Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Modesto politics”

Is MID at it Again?

By Emerson Drake

During the discussion of the consent calendar we requested some information on several items.  Document #11389 in the

English: I Myke waddy took this photo. Canada....

amount of $37,946.87 and #11408 in the amount of $8,247.96 were detailed for manual checks.  No breakdown was given.  And Document #11404   in the amount of $18,229.63 –  #11430 in the amount of $12,590.11 – #11459 in the amount of $38,436.15, detailed for prepaid procurement cards and again no detail was given.

$115,450.72 in money for which no detail has been provided is a concern.  So we made a public records request for the details regarding these expenditures.  When the topic was broached all that was asked for was an explanation.  The example we received was “for example it would repay employees for bridge tolls.”  Now we don’t know how much of this money was spent on tolls,  but using bridge tolls as an example for over $115,000.00 spent between August 6 thru August 27 seems a little ludicrous.

We also questioned a $1,300 dollar charge labeled ‘monthly’ for progress magazine which is a publication by the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.  The same chamber which actively supported selling our water long term to San Francisco and which endorses political candidates including those for the Modesto Irrigation District. This presents an ethical dilemma for MID and the ratepayers. We have repeatedly requested this practice be halted to no avail.  It may be we’ll have to wait for new candidates to be elected to help support Directors Larry Byrd and Nick Blom.

Three MID candidates to avoid: Jim Mortensen, John Mensinger, and Paul Campbell

Jim Mortensen actually jumped up to be speak during the public comment period to support/endorse (he used both terms) last weeks adoption of the “Serpa” rule in the Board Governance policy specifically section BL-4 (b).  Quite honestly I was surprised but maybe I shouldn’t have been.  He was nominated by Tom Van Groningen to the Water Advisory Board.  He promised NOT to run for the MID Board and as soon as possible he pulled papers and signed up to run.  Jim Mortensen has also publicly spoken in favor of selling our water to San Francisco.  John Mensinger and Paul Campbell both failed to speak out against the proposed water sale. For Mortensen to support a policy that not only allows but insists the General Manager and Attorney NOT allow requests for information if it takes up too much staff time or is disruptive, is unconscionable. Please remember former GM Allen Short deemed 15 minutes of staff time as too much.

Trust is something you build

Already our new General Manager Roger ‘the Dodger’ VanHoy has demonstrated a desire to withhold information from the public and also a penchant for presenting misinformation unless his feet are held to the fire by the Board.  After remaining silent last week when asked if the ‘Serpa’ rule was part of the Governance policy we got a taste of things to come IF he’s allowed to go the way of his mentor Allen Short.

We are also following up with TID Board President Michael Frantz regarding Board of Control report concerns.  More on that subject after we’ve talked with Director Frantz.

If you get the chance, ask “the Dodger” why MID is spending over $6,000 a year on having bottled water delivered when MID own’s two water treatment plants. His answer would be funny until you consider the elderly and low income people barely scraping by so his people in Ripon, the Woodland generator(near MJC) and,  believe it or not, the MID legal Department, can drink bottled water.  Maybe he doesn’t like the taste of ours.

I know it gives me a sour taste in my mouth what about you?


Planning Commission Forwards Recommendations to City Council, 4-3

By Emerson Drake

Monday night’s Planning Commission (PC) meeting was one of the most enlightening so far.  Traipsing through the murky

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waters of the General Plan Amendment process has been challenging.  Like all public processes at times it becomes trench warfare with groups like Modesto’s Chamber of Commerce saying one thing publicly and then maneuvering behind the scenes in a completely different direction.

The case in point

The Chamber has been talking publicly with the Commission and interested parties like those from Salida, saying Salida should be removed from Modesto’s General Plan. But when it came time to vote the three Commissioners most closely tied to Modesto’s Chamber, Ted Brandvold, Steve Carter,  and Marshall Riddle,  finally showed their cards.  They openly voted against the PC’s Staff proposal  and  earlier attempts to return Salida to the General Plan along with an additional 1,200 feet on the North side of Kiernan between Dale and McHenry.

