Shunning this region to the last

Should have treated us better: President Barack Obama.

Overall, I’d give President Obama a good review.

But there’s one thing he barely did: visit the Valley. Or help Stockton.

Now the outgoing president has ordered federal officials to speed up environmental reviews on the destructive Twin Tunnels project, “to help address the effects of drought and climate change on California’s water supply and imperiled wildlife.”

Obama visited Fresno, Firebaugh (?) and Los Banos in 2014. I was concerend then that he was getting only the “fish over humans” line Big Ag throws out as pro-tunnels propaganda. Now it looks as though that may have been the case. Certainly, if he’d ever connected with the northern Valley and Delta region his administration would be less likely to believe that the way to help “imperiled wildlife” is to rob it of more water.

The Obama administration never granted Stockton Promise Zone designation, though the city was Ground Zero, literally the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. Rep. Jerry McNerney repeatedly expressed frustration with attempt to get Obama to focus on this region.

More usual was to read about Obama visiting San Francisco or Beverly Hills for fundraisers. Viewed in the context of Hillary Clinton’s defeat one can see a disconnect between Dems and the working people they purport to represent. One reason Republicans now control the country, and much of Obama’s legislative legacy may soon be undone.

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Is Charles Manson coming to Stockton?

Charles Manson

Charles Manson, 82, has been taken from Corcoran State Prison and hospitalized in Bakersfield. My first thought: If the infamous mass murder has become chronically ill, he might be transferred to The California Health Care Facility, Stockton.

Just sayin’.

If Manson came here, he wouldn’t be the first member of his notorious “clan” to visit. Squeaky Fromme and other Manson women came here in 1972. All hell broke loose. I’ll drop that story below.

In other news, the December National Enquirer reported that Phil Spector, 76, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame producer hospitalized  in the Stockton facility, has shrivelled to a “skeletal 115 pounds” and has only weeks to live.

Just because the Enquirer says it, though, doesn’t mean it’s true. A prison spokesperson says Spector has not applied for compassionate release, a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free deal sometimes granted to dying convicts.

Here’s the sensational story about the Manson women in Stockton.

The Record Sunday, February 17, 2002 B1
Section: News / Local


Haunting house makes for unhappy medium

By Michael Fitzgerald

A Bay Area woman called to ask if the rumor she heard about her new Stockton home was true.

“I’m buying a house on Flora Street,” explained Pam Climer, a court clerk from Martinez. “And my neighbor said somebody was killed there years ago.”

She gave me the address.

“Bingo,” I said. “That’s the house where Squeaky Fromme and other Manson Family women holed up with armed robbers from the Aryan Brotherhood.”

“Oh, dear!” Climer said.

“They killed a woman in your house.”

Climer gasped.

“And buried her in your basement.”

“Oh gosh,” Climer said.

Realtors sometimes leave out these wee details.

Helter Shelter

Then it was Climer’s turn to surprise me.

“Um … it’s kind of weird: I’m spiritual in nature,” she volunteered. “I can feel spirits and stuff.”

So when inspecting her basement, Climer confided, “I just had this feeling. Something happened down here. Something weird.”

We swapped stories. I led off with the house’s freaky past.

When Charles Manson was imprisoned for the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969, he made an astute deal with Aryan Brotherhood inmates: If they’d protect him inside, the Brothers outside could have the Manson women.

So Squeaky and his other deranged sex witches dutifully shacked up with Aryan stickup men in Los Angeles. This bunch went up to Guerneville in 1972. There they killed a man.

The victim’s wife, Lauren “Reni” Willett, 19, left Guerneville with her new buddies — don’t ask me, man — and came to Stockton. They rented the Flora Street home. Days later, the men offed Willett there. And buried her with a Gemco shovel.

Hot on the gang’s trail, cops busted them right there in the house and unearthed the body. Stocktonians tweaked: The Manson family!

The Aryan boys went to prison. Squeaky went free, free enough to try to assassinate President Ford in Sacramento in 1975, earning herself a life sentence.

Witchy woman

The end. Curious, I asked Climer about her “spiritual” side.

“Oh, I died when I was 19 and came back to life,” Climer replied. “Since then, I have very special powers.”

Climer, 45, a mother of two, said she had a near-death experience once when medication gave her blood clots.

