Gateway Court tenant: It’s not all the landlord’s fault

Several tenants sounded off today about living conditions at Gateway Court off Kentfield Road. The Adobe Hacienda complex has been in the news recently because of claims filed against the city by residents and the landlord over the police department’s “Neighborhood Blitz Team” program.

Just now, another resident called to defend landlord Ravi Sanwal. She did not want to be identified, but here’s some of what she said:

On an air-conditioning outage last summer: “They sent an air conditioning guy out. He couldn’t fix it that day. He had to order parts. The owner sent him to buy us a window unit until the A/C was fixed a few days later.”

Some residents are culpable: “People live there for two months and then they stop paying rent. (Sanwal) evicts them and when they move out they’ve trashed their apartments. … (Sanwal) is not as bad a guy as everybody makes him out to be. Everybody wants to blame the owner when it’s not entirely his fault.”

Her Neighborhood Blitz experience: She declined to let code-enforcers into her unit several times. They finally came with a warrant. She said they searched her unit, checked the pilot light, checked to make sure the smoke detector worked, and left within two minutes. She added: “This is my home. I shouldn’t have to let you in. No crime was being committed.”

On the speed with which repairs are made at her complex: “It may take a little while to get it taken care of … but it does get taken care of. No, the place isn’t perfect. But we don’t pay enough rent to make it perfect.”

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Mayor Silva permitted to breathe without having to recuse himself

In today’s story, Mayor Anthony Silva gave me this quote: “If I breathe the same air as everybody else, they want me to recuse myself.”

But last night, a suggestion that Silva recuse himself from the charter review process was denied by Cynthia Summers, chair of the committee studying amendments to Stockton’s governing document.

The item was on the Charter Review Advisory Commission’s agenda, placed there by one of the body’s members, Peter Viri. Citing comments by Silva at a recent City Council meeting, Viri asked the commission to consider suggesting that Silva recuse himself from the council’s charter review committee.

Silva recently commented that if he did not like the direction of the charter-amendment process, he would circulate petitions and put his own charter changes before voters.

The Mayor did not back down from that position during a conversation yesterday. And last night, Summers pulled the item off the charter-review commission’s agenda.

“I do not believe it is in our purview to tell the Mayor what he can say or not say,” Summers said. “I conferred with the city attorney and I shared my views with him and he concurred.”

Here’s Viri’s agenda item and a transcript he provided of what he viewed as questionable comments by Silva.

Silva said yesterday, “I don’t intend to recuse myself from that committee. When I’m ready I’m going to figure out what’s left in the charter that still needs to be amended and walk neighborhoods myself and when I’m ready I’ll present something to the city clerk, I’ll have a petition and go from there.  I have an idea (of what will be in the petition) but I’m not at liberty to say right now.”

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Mayor voiced Neighborhood Blitz concerns back in January

Catch up on the Neighborhood Blitz issue by reading this post from earlier this morning.

Additionally, these comments made by Mayor Anthony Silva at the Jan. 13 City Council meeting are worth re-reading in light of the claim being filed against the city:

“I think code enforcement is a great tool to clean up the city, period. And Stockton is a city that needs to be cleaned up. … The trash, the graffiti, this stuff needs to go, it needs to be taken care of. Folks that are living in substandard conditions, they have roaches, they have bedbugs.

“Guess what? The council, I’m sure, concurs with me that we’re going to clean this up and we’re going to do it apartment by apartment, complex by complex, and we’re going to do it.

“But I want to make it also clear that at no time should we be infringing on the residents of Stockton’s rights, their human rights, their personal rights, and it’s not going to be used as a tool to enter buildings and try to figure out who lives in that apartment and who doesn’t. I want to make sure it’s done by the book with the proper notification.

“I’m not saying anything that’s transpired has been incorrect. I’m saying now it’s on my radar and I’m going to pay more attention to it so we need to make sure that if we’re going to use the Neighborhood Blitz teams, that we’re going to do it fairly, professionally, and the same application is going to be used for different, various areas of Stockton, OK?

“And I want to be honest with you like I’ve talked about before. Certain areas that are allowed to have trash and graffiti and transients and panhandling, certain areas, it’s just sort of allowed in certain areas of Stockton. People go, ‘Oh, that’s Wilson Way, it’s just gonna happen there. That’s Charter Way, that’s Sierra Vista, that’s Conway, that’s Eighth Street.’ Well, I’m tired of us accepting that.

“Let me make it quite clear. That’s not going to happen behind the gate if I’m in Trinity Parkway or Brookside or Spanos Park, it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to be acceptable. Security will be on that in a second. That trash will be picked up in a second. I want it to be equitable throughout Stockton, so that’s really what I’m after this year.”

