Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Dave Cogdill Jr”

Modesto Gives Itself a Black Eye in the New York Times

By Emerson Drake      NYtimes

Thanks to the Modesto City Council and the Chamber of Commerce Modesto has received more bad notoriety.  Every time we end up on another negative list, worst to retire to, worst places to live, worst places to breathe, and well, you remember them since they just keep coming.  To hear the Council and Chamber tell/spin it it’s never our fault but outsiders keep picking on us.

This time it’s well deserved, and maybe, just maybe, we came out looking better than we deserve.  We, Modesto citizens and voters,  brought this upon ourselves by not standing up to the City Council en masse and saying “enough is enough.”   The citizens of Modesto, on the large part, have been sitting back and allowing Salida and Wood Colony residents to fight our battles for us and it’s time we took over and straightened the Council and Chamber out. Here is the link to the article:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/us/rural-spot-settled-by-religious-group-in-california-fears-a-citys-encroachment.html?_r=0

We should be ashamed of ourselves for not going down to the Council meeting in numbers that would dwarf our outlying neighbors, (Salida and Wood Colony).

Jenny Kenoyer was just speaking the unvarnished truth when she said referring  to Wood Colony that ” They can’t even vote for me”.  Cold sounding as it was it should have resonated in the hearts of Modesto voters as a plaintive cry for help for those who can’t help themselves. Jenny needed guidance and since the voters didn’t provide it the lackeys from the Chamber, including City manager Greg Nyhoff, stepped forward to label Wood Colony residents as anachronisms and being out of step with modern times.  The Chamber reps have been preaching from the rooftops that paving over Wood Colony is inevitable so we might as well get started.

Greg Nyhoff, Dave Cogdill, Bill Zoslocki and Cecil Russell have been reminding everyone who will listen that they don’t have to pay attention to Salida representatives and that the furor over Wood Colony will pass in time.   And why do they keep saying this?  Because the German Brethren will seldom speak in public let alone vote on any level and Salida’s residents, like those in Wood Colony, can’t vote in Modesto elections.  Mayor Marsh has gone so far as to gerrymander the proposed border to purposely exclude a major portion of Wood Colony’s voters.

A Modesto resident named John Walker has provided the most visible push-back to date. He has initiated a petition to recall Dave Cogdill and we wish him well.  Interestingly, when he announced his efforts at the last City Council meeting, Cogdill played the ‘hurt’ card.  He said he was willing to talk with Mr. Walker but wasn’t going to change his mind.  So basically he was going to talk at John and not to him.  From our point of view, when your elected representative feels different from his constituents, he/she needs to be replaced.

Lessons Learned during the Measure X Campaign

By Emerson Drake

Measure X,  the one cent or 1% increase in our sales tax was a complicated issue from the start. First there was  $35,000 poll which mainly questioned white homeowners.  Unfortunately, for those in favor of Measure X, the demographics of the city didn’t cooperate.  But the real germination  was during the budget preparation process last year.

PG Measure X

Mike Hardin Lying to the public saying the money would be kept in a lock box for safety.   Photo credit Patty Guerra

The Mayor and City Council, as if playing pinochle, were playing for the last trick. Dragging out the hand to hide a losing card yet to be played.  They were well aware the deficit budgeting tactics they had been employing for several years couldn’t continue.  Robbing from Peter to pay Paul, which in this case was from money set aside for our self funded workers comp and retirement funds to name just a few.  Knowing the practice would be coming to an abrupt end in another year they made the decision to find a way to convince the public to once again tax themselves to cover the shortfall.

The obvious way was to dangle a .5% increase based on improving our police presence and shortening response times for our Fire Dept. and an additional .5% split between roads and a variety of ‘funny’ money projects.  The .25% was promised to a variety of organizations  and special interest groups.

While sitting in on budget workshops and Finance and Economic Development Committees I had the opportunity to learn what I didn’t know and what they didn’t want us to know in order to be able to ask the hard questions.  Questions regarding the true budget shortfall and how they intended to address it.

For example they said they planned on hiring 60-80 police officers (yes Nyhoff said 80) but they didn’t mention they only planned on hiring 20 or less each year.  And of course the plan included one fire engine and eight crew members and one chief.  If you ballpark $110,000 for each police and $90,000 per fireman, obviously money would be left from the estimated $13M the .5% would raise.  Instead of saving the money for future salaries  they intended on spending it on the budget deficit.

