Arsenic, TCP and Salmonella; Lawsuits and Politics; A Look Back at 2014 and A City Council Agenda

LIVINGSTON CALIFORNIA – 2/01/2015

A Livingston public works employees union recently questioned the mayor’s friendly relationship with Mendoza, in addition to accusing Mendoza of harassment.– Espinoza, however, said his friendship with Mendoza had nothing to do with him getting invited to China. “We’ve been friends, and we talk once in a while, but that didn’t play a part,” the mayor said. from Livingston council questioned over China trip – Ramona – Merced Sun Star – 12/03/2014

“There is an urgent need to have Well 16 back on-line in the near future to meet the City’s water demands that will likely increase in the Spring and Summer.” From STAFF REPORT -  Resolution Approving an Agreement with Shannon Pump for Sampling and Repairs to Well 16, Making Findings Supporting that Award of Such Agreement is Exempt from Competitive Bidding Requirements and Authorizing the City Manager to Execute the Agreement. MEETING DATE: February 18, 2014

Approximately 18,267 sq. ft of land is needed to locate the treatment facilities at the existing Well No. 8. The adjacent property (APN 024-020-023 and 029) is owned by Foster Farms.  From  STAFF REPORT  AGENDA ITEM: Resolution Authorizing the Purchase of Land Needed for the Installation of Water Treatment Facilities at the City Water Supply Well No. 8, Approval of the Appraisal Report Prepared by The Thomas Wilkins Company, and Authorizing the City Manager to Execute the Agreement with Foster Farms for the Purchase of the Land.  MEETING DATE: May 21, 2013

One of the city’s largest water wells previously plagued by a major contaminant now runs with a new filtration system, city officials announced this week…….The upgraded well, located on Livingston Cressey Road, near the Foster Farms plant, was chosen because water drawn from it contains high levels of TCP contamination, said Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra…. The well pumps 1,200 gallons of water per minute to the city, with the majority used by Foster Farms. Livingston water well receives $2.3 million filter system – Ramona Giwargis – The Merced Sun Star – 12/30/2014

Without Livingston, there is no Foster Farms, and without Foster Farms, there is no Livingston. Those were the words of Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra as he explained the company’s impact on the city. Samra joined Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza and Councilman Arturo Sicairos in presenting Foster Farms CEO Ron Foster with a commemorative key to the city Tuesday night. From Livingston city officials present Foster Farms with key to city – Ramona Giwargis – Modesto Bee -07/16/2014

This is not an all inclusive discussion of everything that happened in Livingston during 2014. It is only a brief look at what I consider some of the more significant historical and political happenings in the City of Livingston.

preparing-to-take-down-the-marqueeCOURT THEATER IS DEMOLISHED – Another sad chapter in Livingston’s History has ended with the destruction of the Court Theater.  In 2001, the City had purchased the Court Theater with the high hopes of restoring the Theater and transforming it into a Cultural Arts Center . In 2005, the City received a Community Development Block Grant: which it used to complete Architectural Drawings in 2008.

But between trouble getting enough additional financing, accusations in 2010 that Police and Fire Department budgets were cut to finance the project, and the deterioration of the relationship between City Council Members, the Court Theater Committee in 2011, it became pretty clear the Court Theater Project was doomed.

The City was able to salvage some of the Grant Money it had received by getting permission from the State to use these funds for improvements at Gallo Park.

The City also made attempts to save the Theater’s Marquee, Ticket Booth, and Sign.

WITHOUT LIVINGSTON, THERE IS NO FOSTER FARMS, AND WITHOUT FOSTER, THERE IS NO LIVINGSTON – In a previous post, I talked about the Symbiotic and Sometimes Dysfunctional Relationship between Foster Farms and the City of Livingston. Since Foster Farms is the largest consumer of water in Livingston: using at up to 66% of the water produced from Livingston’s wells, it can’t help but have a large influence on the size and condition of Livingston’s Water Delivery System.

Most of you remember that 2013 ended with Foster Farms coming under intense scrutiny due to an outbreak of antibiotic resistant Salmonella. This continued into 2014 as Livingston braced for fallout from an idled Foster Farms .  Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro reacted to the closing of the plant due to roaches as “long overdue.”: pushing for action against the company. Three days after federal inspectors shut it down Foster Farms got the OK to reopen plant only to shut it down again a day after reopening in order to expand safety procedures.

As the number sickened by salmonella outbreak rose to 430, according to government reports Foster Farms reopened the plant after a 10-day closure. And while Salmonella cases continued to grow, Foster Farms noted progress with it’s safety and prevention efforts

By April salmonella cases linked to Foster Farms, were reported to have grown to 524 people in 25 states and Puerto Rico.

