Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Modesto Chamber of Commerce”

The Rubber Stamp Council Wants a Rubber Stamp,Too

By Emerson Drake   

On Tuesday night 9/4 the Modesto City Council is suspending the Citizens Oversight Committee created to persuade Modesto’s residents to vote for a half-cent sales tax back in November of 2016.  The Committee which is officially referred to as the  ‘Citizens’ Transportation Sales Tax Commission’  was supposed to ensure that the money would be spent as promised.  But since the money has been flowing in special interest groups have been claiming the money for themselves.

From Jaylen French, Director of Community & Economic Development Department

Measure L creates an “Oversight Committee to review
and monitor use of all tax revenue and to insure that all funds are spent in accordance
with the Expenditure Plan.” The ballot materials that were before the voters stated that
the functions of the Oversight Committee were to “review and monitor use of all tax
revenue and to insure that all funds are spent in accordance with [StanCOG’s]
Expenditure Plan.”

But according to the Council instead of an oversight committee what they really want is someone to come along after the money has been spent and rubber-stamp their decisions.  Not surprising is that the same night they plan on pulling the Committee’s teeth they plan on officially setting aside $1,658,925 for a future downtown Measure ‘L’ eligible project that will be spent as Cecil Russell and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce sees fit.

The crux of the problem lies in where the money is going to be spent.  Citizen Committee members we’ve talked with are saying special interest groups behind the scene are insisting that a large chunk of the money be spent providing Beard Industrial Park with direct access to 132.  For those unaware, Beard Industrial Park lies in the County not the City.  Modesto City Council has already made special arrangements to keep the Park in the County despite LAFCO’s rules.  They receive city services but don’t pay the user tax Modesto residents do.  As a matter of fact, for the majority of the businesses in the Beard Park their electricity is subsidized by the residential ratepayer.

I should also mention that this same night the City Council is going forward with the acquisition of real property directing the commencement of eminent domain proceedings for the State Route 132 West Freeway/Expressway Phase 1

Back to the neutering of promises made by the City Council.  At the Council meeting of 8/14, Bill Zoslocki regaled the attendees of how Measure L passed by more than 70%.  But he skimmed over what helped to induce the voters to support adding to their already overburdened load of taxes.  Yes the much ballyhooed Citizens Oversight Committee.  But now the majority are determined to reduce it to a  a rubber-stamp functionary.  How can they effectively act as an oversight protecting the public’s best interests when the Council wants them to sit down and shut up until AFTER the money has been long spent.  Watching the last meeting it was clear the only people on the Council worrying about the voters were Mayor Ted Brandvold and somewhat surprisingly, Tony Madrigal.

At this point we’re stuck paying that half-percent for the next 25 years and it’s become extremely obvious we won’t have any input as to what its to be spent on.  It’s the classic bait and switch.  No one ever said this Council was original in their thinking.  But they follow their master’s orders very well.

Congratulations Cecil, on a job well done.  Once again you and the Chamber have managed to get the residents of Modesto to pay for your special interest group’s projects and facilitated transferring money out of our pockets and into theirs..

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Last Chance to Be Heard About Rental Inspections

By Emerson Drake   

You could say it started last August when the remaining tenants at 624 9th street were given 72 hours to vacate the 27 apartments that were water damaged ceilings, rat and cockroach infestations, holes in walls and floors, faulty plumbing and electrical, mold and mildew. Some landlords in Modesto are just in it for every penny they can squeeze out of their tenants that often have few if any other options.

The City had offered up enough money to easy their conscience but not enough to get the tenants into better housing.  During a City Council meeting Councilman Bill Zoslocki said most of these people couldn’t qualify for the 240 plus rentals  where  he’s a partner/owner.

At the Council meeting last year They called for City Staff to formulate a plan that would include cost effective inspections to help maintain  health and living standards. But when staff laid out a quality proposal at the City Council Safety and Communities Committee meeting in May to inspect the rentals suddenly there were a couple of dozen of property owners and managers protesting that it wasn’t necessary.  Apparently they didn’t look at the pictures from 624 9th or just want to encourage a caveat emptor or buyer be ware marketplace.  You have to wonder if Bill Zoslocki’s apartment managers were present.

