID meetings.   Two individuals who have spoken out against the sale, John Duarte and Todd Sill have been asked to come and represent the anti-sale side of the discussion. Final details have yet to be worked out.

Senators, You Work For Us! Now Let’s Talk About Healthcare

Senators Roy Blunt and Mitch McConnell are proposing an amendment to the Affordable Health Care Act that would allow ANY employer to deny coverage for ANY treatment that the employer has a moral objection to.  Not just employers that are religiously affiliated, but any employer. That means your boss could deny treatment for mental illness, HIV treatment, drug and alcohol treatment, pre-natal care for an unmarried woman or even say he has a moral objection to cervical cancer treatment because it is caused by HPV, which is transmitted sexually!  Actually, it’s transmitted from men to women, yet the woman could be denied coverage.

What these fine gentlemen are forgetting is that they work for us!  We are their employer!  Now, gentlemen, let’s talk about your health care coverage.  The insurance we provide for you covers everything!  You don’t have to purchase this insurance, it is provided free of charge, for the rest of your life!

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that I have a moral objection to what you are trying to do to health care coverage.  And I have a particularly strong moral objection to what you are trying to do to women when it comes to contraception!

Copy and paste the address below to add your voice and make your opinion known:


Who Should Testify About Birth Control? Apparently Not Women!

By EOM Staff

Funny how birth control has become such a hot political issue lately.  We’ve had the pill for almost 60 years now.  Abortions have always existed, legal or not.  I just can’t help but think that if birth control were the responsibility of men we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Now there is a five-member panel to hear testimony about birth control.  The five members are all male.  Not one woman to hear testimony about the need for birth control!  On top of that, these five men are deciding who is an “appropriate witness to give testimony” to them.  They are excluding women from telling their personal stories about the need for birth control.  On The Ed Show last night, there was a young college student who had been scheduled to give testimony to the contraception panel.  At the last minute, these men decided she was not an appropriate witness to give testimony.  So she went on the Ed Show and told the story of her friend, also a college student, who took birth control pills to prevent cysts from growing on her ovaries.  The pills cost her $100 a month.  Month after month after month.  The expense finally became too great to bear, as she was working her way through college and had tuition, room and board and books to pay for.  She stopped getting her pills.  A cyst grew in her ovary, ruptured and landed her in the hospital.  Now the ovary has been removed, but her medical condition has caused her to go into early menopause.  For some unfathomable reason, the male panel did not feel this was appropriate testimony!

Additionally, there is now one more reason to call Mitt Romney “Flipper”.  Prior to becoming governor of Massachusetts, his predecessor signed into law a mandate that insurance companies in Massachusetts provide birth control coverage.  Once Mr. Romney took office, he never attempted to repeal this law.  His only clash with lawmakers in Massachusetts was whether Catholic hospitals should be required to dispense emergency contraception to rape victims.

Now that he is running for President, he would actually like to ban hormonal birth control methods.  That would include IUDs and birth control pills.  He is up in arms over President Obama’s proposal that insurances companies provide birth control coverage, even though Obama’s proposal exempts churches.

Yes, many of the GOP contenders state that women can get their birth control from clinics instead of through their insurance.  But these same men would like to eliminate funding for places such as Planned Parenthood.  If that happens, where would women get their birth control?  The pill runs between $60 – $100 a month, IUD’s cost about $1800.  How could college students or low income women afford this?

The most appalling thing of all was the interview given by one of Rick Santorum’s biggest financial contributors last night.  He said, and I quote, “back in my day birth control was inexpensive and easy to use – the gals just held an aspirin between their knees!”  Obviously this man has no consideration for the plight of women of child-bearing age, gives no consideration to the pressure men put on women to have sex, and sees contraception as just a woman’s issue (the gals), even though we are about to lose the right to said contraception!  This man belongs back in the 1800s, not in 2012!

If women don’t get out in force in November, we will lose the right to birth control and the right to safe and legal abortions.  What will be next?  The right to own property, vote, hold down a job, have credit in our own name, serve on a jury, run for public office?  These are rights that women have won over the last 150 years.  All of these things were once illegal for women.  We can’t let that happen again.

Come on women – register to vote and get out in November!  Don’t let men control our lives once again!

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