May 2014 brought a couple of interesting developments. In Virginia, Foster Farms, in conjunction with Marketing & Planning Specialists LP, filed a federal lawsuit claiming the EPA improperly applied the Clean Water Act on land they wish to develop. In California, Foster Farms blamed and sued its exterminator for cockroaches.

The Months of June saw Foster Farms celebrating its 75th anniversary.  Meanwhile, in Congress, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill called the Pathogens Reduction and Testing Reform Act: which would require the USDA to recall meat, poultry and egg products contaminated by pathogens that cause serious illnesses or death and that are also resistant to two or more classes of antibiotics commonly used to treat human illnesses

In July, Foster Farms received the Key To The City of Livingston from Livingston’s Officials;  issued its first voluntary chicken recall since 2013 salmonella outbreak ; updated the recall to include additional "use or freeze by" and "best by" dates; and sued its insurance companies for recall reimbursement in ‘cockroach infestation’ “arguing that the forced closure of a plant earlier this year by the government and subsequent destruction of chicken amounted to a recall”.

By July 31, The Center for Disease Control said the salmonella outbreak appeared to be over. In September Foster Farms recalled chicken from Louisiana due to possible contamination by Listeria.

In October Ron Foster announced he would step down as Foster Farms President and CEO.

In November, a billboard scrutinizing Foster Farms was set up: an indication that Foster Farms still has a ways to go before things settle down to “business as usual.”

WITHOUT LIVINGSTON’S WATER, WHAT WOULD BECOME OF FOSTER FARMS?

Impact on Foster Farms

Without the “low cost” water coming from Livingston’s wells, there would be no Foster Farms as we know it today. I’ve already mentioned the Symbiotic and Sometimes Dysfunctional Relationship between Foster Farms and the City of Livingston and how Foster Farms is the largest consumer of Livingston’s water.

In 2014, The City of Livingston purchased land from Foster Farms, in order to have enough room to install a TCP Filtration system on a well that sends most of it’s water to Foster Farms. 

I have also noted that, in the long run, Foster Farms would need to address an issue much larger than cockroaches and salmonella: that of having enough water that meets State and Federal Drinking Water Standards.

It is no secret, to those who have been paying attention, that Livingston’s Water Delivery system has been degrading over time. Arsenic levels have been rising and Foster Farms had to shut down at least 1 shift in February 2013 due to problems with water quality

In December, 2013, California River Watch served the City of Livingston with a 60-Day Notice of Violations and Intent to File Suit alleging various violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. This was followed up with a Complaint against the City in the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, Case No. 1:14-CV-00437-AWI-MJS. In June 12, 2014, this was followed by a 90-Day Notice of Violations and Intent to File Suit alleging various violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. 

A Settlement Agreement and Release was signed in September 2014. Some of the agreed upon actions to be taken by the City include:

  • Well 13Install and operate wellhead treatment for Arsenic at Well No. 13 no later than June 1, 2016.

  • Continue monitoring for Arsenic at Well No. 13 consistent with federal Safe Drinking Water Act and California Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.

  • Well 8-9(b) Install and operate wellhead treatment for 1,2,3 Trichloropropane (“TCP”) at Well No. 8 no later than January 1, 2015.

  • Within six (6) months after the Effective Date of the Agreement, post on its website information regarding the City’s efforts to address TCP in drinking water.

  • on a semi-annual basis, provide inserts in its utility bills that provide information on efforts to address TCP.

  • update its website and the utility bill inserts, as needed, to reflect current
    information.

In January, Governor Brown had declared a drought emergency, and urged residents to reduce water consumption by 20 percent

Shortly thereafter, the Livingston City Council voted to ban outside watering on certain days of the week. “City leaders said the plan has been in the works the past few years, but was given a new sense of urgency after the governor declared a drought on Friday.”

Well 16In February, the Livingston council approved an urgent contract for repairs at Well #16 

In April, the City Council voted to begin the Proposition 218 Process for Water rate increase. Notices about Livingston rate increases went out the following Friday .  Meetings were held at which the new Rate Structure was discussed

In June the Livingston council approved utility rate increases and also approved a contract for emergency repairs to a damaged main pipe at the wastewater treatment plant . It should be noted that the Water Rate Increases adopted by the City of Livingston assume that Grants and Low/No Interest Loans from the State Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund will fund the majority of Repairs/Upgrades to Livingston’s Wells and Water Delivery System over the next 5 years: any loans to be paid back over the next 20 to 30 years.

In September, the City received a Notice of Violation from the Water Board regarding the Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plant for not meeting certain testing and reporting requirements.

Well 8-9Well 11 - 15In November, there was discussion about wells #11 and #9 having been taken offline because of sand causing problems with Foster Farms: overwhelming their filters.

