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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Redevelopment money to remove poor people:

Poor people say "Thank you for removing me."

That's what's likely to happen. If I were these people, I'd be a little nervous.

I find the comments from the people in the mobile home park to be incongruous and hard to explain. If I offend, I'm sorry, but this has to be said: People -- Don't you realize the city is trying to throw you out of your homes?

The city spends "redevelopment" money on an area to "spruce it up" because the city is trying to make the land more valuable. The increased property values, in theory, are supposed to cause property taxes to increase, paying back the redevelopment loans (bonds) . Yes, it's a crazy way to fund something, but that's another story.

There's a plus side and a minus side to increasing property values. It's great if you are one of the ones who owns property there. It may increase in value, giving you a windfall. On the other side of the coin, if you rent a space in a pre-fab home park, you could see either one of two things:

  • Either your rent will skyrocket
  • Or, the whole place will be sold to some commercial interest and you'll be just told to leave.


Notice I didn't say "that might occur" if the property values rise. I said it will occur because that is what must occur because of economics.

It's hard to make the argument that it would be better if we left the place "run down." That sounds like the argument I'm making. I don't know the answer to that. But the point is that the Moffat Boulevard redecorations serve someone's interest. The city's, big developers, commercial interests, real estate agents, and others. Bascially everyone except the people living in the mobile homes interviewed for The Record article! If I were one of those people, I'd want it left just as it is. A sidewalk might be nice, but if it means being thrown out of my home... I think I'd rather deal with some puddles on the road than either have the rent doubled or tripled or be homeless entirely.

There's also something odd in the statements about the actual usefulness of the "sidewalks." It can't possibly be to reduce the traffic hazard. The Tidewater Bikeway runs right along the railroad tracks on Moffat. You don't have to be on a bicycle to use the bike trail, you can walk or roll in a wheelchair, jog or whatever. If there's one place in Manteca that actually doesn't need a sidewalk (for utility reasons) it's Moffat Blvd. They already have the world's best walkway there. All the talk about having to walk by the side of the road and the hazards is just nonsense, why people would make those comments is hard to explain. The bike trail is right there in front of that mobile home park. It couldn't be any closer. So I don't get it.

Why isn't ordinary tax money being used for these "improvements?" Why is it necessary to borrow money? There's something odd going on. And what is also odd is that here, the redevelopment money is being used to reduce so-called "affordable housing." It's a great example, in a perverse sort of way, of how government works against itself. The redevelopment money is supposed to be used to increase "affordable" housing, and here, the same program is being used to decrease "affordable" housing.

Except that the people being thrown out of their homes don't know it yet. And they seem to be thanking the city for finally, after all these years, coming in and making it impossible for them to continue to live there. It's like they are saying "it's about time the city did something to make the place too expensive for me to live!" Unbelievable.

The best case scenario is that the redecorations will do nothing, and just be a big waste of redevelopment money. That would be the best case for the poor people in the mobile home park. Because if the area does "take off" with commercial development, well, pack your bags. Just ask the people in that little mobile home park on Main Street near Sutter. If you can that is, they may be gone already.

Notes from the cutting edge of democracy.

Here are my notes from Election Day (finally):

The day starts early, before 0600 and ends about 15 hours later. If you are lucky.

When we arrived in the morning, we found the electronic voting machines had been stored overnight at the church. (This does sort of contradict the warning not to ever let the machines out of our sight because a "hacker" can spoil the election if he can get to just one machine to insert the "bad code.") We set them up and started them up. Most of them booted up. The hardest part is that "printer" add on. That thing is the flimsiest hunk of plastic ever. It looks like if it were used every day it would last a week. One of the printers didn't work over in the other precinct we were sharing the room with. More about that later.

The training class we attended (prior to election day) was almost fully occupied by instruction and practice in booting up and feeding paper into the electronic voting machines. Very little about the actual process of voting or how to safeguard the integrity of the process.
Note the following from the California Constitution:

CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION
ARTICLE 2 VOTING, INITIATIVE AND REFERENDUM, AND
RECALL

SEC. 7. Voting shall be secret.



Photo at right shows the polling place on Election Day. Note the con-spicuous non-secret nature of the voting process.


It was like voting on a public stage!

There were also pressure groups "hanging around" almost all day. For example, there were firemen in uniform there, and there was a group that called itself the "labor alliance" I think there. The labor union people were passing out donuts and sort of loudly proclaiming they were there. Sort of keeping an eye on things. Making sure you vote the right way? Who knows.




The voting officials were also hanging around "helping" people vote. Now, I trust them, but how can we say if everyone "trusts" them? The important thing is do you feel your vote is secret, not just if it is or not. Particularly if you are voting against a popular measure or for an unpopular candidate?

These darn electronic machines are an abomination to the voting process. Not only was your vote completely "non-secret" with interested groups looking over your shoulder, but there were also long delays. It took "forever" (about 5 minutes or so on average) to vote the extraordinarily long ballot.

At one point, we were instructed to give up on the machines and accept paper ballots and put them in a specially marked envelope. Except that there were no paper ballots available, so we had people cut the sample ballots out of the sample ballot booklet and submit that as their vote. Ugh!

"The printout is just ... fluff"

If you find assurance in the "voter verified paper trail," take note of what the field inspector told me. We were checking how much paper was left in the machines toward the end of the day. She said "all we care about is the computer chips. Just submit those chips at the end of the day. Do the best you can. Don't worry about the printouts, the paper is .... just ...(she searched for the word)... I don't know if anyone ever looks at them, they are just tossed." She added, "Yeah, they are just fluff." She said something about how they were put there to give the voter a better feeling about the voting machines, but they don't actually have any purpose.

Unfortunately, I don't think she was exaggerating. There are published reports that suggest that the paper rolls are meaningless. Not only is it prohibitively impractical to even attempt to decipher the paper rolls, but also, there's no authority in the law that tells us what to do if the paper disagrees with the computer memory chip! Think about that, if there's no authority to re-count anything with the paper votes, why bother with it? It's just the illusion of security!

There was one machine with a balky printer over in the other precinct (there were three precincts in the room shown) and it didn't bother anyone to vote on the machine even though the paper printer wasn't working right. The computer chip is all that counts!

There were some nice parts of the day. The polls workers are all pretty interesting people. And our "inspector" brought enough food and coffee to set up a buffet. Including fresh fruits, pineapples, finger sandwiches and a cheese ball. And then there was that ride over to deliver the memory card ballots. The commentary from the inspector was pretty amusing, but probably not suitable for print. hehe.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Milton Friedman on government, freedom and doing good.

In case you don't have ten hours to spare watching Free to Choose, here is the 30 minute version. This is a fascinating discussion where Milton Friedman explains the basics of what it means to be free and what dangers we are facing in the future.

Click here to view Milton Friedman on google video.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, economist, dies aged 94


If you haven't read "Free to Choose" or watched the ten part video, now is as good a time as any. It will change your life.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Our "sacred trust" violated

The election is finally over -- was everyone else as tired of it as I was? Measure M passed and the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate again. Most disappointing to me is that Proposition 90 failed.

Our phone has been ringing for weeks with political phone calls urging us to vote one way or the other. I heard from Governor Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood and Ben Stein, among others. The amount of printed propaganda that arrived daily in our mailbox was astounding. We were bombarded by campaign ads on TV, every one of them misleading and meant to confuse. We've been categorized, identified and targeted by high-priced "consultants" whose job it is to determine what misinformation or outright lies can they tell to make people vote the way they want them to vote.

The worst propaganda is spread by backers of propositions where the ultimate prize is lots of money. Most people are so confused and overwhelmed by the amount of information and pure crap torpedoed at them that they either tune out the political process completely and don't vote, or they try to find a source they trust to give them a true accounting of what they are being asked to vote on. Many people turn to their local newspaper to guide them through the maze of propositions and candidates. They trust them to tell the truth. They give them their "sacred trust," to use a phrase recently printed in a local newspaper.

Two newspapers that people, including me, expect to be honest and accurate in their reporting have failed to do their editorial duty. The Record (Stockton) reported the amount of the Measure M sales tax increase as being 10 times less than it actually is, not just once but twice (the second time in their "voter guide") and they did not immediately correct the error. They printed a letter I wrote but edited out an important part. I understand the need to edit letters for length, clarity or appropriateness. The part I object to being edited was the removal of a question about whether Stockton would benefit from Manteca raising its sales tax (Stockton's is 8%, Manteca's is 8.25%). I think it's a valid question to ask when Stockton is telling the citizens of Manteca that they should raise their own sales tax and there is a perceived conflict of interest. I lost a lot of respect for The Record after this election. I expected more from them.

