Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Modesto City Council”

Another Attempt to Transfer Our Money to Their Pockets

By Emerson Drake 

A response to the Bee’s Editorial Board’s “The timing is right for Modesto to dramatically improve downtown“.

Once the Unicorn Glitter and Fairy Dust settles to the ground and stops blinding us we’re reminded of why Modesto can’t dream about having nice things like a vibrant downtown. The short simple answer is our business community and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.

We witnessed what happened when they decided where to build the new courthouse. Greedy businessmen using backroom deals and the Chamber who has controlled the Council for years decided it was more important to over pay for the land to make a few people richer than to pick a more logical location like the former Modesto Bee building.

What we were left with was land we overpaid for and will have a concrete edifice (courthouse) that will always be empty at night and on weekends. That isn’t much of a draw or overly appealing for the tourists and visitors they claim they want to attract.

That different larger funding source that was mentioned by the Bee Editorial staff was, YOUR Tax Dollar$ and mine, since 34% of DoMo’s budget is comes from the public trough.

Now bringing more people downtown would be considered a good thing especially by the high priced restaurants that pay minimum wage to the vast majority of their staffs. Now these workers can’t afford to live downtown or in Modesto for that matter but hey the ruling class needs serfs to feed and comfort them. Please read their Published opinion in the Bee titled Timing is right for Modesto to dramatically improve downtown

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Modesto City Council’s Response to Potential Future Conflicts

By Emerson Drake 

AN URGENCY ORDINANCE AMENDING TITLE 4, “PUBLIC WELFARE, SAFETY AND HEALTH” OF THE MODESTO MUNICIPAL CODE BY ADDING CHAPTER 23 TO IMPOSE CERTAIN TIME, PLACE AND MANNER REGULATIONS AS TO PUBLIC ASSEMBLIES

SECTION 1. FINDINGS

A. The City Council of the City of Modesto hereby finds as follows: revisions to the City’s Municipal Code implemented by this Urgency Ordinance are immediately necessary as an emergency measure in order to respond to preserve the public health, safety and welfare. Specifically, the revisions and amendments to Municipal Code Title 4, Chapter 23 included in this Urgency Ordinance are essential and immediately necessary to improve the City’s regulation of public assemblies, and thereby ensure the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare in the City of Modesto.

B. The City Council desires to amend Title 4 entitled “Public Welfare, Safety and Health” of its Municipal Code by adding Chapter 23 in its entirety, entitled “Restrictions on Use of Specified Items During Public Assembly ” to provide critically needed rules regulating the use of certain objects that may be weaponized during demonstrations, rallies, protests, counter-protests, picket lines, marches, or assemblies on public property so as to safeguard against violence and promote peaceful assembly for Modesto citizens, police and visitors alike. These regulations serve to deter violence, property damage and any bodily harm to individuals that wish to engage in peaceful protests and demonstrations.

  1. In developing this Ordinance, the City Council is mindful of the legal principles relating to regulation of activity in public forums such as sidewalks, streets and public parks. The City Council does not intend to unconstitutionally suppress or infringe expressive activities protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution or the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution, but instead is enacting reasonable content-neutral time, place and manner regulations that address the need to prevent violent, dangerous and hazardous situations from arising and to promote the safety of both the public and the police.
  2. D. The revisions to the City’s Municipal Code implemented by this Urgency Ordinance are immediately necessary as an emergency measure in order to respond to recent developments regarding a proposed public assembly that is seeking a permit for August 24, 2019, and which raise serious and alarming safety concerns regarding protecting citizens and police alike from violent disputes, and in order to reduce the threat of serious bodily injury or property damage during this proposed event and for future public events in Modesto. Specifically, the amendments to the City’s Municipal Code Title 4 adding Chapter 23 included in this Urgency Ordinance are essential and immediately necessary to ensure the orderly implementation of restrictions on specified items used at public assemblies to reduce the likelihood of violence and property damage and to ensure the safety of the general public, event attendees, counter-protestors and the police, and thereby ensure the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare in the City of Modesto.
  3. E. The City supports peaceful protests, demonstrations and events. Unfortunately, some individuals have used protests and other public assembly events as “cover” to commit acts of violence, arson and vandalism. It is the intent of the City in enacting this Urgency Ordinance to ensure that public assembly events are peaceful and safe.
  4. F. There is an increasing concern about violence at public events and about violent clashes between those with opposing views. Numerous public protests, demonstrations and rallies conducted throughout the nation in cities such as Charlottesville and St. Louis, as well as cities throughout California, in Berkeley, Oakland and Laguna Beach have erupted in violence between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, and violence against law enforcement personnel.G. On August 12, 2017, a car was deliberately driven into a crowd of people who had been peacefully protesting a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The driver of the car espoused neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs. In 2017, violence also erupted during a series of protests that place in Berkeley, California near the University of California campus. The violent interactions predominately occurred between groups with opposing viewpoints, including white nationalist groups and Antifa groups.

