“An arrogant display of greed”

After pontificating about the need to sacrifice, and holding county employees’ raises down to 3 or 4 percent, Contra Costa Supervisors voted themselves a whopping 33 percent raise.

Deniel Borenstein, usually civil and dispassionate, is outraged.

“What a crock,” he writes here.

To my knowledge, the Supes’ action is the biggest act of self-enrichment in the region. That is really saying something.

The action sabotages compensation negotiations with public employees. Supes’ who’ve hogged the trough like this will find it well-night impossible to impress public employees with the limited nature of resources. No more prudently stewarding taxpayer expenditures on labor contracts.

There is only one proper response to such stupendously bad leadership. Vote the bums out.

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What good is AB 506?

So AB 506, the law requiring insolvent cities to go through pre-bankruptcy mediation with creditors, cost the city of Stockton $2.3 million.

That money could have funded around 18 cops for a year.

Stockton was the Guinea pig for AB 506. In fact, Stockton’s looming bankruptcy was undoubtedly part of the reason the law was created. Lawmakers wanted to make it harder for cities to cut public employee compensation. Keeping a city out of Chapter 9 where compensation is vulnerable was the law’s intent.

“Employees have a direct interest in the Chapter 9 process, particularly prior to filing,” the law reads. “Therefore it is important for those parties to be able to participate in a prefiling confidential neutral evaluation process … and avoid a Chapter 9 filing.”

So by the law’s stated purpose, AB 506 failed to achieve its goal, in Stockton’s case. Stockton ended up in Chapter 9 anyway.

And when you look at the implacable resistance of Franklin Templeton Investments to a negotiated settlement you can see the law is rather naive in regards to what pre-bankruptcy mediation can achieve. The ranks of municipal creditors include diehards who fight to the last cartridge. Nothing short of a federally imposed cramdown may settle Franklin’s dogged claim.

On the other hand, the city of Stockton evidently found some value in the law: after the mandatory 60-day negotiation period, it requested a 30 -day extension built into the law. There was never any possibility of avoiding Chapter 9. But leaders apparently felt they were moving the ball forward on concessions and haircuts. Whether they would have been wiser to move into Chapter 9 immediately is unclear.

So the law has some modest value but that comes at a cost in time and money that are precious to a city in fiscal emergency. And the law failed to achieve its purpose on its first outing. It appears to deserve a tepid review, at best.

 

 

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Stockton’s valorous pilot

The account below is authored by Phil Huntington, a West Point classmate of Richard Whitesides, one of the Stocktonians to die in the Vietnam war.

The names are eroding off Stockton's Vietnam Veterans Memorial -- such as the name of Richard Whitesides, partly visible at lower left.

“Fifty years ago today (this was written in 2013) Richard Whitesides was controlling air operations during one of the largest battles in the early years of the Vietnam War. In the first engagement of the war to merit award of the Air Force Cross (AFC), his actions earned him that award. Unfortunately the event was little reported in news accounts and largely forgotten because of what was happening back home in the U.S.

“Just after noon on November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald fired two bullets into President John Kennedy at Dallas. In Vietnam, on the other side of the International Date Line, it was November 23rd and sometime during that day, probably about dusk, more than two battalions of Viet Cong (VC) infantry attacked Cha La, a Republic of Vietnam (RVN) Army (ARVN) supply base at or near Dam Doi in the far south of the country.

“Early on November 24th, Vietnam time, while Lee Oswald sat in a Dallas jail, Richard was called upon to help save Cha La. The VC had deployed an antiaircraft (AA) battalion armed with Soviet style heavy machine guns brought in at night by sea from China. Aircraft carrying ARVN infantry reinforcements to the fight were badly shot up by the AA guns.

“U.S. air power was called on to destroy the AA guns with Richard assigned as forward air controller to direct air strikes and coordinate other air resources in the battle area.

U.S. accounts reported that 23 U.S. and VNAF (Vietnam Air Force) aircraft were hit by AA fire, with 18 shot down according to VC reports. Richard’s small O-1 (L-19) aircraft was hit and partially disabled but with great flying skill he was able to remain airborne over the dangerous battle area, marking targets with smoke rockets or hand-thrown smoke grenades for incoming B-26 and T-28 bomb and gun attacks against the AA guns.