As for the Manteca Pravda, er, Manteca Bulletin, I became disillusioned with them long ago. Comrade, er, Editor Wyatt, as chief purveyor of government propaganda, has never met a city tax or project he didn't like and he isn't above using his power as editor of the city's only daily newspaper to manipulate public opinion and print deliberately misleading figures. As an example, Thursday's headline boldly and inaccurately proclaimed the city's new sales tax to be -- ta da! 8 cents! It's either deliberate or it's incompetence.

You know, this is beneath me. I'm sure Mr. Wyatt is a nice guy, I don't know him personally. To be honest, I don't expect a lot out of the Pravda, uh, Bulletin. I could put up with all the rah rah about the city and how great everything is, but for God's sake, HIRE A COPY EDITOR! and while you're at it, get some journalistic integrity! Oh, I'm sorry, that was harsh. I guess it's the editor in me and being held to high standards while I worked for CNN, but it just drives me nuts to read the Pravda, er, Bulletin, and see obvious misspellings, grammatical errors and inaccuracies EVERY DAY. If you can't afford to hire a copy editor, at least use your spell-checker!

CNN had some very specific rules regarding what was printed on their website or what went out over the air. One rule that should be a no-brainer was that every fact had to be verified, every figure checked. If it couldn't be verified by a credible source, it didn't get printed or aired. Numbers and names were double-checked, nothing was assumed or left to someone's memory. There was a strict rule about no statements or quotes from anonymous sources, no anonymous "letters to the editor." If you wanted your opinion printed or aired, you had to give your name. A very practical rule was that nothing got published without "two sets of eyes" proofreading the copy. I don't care how good you are, you should never be the only one proofreading your own stuff.
###

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Manteca Bulletin is "full of it"


Check out the headline in today's Manteca Bulletin. Notice anything odd? They are loudly proclaiming in the headline that the sales tax will go to "8 percent!" This is wrong, the sales tax will be 8.25 percent.


If it were just the headline, you might be able to excuse it because of space limitations or a simple error. But check out the text of the article. It repeats the "8 percent" thing a few times. And the accompanying graphic/chart says the same thing. And, those numbers aren't even close. Here's what the chart should read:


  • 5 1/4 cent State of California[1]

  • 1/2 cent, local government "mental health" and health fund.

  • 1/2 cent local public safety (for Manteca's police and fire, administered by the state and county)

  • 1 cent, City of Manteca general fund (for police and fire and other government functions)

  • 1/2 cent, Measure K (1/3 for fixing the roads, 2/3 for social meddling programs)

  • 1/2 cent, Measure M presumably for police and fire or other purposes as determined by the City Council.


For a grand total of 8 1/4 cents for each dollar you spend on taxable things.


Notice there are now three separate sales taxes that pay for police and fire protection. Sure, those are important functions, but why does it cost so much? And did you notice how, if you get all your knowledge from reading the Manteca Bulletin you wouldn't know about that "other" 1/2 cent public safety tax. They sure didn't mention anything about the two other taxes that are supposed to pay for public safety when they were campaigning for the new tax to "save the police and fire," that's for sure. And they still aren't mentioning it. I wonder if they don't want people to feel betrayed while the thoughts of the election are still fresh in their minds.


The same might be true for the purposeful understating the level of the tax as "8 percent." I wonder if some people were confused and thought the tax was only going to be raised to 8 percent instead of 8.25 percent? Who knows what people said when they called Grandma Millie[2] from the city's phone bank on Election Day? Pure speculation of course, but were some people told it was just 8 percent and it was to save the police and fire? I'm sure they wouldn't purposely lie, but maybe some people were confused a little and if they thought it was just 8 percent, well who's to correct 'em? Just get out there and vote! After all, it's to save your children from the bad man who want to cut the funding for the police and fire departments and let something bad happen to your children.[3]


Never mind the fact that there's already a general sales tax for police and fire and another special sales tax for police and fire already being collected (and other taxes too).


Which leads us to the front page of the Manteca Bulletin. All speculation aside, one thing we can know for certain is that someone wants to hide the fact that tax is really going to be 8.25 percent. Maybe it's the editor of the paper, maybe the city official interviewed, maybe the campaigners, who knows who -- but it's someone -- because that kind of "error" doesn't just happen. Not when it's mentioned throughout the article and in the graphic. And not when we've just had months of arguing about imposing the new Measure M tax. And not when the city official being interviewed isn't just anyone down there at city hall, but none other than the City Finance Director. The Finance Director doesn't know what the sales tax is?


OK, I guess technically we can't know that someone wants to hide something. If the paper claims it was just an error, or two or three, then I'll retract that statement and simply pronounce the newspaper "the dumbest newspaper on earth."

______________


Note 1: I combined three different state taxes for simplicity, the point is they all go to the state, not the local government.
Note 2: This is a reference to the now infamous audio tape of Enron traders who laughed about sticking it to "Grandma Millie" in California. Sorry if there really is a Grandma Millie.
Note 3: I do have some evidence that police personnel were making defamatory statements about me, but for "reasons" we won't go into that at this point.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Day


It's morning in Manteca. It had rained during the night and it was still overcast and drizzling, but the sun has peeked out and there is a great rainbow visible. I picked up a newspaper at the local convenience store, the clerk gave me the usual "have a nice day!" I grumbled back "Not likely. But thanks for the nice thought."


Thank you, everyone who supported the cause for more government accountability and opposed the tax increase. When you champion unpopular causes, you don't often see clear victories.


You might be surprised that I think we did put the issue before the voters. We made our arguments, we had plenty of press coverage, and some was fair coverage too. We made our case in letters and articles and in the semi-official "arguments" in the voter guide. We can't simply say we were steamrolled by the big money juggernaut, although having a boatload of money to pay various "civic groups" sure does help. We may have the facts and logic on our side, but the voters rejected our arguments. Maybe for some very pragmatic reasons.


You can see from the overall election results, the idea that voters simply saunter up to the Diebold machine and punch buttons based on guesses or pure emotional appeal isn't entirely true. That's just not supported by what occurs on election day, and yesterday was no exception. For example, voters rejected the emotional appeal to tax the "big oil companies" and to tax cigarettes more, and the so called "clean money" argument was rejected, despite powerful spending. Another bright spot in an otherwise depressing election was that proposition 90 was approved. There's no more complex issue than eminent domain and the concepts of governmental virtual "takings" and yet the voters were able to separate fact from hype in spite of the big money spending on scare tactics about it being "a taxpayer trap!" All this suggests, to me, that the voters do think about the issues carefully.

Added 2:17 pm: The latest returns are showing prop 90 being disapproved, even though "smartvoter.org" is still showing it passing. Maybe I need to revise my thinking a little and just say, at the risk of offending, what has to be said - the people need to educate themselves a little more and start thinking for themselves a little more and listen less to the self interested "experts."


Nevertheless, it would be easy to say that Manteca was simply swayed by emotional appeals from paid support groups, but maybe that's not the whole story. It's also possible that the voters of Manteca made a hard but practical decision. After all, the mayor all but said "if you don't want any more police and fire protection, fine, then don't vote for the tax increase!" And no matter how wrong he is, he's still the mayor! It's possible people don't want to fight for things they need for the next four years. Also, just about everyone is aware that the city has been trying to get some kind of new tax approved for the last few years. They tried a parcel tax, and a sales tax, and talked about a phone tax and complained about the repeal of the utility tax, increased taxes on new homes ("developer fees"), hiked business license taxes ("fees"), a motel room tax, etc...and etc.. It's possible that the voters simply said "enough" of the arguing, and realized that "they," the city, are never going to quit trying to get some new tax passed -- and, if we have to have a new tax, at least a sales tax is better than those other taxes. Most people view a sales tax as the more "fair" than other taxes, maybe because we at least have some control over how much we spend to buy things.


Of course, this logic is sort of based on the questionable belief that if we "give them a sales tax" that will somehow satisfy government's insatiable appetite for more money. But at least it's a nice thought.