    H. At these events, devices such as poles, sticks, signs, wood and metal pipes, bats, chains, projectiles (such as rocks, concrete, pellets and ball bearings), as well as certain types of containers including glass bottles and containers filled with flammable or noxious substances and aerosol sprays deployed to cause flames or attack olfactory systems, and other items have been used as improvised weapons resulting in injuries and property damage. Demonstrators have also carried shields, thrown objects at police, used fire accelerant to light fires, used large poles and sticks as weapons to threaten bodily harm and to attack businesses. Rigid-support materials used on signs have frequently been used as weapons and turned upon police officers, marchers, or other demonstrators.

    I. The City of Modesto could see similar occurrences in its jurisdiction. The City Council does not want to take a “wait-and-see” approach. The City Council has a reasonable basis to believe that failing to enact regulations limiting the use of objects that can be weaponized at public assemblies increases the risk that violence will occur at a public event in the City.

    J. Event organizers have sought a permit for use of City facilities for a straight pride event to be held on August 24, 2019. The flyer associated with the event invites the public to join in a celebration of: heterosexuality, masculinity, femininity, babies born and unborn, western civilization, our wonderful country and Christianity. The website associated with the flyer, NationalStraightPrideCoalition.org, among other things, makes reference to whiteness/Caucasian as being the “mass majority biological racial component of the developers of the western civilization,” that “West is Best” and that its fundamental principles and values are under attack.

    K. Event organizers have invited the Proud Boys to attend the event. The proposed event applicant has stated he is a member of the local Proud Boys organization. The Proud Boys have been designated as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center and its members are known to participate in white supremacist rallies, events and organizations. Members of the Proud Boys are reported to have been violent during prior protests.

    L. The straight pride event is advertised as being open to the public. PRISM which stands for Pride-Solidarity-Multiculturalism is organizing to protest the straight pride event. The City estimates that the crowds drawn to the event as both supporters and protestors may reach as high as 1,000-2,000 people. MoPRIDE a Modesto organization providing support to the LGBTQ+ community has offered safe places for people during the event as personal safety and potential violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community is a serious concern.

    M. Anti-fascist (“Antifa”) groups are aware of the event and there is credible evidence to believe they will attend the event/counter-protest in large numbers. Antifa groups are known to wear masks to obscure their identities and are reported to have been violent during prior protests. There is an increased risk that if individuals wear masks or use other apparel to cover their faces and conceal their identities they will utilize their anonymity to commit acts of violence or vandalism without concern of identification and apprehension, disturbing the ability of others to safely assemble and demonstrate peacefully.

    N. During the City Council’s August 7, 2019 meeting tensions ran high as both opponents and supporters of the straight pride event spoke. There were large numbers of people in the audience and many speakers. The organizer of the straight pride event spoke and identified his organization as a “peaceful racist” group. Applicant Grundmann and other Council attendees were highly animated. The City has a reasonable basis to believe that these tensions are likely to accelerate and to increase the likelihood of clashes at the proposed straight pride event.

    O. The City has credible evidence that there is a heightened risk of violent conflict that may take place at the proposed public event in the City on August 24, 2019. The City’s Police Department is already planning significant security measures to address the heightened safety concerns for the proposed August 24, 2019 event, including possibly requesting reinforcements from other law enforcement agencies. However, these measures alone will not prevent the threat to public safety from the weaponization of objects used by demonstrators.