The outcome was almost preordained  when you consider the clout of the rental insiders.  The City Council decided to ask Modesto residents if they wanted to BUT they only allowed two meeting both on Monday afternoons at 5:00 PM.  Now it’s hard to understand the timing if you really want community input.  We wondered why email comments were not allowed or some variance of timing.  After all if you aren’t available to attend on one Monday night at 5 is it very likely you’d be able to attend the following Monday?

We tried to contact Tom Trimberger with the city for comment and to update us regarding the amount of comments but we we haven’t heard back yet.

We understand why people who are renting, which in many neighborhoods are 60% and higher,  would be reluctant to come forward fearing retaliation but many of us that are homeowners should be stepping forward to speak out in favor of inspections.  We residents need to look out for each other in Modesto because you can bet your bottom dollar the rental owners and managers will be looking out for themselves.

The last meeting starts at 5 p.m. in room B300 in the basement of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St. Monday, July 16.

Is the City Planning an End Run Around Measure M

By Emerson Drake   

Tonight the City Council will decide if they should move a step forward toward annexing up to 300 acres along North McHenry.  On the surface it sounds almost viable but lets take a closer look at the entire picture.  If the financial analysis from the Mayor’s 100 Day Committee can be trusted Modesto would net around $500,000 a year in taxes.  But as usual the devil is in the details and not everything has been brought out for consideration.

During phase one Modesto would be required to extend the sewer trunk line from Pelendale and Carver where it currently ends, over to McHenry and Pelendale.  Not a long distance but the budget number (placeholder) is $2 Million dollars.  This estimate has been brought forward from 2007.  A time when numbers supplied were very inaccurate where possible development was concerned.  Phases two and three (each budgeted for an additional $2 Million and $2.5 Million dollars) would be needed to actually cover the area west of McHenry, and the area to the East would require even more money to be thrown at it.  So the actual number we should be talking about is at a minimum of $6.5 Million dollars.  And that, using 2007 cost figures, which are notoriously low ball numbers,  would make it 10 plus years before any kind of payback would be seen.  None of the suggested costs address development to  the east of McHenry.

Measure M enacted in 1997 was supposed to protect the residents of Modesto from runaway home development by requiring voter approval for residential sewer extensions.  The City Staff is proposing that since the area currently being looked at for annexation doesn’t have a residential element they don’t have to get voter approval.  Another thing that needs to be mentioned is that the voters turned down a 2009 ballot annexation for part of the proposed area.  But as the City likes to mention, unlike the sewer trunk vote the annexation question was an advisory vote and can be ignored by the Council.  We have land use attorney George Petrulakis to thank for that since he wrote most of the City Charter.

So the City believes it can avoid sewer extension vote BUT it can still use the sewer extension for residential development in the future.  The sad news is they probably can if we let them  It’s just another underhanded backdoor move by home developer’s friends on the City Council.

 

 

The Modesto City Council Is At It Again

By Emerson Drake   

The City Council has a special meeting planned for Friday Feb. 2nd at 3 PM. They are going so far that they are hiding upstairs on the second floor in room 2005.  Well at least they aren’t going to taint the downstairs Chamber with their subterfuge. It’s a closed session and the topic is the City Manager position. Our ‘friends’ downtown at City Hall like to sneak in news items on late Friday afternoons so they won’t have to answer questions until Monday. It’s an old trick they’ve taken from national politics. Politicians and their advisers refer to it as the Friday News Dump.  It’s still despicable and reprehensible but just the underhanded kind of move we’ve come to expect, especially from Modesto’s politicians.

I don’t blame them for being embarrassed if they hire Joe Lopez as City Manager. I do hold them accountable for the wishful thinking that somehow Joe Lopez, who most thought of as a terrible Human Resources Manager, would be a quality hire as City Manager that would change the direction the City has been going in for the better.  After all, in Bob Deis report he says most of the Purchase Order irregularities came during  February of 2013 until now,  the time when Joe Lopez was directly responsible for the Finance Dept.

Now on the other hand if they fire him the residents of Modesto would be cheering.