So, coupled with the emotional appeal, the mayor and council's threats to stop funding police and fire, the voters probably made what could be seen as, under all the circumstances, a "wise" choice of the lesser of various evils. Somehow we survived when the sales tax was raised from 2.5 percent to 7.75 percent in small increments each time, and I guess we will survive with 8.25 percent.


If anything, the lesson is that it's not enough to just concentrate on taxing, the collection of money -- but rather, we should redouble our efforts on the control of the other side of the equation, government spending. Unless spending is controlled, it's almost fruitless to try to control taxation.


I should have known the anti-tax movement in Manteca was in trouble. I had a while back I had a chat with a friend who was describing his trip to Montana. He remarked how amazing it was there and described a visit to a burger joint. He said how it astounded him when he gave the clerk too much money, and the clerk returned it. He said "I'm used to, you know, just throwing in an extra dollar for the tax. But there was no tax!" He waxed on about what a wondrous land this was, where, amazingly, you just pay for what the thing costs! And everything was so much less expensive, and how we don't realize how we're just conditioned to throw in an extra dollar for everything here in California..." All that sounded good. But then I remarked, "and they are trying to raise that tax, too!" But he retorted immediately, with no sense of irony apparently, "but that's a 'good tax' -- it's for the police and fire." Like I said, I should have known it was an uphill battle. My friend was right, we are sort of conditioned to accept things. By the way, do I have to mention this? The fellow is employed by the City of Manteca.


Oh, that reminds me, I have to write about my experience as a "poll worker" ... and don't worry, I'll find some other unpopular cause to champion.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

City finds lost law book



In the encyclopedia under "beating a dead horse" there will probably be a reference to this discussion. But, it's the No on M committee's policy to respond to every question. As painful as it is to go over this issue again, here goes. Don't blame me. The city manager decided to put this on the agenda for the city council meeting Monday night, the evening before Election Day!


I'll just cut to the bottom line. Measure M can be changed at any time after the election. The money promised to be spent only on "police and fire" can be spent on anything.


The city disputes this, they say there's some law somewhere that says something. (I'm not being vague, this is what the city officials say -- that there's a law, but they just can't remember where it is or find it). And that just because Measure M says, in plain English, it can be amended in any way (except increasing the tax rate) by The City Council of the City of Manteca, "with no vote of the people" that doesn't mean that. Even though Measure M says it in plain English in 3.09.120(B).


A lot us (me, the papers, etc) have been asking the city "where is this law? I'd like to read it." And, to make a long story short, the city just can't find it. Or they never say. Or something. Not just me, others have asked "where is this law?" So far, no answers. Well, technically, we've gotten answers, but every time we ask, we get a different answer that turns out to be wrong, we ask again, we get a different answer. You get the idea.


So on Monday's agenda, the City Manager plans to submit a report saying that he finally found the law they have been "looking for." Drum roll please... they say it's in Government Code 53724(e). That section says that the money from a special tax has to be spent on whatever the ordinance says it has to be spent on, and nothing else.


There's no surprise here. We agree with that. That is nothing new. And that's not the issue.


The issue isn't "does the ordinance have to be followed?" The issue is "can the ordinance be changed?"


All laws can be changed It's just a question of "how." Everything from the speed limit on the highway to the U.S. Constitution can be changed. But lets just talk about referendum in California like Measure M. Most referendum passed by the voters can only be changed by another vote of the people. That's how, say, proposition 13 would work. If we decided to change prop 13, we would have to have a vote. Because that's the process. The legislature can not change it. That's how most referendum work. I emphasize, "most."


Most referendum are hard to change, it requires a vote. Measure M is very easy to change, all it requires is the City Council to say so. And that's it.


According to state law, (E.C. 9217) if the ordinance says it can be changed then it doesn't have to go to a vote. That's the case with Measure M. It's in 3.09.120(B). It says the City Council of the City of Manteca is authorized to make any changes. Except they can't raise the rate of the tax. That's the only exception.


Nothing in G.C. 53724 changes that.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Stockton to Manteca: Raise your taxes, please!

The Record's endorsement: Stockton is telling us to vote for Measure M because it's good -- for Stockton!



The Record is a fine large city newspaper published in Stockton. However, I must respectfully disagree with the editorial opinion for the Measure M tax increase. (Or, as they put it, "seize the opportunity" to raise our taxes.) Before simply accepting their editorial opinion, consider:

First, Stockton would love it if Manteca would raise their taxes higher than Stockton's. If Measure M passes, Stockton will no longer have the highest sales tax in San Joaquin County! Stockton found out the hard way what happens when they were tricked into voting for their own Measure W. They raised their sales tax to 8 percent. They were promised a utopia of new police and fire protection, a safe, prosperous city.

Reality: After passing measure W, Stockton didn't really hire any more police or fire personnel than the normal number (more or less). The city spent the money on a sports arena, cinema, and a fancy restaurant. And I mean "fancy." The gift to the restaurant, $2.5 million is almost exactly what would have cost to build a fire station. Violent crime increased 14% or more, more than the rest of the nation. Stores and businesses closed under pressure from high taxes. Crime, poverty, joblessness, business failures, hopelessness. That is the legacy of Stockton's Measure W tax increase. And now they are telling Manteca "you should do the same!"

If the Stockton campaign sounds familiar, it's because it's being orchestrated by the same image consultants that Manteca hired. They tried exactly the same technique in Stockton. Promise them "Make Stockton Safer!" was the slogan. In fact, if you're curious, check out the "Arguments" for the measure from 2 years ago. Sound familiar? Stockton doesn't want to say they made a mistake, were duped, etc. Instead, they tell us in their endorsement that we'll be safer because the tax money over the years, will eventually, someday, make us safer. Just like Stockton.

In addition:

1. "In the quirky world of municipal finance in California..." and they say, this is our best chance. Translation: Politician squanders money. Politician needs money. Politician asks for help... from a public image firm. Image firm tells politician "people of Manteca are stupid, we can manipulate them with fear and promises of safety." Politician says "Great! Here is $160,000, make it so!"

Shouldn't we fix the "crazy way things are funded" instead of simply raising the tax every time a politician messes things up?

I love the way they call it an "opportunity." Like, it's not every day you get the opportunity to raise your taxes!

2. The editors are taking at face value the theory that more taxes = more safety. If it were that simple, we would be living in utopia by now, and Stockton would be leading the way.

3. There doesn't seem to be any consideration of the unprecedented campaign of propaganda funded mostly by tax dollars. Almost to a person, everyone touting the new tax is someone or some group that will be personally enriched by it. This is the best "community support" that money can buy. There is no public safety "crisis." There are no shortages of police and the extra fire crew needed can now be funded with existing surpluses.

4 .Why aren't the editors trying to cut through the nonsense, and not to simply echo "the party line." The campaign, on it's surface, seems simple, but is actually complex. Anyone can state the simple answers and just tell the people to "vote for it, it might do some good." The Record should have looked a little deeper into the issues.

5. Where do they get the idea that the community supports anything? See the massive spending noted above. If anything the ordinary citizen is overwhelmingly against the measure. Consider "letters to the editor" are running 8 to 1 against. People feel they are being lied to, are being blackmailed, threatened, using scare tactics, loopholes let the tax be misspent, etc. That 8 to 1 figure is based on excluding letters written by the paid consultants submitted by paid supporters.

If we're going to play the "who supports it" game, take out a paper and draw a line down the middle. Write "yes" on one side and "no" on the other. List the groups that support the measure under "yes" and those against under "no. Now, scratch out all the groups that are paid by the city, or somehow get money from the city, or are required to ask the city for money each year, or will be personally enriched if the measure passes. You will now have: under "yes," just about no one! (except a few fellow travelers if they haven't figured out how they are being used yet.) Under "no" is about 78% of the people of Manteca including me, and all of the non-incumbent
candidates for all local elections (fire board, school board, city council). That doesn't sound like "has community support" as The Record puts it.

Furthermore, why, does it matter, technically, if community groups support it. The readers want to know if the editors think if it's a good idea or not.

6. Note the error in the impact of the tax. Their math is off by a factor of ten. I'm sure it will be corrected. But it does suggest a mindset that had already decided "it's not much money." How else could that ridiculously low cost per person have gotten past the editors without noticing the error? The actual cost per taxpayer is ten times higher than what is listed.

