Bloggus interruptus

I’ll be off two weeks. I’m going to the Canary Islands where, as you can see, the highly trained professional staff has everything under control.

A Naviera Armas ferry slammed into a breakwater Puerta de la Luz, Gran Canaria, Spain on Friday, April 21, injuring 13 passengers.

I’ll also be spending a few days in Morocco. See you back here Monday, May 15.

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Another asparagus capital

Duane Clark writes:

“Looks like Stockton has competition. What do you think?”

I love that sign. As for competition … I went to a dinner party over the weekend and, unless I miss my guess, the asparagus on the table was Stockton-grown.

Joan Singson takes asparagus out of the oven, as a partygoer filches a tasty stalk.

I’d say both Hadley and Stockton have it good. Here’s some asparagus recipes from today’s New York Times.

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Silva’s preposterous motion

Attorneys N. Allen Sawyer, left, and Mark Reichel with ex-mayor Anthony Silva.

In an impressive display of lawyerly cynicism, former Mayor Anthony Silva’s attorneys actually argued in court yesterday that Silva should be allowed to return to work at the nonprofit from which he allegedly embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It’s for the poor, needy kids, you see.

“Mr. Silva was the lifeline of that club,” said attorney N. Allen Sawyer. “He’s the reason that it’s around. It’s the reason that it’s able to provide services. Him being estranged from the club is terrible for that community.”

“The goal is to save the Kids Club,” added attorney Mark Reichel. “Anthony Silva can do that.”

What big hearts these guys have.

If I can stop my heart from palpitating, I will add that their statements are not entirely false. As Sawyer said, Silva is the reason the Kid’s Club is around — because Silva’s flagrant mismanagement of the Boys & Girls Club of Stockton and his refusal to allow an audit caused the national organization to yank the club’s charter. Leaving Silva and his associates in charge of a rump orgnization renamed Kids Club.

Silva is innocent until proven guilty. But let’s assume for arument’s sake that the prosecutors are right, and Silva plundered that club’s treasury for his personal use. How utterly irresponsible it would be to let him near the club again.

Now I can just hear his attorneys arguing, yes, but he could be kept away fromt he purse strings. Could he? Would he obey restrictions? Would his associates? Silva packed the Kids Club board with friends. Unindicted co-conspiritors, some suspect. Time will tell about that.

And then there is Silva’s desire perhaps to work as a lifegard or swim coach at the club. Given the sleazoid charges Silva faces in Amador County, drunken strip poker with teens, giving him any responsibility for youth is wildly inappropriate.

Judge Brett Morgan sent a jumbotron-sized signal when he declined to loosen the restrictions on Silva, who is out of jail on $350,000 bail. Morgan said he’d read “60 percent” of the transcript of grand jury proceedings that led to Silva’s indictment, and “That, in and of itself, would cause me to conclude conditions of his bail release should not change.”

If the Kids Club falls apart without Silva it will be because A). Silva and his associates are as incompetent at managing the club as he was as Mayor; B). Silva got himself embrangled in legal troubles; C). Silva failed to properly institutionalize the club with a board staffed with competent successors.

Silva’s attorneys are just doing their job. But those who truly care about disadvantaged kids should not exploit them to defend a character like Silva. They should negotiate with the national Boys & Girls club to renew the Stockton charter, reconstituting the club with a competent, ethical board and CEO.

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The university Stockton deserves

“The analysis clearly shows that Stockton and the surrounding metropolitan area are the most underserved region in California, and that there would be local, regional and statewide economic development benefits from establishing a new CSU-Stockton campus.”

— “Impact Assessment of a Proposed Public Comprehensive University: California State University Stockton,” by UOP’s Center for Business & Policy Research.

Here’s the report. CSU Stockton Impact Study_2017_4_24

If you read it, you’ll agree that any leader worth their salt around here will fight for this university.

Here’s more from Jeffrey Michael, the Executive Director, Center for Business and Policy Research at UOP

“…The LAO calculated that each region had a campus capable of handling the incremental enrollment growth expected in that region – conclusion no new campus needed.

“However, the LAO did not evaluate the equity of the current distribution of campuses and what regions are currently underserved. (His research) indicates that the “Upper Central Valley” of Stockton-Modesto and foothills to the West is woefully underserved relative to the rest of the state.

“It should also be noted that the last new CSU campus went into the well-served Central Coast region, and supposedly a leading candidate for the next, Chula Vista is in the well-served South Coast region.”

 

 

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Delta bogey man faces challenger

A Fresno protester objects to Devin Nunes' mishandling of the investigation into Russian meddling of the 2016 presidential election.

A Visalia prosecutor has thrown his hat in the ring against Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, a scourge of the Delta who has called the smelt a “stupid little fish.”

As Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes so badly botched the House investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties he had to recuse himself.

That bungling, coupled with this ties to the unpopular president, has generated a serious challenge from Andrew Janz, 33, a prosecutor with the Fresno County District Attorney’s office.

A theme of his campaign emerges in this Fresno Bee story: “I deal with confidential information on a daily basis,” Janz said. “I’m in a profession that’s all about ethics.”

Nunes, not so much. His alleged mishandling of classified information seemed to reveal him as a partisan lightweight in far over his head when given the responsiibility of chairing the Intelligence Committee.

Nunes responded to criticism by ducking town hall meetings.

As an advocate for Big Ag, Nunes supports dams, suspending the environmental protections which are the Delta’s life support, and he wants to subvert the restoration of the San Joaquin River, though his side lost the historic lawsuit over the river and everyone agreed to the settlement. I don’t know how much better Janz would be, but he couldn’t be worse.