 

S.N.A.F.U. The Modesto City Council

By Emerson Drake  

Situation Normal All Fouled Up otherwise known as SNAFU,  okay I admit one of the words usually used is harsher, those having served in the military understand, but this version will do for our conversation.  The Modesto City Council sometimes reminds me of the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.  Tuesday’s early meeting started out at 3:00 PM for a workshop on choosing what options to offer the Citizens of Modesto to move to even year elections because of low voter turnout during the odd years.

We couldn’t attend the early meeting so we watched it live online.  The first thing that jumped off the screen at you was that the people that work in the little room behind the screen, yes there are literally one or two people working behind the screen you see when looking at the dais to make the video possible,  thought the date was June, 3 2014, because that was on the screen the entire time during the meeting.

What many people are unaware of is the Mayor and Council have an agendized meeting on the day before the regular Tuesday night meetings.  These meetings are open to the public and any and all questions the Council, Mayor, or public have are answered.  So when the Council started asking questions in a befuddled manner I was taken back to the John Gunderson days when coming prepared for a meeting was a waste of time because John wouldn’t have a clue what the meeting was going to be about.  And many of the Council members, Doug Ridenour and Bill Zoslocki especially, couldn’t seem to understand the choices being offered.  Mani Grewal was more concerned that they choose an option that would allow him to serve as many years as the ones elected this year.  Strange for a man that was seeking and accepting donations to run for the California Legislature this year and will most likely do so at the next opportunity.

To make a long story short they voted 4 to 3 for ◦ Option 2: Place proposal on November 2018 ballot to consider one-time extension
of four-year Council terms to five years for Council terms beginning in 2015 and 2017 .  So yes, just like MID, they are awarding themselves 5 year terms, subject to the public’s approval, to allow the public to vote as required by the Modesto Charter to make the necessary changes.

But why didn’t they offer us more options than to approve or disapprove of just one idea?  They had four to choose from so why not allow Modesto’s voters a real choice?  Why not include Option 3: Place proposal on November 2018 ballot to approve one-time reduction of
four-year terms to three years for Council terms beginning in 2019 and 2021 would seem like a choice people might make, but maybe that is an answer in itself.

They also suggested they could let voters choose to not change the charter and wait to be sued.  Funny that they didn’t mention that when Modesto choose to ignore the law regarding district elections versus at large elections and it cost taxpayers $3 Million in legal fees to defend at large elections.  And yes, we the  taxpayers,  were finally allowed to capitulate and move to district voting.  Interestingly enough the same people that fought changing to districts were the same ones behind allowing only one option (can you hear me George Petrulakis)?  Those who follow politics know Modesto’s politicians rely on the voters notoriously short memories.  Even the vaunted Modesto Bee with their limited institutional memory has overlooked this.

And during the early session the Council voted to appoint Acting City Manager Joe Lopez to act as their property negotiator for two properties.  The problem was that they hadn’t agendized this.  Later when challenged the City Attorney claimed it wasn’t necessary to have it on the agenda since it was such a small item.  We keep looking through the Brown Act to find this exemption but haven’t been able to find it.

When the City Council, with the help of the City Attorney start playing fast and loose with the rules and the law it’s Modesto’s voters and taxpayers that pay the price.

 

Modesto’s Police Chief Used Public Funds to Hide Energy Theft By Chamber CEO

By Emerson Drake   

In a Public Record Request (PPR) just received yesterday it was revealed that Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll is using taxpayer  money from his budget to pay for electricity being stolen by Chamber of Commerce CEO Cecil Russell for his gated community’s security cameras.

We’ve told this story before but the recent developments are disturbing to say the least.  In July/August of 2016, Cecil Russell fronting for the his Chateau Provence Homeowners Association, used Rank Security to mount three cameras from city light poles and then had Rank’s workforce illegally tie into the poll’s power supply without Modesto Irrigation Districts’ knowledge or approval.  This theft of electricity went unnoticed until a sharp eyed MID worker spotted the illegal cameras and power hook-ups.