    P. The adoption of this Urgency Ordinance to limit the use of specified items at public assembly events is a necessary and critical tool for the City to have in place to ensure the safety of the general public and its police. Q. In addition to the above factual findings, the City Council in enacting this Ordinance does hereby also take legislative notice of the various principles and decisions regarding the regulation of public assemblies, including but not limited to, the following:

    1. Public streets, sidewalks and parks are the archetypes of a traditional public forum where the government cannot favor one speaker over another based on the viewpoint of the speaker . See Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U.S. 474, 480-81 (1988); see also Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 828 (1995). The government may regulate First Amendment activities in traditional public fora, such as streets, sidewalks and parks when such restrictions are reasonable time, place and manner restrictions that are: content neutral; narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest; and leave open ample alternative channels of communication. See Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 473 U.S. 788, 799-800 (1985); see also; Bay Area Peace Navy v. United States, 914 F.2d 1224 (9th Cir. 1990).

    2. The First Amendment does not protect violence. See N.A.A.C.P v. Claiborne Hardware Co, 458 U.S. 886, 916 (1982).

    3. In response to potential angry or inflammatory speech, the City of Modesto may increase its police presence; enact security measures to ensure the safety of the public; arrest those who actually engage in violent conduct; and may enact time, place and manner regulations to maintain safety during public events. See Collins v. Jordan, 110 F.3d 1363, 1372 (9th Cir. 1996); see also Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307 (1967); Long Beach Area Peace Network v. City of Long Beach, 574 F.3d 1011, 1024 (9th Cir. 2009).

    4. The City of Modesto has a substantial interest in safeguarding its citizens against violence and in protecting police and demonstrators alike. See Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703, 724-25 (2000); see also Vlasak v. Superior Court, 329 F.3d 683, 689 (9th Cir. 2003). Specifically, case law has confirmed that Modesto may enact regulations to make sure that materials used for signs and sign poles, as well as other objects, are not used as weapons. The City takes legislative notice of the City of Los Angeles regulations restricting certain objects at demonstrations and has modeled this regulations in keeping with the Los Angeles provisions validated by the Ninth Circuit in the Vlasak decision. See Vlasak, 329 F.3d at 689; see also Edwards v. City of Coeur D’Alene, 262 F.3d 856, 863 & 866 (9th Cir. 2001).

    R. It is imperative that individuals engaging in peaceful expressive public activity do so without fear of violence and that law enforcement personnel dedicated to protecting such activity be allowed to do so without suffering injury. This Urgency Ordinance provides a narrowly tailored content-neutral mechanism to reduce the risk of violence at demonstrations, rallies, protests, counterprotests, picket lines, marches, or public assemblies in the City of Modesto. Among other things, the restrictions limit the objects that can be used for signs, but still allow for signs to be utilized. Likewise, the restrictions limit the use of facial covering that obscure one’s identity at these specific public events (with exceptions for religious and medical reasons) without banning costumes or other expressive clothing. The restrictions are also directed at limiting other items (such as baseball bats, aerosol spray, weapons, glass bottles, shields, bricks, and rocks) that can, and have been weaponized, while still allowing for peaceful expressive activity.

    S. On August 13, 2019, the City Council held a public meeting during which it considered the adoption of this Urgency Ordinance pursuant to California Government Code § 36937 and the Modesto Charter § 716. Both California Government Code § 36937 and Modesto Charter § 716 allow the adoption of such urgency ordinances to take effect immediately to ensure the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare in the City of Modesto.

    T. The restrictions on use of specified items during public assembly adopted herein are necessary in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare by providing a mechanism to limit and prevent violence and promote peaceful assembly. These are content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions that allow for peaceful public expressive activity. The restrictions are narrowly tailored to address the City’s interest in safety and preventing violence and to the extent they burden expressive activity they leave ample alternatives for communication. The regulations make public assembly safer by banning objects that can readily be weaponized without depriving people of the opportunity to demonstrate, rally, protest, counter-protest, picket, march, assemble or otherwise engage in peaceful free speech activities.

    U. These regulations adopted herein are necessary in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare by providing a mechanism to address the potential violence and companion property damage and personal injuries that have accompanied public protests, rallies and demonstrations in cities such as Berkeley, Oakland, St. Louis, and Charlottesville.

    SECTION 2. AMENDMENT OF MUNICIPAL CODE.