“One B-26 was shot down during its third low-level bombing run. The pilot Cpt Howard Cody was never found. The bodies of 1st Lt. Atis Lielmanis, the navigator, and the Vietnamese copilot were later recovered. Cody and Lielmanis were also awarded the AFC.

“Of the three AFC awardees, only the remains of Lielmanis made it home to the U.S. as Richard was lost five months later to AA fire near Khe Sanh and never found.

“The outcome of the battle was that the VC withdrew with heavy losses. They reported losing more than 500 men while the RVN side lost more than 400 men in addition to the 18 aircraft.

“That evening, Vietnam time, John Kennedy was taken by caisson to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Shortly after midnight, Vietnam time, Lee Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby in Dallas. The world’s attention was on events in the United States.

“Richard’s Air Force Cross was the first awarded to a graduate of any of the service academies and one of only three ever awarded to graduates of West Point. We are privileged to have had Richard as a K-2 friend and classmate.”

Here’s a look at Stockton’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial – before decay set in.

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The willies before the ruling

I’m not prone to excitability. But I confess I have a mild case of butterflies over Stockton’s bankruptcy ruling, scheduled for this Thursday.

Because if the judge does not confirm Stockton’s post-bankruptcy Plan of Adjustment, things could take a big turn for the worse. Given the turns of misfortune Stockton has already taken, it would take a powerful yank of the wheel. But the judge has the power to do it.

If the judge’s problem is merely the hard-heads at Franklin Templeton Investments, the sole remaining creditor with which the city has not reached a deal, the city can pay them to go away. I estimate the city’s potential exposure at around $15 million — a perfectly manageable amount, when amortized.

But if the judge is really angling for the city to cut pensions, then Stocktonians will see a whole new chapter in municipal dysfunction.

Police, in fact city employees in every department, will head for the door. I have no doubt of it. The exodus will include the excellent managers former City Manager Bob Deis brought in. City Hall will be caught between the frying pan of a shoestring bankruptcy budget and the fire of its own unfinished efforts to reform government culture. Stockton will become a pre-eminent dystopia.

So join me in hoping — praying, if you prefer — that the judge shows Stockton as much consideration as possible. After everything the city has been through, it deserves a ruling that helps its recovery.

 

 

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McNerney fixes screwy “Promise City” criteria

A couple years ago, President Obama declared that 20 of America’s hardest-hit cities would be given federal aid.

But when the first five “Promise Cities” were announced, Stockton — Ground Zero of the international mortgage crisis, the hardest-hit city of all — was not one of them.

Upon asking why, we learned the selection criteria was totally bogus.

The second round of Promise City selections is coming. I asked Congressman Jerry McNerney’s office what they are doing to get a better result. Michael Cavaiola responds:

“Here’s a rundown on the latest activity from our office:

— The Congressman successfully lobbied HUD to get them to change the rules about which cities are eligible for a Promise Zone designation, so that Stockton became eligible to apply for the next round of cities designated as Promise Zones. Previously, only cities who had previously received a certain grant would be eligible.

— Now, HUD will take into account factors such as unemployment rate, poverty rate, crime statistics, and home foreclosure rates – regardless of whether a city was a previous grantee.

— The Congressman’s office is working closely with the city of Stockton to support their application for the Promise Zone designation.

— The Congressman will be sending a letter of support for Stockton’s application when that application is submitted, likely at the beginning of November.

— Rep. McNerney fervently believes that if any city is deserving of this designation, it is Stockton. And he is working every possible angle to make that designation happen.”

Changing the poorly-thought-out HUD rules, which excluded Stockton for obscure bureaucratic reasons, is a strong step towards positioning Stockton to win a Promise City designation and a suite of federal aid that would come in mighty handy. Score one for McNerney.

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Ruhstaller: the hyacinth cavalry is coming

In response to a blog lamenting that government do-nothings are blowing the water hyacinth eradication campaign, Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller called to report he has made substantial efforts.

“We’ve been working on it for about a year now,” said Ruhstaller. “It all started last January when I was at the Stewardship Council and I made a offhand remark, “If we don’t control the invasive weeds, it won’t matter if we build twin tunnels because the whole damn tunnel will be overtaken.”

That led to a contact from Ray Carruthers, head of the invasive weed programs for the USDA in Albany. “We basically put together a program, went to Washington, pitched for funding at the USDA, got $750,000,” Ruhstaller said.

