Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

And Now for the Rest of the Story

By Emerson Drake

In the past, especially in a one newspaper town, the Opinions Page Editor had the bully pulpit and was king.  You might

A montage I (Valente Q.C.) made with pictures ...

A montage I (Valente Q.C.) made with pictures that I took for the Infobox in the Modesto, California Article. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

dispute their particular version of events at home, work, or when friends get together but you couldn’t mount a vocal opposition to those special interest groups the Editors supported, those who would run roughshod over average people to get their sometimes exploitative and usually lucrative way.  And in Modesto, that’s the way it’s been.

Enter the new media.  Not facebook or myspace but blogtalk radio and News/Opinion Blogs like this one.  We also have a local public radio station 104.9 FM K-GIG that allows local people to air their concerns. Concerns the Bee ignores when it isn’t convenient to them and their advertisers, advisers, and lobbyists.  In recent years we have seen the Bee adopt a policy that allows people to comment on articles challenging the views and articles of their reporters and Op Ed staff. From talking with many of the reporters and ALL of the Op Ed people the general consensus is most dislike having their version of events challenged.

For an educational experience,  go to a city,  county,  school board, or one of their committee meetings and see if you recognize it when you read about it the next day in the Bee.   You can take this challenge from home by watching the meetings on cable or on streaming video but you really need to be there to experience the totality of the  complexities occurring at these meetings.   As an example, after a recent SalidaMAC meeting Ms. Sly wrote about the evening.  After reading her piece I found it difficult to believe she had been present.  But she was.  That’s the scary part. Her story was barely recognizable. Or maybe I should say her perceptions were more like a glass half empty than half full.  Well, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure she even knew a glass of anything existed. But that’s been the problem all along.

The behind the scenes power structure in Modesto has been basically the same for years.  Yes, some of the faces have changed but the policies have remained the same. And the Bee has continually supported them with their “go along to get along” mantra.  The only real exception to that is when the public, faced with the unpleasant realities of the Village I debacle, over-threw  the developer/real estate bosses who had dominated Modesto’s  political landscape for years.  There was a four or five year window, a kind of renascence if you will, when voters and not political machines were in control.  But then partially thanks to the Bee’s bitter vendetta with Mayor Sabatino, and the dark ages sometimes called Ridenour years,  a developer controlled council re-emerged.

We witnessed a rise in power of the lobbyists at the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance.  They once again, thanks to the Bee’s  influence and MID donations of ratepayer’s money, started their campaign of greed.

For twenty years the Bee has promoted the local real estate and home builders contention that planting driveways remains supreme, and look where it got us.  The housing bubble burst and we have a plethora of empty homes seeking owners.  We’ve been turned into a city of renters by the slavish devotion of the Bee to the Chamber’s and the Building Industry Association’s mantra of homes.  Now the cry ringing in our ears is jobs, jobs, jobs.  Yes we do need jobs but isn’t this deja vu?  We heard this from the Alliance and the Chamber six years ago about Westpark and how it would be our salvation.  Well how’s that working out for you?

Also during this time the Modesto Irrigation District was mismanaged into a near fiscal bankruptcy.  But being a monopoly  it’s much easier to survive.  You just raise the rates on electricity.  The millions and millions of dollars lost on the failed geothermal project, the Mountainhouse debacle, the four cities boondoggle, the TANC project power-line project failure, and the doomed garbage burning/biomass  plant helped to create the high electric rates and lost opportunity at the Lodi generating facility which could be saving us money in much greater quantities every single day.

What did all of these have in common?  They were all supported by the Bee.  Every, single, one.

So when the often quoted (in Bee Op Eds) lobbyist/political consultant Mike Lynch was exposed for having taken $52,500 from MID without ever sending them an invoice, blow back was expected.

When it was exposed that Ms. Sly had been in possession of MID documents for several months detailing the funneling of money from MID through a third party not only to Mike Lynch but Mark Looker, Janice Keating and Carol Whiteside, but maintained her silence, blow back was expected.

