When a politician tells you what something isn’t they’re telling you exactly what it is. Talking about Modesto considering to give Modesto Neighborhoods Inc $900,000 Modesto Councilman Doug Ridenour was quoted as saying “This is not a power grab, this is not a money Grab.” Now you know exactly what it is.
Modesto’s history of keeping track of public funds is atrocious. Consider our track history of NSP2 or Neighborhood Stabilization and Preservation funds. Ryan Swehla created Trinity Ventures and received the lions share of the millions of dollars in grant money. Then former City Councilman Joe Muratore, Swehla’s real estate business partner, had to return $68,000 or be charged with a felony by the feds for his participation.
Then there was SCAP and Joe Gibbs who took public money for rebuilding homes and was supposed to be renting them out to low income families. But instead placed their friends and relatives in them.
The city was supposed to be overseeing these funds but instead they went to political insiders. Can we trust our politicians with our money without watching them closely? Heck NO!
To borrow a line from Frank and Ernest, Our problem is we have too many teachable moments and not enough learnable ones.
On Wednesday March 25, 2015, the Modesto City Council held a special meeting away from video recording devices. Ostensibly it was to decide if they should send a letter in support of five other cities in Stanislaus County regarding a decision the Local Agency Formation Commission better known as LAFCO, made. The Commission isn’t sexy or well known but is vitally important when it comes to setting boundaries and settling disputes.
But let us begin the conversation with a little ground work. LAFCO was intending to set actual values to the in-lieu of fees part of the mitigation discussion. Several cities proposed setting their own fees. For example LAFCO research suggested for the fees to be meaningful the price needed to be around $7,000 per acre and Patterson for one, was proposing $2,000 per acre of prime farmland.
The Special Meeting with NO Video Recording
LAFCO’s intention of visiting the fees has been public knowledge for several weeks. They notified the Modesto City Council by email two weeks prior to the meeting according to Mayor Marsh. And of course they posted their agenda as required by law. The special meeting was requested by Council members Kenoyer, Cogdill, Zoslocki, and Lopez. The topic of the fees could have been dealt with at the last meeting of the city council but instead they choose to have a meeting not in their official chambers but in a small meeting room, 2001, on the second floor.
Six members of the public were present Craig Lewis, Brad Barker, Cathy Zoslocki, Kevin Valine, myself, and Tom Halan, the Patterson City Attorney ( if I got that name wrong I’m sorry, who just happened to be in the building on other business).
When the Council members weighed in Jenny Kenoyer said she didn’t understand what LAFCO was intending to do and she didn’t appreciate the last minute meetings with out prep time. Dave Cogdill complained about the cities losing control of their mitigation fees. Bill Zoslocki claimed it was an over reach by LAFCO. Dave Lopez said LAFCO was over stepping their bounds and claimed Jenny Kenoyer agreed with him. He also blamed Mayor Marsh for not writing a letter supporting the other cities. During the meeting Kenoyer never commented on Lopez’s remarks. And John Gunderson said he needed more time to think about whatever it was LAFCO intended on doing. Marsh tried to explain LAFCO was just setting a price so there would be a level playing field for all of the cities but Kenoyer and Gunderson just had a blank look on their faces. The others just kept repeating their previous comments like mantras. Just saying the same thing over again. The work of developer special interests was obvious.
Now I realize this sounds like just sound bites but it was the entire text of their statements at this point. Each of them, talked twice and they just repeated their brief statements.