    The City of Modesto Municipal Code Title 4 (Public Welfare, Safety and Health) is hereby amended by adding Chapter 23 in its entirety as follows:

    CHAPTER 23 RESTRICTIONS ON USE OF SPECIFIED ITEMS DURING PUBLIC ASSEMBLY

    Section 4-23.01 Purpose

    (a) To ensure the peaceful expression of free speech, the City of Modesto has adopted the following provisions to limit the use of certain objects that may be weaponized during demonstrations, rallies, protests, counter-protests, picket lines, marches, or assemblies on public property in order to safeguard against violence for the citizenry of Modesto.

    (b) The City of Modesto adopts these content-neutral, time, place and manner regulations to ensure for the safety and welfare of all individuals. These regulations allow for the peaceful expression of differing ideas and views while reducing the risk of violent conflict by prohibiting the use or possession of weapons, or objects that may be weaponized during demonstrations, rallies, protests, counter-protests, picket lines, marches, or public assemblies.

    Section 4-23.02 Restrictions

    (a) No person shall utilize, carry, or possess the following items or articles while attending or participating in any demonstration, rally, protest, counter-protest, picket line, march, or public assembly:

    1. Any length of lumber, wood, or wood lath unless that object is 1/4 inch or less in thickness and 2 inches or less in width, or if not generally rectangular in shape, such object shall not exceed 3/4 inch in its thickest dimension. Both ends of the lumber, wood or wood lath shall be blunt;

    2. Any length of metal or plastic pipe, whether hollow or solid; provided, however, that hollow plastic piping not exceeding 3/4 inch in its thickest dimension and not exceeding 1/8 inch in wall thickness, and not filled with any material, liquid, gas or solid may be used solely to support a sign, banner, placard, puppet or other similar expressive display. Both ends of any plastic pipe permissible under this subsection shall be blunt;

    3. Signs, posters, banners, plaques or notices, unless such sign, poster, banner, plaque or notice is constructed solely of soft material, such as cloth, paper, soft plastic capable of being rolled or folded, or cardboard material no greater than 1/4 inch in thickness;

    4. Baseball or softball bats, regardless of composition or size;

    5. Any aerosol spray, tear gas, mace, pepper spray, smoke canisters, or bear repellant;

    6. Any projectile launcher or other device, such as a catapult or wrist rocket, which is commonly used for the purpose of launching, hurling or throwing any object, liquid, material or other substance, whether through force of air pressure, spring action or any other mechanism;

    7. Weapons such as firearms, knives, daggers, swords, sabers or other bladed devices, axes, axe handles, hatchets, billy clubs, ice picks, razor blades, nunchucks or martial arts weapons of any kind, box cutters, pellet or BB guns, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), dynamite, conducted electrical weapons (CEWs), including, but not limited to, Tasers or stun guns, metal/composite/wooden knuckles, or any chain greater than 20 inches in length or greater than 1/4 inch in diameter. This section also includes toy or replica firearms unless such toy or replica is fluorescent colored or transparent;

    8. Balloons, bottles or any other container such as water cannons or super-soakers, filled with any flammable, biohazard or other noxious matter which is injurious, or nauseous, sickening or irritating to any of the senses, with intent to throw, drop, pour, disperse, deposit, release, discharge or expose the same in, upon or about any demonstration, rally, protest, picket line or public assembly;

    9. Glass bottles, whether empty or filled;

    10. Open flame torches, lanterns or other devices that utilize combustible materials such as gasoline, kerosene, propane or other fuel sources;

    11. Shields made of metal, wood, hard plastic or any combination thereof;

    12. Bricks, rocks, pieces of asphalt, concrete, pellets or ball bearings; and

    13. The wearing of a mask, scarf, bandana or any other accessory or item that covers or partially covers the face shielding the wearer’s face from view and conceals the wearer’s identity, except for coverings worn due to religious beliefs, practices or observances or due to medical necessity.

    (b) It shall be unlawful and a misdemeanor to violate any provisions of this Chapter.

    (c) When feasible, excluding exigent circumstances, a warning shall be issued before enforcement of the provisions of this Chapter. Such warning shall be sufficient if provided orally, by posted signs or by amplified announcement.

    (d) Authorized peace officers, or employees, agents or representatives of the City, shall be exempt from the provisions of this Chapter when such officers, employees, agents or representatives of the City are engaged in official business of the City.

