Yet more Stockton red tape

Corrine E. Sealey writes:

“I have been a vendor at Delta College Flea Market for over 20 years. In that time I have always had to have a Business License through the City of Stockton. The classification that the city uses for the Flea market is in the “peddler category,” which also requires me to have a police background check — my cost was almost $800 a year just to sell at a flea market on the weekends.

“I also sell in Galt two days a week, and the business license is only $35 a year, no peddler license required.

“This “peddler category” is a huge added expense for a person wanting to do business at the Flea Market. … Requiring a city business license or $70 is one thing, but t add $225 for a peddler’s license is going too far, and most of the vendors cannot afford that. They will just go to the fairgrounds on Thursday and Open Air Mall on Saturday and Sundays, because they are in the county, they don’t even have to show sellers permits.

“Ironically this list is what I have to show the City of Stockton Finance Department every year: copy of my Health Department Certificates, copy of my Commissary letter, the current registration for my truck, and tow trailer, proof if insurance, pictures of all four sides of each cart (I own five), and pictures of all four sides of my truck and my tow trailer.”

Sealey concludes that she is moving her carts to Galt. So there goes the sales tax from the city of Stockton. And don’t forget, proceeds from Delta’s flea market funds Delta College scholarships. So city red tape is hurting them, too.

Incidentally, District 5 council candidate Christina Fugazi says on “Stockton City Limits” today, “The amount of red tape and hoops that have to be jumped through are immense.”

SCL’s wide-ranging interview with Fugazi and incumbent Diane Burgos-Medina here.

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Letter (and video) of the day

Gene Beley writes:

“Michael, I read your “Boiling the water bond down to one question”.  I thought for sure it was going to be, “Do you want to pay $6,000 an acre foot for water?”

“Or “Can you really trust Jerry Brown and his army of big water districts?”  Just ask John Herrick how they make agreements, then cheat and lie afterwards.

:You can watch my interview with John at:

https://vimeo.com/76320409

“Personally, I feel Governor Brown and his water buffalos should start thinking out of the box to produce new water rather than doing the same old, same old stinkin’ thinkin’ all the time.

“Like put up a $3 million to $10 million prize to worldwide inventors to invent ways to produce new water at a reasonable cost.  One inventor, Joseph Rizzi of Benicia, has not gotten any money from the state for his natural desalinization process suggested where he would put a desal plant one mile off shore, one half mile down, and use the waves for free energy.  Mr. Rizzi said he could build the first model for about $20 million.  You and I know that is lunch money for the BDCP.

“I have had a drink of water out of an office water cooler made in Germany that produces water from the air.   It sits in a Walnut Grove office.

“This is California, which is supposed to be the high tech center of the universe.  Just give inventors an INCENTIVE to focus on the problem and I think we would be amazed at what they would invent.   They respond to MONEY!”

But California’s aged leaders aren’t looking for innovation. They are looking to replicate the old-fashioned ideas from mid-20th century. There is something grand about the twin tunnels project. The whole “Atlas Shrugged” crew would surely approve. But, like Ayn Rand’s ideas, the whiff of obsolescence hangs about the whole project.

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Pensions: Let’s go Dutch

The Dutch do pensions right, says this New York Times article.

“The Dutch system rests on the idea that each generation should pay its own costs — and that the costs must be measured accurately if that is to happen,” the article reports.

“After the financial collapse of 2008, workers and retirees in the Netherlands took the bitter medicine needed to rebuild their collective nest eggs quickly, with higher contributions from workers and benefit cuts for pensioners.”

Can you imagine unions permitting that here?

The article continues, “The Dutch approach bears little resemblance to the American practice of shielding the current generation of workers, retirees and taxpayers while pushing costs and risks into the future, where they can metastasize unseen.”

” … public funds in the United States are holding just 67 cents for every dollar they owe to current and future pensioners, and in some places the strain is palpable.”

Instead of Dutch prudence, we practice self-enrichment heedless of the toll to our institutions or the cost to future generations. Unions fight the public will, like those in San Jose, where 67 percent of voters supported reform to a pension system that is breaking the bank. But the unions tied reform up in the courts. Now they’re angling to pack the council.

Calpensions has that story.

“The rest of the world sort of laughs at the United States,” a pension expert tells the Times. “How can a great country like the United States get so many things wrong?”

The article mentions Stockton, by the way.