When it was exposed that only Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild on the MID Board along with the guidance and support of General Manager Allen Short were aware of Ms. Whiteside receiving payments from Martino Graphics, blow back was expected.

I will continue to offer Ms. Sly-Herrero the opportunity to discuss these issues in a public forum as I have in the past. I wonder if she would prefer live TV or Radio?

Blow back is expected.

Modesto’s Chamber is Trying to Undermine Ag Mitigation

By Emerson Drake

Once in a while I have one of those moments where the curtain lifts and “understanding of the big picture” is achieved.  I

parking lot

parking lot (Photo credit: liikennevalo)

had one of those when I read the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s letter to Stanislaus County’s Local Agency Formation Commission or  (LAFCO ).  The letter complains that not enough of their members were aware of Citizen openings on the Commission and they protested the way LAFCO  interviews and chooses the appointees.    Here is the pdf of the letter:


Now I find it disingenuous when they say “despite some knowledge of this in the business community, we recently received feedback from some of our members who were not aware of the openings.”  Strange since Brad Hawn, who is on the Chamber Board of Directors is one of the finalists.  And with lobbyist Cecil Russell on the payroll shouldn’t the fault have been his?  But it actually gets worse. Of the three signers from the Chamber the first is real estate agent Craig Lewis who, by his statements,  has misled the planning Commission during the last two meetings.  The second ,  Steve Madison,  recently of Stanco fame but was on the Building Industry Association (BIA) Board of Directors when they sued Stanislaus County to remove Ag Mitigation and lost in State Court costing the taxpayers  over $300,000 in legal fees. And of course Chamber lobbyist Cecil Russell is the third signatory.  Their obvious intent is to do away with LAFCO’s Ag Mitigation policy. An aside here, you will notice Modesto’s logo on the bottom of page one of the letter.  While speaking to Councilman Dave Geer at a recent Council strategy session, this logo is copy-written and can only be used by the City of Modesto.  So I called and emailed the City Manager’s office to inquire.  But Gregg Nyhoff was too busy to get back to me. The fact Mr. Nyhoff’s  called an ex-officio on the letter head probably doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Why is this organized attempt to game LAFCO a concern?  Well it follows a Modesto City Council meeting where Councilman Dave Cogdill seconded by Councilwoman Stephanie Burnside, passed a resolution disallowing Modesto the opportunity to have an Ag Mitigation policy of its own.  Mayor Marsh was the only person to vote against the motion. The Councilwoman after the meeting said she wanted to vote for the Mayor’s proposal of 1-1 mitigation only on prime farmland but failed to explain why she didn’t. This was the second of two votes.  The first vote was a special interest give away to Mike Zagaris and the Trombetta family involving Tivoli.  When Tivoli, a housing development, was first discussed, land mitigation was required.  But thanks to Councilman Cogdill’s “deal” all land inside Modesto’s city limits will be given a free pass for Ag Mitigation.

If the Chamber can undermine LAFCO’s determination to mitigate farmland by stacking the deck then we’ll be planting driveways where we now plant crops.  Remember an acre of farmland brings in about $25,000 worth of positive cash flow for the county.  It costs cities after taxes and fees  between $3,000 and $5,000 for each acre of housing every year. And what is Mr’ Madison and Mr’ Lewis’ specialty?  You guessed it HOUSING.

After hearing Brent Sinclair mouthing the exact same words that Mr. Lewis used at the last meeting, it has become apparent the General Plan Amendment meetings are just a dog and pony show.  Otherwise Modesto would have made sure the GPA meeting was advertised as well as the recent City Plaza sticker fest.  We have to hope the council appointees on the Planning Commission will listen to the desires of our citizens.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting citizens should give up. We need to redouble our efforts to retake Modesto from the same developers who brought us the housing debacle in 2008.