    (e) Nothing in this Chapter shall prohibit the imposition of specific conditions for activities expressly authorized under a permit issued pursuant to Modesto Municipal Code Section 4- 8.01 et seq. (Regulation of Parades) or prohibit the modification of these provisions for such permits issued pursuant to Section 4-8.01 et seq. upon a finding by the Chief of Police that such modification will not impair or threaten public safety.

    (f) Nothing in this section shall prohibit an individual from carrying a cane or using a walker or other device necessary for providing mobility or access so that the person may participate in a public protest, demonstration, rally, picket line or public assembly.

    SECTION 3 SEVERABILITY.

    If any portion of this Ordinance, or its application to any person or circumstance, is for any reason held to be invalid, unenforceable or unconstitutional, by a court of competent jurisdiction, that portion shall be deemed severable, and such invalidity, unenforceability or unconstitutionality shall not affect the validity or enforceability of the remaining portions of the Ordinance, or its application to any other person or circumstance. The City Council of the City of Modesto hereby declares that it would have adopted each section, sentence, clause or phrase of this Ordinance, irrespective of the fact that any one or more other sections, sentences, clauses or phrases of the Ordinance be declared invalid, unenforceable or unconstitutional.

    SECTION 4. EFFECTIVE DATE/URGENCY.

    This Urgency Ordinance shall be passed and adopted at one and the same meeting and shall become effective immediately. The reasons for this urgency are set forth in Paragraphs AU inclusive.

    The foregoing ordinance was introduced at a regular meeting of the Council of the City of Modesto held on the 13th day of August, 2019, by Councilmember(s) ____________________, was upon roll call carried and ordered printed and published by the following votes:

    AYES: Councilmembers:

    NAYS: Councilmembers:

    ABSENT: Councilmembers:

    APPROVED:_________________________ TED BRANDVOLD, Mayor

    ATTEST: BY: __________________________________ STEPHANIE LOPEZ, City Clerk (SEAL)

    APPROVED AS TO FORM:

    BY: __________________________________ ADAM U. LINDGREN, City Attorney

Modesto Plans a General Amendment 2040 Update

BY Emerson Drake  

Modesto is planning a public study session for Councilmembers and Commissioners, and is allowing the public to attend.  In a recent public records request, the city denied that Councilmembers had had any input into the General Plan Amendment. Unsurprisingly,  the City Attorney Adam Lindgren’s response was a point blank denial that ANYONE from the Council had sent any emails or texts to city staff regarding the GPA.  Do we believe that?  No!

I would suggest anyone interested in learning the city’s plans should try to attend or at least send a representative to be in the loop. The date is Monday, December 17, 2018, 6:PM Modesto Centre Plaza basement level.  The main entrance at 10th and K Street is recommended.

Modesto’s Cover-up To Start By Firing the Auditor

By Emerson Drake

We’ve learned Modesto’s auditor apprised members of the Modesto City Council’s Audit Committee in a memo on July 19th of her concerns that the City Attorney and the company Meyers Nave had overstepped their bounds by misrepresenting themselves in SR 132 eminent domain legal services.  The memo was sent to Mayor Ted Brandvold and Councilmen Mani Grewal and Douglas Ridenour.

 

That’s when the scheme was created to implement a cover-up of the alleged malfeasance by Meyers Nave, the company Modesto has contracted for legal services, which supplies Adam Lindgren as Modesto’s City Attorney.  Less than two months after Modesto hired Monica Houston as the City’s Auditor and just weeks after the memo was sent to the City staff;  City Manager Joe Lopez and Attorney Adam Lindgren implemented a series of job performance evaluations in secret (closed sessions) supported by Council members Bill Zoslocki, Doug Ridenour, Mani Grewal, and Jenny Kenoyer  The City Attorney demanded they go into closed sessions for the evaluations.    For those unaware Council members can’t reveal to the public what is said during closed sessions.  It’s our understanding that four and possibly more closed sessions were scheduled.  But obviously and according to their plan, we don’t know what transpired but we doubt it was hugs and smiles.  Probably just the opposite (acrimonious with hostile overtones) since they are trying to silence Monica.