Members from the public
Brad Barker went first and was the most eloquent and informative. He carefully explained to Kenoyer and Gunderson what LAFCO’s intent was and walked them through the chaos that would ensue if each city could set their own fee levels. The Patterson City Attorney just restated the cities should be allowed to keep control of their own fees. I reminded the Council of the Patterson building fees which were woefully short on being able to build the needed infrastructure for the tarffic which eventually come and that the County had to step in to pay for the costs of rebuilding the roads. Also having seen the blank faces of Gunderson and Kenoyer, I tried once again to explain what was happening later on that night at the LAFCO meeting. Craig Lewis read some of Ed Persike’s op ed piece from the Bee that day and also trotted out the book the Coming Jobs War which actually says to do the exact opposite of what he, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and the developers are pushing for. But unfortunately as we learned at a Modesto Planning Commission meeting, most of the commissions members who opened the book didn’t read past the first few pages (one to two pages) and unfortunately, the general public has read even less. But pretending to relay information from a book gives the air of knowledge. Unfortunately it just makes it easier to manipulate them.
At the end of the short meeting Kenoyer and Marsh voted against sending the letter and Cogdill, Zoslocki, Gunderson, and Lopez voted for the City Manager to send a letter in support of the other cities. In other words, at this point in time in the City of Modesto, special interests rule. After the meeting they each stuck to their short sound bites. Especially Gunderson. He had that feral, almost goofy look he gets. You know the one a child gets when they think they have fooled you and just kept saying he needed more time to consider everything over and over again as if that explained everything away.
The Four Who Were Shills for Developers Promoting SPRAWL
The Bottom Line
LAFCO, thanks to Terry Withrow, Jim DeMartini, and Matt Beekman made us all proud and went forward and set the price for land fee mitigation in the amount of $7,000 per acre.
The following are the letters sent by various groups both for and against LAFCO’s proposal.
On September 23, 2014 a citizen of Modesto stood up during the public comment period of the Modesto City Council and asked if applicants for jobs with the city were going to be required to provide passwords or sign-on to their social media accounts. The concern is that there are questions prospective employers are not allowed to ask applicants such as their religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, race, sex, and disability status. Some of this protected information is easily obtained when looking at someone’s social media accounts.
Modesto Police Chief Galen Carrol was asked to respond. He replied that it was important to see what an applicant is posting and gave as examples, excessive drinking, nude photos of themselves and others, illegal drug use among others. While we shared some of the Chief’s concerns, it is illegal to ask an applicant to sign into their social media accounts in the presence of a background investigator or hiring supervisor.
California Labor Code 980 section 3-a & b Passed 9-27-12 effective 1-1-13
980. (a) As used in this chapter, “social media” means an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet web site profiles or locations.
(b) An employer shall not require or request an employee or applicant for employment to do any of the following:
(1) Disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing personal social media.
(2) Access personal social media in the presence of the employer.
Oops….so the Chief is blatantly violating state labor code and he dmitted, no flaunted it, in front of his boss, Interim City Manager Jim Holgersson, and the City Attorney Adam Lindgren. The City Attorney has been found wanting in several decisions he has made and actions he failed to stop….from violation of free speech rights (signs in the council chamber ato not allowing a second public comment after a proposal has been changed), and now he’s either clueless or complacent…we’ll let the reader decide.
On Monday the Council will interview Jim Holgersson for the permanent job of City Manager. It’s our point of view that he isn’t up to the task due to failing to protect the rights of Modesto’s citizens from intrusive and illegal questioning by the city staff he currently oversees and the companies he’s outsourced the background checks to.
On April 16, 2013, a legislative review committee considered the potential need for a law enforcement exemption to Labor Code 980, but decided it would probably be unconstitutional and chose not to make such an exception.
When Modesto City Councilman Bill Zoslocki is pushing something he saves Modesto Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Cecil Russell from having to support it. Here is a story about Jim Holgersson, the man they (the Council and Chamber) want to hire as interim city manager. Public record requests are a wonderful thing.
Ousted Arlington city manager’s scathing review, perks detailed in public records: Former Arlington City Manager Jim Holgersson resigned in September amidst a scathing review from his peers, which was made public under the state’s open records act by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram over the weekend.
A press release by the city at the time of Holgersson’s hiring claims his starting salary would be $190,000 but said nothing of pension provisions, car or phone allowances and the other non-salary perks of a public executive’s pay package.