From the time the sales tax was 2.5 percent to now, every increase has "just been a few pennies." And now the tax is 7.75 percent. And now they are asking for 8.25 percent. After all, "it's just a few pennies," we are told. One proponent actually asserted sanctimoniously that you're "letting your kids down" if you don't increase the taxes (paid by future generations!). And yet it will take $4 million or more from the people of Manteca.

Why would Stockton want Manteca to raise its taxes higher than Stockton's? Think about it!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fighting taxes and battling emotions

I'm wondering how long it will be before someone tries to shamelessly use the deaths of the fire crew and then relate it somehow to raising the taxes.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Measure M: Campaign of Deception

Last Friday, October 20, The (Stockton) Record endorsed Manteca's Measure M 1/2 percent sales tax increase. The editorial stated that the increase would add "an extra 5 cents to every $100 in purchases." If you have a calculator handy, 1/2 percent of $100 is 50 cents, not 5 cents as The Record declared. The next day I wrote to the editor pointing out the error and asking that it be corrected. As of Thursday, no correction had been printed nor did my letter to the editor appear. Since The Record claims it is "eager" to promptly correct any errors, yesterday I emailed Donald Blount, managing editor, again askng that the error be corrected. Friday, a week after the endorsement, the correction appears in a tiny box on page A4 of the paper.

I don't know what to think of this. Was the error intentionally misleading and if not, why did it take a full week and two emails to two editors to issue a correction? Why is Stockton so eager for Manteca to raise its sales tax?

I don't know if The Record will print my original letter to the editor or not, but here it is in its entirety:

Saturday, October 21

The Record's editorial endorsing Manteca's Measure M on Friday, October 20, contains a significant error that needs to be corrected. Under "Impact on Manteca Residents," it says the sales tax rate would go from 7.75 to 8.25 percent adding an extra "5 cents to every $100 in purchases." Your calculator must have been broken that day, because the ½ percent sales tax will add 50 cents to every $100 in purchases, not 5 cents as the Record states. That's an error of 10X magnitude and I hope that your correction will be displayed as prominently as your error was.

Two years ago the city of Stockton raised its sales tax by ¼ percent to increase police and reduce crime. Since that tax was enacted, reports show violent crime in Stockton has risen by about 14%. Why is the Record telling Mantecans that we should raise our sales tax and why should the people of Manteca listen? Stockton has a worse crime rate than Manteca and Stockton also spends its tax money on fancy amenities and "downtown improvements" instead of on public safety, just like Manteca has been doing.

I question The Record's support of Measure M and whether there's a conflict of interest. Stockton has a selfish reason to want Manteca to raise its sales tax to 8.25 percent, which if passed will be higher than Stockton's. Stockton will benefit from a higher sales tax in Manteca by seeing more big purchases made in Stockton to avoid Manteca's higher tax.

The letters to the editors in various newspapers supporting Measure M are supposedly from ordinary citizens concerned with safety, our neighbors. These letter writers should state their affiliations when signing their names. Two of the letters published Saturday, October 21, came from members of the Yes on M Committee: Dana Solomon, co-chairman of the Yes on Measure M Committee, and Kathryn Aartman-Weed, treasurer of the Yes on M Committee. Why are they hiding their affiliation with the Yes on M Committee? These people have a personal interest in seeing the measure passed.

Creative financing has shifted money that should have gone to public safety to Big League Dreams and other Redevelopment Agency projects in Manteca. The public should insist that the police and fire be funded as a priority before money is diverted to pet projects that might be nice but aren't absolutely necessary. In 2002, Manteca campaigned for another measure that would "save the police and fire," the Transient and Occupancy Tax which passed. Now, less than 5 years later, we're asked to "save" the police and fire again. How long will it be before they tell us they need "saving" yet again?

I've lived in Manteca almost 20 years, so I'm not a newcomer. We have a great police and fire department and over the years any time I've had to call on either, they have responded quickly. The city council and managers should be held accountable for their spending and the police and fire departments shouldn't have to suffer for it, but neither should the residents. Demand fiscal responsibility from our elected officials. Vote no on Measure M.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Can Measure M be changed or not?

Since discovering the hidden text in Measure M that lets the city council remove any restrictions that the money has to be spent on "police and fire" the day after the election the city has waged a campaign of obfuscation (smokescreen!) to try to keep the voters confused. Last Monday, the city council was presented a report that they say was supposed to "correct" this "error." However, when I challenged their latest confusion at the same meeting, they have come up with an new argument.

(This paragraph revised, see comments)

Before we go on, lets just give a quick re-cap of what we've been told every time we ask the same question:

1. First they said it had to be spent on police and fire. The city manager even read from section 150 in a council meeting. We pointed out that there are all sorts of promises in section 150, but they can all be changed because section 120 (amendments) says that the council can change any part of the ordinance, at any time, including the spending plan.

2. Next they told us their special lawyer Craig Steele determined it can't be changed. And they said "we can only go by what he says, we aren't lawyers." Sounds reasonable enough. Except that when someone actually asked Attorney Craig Steele he said things like the "citizen's oversight" committee and the audits and accountability could be removed the day after the election.

3. Next we were told that section about the amendments was just put there because The Board of Equalization asked us to. Not sure what that has to do with if can be changed or not!

4. After more questioning then we were told it was in the state laws. Then we asked where, and we pointed out there was no such law we were aware of, and in fact, the state law says it can be changed IF the ordinance says it can be changed. ("The ordinance" is "Measure M" the thing we are being asked to vote on)

5. So after they couldn't find anything in the state laws, next they said it's in really in the California Constitution. They weren't sure where. When pressed, someone said it was in Article 13. When I pointed out that I have a copy of Article 13C and it doesn't say anything like that, we were next told:

6. It's in the tax code, or the government code or somewhere. (revised, see comments)

Well… it's not there either. So where does that leave us?

Should I get up at a meeting and tell them it's not there either, and demand to know why they keep telling the people all these laws exist in some mysterious place but can never show where, etc? We could. My guess is, at this point, they would find another section of the code and insist it's there, or maybe find some other agency that they claim says something that they don't or say some other lawyer has determined it can't be changed but then change his mind when we ask them. And so on.

One last point: If we are to believe the city "information person," there is some law somewhere, heck, they just can't find it. But let's just say that's right. In other words, they are saying they can't change the measure even though Measure M itself says in plain English it can be changed. And we already know that section 9217 (state law) clearly says it can be changed, in plain English. So then, what the city is claiming is that there exists some mysterous law they can't seem to find that conflicts with the plain English we've already pointed out and talked about. Nonsense!

No, if anything all this suggests that even I wasn't cynical enough. It can be changed the day after the election, and from the "dancing around" the issue, I'm starting to think this was intentional! It does fit with the philosophy of the consultants the city hired. In their documents they stress doing whatever it takes to win. If you want to get a "general tax" increase, they will find a way to get the people to vote for it. From what I can tell, the "survey results" found that no one wanted a general tax increase (low 20's percent), and that would be insufficient to pass even with just the majority vote needed. But they did find that when probed people would support a new, special tax to save your children from drugs and gangs, at high enough numbers to pass even with the higher requirements for the special tax. The numbers (reportedly) went up to 66% -- exactly the number needed.

So, it doesn't at first seem to make any sense to try to pass off a general tax as a special tax. A special tax needs a super-majority to pass, and a general tax just needs a majority. In this case, it's just possible that someone did a quick calculation that showed a general tax could never pass, but a special tax might. The problem is, the city didn't want a special tax, they wanted a general tax. No problem. And what happened next isn't documented, I can only speculate. But somehow, in some mysterious way no one can explain, section 120 B just appeared in the Measure M ordinance. It looks like a special tax, and people might vote for it because they think it's a special tax (Manteca people said loud and clear they don't want another general tax) … but it can be instantly converted to a general tax the day after the election.

Now I'm not sure which is actually better, I'm no fan of special purpose money. But, there is no support for a general tax increase, and so I think the voters should know before deciding that Measure M is really a general tax that can be spent on Big League Dreams or planters downtown or the city bus or lucrative raises for administrators, or anything. It's masquerading as a "special tax" that will make you "safer" in some almost magical way by paying policemen and firemen more money or giving the union bosses better retirement plans.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Candidate says "we are being blackmailed!"

This is what City Council candidate Samuel Anderson says on his "platform" page:
Regarding the half-cent tax - I am reluctant and hesitant to support it because there is NO back-up plan, no plan B in case if fails at the ballot box. I feel like we are being blackmailed into accepting it and made to feel like we are noncitizen-like and unsupported of or police and fire if we don’t accept it and support it. I also question the language in it that does not sit well with me. I feel sorry for the police and fire chiefs in having to accept this because it is the only way for them to get funds.

