So You Think You Can Govern in 2014

LIVINGSTON CA, 10/30/2014

First issue is to the Council Member Samra and the Mayor Espinoza. It has come to my attention that you both have approached residents of the City questioning their support by having my election signs on their lawn. In addition, both of you accuse me of having bad character: which I’m quoting you as saying I am a gang member. -   Excerpted from Public Comment by Mario Mendoza – City Council Meeting date 10/21/2014

Samra told the Sun-Star he showed the picture to residents in Livingston. “But I never told anyone that Mario is a gang member,” Samra said. “I never brought this up (publicly) because I don’t want people to vote against him, I want them to vote for me.” – Samra said voters will have to decide what the photo means during the Nov. 4 electionPhotograph stirs campaign controversy in Livingston, Merced Sun Star, Rob Parsons, October 25, 2014.

Historically, Livingston City Council elections have been rather sedate. Over the past 15 years or so, however, the campaigns have become filthy and juvenile. – Mike McGuire – Editor of the Livingston Chronicle from 1984-1996

So……… Voters will have to decide what “the photo” means?


I’m invoking a little of The Story Teller’s License as I sit at my laptop and write. This is not an All Inclusive History of Everything That Happened over the Last Few Years. If you look over in the Right Hand Margin of this Blog, you will find plenty of links to loads of information about

  • The Recall, and Water Rates, 

  • The Utility Rates Stakeholders Committee

  • Notices of Violation from the State about the Old Industrial Waste Water Treatment Plant, Arsenic Levels in the Drinking

  • The Water Rate Increase that was finally passed

  • How the City is asking the State for money to help fix several Problems with the Water Delivery System because these Items are not paid for by Water Rates.

  • Allegations of “Favoritism” and Fireworks Booths

  • The allegation that records at the Domestic Waste Water Treatment plant have seemed to vanish into thin air

  • The relationship between Foster Farms and The City

  • And so on

This is just my general Kvetch about the way I see “Politics” playing out every couple of years or so in Livingston.

When I wrote the first “So You Think You Can Govern”, I’d been somewhat of a local political junkie for a couple of years prior to the 2008 Elections and I was concerned about the number of candidates whose faces I hadn’t recalled having seen at City Council meetings (or Planning Commission meetings, or Citizens Advisory Committee meetings when they still had them).

At the time, it was already clear to me that there were sitting Council Members who did not bother to read the material in their Agenda Packets, did not understand the significance of the long term effect of what they were voting on, and/or were just “there” for reasons of their own.

I was also concerned that some of the people seeking to replace them didn’t have a clue as to what they would be getting themselves into. Livingston was going through several changes; had been on the “back end” of at least one very expensive lawsuit; was already enmeshed in a long, drawn out expensive mess of a General Plan Update and had already been through at least one Water Rate Study.

The General Election of 2008 came and went. And although there was a Council Meeting or two where everyone seemed to be willing to hold hands and sing Kumbya, it didn’t take to terribly long thereafter before the Political Cat Fighting began.

Well, the Recall Election of 2010 came and went: Theresa Land (Recall Candidate) displaced Martha Natares as Council Person and Council Person Rodrigo Espinoza, (Recall Candidate), displaced Daniel Varela as Mayor. Warren Urnberg, (Recall Supporter), was appointed as Temporary Council Member until the results of the General Election 0f November were tabulated.

Gurpal Samra, (Recall Proponent), won that “temporarily filled” Council Seat during the General Election in November and Rodrigo Espinoza also kept his seat as Mayor.

And, as before, there were people on the council who clearly didn’t bother to read the material in their Agenda Packets, didn’t really seem to know the difference between a “Commission” and a “Department”; were even more openly hostile towards City Staff,  didn’t seem to know what an Auditor was for; didn’t understand the significance of the long term effect of what they were voting on; and/or were just “there” for God Only Knows what reason of their own.

The Elections of 2012 came and went. Mayor Pro Temp Margarita Aguilar decided not to run again for office. Council Person Frank Vierra, also decided against running for another term on the Council.