By the end of December, the TCP Filtration System on Well #8 was up and running; and the City Council approved the purchase of Arsenic Filtration equipment to be eventually installed on Well #13. As I mentioned earlier, installing filtration on both of these wells was covered in the Settlement Agreement between the City of Livingston and California River Watch.

BUDGETS,  CONCESSIONS, AND DEFICITS

Although the 2013/2014 Fiscal Year began back in JULY 2013, the Budget for that year wasn’t adopted until March 2014. This budget included salary reductions and other concessions from employees

The 2014/2015 Fiscal Year was barely over in June before the Budget for the Next Year Fiscal year was predicted to be $146,000 in the hole. Employees were again asked for a 7 percent pay cut: which was rejected.

In JULY a Memorandum of Understanding and a Side Letter Concessions Agreement between the City of Livingston and the City of Livingston Management and Confidential Employees Association was adopted. Terms included:

  • One furlough day per month

  • 1% pay decrease effective July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015

  • $100 per month medical contribution per member

  • freezing 40 hours of vacation cash outs.

In August, the City Council adopted a budget which included a deficit of $44,000. The Council also considered the topic of planning fee increases. The leader of the Public Works Employees union expressed frustration over the way labor negotiations were being handled

A Resolution Approving a Successor Memorandum of Understanding Between the City of Livingston and the Livingston Police Officers’ Association (LPOA) OE3 Unit for the Period of January 1, 2015 through June 30, 2015 was approved in December of 2014.

A Memorandum of Understanding for the AFSCME Public Works and Parks Employees Unit for the period July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015 was not approved until January 2015 and included one (l) furlough per month, freezing 20 hours of vacation cash­ outs effective July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015 and contributions of $75 per month towards medical insurance premiums.

MAYOR’S TERMS, “POLITICS”, FIREWORKS, AND “FAVORITISM”

IN JANUARY, the Livingston City Council approved a ballot measure which would EXTEND THE MAYOR’S TERM of office from two years to four: in order to maintain “institutional knowledge” on the council according to Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra, who had placed this item on the Agenda.

A previous ballot measure in 2006, Measure C, had asked Livingston voters if they wanted their mayors to have a two year or a four-year term. By about 66 of the vote, the term for mayor was limited to two-years. In 2006, voters said “no” to a 4-year term for mayor. Voters said “no” again in 2014. Voters said “no” again in 2014

IN JANUARY, The Council also discussed changing the way Fireworks Booth Permits were distributed by the city. Directions given to Staff was to include language in an Ordinance that would allow the City Council the ability to award the “COUNCIL’S CHOICE” to the Livingston Youth Football Organization for (2) CONSECUTIVE YEARS.  According to Youth Football Coach and City Council member Jim Soria, he had placed the Item on the January 21, City Council Agenda. According to Council Member Soria, the recent death of Mike Coronado created a Special Circumstance which justified giving Youth Football priority other non-profit organizations.

There was another discussion of the proposed Ordinance on February 18, and March 04: along with a fair share of criticism, replete with allegations of favoritism.

The actual Issuance of Permits to Sell Safe and Sane Fireworks took place on April 15th. Although Mayor Pro-Tem Samra made a motion to put all applications in a lottery,  Council Member Jim Soria’s “push to award a fireworks stand to a nonprofit for which he volunteers proved successful” by a 2-1 vote.

Allegations of “favoritism” was not limited out to just the handing out of Fireworks Booth Permits.  One of Livingston’s unions alleged acts  sexual harassment were committed by the City’s Public Works Supervisor.   “the union began receiving numerous complaints about his leadership, leading to a vote of no confidence signed by 11 employees in May” in addition to (allegations that) “Mendoza has an inappropriate relationship with Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza, allowing the mayor to have preferential treatment on projects related to his property.”

And although Mayor Espinoza claimed favoritism was not a factor when he picked who would travel with him to China , it couldn’t prevent questions from being raised. Public Works Supervisor Ruben Mendoza also went on the trip: in addition to Council Member Jim Soria, and City Manager Jose Ramirez. According to the Mayor Espinoza “I got invited through a friend and former mayor of Lathrop,” and was asked to invite 10 other people.

2014 WAS AN ELECTION YEAR with two seats “up for grabs” on the City Council, and also had it’s fair share of controversy.  A photograph circulated by Mayor Pro-Temp Gurpal Samra elicited claims of “dirty politics” and slander by by his opponent: Planning Commissioner Mario Mendoza. 

THE CITY MANAGER ANNOUNCED HIS INTENTION TO RESIGN during a Special City Council Meeting in DECEMBER. According to the City Attorney, the Report out of Closed Session, as stated by the City Attorney, was as follows:

Tonight in Closed Session, the City Manager informed the City Council that he is resigning from his employment with the City.  Mr. Ramirez has elected to resign to pursue personal and professional opportunities outside of the region.

