Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Does the Public Have the Right to Know? MAYBE Says the Bee

By Emerson Drake

On July 31, 2012 the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau (SCFB) sent a letter to each member of the Modesto Irrigation District Board of Directors and a copy to the Modesto Bee.  In the letter they outline their concerns regarding the potential water sale to the San Francisco Public Utility District. The letter was extremely detailed, citing multiple California Environmental Quality Act (CEQUA) concerns, using exact numbers from MID reports and was cross referenced with the corresponding dates the numbers were published by the district.

Many of these concerns have been voiced by the public but never have they been documented to the extent of the letter.  The Bee has refused to acknowledge even the receipt of the letter in print let alone publish it.

The media, or fourth estate, is important to an informed electorate but unfortunately sometimes some people feel it’s in their best interest to limit or shape public opinion by withholding important facts from the ongoing discourse.  By limiting access to all sides of an argument they strive to control opposition to what ever view they are trying to propagate. 

This isn’t about just disagreeing with their point of view,  it’s about  listening to all sides of a discussion and THEN deciding what is the best course of action.

Editors, especially Opinion Page Editors, like to be invited to the best soirees and have their “opinion” sought out by local movers and shakers. After all, how could their friends possibly be wrong?  We just emerged from an extended period of being under the overbearing Mark Vasche, where politicians he didn’t like were attacked in print regardless of the good they were trying to accomplish.  When it comes to MID, Mike Serpa comes to mind. Or like reporter John Holland has found,  it’s easier to write stories when you can receive phone calls from those involved and their PR people and not even have to attend meetings.

The Bee’s refusal to publicize the letters from the Farm Bureau was first broken by Eric Caine at www.Thevalleycitizen.com and since this time several attempts have been made by many of us to get the Bee to discuss the letters for the record.  Unfortunately, to this point our efforts have failed.

The original cover letter is here. This is followed by a short  overview  here and the entire  SCFB critique is here.

Fortunately, here in Modesto we have several alternatives to enlighten readers who are concerned about the whole picture and not just what the Bee and a few of their friends think is good for you to know.


Sandra Fluke – A Young Woman To Be Admired

By Gaetana Drake

If you watched the Democratic National Convention last night,  you had the opportunity to listen to a speech given by Sandra Fluke.

Ms. Fluke is the young woman that Rush Limbaugh called a slut and a prostitute because she advocates for insurance coverage of birth control.  Ms. Fluke was denied the opportunity to testify before a congressional panel formed to discuss birth control.  I’d like to remind all of you that this was a panel comprised of MEN only!  Ms. Fluke finally got to testify before an informal panel and voiced her opinion that insurance should cover contraceptives.

The birth control pill is used not only to prevent pregnancy, but for a variety of medical reasons.  To regulate menstrual periods, to reduce the growth of ovarian cysts, to help relieve pain from migraine headaches, to treat severe acne, and to treat endometriosis.

The argument is being made that birth control is a “recreational” drug and therefore the government shouldn’t force insurers to cover it.  Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are purely recreational activities, yet insurance covers the medical treatment for all the  illnesses and diseases caused by engaging in these activities.

The average woman spends 30 years of her life trying to prevent pregnancy.  Birth control is preventive health-care, just like mammograms and pap smears and high blood pressure screenings.

If you don’t believe there is truly a war on women in this country, you simply haven’t been paying attention.  Consider the following:

*Personhood amendments proposed that would ban the birth control pill and the IUD, the most commonly used and most effective methods of contraception.

*Todd Akin (R) believing that women don’t get pregnant as a result of “legitimate” rape because the female body can “shut down” that function.

*Steve King (R) saying “I’ve never heard of a child getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest.

*Federal Judge James Leon Holmes, a Bush appointee, said in an article published circa 1997: “Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”

*Dr. Richard Dobbins, who works in the emergency department at Hardin Memorial Hospital in Kenton, Ohio told the Columbus Dispatch in 2006, “I think that life begins when the chromosomes of the sperm and egg line up”.  Dobbins also questioned the need for emergency contraception in rape cases, saying that most women “are not fertile during assault or do not become pregnant because the trauma prompts a hormonal response that prevents ovulation.”   I wonder….do rapists only rape women who are not in their “fertile period”?

*In 1995, Republican Henry Aldridge told the House Appropriations Committee:  “The facts show that people who are raped – who are truly raped – the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant”.

