Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

Are You Fed Up and Ready to Take Action?

EOM Contributor, boycott

I attended the January meetings and know that dozens of people spoke to you about Salida and Wood Colony. Many of these people are Modesto residents, who elected you and it is your job to listen o them and to represent them fairly. It’s obvious to all of us who you actually represent…yourselves and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, which seems to have a great deal of influence over you. The fact that two of you voted against the land grab proposal just makes me feel that between all of you, you decided who could save face, and yet your proposal would still go forward.

 

Since you are the ones in a position of power in this situation, I would like to turn the tables and put the power back in the hands of the people. You seem to be controlled by financial interests, so lets talk about money. My suggestion to the audience is that we all boycott the businesses owned and/or operated by the members of the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce. Here are some of those businesses:

 

Gianella & Associates

F & M Banks

Curtis Legal Group

Patricia Gillum, CPA

Fire 2 Wire

Ware Promotional Marketing Solutions

Franklin & Downs Funeral Home

Wells Fargo Mid-Valley Commercial banking

Tri-Counties Bank

TD Gingerich Insurance Solutions

American Chevrolet

CHG Structural

Real Juice Plus

Rank Investigations & Protection

Double Tree Hotel

The Villalobos Legal Group

Oak Crafts by Jeremiah Williams

Never Boring Associates

Prudential California Realty in Modesto (I will comment on this one in a moment).

 

Now I’d like to mention businesses owned and/or operated by City Council members and suggest that we boycott them:

 

McHenry Bowl, owned by Mayor Marsh (go to Yosemite Lanes)

Rico-Lopez Foods – Councilman Dave Lopez

Cogdill & Giomi Real Estate – Councilman Dave Cogdill

 

Now back to Prudential California Realty in Modesto. This is owned by Craig Lewis, of the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce. Councilman Bill Zolocki is Mr. Lewis’ employee, so it seems that he will vote however Mr. Lewis wants him to, and that will be any way that could potentially provide financial benefits to Prudential California Realty.

 

Cogdill & Giomi Real Estate does property appraisals, so they stand to make a profit when and if property in Wood Colony starts being sold, just like Prudential Realty.

 

It’s my personal belief that Councilmen Zolocki and Cogdill should recuse themselves from voting on any issues that concern real estate, including the annexation of Salida and Wood Colony.

 

For the audience members, if you are interested, you can find this list of businesses on Eye on modesto.com. Please share this information with your friends, family and neighbors.

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Shh That Sound You Heard was Strings Being Pulled at the MID

By Emerson DrakeMIDpic

For the second meeting in a row the Modesto Irrigation District Board had a spirited debate, completely without rancor, which included several diverse positions.   After the Boards of Tom VanGroningen and Allen Short it truly is like a breath of fresh air.  Now if only the actions and decisions were different.

Jumping right into it:  The conversation started regarding the DRAFT  Drought Operation Rules proposed by staff.The proposed Transfer Policy was a complete reversal of what was decided at the last meeting which took place on Feb. 11, 2014.  You can watch it here starting at 59 minutes,  in the agenda it’s the ‘Drought workshop. You can forward to 1:18 to listen to the public debate. At 1:36 you can hear the unusual banding together of Mensinger and myself.  At 2:11 you can listen to Nick Blom argue the exact opposite position he voted for at today’s meeting.  http://mid.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=1&clip_id=24&meta_id=1689 you can advance through the short sound issues without missing anything.

The topic centered on deciding on how water transfers would be handled, and who would be allowed to transfer their water.  At the time I supported the idea of farmers being allowed to sell their water to anyone.  I was behind Director Mensinger in his opinion.  But we lost the argument convincingly. Yet today the DRAFT proposal supported this same position.  So why did staff bring a proposal that lost, forward as potential policy?  A look around the room and then listening to public comment gave us some clues.  The Chamber trotted out Chamber Board of Directors member Ruben Villalobos in support of the grower to grower transfers. What does Ruben know about water transfers?  Absolutely nothing.  But when Chamber of Commerce  lobbyist Cecil Russell calls Ruben,  Ruben  says yes Cecil, and trots on over. Bill Lyons Jr. was sitting in the audience making sure the actors in our little play performed as they were instructed otherwise he would tell daddy on them.  To cut to the chase they wanted to allow farmers to sell their MID allocated  water of 18″ inches per acre.

Larry Byrd and Jake Wenger wanted to limit the transfers to family and were encouraging an incentive to farmers to decide to return the allocated water to MID.  Jake wanted $400 per acre and Larry $100 per acre as an incentive, to be distributed to other interested farmers and encourage the sharing of water if a farmer had other supplies (pumping).  Unfortunately the establishment of the incentive plan came after the ‘Transfer’ issue was resolved and may have been a mute point.

Much to the dismay of many in the room, Nick Blom decided to go with the self- described ‘city boys’ and voted for growers to be able to sell to anyone. It’s a extremely intricate issue and not one lending itself to simple explanations.   It’s understandable for farmers to want to help each other and no one is really against that.  The overreaching concern is a few of the wealthier farmers will be able to out bid smaller farmers and the smaller farmers might go under, not that the Chamber of Commerce would mind.

An attorney from Ripon (Stacey Henderson) claimed to be representing several small farmers decided to insert the term lottery into the mix.  It seemed like she took the opportunity to unduly influence the issue since this word was no where to be seen in the staff’s proposal.  Later during a break and in private  conversation she upbraided me for characterizing her comments as spin. She said if I had any question I should ask her first.  So I did and she walked away without saying a word.  Someone from Ripon is getting paid to influence our decisions.  Just like a lawyer/lobbyist making suggestions they had no intention on following through on.  Just more paid for testimony from my point of view.  We see lots of that at the MID.