In an email to the city December 6th, 2016, MID pointed out the theft and asked the city to make the appropriate disconnect.  In a series of emails obtained through a PPR it was learned that city staff was preparing to unhook the illegal instillation until the MPD Chief Galen Carroll intervened.  This was all documented in our 3/3/2017  story.  We also learned that Chamber lobbyist and CEO Russell had not applied for any of the easily available permits despite suggestions to the contrary by Chief Carroll.

Why the deception?  As Dave Boring (member of the Chamber of Commerce) told the Council a few weeks ago: “We’re the movers and shakers, you need to take care of us”, talk about self entitled. The way we see it the only thing that makes sense is they just didn’t care.  After all if you have the Police Chief pulling strings to keep your little project afloat (by avoiding being arrested and by paying for electricity) and away from the public eye, why bother following the law. And don’t buy the story that there should be an easier way to get this approved because only an elitist wouldn’t even bother to pull the necessary paperwork to apply, which by the way was discovered in another PPR.

Grand Theft?  Well if you total the monies owed to MID  and now the city for the illegal instillation, electricity theft, meter instillation and having to rewire at least one of the connections for being faulty, it comes to significantly more than the $1,000 threshold required by law for Grand Theft.

The most current claim they are making, which we’ve only heard since this malfeasance of using public funds to pay for a politically connected, well-to-do gated community’s electric bill,  is the city is going to create a program where the city will have the camera’s bill sent to them for the gated subdivision to pay.  But why the delay you ask?  After all the theft has been going on for over 14 months and the city has been paying for over 6 months.  We don’t have the answer to that but the city started paying the bill in May and is still paying the bill and yet there’s no program for reimbursement.  It seems the only thing moving them forward is us exposing what’s been going on.

So you probably won’t surprised to learn the Graceada Park camera bill has been going to the city and hasn’t been being paid by Rank Security like you’ve been told (yes the Bee was given erroneous  information too).

Just so you know the City Council has been made aware several times of the electricity theft by the Chamber’s CEO.  It is one of the reasons Councilman Bill Zoslocki melted down at a recent City Council meeting and started attacking the citizen informing them.  But we can’t say for sure if they were aware of the MPD using taxpayer money to support certain ‘special’  neighborhoods electric bills.  We do know that Joe Lopez has been aware the whole time and it’s just another reason to pass on him for the Permanent City Manager position.

It’s time for the silence to end.

Modesto…Are You Paying Attention?

By Emerson Drake  

On August 8, 2017, the Modesto City Council will consider the 6/8/16 Healthy Economy Committee recommendation to maintain the current / 1995 general plan boundary.

Here is the pdf from the email we received GPA-10-001 CC Public Meeting Notice 8-8-17 SIGNED (1)  Being it’s difficult to find and without  the Committee’s specific (no maps or detailed references were provided) recommendations and any discussion it’s hard to know what to think.  I do remember when this conversation was going on during a Planning Commission meeting, we were blindsided by a massive expansionist effort propelled by  the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, led by Craig Lewis.  And on 8/2/17 they are going to give Mr. Lewis a high profile position on the Stan COG Measure L Citizens Oversight Committee.

But after the directions some on the Council and the Board of Supervisors have  been hinting at lately, you are forced to wonder if a potential  land grab, wholesale or piecemeal,  isn’t around the corner.

Another Back Door Land Deal by the Modesto City Council

By Emerson Drake    

Mayor Ted Brandvold seems intent on pushing a land deal between the city and Stanislaus Food Products at Tuesday night’s meeting of the City Council BEFORE  the public can vet it. Remember the last time the Council was in a big hurry? It was the land deal behind the new courthouse. The city lost Millions of dollars because they over paid to one of the politically connected  land owners.
 
When asked why the usual vetting process was skipped the Mayor claimed he didn’t know ( ask George Petrulakis land use attorney and puppet master of the Mayor.) 
 
Then of course Councilman Bill Zoslocki posturing claiming he hasn’t reviewed it yet most likely he’ll go along to get along. But it will provide him probable deniability if something goes south.
Stanislaus Foods is keeping quiet and is willing to let the fix take its course. And the rest of the Council?   Well,  their just the rest of the Council unable or,  more likely, as usual,  unwilling to buck George and the Chamber of Commerce.
The bottom line is there isn’t any reason for a big rush to make a decision and every time the Modesto City Council pulls a stunt like this it’s the Citizens that get stuck with the bill. Modesto’s special interest groups get richer and the taxpayers get poorer…everybody knows.

