The long-delayed General Plan redo

Eric Parfrey in 2004

Eric Parfrey of Campaign for Common Ground and The Sierra Club copies a letter he sent to the Planning Commission:

“We are very disappointed that the City has continued to stonewall progress on the update of our disastrous 2007 General Plan and, by implication, this Planning Commission is complicit in this stonewalling. We urge you to ask some tough questions of staff about this unjustified delay and involve yourselves directly in moving this process forward. Please don’t continue to ignore this and hope that staff is taking care of it somehow.

“It is unconscionable that the City Council approved $1.4 million for the General Plan Update in January and nothing in the way of public meetings has occurred since then. Staff has indicated that there will be no agenda item related to the General Plan Update placed on the Planning Commission agenda until September or later.

“Why the delay?

“Why are (they) waiting around for some consultant in Berkeley to prepare more unnecessary “background” reports before this Commission begins to talk about the very real planning issues that need to be confronted? The Settlement Agreement was signed in September 2008. That agreement requires the City to update the General Plan. It is now almost eight years later. How long do we have to wait?

“CCG sent the attached draft General Plan Amendments to the City and this Commission in October 2012 and asked that they be set for public hearing for consideration. Will this ever happen?”

If the city or Planning Commission is unresponsive to Parfrey and his groups then they are foolish and in violation of the law. As Parfrey said, the city of Stockton promised in 2008 to replace that orgy of developer-driven sprawl, the General Plan 3035. Here it is 2016 and the city is just hiring a consultant to, in Parfrey’s view, do unnecessary groundwork. The city’s going to get itself sued again.

 

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Mayor Silva’s weirdness

"Noting to see here, folks. Everything's perfectly normal."

There’s no getting around it: Mayor Anthony Silva is weird.

He says weird things. He makes weird decisions. He has weird friends – and more weird friends  — and still more weird friends. He’s a magnet for trouble and suspicious occurrences.

And he keeps weird hours. Former City Manager Bob Deis told me Silva was once captured on City Hall’s video camera letting himself in in the wee hours of the night when the building was empty. The mayor then removed some artwork from the walls and moved it into his office.

Nothing illegal. But still. Is that something you do in the middle of the night?

Now the mayor is photographed meandering about town putting up campaign posters at 2 a.m. without the property owner’s permission … while dressed in a bathrobe.

Silva played the incident off as humorous on his Facebook page. But in reality he was chagrined and furious. “Mayor Silva said he will never speak to FOX40 again if we aired the photo,” said FOX40, airing the photo.

Then there’s this, which came in today’s e-mail.

“Mike, not for publication with my name, but tonight I got a telephone call from a a phone number … indicated by caller ID as “Anthony Silva,” who had a pollster asking questions about support for Mayor Silva’s items that could not be answered in any manner other than “no opinion” that would not indicate support for Silva.

“That, in and of itself doesn’t surprise me, but what did was that the person taking the poll was obviously intoxicated.”

With Silva, weird is the new normal.

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New things in cities

Cities are trying new things:

German city experiments with traffic signals in ground
• Reports CityLab: Augsburg, Germany, has installed traffic signals in the ground for pedestrians (the new word is “petextrians–MF) distracted by cell phones. Stadtwerke Augsburg installed the LED signals at two rail stations. “The stubborn look at the smartphone can lead on the road to dangerous situations,” Stadtwerke Augsburg said in a news release.

“Premium” parking by smartphone
• In Sacramento, the council is debating “premium parking.” The SacBee describes it: “…creating new extended-time parking at “premium prices for drivers who want to leave their car at a meter beyond its posted limits. the probram, called SpotZone, allows motorists to pay in person or via smartphone for extra hours at higher rates, allowing arena patrons, restaurant-goers, shoppers or busines visitors to stay for three or foru hours at two-hour meters.

Dutch city installs BikeScout system to boost safety
• Next City reports: The city of Eindhoven, Netherlands, has installed flashing LED lights at roads to warn cars when bicyclists approach intersections. The BikeScout technology, developed by Heijmans, cost around $43,000 to install.