Dear Mr. Anderson: You are feeling blackmailed because that's exactly what you you're supposed to feel. That's why the city hired the consultants who know how to manipulate. This is why the consultants stood before the council and told them if they say the new tax is for the "performing arts center" or other projects, people won't vote for it. That's why they said "tell the people it's for the police and fire."

Sure, there's some language in the measure that mentions public safety and the police and fire. Cleverly, they inserted that clause that lets the council remove that language the day after the election!

Don't feel sorry for the police and fire chiefs. For example, despite the fire chief's claim that he's asked for personnel "many times," which he has said over and over to the community groups, we can't find any evidence of even one request for more personnel actually being made by the chief. If you never ask for new personnel, what do they expect? The same is more or less true for the police chief. Any time the chief has actually asked for new personnel it's been granted. The city council has never turned down a request for more manpower.

I know what they would say if we asked them. They are sort of "told" ahead of time if the council "will approve a request" or not. But if the chiefs really felt more personnel was needed, shouldn't they make the request anyway? That's something that takes courage. Something they don't seem to have. They would rather see their departments fail in their mission, or people die rather than risk making a request and possibly embarrassing someone.

And, the a new tax is not "the only way to get funds." They get funds if they are allocated.

You're right, it is an attempt at blackmail. You should resent it. I do. So do most people. That's why we're voting NO on Measure M.

p.s. There is a "plan B" ... the consultants told them never to let people know that even if you don't vote for the new tax, it won't affect the police and fire. There are other funds available.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

PROPOSITION 90...the most important issue on the 2006 ballot

Proposition 90 is on this November's ballot but it's gotten very little attention in the press and TV. It's probably the most important issue on the ballot and one which has the potential to affect everyone in California. Proposition 90 is the Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property. Initiative Constitutional Amendment that "bars state/local governments from condemning or damaging private property to promote other private projects, uses. Limits government's authority to adopt certain land use, housing, consumer, environmental, workplace laws/regulations."

In 2005 the US Supreme Court in Kelo vs New London, upheld the city of New London's redevelopment agency decision to transfer land from one private owner to another under eminent domain to further economic development. This is seen by many as a clear violation of our Constitution's 5th Amendment. This decision has emboldened many local redevelopment agencies in their quest to declare private property "blighted" and seize it for transfer to another private party for economic purposes, not for "public use" as outlined in the 5th amendment. The term "public use" is being perverted to mean whatever a government agency decides it means. Whether you are a home-owner or small business owner, your property is at risk.

Though I usually don't vote yes on propositions, especially one involving amending the state constitution, I think this is a very important issue and I urge you to vote YES on Proposition 90 to protect your property rights and stop redevelopment and eminent domain abuse.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Redevelopment: The Unknown Government

On September 30, Joe and I had the opportunity to attend the 11th Annual Northern California Conference on Redevelopment Abuse sponsored by Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform (MORR) and moderated by Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, a vocal critic of redevelopment and eminent domain abuse. It was a day-long conference with speakers ranging from attorneys specializing in eminent domain cases and citizen activists to ordinary people who found themselves victims of eminent domain "takings" of their private property for commercial use. One of the speakers was John Revelli from Oakland whose 56-year old family business was declared blighted and taken by eminent domain for a city-subsidized real estate developer planning to put apartments and condominiums on it. Though his case appealing the eminent domain taking is still moving through the courts, the city of Oakland has already demolished his building and erected a new structure, something called "early taking." Basically, a redevelopment agency can declare your property blighted, claim it with eminent domain and while you're going to court to appeal it, they can physically take possession of the property and demolish your home or business and erect new buildings. There is no due process under the 4th and 5th Amendments when the government wants your property.

We hear about the Manteca Redevelopment Agency a lot. After all, the City Council members are in fact the Redevelopment Agency. At city council meetings, they simply announce that they are now the Redevelopment Agency with a bang of the gavel and open the meeting within a meeting when there's agency business to conduct. Did you know that the Redevelopment Agency has the power to declare any property "blighted" and that once an area is "blighted" that future increases in property taxes are diverted from that point forward to the local Redevelopment Agency? The property tax increases are siphoned off before they ever get to the city's general fund or the county's coffers or to the school district where property taxes are supposed to go. This is called "tax increment diversion." An interesting side effect of declaring property "blighted" is that once the property is so deemed, it remains "blighted" forever. There is no procedure in place to "un-blight" an area, meaning that the tax increment diversion on that property continues forever. Pretty sweet deal, huh?

The lure of declaring property "blighted" is so strong and the rewards (to the city) so great, that Joe recently found a document reporting how Manteca city employees direct consultants to actually drive around looking for any evidence of blight so that the Redevelopment Agency can expand its tax base (specifically see footnote 4 of the document). With the power of eminent domain behind it, the Redevelopment Agency can buy property that they have devalued through declarations of "blight" at a very attractive bargain price. If the stubborn property owner won't sell, they can use eminent domain to seize property for a "better use" (read "retail stores"). Cities like Manteca LOVE retail stores because they get a portion of the sales tax charged and if Measure M passes in November, they'll get even more.

Have you heard that the Redevelopment Agency funds that are spent on "improvements" around Manteca are not tax dollars so there's no need for anyone to be concerned? Any time someone in the government tells you that the money they're spending is not tax dollars, that should raise a red flag and you should be concerned. A lot. Did you know that the Redevelopment Agency has the power to issue bonds, which the taxpayers must repay, without ever putting it to a vote? That's a lot of power to wield and cities all over California and the country are doing just that. It's our tax dollars that fund the Redevelopment Agency, plain and simple. Any claim that redevelopment money isn't tax money is a lie.

MORR has published a booklet called "Redevelopment: The Unknown Government" which is available online. Anyone who is remotely interested in what local governments are doing with taxpayer money or in eminent domain should read this publication. It's written in plain language, you don't need a law degree to understand it. There's also a Spanish language version available. It has also has some great cartoons!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dude, where's my safety?


This is from The Stockton Record, 11 Oct 2006, letter.

  • The writer voted for the tax because he was made to feel that all right minded or law-abiding people would, of course, vote for a new tax "for the police."
  • His concerns about the "increased crime" are supported by various reports on crime from various sources, including the sheriff's office, SPD as reported in the The (Stockton) Record. Violent crime has increased about 14% in Stockton, although there is a nationwide trend toward more crime, but not that much.
  • Stockton has hired only a handful of new personnel -- probably what would have been hired anyway. Some have retired. Overall, the strength of the police force has stayed about the same. They have, however, given themselves generous raises and improved their retirement and dental plans. So now the policeman that covers your body with a sheet after you've been murdered no longer has to survive on a mere $90,000/year and he's got a great smile. What an improvement!
  • The writer notes the real reason for the tax is to continue spending money on frivolous pet projects such as ballparks and movie theaters. Just like Manteca!

All of this, I hope, should sound familiar. By the way, the Stockton campaign was orchestrated by the same consulting group as is running the show in Manteca.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Prop 87 and Measure M - Follow the money

I got a call a week or so ago from a young lady asking if I would answer some questions for a survey about an issue that affects me and my community. I said yes and she exclaimed "awesome!" She then asked me if I had seen any ads on TV about Proposition 87 and I said I had. After reading a few prepared statements from those who were for it and against it, she asked me "If the election were held tomorrow, how would you vote on Proposition 87?" I said I would vote no. She asked me why and when I started speaking, she said "Wait! I have to write this down!" I told her I thought it was a bad idea to tax anyone, individual or corporation, to give the money to someone else to "try" to do something. I told her I didn't believe the claims that they would do or even could do what they say they will. I asked her, "Don't you think we're already taxed too much, especially here in California?" She informed me then that she was 16 years old and didn't really pay many taxes and after a beat said, "But I hope I don't have to pay too much when I get older!" I told her that if the things they want to do with Proposition 87 money were possible or viable, then it should be done by a private company, not by someone paid by the government. Before going on to the next questions, she said "You're right!"

