Andal questions tiny houses; Tubbs answers

A tiny house for the homeless in Madison, Wis.

Fiscal watchdog Dean Andal sent some questions about mayoral candidate Michael Tubbs’ proposal to use tiny houses to get homeless people off the streets of Stockton.

I forwarded those questions to Tubbs. He answers, below.

1. Since the dwellings are not in the current general plan, I assume the general plan would have to be amended to permit their construction?

Tubbs: Not necessarily. The GP is just that, general. It doesn’t specifically list all possible individual land uses. Rather, it speaks in broad terms about land use categories (I.e. residential, commercial, etc.) CDD has no reason to believe that tiny home dwellings would be inconsistent with the GP though a zoning ordinance amendment would certainly be needed.

2.  Will an EIR be done on the general plan amendment to insure that there are no “negative impacts” on city services to existing residents?

Tubbs: No. An EIR will be done in compliance with state law which requires only that the city identify, disclose, and to the extent feasible, mitigate any impacts that are identified.

3.  Will these new homes be required to pay all of the impact fees that other new homes in Stockton must pay?

Tubbs: Yes, to the extent that impact fees apply to affordable housing units and absent a specific Council exemption.

4.  If those fees are waived, doesn’t that have a negative financial impact on the Stockton general fund?

Tubbs: Not necessarily. Impact fees pay for capital improvements. If adequate funds are not collected to build those improvements, other sources of funding are required or the improvements don’t get built. Theoretically, the Council could choose to “backfill” the building of those improvements which has at least the potential to effect the General Fund. But the Council could also choose to backfill with grants, federal funding or it could choose to forego building some of the anticipate improvements altogether.

These good questions (and answers) reflect the higher level of civic and fiscal discourse we realized is necessary when Stockton’s General Fund spiraled into insolvency. That said, it’s dizzying how complicated it is in California to throw together some tiny houses to get people off the streets. Through all of Stockton’s Gold Rush era and much of the 20th century if tiny houses were needed somebody simply would have built them with no red tape from City Hall. But we have to live in the world as it is. Sigh.

Mayor Anthony Silva, to his credit, also put forward a proposal in May. Silva’s idea is to fill an old hotel with homeless and provide services to transition them to permanent housing. That’s a germ of a good idea. But Silva failed to show who would pay for those services, the sort of elementary fiscal mistake we are trying to avoid.

Tubbs’ proposal looks perfectly doable to me. No word from Andal yet.



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The real lead poisoning

A Texas mom who is loudly pro-gun got into an argument with her two daughters and killed them. Police killed her.

Boing Boing has it.

And this is guns — or the side of guns Second Amendment diehards don’t face.

Every mom in the world gets into arguments with her daughters. Without guns in this incident, it is quite possible that the mom and her daughters soon would have made up. But guns make the anger deadly and permanent.

Instead three lives are lost, others forever destroyed. Like the father’s. The rest of the family, the boyfriends, family friends, must be grief-stricken.

In January the mom posted, “I have 10 guns. Obama wants eight of my guns.” And later,  “It would be horribly tragic if my ability to protect myself or my family were to be taken away, but that’s exactly what Democrats are determined to do by banning semiautomatic weapons.”

Horribly tragic. Apt phrase.

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A lead balloon

The discovery of slightly elevated levels of lead in the water of one Stockton home got strong play in today’s paper.

It would have been equally valid to say testing in 70 homes found amounts well below federal safety levels in some homes and no trace whatsoever in others — and levels exceeding standards in only one house. Which may be due to factors within the house.

In other words, the conversion to chloramines is working. The alarmist prediction by Erin Brockovich that Stockton is the next Flint, Michigan have so far proved baseless.

That one house’s water had too much lead may be a good thing. City officials say they’ll  to do further testing in the neighborhood. Good. Given Stockton’s capacity for misfortune, you can’t be too careful. We should nail down when the city will test and when the results will be made public.

Until then no one should freak out — or allow a certain scaremongering politician to freak anyone out.

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A church in Stockton’s DNA

In today’s column I didn’t get much into the schism in the Methodist Church that underlied the founding of Grace United Methodist Church in pioneer Stockton. But the schism explains why the church was founded and why it moved north.

In 1844, as churches do, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church split into two over the issues of slavery and “the power of bishops in the denomination.”

The two new general conferences were the Methodist Episcopal Church of the North and  Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The northern branch preceded even the 1850 southern branch to Stockton, if you can believe that: that institution was was, and is, Central United Methodist Church.

Southerners not finding that Yankee church congenial then founded Grace United Methodist.


Photo courtesy Bank of Stockton

This undated photo, probably circa 1860, shows Grace United methodist Church in early Stockton.

The two branches remained separate until 1939, when they reunited. Then there were two similar and arguably redundant churches downtown. That’s why Grace moved out north.

Grace Methodist circa 1955. Courtesy Bank of Stockton.