—Compiled from the ICMA SmartBrief and Sacramento Bee

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A honey of a yacht

Model of a Stephens yacht.

Hey, I left a photo out of the photo essay that accompanied the column about Stockton items in the  San Francisco Maritime Research Center.

It’s a photo of a honey of a yacht, the Elizabeth II.

The eminently collectible wooden model — by “eminently collectible”, I mean “I want it” — as well as the full-size yacht, was custom-made  by by Stephens shipyard of Stockton. The yacht boasted copper bottom, Philippine mahogany, and twin screws and rudders.

The buyer was K.K. Bechtel, a tycoon with the giant Bechtel Corporation. He built, among other things, Liberty Ships in a Sausalito shipyard for the war effort. He was a member of the family that partnered in construction of Hoover Dam.

Stockton shipyards built some of the coolest yachts in the world for Ag barons, tycoons and oil sheikhs. You can still see one now and then at moneyed places such as Lake Tahoe. They are classics.

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Sam Fant’s conspiracy theory

 

If Council candidates Marcie Bayne (left) and Sam Fant (right) join incumbent Christina Fugazi on the Council, Mayor Anthony Silva will command a majority of votes.

Council candidate Sam Fant is innocent until proven guilty of the felony election fraud charge against him. But he’s guilty of one thing: preaching distrust of local government.

“Stockton (residents) are tired of the good ol’ boys using their influence to attempt to suppress leaders that challenge the status quo,” Fant said.

He sounded a familiar populist line: City Hall is against you. I’m for you. A line often espoused by candidates who find it easier to exploit the distrust of low-information voters than to detail substantial policy proposals.

Fant added, “I was told that if I ran for Stockton City Council, that this was going to happen. And sure enough less than 15 hours after I filed my candidacy, I was contacted by the DA’s office. So I can’t say that I am surprised, but extremely disappointed that the district attorney would allow a law enforcement agency to engage in political warfare.

“I find it very convenient that the district attorney and my political opponent share the same campaign manager.”

So, in other words, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar wants to wreck Fant’s candidacy because he’s not a good ol’ boy who challenges the status quo. Verber Salazar’s not busy enough; she’s got to meddle in Stockton political races, presumably at the behest of the oligarchs who really run things.

Why target Fant? Fant is a friend of Mayor Anthony Silva, who is trying to get enough supporters elected to command a majority on the council. In this view, Silva and his supporters represent change unwelcome to the powers that be.

But who are the powers that be? Developers? Silva took office with the support of developer Matt Arnaiz, who contributed to Silva’s policy vacuum the one policy idea he campaigned on: Stockton Safe Streets, the flawed crime-fighting plan.

Once in office, Silva championed cutting developer fees, a policy proposal handed to him by the developer’s lobby, the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley.

Those are really the only two big ideas Silva has proposed. Nothing against developers, but if they are not the good ol’ boys around here, I don’t now who is. Sounds to me like Fant wants to become part of the status quo, not to challenge it. And in response to his claim to be the victim of a conspiracy, I’d point out he’s the one facing conspiracy charges.

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The Al Jolson of Stockton

The mayoral candidates at last night's forum.

Criticizing Mayor Anthony Silva is often easier than shooting fish in a barrel. With Silva, the fish paints a target on his forehead, hands you a grenade and yells, Hey! Over here!

Like last night. Speaking at a candidate’s forum, Silva chirped, “I may not be black but I’m pretty darn close. I might be the first African-American mayor Stockton’s had, quite frankly.”

Ri-i-i-ght. Thankfully, Silva did not break out in “Old Man River.”

“Everyone knows the challenges African-Americans have faced through history,” he said. “When I first started (as mayor), a number of challenges were thrown at me. I related to (blacks) and their struggles.”

Silva said this as he sat next to rival candidate Michael Tubbs, a black man. Tubbs’ mother lived in poverty and his father went to prison. And this is what Silva compared to his first months as mayor. A time when all Silva’s troubles were self-inflicted by his political ineptitude and immaturity, not by a hostile and racist society.