The Department of Boating and Waterways has been feckless, Ruhstaller said, confirming what Stocktonians can see for themselves.

DBW was authorized to spray 5,000 acres of hyacinth. It got around to spraying one-fifth of that, Ruhstaller said. The department so neglected the infestation that Discovery Bay is “ruined,” Ruhstaller said.

Today Ruhstaller says he will meet with Karen Ross, secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture, to  “Get her on board so that when I go back to Washington and talk to (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack about maintaining this project s we got started so it will be a forever program.”

Said Ruhstaller, “We’re getting ready for next Spring to basically hit this thing.”

Leadership, at last!

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More Stockton POWs

Today’s Fitz’s Stockton mentions POWs interned at the Port and the fairgrounds.

During WWII, thousands of prisoners of war were interned in Stockton, and thousands more were locked in camps in the county. But there are few photos.

Here’s a rare one.

Two POWs — whether Italian or German is unknown — help firefighters battle a blaze at the county fairgrounds in the 1940s.

Photo courtesy The Haggin Museum

 

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If Sac can do it, why can’t we?

The SacBee ran this story over the weekend.

Urban infill projects see strong demand in Sacramento – Over the last decade, developers have been saying strong demand for new housing close to Sacramento’s urban core would drive construction in some of the city’s most challenging infill sites.  Sacramento Bee article.

Why them, not us? I asked John Beckman, head of the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley.

His reply:

“So, in Sacramento the downtown areas has a big building which employs several hundred government workers with the power of the purse.  And dozens of other buildings with a few thousand government employees with the power to create regulations with the force and effect of law which have great impact on how we live in California.

“The presence of those government employees in turn attracts several thousand private sector and special interest employees who want to influence the regulators and law makers in downtown Sacramento.  The practical effect is there are a lot of people with a lot of money who work in downtown Sacramento.

“Second interesting note about Sacramento, in spite of the above facts, there still exists many large swaths of land to do a large project in downtown … Is there a 49 acre plot of land anywhere near downtown Stockton?”

Beckman also added, “the price people are willing to pay to be in downtown.  If someone was willing to pay $350,000 for a 1,400 square foot house in Downtown Stockton we would build 100 homes per year in that size at that price point.  No one is willing to pay that price for that size in downtown Stockton, yet.  I said “yet”.  It will happen someday but that day is still many years in the future.

” … you need a large number of people working in the downtown to achieve critical mass.  We need another 1,000 workers whose jobs are in the downtown to reach that level.  Put jobs downtown and a natural rebirth will come without the need for government intervention.  But government assistance is probably needed to bring jobs downtown.”

 

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How the deck is stacked

“People don’t really go to the valley from the coast. There’s a lot of agriculture, not many tourist attractions, it’s hot and filled with working-class people.”

Wayne Johnson, a GOP political consultant.

Ick. Agriculture, heat … working class people. It’s pointless to remind the likes of Johnson that agriculture supplies the food he dines on at Angele. Because he’s right about the coastal/Valley divide.

Johnson is expressing it culturally (with a dose of classism). But the real problem is numeric.

“The Central Valley, which stretches from north of Redding to south of Bakersfield, is one of the fastest growing sections of California,” this San Francisco Chronicle  story says. “But while 6.5 million of California’s residents live in the valley, 31 million-plus others don’t.”

Votes, campaign donations, name recognition, all are stacked against Valley candidates.

The difficulty of getting Valley candidates elected to state office is one prime reason the state underserves the Valley.

Another: the further south you go, the redder the Valley gets. Coastal Dems don’t support Valley Republicans.

What can I say? Ashley Swearengin for governor.

 

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Pow. Right in the kisser.

Council member Kathy Miller has released a hard-hitting video rebutting negative campaign ads against her fellow council members Elbert Holman and Diane Burgos-Medina.

In the video, Miller tells people the sort of man behind the ads in no uncertain terms: “The individual behind these dirty attacks plead guilty to political corruption and went to jail with former Sheriff Baxter Dunn.”

She doesn’t name him, but she means N.Allen Sawyer. “Now this individual wants revenge against Elbert for putting him in jail.”

Pow. right in the kisser.

Miller goes on to say Sawyer is Mayor Anthony Silva’s chief political consultant. “Their ultimate goal is to take over City Hall. Andy they’ll use any means necessary.”

 

 

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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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