Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Modesto Irrigation District”

“The House” Panics and Takes Down The Infamous Video

By Emerson Drake  

The House Modesto take Three:  We’ve all heard the bluster from Pastor Glen Berteau and others regarding his and the church’s endorsement of Stu Gilman for  the MID Board.  The Pastor claims they’ve done nothing wrong and that all the attention for violating IRS regulations and the Johnson Amendment he and the church has been receiving is unjustified.   We’ve done nothing wrong he’s stated.  Yet the good Pastor refuses to go on camera or return our phone calls

But it has become obvious that both the church and the Pastor have blinked.  When you go to the link to the sermon we provided in an earlier story you’ll find that  “This video has been removed by the user” sign on their YouTube page.  If the video proves their innocence why did they remove it?  Sounds like they’re trying to hide the smoking gun.  Last Sunday, 11/5,  we couldn’t help but notice the live 11 am service was a rerun from the week prior.

Channel 40 out of Sacramento finally caught wind of the scandal and has run with the story.  Our only surprise it that it took so long and that others haven’t followed.

This endorsement by a church, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), brings shame on Stu Gilman, his supporters, The House, and all of Modesto.  If you want to endorse candidates for political office pay taxes like the rest of us.  You shouldn’t  pretend to be a church if you’re going to act like a political organization.

 

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Complaint Filed Against The House

By Emerson Drake  

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)  has filed a complaint against Modesto’s ‘The House’.  IN it they allege  The House, being a 501(c) (3), violated I.R.S regulations.  And we believe they violated  the Johnson Act, but that would be for another arena.

Why Pastor Glen Berteau choose to go against the law is something only he can answer.  He has not returned phone calls.  Here is the complaint click on it to enlarge:

 

We don’t believe ANY non-profit 501(c)(3)s  should be endorsing candidates. Both the church ‘The House” through the law, and the candidate (Stu Gilman)  by the ballot box, should be held accountable.  How about you?

Why This MID Election is Important to You

By  Emerson Drake  

Having gone to Modesto Irrigation District (MID) meetings regularly for more than ten years, researched their past, and following them with interest for more than twice that time, that there is no doubt that this election is crucial to MID’s and our future.

When you start to talk about MID people’s eyes have a tendency to glaze over after about 30 seconds, that is unless you are talking to them after they pay an electric bill during a hot spell when they have been using their air conditioning.   The fact is that MID was mismanaged for years by Tom Van Groningen (1993-2013) ,his cohorts on the Board and Allen Short, MID’s General Manager, during those same years.

A short look at MID’s history of business decisions shows an absence of, shall we say, critical thinking. It’s been suggested more than once if they’d flipped a coin instead of being led around by the nose or making the decisions themselves  they could have saved us about $500 Million dollars by the simple chance of the flip. From the geothermal fiasco, to a potential garbage burner to the overpriced (by 30 percent)  McHenry Ave solar farm contract north of town, it was one debacle after another.

Another fact is that a small group of business people led by Bill Lyons, yes the Bill Lyons of Mapes Ranch that wanted to sell our water to San Francisco, have controlled MID’s Board for this same period.  Bill has written checks for $5,000 to his special MID candidates (2 per election)  during contested election years. While his business partners, this year both developers and farmers,  took care of the third MID seat to the same fiscal level. His most recent beneficiaries were Paul Campbell and Jim Mortenson.  Campbell was elected and Mortenson was defeated by Jake Wenger four years ago.

So after they drove into almost $1 Billion dollars in debt what happened next?  Well first of all Larry Byrd, Nick Blom, followed by Jake Wenger two years later,  were elected to the MID Board.  Secondly the cost of natural gas plummeted.  This gave us the profit that people point to.  And what was the prudent course to take?  They started to pay down the debt.

Just as most of us learned as we matured you can’t live off of credit forever so the MID Board did the prudent thing.  It’s not sexy but it is necessary, you have to pay down the debt.  In the past MID, since they aren’t governed by the Public Utilities Commission, had the ability to our raise rates whenever they felt like it.

Our electric rates have been the same since 2011 so if you are feeling the effect of a high electric bill it means you used, like most of us,  a lot of electricity during the 31 days of 100 degree heat recently.