I was then asked a series of questions, some of them multiple choice, aimed at determining exactly what the backers of Proposition 87 could say that would make me vote yes. Nothing they could say would convince me to vote yes on a really bad idea. Then we moved on to the part of every survey like this where you're told you'll be read a list of names or organizations and I was asked did I trust them or not. The list included Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Walter Cronkite, former General Wesley Clark, "any" Nobel Laureate professor, the head of the American Lung Association and probably a few others I don't remember. I was asked if the election were held tomorrow, would I vote for Angelides or Schwarzenegger for governor. I was asked if I or any member of my immediate family was a member of any union or was a teacher.

Near the end of the survey came the requisite personal questions about my ethnicity, level of education, age, and income, and any other information they can ask to get a handle on just who you are and how you'll vote. As I always do, I declined to answer any personal questions. My age, ethnicity, education and income is nobody's business and I'm surprised people answer those questions at all, but I guess they do. When the survey was over, the young woman thanked me and told me she had fun talking to me. I told her I had fun too and hoped she was learning something from working as a survey taker and wished her luck.

Proposition 87 is the Alternative Energy. Research, Production, Incentives. Tax on California Oil Producers. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute. The backers claim that "California is held hostage by the oil companies" and that voting yes on 87 will lower fuel prices, end our dependence on foreign oil and provide cleaner energy. Does anyone know of any tax that has ever actually LOWERED prices to the consumer? Do they think they can increase the taxes on oil producers and have lower gas prices at the same time?

Any time there's big money behind a proposition (or even a local ordinance like Manteca's Measure M), you have to ask yourself "what are they (the backers and supporters) getting out of this?" In the case of Prop 87, the backers are going to get the government of California to give them tax money (a projected $4 billion) to "try" to end our dependence on foreign oil and develop new sources of energy. There's no guarantee that they can do any of this, only their promises to "try." They are not required to produce any results and there is no penalty to them if they fail. They take the money, we pay higher gas prices. Mark my words, if this terrible proposition passes, gasoline at $3.50 a gallon will seem like a bargain. California will have the highest gas prices in the nation.

In the case of Manteca's Measure M, all you have to do is look at the supporters of this ½ percent sales tax increase to see who will benefit. The backers of Measure M all stand to gain from a local tax increase: the police and fire unions and city employees (all of whom are paid with tax dollars); big developers who hope that a new tax will alleviate some of the outrageous fees they're assessed by the city; local government-funded agencies like the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau (which already gets a percentage of the last tax that was "for the police and fire" -- the TOT tax) ; and favored charities that get money from the city like Give Every Child a Chance. The list goes on.

Every few years we're told there's a "crisis" with the fire and police departments and that a new tax has to be assessed to keep Manteca safe. How about demanding some fiscal responsibility from those in charge? Our city leaders have chosen how to spend our tax money and they decided that the police and fire departments were low on their list of priorities. After all, if they need more money they can tell us there's another public safety crisis and hire a big consultant (with OUR money) to take surveys that tell them what to say to make us vote yes. The last "crisis" for which they needed to raise taxes to fund the police and fire was less than 5 years ago. I still remember the expensive Measure Q campaign signs that said "Save our Police and Fire" -- do you? Now they need saving again. When will it end?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Space Station passes over head.

This "may" be a photograph of the International Space Station as it passed over last weekend. Well, it's definitely the space station, the only doubt is over what this photograph depicts. Is it just motion blur or is it showing some structure? Who knows. But it was a great pass to observe. This photo was taken with a 400 mm lens (equal to about 650 mm with a 35 mm camera), so it's hard to say what it's showing. If you are curious, there are a few more photos of the pass at the Manteca photo log.

Measure M tax called asinine


I got to attend the Lathrop debate or "candidates forum" Wednesday night.

Both of the mayoral candidates spouted the same sort of party line. They are here to make a better future, for our children, etc.

One question asked how they "felt" about private property. Both candidates swore unwaving respect for property rights as absolute! Except, they both added, if your house is an eyesore. And in that case, I guess, your property rights end.

In the second half of the meeting, the Lathrop-Manteca fire board candidates answered questions. Near they end, they were all asked how they felt about raising the sales tax, as the "sister city" Manteca has proposed (measure M). All three candidates were against that, and said it showed fiscal irresponsibility. One of the candidates, Bernie Gatto was the last to answer that question, and called any attempt to raise the sales tax "asinine!"

You can find a few more photos of the evening on Joe's Corner photo blog.

Fake citizens' group promotes new tax

These campaign signs are popping up like mushrooms all over town.

Notice the slick "vote yes on M" sign. The sign says "for safer neighborhoods!" ... If you didn't know better, you'd never guess that was a new tax increase. Keeping with the consultant's philosophy: Talk about the supposed benefits and don't mention anything about costs.

Speaking of costs, check out this in the Manteca Bulletin. The "citizens group" has almost $50,000 to sell us on the new tax. Fortunately, the Bulletin article does tell us that every single "contributor" listed either works for the city and has been promised a big raise if the tax increase passes, or is someone who has been promised "favor" by the city; or is a "developer" who wants to tell us "don't vote for more developer fees, instead raise the sales tax!" And so on. The biggest "contributor" is the police union and the firefighters union. Surprise! Even the one individual named in the article is a high ranking city employee (McLaughlin, Assistant City Manager).

The very idea that this group is trying to pass itself off as some sort of "grass roots citizen group" is appalling. We should demand they resign their city positions just based on this kind of deception. You can argue that it's not against the law for the police and fire unions to pretend to be "your average neighborly citizen" and not reveal the fact that they get paid more if the new tax passes, but it's still despicable behavior for someone who holds themselves out as the standard of honorable actions.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It makes kind of a mockery of the whole thing

Check out this news clipping about the Lew Edwards Group. This is the consultant that is being paid by the City of Manteca to sell us on the new Measure M tax increase. What's more amazing than the damning indictment of their methods is that this is highlighted on their own promotional website. Normally, your own website should be promoting the good things you do, not documenting your questionable techniques of mass manipulation. It's as if they are proud of it.

Check out the list of techniques. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • How to talk to reporters and a "do's and don'ts" list for officials. Nothing is left to chance.
  • Creating a citizens review committee .... Calling it "an extra layer of insurance,"...
  • Packing public meetings with supporters. It actually says that!
  • Message discipline, ... Talk to enough officials and you're bound to hear the same story again and again. Evidently to them, repetition is an argument!
  • The Lew Edwards Group also directed officials to conduct hundreds of meetings with various community groups. Sound familiar?
  • "...Repeatedly express the need for projects and avoid ... discussions about costs."
  • ... Officials intentionally remained vague about where [the] hospital would be built because they didn't want to galvanize NIMBYs (residents) who didn't want a hospital with a helicopter pad near their homes. (Keep any bad parts of the plan a secret!)
  • One Councilman had the audacity to be thinking of the needs of the people, saying the bond was too much of a burden on the taxpayer and cast the lone vote against placing it on the ballot. He was chastised -- by Lew Edwards' assertion that unanimous support would be important to the bond's success.
  • In total, Lew Edwards was paid nearly $450,000. In their defense, they said "Some ... Was spent on office supplies..." etc.

Read that last paragraph, the comments from a professor of political science:

"It's become very professionalized, and there are these groups that roam the land offering their services," said Sparrow, the SDSU professor. "They've got the money, the tools and the off-the-shelf plan for doing these things. It makes kind of a mockery of the whole thing, but that's the way you've got to get things passed. . . . You've got to play no-error ball."

I particularly like that characterization as a group that roams the land. Does that sound familiar?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

ISS's headin' right fer us!

Here's a special treat for regular Manteca Live! readers.

Tomorrow morning (Sunday morning, at about 5:46 am) the International Space Station will be passing almost directly over Manteca.

And, you can see it if you go outside and simply look up at the right time! It should look like a blazing star streaking across the sky. They just added another array of solar panels, which should add to the brightness of the station as it passes. You will be one of the first to see the new configuration.

Viewing is not difficult, but you do need to know where and when to look. Go outside around 5:45 am. Then, look toward the South-West, about halfway between the horizon and zenith (straight up). If you are lucky, you should see a bright "thing" suddenly appear. This is one of the unique aspects of this viewing opportunity -- The station will be passing from darkness into light, and it should look like it "just appears" in the sky. On board the station, they are experiencing one of the many daily "sunrises." The station should appear about 5:45:48. An accurate time source is helpful.

The Station is so bright, it's hard to miss. You can refer to the charts for the more information. Good luck!

Manteca dusts off ancient document called "The Constitution"

"As always, the individuals arrested are innocent until proven otherwise."