Were strings being pulled and Directors were dancing to the Chamber’s and Bill Lyons tune?  This time it’s the farmers not the ratepayers who will pay.

On another note, Modesto City Councilmen Bill Zoslocki and Dave Cogdill just authorized MID to spend up to $504,000 on a study of the rim fire area.  Consequently,  our rates will be going up at a time when the Council wants to forgive Seneca Foods an $8 Million fine they incurred by generating excessive waste water, causing Modesto to settle a lawsuit costing up to $1 Million.

I wonder when the City Council will get around to telling us?

 

The Chambers Greedy Fingers are Everywhere, Watch MID Give them $2,730.00

By Emerson Drakechamberlogo

The Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s insidious influence is permeating Modesto like the bad smell of decay.  It’s everywhere you go and is contaminating good people and groups.  From the Latino Community Roundtable (LCR) to the Modesto Planning Commission to the Stanislaus Land Formation Commission (LAFCO) itself,  the Chamber’s  cold fingers of control  continue to insert themselves in every layer of our society, and their companion body the Alliance is right beside them every step of the way.

And unfortunately the good citizens of Stanislaus County are paying for it through their taxes and their utility fees.  As an example just Tuesday the MID decided to give the Chamber $2,730 in membership fees. Here is an impassioned plea to stop this insanity. Fast forward to 6:30 to see and listen to them give YOUR money to the Chamber. http://mid.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=1&clip_id=24   This was the first time an MID meeting has been recorded and streamed live for public consumption. Noted in the conversation is the MID’s $10,000 donation to the Alliance.  And thanks to Larry Byrd it was reduced last year from $20,000 to $10,000 thousand dollars and for that we thank him.

But compare the Chamber to the Alliance and you get another look at how these private  lobbying groups manage to get public funds to spend anyway the see fit.  MID gave the Alliance $10,000 each of the last two years and $20,000 per year for four years before that, thanks to having Tom VanGroningen on its Board.  The City of Modesto gives the Alliance $63,000 every year and the County of Stanislaus gives the Alliance $93,000 every year.  Please don’t confuse the Work Force Alliance which substitutes as our unemployment office with the Alliance.  The Work Force Alliance is closely governed by state law and the County does a great job at monitoring the way our tax money is spent (the state gives the money to the County and the County gives it to the Work Force Alliance.)  The County was kind enough to provide me with a detailed tour of the books thanks to Kieth Boggs.  But the Alliance doesn’t share where they spend the money ($166,000) that I just pointed out.

So if you get your electricity from MID you pay a portion of your already high rates to the Alliance, along with your taxes that the city gets and then there’s the County tax contribution.  All because of the ‘Good Old Boys‘ playing  pass the tax money around.  And nobody has to tell you how they spent the money and I’ll take this opportunity to tell you they won’t.

Lets talk about the Chamber of Commerce for a minute.  Ever wonder how wide spread their influence is?  Lets name just a few starting with Brad Hawn on LAFCO, Patricia Gillium Chair of Modesto’s Planning Commission,  Bill Zoslocki and David Cogdill  on the Modesto City Council, John Mensinger on the MID Board, and a variety of members on Modesto’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the Homeless, along with other Committees.  Brad Hawn’s nomination to  LAFCO  was especially interesting.  Ron Fretas had been had been the alternate public member for four years and doing a find job by all standards and usually the alternate is seated as the public member.  But when it came time to name the new public member Mr. Fretas was cast aside and Brad Hawn,  who hadn’t been to a LAFCO meeting in years let alone know about how LAFCO works, came in out of the blue.

When the Chamber was $20,000 short on refurbishing the Modesto Arch they asked the Council for a ‘Gift’ of $20,000 to complete the payments but fortunately the Council said no after we exposed the ‘gift’ part.  It was written up in the Modesto Bee as a loan.  I don’t know about you but its been my experience there is a lot of difference between a gift and a loan when it comes to money.

Mayor Ridenour’s administration, with some help from the Chamber gave the Double Tree Hotel a sweetheart, long term deal for catering at the Modesto Civic Plaza.  As a result it isn’t feasible for someone else to come in and run it for Modesto and the Double Tree wants too much from Modesto to run it themselves.  When it appeared the Double Tree was going to get the contract, the Chamber gushed over the idea and promised to help with promotions and bringing in companies to rent the Plaza.  When the City was required to take over instead, the much promised help vanished in the wind like most of the Chamber’s promises do if one of its member isn’t making money and only the city is involved.

And needless to say the Chamber took the lead to provide land for their real estate members to sell known as the Pathway to SPRAWL.

The one place you can be sure to find the chamber being active, is in making your wallet a little lighter.

What Is It They Fear?

By Emerson Drakemodestoarch (1)

It’s old school and it’s history but some of the same players were involved back then.  

Back in the late 1990’s the Village I debacle had not only come to a head but the public finally understood the financial windfall the developers received by talking the council into lowering building fees.  Zagaris was a major developer along with his political sidekick George Petrulakis.  Their partners in the scheme to bend the City Council to their way was the Building Industry Association (BIA) with Bill Zoslock, along with a helping hand from the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.  Zoslocki, looking to double down and not just receive thanks for his help with the BIA’s  arm twisting of the Council, became, at the time, a self-described developer and joined in reaping the lucrative rewards.

Helping with lowering the builders fees  on the Council was Dave Cogdill Sr.   Why is all of this important you ask?  It was when the citizens found out all of the promises made to them were lies and there was no money for parks, street lights and sidewalks that they revolted and basically elected an entirely new city council along with a new mayor.   Enter in Modesto Mello-roos.  Now people who had just purchased a home discovered they had a second mortgage to pay, some upwards of $400 dollars a month. called “Mello-Roos” fees.

