Public safety and the public trust

The opponents of Measure A had a slogan: “Don’t trust them.”

For now, at least, it appears they were right.

In exchange for 120 new cops, Stocktonians shouldered the highest tax rate in the state — and, “the force currently has only one more officer than it had at the end of last June,” reports this story.

They’ve added about half the police voters expected, and they have plateaued out.

The issue is simply money. Other cities have more of it, so police leave Stockton for greener pastures. Stockton’s cash-strapped state being a legacy of the fiscal fools who over-extended the city.

But that’s spilt milk. The city has to find a solution to the churn depleting its police force. If Mayor Anthony Silva were any kind of leader, he’d put this real and urgent issue ahead of his posturing over the city’s water treatment. But City Manager Kurt Wilson doesn’t sound like he has a solution, either, and we haven’t heard thing one from mayoral candidates Michael Tubbs and Carlos Villapudua.

The mayoral candidates need to be queried about their prescription. Staffing up Stockton’s police force, and tamping down this city’s historically horrendous crime rate, is job number one, and a candidate without a solution does nto deserve to be mayor.

For now, though, it’s the job of those in power. If they don’t do it, then they vindicate those who said they are untrustworthy.



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Andal: Wilson’s aloofness hides mismanagement

Dean Andal

Fiscal watchdog Dean Andal writes:

“The reason the City Manager doesn’t show up at unfavorable forums or explain himself on large issues (pensions, water, Measure A police hiring) is because he doesn’t have to and it is effective public relations strategy.

“He actually had good answers for the City’s water position (which I agree with), but didn’t think it was a favorable forum for him and so he maintained his usual strategy of stiffing the press and public and riding it out.  On other issues like pensions and police hiring, his positions are indefensible (and sometimes mathematically incorrect) – so he rightly calculates that he should insist that everything is swell and not respond to any information requests that would prove otherwise.

“In the end, the City Manager is winning the PR struggle against the people of Stockton.  Public pension costs are, as predicted, exploding as a percentage of the city’s budget.  Police hiring, as predicted, is not honoring the City’s Measure A commitment.  The savings from not hiring the police officers is covering the increased pension costs, again as predicted, not putting net new police officers on the streets of Stockton.  He does this to prolong the inevitable return to bankruptcy – which would be the only thing that would tarnish his career.

“In the meantime, because of all of this dishonesty, Stockton has more crime, less libraries, unsafe parks and public places, and among the highest taxes in all of California.  Most newspapers would react in horror to this governmental abuse of its citizens, but here it is given ho hum treatment to chase the latest escapade of some council-member that has no meaning to your readers.

“Newspapers should hold the powerful government accountable to the public interest – not try to protect government officials from those who criticize them.  I don’t believe that is the norm in Stockton.  The powerful person in Stockton’s government is the City Manager – not the Mayor/Council. I think you have done an ombudsman job of trying to educate the public about these issues, but the Record has been a disaster – and the City Manager is simply exploiting that for his own benefit.”

I agree that the City Manager is at a remove greater than any I have seen.

Andal’s view that Stockton is headed toward a second bankruptcy is controversial. Stockton is headed for some rough financial years as a decade or so of bulging pension costs eat into the General Fund. But 80% of the city’s costs are public employee costs and Wilson has stood up to the public employee unions and firmly adhered to the 2% raises budgeted in the Long Range Financial Plan.

I guess one’s view of Wilson depends to a large extent on one’s perception of the city’s fiscal health. If, like Andal, you believe the city is washing towards the rocks again, Wilson’s reticence is a threat to the body politic. My own view is that Wilson, while regrettably aloof, is competent — in other words the exact opposite of Mayor Anthony Silva, who is accessible but utterly void of leadership and policy except for forums and stunts and liking people on Facebook. But, yes, everyone who covers City Hall ought to press for more from Wilson.

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The city’s communications breakdown

The city of Stockton's Facebook page

One thing clear at the water forum — which Mayor Anthony Silva grasped — is that City of Stockton communications are not reaching a whole raft of citizens.

“We have to do a better job of communicating,” Silva said.

He’s right. City officials should listen to him.

The communications breakdown is clear. The city put the chloramine issue through two committees. Staff did a report. The full council debated it before voting on it in public. This paper wrote numerous articles about it. The city sent notices along with utility bills. Yet many people never got the message.