Mr. Greg Nyhoff, City Manager                                                                 via mail & fax.
P.O. Box 642                                                                                                209-571-5128

Modesto California

Modesto California (Photo credit: Wha’ppen)

Modesto, CA  95353
Mr. Garrad Marsh                                                                                                via email.
Mayor of Modesto
RE:  “Community Outreach Survey” to be done by Oakland based Lew Edwards Group
Dear Mr. Nyhoff and Mayor Marsh,
            Today, The Modesto Bee featured a front page article about a community outreach survey the City of Modesto plans to conduct in April or May through the above business group.  This survey is supposed to “assess the priorities of the community and its attitudes and awareness of services provided by the city”, give you feedback regarding the public’s feelings about the city’s public safety, roads, and the establishment of commercial flights from Modesto airport to Los Angeles area, how people feel about the city’s customer service, residents’ attitudes towards the city’s revenue options, and capture residents’ quality of life issues.
            To get a proper assessment of the community of the city of Modesto, a “random” telephone survey of only 400 residents (among a population of 203,000 (2010 Census) is only .00019% of the current population!  This is not even 1% representation.  How could this survey even be a realistic one, or true representation of the attitudes or community sentiment of Modesto?  Every resident’s voice should be heard
As far as we know, the outreach area just might be selected to be the poorest area of Modesto –  which would not reflect several middle class or upper scale neighborhoods’ concerns, attitudes, and values. 
            The public has a right to know the questions for the survey
Why don’t you publish another front page article in the Modesto Bee – with the survey questions and an email response address, so that EVERY Modesto resident can send you their comments.  
            Additionally, Modesto has not even sufficiently marketed and informed the public of the April 18, 2013 public outreach opportunity for the “strategic plan update” and what is this all about? Is this going to be done the day before, which will limit attendance too?
D. Minighini
Modesto, Del Rio resident”

Modesto’s Strategic Plan Meeting Thursday 5-7 PM

The meeting is being held at 1010 10th St Plaza.  Free hot dogs, cheeseburgers, potato chips, and ice cream will be provided.  More importantly you have a chance to weigh-in on what directions you would like to see Modesto move in.

Grilled hot dogs

Grilled hot dogs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a wide range of options from a half cent sales tax for police and fire to economic development.  So come on down and let your voice be heard by placing the eight dots you’ll be given on what you consider to be your highest priority items.

And if you feel like mentioning the now more expensive phone poll (from $25,00 to $35,500) that doesn’t allow cell users an opportunity to be selected even better.:)

What’s on America’s Mind Wednesday Night 6:30 PM

Topics include a local straw poll about gun sale  background checks, is Graffiti an art form?,  round II for Modesto’s General


Radio RED 104.9 FM

Radio RED 104.9 FM (Photo credit: Mahdi Ayat.)


Plan Amendment meetings, what it means to Salida and those attempting to mislead the public and the Planning Commission,  Community Forum for residents comments Thursday April 18th 5-7 PM,  how you can create public opinion using ratepayers money, Campaign donation laws, these and more so tune in at 7:00 PM Wednesday and find out the things you really  need to know.


104.9 FM Modesto our Flag Ship station



Our call in number (347)215-9414


Important Meeting Monday 6 PM General Plan Amendment Don’t Miss It

Monday, April 15, 2013  at 6:00 PM a Public Workshop is going to be held at Davis High School’s “Little Theater”


Stopsign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

regarding the General Plan Amendment.  The whole point of the workshop supposedly  is to find out what the COMMUNITY/CITIZENS of Modesto really want to see our city evolve into and where to focus growth.  The Mayor and City Council sat down with staff and the maps show the result of their conversations.  Unfortunately many of these staff members have become representatives of our developer driven council. The last time the General Plan was extensively revised was by a developer driven city council in 1995.  As we have seen in recent council votes, we again have a developer driven and controlled council. I know I used developer driven council three times in the last three sentences,  but those are the facts, it was true than and its true now.  You don’t have to take my word for it check the campaign donation lists  available on the city website(except for those they have removed and you have to make an appointment to see)  and see for yourself who the majority of the $1,000 donations came from.

