Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Local Agency Formation Commission”

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:

Chamber04022013

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.

Mayor, Council, LAFCO Just Cost Modesto MILLIONS

I don't know and you don't either.

I don’t know and you don’t either. (Photo credit: j_mills)

By Emerson Drake

At last night’s Local Agency Formation Commission or LAFCO a vote was taken to give special interests a leg up on the competition and the citizens of Modesto are footing the bill.  LAFCO Commissioners voted to repeal a 2010 Resolution, #2013-01 which states if an out of boundary service extension, which in this case is a sewer extension to the Beard Trust Industrial Park, is allowed the future purchasers of the property are required to sign a waiver not to oppose their annexation by Modesto.

It seems like a small change but allows LAFCO Commissioners to be “swayed” by business owners in the future to allow for another exception to what is supposed to be the rule.  What difference does it make you ask?  Well check your utility bill next time you get ready to pay it and you’ll find a 6% utility tax/user fee added if you live in Modesto. Not only will Modestans be shorted this income but we lose out on the property tax collected every year.  The tax if you live in the county goes 100% to the county. If you live in an incorporated area (Modesto in this case) the split is 70/30.  70% to the county and 30% to Modesto. It doesn’t affect the amount of property tax a business has to pay.

But it does affect the amount of money Modesto has to hire more police officers.  All of our council members including the Mayor talk about finding more money to spend on police, but last night they insisted on giving it away. There is also a mill tax Modesto collects from businesses if they are in Modesto.

Lets all understand that businesses aren’t going to agree to be annexed into the city if they have a choice when they are already getting the services at no extra cost from the city.  Now our Mayor has claimed it’s easier to attract business if they aren’t required to sign a waiver.  But in his next breath he says the reason he wants to annex Salida is to make it easier to attract business.   Huh?  Why is it that in Beard Industrial Park it’s better NOT to be in Modesto and up around Salida it’s BETTER to be in Modesto?

Now if Beard Trust, which owns the industrial park, wants to make it more business friendly, why don’t they reduce the cost of using their private railroad which currently charges about three times the amount for each move of a rail car as do other railroads. Three times the cost to spot (bring it to your dock) the car and three times the cost to move it away.  This is what they’ve been doing since Tri-Valley came to town.  These excessive charges are at least one of the reasons Tri-Valley went under. Since they (Beard) own the land they refuse to allow any other railroad to service businesses there.

So why did the Mayor and the Modesto City Council actively participate in the fleecing of Modesto’s citizens by Beard Industrial?  I honestly don’t know.  It doesn’t make any sense especially since they keep crying about not having any money to pay for more police.  Don’t forget you’ve been paying extra to build and expand the water treatment plant and sewage facility.  They(the City Council and LAFCO) are giving away to their friends the bounty YOU paid for.

The vote was unanimous to grant Modesto and Beard Industrial their special private deal.  Despite pleas from the public to be our last bastion of defense against special interest politics, the Commissioners went along.  They actually said if the public didn’t like it they should go talk with their council members and not them. They want the power to make “special backroom” deals against the public’s best interests if and when the choose.  After all it isn’t breaking the law, if you change the law.  Unfortunately, in this case, they changed it for the worse.

In another decision they chose to break the Attorney General’s orders and allow Alternate Members of LAFCO to attend closed sessions.  The vote was three to two with Commissioners O’Brien and Bublak voting no.  So we could be facing an expensive lawsuit in the future.

The scary thing about this Board is they changed the official policy to give themselves more leeway in “special interest” decisions and when they couldn’t change the meeting law, they decided to break it.

You can’t watch these important meetings on-line because they aren’t video recorded.  You can’t watch it live since they don’t use streaming video. They do have an audio recording you can arrange to hear by appointment.  Last night we asked the LAFCO Board to consider televising, utilizing streaming video, and archive their meetings to allow those who can’t attend to watch their meetings.  They are now looking into the cost. We thank them for that.

You won’t read this in the Bee, at least not first hand coverage. Despite the potential millions of dollars being lost to Modesto, the Bee chose not to attend the meeting.  Then again maybe they had gotten a phone call and  knew the outcome was preordained.

If you live in Modesto you might want to take a moment to call your council representitive and ask why they gave away money that could have gone to pay for more police officers.

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