The Manteca Bulletin suddenly discovered journalistic standards. Evidently, this new rule protects the identity of the accused if: a) It's a minor matter, just some "domestic violence," b) if the victim didn't need to be rushed to the hospital right then and there, and c) if the accused is a member of the police department.

In addition, such stories should be accompanied by a disclaimer explaining the reason for the cover up. After all, no one has been proven guilty of anything, so why should we print any names or pictures of someone simply because they were arrested? No no, the Bulletin never does that! All those front page stories about some guy who arrested for whatever reason that we've been reading for the last few years, including pictures and names -- they are simply figments of your imagination. That never happens.

*cough*

Monday, September 18, 2006

Your tax dollars at work - Manteca buys a hybrid

If you've ever wondered how the government squanders your tax dollars, here's one small example:

Tonight the City Council will decide if they want to buy a new car for the trash collectors. (I'm sorry, the Solid Waste Division, I don't like euphemisms, it makes it sound like there is something wrong with the trash collection service.)

They want to buy a 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid. A hybrid! The standard Ford Escape goes for about $19,320. The hybrid version costs about $26,479. (this is from yahoo auto.)

They list the specs for the regular Ford escape as 24/26 mpg, and for the hybrid version, 36/31. I don't buy into that "city" figure too much. There have been many reports in the press that say that mostly, that "city" figure is not really valid for a hybrid, because the hybrid is sort of tuned to "game the test" and score abnormally high. Which does make sense because of the way hybrids work and the way the test works. (I looked that up a while ago but don't have the data handy right now)

So, lets just consider the highway mileage. Driving for 100,000 miles, the hybrid would use 620 gallons of gasoline less than the regular model. How can that possibly justify spending more than $7,000 more? Just to save 620 gallons? You can figure it out for yourself -- that's a savings of about $1,736 over the whole 100,000 miles. (assuming $2.80/gal). Gasoline would have to be something more than $12.50/gal for the hybrid to "save money" on gasoline.

If you check out that yahoo website and compare the regular version with the hybrid version, you'll see they more or less confirm that the "total cost of ownership" is much higher for the hybrid version, about $37,856 for the regular version and $45,218 for the hybrid!

Again, this makes perfect sense. The hybrid is a complex technology, and expensive to manufacture and repair. In fact those repair costs are something that might be a shock because there isn't that much experience with hybrid.

But someone might argue, the hybrid is "better for the earth!" Isn't that a good enough reason? Well, I'd dispute that and here's why. The price represents the added resources that had to go into the manufacture of the hybrid system. Things like huge batteries, electric motors that convert to generators, a complex drivetrain, etc. All those things use energy to manufacture, and we haven't even gotten into the possible disposal problems with those batteries that are made of toxic metals and other nasty stuff. Just to cut past the technicalities, you can think of the price as a good proxy for the actual resources "from the earth" that the vehicle uses.

So, the fact that it's not "cost effective" is more than just interesting to accountants. The amount the vehicle costs actually represents the added resources used to make the vehicle. In other words, it burns more fossil fuels to make the hybrid than it saves. By that analysis, driving the hybrid harms the earth more than driving the conventional model!

And one more thing, did anyone notice that the great deal Manteca Ford is giving us is a good thousand dollars more than the average MSPR price, according to that yahoo auto website?

We haven't even gotten into why the city needs this extravagant vehicle and what possible mission this vehicle might be needed for, and why a less expensive model wouldn't do?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A nation of wimps?


Yesterday was the 5 year anniversary of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and like many other people, I remember exactly where I was when it occurred...I was sound asleep in my bed. It was still pitch dark outside here in California when the bedroom door opened and a flashlight was pointed at my face. "An airplane crashed into the World Trade Center," said Joe. I half sat up and asked what kind of airplane. He said he didn't know and that I should get some rest and he'd let me know when he found out more information. I laid back down thinking it was probably some small private airplane that had somehow gotten off course. I went back to sleep but a short time later, the bedroom door again opened and again the flashlight in my face woke me up. "A second plane crashed into the World Trade Center and one crashed into the Pentagon, it looks like we're under attack," reported Joe. "You better get up." In September 2001, we worked for CNN.com and this was definitely "breaking news," the stuff we lived for.

As I made my way out of bed to my computer, Joe had a cup of coffee waiting for me. The TVs were on and the CNN.com official chat room was full of people anxious to know what was happening and wanting to talk about it. Like every other dot-com in 2001, CNN's online community had been downsized in recent months and Joe and I along with a handful of staff were the only ones left to handle the crowds that were gathering online. By mid-afternoon, CNN called me and told me to hire back as many staff as I could because they wanted the chat rooms open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for as long as needed. Over the next days and weeks, we got very little sleep. Thousands of people a day from all over the world had a desperate need to talk about what had happened and about the repercussions that ensued, the anthrax scares, the invasion of Afghanistan, the search for Osama Bin Laden, and it was our job to listen to them and record what they had to say.

I no longer work for CNN but I'm still a news and politics junkie, though a jaded one to be sure. I think working for a news giant for 5 years will do that to you. I've seen how the media can put a spin on a story to give it a bias one way or another without obviously appearing to do so, deftly insinuating how we should think about an issue without coming right out and saying it. I've seen them hype one news story over another equally or more important story when they want to downplay something that might otherwise be embarrassing to them. Joe and I call it the "Maybe There'll Be Breaking News Tomorrow" syndrome...but that's a story for another day. TV, radio, newspapers and magazines have tremendous impact on our perception of the world around us and on how we react to things.

As I watched and read the coverage of the memorials to the 9/11 attacks yesterday, I was struck by what a nation of wimps we are. Yes, that's what I said...wimps! Am I the only one who thinks it's unseemly for Americans to be openly weeping about the loss of lives on that day FIVE YEARS after it happened? Whatever happened to the strong American? A picture of strength and courage that comes to mind for me is Jackie Kennedy after President Kennedy was assassinated. I don't believe she or her children ever cried in public. Today she would probably be called some kind of cold-hearted person if she didn't break down for the cameras. Today, instead of showing strength to the world, we show how much we "care" and how deeply we "feel the pain" of others by crying and whining for years about any tragedy that befalls us. We memorialize everything, whether or not it affects us personally. I blame the era of 24-hour cable news channels for this. When you've got 24 hours of airtime to fill and it's a slow news day, life can be a bitch. News media love anniversaries of tragedies, whether it's the 9/11 attacks, the Columbine shootings or the murder of Jon-Benet Ramsey. We're subjected to the tears of those who were there, or who knew someone who was there, or who knew the cousin of someone who knew someone who was there and call it "news." They can fill up hours of programming for days with a good anniversary.

Besides showing the world what wimps we are, I think all this public grieving has a terrible effect on our children. I think it teaches them to be weak, as individuals and as Americans. Death is a fact of life, whether it happens naturally or through an accident or through murder or terrorism. Instead of showing strength in the face of tragedy and adversity, we cry. Instead of celebrating someone's life, we erect morbid "memorials" complete with burning candles and photos on roadsides where someone died in a car crash or in front of the home of someone who was murdered. Total strangers come to these "altars" to cry and be sad and leave little tokens, often with news cameras and reporters there to record it. I'm sorry, but I think that is just too weird. We use the media as a therapist's couch, crying over how devastated we are, telling the world that we don't know how we'll get through this or over that (whatever it is). One news channel yesterday remarked that it was so much more difficult for children who lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks than it was for a child who lost a parent to some other sort of death, so much more to cope with. Do they think a 12 year old whose father died unexpectedly in a car accident is any less devastated than one whose parent died on 9/11? Perhaps it's the endless tears on TV that is keeping the children of 9/11 victims from getting on with their lives.

I don't know, maybe I'm just too cynical.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Officials: The problems is growth; no correct that, the problem is lack of growth

This is from The Record (Stockton).

Here, City Manager Adams admits that if the "growth" were to stop or slow down, that would be bad, we "wouldn't be able to afford things."

This is a direct contradiction of what we've been told until now. We've been told that that "because of all the growth, we need to raise the taxes to keep up!" In other words, that "new growth" was a "burden" to the city. The phrase "keep up with growth" is one we hear all the time. I've long suspected that was nonsense. Now we find out, we've been living off those "developer fees" that we've been told are insufficient to even cover the costs of "new growth!"