Brent Sinclair had explained to the PC and the public that he and staff had made the recommendations because he believed, not only could he sell the plan to the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO),  but that Modesto could set the standard for all Stanislaus County communities to follow.  At previous meetings Brandvold’s comments had made it obvious he had bought into Craig Lewis’ ‘we need to stay ahead of Riverbank’ spiel.

Craig Lewis made a last desperate attempt to try and sway the Planning Commission by pointing out how many acres less the new proposal was but it was quickly responded to by acknowledging the majority of the acreage being removed was Salida.  The Commissioners didn’t buy the keeping up with the Jones’ (Riverbank) or maybe like many of those in the audience they were aware Riverbank is in the process of pulling back their General Plan boundaries to more reasonable limits.

The PC Staff recommendations  091613_PC Agenda GPA WkShp

The Brandvold, Carter, Riddle proposal which included the additional land failed to pass 3-4 and the following vote to  support the PC Staff’s proposal passed 4-3.

Another interesting note was the mention of the several hundred notices which had been sent to landowners in the now expanded Beckwith-Dakota Triangle (1,830 acres in the shape of a rectangle) and that only 6-8 came to the meeting.  Also of note was Commissioner Brandvold’s comment that the same few faces from Salida were always present and he wasn’t convinced they represented Salida’s position on annexation. You can imagine the reaction. You had the Salida Chamber of Commerce represented at the meeting along with the Salida MAC. The Salida MAC had previously voted to officially oppose the annexation of Salida by Modesto so I’m really not sure what he was thinking or if he was…thinking.

It could have just as easily been said that the same few people had been representing Modesto Developers at these meetings but since he clandestinely supported the Chamber it went unsaid by him.  It also needs to be noticed Salida has continually supported their friends to the south, Wood Colony, in their attempt to avoid annexation.  But there are those, especially those who didn’t bother to attend this meeting,  who would sow the seeds of dissent and ignore this fact.

It’s far from over

The business park planned for the Beckwith-Dakota triangle is HUGE and 1,830 acres (almost 3 square miles) is too much land to allow to be stolen from farmers and those living in Wood Colony.  It has been pointed out repeatedly NO buffer between Business Parks  is allotted for. And if this doesn’t change the harassing lawsuits against these farmers are inevitable regardless of Right to Farm Ordinances.

Chris Tyler’s comment from the prior meeting, “Prove it Works”, is important to remember because if those responsible for placing businesses in the proposed business park allow an inequitable arrangement similar to the one Blue Diamond received in Turlock we’ll have squandered, not only our legacy for Modesto’s future, but allowed the best soil on God’s green earth to be paved over.  Giving away 88 precious acres of some of best farmland in the world for 50 jobs has to be considered unacceptable. Over in Mountain House they insist on high quality jobs to be brought in or they turn the businesses away. I realize how desperate we are for jobs but we can’t afford a giveaway to “buddies” to line the pockets of a few.

The recent months with the Planning Commission have been similar to the opening skirmish of a major battle and the Modesto City Council will be the battleground.  The big guns/power brokers will be brought in to do battle in the main arena. Of notice was land use attorney/developers mouthpiece George Petrulakis sitting in the back of the room taking in the preliminary’s planning and  awaiting the spectacle yet to come.

General Plan Amendment Meeting Monday 9/16 at 6:00 PM 1010 Basement

Tonight is one of the last times if not the last time the public will get to influence the Planning Commission’s recommendations

Beyond the First Amendment

to the Modesto City Council.

Here is the supporting pdf: 091613_PC Agenda GPA WkShp

It’s yet another important meeting the Bee didn’t mention.

What’s on America’s Mind With Emerson Drake…Wednesday 8:00 PM

Tonight’s topics include Developer Bill Zoslocki, Paul Draper and Centerra, Archway Commons and the downtown Court House

Radio RED 104.9 FM

an update on the Montana judge who sentenced a man 5 days for rape, these topics and more so tune into tonight at 8:00 PM and find out what you need to know to make decisions important to you, your family and your community.