You could argue that the city did due diligence. These low-information citizens are so disengaged they have no one to blame for their ignorance but themselves. But they have migrated to Facebook. The mayor and his political advisers knew this from the start. It’s one of the reasons Silva got elected. It’s one of the reasons he can draw hundreds to forums.

Silva once told me he reaches 20,000 people through social media. One way he does is by engaging people on it. He exchanges comments with people.

Now here’s the city of Stockton’s Facebook page. A couple things are immediately clear about it. The first is that it’s clearly secondary to the city’s main website. The second is that the city does all the talking. This is contrary to the nature of social media.

That is one reason the site has only 1,764 followers. In a city with a greater metro area of 350,000 people.

A citizen named Larry Michael Garcia Sr., asked why the city manager was boycotting the water forum, “Why would he not be at the meeting about our water quality?” Garcia asked.

A perfectly legitimate question. The city did not answer him.

Garcia showed a willingness to engage on the city’s FB page. Now he may feel that the city blew him off. It gives you a perspective on the man who shouted a comment about Wilson at the forum, “He doesn’t listen to us!”

Perhaps it was Garcia.

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Another side of Erin

Stockton residents stand and applaud Erin Brockovich.

Hollywood exaggerated what Brockovich did.

The town of Hinkley, which Erin Brockovich got $2 million for “saving,” is worse off than ever, says this Mercury-News story.

As Brockovich admits: ”I’m almost ashamed to say that after all we had been through with PG&E, I thought that PG&E would have addressed this (the cleanup),” Brockovich said. “I walked away assuming that everything was OK, and it wasn’t. I feel duped, ashamed and really sad for the people of Hinkley.”

Many residents of Hinkley feel Brockovich and her legal eagles hogged too much of the settlement money. The Salon story here.

An online essay alleging Brockovich and the lawyers ginned up the whole Hinkley scandal, and PG&E settled to avoid a public image black eye.

An excerpt:

“So why did PG&E settle with the plaintiffs if there was no compelling scientific evidence to show that the myriad of symptoms suffered by the inhabitants of Hinkley were linked to chromium? Because the company was painfully aware that such cases are often decided on the basis of emotional arguments instead of hard science. Erin Brockovich did a remarkable job painting a picture of a villainous, soulless, giant corporation heartlessly destroying lives for the sake of profits. Facts turn out to be a poor eraser for such an image.”

Here’s a brief item that alludes Erin Brockovich’s “5,000-square-foot house that she’s done up in a Tuscan motif, where she lives with her husband of 11 years, Eric Ellis; her youngest daughter; and four Pomeranians, a papillon and yellow Labrador.”

Here’s a book called “Erin Brockovich and the Beverly Hills Greenscam” by Norma Zager.

Here’s — well, everybody makes mistakes.

Who’s Bob Bowcock? A story on him here.

Hire Erin Brockovich here.

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Collecting Stocktons

Bill Ries-Knight sends this nav-system screen shot from Las Vegas:

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Stockton needs a “night mayor”

Amsterdam: Let's party!

Here’s a great idea: a “night mayor.”

A night mayor is a liaison between nightlife businesses and city government. The city of Amsterdam appointed a former club promoter, Am Mirik Milan, night mayor in 2014. It worked so well other European cities are adopting the idea.

The story here.

Though Stockton government has improved somewhat, City Hall long functioned as the bureaucratic Blue Meanies. City officials failed to balance the rights of night-lifers with the rights of others such as residents of surrounding areas. If there was a complaint, they over-reacted. They severely restricted or outright killed the nightlife. Nobody but the entrepreneur and a few patrons stood up for the club or cafe. And City Hall seemed to regard them as scofflaws and crime magnets, as if having acoustic music in a cafe were the equivalent of running a big marijuana grow house.

If there’s a mature young person on the Downtown Stockton Alliance board, someone with a stake in downtown, s/he could become the night mayor. And not only for downtown. Or a mayor could post a job opening for night mayor. Stockton’s young entrepreneurs and makers are reviving downtown, but they can always use a friend in high places.

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Living in an old firehouse

Here’s the Sonora Street home mentioned in today’s column, back when it was Firehouse 8.


Here’s the station’s fire pole  on display in The Haggin Museum.

Here’s the pole back in the day.

Here’s a closer look. The man in the photo is the late historian Horace Spencer.