Special Rules For Special People, Cecil Russell and the Chateau Provence

By Emerson Drake  

This falls under the category ‘You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’

Do you think you have friends in high places?   Maybe you do and maybe you don’t, but  Cecil Russell certainly does.  On Friday December 2, 2016 a Modesto Irrigation District employee,  Ms. Queta, called the City of Modesto to inform them cameras had been placed on three street light poles outside Chateau Provence which just happens to be the gated community where Cecil Russell lives.  Ms. Queta said they had been illegally installed and the power was being stolen.

Just as interesting according to MPD Chief Carroll, these cameras can be viewed in real time by Modesto Police.  So without knowing for certain, we can presume Cecil Russell at least helped to make arrangements for cameras to be installed on city light poles using stolen city power. In one of the emails Chief Carroll said he was working with Cecil and the Association and in good faith he believed they (Cecil and the Association) had worked something out with MID.

And people at the City like Mark Murphy, Traffic Operations Engineer, believed they needed to be removed. When the questioning went further Jeff Barnes asked  if anyone took out an encroachment permit. Dan England responded that the city had NOT issued any permits for cameras on the poles. Jeff Barnes then jumped in and told Chief Carroll “We are not planning on touching them.  However MID might since the cameras ware using MID power without paying. MID would be well within their rights to stop the power theft.”

Chief Carroll came back with a lengthy response: “Just to clarify, I was working with the neighborhood association to have this done.  It would be my bad if there were not permits pulled.  I believed we could give approval for the cameras, and we did have a meeting about it 6-8 months ago.  The issue was MID power the association and Cecil Russell I believe had worked something out with MID.  I have contacted them and they will reach out to MID.  As a side note, those cameras are able to be viewed in the PD real time crime center and I believe we should figure out a protocol in conjunction with MID that would allow public / private partnerships if a neighborhood association is willing to purchase cameras.”

So apparently even if you live in far North Modesto where there are very few homeless and live behing high walls and an iron gate you are ‘special’ and the MPD will provide a real time video security watch on your neighborhood.  This watch will be for free and that includes the light poles to mount the cameras and the power to run them, at least if your name is Cecil Russell and you’re the head lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce

 

Brandvold’s Talking Out of Both Sides of His Mouth Again

By Emerson Drake  brandvold

Without any facts or figures to back him up Mayor Brandvold wants to spend another $1.8 Million passing our raises to city workers.
Since 2008 we’ve placed more of the costs of their retirement and health plan  back in the hands where it belonged in the first place just like in private business, the city workers. But now instead continuing the cost reductions he wants to hand out $1.8 Million without saying here it’s coming from.
But here is the little secret Brandvold doesn’t want us to catch on to. Some of the money that is supposed to pay for the new 22 officers for the MPD is going to pay for the raises for City staff.
The key is that if you factor in the current officers that will be retiring and those that will move on to other employment and those that will be asked to leave the MPD,  the numbers will be just about the same as they are now. So we aren’t really going to increase the boots on the street. We’re just being duped by a Mayor whose only concern is making those that funded his candidacy, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and a few unscrupulous developers along with powerful city unions happy.
The bottom line is the 22 additional officers are nothing but a figment of his imagination.  It’s meant to make us think he’s keeping his campaign promises while he’s really paying off his campaign debts to the city and  police and fire unions.  Undoubtedly some the money will be found again at the end of the fiscal year and spent somewhere else (like expanding Modesto’s sphere of influence through the General Plan after the building fees are reduced.)
So the question is:  Is Modesto shedding it’s ‘Business and Usual’ approach (straight out of the 100 day committee’s report)?  We thinks it’s just more same old same old  Business as Usual.  When the Chamber of Commerce is pulling the strings the more things change the more they remain the same.
File Brandvold’s proposal under …The Emperor’s New Clothes.
 

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