During the Campaign of 2012, it became clear that relationships between some of the once Staunch Allies Of The Recall had begun to fray. Council Person Teresa Land, who had campaigned heavily for the Recall and Recall Committee backed candidates, found that she no longer had the support of those she had helped gain office.

Mayor Espinoza, instead, joined forces with Arturo Sacairos.  As Reported in the Merced Sun StarBefore the election, Espinoza released fliers endorsing himself and several other local candidates, including contenders for the Livingston council, city clerk, city treasurer, county supervisor, assembly and congress. Everyone he endorsed won.…….Espinoza put out the flier jointly with Sicairos, who said the flier might’ve helped him win, since a lot of Livingston voters look for guidance around election time”

{Before we go further, let’s take a brief Side Trip to map out a few familial relationships while we are here. 

  • The City Clerk, Tony Silva is City Council Member Arturo Sacairos’, Father-in-law.

  • The City Treasurer, Maria Riberio, is the City Clerk’s Sister}

So three “newcomers” took their places as City Council Members, with Rodrigo Espinoza as Mayor and Gurpal Samra as Mayor Pro Temp. {and with 3 members of the same family holding the positions of City Clerk, City Treasurer, and City Councilperson}

And although most of the current crop of newly Elected Officials haven’t “beaten up” on City Staff quite as much as Previous Council Members did, there ended up being  less “City Staff” to browbeat or blame for the City’s ills. Most of those who had openly suffered the Wrath-of-Council-Members-Past were either replaced, retired, fired, or otherwise laid off due to a “reorganization” dictated by an ever shrinking budget.

Now we come to the General Election of 2014 and it is clear that relationships between the core of the Recall Coalition have fractured even further. Mario Mendoza: Treasurer of the Recall Committee, (and brother to Council Person David Mendoza) is trying to unseat Mayor Pro Temp Gurpal Samra.

And here we are, only a few days away from another General Election and again we have Candidates for Office who have hardly ever shown up for City Council meetings; we are STILL working on that mess of a General Plan that has already cost the taxpayers of the Livingston hundreds of thousands of dollars in Court Fees, Attorney’s fees, Consultant’s Fees, and wasted Staff time.

And although, after the THIRD (?) Water, Garbage, and Sewer Rate Study since 2007: with the 4th Consultant in a row – what was eventually passed has Livingston in the position of begging The State for grants and loans in order to complete most of the needed repairs and upgrades to the City’s wells and water delivery system that need to be done over the next 5 years. 

"Dirty Politics" seems to have become the Norm, not the Exception in Livingston. If you have lived here long enough, you know what I mean. But the issue of “the photo” begs a couple of questions.

First off…What happened to cause Mr. Mendoza, and his supporters, to feel the need to try to oust Mr. Samra from the City Council?

And secondly…..if Mr. Samra “just wants people to vote for him” why walk around with a copy of “the photo” of Mr. Mendoza?

What would be the point? Just to show it to residents of Livingston??????

That doesn’t make sense to me


I said it before, and I’ll say it again now, the Ethical and Effective Council Member of the 21st Century will need to be more than just a person who sits behind a dais and votes “yes or no”. S/he must be able to comprehend, analyze and distinguish between a multitude of competing interests, knowing that all decisions made will have implications for the future.

S/he must recognize that the issues facing Livingston won’t just impact those living within “the City”. There are those outside the City Limits and Sphere of Influence that are as important to the cultural and economic health of Livingston as those who live “inside”.

An ethical and effective Council Person must be fully aware of present needs, and yet have an eye for the future consequences of any and all actions taken, votes cast, and directions given to City Staff in the present. S/he must understand both the “the Time Value of Money” and the “Money Value of Time”: spending both taxpayers dollars, and City Staff time wisely and well.

I have included a partial list of terms any competent council person should be aware of, understand, and able to use in a complete, coherent sentence.

For anyone who REALLY wants to be knowledgeable about how City Government works, I would strongly suggest s/he get out a dictionary, do an Internet Search, or talk to someone at City Hall about any of these terms/concepts s/he may never have heard of before. Granted, it’s only an abbreviated list: an “Introduction to 21st Century City Government 101” so to speak, but at least it would give you an idea of the kinds of stuff you would need to know so you don’t end up sounding like a damn-fool every time you open your mouth .