And the Backlash began: The politicos at the time thought it would be business as normal.  Zagaris had been running multiple candidates to the city council for years using George Petrulakis to vet candidates and help them with their campaign financing (George likes this phrase better than political bag-man).  Then they were in the middle of another campaign and Zagaris’ candidates were having a rough time.  Outsiders, people outside the Zagaris camp, were running well in the polls and when the dust settled there was a new, unexpected Mayor in town.

Petrulakis and the Chamber remember history:  Marsh defeated Hawn fairly easily for Mayor the last time out and until Marsh stepped in it knee deep (Salida’s potential annexation and subsequently Wood Colony’s)  he appeared to be on cruise control as a two-termer.  During Marsh’s inaugural address he spoke in favor of annexing Salida and set off a fire storm of protest.   We have both Bill Zoslocki and Stephanie Burnside waiting in the wings to run against Marsh hoping to stretch this debacle out closer to the election in two years.

Thanks to Marsh’s political blundering the face most people see, including at least one editor, is Marsh is trying to scoop up Wood Colony, while Zoslocki,  Cogdill, Lopez, and Madrigal  are sneaking up on Salida.  And the switch-a-roo came immediately after the council took a break just before the last vote.  Now I’m not suggesting a conspiracy, but you have to wonder what made all of them switch sides.

What do they have planned for Salida? While everything is in flux most are guessing Marsh and his bunch are going for annexation of all of the prime farmland South of Kiernan and the proposed zoned business park in the Salida Now plan.  If Marsh is successful in stealing the land designated for Salida, it would make Salida’s incorporation much more difficult.  And if all he is really after is jobs, then let Salida create them and allow Modesto to supply the water and sewer.   Ah, but that’s the rub.  Marsh has already said he would refuse Salida the utility service.  But didn’t he just petition LAFCO to allow Beard Industrial access to these same services without risking annexation?  Special favors for special people.

So what’s the fear and what’s the real Question:  The fear for the Chamber is the people of Modesto will wake up and remember how the Council has been ignoring them while bending over backwards to accommodate the Chamber’s development interests.  If that were to happen maybe a unexpected wildcard candidate could emerge for Mayor.  Heck, a whole slate of candidates could emerge which is exactly what happened back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

It takes a lot to awaken Modesto voters.  Their memories are short but a recall could not only embolden them but remind them of the power of the ballot box.

So the answer to what is the  question,  will the sleepers awaken?

We can only hope.

Mayor Marsh’s O.K.Corral at Hart Ransom in Wood Colony

By Emerson Drakeokcorral

It was just after high noon when Mayor Marsh tried to face down the crowd at Hart Ransom Elementary School in Wood Colony.  The Mayor started out on the wrong foot when he reminded the audience he once had a teaching credential and he was here to educate them in Modesto politics and how to count to four.   Unfortunately for Marsh he’s allowed his educational skills and debating skills to get rusty.  The Mayor has gotten used to a semi-controlled environment of the council chambers where he can threaten dissenters with expulsion if they disagree or interrupt him with the truth.  He has also forgotten that truth is his best weapon because he left it at home on Saturday.  And to top it all off, many of the audience members are much better informed than he and most are more knowledgeable than Council members John Gunderson and Jenny Kenoyer, who were also present but silent.  The two council members riding shotgun that day must have decided to keep silent and let people wonder instead of talking and removing all doubt as to their lack of understanding the basics of the issues.

Early on he was forced to say “I’ll take that back” three times in ninety seconds as a member of the audience (they all appeared to be residents of Wood Colony) would correct statements he made and these were just a few of many mis-statements he made and was corrected on. The ever polite and politically neutral  Marjorie Blom,  LAFCO’s (Local Agency Formation Commission) Executive Officer,  would speak later displaying her knowledge and understanding by explaining the process correctly  without pointing out the mistakes Marsh made.

And yes Mayor Marsh did blame Wood Colony residents for not coming out to Modesto’s meetings starting a year and a half ago.  Their absence wasn’t  surprising since Marsh had mentioned annexing  Salida in his Inaugural/State of the City Address but had failed to mention Wood Colony.  But politicians like to play the blame game and yes he had to take that back too.  The Mayor brought former councilman Denny Jackman into the conversation several times for support, especially for RUL (Residential Urban Limits).  For those followers of politics, the Mayor was careful when he chose to get Denny’s endorsements and Denny was just as careful as to what he agreed with.  But to the uninitiated it appeared to come off smoothly.

We’ve come to believe the compromise Denny struck trying to get a version the Council and Chamber could support, is too watered down to be effective.  To enlist the Chamber’s support they had to offer up the public’s last vestiges of control and that is Measure’s A and M, and allow them to be put on the ballot for repeal.  When that was discussed you could actually see Cogdill and Zoslocki become excited.

The Mayor wasn’t completely disingenuous, he stated although he is a farmland preservationist he isn’t one 100 percent of the time, not even ninety percent according to his own words.

The Mayor had kind words for Councilman Zoslocki calling him a likable and deeply religious man like himself.  Just that they disagreed on farmland preservation.  I admit at this point I did start laughing out loud for a moment.  Here’s the thing, most everyone agrees Marsh is an intelligent man, he just isn’t always politically savvy.   By the way, Mayor Marsh put the voting suggestions forward and by his unwillingness to lose a vote to keep Wood Colony out of Modesto’s General Plan, he allowed Zoslocki, Cogdill and Lopez to vote to keep it out while his block voted to keep Wood Colony in.  It is an upside down world when this happens, since Zoslocki had been traveling from one Planning Commission Workshop to another with the Chamber of Commerce all last year in an attempt to take Modesto’s General Plan all the way to the river for the western boundary.  Zoslocki, Cogdill and Lopez are the most Chamber/builder friendly people on the council with Madrigal coming right after them.

