Wednesday, January 28, 2009

3% not 8%

The Manteca Bulletin misleads with the headline "8 % pay cut for all school workers." The actual "pay cut" is 3 percent. The other 5 percent is a cut back in the length of the school year from 180 to 170 days. That is two weeks less pay for two weeks less work -- that is not a cut in the rate of pay, the true measure.

Two weeks less work means they can start their summer job two weeks early, or do some other project two weeks longer. Or, they can vacation two weeks longer. It's not fair to call that a "pay cut" any more than if you buy a gallon of milk for $4 and the next day you buy a half gallon of milk for $2. Would you say "they are selling milk for half price?" (no!)

The union leaders love to take advantage of that ambiguity between "pay" and "rate of pay" and try to get sympathy by exaggerating their "suffering." The Manteca Bulletin should either start talking to both sides of the issue or open a book on economics.

p.s. I almost forgot. They call the "black arm bands" a mark of "solidarity" and the press repeats this. No, it's not a mark of bullying or intimidation... it's "solidarity." You know, they are all sticking together to "help you" by providing less education and to "help" their own members by getting by demanding some of them be fired.

Right: Armband thrown in trash by wearer shortly after proclaiming they were all wearing the armbands "in solidarity."

Are we living in a Randian dystopia?

I found this a pretty fascinating insight into the current "economic problems." They are discussing an essay in the Wall Street Journal that compared the current world to the world parodied by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Keep Lathrop High School open

The Manteca Unified School District will be meeting on Tuesday night to make more cuts to the budget. They're down to the last "hard choices" which include across the board salary cuts for teachers and workers, eliminating bus transportation for students who live outside walking distance and closing Lathrop High School. Dennis Wyatt's opinion piece in January 24's Manteca Bulletin calls for the closing of Lathrop's newly opened high school.
I have grandchildren who attend Manteca schools and the budget cuts have been a big topic of discussion with the oldest, a student at East Union. It's very interesting to hear what the scuttlebutt is on campus from an actual student. We heard that "everyone," including students and teachers, was relieved that Senior Projects were given the ax. We heard that many students are upset with the prospect of school buses being discontinued or being charged for transportation to school...that seems to be a big issue. Eliminating elective and AP courses also is not popular with the kids.

In Wyatt's piece, he thinks that rather than ask any MUSD employees to defer raises or take a cut in pay or hours, the district should close Lathrop High School. He seems to place a lot of blame for opening it prematurely on acting superintendent Jason Messer, though I don't know if that's fair. A couple of years ago we kept hearing how all the schools were becoming overcrowded and there were even signs posted on some elementary school office doors warning that your child might not be able to attend that school because of overcrowding, so register early. The "irrational exuberance" that fueled the housing bubble and all the new people expected to pour into the area extended to the school district and they scrambled to make sure they could accommodate all the new students they expected.

The schools seem to be run not for the benefit of the students, but for the benefit of the unions that most school district employees belong to. Photos from the last school board meeting published here and in the Sun Post showed a sea of blue union shirts dominating the landscape, all there to protest any reductions in raises, salaries, hours or positions that might be considered. Many of them looked angry and scary with scowling faces and crossed arms. To hell with the kids...the employees come first. Wyatt even says, "Employees are covered by negotiated contracts. What they may give up in actual pay — or negotiated raises — now has to be restored and repaid at some point. " Is he saying that they're such bullies that we might as well give them what they want now because they'll just get it anyway sooner or later?
He also says that reducing pay or raises will severely affect the teachers' and employees' morale and that in turn will make them less effective. What about the students' morale? How does cutting education and activities affect their learning or their ability to graduate? Something like 85% of the school budget goes towards personnel. Now they want to take even more of the budget for salaries and at the expense of making the STUDENTS give up more things that help make high school bearable and even enjoyable. California teachers are the highest paid in the nation,* despite the hype you hear about how underpaid they are.
Don't close Lathrop High School. What a morale crusher that will be to the students there. Remember that the school district exists to provide education to over 22,000 students in its care, not to keep union members employed. Do the right thing.
*From Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2007 by the American Federation of Teachers: "For the second consecutive year, California had the highest average teacher salary in 2006-07 at $63,640 or about 25% above the national average."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Nice "landscaping."

It's a good thing Manteca has that requirement (I mean "standard") that all the car dealers have to have "landscaping."   Where else would you showcase your product?

Shown: Corner of Union & Yosemite, Manteca, California.