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An SF Supe’s promising homeless measure

A San Francisco Supervisor has come up with what seems like a comnon-sense plan to reduce homelessness. Worth a look by Stockton policy makers (and voters) is the “Housing not Tents” ballot measure.

Reports KQED:

“The measure would permit the city to remove tents, provided it offers specific shelter or housing opportunities to the people living there. A tent camp could also be removed if a resident participates in the city’s Homeward Bound program — an initiative under which the city pays for bus tickets for homeless residents who have out-of-town family or friends willing to take them in.”

There’s more compassionate sweeteners for the guilty liberal SF voter:

Supervisor Mark Farrell’s “proposal would require the city to give 24 hours’ notice that it intends to remove an encampment. It would also require the city to store camp residents’ belongings for 90 days after a removal.”

Of course, the way-left wing on the Board of Supervisors denounced the measure. One Supe scoffed the measure is just politicking, as there aren’t enough shelter beds to accommodate all the street people.

So? San Francisco already spends a jaw-dropping $241 million annually on the homeless — more than Stockton’s entire General Fund of $208.5 million. How much more does the far left want to sink into the problem without giving complementary measures a try?

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McNerney joined House sit-in

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, joined with Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday in a sit-in on the House floor to demand gun-reform laws.

Life’s not all sweetness and solar panels. Sometimes you have to get in the face of recalcitrant Republicans and demand desperately needed change.

And that presumably is why Congressman Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, participated in the historic House sit-in to protest the Republicans’ do-nothing stance on gun control.

McNerney issued a statement. An excerpt:

“My Democratic colleagues and I have had enough when it comes to Congress’ refusal to take commonsense, simple actions to reduce gun violence in our country. Together, we are taking a stand …  It is unconscionable that many of my colleagues are content with doing nothing and instead are blocking a vote on bipartisan legislation that would help reduce gun violence and save lives.

“I hope that today’s sit-in shows the American people – including the victims and survivors of gun violence and the overwhelming majority who support commonsense gun laws – that there are leaders who are standing up to reduce gun violence …

The statement goes on to say the U.S. has suffered 1,000 mass shootings over 1,260 days. “But sadly, mass shootings are only a sliver of our gun violence problems. Nearly 90 people die from gun violence each day – in neighborhoods and communities across the country, including my home district.

“But we don’t have to accept this. We don’t need to wait to wake up to another news report of innocent people gunned down before we can take action. We can fight for safer communities and a safer America by taking action now to pass gun reform legislation to expand background checks on all commercial gun sales and to keep guns out of hands of dangerous individuals, criminals, and terrorists.

“It is shameful that the Republicans are turning their backs on the American people who deserve a debate and a vote on these policies in the people’s House. Refusing to act does not make the problem go away. Too many lives have been lost.”

To the degree that conservatives stand for small government, individual responsibility and slow, thoughtful change there’s much merit in their creed. But many of the beliefs in the current Republican Party have hardened into dogma which is increasingly out of touch with the modern world.

They won’t compromise — except insofar as unprincipled support for a disaster like Donald Trump keeps them in power. They obstruct and shut down government. They throw gravel in the gears of the very give and take that is essential to the functioning of American government. Their inaction on gun control is costing lives.

Standing up to them is an act of patriotic courage. Bravo, McNerney.



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A movement to raise The Phoenix


Then-Lodi resident John Gardner with the Phoenix of Hiroshima, which sank on his watch.


In 2010 I had some fun helping to solve the mystery of The Phoenix of Hiroshima, a historically significant boat that had vanished in the Delta.

The 50-foot double-end ketch made international headlines in 1958 when its owner, radiation expert Earle L. Reynolds, sailed into the off-limits waters of Bikini Atoll to protest the U.S. military’s nuclear tests there.

In his old age, Reynolds sold the boat. The Phoenix passed through a series of Northern California owners. In 2007 one of the last ones gave it away on craigslist to a recovered addict. Then it disappeared.

I learned the guy botched the towing. The Phoenix of Hiroshima took on water and sank off Tyler Island on the North Fork Mokelumne approximately four miles east of Isleton.

And there it lays.

Now a movement appears to be afoot to raise and restore The Phoenix.

“A couple dozen of us are starting to check the feasibility of getting the Phoenix of Hiroshima up and sailing again,” writes Jessica Renshaw, Reynolds’ 70something daughter, who as a young girl sailed the world in that boat with her family.

“Things are coming together rapidly,” Reynolds writes, though The Phoenix’s 9-year stay on the bottom is hardly rapid salvage. “We have a non-profit organization willing to be an umbrella and project manager for our project, handling accounting for funds and are considering that.”

In 2010 divers went down to see if the boat was in salvageable condition. You can read their report and get other background from Renshaw’s blog here. 

Continues Renshaw, “Phoenix owner Naomi Reynolds (Dr. Naomi Reynolds, granddaughter of Earle L. Reynolds, an Oakdale physician, to whom the addict relinquished the boat) has given me permission to make decisions like this one and is even willing to turn over ownership of the boat “if necessary” to an “appropriate organization.” For instance Golden Rule (another historically significant boat from the annals of pacifism) is owned by Veterans for Peace, not an individual or family. That will help with fund-raising.”