The City Council on a vote of 4-0-1 (Council Member Mendoza was not present) has accepted the City Manager’s resignation and has agreed to waive the 60 days’ notice provision in the City Manager’s contract. 

The City Manager’s last day of employment with the City will be January 31st

Mr. Ramirez has expressed his willingness to continue to assist the City with current projects and to assist in the City’s transition to a new City Manager.  The City will be working with Mr. Ramirez to accomplish this

And now, on to the

CITY COUNCIL REGULAR MEETING AGENDA

FEBRUARY 3, 2015

CLOSED SESSION: 6:00 P.M.

OPEN SESSION: 7:00 P.M.

Notice is hereby given that the City Council will hold a Regular Meeting on February 3, 2015, at the City Council Chambers, 1416 C Street, Livingston, California. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance should contact the Deputy City Clerk at least 24 hours prior to this meeting at (209) 394-8041, Ext. 121. Any writings or documents pertaining to an Open Session item provided to a majority of the members of the legislative body less than 72 hours prior to the meeting shall be made available for public inspection at Livingston City Hall, 1416 C Street. The Open Session will begin at 7:00 p.m. The Closed Session will be held in accordance with state law prior to the Open Session beginning at 6:00 p.m. The Closed Session will be held at the City Council Chambers located at 1416 C Street. The agenda shall be as follows:

Closed Session

1. Call to Order.

2. Roll Call.

CLOSED SESSION

A “Closed” or “Executive” Session of the City Council or the Livingston Redevelopment Agency may be held in accordance with state law which may include, but is not limited to, the following types of items: personnel matters, labor negotiations, security matters, providing instructions to real property negotiators, conference with legal counsel regarding pending litigation. The Closed Session will be held in the City Council Chambers located at 1416 C Street, Livingston, California. Any public comment on Closed Session items will be taken before the Closed Session. Any required announcements or discussion of Closed Session items or actions following the Closed Session will be made in the City Council Chambers, 1416 C Street, Livingston, California.

3. Conference with Legal Counsel – Potential Litigation

((Government Code Section 54956.9(d)(2))

Number of Cases: 2

4. Public Employee Appointment

(Government Code Section 54957)

Title: City Manager

City Manager Recruitment

5. Conference with Labor Negotiator(Government Code Section 54957.6)

Labor Negotiator: Interim City Manager Odi Ortiz Employee Organizations: All Represented City Employees

Regular Meeting

CALL TO ORDER Next Resolution Number: 2015-3

Next Ordinance Number: 623

Pledge of Allegiance.

Roll Call.

Changes to the Agenda.

AWARDS, PRESENTATIONS, APPOINTMENTS AND PROCLAMATIONS

1. Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza – Presentation of Key to the City plaques to members of Grupo Musical Los Kinos for their continuous contributions to the Livingston community.

ANNOUNCEMENTS AND REPORTS

Supervisor John Pedrozo Announcements and Reports.

City Staff Announcements and Reports.

City Manager Announcements and Reports.

City Council Members’ Announcements and Reports.

Mayor’s Announcements and Reports.

CITIZEN COMMENTS

This section of the agenda allows members of the public to address the City Council on any item NOT otherwise on the agenda. Members of the public, when recognized by the Mayor, should come forward to the lectern, and identify themselves. Comments are normally limited to three (3) minutes. In accordance with State Open Meeting Laws, no action will be taken by the City Council this evening. For items which are on the agenda this evening members of the public will be provided an opportunity to address the City Council as each item is brought up for discussion.

CONSENT CALENDAR

Items on the Consent Calendar are considered routine or non-controversial and will be enacted by one vote, unless separate action is requested by the City Manager or City Council Member. There will be no separate discussion of these items unless members of the City Council or City Manager request that specific items be removed.

2. Report on United Front Security and Patrol Security Company Seeking a Business License.

3. Approval of Minutes of Meeting Held on December 16, 2014.

4. Approval of Warrant Register Dated January 29, 2015.

DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS

5. Resolution Appointing Odilon Ortiz as Interim City Manager and Approving a Second Amendment to the Employment Agreement between the City of Livingston and Odilon Ortiz.

6. Resolution Approving the First Amendment and Restatement to Agreement for Employment between the City of Livingston and Ruben Chavez for the Position of Police Chief.

7. Vacancies and Appointments to the Livingston Planning Commission.

8. Council Accept and Authorize Temporary Outsourcing of City’s Street Sweeping Services with Gilton Solid Waste.

9. Discussion Regarding Changes to the DTC Zone.

10. Discussion Item: Consideration of Changing the City Logo Slogan from “The Last Stop” to “Sweet Potato Capital of the World.”

11. Discussion Item: Twelve Acres of Industrial Land at the Max Foster Sports Complex.

ADJOURNMENT

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