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Police ‘Neighborhood Blitz’ program hit with claim

Comparing the Stockton Police Department’s Neighborhood Blitz program to the “German Blitzkrieg,” Oakland attorney Yolanda Huang and six Gateway Court residents are filing a claim against the city.

Here is an email from Huang sent last night:


 “Our rights have been violated.”  “A home is supposed to be a sanctuary, and the housing code inspectors just barge in,” said Carmen Slaughter, a tenant.

 BLITZ, short for the German Blitzkrieg, signals the Stockton Police’s intent to engage in an invasive, war-like process.

 Tenants want the BLITZ program to be stopped.  Permanently.

You can read the claim here. 

Jason Anderson wrote this story on the Neighborhood Blitz program in January.

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Neighborhood demographics in Stockton and their relationship to the Fair Oaks Library issue

Library activist Mas’ood Cajee shared demographic data this morning seeking to bolster his call for reopening of east Stockton’s shuttered Fair Oaks Library. This came following Cajee’s impassioned comments at last night’s City Council, some of which you can watch here.

The crux of Cajee’s point was that while, indeed, there is a dearth of libraries all over Stockton, no area needs services bolstered more than District 5, where Fair Oaks is located. Here’s the data shared by Cajee:

District Member College Grad% Dropout % Unemployment % Poverty Rate Spanish at home
District 1 Holman 35 18 14 14 15
District 2 Wright 25 24 15 21 16
District 3 Lofthus 28 21 15 23 18
District 4 Zapien 30 22 12 24 28
District 5 Fugazi 14 44 21 33 43
District 6 Tubbs 16 37 20 23 45

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More on the General Plan

As reported today, frustration is mounting over the slow pace of amending Stockton’s General Plan. Columnist Michael Fitzgerald also has weighed in on his blog, here and here. If you missed it, here’s the letter a coalition of interested parties sent to the City Council outlining their complaints.

Here are some more quotes that didn’t make it into my story today:

“Everybody knows the 2007 General Plan is totally broken. It’s almost irrelevant to the current realities and it needs major surgery.” — Eric Parfrey, Campaign for Common Ground

“The economy is beginning to recover. Developers who have been dormant the last seven or eight years are beginning to think about doing projects again. The specific terms of the settlement agreement say the city has to process applications consistent with the settlement agreement. The city can’t just ignore this.” — Parfrey

“There needs to be a lot of continued attention to the older neighborhood in town. There’s a concern that it be an environmentally sound plan. Farmland is precious in this county. ” — Tom Amato, People & Congregations Together

“We see a serious decline in some of the neighborhoods in Stockton, a decline in the resources that are available. The poorest neighborhoods have been hardest hit. … We’re really concerned with how the city’s investments impact the poorest communities. We’re tired of seeing them left behind. We think a General Plan focused on infill is going to do a lot of good for communities that need our support.” — Katelyn Rodener Sutter, Catholic Charities

“I agree that the pace definitely needs to be picked up because some people don’t know what direction we’re going in.” — Vice Mayor Christina Fugazi   

” I think it’s important to have an overall comprehensive plan guiding infrastructure and development in the city. Otherwise everybody is doing their own thing.” — Kristine Williams, San Joaquin Bike Coalition

“I have a concern they prioritize things differently than folks in the community would like. The Campaign for Common Ground and BIA would like (the General Plan) to be a higher priority. The mainline excuse was that bankruptcy took a lot of time and effort. For the longest time now we’ve had the impression they could only do one thing at a time.” — John Beckman, Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley

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Reserves of $73 million? $40 million? Either way, Fair Oaks Library issue isn’t going away

Accountant and Stockton fiscal hawk Ned Leiba sent a letter to Mayor Anthony Silva and Vice Mayor Christina Fugazi this week ahead of the budget hearings that were held Tuesday and Wednesday nights. You can read it here.

Leiba’s prime contention in his letter is that Stockton’s general-fund reserves are much greater than the $40 million the city is professing — more than $70 million, in fact. And he argues that the city has been under-spending for years out of its library budget, meaning Leiba came at the ongoing Fair Oaks Library issue from a different angle than that taken last night by literacy advocates Colleen Foster and Motecuzoma Sanchez.

Here’s what Leiba said at Wednesday night’s meeting:

“What staff is doing is they are going through these numbers and taking what they think is available funds and giving you a variety of breakdowns. What you need … is a general fund financial statement, budget vs. actual. You’re going to be blind doing your budgeting unless you have that report. You do not. You’ve run big surpluses every single year. In the general fund 2012, you had a surplus of $12 million, 2013 $16 million, 2014 $19.5 million, you’re going to have a $20- to $23- million surplus of your general fund this year. You’ve underspent every single year. People are talking about the library. Have you looked at what you haven’t spent that you budgeted for the library? Look at the report for the last three years: $567,000, $585,000, $365,000. You have $2 million that you budgeted that you didn’t spend. That’s been there for years and years and years.”