Over the next four years,  Jessica Renshaw writes, “We have big dreams of having the Phoenix and Golden Rule sail together to the Marshall Islands and then to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2020.”

So the old boat may rise again. Maybe. We’ll follow the story.

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“A long history of being out of sync”

That’s what City Manager Kurt Wilson said about Stockton vis-a-vis other cities in his annual budget message.

For years Stockton outspent other comparable cities. Now, ironically, it is under-spending compared to them, locked into a misconceived post-bankruptcy budget that wrongly gauged competitive levels of public employee compensation. A federal judge signed off on it, so it’s a done deal. Hence the difficulty retaining police.

That creates short-term problems and civic dissatisfaction — in which I share, having had a bellyful of Stockton government’s perpetual dysfunction. City Hall just can’t get it right.

To properly evaluate the city financially, however, it’s necessary to look unusually long-term. Why? Because Stockton is making debt payments until 2054. So it has to project its revenue 30 years out. And what you see when you look is a fiscal prudence that at least puts the current shortcomings in a better light.

This city chart shows that Stockton has passed through a brief period of excess revenues, and it has entered a three-year period of tolerably adequate revenues and responsible reserves. But after that costs — primarily ever-increasing pension costs — plunges balances  into a 10-year valley.

Around 2027 city reserves will plunge dangerously close to the 5% reserve line — the point at which leaders must get out the ax and scalp already decimated expenditures, meaning services, meaning police, library hours, etc.

Wilson is too diplomatic to say it bluntly, but there’s a big cohort of fiscally short-sighted citizens — including a couple on the council — itching to hike spending.

Here’s how he put it: “Strict adherence to these prudent financial policies has proven to require a herculean effort in the face of mounting pressure from well-intentioned stakeholders who seek service enhancements or other well-deserved but costly commitments.”

If sticking to a prudent long-range budget that keeps Stockton out of Chapter 18 is a “herculean” task then many Stocktonians learned nothing form the bankruptcy.

Fiscal smarts is a long game. A long game which, if wisely played, will vindicate conservative budgeting. Just watch. In the coming decades the bloating costs of public employee pensions will drive more cities into bankruptcy. That’ll go on until the Public Employee Pension Reform Act of 2012 finally brings pension costs down.

If Stockton wants to make it through the valley depicted above, leaders have to stay the course and say no a lot. The exception is police. There should be no other.

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The Bay Area’s exodus

Dolores Park in San Francisco. A pilot program by the city to reserve space in the park for a fee has been suspended. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

“A recent poll revealed that an unsettling sense of yearning has descended on people in the Bay Area: About one-third of those surveyed by the Bay Area Council say they would like to exit the nine-county region sometime soon.”

—The San Jose Mercury News, reporting that “the number of people leaving California for another state exceeded by 61,100 the number who moved here from elsewhere in the U.S.”

One third. That’s a bad review if ever there was one. People are fed up — with the skyrocketing cost of housing (the high cost of everything), perpetual tax increases and traffic jams.

It puzzles me that a city of such sophistication as San Francisco has not found the urbanism to adequately address these problems. First and foremost the city (and its environs) simply needs to build tens of thousands of homes to bring prices down. The demand is there. So government must be staying the market’s “hidden hand” from delivering supply.

Instead the city seems obsessed with economic development. Well, prosperity is a good thing. But San Francisco’s case shows prosperity must be managed or mitigated. Seeing a city Manhattanize is one thing. But Silicon Valley is transforming San Francisco into a bedroom community for the super-rich. As soon as the other classes are elbowed out, a  city loses its soul.

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Rare good news about pensions


Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown found a way to stop CalPERS from undermining pension reform.

The background: faced with absolutely budget-busting pension costs, Brown championed the Public Employee Pension Reform Act, or PEPRA, of 2012. The reforms arguably don’t go far enough. But they did eliminate the most egregious abuses such as pension spiking, and they will bring pension costs down.

No sooner had PEPRA passed than CalPERS — aka Hogzilla — tried to sabotage the desperately needed reforms. The pro-labor pension management  hacks created  a list of 99 types of extra pay that boosted pensions, though many of these special jobs were not special at all but part of the basic job.

Here’s Calpensions: “An in-depth story by the Los Angeles Times mentioned bonus pay for “librarians who help the public find books, secretaries who take dictation, groundskeepers who repair sprinklers, and school workers who supervise recess.”

Imagine foisting such a blatantly bogus and self-enriching policy in a state already drowning in pension debt.

Calpensions again: “As it turned out, Brown’s Finance department simply did not sign the regulations, a necessary step in the process. So, the regulations expired a year later, never taking effect. CalPERS proposed, the governor disposed.”

So Brown thwarted Hogzilla’s scheme to undermine pension reform. Attaboy, Governor.

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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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