The Mayor addressed the recall talk towards Gunderson and Kenoyer by saying if they were recalled, Modesto/Wood Colony/Salida would only get someone worse.  In all fairness we’re not sure that’s possible considering the way they voted on Jan.28th.  The recall discussion regarding Jenny has been loud but the conversation regarding Gunderson had only begun to be strident when he started cutting himself off from his constituents who disagreed with his voting positions.  It was a childish move and left many shaking their heads in disillusioned astonishment, which is an action many of his council mates have done since he was elected.

It truly seems to me the problem originated with the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and I discussed this and pointed it out during the public comment period with the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors several times at January meetings.  The Chamber was allowed to frame the argument as jobs vs prime farmland but that just isn’t the case.  When I had my conversation with Jenny Kenoyer on Jan. 7th about saving Wood Colony, she responded by saying “give me an alternative.” So I immediately pointed out the North County Corridor and the County’s prediction that it would be completed many years before 132 goes all the way to Interstate 5 in an expanded form and that the soils east of Modesto were far poorer, unofficially referred to as  PPP (piss poor pasture) by farmers and that was where we should be building business parks and homes.  But Jenny had, to use the vernacular, drank the Chambers get rich quick kool-aid and ignored the suggestion and only wanted to consider Wood Colony.  And yes that was when she uttered the now famous words, “I have to worry about the 200,000 people living in Modesto and besides those people in Wood Colony can’t vote for me.”  She repeated those words three different times so I’m sure I wasn’t the first or the last person she had said them to.

It was great to see that the citizens of Wood Colony had thoroughly educated themselves about the issue and were defending themselves quite adequately.  They weren’t buying the half truths Marsh was selling and told him point blank he needed to bring the issue back to the council and take Wood Colony completely OUT of Modesto’s General Plan.

I fully admit I voted for Marsh and Gunderson believing then and now they were the lesser of two evils.  I guess it goes to show we need a better class of politicians in Modesto.

We hope to have the audio from the meeting up soon.

Here is a Counter to Marsh’s Letter: Don’t believe Marsh’s Ag-friendly ‘Smokescreen’

By Katherine Borges and Valerie Goldstein keepwoodcolonygreen

Reality is the state of things as they actually exist and not as they may appear or are imagined.

Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh’s Op-Ed in last Sunday’s Bee (“Mayor: Council acted to protect farmland,” Feb. 9, Page D1), attempts to justify the City Council’s “unprecedented” votes on the general plan update. The reality of the plan means annexation and development for Wood Colony and Salida behind Marsh’s “ag-friendly” smokescreen.

The first item addressed by Marsh is the “return” of the Beckwith Triangle from the general plan. The area was slated to become a ballpark along with commercial and industrial development, which Marsh now describes as an “unsound plan.” The Beckwith Triangle is still a part of Modesto’s new plan update, just with a different zoning mix. But more importantly, how can something be “returned” when it was never yours to begin with?

His next paragraph is an acknowledgment of just how much the Modesto Chamber of Commerce controls the council. Despite the massive and well documented public outcry against including Wood Colony in the general plan, the council conceded to a compromise with the chamber of “around 1,000 acres.” Marsh even refers to it as a “pristine agricultural treasure,” but zones it for both commercial and business park with a gerrymandered notch on Beckwith to try to prevent residents from voting down the annexation.

Marsh’s third point of ag mitigation is nothing more than a damage-control diversion for Jenny Kenoyer’s political gaffes. Stanislaus County already has an ag mitigation policy in place, yet Modesto’s has not yet been approved; which Marsh alludes to with, “If completed … ”

In his fourth attempted rationalization, Marsh cites “1,500 acres of land that was targeted for housing back to ag and out of the General Plan.” To remove LAFCO-approved land in exchange for land that LAFCO previously voted against being urbanized is not commendable but is, in reality, irresponsible planning. (LAFCO is the county commission which approves/denies land annexations.)

Most wouldn’t even know that Salida was included based on Marsh’s skillfully crafted wordsmithing. The land around Gregori High is part of the Salida Community Plan, an initiative passed by the Board of Supervisors for Salida in 2007. To put it another way, Marsh is saying, “ … the best and quickest way for Modesto to attract more jobs without taking any land that retained its agricultural zoning” is to steal it from Salida. The land currently around Gregori is zoned ag and the council has repeatedly admitted the jobs produced are 25-40 years out.

The last Trojan Horse that Marsh trots out is the Residential Urban Limits (RUL), which if approved by voters, would send to ballot any time a residential developer wants to build on farmland. As if the people of Wood Colony are going to respond, “It’s OK for you to bulldoze my house as long as you don’t build another house in its place.”

Like the aforementioned ag mitigation, Stanislaus County already has a rural urban limit in place, Measure E (co-authored by Denny Jackman and … wait for it … Garrad Marsh) passed by voters in 2007. Yet for Wood Colony and Salida, RULs will not apply since neither land-jacking by Modesto involves residential development plans.

Modesto neighbors, please help us! With Salida and Wood Colony united to protect our homes, our farms and our communities, every member of your City Council cast a vote against us. They aren’t listening to us and they aren’t listening to you. We cannot recall them, but you can. Join your district’s recall effort and help take your city back from the money interests. We just want to live our lives in peace without the threat of losing our homes and communities.

