Colangelo on water rates

Dist. 2 Council challenger Steve Colangelo writes:

“I believe that our city council needs to serve the residents of Stockton and as councilmembers, as leaders, we need to listen to the people of Stockton. Our economy isn’t growing fast enough, wages are stagnant and people do not have extra disposable income to pay higher taxes or utility rates.

“If elected I would want to discuss with the city’s executive team, the city manager’s office, the budget team, and my colleagues on the city council to come up with solutions to prevent further rate or tax increases in the future. I would start this discussion by suggesting that we use the millions of dollars the City has collected from Measure A and did not spend on police officers as promised to buy down the water rate increase.

“We can do this until the City can hire the police officers they promised and have refused to hire. I don’t have all the answers and would be open to any and all proposals and would work hard with my colleagues to build a consensus and produce results.”

A welcome if modest serving of policy discussion amid a diet of personal attacks and other insubstantial dishes which has made this campaign season so tiresome.

Colangelo’s idea would seem to have merit. The question involves its sustainability. That surplus is there, as you know, because police could not retain new hires to the 120 positions. The problems underlying retention have largely been addressed, however. So in the foreseeable future that surplus will go away.

What then? Stockton’s fiscal fixes must be long term. We tried short term decision-making and attained long-term bankruptcy.

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The Friday funnies

Courtesy of reader Chuck Barnard:

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The legal hurdles to cutting pensions in California

They’re spelled out in this L.A. Times story.

“California law … treats government pensions as contracts protected by the state Constitution.”

As I previously blogged, a three-judge appellate panel recently chipped away at the inviolacy of pensions, saying they can be cut — as they must be, if state muicipalities are to survive.

“While a public employee does have a ‘vested right’ to a pension, that right is only to a ‘reasonable’ pension — not an immutable entitlement to the most optimal formula of calculating the pension,” wrote the panel.

Unions appealed the case to the California Supreme Court. Among the case law with which the supremes must contend: what the Times writer calls “the real bombshell,” 1955′s Allen v. City of Long Beach, “when the California Supreme Court ruled that any cutbacks in pensions for current employees must be offset by comparable new advantages … ”

“That is what prevented changes over the years,” a source says in the story, “because if you have to give someone something equivalent you are not saving money.”

Of the three-judge panel’s common-sense ruling allowing municipalities to adjust pensions to new economic realities, the story adds, “In most states, this sort of law easily would be upheld and perhaps not even challenged, legal scholars said.”

“But in California, it’s a tough issue.”

We’re lookng at a state that foolishly said pensions can never be cut. They can only grow fatter … until the day of reckoning. On that day municipalities will become primarily retirement funds for public employees with an increasingly feeble sideline in public service. Courts which allow this ridiculous unsustainability hasten the demise of government.

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All in against Dino

"He who seeketh to stop Pharoah's grand projects must be destroyed!"

Say this for Stockton-area farmer Dino Cortopassi: he’s got a big rise out of Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown and his allies appear to have become truly worried that Cortopassi’s Prop. 53 may pass. They’re pumping big money to defeat it, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Cortopassi’s “No Blank Checks” measure would give voters a say on any state project costing $2 billion or more that is financed with revenue bonds.

“In the past week, Brown, labor unions, Indian tribes and Silicon Valley venture capitalists have contributed $7 million to kill the measure, tripling the size of the opposition’s treasury,” reports the Merc.

Cortopassi says his idea is to control state debt. But bevenue bonds, not incidentally, are the way Brown’s legacy projects — high-speed rail and the Delta tunnels — will be financed. Both could be rejected by voters.

The horror! The horror!

“On Oct. 6, Brown contributed $1.7 million in unspent money from his 2014 re-election campaign to No on 53. On Friday, he donated another $2.4 million, boosting the No campaign’s total war chest to $10.9 million, more than twice what the Yes campaign has raised.”

Prop. 53 is not a bad idea — if it works as Cortopassi hopes. Its potential for unintended consequences is a concern. But, if it kills the Delta tunnels, whether that is Cortopassi’s objective or not, he shoudl get a statue in the park.