I've often suspected that the amounts they decided to charge for "developer fees" was somehow pre-ordained. In other words, they first decide how much they feel like charging as a developer fee, then they play with the numbers to make the "amount" come out right (to what they previously decided they wanted to charge.) For example, look at the recent fight over the "government facility fee." That's a fee charged to all new homes, and it's supposed to pay for "government facilities" that are needed because of the new growth. According to the "development fee" law, the fees are not suppose to be a "way around" the proposition 13 limits, they aren't supposed to be a "stealth tax" used to support other city services.

In order to figure out ("justify") the new developer fees, the law requires that engineers do all sorts of calculations; things like if there is one street light for every two houses, they can charge for the cost of 1/2 a street light for each new house. And they figure out how many feet of new street and new sewer line is needed per house, and they can add that in. The idea is that "growth pays it's own way" -- but that growth isn't supposed to be a bonanza of "bonus money" for the city to do with as it pleases and use for crazy projects and exorbitant raises in pay for government workers, etc.

That term crazy projects makes me think of the latest raise in developer fees. They included the future cost of a performing arts center as something caused by the new growth. In other words, if there are new houses, we will suddenly need a performing arts center. Remember that with developer fees, they are thousands of dollars charged for each new home, the new resident pays these fees, but they are charged now, before they even move in. How do we know that these new residents will have any interest whatsoever in a performing arts center? What I'm saying is that when they were creating the developer fees, they decided on what the fee should be (first), then added things to make the numbers work. Sort of like "these numbers aren't working out... What can we add... I got it, lets add a performing arts center, lets say it costs so many million dollars... There we go, now the math works out."

In theory, according to the way it's "supposed to be figured out," if "growth" were to stop today, it should make absolutely no difference to the city budget. After all, they did all these very careful calculations showing that the fees charged per new house is exactly what is needed for the growth only, and not for the rest of the city.

The fact that the city manager is now moaning about how some city programs might be cut, or someone might not get their raise, if the housing market were to slow down is proof that the calculations are wrong; that the city has been depending on the new houses to fund things for the rest of us.

In other words, when they want to raise the developer fees, we are told how they are so low, they don't even cover anything, they have to be raised (poor, poor us!). And we are told it's because of all that damn growth! There's nothing we can do about it, we can't stop the growth, so we just have to raise the fees and the taxes. Now, suddenly, the tables turn and growth threatens to stop, and now the city is saying "oh no! This is terrible, without that growth, we're doomed, we need that growth to pay for things.

Which is it? Is growth "a burden" that costs us money, or is growth the cash cow that buys us everything? The answer, it seems, is what ever sounds best for whatever political goal they happen to have at the moment.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Shocking news -- group paid by city supports new tax

There should be some sort of disclosure on these things. Like, if you are paid by city or you get tax money, you should have to mention that if you're going to "endorse" a new tax.

Also, notice that every time the new tax is mentioned in the Bulletin, there is always this same "key talking points" in every article.

This is the current drum beat:
  • Now they are talking about 30 new positions. Before it was 15 police and 15 fire, which is the same thing, except that 30 sounds like more.
  • Now the tax is just a tiny little 50 cents for every $100. Sounds like almost nothing! Yet, somehow this will raise $4 million every year.
  • Repeating the same "guarantee" that the general fund support of police and fire does not "slip below" the current level. "In other words no shifting of funds." They leave out any explanation of how anyone can ensure this. The actual text of the measure says it's "the intention" not to "supplant." That's the word it uses. "Intentions" are one thing, guarantees are another!
  • The money would be split evenly (interesting choice of words!) between the police and fire departments. As for why this would be is anyone's guess, since it costs roughly twice as much to run a police dept as a fire dept in the city of Manteca. I guess it just sounds better or "more fair" to say it will go to both evenly, even though it doesn't make sense.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Criminals steal $50 per capita; less than government of Manteca

Ever since I noted that the new Measure M tax will cost every family about $240 per year, or $60 per capita, comparisons are now in style!

I guess $50 a person stolen is a lot. But lets take a closer look at this figure.

First, the figure is a tad high, they are using 63,000 as the population of Manteca, and most sources put the population figure closer to 67,000. That would make the actual per capita loss at $47.72.

Second, contrary to the headline, the article says over half the stolen property is recovered! This would put the actual loss at less than $24.

And this is the year to date, so lets think in terms of per year. $24 /7 *12 = about $41 per year.

Now to be sure, this is a purely economic analysis, and doesn't consider the moral issues of crime. But in terms of pure monetary value, does it make sense to spend another $60 on "crime prevention" when the losses are, at most $41? Before you decide that sounds pretty close, bear in mind: 1) this cost figure of the tax is over and above the hundreds of $'s per year we already pay for police services and 2) in order to see that savings of $41 a year, the Manteca Police Department would have to perform a miracle and completely eliminate all crime. If they reduce crime a little, you might save a dollar or two, who knows.

But remember, this is all predicated on the ability of the police to reduce crime. It sounds simple, but very hard to do. There's yet to be a really good study that proves that "more police" or "better police" have any effect whatsoever on the crime rate. You'll hear things both ways, but it's just hard to prove one way or the other.

For example, look at Stockton. They passed "Measure W" the tax increase to "hire more police, make the community safer, etc." The result? Two years later violent crime is up 13.6% (Figures from The Record (Stockton))

Friday, September 01, 2006

Professor Harold Hill visits Manteca neighbor

(note: Click on the title above to read this article from the Ceres Courier)

This must be a growth industry. This firm apparently travels from city to city telling them "we can get you money!" It reminds me of professor Hill in The Music Man, who told the town "you got trouble!" and of course, he could fix it for the right price.

The method is strikingly similar. L.E.G. comes to town, promises to sell the people on the idea that there is some "crisis." And the only way to fix this manufactured "crisis" is to raise the taxes. And for their services, they get a nice "piece of the action."

Note the following ominous boast of "100 percent win rate." And the term "finance measures" instead of the more accurate term "tax increases."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

smokescreen?

The lawyer quoted in the Sun Post said something to the effect that these anti-tax types often drag out this line from measures and initiatives to produce a "smokescreen."

First of all, I'm happy to be associated with the so called "anti-tax crowd" and I know this lawyer doesn't know me very well. And I fully accept that in political debate today, "smokescreen" is pretty much the order of the day. So the comments aren't unexpected. However, I don't do "smokescreen!" We don't have a "win at any cost" attitude. I figure that if the facts are on the table, the way people vote is the way they vote and that's it.

But regarding the issue at hand, the lawyer claims that "all these laws have similar language" -- nothing unusual here! So I took at look at a few similar measures. I didn't find any that had that kind of "amendment text." However, I should point out I didn't look at a very large sample.

Then this morning, who is on the TV but this guy, Peter Schrag, the author of California: America's High-Stakes Experiment. It was just a 15 minute interview that C-SPAN fits between shows. He was asked about his view of the initiative process. He replied that in his view, they are generally bad because they are ad-hoc lawmaking and can only be changed by another vote, except if they contain provision for their own ammendment, which they rarely do.

Schrag was the editor of the Modesto Bee's opinion page and when asked how long he'd been studying California politics he replied "45 years!" (I think)

Well, if he says these "ammendment provisions" are rare, that's good enough for me. So much for the theory that "these anti-tax types always say that."

Friday, August 25, 2006

Stockton fights crime with propaganda


Others are glad to see the city and Police Department doing something,
regardless of whether it works.

Note that this is the same Stockton that we are being told we should emulate. Stockton passed a special "safety tax" a few years ago. The new tax promised to hire new police officers, etc, etc.

The result? From the same article:

Stockton had the highest violent crime rate in the state ... and is among Central Valley cities with high car theft and robbery rates.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Der Untergang

Since we are just getting started with a new "blog" I figured I should log the events of the day or something.

Today, I got a chance to screen Der Untergang (The Downfall). Are you feeling a little too happy these days? Well this is the movie for you. This is the story told by Traudl Junge. Who is Traudl Junge you ask? Oh, just Hitler's secretary. And this is the uplifting tale of ... let me get this right from the review ... "the Nazi dictator's final days in his Berlin bunker at the end of WWII." O what a joy!

It is good film, if you are into historical details, but be warned that if you do choose to watch it, this is the most depressing movie ever.

The film sort of made me think of what it would be like if there was a camera at one of those closed session meetings of the Manteca City Council. But maybe that's just me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

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