Friday, January 23, 2009

GOP needs to return to its roots

I attended the South San Joaquin Republicans meeting at Chez Shari Restaurant in Manteca a couple of weeks ago. I should have written something about it sooner, because it's becoming a dim memory but I'm not a winter person. Cold, dreary, dark days make me want to hibernate until spring comes and this meeting didn't raise my spirits any. I've been to a few of the SSJR meetings in the past and there's usually a pretty good turnout but this one seemed sparsely attended. Maybe all the Republicans were depressed over Obama's win.

I'm a registered Republican though I feel like an outsider at GOP functions. I'm on the libertarian side of conservatism and have been totally disillusioned with the Republicans for a long time. The party of "smaller government" has become almost indistinguishable from the Democrats. Both spend taxpayer money on an ever expanding insatiable government and there's no end in sight. Freedom is an endangered species in the United States with both sides favoring taking away rights. There are two major issues that polarize both parties and are the only real areas where the parties differ: Gay marriage and abortion. Two areas that government should not be involved in at all because both are moral and religious issues.

Frank Aquila, president of the SSJR, puts a lot of work into organizing these meetings and is a good soldier for the party. He had quite a line-up of guests for this month's meeting, but some bailed on him and no-showed, including newly elected state assemblyman Bill Berryhill who sent a young aide to fill in to thank volunteers who worked on GOP campaigns in 2008. Most of the speakers spouted the party line about Bush's "war on terror," no gay marriage and no abortion and how successful they'd been in putting out "our values" and that we must never stop, blah, blah, blah, blah. I zone out and start wondering when it will ever end.

One young man, Adam Ellison of Pacific College Republicans, spoke about his efforts at UOP to register Republicans and crusade against gay marriage. He recounted fun college antics of tearing each others Prop 8 posters down and seemed fixated on gay marriage as if that was the only thing Republicans care about. If he really wants to make a difference and entice young people to consider voting Republican, he should focus on things like smaller government, less taxes and less government intrusion into our lives. By focusing on gay marriage and abortion, the GOP is seen as the party of repressiveness and religious zealotry and drives away more young people than it attracts.

I was impressed by two speakers, former congressman Richard Pombo (whom I've heard speak before) and newly elected Stockton councilman Dale Fritchen. Neither talked about abortion or gay marriage though "values" may have been mentioned once. Pombo, who was defeated by Jerry McNerny two years ago, talked about how important it is to get out and meet the people in your district and how that made a difference in getting him elected to office when he was young and unknown. He had good advice for anyone thinking about running for public office. Fritchen spoke about what the party really stands for and offered quiet strength and inspiration to continue on despite the losses. I wish him luck in what has to be a tough job...representing south Stockton, one of the poorest areas of the city and the county.

The SSJR is planning "A Tribute to our Gold Star Families" on May 15, 2009 with a special dinner honoring families who have lost a loved one in the war. If you're interested in attending, you can contact Frank Aquila by email at

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Where are you on the political spectrum?

If you've ever wondered where you really stand on the political spectrum, you can find out by taking The Politics Test. I picked this quiz because it's impartial and at the end it will pretty much accurately peg your location on the chart.

If you doubt the results of that test, you can try The Political Compass test. This one is very similar though questions are different and it's an international organization. There's a nifty certificate with cartoon drawings of politicians, world leaders, economists and historical figures and their location on the spectrum with your location highlighted and your name on the certificate available. A couple of years ago you could print it out for free, but now I see they want money for it. This one can also be taken en EspaƱol.
If you missed the civics quiz, you can still take it here and post your results on our poll.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Special interests pack school board meeting.

The teachers and school union workers packed the school board meeting to make sure that your child gets charged for things you probably believe you already paid for and gets less education.
The teachers and union refused to take a cut in pay or in their car allowances this year. They are even still demanding, so far, that their pay be raised this year! To make up for their demands for raises, they insist that your child pay an extra fee of $153 to play sports (on top of all other expenses), eliminated the guidance counselors, senior projects, and demanded an extra $20 payment for the bus to "science camp."
Look at the number in that room (and the shirts)! And the surprising thing is that very few were traditional "parents" or other "stakeholders." Most were workers, employees, union members there trying to protect their jobs. They knew about the meeting but the general public really wasn't given much of an opportunity to express their opinions.
For example, the agenda item simply said: 1. Consider Budget Presentation. That's all. It should have said "1. Consider budget cuts." That would have been clear. In theory they weren't even authorized to do any cuts. They were only authorized to consider a presentation. It's a Brown Act thing. But it's also a slap in the face to the public.
You might think that's nitpicking, but look at the other agenda items. They can be clear when they want to be. The other items are things like consider the process to be used for the selection of a district superintendent and Recognition of district spelling bee winners -- perfectly clear English.