By Katherine Borges and Valerie Goldstein

 

Mayor’s Letter to the Modesto Bee and the Citizens of Modesto

Mayor Marsh’s Letter to the Modesto Bee

February 6, 2014 at 8:05pm gmarsh

Often there is perception and then there is reality. The City Council actions on the General Plan Update have, for most, been perceived differently from what is real.

The most far reaching recommendations to protect our agricultural economy ever in Modesto’s history were proposed by the Modesto City Council. At the January 28th Council meeting, the General Plan (of our land use) was recommended to be amended.  Unlike reports and some general concepts of the votes taken, these votes were unprecedented in the history of Modesto.

There were four votes to preserve ag that evening that were unlike any former votes ever made by a Modesto City Council.  This seemed to be missed in the reporting and in the general public’s understanding of the events of that long evening.

First, Modesto REVERSED an almost 20-year general plan policy by RETURNING over 800 acres of Wood Colony to agricultural zoning. In 1995 Modesto designated the “Beckwith Triangle” to become business, industrial, and commercial uses.  This council is abandoning the scope of that former unsound plan.

Second, your City Council rejected the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s plan to convert almost another 1,000 acres of Wood Colony into industrial and business park uses.  The Chamber had actively lobbied your Council to target this pristine agricultural treasure for development. Modesto Chamber’s early plan was to take over 4,000 acres of Wood Colony, but Modesto staff lowered that to about a thousand.  I believe Modesto’s Council has never before been so agricultural friendly as to rebuff the developer packed Chamber’s proposal.

Third, based upon feisty Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer’s motion, Modesto moved forward the idea of farmland mitigation. Never in Modesto’s history has it taken steps to enact a policy to save farmland. On a narrow 4-3 vote this policy change moved forward. If completed it would require permanent protection of agricultural land equal to any land the City takes into its city limits.

And fourth, Modesto is returning 1,500 acres of land that was targeted for housing back to ag and out of the General Plan. It also is returning 320 acres of business-designated land to agricultural uses.  What especially makes these plans unparalleled is this land was already blessed by LAFCO (the countywide land authority on urbanization) to let Modesto develop. Think of that. Modesto is taking prime farmland that has for decades been planned to be paved over for housing and returning it to agricultural uses.

I am of the opinion that those who have had undue influence over the city’s council for far too long, were shocked by the results of Jan. 28th’s actions. There have even been whispers of recall.  Really?  A recall because the importance of ag was finally recognized by action.  This Council finally put our agricultural heritage ahead of money.

Besides those extraordinary votes, the Council took action to secure well-located business property for the future. I support the idea of moving forward on the business designated land around Gregori High.  The County Board of Supervisors had already given a 25 year right for developers to build on this land.  This is the best and quickest way for Modesto to attract more jobs without taking any land that retained its agricultural zoning.

One other vote from the week previous to the General Plan agenda also got no coverage. The City Council moved a residential urban limits (RUL) question to the next City ballot. If approved by the voters, this would build a wall between Modesto and prime farmland for building of homes.  Again, an historic move by this Council.

If anyone would like more information on these historic steps toward Modesto’s recognition of agriculture’s importance to our economy or the votes taken by your council, I would be pleased to meet with you. Email gmarsh@modestogov.com.

I will be presenting the State of the City address on Wednesday, February 26th at 5:30 p.m.  The address will be given in the City Council chambers, lower floor of the City-County building, 1010 10th street.  Questions will be taken at the end of the address.

Garrad Marsh, MayorCity of Modesto

3700 McHenry Ave.Modesto, CA 95356209-417-7991

mchbowl@aol.com

We’ve added Marsh’s letter to the Eye to future reference it.  It has been spread on facebook days before being printed in the Bee.  We will respond to its contents at a future date.

State of the County, 2014 – Challenges and Opportunities

By Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Jim DeMartiniJimDeMartini

Good morning my fellow members of the Board of Supervisors, CEO Risen, County Counsel Doering, those who are in the chambers today and those who might be watching on television or over the internet.  It is a privilege to present the state of the county address for 2014.

Stanislaus County is a big place, over 1500 square miles.  More than 520,000 of us live in our nine cities and unincorporated communities.  Two of California’s three major north/south transportation corridors, Highway 99 and Interstate 5, come through us.  Three rivers, the San Joaquin, the Toulumne and the Stanislaus, give us drinking water, allow our crops to grow and contribute to our recreation and relaxation.  We have a California State University, a community college and several private educational outlets.  And of course, we are close neighbors with UC Merced.

Stanislaus County’s government itself is big.  We have 3900 employees, 26 different departments and an annual budget of more than 1 billion dollars.  Because of the recession, we do the same amount of work, if not more, than in 2008, but with 750 fewer employees.  And those who work for the county have seen their wages reduced as we have tried to meet the new fiscal realities.  We owe them a debt of thanks for their dedication and commitment in trying times.

The employees of Stanislaus County continue to be our greatest asset.  Over the last few years County employees have been asked to do more with less and have responded.  Everyday our employees are out on our roads, in our neighborhoods and working in our departments providing services to the members of our community.  On June 30, 2014, labor contracts for all represented County employees will expire.  Over the next six months, the County will be working to complete negotiations with all twelve County labor groups.  Our goal will be to recognize the value of our employees while ensuring the County remains fiscally viable in light of the uncertainty surrounding the long term economic recovery.

We have big, and at times, daunting challenges.  Our unemployment rate is too high.  We have a water crisis.  We need to improve public safety for our residents.  Most importantly, we need to restore hope.  Too many of our neighbors believe that the avenue of opportunity is closed to them.  It isn’t, but they remain to be convinced.

The foundation of Stanislaus county’s economy is agriculture.  I want to speak a bit about this not just because it is my profession, but because it is so important to all of us, and because it represents the foundation upon which hope and opportunity can be built.