104.9 FM our flagship station

To listen live or from our archive http://www.blogtalkradio.com/whats-on-americas-mind/2013/09/05/whats-on-americas-mind-with-emerson-drake-1

Are Voters Becoming Disenchanted with the Modesto City Council?

By Emerson Drake                    The Draper/Centerra Decision


Last night’s City Council meeting was true to form. The public was forgotten and ignored by most of those on the dias.  The

Modesto's Double Tree and Brenden Theater

Mayor was so distracted by his email that many times it appeared he wasn’t aware of his surroundings. But lets start at the public comment period.


Many members of this Council have conspired to keep information out of the public’s eye.  An example is the article written August 18th about a Finance Committee meeting where City Manager (C.M.) Gregg Nyhoff deliberately waited until it was too late to include his Summary of Reductions – Target $6 Million Report in the Finance Committee’s agenda packet.  His report, which highlighted recommendations for targeted budget reductions to the formal agenda, (where it would have been made available to the public ).  During the meeting Nyhoff passed the report out to the committee and members of the public attending the meeting. The Committee voted to accept the report without comment.  This was a decision made several weeks prior to the meeting. After all it would be difficult for Councilwoman Burnside to stand in front of the Modesto Police Officers Association (MPOA) after voting to eliminate 20 sworn positions if the sales tax doesn’t pass. With some members of our council one hand washes the other.


At a subsequent meeting of the Finance Committee on August 27 I requested the report to be included on the city’s website.  Unfortunately as of September 3rd they had failed to comply.  So at last night’s meeting I again pointed out it was a Brown Act meeting and as a result the City Manager’s Report should have been included in the minutes despite C.M. Nyhoff’s efforts to obfuscate it.  So when I protested again last night the now ‘clandestine’ reports absence, City Council Attorney Susanna Acala Wood weighed in stating since it was a Brown Act meeting the report should be included in the official record.  But Nyhoff and the council members had already achieved their goal of not having the Committee be forced to give their recommendations and to keep it out of the public’s eye. Bee reporter Kevin Valine was present at the meetings but has yet to write a word regarding the events at the meeting.


Brent Sinclair Supports Paul Draper Being Chosen (actually he was the one who chose Draper)


To hear Brent Sinclair make the case for Paul Draper to be chosen was ludicrous.  His main argument was since Draper was involved with his self named ‘Team Modesto’ and had spent hundreds of hours attempting to build his multi-use towers he deserved the council’s largess.  While I commend Draper for his attempt I don’t feel the need to grant him the ‘excess profits’ by allowing him to represent Modesto’s five properties in the sale to the state. From our point of view Draper was ‘given’ a bonus by allowing this to occur. Draper will receive $30,000 for every million dollars the city receives for its five properties.  And yes it comes from Modesto’s pocket.


Even a judge weighed in


The the Honorable Ricardo Cordova Superior Court judge, spoke for the need to use Draper.   Judge Cordova’s claim to fame in the ‘good old boy’ network was reducing the charges in former Stanislaus County Detective Kari Abbey’s case in the killing of Rita Elias.  His reasoning for using Draper was that time was of the essence.  This just didn’t ring true.  After all, these negotiations for the courthouse properties have been on going for quite some time  and as a result the need for haste seems very contrived.


Cordova’s fear tactics appear to have worked,


Talking with Councilman Geer after the meeting he said he had listened intently to both sides of the arguments being made but the Judge suggesting we could possibly lose the state money swayed his vote.  It could be suggested that was why Cordova was trotted out last night. I have to wonder if he was going to speak BEFORE Sunday’s article  exposing the Centerra / Draper / Archway Commons article came out or if he was recruited afterward…


Why are we waiting until the last minute to approve a consultant and why wasn’t it vetted by a Committee?