“My grandfather, who had recently died, met me out there in the blackness,” Climer said. “And said, mental-telepathywise — there’s no speaking up there — no, I couldn’t go. (So) my spirit came back.”

Her spirit slipped back through her skull. “It was like warm oil had been poured into the top of my head.” And ever since, “I just have this extrasensory ability” to read people, to foresee disasters and to sense spirits, Climer said.

When her neighbor divulged the death, “Immediately I knew it was a girl. I knew that she was buried in the basement. That she was kind of like, an innocent person.”

Climer feels drawn to the house. “I believe I’m here for some answer. There’s something that’s not finished in that house yet.” Something to do perhaps with Reni Willett.

“She probably will visit me,” my intriguing caller said.

Why? “I don’t know,” Climer confessed. “That’s something she would have to tell me.”

Write Fitzgerald at P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201; phone 546-8270; fax 547-8186;


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Walters: Calpers should get more ‘real.” But …

“Rationally, the discount rate should have been lowered by at least another full percentage point. But CalPERS already has increased its mandatory contributions by 50 percent to make up for investment losses during the Great Recession and other factors, and cutting the discount rate to 6 percent would probably mean bankruptcy for a number of local governments, particularly cities.”

—Dan Walters, writing in the Sacramento Bee about the state pension system’s lowering of the discount rate I (which is to say, its raising of the bill) for public employee pensions. A subject I wrote about recently from the Stockton angle.

That angle being, as Walters said, Hogzilla is far short of the money to pay for all the promised pensions, and if CalPERS bills Stockton for the true cost we’ll likely go bankrupt again.

Along with scads others. That’s CalPERS’ dilemma. It has to navigate between the frying pan of its huge unfunded liability and the fire of the ruin bill hikes will cause to fragile municipalities up and down the state.

Adding to the uncertainty are the court cases to which Walters alludes. If CalPERS jacks up the bill over and over, cities will stampede to cut pensions if pending court rulings allow it. Which I pray they do.

So I believe CalPERS strategy is to maximize the squeeze on the state and its municipalities (evidently while trying to soft-pedal the cost) but to stop just short of pushing cities over the cliff. How terribly irresponsible they have been.

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Pellissier: Stockton blew “golden opportunity”

The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) building in Sacramento,

Daniel Pellissier, of U.C. Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, writes:

“Great article on Stockton’s pension costs.  It was a huge mistake for Stockton to bypass its golden opportunity to reduce its long term pension costs.

“As you note, the actual numbers are much worse than the “first step” taken by CalPERS last week.  The board members and staff punted the tough decision to their Assets and Liability Management process that will reveal the final ugly number around 6.25% in 2018.

“Since CalPERS provides a two-year delay for their local agency valuations and then uses a three year phase-in period, the cities, including Stockton, will get their full dose of fiscal reality in 2023.

“Yes, other cities are facing the pension cost squeeze, but Stockton, Vallejo and San Bernardino should have made moderate changes to current employee pensions while they had a chance.  Instead, despite many attempts to educate them, they trusted CalPERS to keep costs low.  Ultimately, they gambled the city’s budget and its future in the stock market.”

The main point: If CalPERS lowers its investment return forecast to 6.25%, that triggers a indigestible 50% increase in Stockton pension payments to about $19 million a year. Stockton likely goes bankrupt again.

It’s not just the amount. It’s the timing. 2018 is the worst possible time for Stockton. That is the onset of the city’s decade-long financial crunch, as you can see in items below, in which I posted a chart of the city’s fiscal future.

That said, Pellissier’s assertion that Stockton missed a “golden oportunity” by not cutting pensions is debatable, even in hindsight — if, that is, you saw the crisis from the inside, as Stocktonians did. In any case, cross your fingers and hope the courts or lawmakers slow the runaway pension train in the next few years.

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“I’ve had enough for now.”


Outgoing Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva.

“Sometimes it was my fault, but I don’t think it really did the residents of Stockton any good having all this B.S. in the local newspaper.”

— Outgoing Mayor Anthony Silva, in a Q&A in today’s paper.

Anthony Silva is leaving office as obtuse about the role of the press as he was when he entered. This is a guy who really, truly didn’t understand why the press should take notice when, to cite one example, the city’s mayor gets handcuffed in a drunken limousine fiasco. Why’s that news?  Shame on you, press, for being so negative.

