Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Modesto politics”

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.

 

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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.

 

 

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…Are You Paying Attention?

By Emerson Drake  

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

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

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

When Thursday is the New Friday

By Emerson Drake  ladyjustice

When politicians and public relations consultants have bad news that has to be delivered for public consumption they try to do it on Friday afternoons. It’s referred to as the Friday news dump.  It’s used to avoid the media scrutiny that would accompany any release during the rest of the week.

 

You see newspaper people like to have weekends off just like the rest of us.  So the majority of the Saturday and Sunday editions of the paper are pre-written and much of it already printed.  They leave a small space for sports but that’s about it.  And with their staffing cuts many times reaching someone on the weekend  in the newsroom is impossible.

 

For the most part for courts in the  judicial system Friday is a day to sort out legal and side issues with the attorneys so juries get to stay home.  So any news will come out on Thursday and what better day to release a bombshell like the Frank Carson revelations of forgotten files than the day before Christmas Eve.  The Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira, after delivering the bombshell of newly found files, had her car brought around to the back of the building and snuck out the back door, all of the time refusing to questions.  And of course where was District Attorney Birgit Fladager?  Conveniently out of town traveling with family, incommunicado. Couldn’t plan that any better.

 

The District Attorney’s conduct in this case, in our opinion, was reprehensible at best and vindictive, personal and almost criminal at worst.

 

One of the important questions remaining is will local mainstream media Public Relations Powerhouse, the Modesto Bee, call her out on her heinous behavior and run a series of articles ON A TIMELY BASIS (soon and often) or will they support this petty vindictive politician that is apparently using her office for personal payback.  Another example is if they backed a politician for office than you won’t see many follow-up negative stories.  But if you ran against one of their ‘favorites,’  and that’s a lengthy list,  then God help you because the Bee’s version of ‘scorched earth’ would make General Sherman jealous.

 

Bee history suggests they will run a positive article after they run a negative one for politicians and organizations they supported to gain ofice.  If they run an article showing the dark side of a few Sheriff’s deputies they’ll run a feel good article showing deputies interacting with children (not picking on deputies just using an example you’ll recognize.

 

So expect the Bee to allow the behavior of Birgit Fladager and her office to fall by the wayside.  They want to shape the narrative and decide which stories you’ll remember and which you’ll forget.  There goes that institutional memory thing I talk about again.

 

 

 

 

Modesto’s Latest Money Giveaway

By Emerson Drake dridenour

 

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.

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.

More Foul Play From the Chamber and Their Minions

By Emerson Drake   stealingmoney
Joan Trombetta Clendenin wrote a letter to the editor today against Marsh that isn’t available onliine yet that attacks Marsh. I find this interesting since it was her company Clendenin Byrd, a bookkeeping company that has election experience, connection to the Chamber and their No on Measure Committee that first broke election laws by failing to report thousands of dollars in LARGE election campaign contributions on a timely basis. By hiding their contributions they broke FPPC rules for clean elections and now she’s berating Marsh.
 
Unfortunately this is just another example of how far the Chamber of Commerce and their minions will go to promote special interest groups intent on taking money out of our pockets and placing it in theirs.
 
And maybe even more importantly it brings into question the Bee’s culpability in the outcomes of both ballot decisions. For that we’ll have to wait and see.

Our Options For Mayor Are Limited But Our Choice Is Clear

By Emerson Drake roadtrip

If you don’t mind lets take a short road trip. Lets get in the car at the Double Tree hotel on 9th St. in Modesto and go west on Maze Blvd also known as 132. We’re going to pass Carpenter Rd and Dakota Rd. Still heading west we pass Hart Rd and Gates Rd, past the old Yandell Ranch Airport. We’re even going to pass the large Mapes Ranch sign and go all the way to the river. Our journey was about 13 miles and took us around 23 minutes just to get here. Now lets turn right on the river and take it all the way to just past Salida to the north.

This is the area Ted Brandvold voted to give to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce complete control of for ANY kind of development they can dream up.   Now you know why the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, along with real estate people and developers are supporting Ted Brandvold.

So from 99 to past Mapes Ranch, to the San Joaquin river on the west, from here all the way past Salida to the North. That’s a lot of homes and farms and ranches for the Chamber to pave over.

The boundaries and votes I mentioned are all part of public record during Ted’s time on the Modesto Planning Commission. The plan was presented by Craig Lewis, Cecil Russell and “Broker Bill” Zoslocki all members of the Chamber, Craig Lewis is a realtor and Bill Zoslocki is a real estate broker while Cecil Russell is a lobbyist. All of these men support Ted for Mayor.  We need to hold Ted Brandvold responsible for his votes while on the Planning Commission.

Now you see why we need to vote for Garrad Marsh for Mayor of Modesto.

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“Broker Bill” Zoslocki Makes a Cheap Joke at the Expense of Modesto College Students

By Emerson Drake    bzoslocki (1)
At last night’s Modesto City Council meeting Councilman Bill Zoslocki once again embarrassed himself and all of the Citizens of  Modesto. For those who aren’t aware, Zoslocki was a developer involved in the Village 1 fiasco and at the same time he was the President of the local Building Industry Association.
 Some Background
 At that time he actively purchased influence in our local government using campaign donations. Now he’s on the flip side of the coin. Councilman Zoslocki, when not pandering to special interest groups,  is busy selling HIS influence in local government. Zoslocki likes to call himself a broker now. A broker of influence, so we’ll start referring to him by the name he prefers Broker Bill.  Broker Bill made his money by NOT paying the proper amount of building fees thereby forcing new home buyers to pay Mello Roos fees out of their pockets instead of his. This was accomplished by purchasing influence and maneuvering the then council to lowering the building fees to below actual cost.  Some have estimated conservatively these ‘missing funds’ to be between $15 and  $20 Million.  Missing only if you forget the developer/builders got market value but paid significantly below actual costs to the city.
Last Night
But last night at the council meeting Broker Bill denigrated all of MJC’s students, young adults, single mothers and fathers, people returning to college trying to improve their job skills, and others just wanting to expand their horizons. at our local MJC by calling them too cheap to purchase a parking pass.  What the City Council and especially Broker Bill chose to ignore is that MJC has been in existence since 1921 and now serves over 18,000 students each semester.  Last night the Council voted to ban students from parking on Myrtle Avenue.  Now city policy says if you want to have this type of restricted residential parking you must buy a yearly pass.  But both of the Council members are running for office,  Mayor Marsh in a March run-off and Broker Bill has had eyes on Kristin Olsen’s seat in the state legislature this coming fall.  Both of these men vowed to make the parking passes free for residents living on Myrtle.
Pandering to Voters
So while we have sympathy for the residents parking situation near MJC they chose to live there knowing the college was near by.  Now suddenly ‘students’ are made into second class citizens.  The many of these students most likely live in Modesto and we all know MJC doesn’t have sufficent parking for 18,000 students between their two campuses.  But Broker Bill and the Mayor want those votes, so students be damned.  Actually both basically said student parking wasn’t their problem, at least as long as they don’t park on city streets.
 
A Wake Up Call Regarding Costs
Just for the Mayor’s and Broker Bill’s information when you add up the fees the cheapest semester could easily add up to over $1,134 and that doesn’t count units per class and enrollment fees.  The most expensive, or as my Grandson who is enrolled there put it, the most unfortunate semester,  can cost $4937 again not counting units per class and enrollment fees.  So not allowing the students to park on the very city streets their gas tax dollars (remember Modesto steals the gas tax dollars from the entire County) paid for is just another way for Broker Bill to laugh in their faces and  say “Let Them eat Cake.”

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