The other .5% was to be split evenly between roads and special projects.  Some of these were to be one time expenditures chosen by public committees.  But much was promised in the way of financial incentives to local business already open here in Modesto. An example of these were proposed by Cogdill and Burnside to pay for facades for existing buildings, and an  inducement of up to $9,000 to provide new jobs downtown (many of these would be minimum wage food service positions.)  Cogdill wanted to give more money to the Alliance (we already give $65,000 yearly) and use more of the money to help develop Tivoli  in addition to the special treatment already given by absolving them of previously included Ag mitigation responsibilities.

Also mentioned by staff were projects to run infrastructure to newly annexed areas to speed up possible business on the city’s North side.  But if you kept a running total (like I did) of the monies promised you quickly realized much of it was promised several times over to different groups from city planners to citizens committees to the Chamber of Commerce.

Which at first glance doesn’t sound bad, except if the road tax were to pass in 2015. Then according to the way Measure X was written,  .5% would be repealed and only the .5% for safety would be left.   By late 2015 we would have, in theory, hired 40 police and 9 fire and be interviewing another 20.  But we would have that elusive $6.5 to $11.2 Million dollar budget shortfall.  Even though we’ve seen property prices rise, Modesto gets the majority of its money from sales tax revenue.  And there’s no need to point out wages haven’t risen and the unemployment figures are still high and skewed since once you no longer receive unemployment benefits, the statistics assume you’re working.

The problem becomes how to cover the budget shortfall,  pay for the new safety officers and the rising wage (fire was already given their raises so they could claim the Measure X money wasn’t going for new raises, MPD’s contract is up next year)  costs  along with repaying the money borrowed to fund the deficit in prior years.

It simply couldn’t be done.  And don’t get me wrong,  I went in front of the City Council three times asking/begging for the .5% to be kept sacrosanct and argued during committee meetings for the same.  City Manager Gregg Nyhoff and the Mayor were playing Pollyanna by saying during the meetings they were hoping the economy would come back by then.  But too many promises were made to too many groups for Measure X to succeed in its goals.

We were going to be put in a position of laying off the newly hired officers just to keep status quo in city government.  Do we want to close city parks, golf courses, and lose city services?  No, but were/are there any realistic choices?  The City Manager and Mayor refused to present a clear picture to the public.  They promised millions of dollars over the six years to the Chamber just to keep them effectively on the sidelines (yet several members went ahead and helped fund No on X.)  We find this strange since businesses don’t pay sales tax they only collect it.  But they still believed in the need to placate a lobbying organization (a 501 (c) 6 ) like the Chamber.  If they had been willing to do battle with these greedy businessmen in the past, the Chamber,  like the Christmas time story’s  Humble Bumble, wouldn’t have any teeth, but I digress.

When they look you in the eye up front and intentionally mislead you, the one thing you can be sure about is that it isn’t going to get any better and that six years down the road, if anything it was going to be worse.

We needed the additional police officers and firefighters badly.  We needed a funding mechanism for the budget.  But with its .5% being repealed if the self-help  road tax passes (the road tax allows us to leverage our money several times over ) and with a six year sunset,  Measure X,  unfortunately,  wasn’t up to the task, no matter how badly we wanted it to be.

Council Comments from the Residential Urban Limit Meeting

By Emerson Drake

At Tuesday’s 4/23/13 Modesto City Council meeting regarding Denny Jackman’s Residential Urban Limits or RUL, we

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)

listened to new talking points being aired by the Chamber of Commerce and Building Industry Association through their close friends/mouthpieces on the council.

Denny’s RUL  recommends boundaries beyond which no residential development under 10 dwelling units per acre could occur without a majority public vote.  A very much similar version of RUL had been presented to the Economic Development Committee last year but was temporarily shelved due to upcoming elections. I believe what Denny expected was a reasoned conversation regarding farmland preservation. Unfortunately Lobbyist Cecil Russell’s response was a personal attack on Mr. Jackman instead of a conversation about RUL.