He always blurred what was good for him politically with what was good for the city. He believed he should have got a pass for reckless, scofflaw conduct that reflected on his character and his fitness for office.

Speaking of character, Silva seethes with envy at Michael Tubbs, whom he previously has called “privileged.”

Also on display in the Q&A is Silva’s peculiar vision of government. When asked for his highlights, he says “getting average everyday residents involved with city government.” I certainly agree that civic engagement is good. Silva’s predisposition to listen to people of all classes was one of his best traits.

But not as an end in itself. A mayor should be able to point to substantial policy results by himself or the people he recruited. So you listen to people, so you recruit them for committees. They had to do something. Silva did nothing.

Hence that anecdote about rescuing a dog from the shelter for a poor family. That’s kind. It’s humanitarian. But you can do such things on your own, or as part of a nonprofit. You don’t need to take up the mayor’s office in city of 300,000. Not to rescue dogs or deliver other minor constituent services.

The mayor’s office should be occupied by a person who can make a difference citywide in pressing issues such as gun violence, economic development and homelessness. If we don’t expect that, Stockton will remain mired in the mediocrity and social problems that have retarded its progress for decades.

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A water wonk speaks truth to power

Ignoring citizen objections: Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, with a map of the proposed $15.7 billion twin tunnels.

Seldom does a water wonk nail the pathology of state water officials as Aubrey Bettencourt, the executive director of the California Water Alliance, does in today’s Sacramento Bee.

Her insight: they don’t care about regular citizens.

“… it remains a mystery to me why the appointed State Water Resources Control Board and several other environmental boards and commissions so often don’t understand the pushback from ordinary Californians on their regulatory agenda,” she writes.

The latest example is the way the Board appears to be blowing off howls of protest from north-Valley residents over its play to increase Delta water flows from area rivers. A bogus plan Restore the Delta debunked here.

“On the other hand,” Bettencourt writes, “the board often listens enthralled to those who work closely with them behind the scenes, who write scientific justifications under state contracts or grants, or those who represent powerful stakeholders. No elected official could get away for long showing such favoritism and disregard for so many constituents.

“Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who appoint board members, seem incapable or unwilling to understand that their values are not universally shared by all Californians, especially on water.”

They are not incapable, and their motivation is no mystery. They see Stockton, the Delta and north-Valley rivers as sacrificial lambs to the global water needs of the state. Power politics have erased their sense of social justice. That’s why we fight them.

Anyway, Bettencourt’s Op-ed, a must-read, is here. 


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Does Kamala Harris care about the Valley?

Senator-elect Kamala Harris

” … her initial focus seemed San Francisco-oriented,” one source tells the Fresno Bee.

Ya think? Harris did not campaign in the Valley. That’s a bad sign. But how much more indifferent to Valley issues could she be than Boxer? The retiring Senator seldom visited Stockton. She was a friend to the port, though. More importantly, she was on the right side of Delta water issues, which is more than I can say for Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The hothouse of San Francisco politics produces liberal leaders who do not seem overly concerned with the poor. Time will tell whether Harris calls herself progressive while flying over California’s poorest region.

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More on the Lincoln Center L

L of a job, Jack.

Charles Neilsen writes:

“I just thought I’d add that the Lincoln Center “L”had an important place in the education of many a Stockton youth.

“From outside the Physics lab on the fourth floor of Delta College, you had a clear view of the “L”. The constant being that the “L” was eight feet tall. By measuring the angle between the top and the bottom of the “L”, you could calculate the distance to the sign. A first step in understanding applied mathematics/physics.”

Okay, but Neilsen did say what distance he calculated. Whatsomatta,Charles? Forgotten your college physics?

Chuck Barnard adds:

“I think Jack (Dubois) did a great job, preserving the historical imagery as best he could with a fresh look that will give another generation something to remember. Now he has his very own hometown icon!”


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Wilson: Stockton can weather pension hike

And likely won’t go bankrupt. Again.

Is that right?

Reporter Wes Bowers and I had a talk with City Manager Kurt Wilson yesterday. Bowers’ story is in today’s paper. The thrust of it is Stockton has saved money and spent thriftily so it can absorb the cruel blow of a multimillion dollar hike in its pension bills.