 

In an article in the Bee dated Oct 10th by Rosalio Ahumada, the City Council meeting was detailed quite well except at the time he and the rest of us weren’t aware of the memo behind some of Ted Brandvold’s and Kristi Ah You’s comments.  During the Council meeting, about 1 hour and 19 minutes, Mayor Brandvold suggested documents were being falsified  by city staff.  If the documents that the Auditor has don’t match the documents the city now has or any falsification is present then heads should roll starting with the City Attorney and City manager for suborning the falsification or alteration of city documents.  If you listen to the council meeting when Mani comes back in you hear lots of static. We’ve been told before the interference is caused by someone’s phone being on.  Mani was the only one that left the dais.  You have to wonder who he felt the need to call for instructions. But there’s more…

In the memo Houston includes actions by Meyer Nave of supplier favoritism including no bid contracts. Also included are suggestions of fraud, waste and abuse in the assigning of contracts.  These charges could expose Modesto to financial loss.

There have long been questions about the large sums of money Modesto is spending for legal fees.  We are aware lawyers are expensive but having a real City Attorney is cost effective compared to outside council/firm is extremely expensive. We and others have submitted Public Record Requests truing to find out just how much Modesto pays in legal fees but to this point the items provided by the city are so redacted it makes them almost useless.  They black out so much information it’s almost impossible to tell what services the invoices are paying for.  Also coming into question is the assigning of legal contracts.  Is Meyers Nave receiving quid pro quo for their assigning lucrative contracts for city business?  What are they hiding?

 

All things considered it would seem we have a Sacramento legal firm adding to their bottom line using questionable legal means at our expense and they, with the help of the inept City Manager and a few members of the City Council,  are willing to orchestrate a the firing of anyone who stands in their way.  Why is it when someone steps forward to warn the City Council of problems they get shown the door?  When will Modesto start working for ALL of the people who live here and not just special interest groups that quite often don’t ?

 

More food for thought:  Meyers Nave is council for four other cities in Stanislaus County which would give them a large power block on StanCog and  Stanislaus LAFCO or Local Agency Formation Commission.  Before your eyes glaze over LAFCO has the final say on cities wanting to expand and develop.  In Modesto they enabled a new  area of Beard Industrial to avoid paying Modesto user fees which was against their policy until Modesto special interests intervened.  So we not only provide below cost subsidized  electricity we don’t charge them the extra six percent user tax that you and I pay for electricity, sewer and water.

 

 

 

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..

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.

 

Lazy? Inept? Corrupt? and that’s Just the Investigation

By Emerson Drake  

To bring everyone up to speed Modesto Staff spent more than was authorized on City contracts 45 times and counting.  One contract alone was over spent by $2.5 Million Dollars.   Interim City Manager Joe Lopez says don’t worry because he found no evidence of fraud and that the city received the services they paid for.  It’s like you or me authorizing  up to $670 dollars for an auto repair and then without contacting you they find ‘other things wrong” and spent $930 dollars of your money and of course charged you for it except for the fact we’re talking $6.7 Million vs $9.3 Million  If that happened to you you’d feel like you’d been low balled and lied to wouldn’t you?

Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, and the third time is enemy action. But we’re talking 45 times..!  To be fair we borrowed the once is happenstance line from author Ian Fleming but we think it puts the issue/excuses into perspective.  And if you ask any investigator or detective they’ll say they don’t believe in coincidences.

On 12/13/17, Joe Lopez made a presentation to the Finance Committee.  He lists five initial findings.   Here they are in order: 1. Historical and cultural practices which created inconsistencies.  2. Lack of clarity relating to contract administration/procurement process. 3. Lack of communication between Purchasing and managing Departments. 4. Loss of key positions vs. workload. 5. Inappropriate actions taken by staff who increased contract amounts, created contracts, and modified termination dates of contracts without Council approval.

They kind of buried the lead and saved the best/worst for last.  City Staff are very aware that any contracts over $50,000 have to be approved by the City Council. One of their favorite ways to get around this was to let out a contract for less than the $50,000 limit then increase it later.  Some were let out without competitive bidding.  Many were increased with out the bidding process.  And on others they just changed the dates when the contracts expired.

If you’re asking why staff would take inappropriate actions, you’re asking the right question.  Are favors  being exchanged?  Free tickets to the Gallo,  free restaurant gift certificates, golf passes to Pebble Beach, or maybe just some gratis backyard improvements?  Too much business is being conducted outside of 1010 10th Street and in downtown cafes and restaurants(on the cuff of course).