From the photo, does it look like there's not much interest in school board meetings? That was the reason they decided they don't need to televise the meetings on cable TV or even make a video. No one really cares, they said. No, they don't want people seeing what they are cutting and why -- and last night's meeting was perfect proof of that.

Police seize video from party fight

Today's Manteca Bulletin has the story of an off-duty police officer and his son who were involved in a fight at a party over the weekend that resulted in at least one person being sent to the hospital. No one was arrested and the names of the officer and his son were not divulged. It's one of the most read Bulletin stories online today and there are a lot of comments from readers.

The details about what kind of party it was and what the fight was about are sketchy but what interests me most is what happened after police were called. Apparently someone had a camcorder or a cell phone with video capability and took video of the fight. He was ordered to cease taking video and the camera/cell phone was confiscated by police as "evidence." There was no arrest made and according the police, no formal "complaint" made, so why is the camera/cell phone evidence? The kid asked if he could download the video before they took it, but his request was denied. He was told that the video was going to be downloaded by the police and the device returned to him with everything intact. He tried to get it back Monday, but was told it was still being held as "evidence."

I have some personal experience with property being confiscated by Manteca police...twice. Manteca Live has been photographing the city of Manteca for years. One time, the police decided they didn't like what we were taking pictures of so they confiscated our camera and held it as "evidence." It took us a full year and an attorney to get that camera back. The second time they didn't take the camera, but they took the expensive mini hard drive out of it and we never got it back and it's been about 4 years now.

The text of the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The police in Manteca must think the "seizure" part doesn't apply to them.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Test your civics savvy

If you're interested in government (and if you're reading this blog I think you are), then test your knowledge of how our government is supposed to work. Take the multiple choice "Civics Quiz" by Intercollegiate Studies Institute. It'll probably take you about 10 minutes to complete. Seventy-one percent of Americans fail the test, with an overall average score of 49% ... an F.

ISI published the "Civic Literacy Report," a scientific survey of civic learning among college students from 2006-2007. ISI poses the question "Do Americans possess the knowledge necessary to participate wisely in the affairs of the nation?" The answers are disturbing.

Council / staff plot in all day session

The Manteca City Council met with city government "staff" in a marathon meeting on Thursday. Here we learned of the plight of the economy, how the city refuses to cut spending and hopes to convince people to raise their taxes.

Mystery 1: Why was this meeting held at the "Godfather Room" at Chez Shari and not at the council chambers? The room wasn't any bigger or had better AV equipment.

Who made the seating arrangement I wonder. If you notice, the council was staggered around the table with city bureaucrats between them. I wonder if this was the create the psychological impression that the council members were "part of the team" (instead of their proper role as the representatives of public oversight of "the team.")

The meeting started at 0830 and as you can see there was a small spread of coffee and bagels and little donuts but nothing too extravagant. (They could have done the same thing at city hall.) I didn't get to see the exact lunch arrangement as the public wasn't invited (hmm!) but it looked like some kind of sandwich / buffet thing.

The chairs they "provided" to the press and public felt like they had spikes in them. The staff and council sat in plush cushioned chairs. As you can see the room was arranged somewhat like the war room in Dr. Strangelove, including a Big Board.

Nevertheless, enduring the torturous chairs paid off with a deeper knowledge of how city government works. Here's what I learned:

The government seems to exist for its own sake and for its own survival. There was no talk of any program that would improve the lives of ordinary people; each department head discussed how they were going to struggle to keep their own fiefdom fully funded.

The police and fire have agreed to taking two weeks off "to save money." However are still giving themselves a 4 or 6 percent "COLA" raise in pay, which is more than the amount saved by the furloughs! In other words, they will take an extra two week vacation, tell us that's "saving money" even though it costs more this year! (The furlough "saves" about 3.8 percent and their raises are 6 percent.)

No one asked how the "cost of living" for one group was four percent but for the other group it was six percent.

The "cutbacks" talked about by the police and fire chief, considering the extraordinarily generous funding of "measure M/ public safety sales tax" was appalling. They talked about not responding to home burglaries because their were "many false alarms" -- even though by his own figures about 52 times last year the home burglary alarm was not a false alarm. But evidently the police can't be bothered with trivialities such as protecting the homes of the citizenry. The fire chief talked about cutting back on some medical services and cancelling the public CPR training.