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More Stockton red tape

Jim Dunlap writes:

“Your article from Wednesday regarding the difficulty of organizing events in Stockton is all too familiar to me.  I belong to the Stockton Lapidary and Mineral Club.  For several years I was the chairman of the annual show for our club.  I had to get the various permits required for our show and our vendors.

“This process just for our show required well over 200 hours of paperwork (italics mine).

“And that was largely me sending out the forms to the vendors for them to fill out(as Itinerant vendors) and then me taking them to the various offices in Stockton to get them to sign off on them.  When I was doing that I remember the Police Department, the Fire Department and City Hall having to give their O.K.  And they had all their particular requirements that had to be approved.

“While I understand a lot of this from the point of public safety, this amount of hassle was daunting.  Many vendors had told me they never had to do this anywhere else and some simply refused to come back as they had enough hassles and didn’t need any more.  Stockton seems to suffer from too much “city hall”.

“We have moved our show out of Stockton and we do much better now.

“I think this is the same with business in general here in Stockton.  When I look all that Stockton has it simply is amazing that it is not an economic power house.  We have a deep water port, major rail lines and facilities, major highways, an airport, a highly respected University, and a major and respected college which has programs found almost nowhere else in the world.  We also have industrial areas that should be humming with activity and some are busy while others look like scenes of devastation from third world countries.

“Much of this any community would be jealous of.  Why we have such a dismal business climate should be the subject of an investigation.”

No investigation needed: Stockton government is a nest of red tape. It’s always been about making them happy, not about promoters making the public happy and increasing the vibrancy of  the city experience. The post-bankruptcy crew is better. They have streamlined some of the processes. But their work is far from done.

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Blaming the poor for poverty

Americans do, more than just about anybody on earth.

Despite all the press about income inequality — about a structural bias in the economy making the rich richer — one in four Americans believes the poor do not work hard enough.

It’s a national syndrome, but it is one of the attitudes that has kept Stockton from investing in its human capital.

” … the country’s top earners are getting richer faster than anyone else — and at a rate which is globally exceptional,” says this pithy WaPo blog.

But, as the blog makes clear, Americans don’t understand the economic forces warping their country.

Instead we substitute a value judgment. When someone is poor through injustice, we are called upon to act. If someone is poor through their own choices, we need do nothing. Which is so much easier. Until the underclass festers into real social problems — such as Stockton’s bloody Sunday.

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City events: “a pain in the a–”

I’ve heard the same complaint for a decade: when you try to stage an event in Stockton city bureaucrats are a nightmare of inconsistent and excessive requirements.

I believe these complaints are largely true, though the city has its side, which ought to be understood. For instance, the vulture of liability — of someone getting injured and suing — is always circling overhead.

Stockton spokesperson Connie Cochran forwards this Sacramento Bee story about a pedestrian who has filed a claim with the city of Sacramento because she was struck by a bicycle while strolling on a  city sidewalk.

The claim: $3.5 million.

“See?” Cochran writes. “You can just be walking down the street, get hit by a bike, and sue the city.”

In civil suits, guilt can be apportioned. A city can be found 2% responsible for a car crash because of some minor defect in a stoplight, yet because it has the deepest pockets it can be hit with a huge judgment.

Somebody got shot at or around the Wilson Way flea market just the other day. City concerns are valid.

All that said, the city is long overdue for reform.

“As a person who has done events with the city I concur that they’re a pain in the a– to deal with,” said Greg Bahr, who has done street festivals and car shows.

Bahr sounded the familiar themes: “The big issue in the overall scheme is their inconsistency of requirements and how they deal with different organizers. … Their requirements change so many times over time.”

Wes Rhea of the Downtown Stockton Alliance said the city took to convening all its execs with promoters to air get all the requirements up front in one meeting — and then, frustratingly, the city dumps yet more demands down the line.

“They still have these meetings and there are still surprises,” Rhea said.

He — like everyone else for a decade — echoed the familiar themes: “A lot of the feedback you hear is about not knowing about surprises, not knowing about his cost. Not knowing. And equity. Knowing all events are treated the same.”

Perhaps this is an academic point, but I believe the reason the city is a bureaucratic roach motel for promoters has changed over the years. Ten years ago it was because bureaucrats were arrogant and unhelpful; that was the culture. Nowadays city executives are a far better lot, but the city is stressed by bankruptcy.