PRIMARY DRINKING WATER STANDARDS address health concerns. (Things in the water that can make you sick or kill you if you drank enough of it over time)

SECONDARY DRINKING WATER STANDARDS – (things that make the water look and smell yucky, but might not necessarily make you sick or kill you) established to address issues of aesthetics (discoloration), not health concerns. In California secondary MCLs (Maximum Contaminant Levels) are enforceable.

UNREGULATED CONTAMINANTS – Chemicals and stuff which do not yet have a Maximum Contaminant Level. (emphasis on “yet”) There is ongoing testing So the The Environmental Protection Agency can decide whether or not these contaminants occur often enough and at high enough levels to warrant further attention and/or regulation. (In other words, the Government is still debating the science about how much of that stuff will make you sick or kill you over time.)

ARSENIC – : a semi-metal element in the periodic table. It is odorless and tasteless. It enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices.

CHROMIUM – 3 An Essential Trace Mineral, not to be confused with it’s deadlier cousin: Chromium – 6.

CHROMIUM – 6:  Chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, is a naturally occurring metal. It is also used in several industrial processes. Chromium-6 has been known to cause cancer in humans when inhaled. In scientific studies in laboratory animals, chromium-6 has also been linked to cancer when ingested (Think “Erin Brokovich”)

MANGANESE: Manganese is a pinkish-gray, chemically active element. it is one out of three toxic essential trace elements, which means that it is not only necessary for humans to survive, but it is also toxic when too high concentrations are present in a human body. When people do not live up to the recommended daily allowances their health will decrease. But when the uptake is too high health problems will also occur. (Not getting enough? You get sick. Getting “too much”? You get sick)

TCP – 1,2,3:  TCP-containing fumigants were used extensively by farmers in the production of a large variety of crops from the 1950s through the mid-1980s. In California, these fumigants (known by the trade names D-D and Telone) were among the most widely used pesticides in the history of the State, second only to sulfur…. In 1999, 1,2,3-TCP was added to the list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer (Livingston sued Dow Chemical and netted about $9.5 million dollars to put towards removing the TCP from our Drinking Water)

mg/L: Milligrams per liter or Parts Per Million. 

ug/L: Micrograms per liter or Parts Per Billion, (ppb)

Parts per Billion, (ppb) – Imagine 13 drops of ink in one of the largest tanker trucks used to haul gasoline. That would be 13 Parts Per Billion of ink.

MCL: Maximum Contaminant Level – The highest level of a toxic substance allowed in Drinking Water. The Health & Safety Code §116365(a) requires California Department of Public Health to establish a contaminant’s MCL at a level as close to its PUBLIC HEALTH GOAL (PHG) as is technologically and economically feasible, placing primary emphasis on the protection of public health

  • If a toxic substance is higher than the Maximum Contaminant Level using a 4 QUARTER AVERAGE, a water purveyor has to figure out a way of reducing that number down to below the MCL, and/or come up with another source of water to deliver to it’s customers.

  • The Maximum Contaminant Level for Arsenic currently stands at 10 Parts Per Billion

  • We have at least 2 wells that are over the limit of 10 Parts Per Billion and others that are really close to going over that limit.

4 QUARTER AVERAGE: As is this example.

  • If quarterly testing for arsenic at Well A produced the following results in Parts Per Billion: 8.5, 9.9 , 10, 11

  • The 4 Quarter Average would be 9.85 Parts Per Billion.

RANGE: The Lowest and the Highest. Using the Above as our example,

  • The Range would be 8.5 – 11 Parts Per Billion

NOTIFICATION LEVEL – The level at which the State of California says the public needs to be notified about a contaminant in the Drinking Water


  • The Notification Level for TCP – 1,2,3 is 0.005 ug/L ( 0.005 Parts per Billion)

  • I’m not to crazy about decimals. So to “get rid” of the decimal, we move the decimal 3 places to the right and get 5 Parts per Trillion.

  • According to the Report by Kennedy Jenks, a significant number of Livingston’s wells produce water with TCP ABOVE the Notification Level.