A sentence straight out of the meeting  flyer explains much if you read between the lines. “Broad public participation will help ensure that the amended plan reflects the community’s preferences and values to the maximum extent possible.”  If it’s really the public’s plan why wouldn’t it reflect the public’s values COMPLETELY?  Could it be because special interests groups come first in Modesto?

When I asked the council at a recent meeting why the workshops are being held on Monday nights if the really want public participation?  And several council members just smiled. Monday night’s are traditionally the hardest time to get people to venture out of their homes.  In addition General Manager Gregg Nyhoff announced he was going to spend $25,000 on a phone survey since only 80 people came out to participate at similar workshops on a different topic.

I have been trying since early Thursday to get details on how the phone numbers for this phone poll will be chosen.  This story was written on Sunday and so far no response.  My question originated after I read an article stating in 2006 only 10% of homes were without land-lines using cells instead. In 2010 that number had increased to 25% and a 2013  survey showed 51.7% of homes don’t use land-lines and rely on cellular phones. So where are those poll phone numbers coming from?

It gets worse when you look at the percentages of young professionals and middle and lower-income people who use ONLY cellular phones.  Now if we were to examine the rates of developers and real estate agents who use land-lines the numbers obviously skew towards 100 percent.  So who will be better represented by the phone poll, taxpaying citizens or developers?

At the first workshop developers, real estate agents, and lobbyists, were out in force and we expect they will, like rats, multiply for the Monday night’s second workshop. This series of meetings will effect you if you live in or around Modesto, yes Salida that includes you too.   So if you want any chance  at all to effect zoning, growth patterns,  guide development to particular areas,  have questions, or just want to have your say, Monday night 4/15/13 at 6:00 PM be at Grace Davis High School’s “Little Theater” next to the tennis courts (East side) 1200 West Rumble Road.

Mark your Calendars and Come on Out to the General Amendment workshop.  I’ll see you there.

JPA Stanislaus Animal Services Agency Meeting

By Emerson Drake

We’ll file this under better late than never. This  should have written this several weeks ago.


Cat (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

The Animal Services Meetings are usually held quarterly and with the exception of the Governing Board members are,  like most government meetings, poorly attended by the public.  But that would be about the only downside to this meeting.  Executive Director Annette Patton  wanted to express the entire staffs heart-felt thanks for their exceptional volunteers for without them the JPA couldn’t begin to accomplish everything they do.  From processing and grooming to staffing the weekend Off Site Adoption  program where many animals are found home, these volunteers are what makes the Animal shelter function smoothly.  They have one volunteer who puts in 40 hours a week regularly.

A note of concern was voiced regarding people from the Alternative Work Program are missing more and more scheduled hours because they are realizing the Sheriff doesn’t have the necessary jail space to pull them back into custody or the people to follow-up.  So if you like animals and have some spare time on your hands they’d be happy to have more volunteers.

The Dog License Amnesty Program was an unqualified success  in January and was extended into February. They processed 7,145 licenses  and plan on repeating this program sometime next year. But don’t wait for amnesty,  keep your pet license up to date.

Adopt a Shelter Cat Month Program and Seniors for Seniors are two new  programs they are rolling out June, 1, through June, 30, 2013.  Kittens and cats can be adopted for just $15 compared to the normal $40 as the cats are neutered prior to adoption and the $40 just covers the cost of the operation.  The Seniors for Seniors is FREE and designed to help find older cats homes. The cats will be over five years of age and are traditionally harder to find homes. Presumably the seniors who adopt these mature cats will be a little older than five. .:)

The proposed County Model Ordinance to prevent cats from being abandoned after being trapped was delayed until the next meeting to work out some suggested language.  Several citizens requested a time limit cats MUST be turned in by in order to provide humane treatment after the cats are trapped. Also there was discussion from Stan Risen from Stanislaus County to keep the penalties at citation/ticket only level. Fortunately Deputy Chief Mike Borges of Ceres suggested a compromise allowing Police Officers the ability to use citations as a first line of control but to also have the ability to write misdemeanors.  I think that’s a good idea besides Stan Risen made a point of mentioning District Attorney Birgit Fladager has higher priority Misdemeanors to prosecute. But having the option should work well.  The vote was put off until the next meeting but things are still looking good for the ordinance.