Now we’re faced with the decision of who to elect to the MID Board.  Both men are church going family men and business men.  But politically speaking that’s where the similarity ends. Stu has aligned himself with developers like Paul Zagaris, George Petrulakis, Mani Grewal, and special interest groups like Bill Lyons and company.  Jake has aligned himself with his friends, family, and the average working family.  Stu is a johnny come lately that admits to knowing little but what he’s read in the Bee, and has a penchant for making promises he can’t back up.  Jake has been fiscally responsible when it comes to being our voice on MID and is the most available person I’ve ever known in politics.  As an example if asked a question in person or online he’ll answer it immediately if time permits, and if it doesn’t or you have more questions he’ll give you his personal phone number and either give you the answer or get you the answer to your questions.  Unfortunately Stu isn’t knowledgeable about water or MID at all.  He’s like a one trick pony that looks nice but won’t take you anywhere.

The sound decision to make is to get up off you chair or couch and make sure you vote for Jake Wenger.

 

Is “The House” Breaking the Law?

By Emerson Drake  

During The House’s church service on October 1, 2017 Pastor Glenn Berteau took a few minutes at 36:30 into the service to allow Stu Gilman to ask for the congregations’ support and vote.  Pastor Berteau acknowledged he wasn’t aware that MID had a Board of Directors that the public voted on.  He reminds the congregation Stu is a personal friend of his and a friend of The House along with being a board member of The House.

The church has a large beautiful stage and video system with huge screens which works well for power point presentations in their sanctuary.  During the church service, Stu was invited up on the stage where Pastor Berteau said Stu deserves our support.

One of the first comments out of Stu’s mouth is to say “No one else is running for MID seats this year”.  Which is an outright lie, but hey lets cut him some slack, after all he wants to be a politician.   The Pastor uses Modesto Bee Videos to attack MID employees’ high rate of pay across the board but then claims not to be going after the working man just the Staff and Board.  But in reality the numbers cited in the video are bolstered by the working man, especially linemen, while the  Board makes only $1,000 a month. I guess it shows Stu’s supporters can talk out of both sides of their mouths too.

Stu offers ratepayer rebates (just pie in the sky) but isn’t willing to simply offer lower electric rates.  When pressed, Stu admits to having NEVER attended a MID meeting.  Now we realize working your schedule around meetings can be tough  but come on, Stu owns his own company so it begs the question, not even one meeting?  Why do people keep recruiting members of the public to run for the MID Board that don’t have a clue about what MID does but still think they know how it run it better?  So at the end of his political commercial in the middle of the weekly meeting Stu asks for volunteers to make phone calls and knock on doors and would they please join him at his table at the back of the room.

The big sendoff:  Pastor Berteau says “This is church.  Is this a church you say?  Absolutely! It’s not just in this building. We care for our city and the people in our city. I tell politicians that as a Pastor, I know more about this city than you do.”  He goes on to ask Stu to let him know when the other districts come up for a vote so he can let the congregation know so we can get the right people in there.

I don’t know about you but we don’t like non-profits to be telling people which candidate to vote for.  If they want to support a cause that’s fine but if you want to run a candidate or a slate of candidates then start by giving up your non-profit status and start paying taxes.

In the video the Pastor says he doesn’t shy away from controversy. But unfortunately Pastor Berteau was did not return our calls for comment regarding this article.  We will follow-up if he has anything  to say.

Addendum 10/18/2017:  The Freedom from Religion Foundation has been contacted and they will be filing a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service ( IRS ). So yes what The House and Pastor Glen Berteau  are doing IS illegal.

 

Modesto Irrigation District Wastes $75,000 on Outsourcing

By Emerson Drake   

Among today’s action items on MID’s agenda was one to hire third party administration of their basic retirement plan. So in layman’s speak they intend to outsource the insurance part of the retirement plan.  MID has had two positions designated for handling questions and assisting retirees but for two years now only one has been filled.  I wanted to provide the two-step song and dance given to the Board by the Human Resources head but the video isn’t up yet.  I was so captivated with the jargon used I wanted to share it but that will have to come later.

Suffice to say the head of H.R was unwilling to commit to doing away with a position they haven’t needed in two years because it might become necessary AFTER they outsource the majority of the positions duties.  Interestingly enough only Director John Messinger agreed that MID wasn’t saving money but spending an extra $75,000.

When John asked if Human Resources was going to come back before the Board to request the unused position  be filled concerns were voiced by other Board members that the Board had never micro-managed the staff before and they shouldn’t start now.

So lets summarize the issue.  They have two positions designated to perform the job tasks and one of them has been vacant for two years.  They intend to out-source the majority of the job for $75,000 a year yet aren’t willing to give up the unused position.