We sometimes take agriculture for granted.  We shouldn’t.  In Stanislaus County, it is a multi-billion dollar business.  The value of agriculture commodities produced in Stanislaus County is over 3 billion dollars.  With the multiplier effect the impact in Stanislaus County is 11 billion dollars a year.  Ag related business such as E & J Gallo Winery, Del Monte, Foster Farms, Seneca, Stanislaus Food and ConAgra are some of the county’s largest employers.

My family emigrated from Switzerland and has farmed in Stanislaus County for more than 100 years.  I am my family’s third generation and I’ve been a farmer for over 40 years.  The San Joaquin Valley and Stanislaus County in particular, is the most productive and bountiful farm ground in the world.  The Mediterranean climate that we enjoy is extremely rare in the world.  Couple that with our productive soils and an extensive irrigation system fed by the Stanislaus, Toulumne and San Joaquin Rivers, and we have the ability to grow more than 200 different crops.  This is unique n the world.  Today this valley leads the nation and the world in production of almonds, walnuts, peaches, apricots and milk.  It is the envy of other agricultural parts of our own country.  In the national and worldwide agricultural community, California is known more for its agricultural products than for Hollywood, our beautiful coastline or the Silicon Valley.

Through the years we hear of Stanislaus County becoming an economic engine for industries other than agriculture, but much of that is unrealistic.  We will never be a tourist mecca like the coast.  Nor are we going to attract the California film industry here or become another Silicon Valley.  I am not suggesting we shouldn’t diversify and look for other opportunities, but we need to lead with our strength.  Our strength is agriculture.

Unemployment is chronic in our county.  According to a report from California State University Stanislaus, employment in the valley lags behind the state in employment growth.  In order for there to be growth in employment, we need diversity in our economy that will provide jobs that complement our economic base.  The medical industry is one example of this, and it employes over 10,000 people here.  Warehousing and Distributing have added many good paying jobs with the Patterson area gaining the most.  We can add jobs in Riverbank at the ammunition plant.  Turlock has developed its job center area with the Blue Diamond plant as its foundation.  Hilmar cheese plans an expansion there also.

We need to take advantage of our fine educational institutions and partner with UC Merced, CSU Stanislaus and MJC.  The new leadership at these educational institutions is poised to work with business leaders and others to assist in not only sustainable job growth but economic growth.  We need to be more aggressive in attracting more companies that will bring “core jobs” to our county.  We need our cities and the county to work more closely together to better coordinate these efforts.

Many years ago, when I was a student in a high school ag class, our teacher asked us what we wanted to do when we grew up.  Since all of us were from farm families, each of us replied that we wanted to be farmers.  Our teacher then explained that our agricultural economy is like an hour glass.  The top part of the hour glass represents all of the inputs to agriculture, the things needed to make farming work:  the tractor and irrigation companies, the people who provide the fertilizer, fuel, trucking and nursery stock, the bankers, accountants and repair shops needed by farmers.  All of these occupations fill the top of the hour glass.

The farmer and the farm worker is the narrow part of the hour glass, where the fewest amount of people are employed.  This was where all of us in that class wanted to be.  The bottom part of the hour glass represents the people and suppliers involved in the processing, distribution, sale and transportation of the farm products:  the canneries, wineries, truckers, packaging companies and grocery stores.

The point my teacher was making was that you don’t have to be on a farm to be employed by agriculture.  It is something I never forgot.  Agricultural inputs, production and processing account for 38% of Stanislaus county’s employment.   That doesn’t include the teachers, doctors, accountants, plumbers, auto mechanics and others who serve and work with those who are directly engaged.  Agriculture truly is the “big tent” that shelters all of us.

We have the most productive and abundant agricultural industry the world has ever seen.  In the United States in 1900, the average family spent 43% of their income on food.  In 1950 that percentage went down to 30%.  Today only 9% of the average family’s income is spent on food.  When the United States Department of Agriculture expanded its activities in the Great Depression, our leaders said the purpose of our agricultural policy was to provide Americans with a health, inexpensive, abundant and varied food supply.  It is fair to say that California, and our valley, have been instrumental in achieving that purpose.  We ought not, and we will not, risk this resource.

Agricultural land should not just be considered the inventory for the next housing tract or warehouse.  Ag land is an important and irreplaceable natural resource that is responsible for employing more people than any other industry in this county.  It is time we recognize this reality.  We will not improve ourselves by paving over our most productive agricultural land or by simply becoming a bedroom community for the Bay Area.  It is important that we recognize the uniqueness of what Stanislaus County has and build on that strength.

No one understands agricultural policy and its importance like people from Stanislaus County.  That is why our county has produced two United States Secretaries of Agriculture: Ed Lyng and Ann Venemen, and four California Directors of Agriculture: Henry Voss, Clare Berryhill, Anne Venemen and Bill Lyons.  Much of the national and state agricultural policy has been driven by Stanislaus county citizens.  Agriculture is in our blood.

The Stanislaus County Supervisors have addressed some of the challenges facing agriculture.

*  We adopted the Right to Farm Ordinance, which recognizes the right to farm in a manner consistent with accepted customs and standards.  This has protected our farmers from frivolous law suits and unrealistic demands.

*  We extended the Williamson Act to protect agricultural land and open spaces.

*  We passed the Ag Element which recognized the importance of our agricultural sector and set goals and objectives that include enhancing the marketing and promotion of agriculture, protecting food safety, soil erosion prevention and water conservation.

*  We passed the first agricultural preservation requirements in the San Joaquin Valley, stipulating one acre of land be set aside in perpetuity for every acre of land taking out of production for construction of residential housing.  Although Stanislaus County was sued by the Building Industry Association, we prevailed.