To top it off, after needlessly injecting race into the campaign, Silva whipped a 180. “My opponent keeps talking about trying to make history as the first African-American mayor,” Silva said. “People should vote for people based on performance, not the color of their skin.”

So first he tries to co-opt the racial underdog role, then he expresses disapproval of race in politics. The race box he should check on his census form is for the race of people from Buffoonistan.

 

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Looking back at the horse races

It’s true, as this story says, that horse racing in Stockton dates to “the 1860s.” But  let’s be exact. Horse racing began in year one of that decade, 1860.

That’s a venerable tradition. Name me another 156-year-old Stockton tradition. One that began the year before the Civil War.

Having never played the ponies, I can’t fully appreciate the loss. But we can look back through these delightful Ralph Yardley drawings.

Yardley's caption: "Stockton's famous kite-shaped track where world trotting records were broken. About 1890-95."

 

"The old pagoda style judge's stand that stood on the south side of track, opposite the grand stand."

 

"The horse that broke the world's record at the Stockton track, Oct. 29, 1891."

Drawings courtesy The Haggin Museum

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A Doobieous Dictionary

Just in time for 4/20, a Toulumne County man has authored a dictionary of marijuana terminology, “The Doobieous Dictionary.”

Jason Porter Collinsworth has filled his reference witrh 1,420 (get it?) “cannabis idioms, colloquialism, and scientific terms” in a style he calls “blunt satire.”

Some examples:

Anslinger, Harry-n. proof that Satan is real; the Pecksniffian poltroon and bigot responsible for the criminalization of cannibis in the US …

Bluntage Road- n. a colloquial name for a road down which one might drive to pull over somewhere and smoke or use cannabis, based on its homophonic similarity to Frontage Road. …

Colorado cocktail- n. Any kind of cannabis from Colorado …

Draconian laws- n.pl. the description given by cannabis reformers to the archaic and sadistic prohibition laws still burdening our worldwide health and economy …

Wacky tobacky- n. a ridiculous colloquialism for cannabis …

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Leiba: the city is falsifying its pension debt

Ned Leiba makes a point at a meeting of the Measure A advisory committee.

Ned Leiba writes:

“Thanks for the links to the study by Professor Joshua Rauh and article by Ed Mendel.

“They do a good job of pointing out that a proper economic and accounting measure of pension liabilities should be based on a risk free discount rate.  That concept seems IMPOSSIBLE for most state and local government accountants to accept.  When the discount rate is brought up, the response of the City is that the CALPERS rates will be “phased in” over time.  The proper measurement standard is a low discount rate and is not something to be “phased in over time.”  Period.

“The prayed-for rate of return is something else, as is the politics that influences the decisions of CALPERS, as is the marketing spin kicked out by the City, e.g., the City Manager claimed “we are in a good position” in respect to our pensions.

“I liked this quote from the footnotes of the Rauh study:

“The actuary is supposedly going to lower the assumed reinvestment rate from an absolutely hysterical, laughable 8 percent to a totally indefensible 7 or 7.5 percent” (Walsh and Hakim 2012). Buffett: “[State and local governments] use unrealistic assumptions . . . in determining how much they had to put in the pension funds to meet the obligations. The pension fund assumptions of most municipalities, in my view, are nuts. But there’s no incentive to change them. It’s much easier to get a friendly actuary than to face an unhappy public” (Summers 2011).

“Now, let’s get a little more accurate.

“Do you realize that the estimates of unfunded pension liabilities even by Rauh are understated?

“Look at the Stockton pension bonds. They are 100% unfunded.

“At the last Audit Committee meeting, a very important question was asked of the City accountant by a member of the Council Audit Committee.  How much of the contingent liability to Assured Guarantee will the City pay on the pension bonds?  What is the threshold to start payments?  In other words, what is the true estimated present value of that added part of the unfunded debt? The City accountant had no answer, other than pure generalities.  No numbers.

“It is at least $55m.  Assured Guarantees (perhaps) values the entire debt at $100m.  The face amount before adjustment in bankruptcy was over $140m.