The firehouse also had a Civil Air Defense air raid siren to warn of nuclear attacks. Here’s a “siren map” of Stockton showing the locations all over town and the range of its sound.


If time permits today, if not then Monday, I’ll build this post up with more historic photos and Stockton Cold War memorabilia.

–Photos courtesy The Haggin Museum and Stockton Fire Department. Map courtesy Office of Emergency Services.


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The chloramine dilemma, II


An interior shot of the Delta Water Supply Project, where Stockton's water is being chloraminated.

Taking the high road, the editorialist as well as the lead letter-writer in today’s paper call for city of Stockton officials to participate in Monday’s forum about chloramine in the water.

“Sure, Anthony Silva is trying to politicize this issue of chloramines in some of Stockton’s drinking water, …” writes William Maxwell, “but that does not eliminate the need for the city to send a knowledgeable staff member to the forum to answer the public’s questions. … City Manager Kurt Wilson is letting his personal ambivalence toward the mayor stand in the way of … doing what is best for the citizens of Stockton.”

The editorialist wrote, “Wilson has an expert — Mel Lytle, director of the Municipal Utilities Department — who has expertise and a Ph.D. He could be helpful in assuaging the angst … Lytle should be there.”

True, there is something almost poignant in the video Wilson released about chloramines. It is an attempt by a sophisticated city manager removed from the rough and tumble of Stockton’s polity to communicate reasonably that chloramines were the city’s best option. As if democracy can be run from an ivory tower.

But the folks on the high road may underestimate the feelings of City Hall insiders towards the mayor. Though Wilson is too classy to say so, I doubt very much he feels any “ambivalence” towards Silva at all; I imagine he loathes the mayor. Most City Hall insiders do. They reel at Silva’s lack of constructive leadership, for his hollow publicity stunts, for the drama he brings which distracts from real governance and progress.

They loathe him for for telling the masses that “Stockton government doesn’t work” when city staffers work hard and (usually) effectively while he skips off the the Epic Lounge, or wherever he goes when he disappears for long stretches.

They loathe him, in other words, not jut for politicizing the chloramine issue but for politicizing them as aloof and dysfunctional elites.

Asking them to support his forum stems from the belief that personal animosities are secondary and the public good ought to come first. Granted. But Silva has made a career out of making political enemies, and they have a belief about the public good, too: that it is unconscionable to do anything to help Anthony Silva get re-elected.

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Another pension sweetener

Reader Matt Brodie writes:

“You left out the auto cost of living adjustments. A chief who retires at age 53 and lives a full life (to age 88) will see his annual retirement gift grow to $400,000 with 2% annual adjustments.

“If the COL goes up to average 3% over that chief’s lifetime, a $200,000 gift recipient at 53 he will be receiving $560,000 annually when he passes at 88. And what we don’t know is if any of these chiefs are receiving reduced payouts in favor of surviving spouses continuing to receive largesse upon the death of the “bread” winner.

“These payouts sicken me.”

I don’t know if Brodie’s arithmetic is correct. But his point is well taken. Cost of Living Adjustments are just perpetual raises by a fancy name.


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The chloramine dilemma


City Manager Kurt Wilson

City leaders face a dilemma: if they support Mayor Anthony Silva’s Monday forum on chloraminated water, they legitimize a remarkably bad mayor that has irresponsibly ginned up a public health scare to raise his public profile.

If they don’t support the forum, they play into Silva’s meme that City Hall elites are aloof from the people.

City Manager Kurt Wilson has chosen to abstain. I imagine he just can’t bring himself to be complicit with the mayor’s uncalled-for exploitation of citizens’ fears. Wilson can seem aloof — he’s just not a guy you expect to see at Chuck’s — and the mayor is exploiting that, too.

But what is gained by hammering the city manager for not living in Stockton? Wilson is, after all, a capable leader crucial to Stockton’s post-bankruptcy recovery. Yammering at leaders for not living here only makes them like working here less. It’s an attack on competent government.

Silva lives here. Silva is an incompetent, self-serving populist whose constant denunciations of a city government he lacks the skills to master only breed public disaffection.

The low-information voters now alarmed about a standard water disinfectant show why Stockton is so hard to govern. Silva understands them. But he lacks any ability to actually help them. Any improvement in governance, any improvement in their quality of municipal life, will be achieved by others. The others whom Silva is turning the public against.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    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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