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve all listened to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce tell their story, some of us six or seven times, of how their Transportation Committee met over a six month period (it gets longer every time they tell it) met to discuss Modesto’s land expansionist planning needs for the next twenty years. In previous articles we chronicled how the Chamber went from needing 1,000 acres to over 25,300 of land during their series of presentations to various civic groups and public entities. The above map is from their July 2013 presentation. This represents their goals and is an early view of what the comprehensive General Plan scheduled to begin two years from now will look like if they get their way.
As usual when it comes to people attempting to manipulate the public for their own selfish interests what they don’t tell us is just as, and sometimes more important, than the information they disseminate.
For example during these ‘planning meetings’ that Mayor Marsh and City Manager Nyhoff attended along with members of the Chamber’s Transportation Committee, they discussed how best to seize Wood Colony land for an industrial park and sneak Salida’s already zoned business park land from them to be placed under Modesto’s control.
I admit after hearing Mayor Marsh paint George Petrulakis and the Chamber as ‘evil’ and a position we don’t totally disagree with, as the people we really had to worry about compared to himself and his friends, I was surprised to learn of the initial collaborations. When his friends, Councilwoman Kenoyer of (I don’t have to worry about Wood Colony because they can’t vote for me) fame, and Councilman Gunderson who just can’t stop repeating “no one is talking about annexation”, while the Mayor keeps using the terms annexation and eminent domain, don’t make anyone feel they can be trusted.
Part of the ‘art of the deal’ was the watering down and delay of Denny Jackman’s Residential Urban Limits proposal. An arrangement was made so the Chamber wouldn’t fight it when it came on the ballot but at the council meeting where it was proposed, a little ‘kicker’ was added. Councilman Cogdill proposed that Modesto would repeal the Measures A and M which deal with the public’s ability to control land acquisition and development(sewer expansion) by the city by requiring public advisory votes.
All of the General Plan Amendment discussion has been orchestrated from the beginning by just a few people. For example the rank and file of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce don’t get to vote on the Board of Directors, they’re appointed, the same is true of the Alliance.
The Modesto Planning Commission and Staff spent the better part of a year holding workshops for the public where Bill Zoslocki and Craig Lewis passionately advocated for a much larger footprint for Modesto. People came forward and expressed themselves very succinctly. And the Planning Commission’s meetings, Brent Sinclair and the rest of Modesto’s planning staff listened to the public’s wishes and proposed a footprint which was in line with Denny’s original RUL proposal.
Then the politicians stepped in. For a while you needed a score card to understand where each one of them stood. From Nyhoff’s open mic fiasco where he dissed everyone who disagreed with the Chamber, we learned why Jenny turned her back on both her campaign promises, to protect prime farmland and keep Salida for Salida. The bumbling John Gunderson, so elated the Mayor was finally talking to him as an equal, rubber stamped every proposal Marsh made whether he understood them or not. For Cogdill and Zoslocki the mantra is “more is better.” But Zoslocki added “but I can’t be caught voting/going on the record for it.” Lopez, after being warned about people willing to energetically campaign against him in the Board of Supervisors race, disavowed any interest in Wood Colony. And Madrigal, well Tony is still out collecting prom dresses, rather than focusing on the larger tasks needed by the city.
But it all began with a few greedy real estate men (Zoslocki and Lewis), a small handpicked few from the Chamber, a City Manager who spent more time working for the desires of a few in the Chamber of Commerce than he did the people of Modesto, and a Mayor who though he could write his own legacy by stealing the land from the residents of Salida, the farmers of Wood Colony and the German Baptist Brethren who, to take a page from Jenny Kenoyer’s book, don’t vote anyway.
And We, the Citizens of Modesto are the only ones who can stop this. And what have we been doing? We’ve been saying…. Sir, can I please have another?
It’s time to take back our City Government from the greedy special interests that are intent on ruining Modesto.
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.
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 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.