“This is not a surprise, as we’ve been a part of this conversation for a while,” Wilson said. “If we hadn’t done anything to prepare for this, it would have been a dramatic impact for us.”

The city did two things to prepare: It socked away $70 million or so — though I suspect not all that money is available for pensions — and it budgeted as if CalPERS would lower its investment return forecast from 7.5% to 7.25%.

Well, CalPERS tripped the city up, lowering its forecast beyond what was expected to 7%. So the city wasn’t “prepared” for that in the sense that it hadn’t budgeted for a hike in pension bills that big. But Wilson contends the city has enough reserves to cover the bill, and he may be right.

At the risk of driving fiscal watchdog Ned Leiba to distraction, here again is a chart projecting the city’s fiscal future (Leiba disputes its accuracy).

Inline image 1

The purple bars representing the city’s General Fund balance in years to come show city reserves plunging in the 2020s before recovering. The 2020s are the crunch when higher expenditures have the potential to bankrupt city again. Well, CalPERS just imposed higher expenditures.

What Wilson is saying is that although CalPERS has sent an unepectedly big bill, the city has the reserves to get through this trough without going broke. He didn’t provide figures.

A rough estimate suggests he may be right. If CalPERS’ hike translates to roughly a 20 percent increase in pension costs, that works out to aproximately $8 million more a year, or $80 million over a decade. With a $70 million reserve and years to prepare for the crunch, Stockton appeard well-positioned to cope without foundering.

That’s all back-of-the-napkin arithmetic, of course, subject to better figures from city officials.

There’s one big if in Stockton’s future.

And that is if CalPERS hikes pension bills yet again. I believe the pension Hogzilla will. It will have to in years to come in order to adress its huge unfunded liability. If it does, then all bets for solvency are off — in Stockton as well as in cities up and down California — unless a spate of inevitable municipal bankruptcies forces desperately needed reform to this unsustainable fiscal insanity of public employee pensions.


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CalPERs blows Stockton’s budget

In what may be the worst news for Stockton of all 2016, CalPERS, the state pension Hogzilla, voted to hike the bill to cities for public employee pensions — and just blew Stockton’s tight, post-bankurptcy budget sky high.

The penson (mis)management agency voted to drop its investment return forecast from 7.5% to 7% over three years, starting next July. CalPERS uses investment returns to defray the (unsustainable) cost of pensions to the state and its cities. Every quarter-percent drop in the forecast translates roughly to a 10% hike in Stockton’s pension bill.

The fiscal gurus who helped Stockton plan for a stable post-bankruptcy future anticipated CalPERS would drop the forecast number, but only to 7.25 percent. CalPERS just upended their “conservative” projections. At 7.0%, the hit to the city purse is double what they saw coming. My back-of-the-napkin estimate is that the city now faces an pension cost hike of around $8 million a year.

How bad is this? Well, remember, the city long resisted reopening the Fair Oaks library branch because it couldn’t afford the ongoing costs of just over $500,000. When the council gave in — not Michael Tubbs, by the way — it edged the city out of its budget. You can see how foolish that decision was now that the city faces a cost eight times as great.

Here again — with apologies to fiscal dissident Ned Leiba — is the city chart projecting its financial future.

Inline image 1

The purple bars representing the city’s General Fund balance show already burdensome pension costs dragging the city to near insolvency around 2027. Now CalPERS has torpedoed this budget. Best case, the city will drop closer to insolvency and will be forced to make drastic cuts.

Worst case, this city goes bankrupt again.

What’s particularly galling is seen in this SacBee story. “Despite predictions of lower investment returns, CalPERS has been wary of adjusting its investment forecasts. Six of CalPERS’ 13 board members are affiliated with public workers or retirees, and a lower investment forecast means government agencies will pressure employees during contract bargaining to put more money toward their retirement. By imposing higher contribution rates on cash-strapped school districts and municipalities, the adjustment also could energize pension-reform advocates who are advocating steep cuts in retirement benefits.”

Translation: Public employees know they may bankrupt cities. But they don’t want to pay more towards their own pensions. That is a complete corruption of the public service ethos. It is public disservice.

This news may have come too late to make the annual Top 10 list of 2016′s biggest stories. But it is immensely consequential, believe me.

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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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