*Representative Stephen Freind, (R-Delaware County) said “the odds that a woman who is raped will get pregnant are ‘one in millions and millions’.  The reason, he said, “is that the traumatic experience of rape causes a woman to ‘secrete a certain secretion’ that tends to kill sperm.”

*Texas oilman Clayton Williams once ran against Ann Richards for Governor of Texas.  During the campaign he said “Rape is like the weather, if it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”

*Idaho Senator Chuck Winder (R) has made this unusual comment. “I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that the physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape.”  Apparently in his mind, it’s part of “normal relations in a marriage” for a husband to rape his wife.

*The GOP has finalized it’s  party platform for this election.  It includes NO exception for federal funding for abortions for victims of rape or incest.  They are finally being honest enough to tell us that their goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Mitt Romney has said he would sign a “personhood amendment” which would effectively ban the birth control pill and the IUD.  These are the most commonly used and most effective forms of birth control.

*Requiring a trans-vaginal probe (unpaid by insurance because it’s not medically required) prior to an abortion.  One male politician had the audacity to say if a woman didn’t want to watch, she could “just close her eyes.”

*Wanting to change the Affordable Care Act to allow any employer to suddenly decide he has a “moral” objection to birth control and deny coverage.

*Requiring three visits to a doctor prior to an abortion.

*Failing to renew the Violence Against Women Act, because it now includes protections for lesbians, illegal immigrants and mail-order brides.

*Censoring elected female representatives for daring to say “vagina” while men are passing legislation that controls our vaginas.

*Requiring physicians to lie to their pregnant patients about the effects of abortion, saying that it causes a higher rate of suicide (no study has ever shown that) and that having an abortion can cause cancer.  The truth is that carrying a pregnancy to term while you’re still a young woman tends to prevent cancer, but that does not equate to “having an abortion may cause cancer.”

*Re-defining “rape” to “forcible” rape in a proposed bill that would deny any federal funding of abortions for rape victims.  Date rape, statutory rape, rape in a case where a woman is under the influence and unable to give consent….no longer considered rape in their minds.

*Representative Mike Kelly (R-Fl), stated “I know in your mind you can think of two times America was attacked.  The first was December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day.  The second was 9/11, the day we were attacked by terrorists.  I want you to remember August 1, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom – that is a ‘day that will live in infamy’ along with the other dates”.  Representative Kelly believes America has been attacked because insurances are now required to cover birth control.

*Republicans voted down the Fair Pay Act and Mitt Romney has said he would repeal the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  Mind you, this act isn’t forcing employers to provide equal pay for equal work, it just gives women a legal recourse if they find they have been unfairly paid.

*Republicans have refused to renew the Violence Against Women Act.

*Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey (R) has complained that the republican party is having to “cater” to women.

Ms. Fluke was viciously attacked by Rush Limbaugh over the course of several days.  He repeatedly called her a slut and a prostitute, and even suggested that she should videotape her sexual activities so he could watch them.  As a result of his vicious attacks, she received an incredible amount of support from the average American.  Every one of us could imagine our daughter being verbally attacked for something as simple as standing up for what’s right.

Sandra Fluke is a graduate of Georgetown Law School.  She is intelligent.  She is articulate.  She is proud.  She walked onto the stage at the DNC with her head held high and received a standing ovation.  She stood up to the male chauvinists like Rush Limbaugh and showed them that they could not silence her.

She is a young woman to be admired.

MID Staff and GM Allen Short Caught Lying to MID Board

By Emerson Drake

We’ve spoken our concerns before regarding the accuracy and manipulation of information contained in staff reports, but seldom do they let you see  it so blatantly.  The report is titled Agreement for Directional Boring Contractors. It can be found in its entirety at the link at the bottom of the article.

To provide some very short background, when underground cable reaches its lifespan of approx. 25 years and the injection process they use to extend its usefulness’ warranty expires, it needs to be replaced. This is done by boring holes and replacing the cable.

Why Change Contractors?

MID has been using Applegate Johnson a local company with local employees satisfactorily for years.  There was a clause in their contract that allowed Applegate Johnson to request a rate hike. So they requested a hike and MID said no. MID was so upset, despite the fact MID had no other problems with this company other than their rate increase request, and instead of discussing their proposal, MID  sent the contract out for re-bidding to six vendors. Only five vendors responded and Daleo Inc of Gilroy was tentatively awarded the contract at the suggestion of nameless MID staff. The T & D Division and the Purchasing Department approved.  Assistant General Manager Tom Kimball and General Manager Allen Short both signed off as attesting to the truth of the presentation.