The Mayor and City Council were well aware of the history Paul Draper and his Centerra company have with Modesto’s Archway Commons project.  The outrageous profit unnecessarily paid to Centerra was just another example of behind the scene politics that seem to occur on a regular basis in Modesto.  Kudos to the Bee for finally discussing the seamy underbelly of Modesto politics. Unfortunately the Council has learned to rush forward at the last minute anything they hope to avoid much public discussion on.  Once again it was obvious if no committee vetted Draper being hired as a consultant/realtor no one could be held responsible in the future.  It’s all about the lack of accountability for Modesto’s politicians.  The exception to the rule would be Councilman John Gunderson who understood the concern for having a downtown court house,  voted against the ‘last minute’ consideration of Draper. Congratulations Councilman Gunderson for standing up for Modesto’s citizens and not falling for the contrived, last minute, rush job.


Mayor Marsh answering emails during the Council meeting


Mayor Marsh seemed to be trying to distance himself from all questions of Archway Commons and Draper’s Centerra.  Mayor Marsh had apparently decided if he ignored the speakers they would eventually just go away.  At one point he had to be called by name three times to get him to look up from his phone and respond to a question.  The City Attorney tried to cover for him by saying she was advising him not to answer the question of how much Draper would make for selling Modesto’s five properties along with those he already represented. But unfortunately for the Mayor, he didn’t have a clue his name was being called out loud.


Have the taxpayers given up?


It needs to be acknowledged only three people came to speak against using the Draper/Centerra  in connection with the downtown courthouse.  Yet five people, including a former Councilman took the time to write a letter to the editor protesting the possibility.  Why?  Maybe because they knew it would be a waste of time since the Mayor and Council have been steadfastly ignoring the wishes of the public and just have been listening to the ‘backroom’  denizens.


Will Modesto Voters Memory Improve?


I have to be honest I doubt it.  After all they (District 4 ) are considering electing a Village I developer/profiteer Bill Zoslocki to the Modesto City Council without laughing, spitting or reaching for the tar and feathers.  But we can always hope.


An email sent to the Modesto City Council

By D. Minighini

I would like to express my public comment (via email) as I am not able to personally attend tonight’s meeting.  I would
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like this comment to be part of the formal record:

Of great concern is the deception of this City as it oftentimes conducts its business – important land development sales involving overpayment of millions of dollars (exceeding market value….see overpayment of Archway Commons low income housing units with same Centerra Capital) as recently informing the public and featured in “The Bee” newwpaper.  And of newest concern, negotiations with the Courthouse land deal involving Centerra Capital have apparently been going on behind closed doors without the public’s input or comment via public meeting!  Such an important and major public property acquistion should reasonably support “public involvement”before the land purchase is finalized.
Of additional concern is the business players the City chooses to engage with.  Land deals appear to involve the same consultants and developers who make millions of dollars in excess of what should be a fair and reasonable profit.  Why is this happening?
Per the Modesto Bee article in today’s paper, Centerra Capital has already been involved with negotiations to sell this land to the City for this courthouse land deal!  And tonight the City is supposed to, “after the fact”, going to publically approve Centerra Capital “to help the city in negotiations with the landowners.”  In real estate law, representing both buyer and seller is known as “dual agency.”  Every real estate professional knows there is no such “impartiality” possible with dual agency.
The public’s interest (as the ultimate benefactor buyer) would be best served in this land deal-  with its own separate real estate agent – not with Centerra Capital who gains to receive commission fees from both buyer and seller and who will compromise the interests of each to get the deal done.
The City has conducted the public’s business negliently like this before.  In addition to a poorly constructed land purchase with the low income Archway Commons in which millions of dollars were overspent by the City in the land purchase and construction costs, other backdoor city actions included one of the the city attorneys having filed a lawsuit –  even before she received City Council approval to do so!
It is becoming very clear from the public’s view of what kind of business ethics does our City government really have and are their decisions in the best interests of the public?  Have they repeatedly shown a lack of understanding of economic principles and financial mismanagement?
The Courthouse land purchase should not mirror the real estate purchase incompetency and negligent financial mismanagement which is on record in the “Archway Commons” low income housing units land purchase (which also involves excessive development “per unit” costs).
City government should NOT pay more than “market value” for any property, and individuals with such power to purchase land and make these decisions  have a responsibility and due diligence (to the public) as a “buyer” in such transaction to perform all “inspections” before ratifying the real estate deal – to make sure the condition of the property and land is in proper condition and financially worth it, and that the public’s money is properly and wisely spent.
Paying excessively above “market value” constitutes “financial blackmail” by the seller.  A city government that agrees to pay well over market value is one that is NOT protecting and wisely spending the public’s money.  If the Courthouse acquisition turns into the same purchase situation as the Archway Commons –  the City and its representatives should abandon its buyer position and seek another property more reasonably priced.
The real estate principle that “property can be purchased for what a buyer is willing to pay” does not apply to government purchases in a time of economic depression, a city government which is not financially strong, and is an example of negligent financial management.
A government’s duty in use of the public’s money for purchase of land for development should be prudent, reasonable, and financially conservative so as NOT to misspend or extravagently misuse public funds, which would ultimately negatively impact a city to operate, or negatively impact its reserves which could lead to financial inability to operate with basic services.  The City has put the residents in this position already from several past incidents of financial mismanagement with overspending on contracts and services and land deals.  Such decisions have brought forth the need of a 1% sales tax increase (ballot initiative) to be forced upon residents.  The sales tax deception to residents started out saying it was for additonal police and fire safety, when in fact there are no guarantees of additional officers, and the money can be spent on whatever the City decides to spend it on:  more mismanagement.
D. Minighini
Concerned Modesto citizen