“Hopefully you can see that we need to add in the unfunded pension bonds to reach the correct amount of unfunded pension liabilities for our City. You need to know the true present value of the pension bonds, and the City does not seem to know, or will not say.

“And finally, you need proper accounting, audits and financial statements.

“You recently posted a display of selected financial information for Measure A.  That was not a GAAP financial statement.  It was not audited.  It was not reviewed and approved by the Measure A Committee.  It seems to have material misstatements compared to GAAP.  But someone gave you that document and you posted it, without understanding its meaning.

“Well, think about this issue.

“We have substantial past pension liabilities – relating to the CALPERS debt and the pension bonds – that have been charged to Measure A police costs.  Those costs were included in that statement you posted as part of the 65% Marshall Plan costs.

“Is it proper to show as a current cost of hiring new officers, the costs of a pension debts that existed well before Measure A passed?

“The answer is no.  Expenses belong in the period they economically arise.  Not when they are paid.  Because you have a pot of $28m per year, does not mean that anything paid from those funds is an expense properly charged to the 65% or 35%.

“There are other significant problems with the “display” you posted.  The City adamantly refuses to produce (1) a proper financial statement of Measure A, and (2) have a proper audit of Measure A.  Instead, they gave you a display of some, selected financial information.

“Do you know why?

“Perhaps because a proper financial statement audit would result in an audit report that (1) the financial statements are materially misstated (2) the financial statement are incomplete (3) there are material weaknesses in internal control like with the CAFR and (4) the City did not comply with the expectations of the voters to spend 65% of the Measure A proceeds wisely, efficiently on the Marshall Plan activities and 35% to get us out of bankruptcy (already done as of February 2015) and for services to citizens etc.

“Today is April 18, 2016.  We do not have a proper financial statement nor audit for Measure A activity for the periods ending 6/30/2014 or 6/30/2015.  No auditor would even respond to the cockamamie RFP issued by City Management in March.   The City has failed to have an audit as promised to the voters.

“Thanks for continuing to follow the very important pension story, and of course, for watching Measure A.”

A few comments:

• Leiba is right that a proper measure of pension debt should be based on a risk-free “discount rate,” the estimated investment returns of the pension management system. Discount rates are inflated for political reasons to hide the true cost of pensions from the public.

• But the idea that more realistic accounting should not be phased in is crazy. If CalPERS switched to a risk-free discount rate tomorrow, Stockton would be bankrupt before the end of the year. Again. The books would be tidier but the city would be in a permanent vegetative state.

• Leiba’s point about the pension bonds — they’re part of the liability, too — is right on. So add at least another $55 million to the city’s staggering pension liability.

• To criticize me for posting a city financial report “without understanding its meaning” is presumptuous. I understand Leiba believes most every city financial report and chart is false. But we have to start fiscal discussions somewhere. The important thing is that we’re having far more fiscally literate discussions than we did before Stockton’s meltdown.

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Stanford guru: pensions will bankrupt more cities

“More and more money is going to have to go into these funds, and you are going to see more and more bankruptcies along the likes of Detroit, San Bernardino, Stockton, California.”

—Joshua Rauh, a Stanford University finance professor.

Rauh added, “And over a five- to ten-year horizon, I would expect there to be a number — many, many more cities going bankrupt and many states that are insolvent.”

Rauh authored a new study pubished by the Hoover Institution “that 564 state and local pensions systems reported a “net pension liability” of $1.2 trillion under new government accounting rules,” reports Calpensions.

“But Rauh believes the debt is nearly three times larger, $3.4 trillion, because the pension systems, even under the new rules, use an overly optimistic annual earnings forecast, 7.4 percent, for investments often expected to pay two-thirds of future pensions.”

$3.4 trillion is an immense black hole devouring government.

The big worry locally is not “more bankruptcies along the likes of Detroit, San Bernardino, Stockton” — but that Stockton itself will suffer Chapter 18, a second bankruptcy. Some of the most fiscally literate Stocktonians believe it’s only a matter of time.

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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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