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The expanding conspiracy against Sam Fant

Sam Fant


If, as if alleged by Dist. 6 Council challenger San Fant, who is on trial on charges of voter fraud, there is a conspiracy against him, the contours of it certainly are formidable.

It comprises almost the entire District Attorney’s Office, which Fant accused of being so dishonest his attorney argued in court the office should recuse itself from Fant’s prosecution. Motion denied.

It includes the San Joaquin County Grand Jury, which Fant says criticized him out of racism. A related motion, denied.

Now, alas, even Fant’s political mentor, former Council member Dale Fritchen has joined the cabal. Dale Fritchen testified he blew the whistle on Fant after Fant told him he’d recruited two legally ineligible board members to the Manteca Unified School Board.

Fant’s attorney then cross-examined Fritchen. The thrust of her questions is that Fritchen is retaliating against Fant because Fant wouldn’t join a scheme to run against Fritchen’s opponent Michael Tubbs and help Fritchen split the black vote and retain his seat.

In order to believe this theory, it is necessary to believe that Fritchen proposed the vote-splitting scheme, which is plausible; and that, when Fant declined, the vindictive Fritchen waited a good, long time then stormed to the District Attorney with false accusations about Fant’s voter fraud.

Which seems highly implausible.

But then, it’s a jury’s call. Hopefully they, too, are not in on the plot.


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A question for Mr. Colangelo

Dist. 2 Council challenger Steve Colangelo

In today’s story about the District 2 City Council race, challenger Steve Colangelo criticizes incumbent Dan Wright for voting to increase water rates.

“I come from a belief that we should raise taxes and fees as the absolute last resort and even then it should be an extreme circumstance,” said Colangelo, arguing that city officials should have found a way to avoid raising water rates.

It’s all very well to express fiscal conservatism. But not magic thinking.

The City of Stockton paid for the $217 million Delta Water Supply Project — sticking our straw in the Delta, the most expensive capital project in city history — with a revenue bond. That sort of bond is repaid by user fees.

Enter the drought, and state-mandated water conservation, and suddenly we users are using less water. Hence paying less. And the city found itself falling behind in revenue needed to pay off the bond.

So a fee increase appears to have been unavoidable.

Now, if you want to criticize the city for overbuilding the waterworks at the behest of developers who wanted the water supply legally required before growth can be okayed, there may be a good argument there.But what Colangelo said is that — the way the story paraphrased it – ”city officials should have found a way to avoid raising water rates.”

Here, then, is an opportnity for Colangelo to display his fiscal prowess: What way, Mr. Colangelo? Where in this bankrupt city, a city on a tight, post-bankrptcy budget, a city which has had to give police a raise that is unvcomfortable for its budget, would you have found the money to service the waterworks debt?

You are saying there was a way. What is that way?

I’ll publish your answer, sir.


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The irony of Newport Beach

Going broke like the rest of us: Newport Beach.

Stockton went bankrupt in part because public employees, enabled by fiscally foolish leaders, rigged the system so it would over-compensate them.

One of the ways they did this was called a “salary survey:” Stockton compared its public employee compensation to 12 California cities, and committed to be — if memory serves — fourth in compensation.

That was imprudent on the face of it. A city should decide what to pay based on what it can afford, period. But leaders made it worse. The cities they okayed for that list included affluent California communities such as Pasadena and Newport Beach. For a working class town such as Stockton to pay in that league was crazy.

The irony is that even Newport Beach can no longer afford to keep  up with Newport Beach. That’s right; thanks to the pension Hogzilla, The exclusive city’s unfunded liability is projected to rise to $315 million in 2017.

Of this crushing debt, one council member said, ”Chasing the unfunded liability number is a fool’s errand. “The real issue we need to focus on is our affordability. I don’t think this is a solvable problem at the municipal level.”

What he means is that even rich Newport Beach will never pay down CalPERS’ ever-increasing pension debt. The solution has to come at the state level. Something reformist Stockton City Manager Bob Deis said in 2012.

“We are in favor of fundamental reforms that produce real costs savings in the nart term but treat our employees with the sustainability and dignity they deserve,” Deis wrote to Gov. Jerry Brown andother state leaders in anAug 15, 2012 letter.