Parts per Trillion (ppt):– Imagine 5 drops of detergent in enough dishwater to fill a string of railroad tank cars ten miles long. That would be 5 Parts Per Trillion of detergent.

RESPONSE LEVEL – The level of contamination at which the State of California says a well “should” be removed from service because of a potential threat to Public Health.

  • The RESPONSE LEVEL for TCP – 1,2,3 is 100x the Notification Level (therefore 500 Parts per Trillion).

  • According to the Report by Kennedy Jenks, some of Livingston’s wells produce water with TCP levels ABOVE the Response Level.

PUBLIC HEALTH GOAL –  Concentrations of drinking water contaminants that pose no significant health risk if consumed for a lifetime, based on current risk assessment principles, practices, and methods. (Translation: levels low enough that you should die of old age before any of that stuff would make you really sick or kill you)

1,2,3, TCP Industrial
A-1 Zoning Industrial Wastewater
AB 1234 Infrastructure
Allowed Use Joint Use
Assessed Property Values LAFCO
Audit Light Industrial
Audit Report Litigation
Bank Owned Properties Long-Term Debt Obligations
Benefit Assessment District Low Density Residential
Breach of Contract MAGPI
Brown Act Master Plan
Budget Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL)
California Public Records Act MCAG
Capital Improvements Medium Density Residential
Capital Projects Fund Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
Cash Pool Mitigated Negative Declaration
Centralized Water Treatment Mixed Use
CEQA Modified Accrual Method of Accounting
Citizens Advisory Committee Municipal Code
Citizens Service Committee Notice of Action
City Limits Notice of Violation
City Manager Form of Government Notice of Preparation (NOP)
Closed Session Notification Level
Code Nuisance Abatement
Code Enforcement Officer Obligation Payment Schedule
COLA Open Meetings Law
Commercial Open Session
Commission Open Space Reserve
Common Sense Operating Deficit
Community Operation and Maintenance
Community Commercial Ordinance
Community Development Block Grant Percolation ponds
Community Facilities District Permitted Use
Community Service Planning Commission
Community Values Prevailing Union Wage Law
Community Vision Primary Drinking Water Standards
Confidentiality Proposition 218 Hearing
Conflict of Interest Public Comments
Consent Calendar Public Document Request
Constituent Qualified Audit Opinion
Contract Quorum
Cooperation Recusal
Department Redevelopment Area
Development Impact Fees Reflective Listening
Detection Level Regional Sewage Treatment Facility
Domestic Wastewater Response to the Grand Jury
Easements Restricted Fund
Education Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF) Retainer
Enterprise Zone Revenue
Environmentally Superior Alternative Revenue Sharing
Errors and Omissions right-of-way
Excused Absence Secondary Drinking Water Standards
Expenditure Serial Meeting
Fiduciary Funds Shared Use
Fiduciary Responsibility Site Design Review
Fiscal Impact Special Planning Area
Fiscal Year Special Revenue Fund
Fixed Assets Sphere of Influence
Form 700 Strike expense
Fund Successor Agency to the Redevelopment Agency
Fund Balance Tax Sharing Agreement
General Fund The Illegal 42′ Sewer Pipe
General Plan Triple flip
Generally Accepted Accounting Principals (GAAP) Union
Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Unqualified Audit Opinion
Government Code Unrestricted Fund
Grand Jury Report Urban Reserve
Grievance Warrant Register
Hearing Wellhead Treatment
Heritage Tree Ordinance Work in Lieu
High Density Residential Workers Compensation
Highway Commercial

One last thing. Please Mr./Ms. Council People of the future: when you do speak, please finish your first sentence before beginning a totally different one. Trying to follow some of the rambling trains of thought I hear regularly at Council Meetings gives me a headache.

Thank You.


Author: thegardeningsnail

Local Politics fanatic. Often spending hours researching the historical background to current issues; reading through City Council and Planning Commission Agenda Packets. Some people can spend hours playing online video games. I can spend hours looking up old newspaper articles online..... One of my favorites quotes is from the "Dune Saga"..."Belief can be manipulated. Knowledge is dangerous"

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