The Proposed Budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 was accepted.  It’s truly amazing how much they can get done with only 30 paid staff members with some being scheduled 7 days a week.  It explains why staff makes a point of saying how important volunteers are.




MID’s Peyton Place

By Emerson Drake

Lately we’ve been entertained with several stories  regarding MID’s  recent  “sexcapades” without being let in on what has

Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women'...

really transpired behind the scenes by the main stream media.  First we travel back to late last year when the MID Board decided to hire an outside law firm (recommended by  the Human Resources Director) to investigate the General Manager regarding potential misconduct charges.

After talking with a few insiders who have chosen to remain nameless for fear of retribution, the alleged story continues to unfold as follows.  Most of the occurrences related here are/were common knowledge among office  staff members.

Members of the MID Board were informed in closed confidential  session the results of the personnel investigation. Unfortunately word leaked  from a Board member to the subject of the investigation regarding the investigation’s  findings. It’s also supposedly presumed this same Board member gave the Bee a copy of their lawyers confidential report a few months ago.  When challenged during a regularly scheduled MID meeting regarding the leaked report the, Director Van Gronigen remained silent.  Judy Sly, Opinion Page Editor of the Modesto Bee, was at this same meeting and was asked if Director Tom Van Groningen had passed her the law firms privileged memo.  Her response was a curt “NO comment.”   This same Opinion Page Editor had written several articles using details from the report without acknowledging possession of  the surreptitious copy.  While the copy was passed to them illegally, supposedly by a Board Member,  it wasn’t illegal for the Bee to possess.   It wasn’t until Eric Caine obtained a copy and published it on his website http://www.thevalleycitizen.com did all of the details of the memo see the  light of day.

Now the harassment  investigation’s subject decided discretion being the better part of valor, made the decision to “get out while the getting was good.”  He retired without a “golden parachute” or severance pay.  All he received was his vacation pay and his sick pay and of course his retirement pay. So deals were made for the Board and the retiree  to remain silent in public.  Fortunately for us, there are people who work at MID that are  concerned about the story not getting out and being covered up.

Now the story goes the investigative firm spoke out of turn to their friend who had assisted them in receiving the lucrative $60,000 commission.  And this individual chose to retaliate against those who had spoken the truth to the investigators.  Payback for perceived slight (letting the cat out of the bag) if you will.  In the past at MID, speaking the truth to authority was foolhardy and shortened ones career path to advancement (written tongue in cheek).

It should  be pointed out the story does have a good ending.  Two of the recently promoted individuals came down squarely on the individual seeking revenge and stopped their retaliatory actions.  This signals a change for the better in the culture at the MID.  Hopefully they’ll continue to keep an eye on the situation, because I know we will.

Presented to at the Modesto Irrigation District April 9,2013

By Joan Rutschow

The over regulation of farmers by the State Water Resources Control Board will have a devasting effect on farmlands, agriculture income, and jobs.

The recent proposal by the WRCB to release 35% of the unimpaired flow on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne Rivers

The department logo.

The department logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

will have the following estimated and unacceptable outcomes:

1. Fallowing as many as 220,000 acres of farmland.

2. Loss of $187 Million in ag income and using a 7x economic multiplier according to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce equates in their estimate to $1.3 Billion.  But it is MUCH WORSE:  220,000 acres of permanent  crops which is what will have to be abandoned.  An average 5,000 lbs. at $2.50  per lb. equals gross farm-gate value times the economic multiplier of 7x equals $87,000 of economic benefit to those ag communities.  Apply this to 220,000 acres and it is a very big economic hit of $19.2 Billion that we currently HAVE and will LOSE.