Believe it or not the final vote was 4-1 (Mensinger being the one “no” vote) to spend the extra money and to leave the position available to be filled without oversight.

At today’s meeting being fiscally responsible wasn’t what you would call their long suit.

 

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

 

The High Cost of Being a Resident of Modesto California

.By Emerson Drake   inflation
The City Council keeps raising the cost of living here in Modesto by charging us more for the necessities. Check your water and electric bill and you’ll find a 6% city tax  ($6.00 for every hundred dollars on your bill)  just for the privilege of living here. And now they want to raise our sewer bills even more to add on to the sewage treatment plant. The funny thing is, if you can call it that,  of the majority of the companies that use our sewage treatment facility, most of them DON’T pay that tax and one is even suing us for over billing. 
 
For the few companies that do pay the city tax there is a cap or max limit on the tax they have to pay.
 
Everyone encourages us to conserve water, and we should,  but now the city wants to raise our rates because they aren’t selling as much water and need a higher profit margin to cover their spending.  Because they can’t control their spending WE have to pay more. 
 
Residents are encouraged to conserve electricity but we pay more than large.companies, that chew through electricity at an ever increasing rate, 17 cents vs 10 cents per kWh, PLUS we pay the city utility tax and most of them don’t!
 
Now the City Council wants to give another set of one time incentive pay to MPD managers, totaling almost a quarter of a million dollars. Remember just a few short months ago we paid millions of dollars in one time bonuses to city employees. I guess we’re just lucky there are fewer of the MPD managers so our bill is less.
 
The really strange thing is there are actually people out there saying we should be happy paying extra to support big businesses, large corporations and the wealthy.  Talk about a sense of entitlement.

Whose Electric Bill Are You Paying?

By Emerson Drake      stealingmoney

A short time ago we received MID’s response to a Public Record Request.  It contained the Kilowatt sales and  total revenue received by rate class from 2010 through 2014. The word total is important here because some rate classes have demand charges which are difficult to explain and for most of us, including me, to fully evaluate and understand.  So total means all revenue received with no exclusions.  For this conversation we’ll focus on 2014.

Detail                  kWh                  Revenues in $Millions                Cost per kWh

Residential      868,341                      156,132                                       .179                                                                                                                                                     Commercial     725,487                     105,539                                       .145                                                                                                                                                     Industrial        768,952                        79,797                                       .103                                                                                                                                                       Other               138,545                         18,403                                       .132

As you can see residential is paying 20% more than commercial and over 40% more than industrial for each kWh they use.  MID suggests the rate disparity is  because of the cost of service. When detailing the ‘cost of service’ it all depends on what costs numbers you count and what ones you ignore.   But interestingly enough most other utilities in Central California don’t have the extreme disparity.  Lets look at the numbers as a whole. MID likes to say using rounded numbers that each of the three big rate classes uses about one third of the electricity MID sells.  But as a total of revenue, Commercial generates about one third of the revenue that Residential uses and Industrial is little more than half.

When MID was pressed about costs back in June, by the Bee’s Garth Stapley,  the response was,  “The Bee asked for a demonstration showing how Netniss computed his profit estimate, using updated numbers, Van Vuren said it might not be possible, but we can get close.”  A few days later, Netniss declined.  He said that in November, he was trying to be helpful without considering journalistic intent.”  I would suggest it’s obvious not only do they NOT want scrutiny they refuse to provide information if it will be used against their goals.

So Why are 95,819 Residents Paying So 12,693 Business Accounts can Live High on the Hog?

Traditionally MID has been run by businessmen and farmers, yes I know farmers are businessmen, but their costs have been offset by the residential customers who have been paying a premium.  Recently a dairy farmer who pays the lower commercial rate commented that if people didn’t like what they were being charged “they could just shut off the switch.” Frito Lay who pays the lowest Industrial rate generates $2.2 Billion a year  in profits. And yes some of these profits are because they pay a lower rate than sick senior citizens on fixed incomes (the MID CARES program).

So Lets get Back to the Cost of Doing Business Argument

Just like in Mountain House it’s all about what costs you count.  In Mountain House they count basic infrastructure only.  They don’t count the cost of running the transmission lines or the transformer costs among others.  They only count the costs of running the lines from transformers to the street and then to the building site. For example in Beard Industrial Park they recently had to add a powerhouse and multiple transformers for the new area the City of Modesto approved and just as importantly, because of equipment failure they had to replace several very expensive transformers an older area of Beard.  These don’t count against “the cost of doing business.”