Council comments were even more interesting.  Several members of the public at the meeting pointed to the five Measure “M” votes  (the five were about sewer extensions after annexation) as the people having spoken about NOT wanting uncontrolled growth or  “Sprawl.”  The public rejected these votes by 60.05, 61.66, 63.66, 64.7, and 69.78 percent.  Councilman Dave Lopez decided to try and undermine five Measure “M” votes with spin.  He made the claim “voter fatigue set in.”   His comment was attempting to invalidate 65,974 votes.  The “spin” he was basing his comments on was the fact the voters turned down what he termed “easy money” for the general fund when they could have at least voted for the Hetch/Hetchy Measure “C” which included the car dealerships on North McHenry Avenue.  He specifically sited their use of Modesto’s water and sewer.

While he suggests this  invalidates the five measures the public voted on,  I believe he’s reaching.  Doesn’t this match up almost exactly with the Council’s decision to allow Beard Industrial Tract a  “deal” to avoid paying Modesto utility user fees for the very same services (water, sewer, electricity) they wanted to charge the car dealerships?  It’s all about the utility tax any business building in the Tract would have been required to pay.  This “special arrangement” he wasn’t willing to give the dealerships will cost Modesto Taxpayers MILLIONS of Dollars every… single… year after the businesses move in.

So if  the five decisions by the voters area are a case of voter fatigue,  was the Beard decision voter fatigue or a payout to special interests by the council ?  Charging the car dealerships is good while charging Beard is bad?  Councilman Lopez, no matter how hard you try you can’t have it both ways because we’ll call you on it.

Councilwoman Burnside has been on a roll herself.  At the March 26th  meeting she gave the council the credit for Modesto being one of the “most dense cities in California.”  She cited a figure of 8.8 people per acre. While our math suggests the figure is closer to 7.9 per acre, in this case it just doesn’t matter.  Her 8.8 puts Modesto somewhere around 108th in density of  California cities.  We would be 8th in a list of cities starting with the letter “M.”  Maybe that’s what she meant.

She also said “it cracks me up when people say” smart growth, your smart and my smart may be completely different” she went on to say, so that’s very subjective. There needs to be responsible growth in the manner in where we are building. As dense as we are I think we can do it through the General Plan, not through Ag Mitigation.”

Ranking at 108 and not being among the most dense, I believe shows many things are subjective and if this is an example of their reasoning we had better utilize Ag Mitigation through the ballot box rather than trust our council to do the right thing.

The good Councilwoman’s other remarks, “I don’t believe in leadership by ballot box.  I believe that’s why we were elected.”  She also said “I despise the individuals that stand up here and say I represent the people like farmers aren’t people “, and “I’d like to know where all of those lobbyist are, I haven’t seen any.”

Lets look at her first two comments. Her district encompasses about 34,000 people and has about forty farmers. The farmers she’s really discussing are about the 6 who would like to sell their farms to home builders because that’s the only people RUL would affect.  What she’s actually saying is she wants to provide taxpayer assistance so a few farmers and her developer friends in the Chamber of Commerce can make lots of money while leaving us taxpayers to pay the bills.  Taxpayer assistance?  Yes, conservatively speaking for every acre of homes that are built the taxpayer is on the hook for between $3,000 to $5,000 yearly for services. That’s right year after year, after year, $3-5,000 dollars just so her friends can be wealthy.  Taxpayer’s  paying  developers welfare money.

Councilman Cogdill’s comments covered a wide rages of topics.  He suggested in the last twenty years councils had planned effectively.  He said “Village I was planned responsibly.” I’m not a big proponent of urban limits or ballot box planning.” And “You don’t have to scratch a farmer very deep to find a developer.”

As Mayor Marsh later commented, Village I as originally designed was a marvel but by the time the council back then was on their eight change amendment it was no longer recognizable. It’s also understandable for these politicians to be resentful of ballot box measures.  It’s obvious the people of Modesto no longer trust their elected politicians to follow the will of their constituents  and because of past and current history who can blame them.

I encourage everyone to go online and listen to the council debates and see for themselves what is going on in the Modesto City Council. Here is the link to the city agenda and meeting archive. Click on the video of the week you want to see and while it’s loading you can choose the agenda item you want to watch discussed by clicking on it. The video will advance to approximate  location. http://ci.modesto.ca.us/ccl/agendas/

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