3. Unfortunately, the WRCB is willing to sacrifice our agricultural livelihood and destroy our entire community.  All for the purpose of providing striped bass with exorbitantly priced salmon for every meal.

I personally attended the Don Pedro re-licensing meeting at Modesto Irrigation Headquarters on January 30 and 31st, 2013.  We were told by the meeting attendees that 93% of the young salmon in the rivers were killed by PREDATORS – mainly large mouth bass!  HUMAN NEEDS MUST COME FIRST!  Farmers MUST be allowed adequate water to provide food and fiber as needed by our growing population.  With our present drier water pattern, water is more important than ever!  There is NO GUARANTEE that the proposed release of 35% of the unimpaired flow of the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers would significantly save the salmon population, but would definitely GREATLY HARM FARMLANDS (FOOD PRODUCTION!), agriculture income and jobs!


Joan Rutschow

Modesto Ca.



What Came Out of the Workshop

By Emerson Drake

It was the meeting the public forgot. Well not everyone forgot, after all, there were five from the  public. Three were

English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was ta...

English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was taken by me on January 14, 2010 in Modesto, California I hereby relinquish all rights to this photo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

candidates or probable candidates for council seats and of the remaining two,  one was from Salida.  Of the council most were there with the exception of Councilman Lopez who was a no-show  and Councilwoman Burnside who came a half an hour into the conversation.

At the very beginning the sparse attendance was noted and immediately Councilman Cogdill said it wasn’t the council’s fault.  But maybe the choice of day and time Wednesday at 3:00 PM could have had something to do with it.  Or maybe not.

After a comparison of the city’s official Vision vs Mission statements the meeting shot past a review of the priorities established in the first Goal Setting Workshop.  For those paying attention to such things, the Annexation of Salida was the very first item under PRIORITY A. 

This time around a plan “B” had been established.  Councilman Cogdill was pushing to “grow” Mary Grogan Park by establishing more ball fields of an unnamed type to join the 10 soccer fields (three artificial turf and seven grass) presently being planned by entering into a public/private partnership to develop and fund the project.  But make no mistake, Mayor Marsh hasn’t taken his eyes off of the prize called Salida and neither have the developers as no plan “B” was mentioned regarding business parks.

It was generally agreed upon the areas we can focus on to achieve easy gains in internal efficiency are outlined in the Moss Adams report.   A copy can be found by clicking on the following pdf link.


We’ve brought this to your attention in the past but if you haven’t already now would be a good time to peruse this document. It was suggested this study contains up to 30 good ideas for improvement.

We were  disappointed in one particular portion regarding Priority Champions.

The City Staff were seeking members of the council to help be responsible for the priorities being established by these workshops. But it appears in true political fashion, some  Council members lead by Councilwoman Burnside wanted no part of being a “Champion” suggesting it was the staff responsibility to push these priorities forward. Councilwoman Burnside stated she wanted to see more reports from the other committees.  I guess the reports/meeting minutes  available on the city website aren’t sufficient.  If “special reports” are generated for her then they should be placed on the city website for all to read.  Please don’t require a Public Records Request for this information.  The City Clerks office is understaffed as it is and are doing an incredible job of keeping up so lets not add to their workload.

One thing experience has shown is if one or more council members don’t show or take a particular interest that no matter the topic, it won’t get done.  It languishes on the vine, dries up and is lost to the scrap heap of disinterest.  When running for office council members like to take credit for actions of past councils (like Modesto’s density) which worked out but are hesitant to take responsibility for major projects where they will be in the forefront.

The next meeting is a community forum scheduled for Thursday, April 18, 2013 from 5-7 PM  at the Downtown Plaza.

As always if you want to hear more on this subject check out yesterday’s radio broadcast on blogtalk.  The link is available on this site.  As soon as the pdf of the hand outs from yesterday’s meeting are made available I’ll be providing them.

 So, as usual, in Modesto, apathy reigns supreme.  You can almost say it’s counted on.

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