*  Citizens adopted a measure requiring countywide voter approval of any new residential developments in the unincorporated areas.

*  The Stanislaus Local Agency Formation commission (LAFCO) now requires cities without our county to adopt a Plan for Agricultural Preservation.  CaLAFCO recently awarded our Local Agency Formation Commission two of its highest honors:  Most Effective Commission and Project of the Year for its Agricultural Preservation Policy.

*  2014 marks the 100th year of the establishment of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau and the UC Cooperative Extension.  Both organizations have done much to benefit our agricultural industry.  The UC Cooperative Extension provides research, education and technical assistance that helps our farmers develop best management practices and makes them more competitive in the world market.  The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau represents farmers and ranchers at all levels of government and consistently is a strong and positive voice for all sectors of agriculture.  Both organizations have given Stanislaus County 100 years of outstanding service.  We look forward to their continued leadership in meeting the challenges of the next 100 years.

But despite these successes we still have further to go.  We face serious challenges in two major areas:  transportation and water.

TRANSPORTATION

Evey industry in this county, including agriculture, relies on a sound transportation system to move its people, goods and services.  Counties with a local transportation tax, which we refer to as “self-help” counties, are able to use local dollars to leverage billions of Federal and State dollars each year for improving their transportation systems.  This in turn helps create jobs, expand mobility and enhance local communities.  Currently over 81% of California’s population resides in a self-help county, placing Stanislaus County at a huge disadvantage when it comes to competing for limited transportation funding.  Local leaders broadly accept that we need to be a self-help County.  But if we do ask voters to consider the issue again, StanCOG must develop an allocation plan with the cities and the county, and a list of county-wide projects that we all can agree on.  I call on each city council of our nine cities, as well as the County Board of supervisors to pass a resolution agreeing on the allocation formula and the county-wide road  projects.  This unified focus is essential to gaining the trust of and support from the voters on this important issue.  Unless the County and the cities move as one on a transportation measure, we will not be successful.  The model that nearly passed in 2008 should b the basis of any new proposal.  Partnership and cooperation is the key.

In that election, a change of only 70 votes out of over 160,000 cast would have given us the 2/3 margin we needed.  No one likes tax increases, but we can only move this forward if we act together.  But if we don’t move together, we will not move at all.

WATER

Another major challenge is water.  We are over pumping at an alarming level.  Management of the county’s groundwater is a new arena for us.  Every city in Stanislaus County relies on groundwater for drinking water.  To a great extent, agriculture relies on groundwater.  The current drought conditions have focused our attention on this vital natural resource.  The depletion of the groundwater resources that serve our County is not simply a drought related issue; it is an issue of sustainability.  Recognizing the critical importance of a groundwater policy, this Board took action last year to prohibit its export and sale.  We have now formed a water advisory committee made up of representatives of agriculture, irrigation districts and community members.  This committee has been charged, with public input, to develop a well thought out policy that will provide a sustainable solution to groundwater over drafting.  This policy must be developed using scientific facts and it must provide us with long term solutions.  There is no value in pointing fingers and there is no time for delay.  We need to act.  if we don’t and the problem worsens, the state of California will intervene and we risk the ability to control our own destiny.

The Don Pedro Dam is now coming up for federal re-licensing.   This is a critical issue for Stanislaus County.  We need to partner with the MID and the TID to ensure we retain the water that is ours.  We must work with our local elected officials, with our representatives in Sacramento and at the federal level.  We cannot take it for granted that this will just happen.  Our entire economy depends on this effort.  Giving up any additional water from Don Pedro Dam will have long lasting negative implications for all of our citizens and our agricultural industry.

While I believe transportation and water are critical issues, there are other important concerns affecting County government and the well being of our residents.

StanCERA

The Stanislaus County Employees Retirement Association, (StanCERA) is the agency that governs the pension fund of our county’s 3300 retirees and holds in trust the retirement money of our current employees.

It is made up of public members appointed by the Board of supervisor and members elected by county employee associations.  This board has acted responsibly and with vision in difficult times.  StanCERA took a big hit in 2008 with the recession.  Our fund balance dropped by $874 million in February of 2009.  It is now at $1.7 billion.  In addition to prudent investment decisions that account for part of this gain, StanCERA adjusted its formula that governs how much money needs to be set aside to insure these obligations are met.  The assumed rate of return was lowered to a more realistic level.  We closed the rolling amortization period so debt didn’t just get put off into the future.  We have adopted a policy to reduce the risk inherent with investing in these funds.  We will take measured steps to replace some investments with guaranteed bonds so that the cash flow needs of StanCERA will always be met.  In the 2012/2013 fiscal year StanCERA’s earnings rate, as compared to other public pension funds in the United States, ranked third nationally and second in California.  Our funded ration is now close to 78%.  Our retirees, and our current employees, and county taxpayers can feel confident that their fund is well managed and based on sound financial principals.

In 2007 this Board adopted a metal theft ordinance requiring scrap metal dealers to be licensed and to record information about sellers for every transaction when individuals were selling non-ferrous metals.  Prior to the ordinance, metal theft was increasing at an alarming rate.  This ordinance was so successful that then Assemblyman, Tom Berryhill introduced a bill similar to the Stanislaus County’s ordinance and it became state law.

Today we have similar problems with walnut theft.  There re more than 38,000 acres of walnuts in Stanislaus county with a farm gate value of $220 million dollars.  Walnut theft has increased to disturbing rates.  I suspect that there is hardly a walnut grower in the County who hasn’t suffered losses.  I am generally the last one clamoring for more regulation, but walnut theft is something we must make a serious effort to stop.