What is the most expensive time to purchase electricity?  In the summer, and when do you think most of the industrial power is used? You guessed it, in the summer.  Does this factor into the cost of doing business?  Not according to MID.  So according to MID, 164 industrial users use almost 1/3 of the electricity MID sells, yet only paid $79.7 Million of the $359.8 Million of the revenue MID generated.

The public is constantly being sidetracked by a conversation regarding water subsidizes but these costs are but a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of the electric subsidies residential ratepayers are forced to endure.

MID’s Fun With Numbers

By Emerson Drake    MIDpic

The Tuesday meeting of the Modesto Irrigation District Board was another head shaker.  The topic of our interest was the 2016 rate workshop which was conducted by MID’s Planning, Pricing and Risk Manage,r Jimi Nitniss.  Now Jimi, whose compensation package comes to around $195,000 a year, has questionable goals and apparently has way too much time on his hands.

How Do You Lower Rates and Remain Revenue Neutral?

If you take a look at your bill you’ll notice a fixed monthly charge of $12.50, an environmental adjustment and a capital adjustment. And of course the really bad news, your electric usage.  But MID Staff has a way for you to lower your electric rates but at the same time pay the same amount for the first 500 kWh.  Huh?  That’s right some might call it smoke and mirrors but MID says it’s all the rage with other utilities.  MID_2016_Residential_Rate_Design

“This Will Make the District Look Like Heroes”  PaulCampbell

That’s a direct quote from MID Director Paul Campbell at Tuesday’s workshop.  See it isn’t about making things better,  it’s about making them appear better.  Staff wants to raise your fixed fee from $12.50 to $20.00 and charge less for the first 500 kWh.  So the cost is a wash or revenue neutral. BUT  MID gets to say they have the lowest residential rates around.  So how does this help us?  It doesn’t.  It’s all public relations. The electric rate remains the same for everything  more than the first 500 kWh  used, .18 per kWh.  Lots of fanfare with little or no effect.

The Driving Force Behind the Change

Jimi says since Turlock Irrigation District (TID), Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District (SMUD), and Roseville all do it it must be a good idea.  The idea is to have fixed cost on your bill to more accurately cover MID’s fixed cost.  But it still doesn’t cover it all of the fixed costs, all it really does is pretend to lower your bill, which of course it doesn’t do. To our mind it’s like a placebo for electric ratepayers.  And at the end of the day you still have the headache.

Our suggestion

Most people don’t realize just how much the residential ratepayer subsidizes industry in Modesto.  Right now you’re (residential) paying .16 per kWh in the summer and .13 per kWh in the winter.   Large industrial  businesses around Modesto are paying as little as .05 per kWh summer and .03 Per kWh winter rates.  Do you know that .03 is cheaper than the cheapest power MID buys (Don Pedro hydro is almost .04) but hey as long as homes are paying .16 and .13 who cares?  If MID wants to emulate Roseville and SMUD and virtually ALL of the utilities in the Bay area they will bring industrial and residential closer in line.  For these bay area companies don’t use they residential rates to subsidize their industrial base like we do.  And if you’re curious farmers and ranchers  are paying  .10 per Kwh summer and winter.  Forget the water subsidy, open your eyes to the electric subsidy.

If you would like to watch the workshop you can see the magical effect of the rate adjustment on the MID Board.  There will be a public hearing in November, so stay tuned.

MID Staffs’ Secret is Bill Lyons’ Cash Windfall

By Emerson Drake   MIDpic

Ahhh secrets, several years ago they were the meat and potatoes of MID’s existence. Why respond to public record requests if you don’t have to? Most recently we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of MID’s farmer to farmer water transfer program and the Return Allocation Program by requesting the names of those selling water and the amounts.  Unfortunately time and time again we’ve been refused access to these records of a public resource.  When MID’s staff announced they were going to hold private meetings with those same farmers who participated in last years programs we adamantly  argued against such secrecy.  Unfortunately the Board remained silent.  When we threatened to go public staff relented by saying they were going to contact all irrigators. But you and I know who they are going to listen to, all you have top do is follow the money.  When Directors John Mensinger and Paul Campbell originally started pushing hard for these programs you had to wonder why.  After all these two Directors, who publicly call themselves the “City Boys,”  were promoting a ‘farmer to farmer’  program which, of the actual farmers on the Board, two weren’t supporting and one was just willing to listen and eventually supported.  The self-proclaimed “city boys” seemed out of their bailiwick.   After all Campbell and Mensinger spend much of their time attacking the water irrigation price structure.  But maybe there was a reason.