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Spring at last in Stockton

And roses are in glorious bloom a the house of Mikal Hoover and partner Vanessa Hadady.

 

 

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Pensions sledgehammer Stockton’s future

Chastened by bankruptcy, Stockton created a prudent long-range budget — which pensions are going to murder.

That’s the word the Council got on Tuesday.

The California’s Public Employee Retirement System, CalPERS — a.k.a. Hogzilla — is actually reforming after years of irresponsibly advocating penion increases and hiding the true cost.

Unfortunately, the real bill is obscene.

Here’s a chart showing the ups and downs — but ultimately the sustainability — of Stockton’s Long-Range Fiscal Plan, or L-RFP, before the latest developments.

City finances, gobbled by pensions, dip deeply in the mid-2020s. The General Fund balance falls not only below the 16.7% working capital reserve which is the industry standard, it actually falls below the 5% minimum. That is a crisis, a state of near-insolvency. Whoever’s running the show then will have to get out the chainsaw.

It won’t be pretty. But with the aid of reserves, the city will scrape by. That was the plan.

And the plan was conservative in that the L-RFP anticipated CalPERS would hike its bill (Hogzilla hikes the bill by lowering its “discount rate,” the discount it can offer by co-paying the bill by using its investment returns.

The discount rate when Stockton tanked was 7.5% — which is to say CalPERS anticipated a 7.5% return on its investment porfolio, money with which it would defray Stockton’s pension costs.

Skeptical — becasue projecting rosy investment returns was one way CalPERS hid pensions’ true cost — The L-RFP foresaw a reduction to 7.25%

This fractional change may sound teeny. But every quarter-percent drop translates approximately to a 10 percent increase in city pension costs. The last time I checked, Stockton pays $37.8 million a year toward pensions. So 10 percent equals about $3.8 million a year.

Staff was obliged to inform the Council that CalPERS has utterly upended the city’s fiscal plan. “The recent board action exceeds prior L-RFP assumptions” is how staff dryly put it in this staff report.

And it will “exceed” the budget more and more. CalPERS is going to reduce its discount rate over time from 7.375% …

to 7.25% …

to 7% by in fiscal 2020-21.

“Based on preliminary estimates, the City’s CalPERS costs will exceed those projected in the Long-Range Financial Plan (L-RFP) by $4.2 million in FY 2020-21, and $16.5 million in FY 2024-25 when the full annual effect is realized,” the analysis says.

Which is to say pension costs, already doubled over the last decade, will spike another roughly 50% over the next decade.

Behold what a shambles that makes of the city’s long-range budget.

In reality, state law requires cities to submit annual blanced budgets — unlike Uncle Sam, Stockton cannot run up a deficit. So what you’re looking at there is a chapter 19, a second bankruptcy, if the city doesn’t take steps now.

Fortunately, it has. The city has squirreled away millions of Measure A tax dollars intended to fund police positions that have remained vacant longer than expected. Now you know why leaders didn’t mind too much if the Measure A money wasn’t expended.

Staff puts a brave face on the hammer blows CalPERS is going to rain on Stockton. “With prudent and rapid action the City is well positioned to weather the CalPERS changes … and ensure financial sustainability.”

They think the future looks like this:

I hope they are right.

In their defense, they, too, are being conservative; the above chart reflects a bad-case scenario in which voters do not renew the Strong Communities (Measure M) tax in fiscal 2034-35 at an annual cost of $11 million.

But there’s reason to doubt.

The fiscal consultant who devised the L-RFP was hailed as a wizard for factoring in one bill hike. But CalPERS’ voracious appetite for tax dollars dead-lettered his projections and made him look shortsighted only three years into the L-RFP. It is simply impossible to overestimate the money-sucking capacity of California’s public employee pension system.

Of course, the courts may rescue municipalities by ruling pensions may be cut. There are myriad other variables. However, the poet Robert Burns may have it right: “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley/An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain …”

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Stockton crime declines

Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones with confiscated weapons at last week's news conference about a big gang bust.

When writing this column about Mayor Michael Tubbs’ first 100 days, I requested the year-over-year crime statistics from the Stockton Police Department. If you’re curious, here they are.

crime stats 17

Couple off-the-cuff remarks: Not only is violent crime down over the last year, property crimes are down. This is new. Police have been throwing resources at gun violence and hot spots. Property crimes were not dropping.

Only motor vehicle theft is really up. Arson doubled, but the numbers are small.

Undoubtedly police work has affected the numbers. As has new hiring, which brought the force up to 430 on Monday. It’ll be interesting to see how much crime rises as the rains end and the sun comes out.

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A lazy trip on the Queen

Helen Schneider describes her trip on the Delta Queen years ago.

 

The Delta Queen, launched in Stockton in 1927, became a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn., after Congress tok her off the river. Now the historic boat may resume passenger service.

“We sailed from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. It was quite luxurious.”

Well, not for everyone. “The staterooms that were off the main lounge area were very luxurious. They outside staterooms were not.”

The Queen stopped at four cities – Schneider can’t remember which ones — and passengers viewed antebellum mansions. A crewmember also discussed the Queen’s rich history.

So thick was fog at night the Queen had to drop anchor. But so what?

“Somebody in our group played piano. She played a concert. They served mint juleps every night before dinner. It was a fun experience.”

 

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Sunrise on the Mokelumne

From Jessice Renshaw, a reminder of why we love the Delta.

 

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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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