As with metal theft, the problem must be addressed at the point of purchase, which in this case involves unlicensed roadside vendors not requiring proper documentation or proof of ownership by the seller.  Another concern is food safety.  Under legitimate operations processors can trace any contaminated product back to the grower.  Having roadside cash buyers mixing any and all nuts, stolen or not, erases the chain of accountability should any unsafe product be introduced.  I call on the Ag commissioner to work in conjunction with the Ag advisory board to draft a reasonable ordinance to address the increasing problem of walnut theft and present it to the board for consideration this year.

PSYCHIATRIC HEALTH FACILITY

Over the past two years, Stanislaus County has had a dramatic increase in acute psychiatric inpatient admissions.  This increase impacts bed capacity and creates a financial burden for the County.  In the past year, County staff and all area hospitals met and began a working relationship that focused on addressing the psychiatric bed capacity issues and the growing need to secure programs to meet the County’s mandated obligations.  As a result, a new 16 bed psychiatric health facility will provide psychiatric treatment services designed to require less staff than an acute psychiatric hospital, and reducing overall cost to the county by $1.5 million while providing better services to county residents.  An existing and now vacant residential facility located at the County’s Stanislaus Recovery Center site in Ceres is currently being renovated and is on track to open March 1 of this year.

CHILDHOOD OBESITY

Stanislaus County’s health delivery system has always struggled to keep pace with the needs of our community.  The Board has a strong commitment to serve the public interest by promoting a healthy community.  One health issue that merits our attention is the alarming rate of obesity among children.  In Stanislaus County more than 40% of 5th, 7th and 9th grade students are either overweight or obese.  Obesity and physically inactivity can have profound negative health consequences for children.  Increase risk of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke are just some of the potential consequences.

Obesity has become second only to tobacco use as the leading preventable cause of disease and death.  If this trend continues, for the first time in human history, today’s children could be the first generation to have a shorter life span than their parents.  Recognizing the magnitude of this problem and the serious public threat to the health and well-being of children and families, all nine Stanislaus County cities have passed resolutions to embrace policies that facilitate activities to promote a healthier lifestyle and diet.  These policies could provide increased opportunities for physical activity in our parks by encouraging walking and biking.

I call on Stanislaus County to recognize this growing problem, and pass a similar resolution as our nine cities have.  We all need to work together to assure that everyone in Stanislaus County has access to healthy foods and safe places to be active.  Providing health environments and healthy choices promotes healthy people in a healthy Stanislaus.

PUBLIC SAFETY REALIGNMENT

We have read about and many have experienced the increase of crime in our communities.  The security of our homes, neighborhoods, schools and businesses is essential to the quality of life.  If you fear to let your children go to the park, or walk to school, not much else matters.  This County will continue to make the public safety of our residents a priority.

Public Safety Realignment under Assembly Bill 109 continues to be a significant challenge for Stanislaus County.  The effects of this paradigm shift in our criminal justice system have increased our costs and affected the jail bed capacity in our County.  Our correctional facilities are at a maximum capacity and realignment has forced us into early releases from custody.  Additionally, property and drug offenses continue to impact our community.  Despite the challenges of realignment, Stanislaus county has focused on our strong collaborative partnerships and spirit of cooperation.

Our local public safety agencies and the members of the Community Corrections Partnership have taken on the difficult task of leading our local realignment efforts.

Through their leadership and planning, we have developed an effective strategy to deal with complex issues such as recidivism, substance abuse and mental illness.  Efforts have focused on implementing only those programs and services that have the best results and are proven to work.

While the state provides funding to the County, the funding is not adequate to compensate for the costs of realignment.  The number of criminal offenders we house and supervise continues to exceed state projections resulting in increased overcrowding in our jail facilities and in the number of offenders being supervised in the community.  Funding formulas used to determine the county’s allocation of realignment funding are being reviewed.  If the number of offenders sentenced locally continues to increase, and if the state does not increase the funding to Stanislaus County, other resources will be needed to fund realignment programs.

We will continue to advocate for a change in the funding formula, as well as the total dollars available for realignment so that more money can be brought to Stanislaus County.  The County will continue to work together with our public safety partners and community based organizations to effectively deal with our offender population.

WHAT WE NEED IN 2014

Cooperation is the key to meeting our challenges.  City and county government must work better together.  The dispute over the property tax administration fees was divisive.  That is behind us now and we need to come together.  We can disagree and argue, but in the final analysis we need to cooperate.  Our cities are our partners, not our adversaries.  Challenges that face our county and our communities will either be dealt with in a timely manner that results in a positive momentum for our residents or be dealt with in a way that hurts our economy and our ability to succeed.  The county and the cities don’t get a pass.  Stanislaus County doesn’t win if the cities lose and the cities don’t win if this county loses.  There will be no progress on infrastructure, on water or on other important issues unless we learn to work together.

In order for farmers to be successful, they must deal with all kinds of unforseen circumstances, which can impact the bottom line.  They are resilient, innovative and independent.  Our government needs the same approach to its day-to-day business.  Neither Sacramento nor Washington is going to come riding into the Valley and improve our schools, arrest our criminals, build our infrastructure, take care of our elderly or insure equal opportunity for our children.  They won’t safeguard our groundwater or protect our farmland in a way that best serves us.  We are the only ones who can do that.  Finger pointing may make us feel good, but the obligation to make our county more prosperous rests squarely on the 520,000 people who live here.  Events beyond our control will shape our future.  How we handle those events however, is fully in our hands.

These are big issues, but together, we are up to the task.  I want to thank my fellow board members, department heads and all the employees of this organization for their dedication and commitment to excellence.  Together we will pursue our vision of becoming “a county that is respected for its service in the community and is known as the best in America.”

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