Twenty-four hours earlier, Chief Financial Officer Vanessa Burke disputed Leiba’s written contention that reserves are more than $70 million. She said:

“That is not a real number. What that is saying is that if you had the same level of vacancy savings going into your surplus year after year after year you would build up to that level. But we don’t. We won’t. Once we exit from bankruptcy and we move back into the Long-Range Financial Plan and we start filling these positions and shrinking our vacancy rate it’s not going to build up to a $70-million surplus. I’d love it if we did but I doubt that it will happen.”

Burke said the vacancy savings are one-time funds. City officials have a thing about one-time funds. They only want to spend them on one-time uses, not commit them to ongoing costs that might not be supportable if finances go sour down the road. Burke added that the city projects it will not have $70 million in reserves until 2036.

At the start of Tuesday’s budget hearing, city financial consultant Bob Leland of Management Partners said that if the city added an ongoing cost of $1 million a year — say, to reopen a shuttered library in a financially distressed part of town — it would have a significant long-term effect on the growing of Stockton’s financial reserves. The city says its reserves are roughly 20 percent of its proposed $199-million budget, but by the early 2030s those reserves could be closer to 5 percent, which is considered a “warning level,” if $1 million a year in spending were added.

On the other hand, as Sanchez and Fugazi pointed out, the language in the Measure A public-safety sales tax permit the use of the money for libraries, among other community services. Measure A money goes into the general fund, incidentally.

Fugazi said Wednesday:

“We need to be prudent and we need to save but we also need to provide our community, the people that live here, with something that’s tangible for them, that makes them feel that this is a city that has wonderful things to offer them. It’s a hard road that we have to follow. I’m hoping that in … ensuing weeks and years we’re able to get to that place where everybody can say, ‘Look at all the things I can do in this city and what a wonderful place it is to live and raise your family and work.’ ”

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Second budget hearing coming up at 5 p.m.

If we learned anything at last night’s budget hearing, it’s that libraries are a uniting force. No matter how bitterly people may disagree with each other on other topics, everyone will say they love libraries and wish there was one on every block (as opposed to four in a city of 300,000 residents).

The shuttered Fair Oaks Library in east Stockton was the focal point of discussion at last night’s opening budget hearing. Tonight, the council could decide it wants the city to spend the money to reopen Fair Oaks, which was shut down in 2010. Or it might not. Or it might do something in between. Or maybe it’ll do nothing at all for the moment.

City Manager Kurt Wilson has made it clear for now that he does not believe reopening Fair Oaks is something Stockton, barely three months out of bankruptcy, can afford at the moment.

“I do think it makes a lot of sense to go forward (with Fair Oaks) because the cause is worthy,” Wilson said last night. “Nothing would make me happier than to say, ‘Just do it.’ But that is exactly the type of poor planning that got us in trouble in the first place. Does that make me the bad guy? Maybe. But better that than going back toward bankruptcy. My recommendation will not be to do anything reckless.”

As with last night, department heads will give reports on their 2015-16 budget plans. The schedule: economic development, municipal utilities, public works, charter offices (city manager, clerk and attorney) and police.

There were a few police use-of-force activists on hand at last night’s meeting. They may be back tonight. The city’s proposed general fund includes $105 million in police spending in 2015-16 — 53 percent of the total budget of $199 million. The fire department checks in next at $40 million, another 20 percent. No other department receives more than 9 percent.

Nothing is finalized tonight. In fact, if they don’t make it through all the items tonight, there could be a third hearing tomorrow evening. Regardless, a council vote on the final budget won’t come until next month, June 9 at the earliest.

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Shuttered Fair Oaks Library could be big topic at budget hearings

The Fair Oaks Library in east Stockton was closed by the city amid its financial woes in 2010. Community calls to reopen it have been frequent for more than a year. But reopening the facility is not in the proposed 2015-16 fiscal-year budget being rolled out at City Hall this week.

Here’s background information from City Manager Kurt Wilson, along with a memo explaining his reasoning for the absence of Fair Oaks in his proposed budget.

Here’s a response to Wilson from library activist Colleen Foster.

And here’s a release this afternoon from library activist Motecuzoma Sanchez.

Tonight’s budget meeting begins at 5.

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Budget hearings tonight, tomorrow and possibly Thursday

Yup, it’s that time of year. The City Council will meet at City Hall the next two or three nights (at 5 p.m.) for the roll-out of the 2015-16 fiscal-year budget. If you want to dig deeper, the links you need are here.

The Thursday night session is scheduled in case they don’t get through everything tonight and tomorrow. The presentation is by topics and departments.

Tonight’s planned discussion: Debt, administrative services, fire department,  community development, human resources, information technology, community services.

Wednesday’s plan: Economic development, municipal utilities, public works, charter offices (city manager, city clerk, city attorney), police.

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