So far the City has refused to name all but a few of the businesses involved and even fewer names of city employees.  Joe Lopez says the City is still reviewing the accounts and amounts.  He does suggest he’ll be more forthcoming at the Jan. 23rd Council meeting.

But can we trust his supposed candor?  Probably not since he’s desperate to keep the stench of impropriety off of him.  And since he was in charge, or at the very least the deputy in charge, and most believe promises were made to him by the Bill Zoslocki trio, it’s important to name no one until the damn breaks and then throw anyone under the bus as long as Joe stays squeaky clean.  Does he care to explain his belonging to the ‘new expensive car of the month club’?

After all, when the fox is guarding the hen house no one has anything to worry about, right?

 

 

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.

 

We Deserve a Better City Council

By Emerson Drake    

Prior City Councils helped to guide us through the recession created by the 2007-2008 financial crisis.  Recently we’ve been  faced with the need to chart a new course for Modesto.   Unfortunately the current council seems to be taking a step backward.  In the last four years we’ve had transparency replaced with obfuscation and thriftiness with a spend-it-like-you’ve-got-it mentality. The most tenured council members are Bill Zoslocki, Jenny Kenoyer, and Tony Madrigal and they just happen to be up for re-election.

No Council oversight:  City staff has run amuck with contracts.  An example is with the Garrett Thompson contract for soft patch, first being signed in 2012, then being doubled in 2014, then tripled from its original numbers in 2016, and the most recent increase was without Council approval.   And Acting City Manager Joe Lopez, tried to slip it in under the radar under a consent item at a recent Council meeting.  He blamed it on human error and accepted no responsibility.

Most recently we’ve been informed about a second contract where we paid $426,452 more than the contract called for.  Again… no real answer as to why this happened.

Should this surprise us?  Probably not since Joe Lopez says more of these financial bombshells will be coming. When will they be coming?  After the election.

Now they want to buy a city block:  The senior three council members, Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal, all want to but a city block for $3.1 Million.  They want to use money (steal it would be more accurate) that earlier councils from 1998 to 2008, and we the taxpayers put aside, to build a fleet maintenance facility.  A facility we need since the one we were using was on the land we overpaid for and subsequently sold to the state for the new courthouse.  It doesn’t matter to these three that the same block has been up for sale for years and several developers have been pitched the deal and everyone of them walked away because they determined it wasn’t financially feasible.  When asked what they intend to do with the property, to paraphrase,  their answer was “we don’t have a clue, but it sure sounds like a good idea doesn’t it.”

The Red Lion will never go bankrupt!  As a reminder to put it short and sweet… in Modesto’s past, the city bought and then used the property under what’s now called (oops spoiler alert) the Double Tree as collateral for the Red Lion hotel to be built. It went bankrupt and the city lost the land.  But maybe it’ll be different this time! After all Ryan Swehla and Benchmark have already been offering their management services (for a price) to the city.  Even Craig Lewis offered his services for financial management. Local businessmen always want to get their fingers in our pockets.

Don’t they say that doing the same thing over and over is a sign of insanity?

Under the senior three we watched former City Manager Ted Holgerson threatened to terminate then Fire Chief Slamon which would result in him losing his retirement, if he gave the benefit of his experience and his opinions rather than giving the party line that Holgerson and the senior three wanted.  Because of this, Chief Slamon eventually resigned from his position and took a position with a city half the size of Modesto.

Under the senior three Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal, over 14,000 emails weren’t applied to Public Record Requests.  Using private email accounts instead of city accounts to conduct city business is unethical and obfuscating.  These emails went missing during their term in office.  The city attorney has delayed his response to requests for these emails for the last six months.  To date we’ve received approximately six months worth out of three and a half years.

Under the senior three the City’s situation with CalPers and the union retirement accounts has become more dire.  The issue is so serious that according to some the City could possibly face bankruptcy in the next five years.  But the senior three intend to keep on spending like there’s no tomorrow.

The senior three’s experience hasn’t made Modesto more financially sound.  They seem intent on having us crawl further and further out that proverbial limb and refuse to provide the accountability and guidance staff obviously requires.

The senior three have had their chance it’s time for a new starting line-up.

 

 

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