Two $5,000 Campaign Donations

The two largest campaign donations by far came from Bill Lyons to these two men (Mensinger and Campbell).  But why would Bill Lyons decide it was to his benefit to have his political puppets push so hard to pass the Farmer to Farmer Transfer Program?  In a Garth Stapley article of 4/22/14,  Mr. Lyons claimed he was responsible for 54% of the 1,060 acre feet of water in the Return Allocation Program, which in the end delivered a check to Mr. Lyons of at least $ 302,400 and likely more. Unfortunately MID has decided to keep the actual amount and recipients a secret from the very public that own the company.  But his big killing, monetarily, was in the Farmer to Farmer  Transfers. Irrigation_Operations_Report

Lyons Sweetheart Deal

Unbeknownst to most of the public Bill Lyons and Mapes Ranch negotiated the rights to pump for FREE any water that comes down  MID’s canal that cuts through his property going to the river. His is the only entity with the ability to steal this public resource.  Maybe this was one of the reasons he and his then puppets, Tom VanGroningen and Glen Wild, were pushing the water sale to San Francisco.  Maybe Bill Lyons envisioned acting as a toll booth collector for any water MID might attempt to sell down the river.  At the January 22 meeting MID General Manager Roger Van Hoy characterized the MID meeting where the Lyons sweetheart deal was passed, as open and public. This meeting was before Roger’s employment with MID and according to Former MID Director and Board President when the deal was passed, John Kidd is asked about MID meetings back then he likes to say, if there were three members of the public at a meeting then word must have gotten out that someone was bringing donuts.

lyonsmapescomtract

The crux of the issue:  Stealing Water From the River

Bill Lyons has the ability to sell water allocated to his land and then replace it FREE from the canal or to use his many large industrial sized pumps located along the river to supplant his ‘sold’ water.  At least in OID’s proposed ‘fallowing’ program they don’t allow the farmer to replace the water by pumping ground water.  Most hydrologists agree that using large industrial pumps located close to a river reduces a river’s flow by increasing river bottom seepage.  And obviously taking water from MID’s canal before it gets to the river reduces flow to the fish and the delta thereby increasing salinity in farmland down stream.

Directors Mensinger and Campbell’s Decision Unethical and Immoral JohnMensinger PaulCampbell

In City of Modesto politics taking this kind of campaign donation would require the precipitant to recuse themselves or step back from the discussion and decision. MID has no campaign limits effecting this discussion. We’ve requested for MID to have this discussion several times but have been ignored, which of course sets up this dilemma.  As we’ve pointed out this has been an issue for years. VanGroningen, Wild and Warda received money ($5,000 – Lyons seems to find this to be the required amount to purchase MID Directors) from Lyons and were behind the attempted water sale.  Fortunately for all of Stanislaus County, Paul Warda changed his mind.  Don’t let anyone fool you. Director Warda’s change of heart was the one and only reason the water sale didn’t go through.  So Bill Lyons can be defeated, but not easily.  Remember he managed to get MID to spend $248,000 on convincing the public the water sale was a good thing and currently is one of the main movers and shakers behind Modesto’s attempt to annex Wood Colony and Salida.

Secrecy and Openness

In the ‘Farmer to Farmer’ program, 3,300 acre feet were passed, transferred at  unknown prices by unknown people, but handled by MID staff at a significant cost of staff (both office and field) time.  In the Return Allocation Program we cut checks of approx. $540,000 to people whose  names we aren’t allowed to know.  As a side note we/MID were stuck with $328,000 worth of unsold water costs. They want us to take it on trust that all was investigated and is on the up and up.  We, with what we believe is good reason, don’t trust staff.

To be fair Director Byrd did request staff to reconsider but the Board’s attorney response was “That is how we handled it in the past.”   There is no legal requirement and Public Record Requests show the Board didn’t vote for secrecy on this issue.   We’ve seen how MID staff’s past practices actually work against the ratepayers best interest.  Why would we expect things to be different/better if we keep following past procedures and dong them the same way?

Here is MID’s Public Record Response when asked for the people who participated in the buying and selling of our most public of resources, our water.   farmertofarmerPPRandredactedresponse

Trust MID’s Staff?  Not me, how about you?

 

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