What’s on America’s Mind With Emerson Drake Wednesday at 8:00 PM

A 49 year old man rapes a 14 year old girl and gets 30 day sentence, a blow by blow description of the LCR Council Candidates

Radio RED 104.9 FM

Radio RED 104.9 FM (Photo credit: Mahdi Ayat.)

forum, wondering about Modesto’s proposed sales tax, these topics and more so tune into tonight and find out what you need to know to make decisions important to you, your family and your community. Wednesday at 8:00 PM.  See you then.

104.9 FM our flagship station

Tp listen in live or from our archive http://www.blogtalkradio.com/whats-on-americas-mind/2013/08/29/whats-on-americas-mind-with-emerson-drake-1

LCR’s Modesto City Council Candidates forum is Monday, August 26, 2013 at 6:00 PM

The Latino Community Roundtable (LCR) would like to invite Modesto residents and LCR members to the first candidates forum scheduled for Monday, August 26,

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English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was taken by me on January 14, 2010 in Modesto, California I hereby relinquish all rights to this photo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2013 at 6:00 PM at the Alliance. The address is 1020 10th Street place (one door down from Fuzio’s). It will start right at 6 pm.
The forum is open to the public and free of charge. See you there..

City Staff Says It Could Spend $2.5M – $6M but Says it Doesn’t Know Who Owns the Property

By Emerson Drake

At last Wednesday’s 8/15 meeting of Modesto’s Economic Development Committee the discussion was about where

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he City Council  might spend the ‘extra’ money from the 1% sales tax (Proposition X ) one funding option was for a annual/one time expenditure of $2.5 Million.  It was explained they  couldn’t decide which column, annual or one time, to place the funding option under but they could easily spend the money on infrastructure in the Bangs area.despite having already mentioned we needed to spend approximately $50 M for infrastructure to prepare the Kiernan East and South Business Parks.  But Brent Sinclair said he preferred to spend $6M in the Bangs area. He commented the land owners there were anxious to move forward.

Public Records Request (PRR)

I made a PRR to find out who owned the property Mr. Sinclair was in such a hurry to jump start.  Here was the response I received.

Mr. Drake,

Brent Sinclair has advised us that he has no listing of the property owners in the Bangs area.

This completes your public records request.

Thank you,

Apparently the Modesto City Council is in hurry to spend the money but claims they don’t know who will benefit from the voters largess should Prop X be approved.  More than just a little scary, or should I say disingenuous  don’t you think?