The head of the risk management department (insurance, liability) left, unable to tolerate the risk of working for a city in bankruptcy court. So that position is open. The head of what used to be called Parks & Rec also left. That position is being filled by an interim. So the city’s capacity to efficiently process events is stunted.

I’d add that some promoters probably deserve to be strictly regulated. The city’s at a PR disadvantage in that respect; while promoters can complain their heads off, city officials really can’t say who’s shady and who’s a flibbertigibbet.

Again, that said, reform need to happen sooner rather than later. Watch to see who takes up this issue and makes the needed changes, and you’ll be looking at a leader.

By the way, here’s today’s column on the subject.

 

 

 

 

 

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The return of gerrymandering?

When the state legislature, or its absurdly biased hirelings, drew California’s political districts, Stockton and San Joaquin County suffered one of the  worst cases of gerrymandering in the nation.

So bad was it that one of our tortured districts was the poster child on Wikipedia’s “gerrymandering” entry. To this day CD 11, drawn to protect a Republican incumbent, is among the handful of illustrations on that page, though CD 11 was far from the worst.

Chopped and parted out as Stockton was, it has virtually no political power. How could it? The bulk of voters in every district of which Stockton was a part lived elsewhere; elected representatives were busy making them happy; they lived there, not here; Stockton was an afterthought.

Finally, fed-up state voters approved by initiative an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. It drew pretty fair districts that restored Stockton’s representation. For a change Stockton has the most votes in the districts. Unsurprisingly, a migration to Stockton of electeds and wanna-be electeds  ensued, such as Rep. Jerry McNerney and state Sen. Kathleen Galgiani. Making Stockton happy became their job no. 1.

Now the SacBee’s Dan Walters reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to independent redistricting by the state of Arizona. As he reports, Arizona’s challenge is based on language in the U.S. Constitution that legislatures shall have the power to draw districts.

If the court finds in favor of Arizona, California’s redistricting commission will probably go away. Stockton and San Joaquin County may revert to the bad old days of gerrymandering and, quite possibly, renewed political enfeeblement.

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Wall Street: profiting by cities’ debts?

Next City has a story called, “Is Wall Street Making a Killing off Cities’ Debt?”

Answer: Yes.

Of course, a certain Central Valley city is used as an example of Wall Street sharps selling unwitting local leaders on a mountain of debt.

“In 2005, Stockton, California was riding high, approving public projects left and right, enjoying the boosted property tax revenue of a bubbling housing market. Only two years later, it was on the verge of collapse. The subprime mortgage crisis had gutted the city and it was leading the nation in foreclosures. The stream of tax revenue the city had gotten used to dried up almost overnight. It was a fiscal drought the city hadn’t planned for and quickly the coffers emptied. In short order, Stockton owed $152 million to the state pension fund.

“In 2006, a Lehman Brothers representative came to town with an enticing offer: Make up that pension shortfall with $152 million in fixed-rate bonds. City officials weren’t sure they quite understood how the whole arrangement would work but they were desperate to keep parks open, police cars running and garbage men working; Lehman was offering a solution, even if nothing could be “guaranteed.”

“The bet didn’t work and Stockton never made up that pension shortfall. In 2012, the city filed for bankruptcy. The judge in the case is still considering whether employee pensions can now be cut along with the city’s other debts, calling the situation “a festering sore.” Lehman Brothers, meanwhile, went bankrupt before Stockton.”

The article raises the prospect that Wall Street reps knew in many cases that loans were bad bets. Knew, in other words, that, far from extricating a city from debt, it would mire it even deeper. They sold the bonds anyway.

So there is more than a little justice in the anticipated ruling by Stockton’s bankruptcy judge that bonds can be cut, though cutting them was long regarded as taboo. I’m not crying an tears over that.

 

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Anarchy at the Ports game!

This is in the TV listings for “Sons of Anarchy” tonight at 10 pm on Fx:

“Violence erupts at the Stockton Ports due to a betrayal in this new episode. Charlie Hunnam and Katey Sagal lead the cast of this gritty drama about a motorcycle gang, their allies, their rivals and local law enforcement officers.”

Well, at least the game won’t be boring!

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Quote of the day

“This year, the dryness has a menacing, premonitory, permanent feel.”

—Matt Black, writing about California’s drought in the Sept. 29 issue of The New Yorker.

The New Yorker ran several strong black-and-white photographs of the drought in the Central Valley. The Fresno Bee reprinted one that is simply staggering. The desolation in this image is almost post-apocalyptic.

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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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