To be honest I couldn't even listen to what the police or fire chief was saying once they started yammering about "cutbacks." This talk was so disgraceful after all they had promised if we passed "measure M" that it was an outrage.

Finance Director Suzanne Mallory read a long "doom and gloom" forecast in the morning. In the afternoon she told us this time last year about 250 homes had gotten "48 hour notices" (notices to shut off utilities for lack of payment). She said that in general about half of those would be cleared before actual shut off, so that would be about 125 or so that would actually be shut off. She said that this year, there are 1,000 or so 48 hour notices, and assuming that same fix rate over 48 hours they are expecting about 500 shut offs.

She further explained how you can't pay on line "because we don't know the exact amount" and the office is plagued by an antiquated telephone system that only has five lines. And if you're caller six you just get a ringing with no answer. So it's "very difficult" for someone who gets a 48 hour shut off notice to fix the problem. (As for why they can't figure out the exact amount they need to pay when they send out the 48 hour notice I have no idea.)

The next bombshell was dropped by City Manager Pinkerton. He whined how other cities "the same size as Manteca" collect so much more in taxes. For example, he said Pleasonton is about the same size as Manteca but it collects about twice as much in taxes per person. And even more so with San Francisco. Therefore, he suggested, Manteca should add a new "utility tax." He figured that the rate could be anywhere from 1 to 11% and we should set the rate so that they extract about another $100 to $200 per family.

A quick summary of the reaction of the Council:
Mayor Weatherford: Fantastic idea!
Debrum: Champion!
Harris: Not so fast, need more cuts first.
Hernandez: Maybe. "Neutral"
Moorhead: "I'm just taking it all in!" (later expressed reservations?)

By the way bringing this subject up and polling the council without any of this being on the agenda is illegal as hell but it's futile to complain. It's probably better that we know where they stand.

Rounding out the day was the "planning guy" -- the single department most responsible for poverty in the City of Manteca. He explained how in his unquestionable judgment the "business park" he pointed to on the map wasn't a good idea and he told the planners to "stop working on it" and then explained how this wondrous "Centerpoint" project was the greatest thing since the invention of the cow.

At about this point I was expecting a guy in a wheelchair and one black glove to roll in and address them as mein fuhrer. Overall, a horrifying day.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dhaliwal nixes Lathrop logistics center

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's despite the doom and gloom in the news. Celebrations seemed subdued this season compared to most years...not as many brightly lit decorated houses, no big holiday parties for employees at businesses that used to go all out at Christmas, people getting a pink slip instead of a bonus from their employers. Reality is setting in after a decade of living high off credit cards, inflated salaries and bloated home prices. It had to end sometime. The housing crash seemed like such a surprise to everyone. Didn't anyone think it was crazy to have homes in Manteca and Lathrop selling for over half a million dollars when the average salary in Manteca is $36K and the median household income is less than $50K? California, as usual, is facing huge budget deficits at the state and local levels and there's talk of raising taxes and fees everywhere.

I heard on the radio that Governor Schwarzenegger wants to help California's economy by lifting some onerous restrictions that make doing business in the state almost impossible. We see examples of just how "business unfriendly" California is everyday in our own back yards. In Manteca, a small used car dealership is fighting against the city's mandate that the owner plant 10% of his property with trees and other landscaping. The issue was appealed at Tuesday's Manteca City Council Meeting and the council decided not to take any action yet. A few months ago, another business owner had his dreams of a custom hand-car wash dashed because neighbors and the council just didn't like it or the location and he was denied a permit.

In Lathrop, Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal is saying NO to Gordon Trucking's proposal to build a new logistics center on Harlan Road. He claims there are too many trucks in Lathrop now and why should they give sewer capacity to them when they could bring in two Country Kitchen restaurants instead. Huh? He doesn't want Lathrop to turn into "Truck Town." Does this sound like reasonable decision-making? How is turning away a company like Gordon Trucking helping Lathrop? What do you think employees at restaurants make? Minimum wage if they're lucky. For all the big talk about bringing in "jobs" that Lathrop and Manteca do, the jobs they're really talking about bringing in are retail and service jobs that don't pay high wages but fill the cities' coffers with sales tax revenue.

Until government leaders get their heads out of their asses and realize that they are not helping their communities by concentrating on retail businesses and restaurants, places like Manteca and Lathrop will continue to be bedroom communities where folks have to commute over the hill for decent paying jobs...unless of course they have a government job.