I’m starting to believe this Proposition should have been named (Proposition WHY )

The Cuts the Finance Committee Refused to Recommend for Political Reasons

By Emerson Drake

On Wednesday August 15,2013 the Modesto Finance Committee met to discuss the budget reductions recommended by

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the City Manager Greg Nyhoff in the event the one percent sales tax doesn’t pass. The committee which consists of Chair-Stephanie Burnside. Vice-Chair David Cogdill, and Joe Muratore (absent with Dave Geer standing in) had made prior arrangements with Nyhoff and Mayor Marsh to withhold discussion because of Councilwoman Burnside’s unwillingness to voice her opinions due to  her up-coming re-election bid.  Of just as much concern was Nyhoff having not placed his recommendations on-line (they still are NOT on the city website.

All of the Department heads were there to discuss and or answer questions regarding the potential cuts but because of the previous behind the scenes agreement to help Burnside, no give and take took place.  As a matter of fact Nyhoff told the Dept. heads they could leave.  This article isn’t meant to be a discussion of the right or wrong of the sales tax or of the cuts, we’ll do that in another article.  It’s about disdain and the lack of  transparency by Modesto City officials towards the public. The room was full with Chamber of Commerce members,  a couple of members of the public and one candidate, Bill Zoslocki. Of potential interest were the only three people in attendance with color printouts in white folders, Brent Sinclair, lobbyist Cecil Russell, and candidate/developer Bill Zoslocki. Everyone else had the black and white copies from the table at the door.

Then there was the single page Nyhoff handed out during the meeting containing the cuts.  It was noted the potential deficit this year was $11.8 Million and much is expected to be the same next year.  If they don’t fill positions again this year in the Public Safety and Non-Safety Departments the deficit will be only about $8 Million.  Yet the goal for the day’s exercise was $6 Million.

Here is the list of recommended reductions.

The City Manager’s Dept.  ……………………………………………………….$141,000                                                                                                                    Eliminating lobbyists contracts, eliminating dues, memberships, supporting Alliance, CA League of Cities, Conference of Mayors, eliminate CM and DCM conference attendance.

Human Resources Dept.  …………………………………………………………$209,000                                                                                                                  Position reductions (slow recruitment and hiring, reduced HR assistance to departments regarding personnel matters, delayed response to labor group inquiries.

Finance Dept. ………………………………………………………………………..$450,000                                                                                                                  Downsize budget division (annual budget process, cannot expand to 2 year budget, minimal forecasting and pro forma updates, slower responses to operating dept inquiries) downsize purchasing division (formal RFP’s will go from 120 days to 240. master contracts will expire and require delay in renewals), downsize grant section (grant compliance will shift to operating depts. causing a greater potential for errors in regulatory grant reporting, internal controls weakened significantly)

Parks Recreation & Neighborhood Services ……………………………….$1,000,000                                                                                                              Close Centre Plaza, Closure of Dryden Golf Course, eliminate GF subsidy for John Thurman Field (impact to Modesto Nuts). eliminate support for parades, recreation  programs and Leisure Bucks Programs, eliminate graffiti abatement.

Community and Economic Development ……………………………………$400,000                                                                                                               50% reduction in code enforcement services and complaint inspection, elimination of planning activities of 50% reduction in service (eliminate support for CIP Task Force, 50% reduction in response to customers, developers, City Manager, City Council, inquiries), eliminate participation in Regional Rail. regional transportation and sustainable communities, Eliminate long-range planning (General Plan, ag preservation, housing element, Urban Growth Review), eliminate Downtown Hospitality Program, (parking study, policing and security, entertainment and nightlife)

Total non-public safety …………………………………….approximately $2,200,000

Public Safety Departments–Police and Fire

Modesto Regional Fire Authority (MRFA)…………………………………..$1,400,000                                                                                                      Brown out one fire engine / station

Police …………………………………………………………………………………$2,500,000                                                                                                      Reduction in patrol, reduction in Animal Control Services, elimination in STAN CATT participation, withdraw from Auto Theft Task Force, reduce office hours in customer service, eliminate participation in Federal Gang Task Force

Total Public Safety–Police and Fire …………………………………………$3,900,000


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