By Emerson Drake
Last night’s LAFCO was sparsely attended, short and bitter sweet. All of the Commission Members were in attendance.
They started out by discussing the letter from the Modesto Chamber of Commerce where the Chamber “mistakenly” used the official Modesto logo. The letter had blasted LAFCO for conducting interviews out of the public’s eye. The letter’s last paragraph complained about the direction LAFCO has been going in favor (Ag Mitigation) hence my concern about the possible confusion of using Modesto’s official logo. It’s the way LAFCO has been doing business for a long time and it’s similar to the way the City and County interview potential Committee members. The Board as a whole Chairman O’Brien and Supervisor Jim DeMartini took exception to the Chambers expressed opinions.
Chairman Bill O’Brien and Vice Chair Amy Bublak met and interviewed the four finalists before the meeting started (okay technically they interviewed Brad Hawn by phone) and they were Ron Freitas, John Mier, Annabel Gammon, and Brad Hawn. Commissioner Mayor Charlie Goeken made the nominations for both Public member and Alternate public member. Successful candidates were required to receive a vote from both a city and a county member.
After each nomination a vote was taken. Brad Hawn, former Modesto City Councilman and a member of the Chamber’s Board of Directors was chosen for public member and Annabel Gammon was chose as the alternate. Ms. Gammon’s vote was unanimous and Commissioner DeMartini voted against Brad Hawn.
It was somewhat interesting to see Steve Madison builder, former BIA Director, and Chamber of Commerce member not only attending but speaking in support of the Chamber. Sitting directly behind me was land use attorney and who is also sometimes portrayed as political kingmaker and Chamber campaign fund facilitator George Petrulakis. While George and Steve were sitting separately, they left huddled in conversation together very soon after Brad Hawn who is also on the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors nomination.
Did the letter have the desired effect and help Hawn get the position? I couldn’t say. But I do know the past practice with LAFCO is to take the alternate public member who has been observing and participating as necessary and bringing them onto the Board as the Public member. Ron Freitas would have been my first choice for the position of Public member but the public doesn’t get to vote and since he had already served a term as Alternate he wasn’t eligible for the position. The public and the candidates were given the opportunity to speak in behalf of themselves or any of the candidates but since Commissioner Goeken wasn’t part of the interviewing process and was the one making the nominations I don’t believe any input at that point would make a difference.
So does Brad Hawn being chosen place Ag Mitigation in jeopardy? I spoke to several of the Commission members after the meeting and they assured me changing their Ag mitigation policy was a long and arduous process and that particular conversation wasn’t even on the distant horizon.
Now the flip side.
We all know the Modesto Chamber of Commerce has been actively planning and has started using Modesto’s General Plan Amendment process to campaign to completely destroy not only Ag land preservation but also Ag Mitigation utilizing the current election cycle as a tool and that Steve Madison and George Petrulakis were there for a reason last night.
.Lobbyists, real estate agents, and home builders fill their action committees and with no direct concerted opposition mounted by the citizens of Modesto I’m afraid there are dark times ahead.
I’m looking forward to next Monday’s “On Watch With Athens Abell” on local cable television KBSV 6:00 PM Comcast 15 also on streaming video. I’ll be the guest hosting and talking with Stanislaus County Board member and LAFCO Commissioner Jim DeMartini.
Now that’s one conversation you won’t want to miss.