Here’s where it starts to get Hinky

On pages three and four of the report  are the actual bids the companies submitted.  Out of twenty-eight items Applegate Johnson was the low bidder on twenty-six and most of these by significant margins.  So why change vendors and was there a significant savings to be had by going with an out of the area vendor? According to the presentation given to the Board by Denise Ray of the Purchasing Dept and Asst. GM. Tom Kimball, Daleo was the most qualified bidder based on price,experience, and references.  But is that true?

Public Comment Period

It appeared the Board was going to vote for approval, but when the Public Comment Period opened a completely new story emerged.  Several speakers came and made their points regarding the contract.  At least two were from Applegate Johnson and pointed out Daleo’s  proposal was not only more expensive than their new one but was more expensive than if MID had used the numbers from the contract increase request they submitted.  Now company men speaking well of their business isn’t unusual, but something was different in this case. 

The Bid Numbers were Right in Front of  Us

Seldom are bids so clear and easy to read.  This one obviously was and while this was being discussed I went over them as did others. Twenty-six out of twenty-eight items  being in Applegate’s favor is easy to prove or disprove. It was easy to discern there was more than meets the eye going on  here. We’ve seen MID staff shuffle, concoct, and just create out of thin air some of the numbers GM Short has needed in the past whenever he’s challenged (see Reed Smith’s analysis of MID’s “extra” water to available for sale to the SFPUC).  I held up MID’s own documents and asked the Board members to look for themselves. I specifically addressed Directors Glen Wild and Paul Warda.  Mr. Wild,  known as a rubberstamp for GM Short and Van Groningen,  just looked bored as usual when “official reality” is challenged, but to his credit Director Paul Warda was intrigued by the opposing sides regarding the costs and wanted to get to the bottom of the dispute and requested more time to study the proposed contract.

MID Attorney Tim O’Laughlin Attempts to Obfuscate Details

All staff had to do was provide a breakdown that would support their claim of cost savings but O’Laughlin intervened and said he would prepare the rebuttal.  An important thing to understand is, if attorney O’Laughlin writes the staff report he covers it in what he considers his priestly robe of invisibility and will refuse to allow the public to see it (attorney client privilege).  But why would the attorney jump in so quickly?  The most probable reason is to prevent the public from finding out the reason for the strange and expensive to the ratepayers decision by staff.  Which in my opinion is either pique from the requested raise or blatant favoritism towards a bidder by steering the contract in a specific direction possibly for personal satisfaction or gain.

As ratepayers we can’t afford personal pique to enter into MID contract negotiations.  And anyone who does so should be summarily dismissed.  And since Tom Kimbal and Allen Short SIGNED this document saying the details are accurate and complete to the best of my knowledge, they should be held accountable for any misrepresentations.

Nothing happens at this level of MID without the General Manager’s approval. Nothing.


Contracts (Photo credit: NobMouse)

Here is the pdf.  I apologize for the size of the download and include it because it will be taken down by MID shortly despite requests from the public to keep an archive like other public entities do.

Board Agenda Report

Subject: Agreement for Directional Boring Contractors  Bids are on page four and five of the report.


Now ask yourself why you haven’t read about this in the Bee.

The County’s Response to Seven Questions Regarding the Salida Annexation

By Emerson Drake

Following the Hammett Road Interchange  meeting held on 7/31/12 between county residents, StanCOG, and County officials, seven questions had been brought up or came to mind  regarding the possible annexation of Salida California. Supervisor Terry Withrow was extremely helpful in getting these questions answered, since several of them are not just looking for documents but explanations of legal positions.  I wish to thank Supervisor Withrow, County CEO Monica Nino and all of the people involved in answering this extensive request.

Now obviously these aren’t the only questions but I thought these might be a good place to start.  Ground zero so to speak.  Here are the question made to the County Board:

1. Is it possible for Salida to have a referendum and vote to refute the County Boards’ Salida Now land use vote from 2007?

2. Are Salida citizens guaranteed by law a vote in any annexation attempt by Modesto?

3. How much is left in the account the County says developers contributed to in order to push the Hammett Road Interchange?

4. Exactly how many years are remaining from the Salida Now vote regarding land use designations?

5. Exactly how many years will remain on Salida Now land use rules if Modesto annexes them?

6. Will Modesto citizens get to vote on annexing Salida?

7. For the sake of openness, exactly which companies and their owners  were the land use guarantees made to?

The following pdf is the County’s response.


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