“CalPERS should be allowed to collaborate with cities who, along with their employee groups, wish to reduce costs ina managed but sensitive way.”

What state leaders produced in response was the modest Public Employee Pensin Reform Act of 2013. Judge by the distress of cities such as Newport Beach whether those reformes were adequate.


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Why 99 and other state roads are a disgrace

Hwy. 99 at French Camp

Because tax increases take a 2/3 vote of the legislature, and Dems and Republican can’t agree.

I’m following up on Sunday’s column which talked about Highway 99 being declared America’s deadliest major highway.

The L.A. Times had the story about the political gridlock last May.

Gov. Brown’s proposal is detailed in the story. Here’s the Republican counter-proposal.

Brian Kelly, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, is quoted saying,“The only numbers that matter here are 54 and 27,” referring to the two-thirds majorities needed in the Assembly and Senate.

But that’s not right. The only number that matters here is $762. That’s the cost to the average California motorist of auto repair made necessary by the crimbling roads. You can bet this appalling figure is higher in Stockton where municipal roads are victims of even worse deferred maintenance.

Responsible lawmakers would work out a compromise to fix California’s shameful roads.

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Tom Patti goes low


Mr. Negative: Tom Patti at the forum.

I’ve neither met nor interviewed Tom Patti. The candidate running to replace Moses Zapien on the District 3 Supervisor’s seat may have a lot to offer. But based solely on the report of last night’s candidate forum, I’d give Patti a mixed, generally bad, review.

Because — come on — alleging Zapien falsified his resume? While a legitimate issue, though hardly a burning one, to allege such fraud based on an anonymous source is to take the low, muddy road. Such an allegation is verifiable. Patti should have provided the evidence to prove it.

That Patti thinks blackening someone’s reputation without proof is fair play says more about him than Zapien.

Patti also attacked Zapien for failing to clean up Wilson Way. That is fair. Calling out leaders for failing to clean up blight and for acquiescing to Stockton’s culture of low standards is not only within bounds, it is necessary. Try to stay on that road, Mr. Patti.

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More conspiracy nonsense


Mayor Anthony Silva huddles with one of his attorneys.

In the latest wrinkle in Mayor Anthony Silva’s strip poker case, his attorneys say the charges against him are so vague they don’t admit for a proper defense.

Also, both the Mayor and his attorney reiterated their tiresome accusation that the charges against Silva stem from a politically motivated conspiracy.

As for the legal argument — “Defendant has not been given sufficient notice to enable him to prepare a defense to the crime the Prosecution seeks to prove he committed” — I’ll leave that one to the judge.

As for the conspiracy theory, here are the fresh statements:

Stockton residents don’t believe half of the garbage printed in this gossip paper,” Silva wrote in a text message. “That’s why your readership is low. They have more important things to worry about like going to work and paying bills. You guys need to (get) a life and stop trying to steal an election.”

(Attorney N. Allen) Sawyer, meanwhile, renewed his ongoing claim that the criminal charges against Silva are politically motivated.

“It just looks more and more like a political stunt calculated to muddy the waters so someone could not get past an election but never intended to be effective in an actual criminal courtroom,” Sawyer said.

Hey, if the charges against Silva prove to be weak, so be it. But the conspiracy theory is asinine. The Amador County District Attorney, its Sheriff’s Office, the San Joaquin County D.A.’s Office, the FBI and this paper are not in a conspiracy to steal an election.

Of course, Silva or his attorneys can prove me wrong: all they have to do is name the names of the bigwigs pulling the D.A.’s strings and lay out the motivation that would impel these shadowy figures to organize a multi-agency conspiracy to take down an innocent man who was going to lose the election anyway. They won’t.

It would also help if they explain why various law enforcement agncies would prostitute themselves and join such a conspiracy, all to remove Silva, who was doing quite well at removing himself. They can’t.

The conspiracy theory is, coming from Silva, just pathetic politics. Coming from Sawyer, the conspiracy theory is just misdirection, an alternate narrative to distract the public from his client’s alleged sleazeball antics. And perhaps Sawyer’s personal rage at the machine.

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    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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