So You Think You Can Govern in 2016

A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation. James Freeman Clarke

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

One of the more challenging things about being a city councilman is learning change takes time. You can’t achieve everything you want overnight. You won’t win every battle. Small victories and steps lead to success. Learn to be patient. – Alex McCabe – Council member: June 2015 to present.

Air gaps are used in places where silicon chips are manufactured because arsenic and other poisonous chemicals are used, Boyce said.  "(With arsenic) one part per billion could kill you," he said. "You use an air gap because the threat is so significant." – Randy Boyce: Foster Farms General Council – Thursday Jul 13th, 2006Foster Farms in Livingston Threatened with Water Shut-off by City; Judge to Decide – Original Article by Merced Sun Star – Reposted by Indybay.org (Emphasis, mine)

The city’s arsenic levels exceeded the state’s maximum contaminant level of 0.010 parts per million numerous times in 2009, 2012 and 2013, according to the court documents. The latest levels were recorded as 0.013 parts per million April 9 and 0.011 parts per million April 30.  – MAY 15, 2014 – Nonprofit sues Livingston over drinking water –By Ramona Giwargis

"Belief can be manipulated. Knowledge is dangerous" Paul "Muad’Dib" Atreides of the Dune Series

Livingston CA – First Published 10/29/2016.
Postscript date: 01/28/2017

Here we go again, just a few short days away from another General Election.

Time for another chapter in the twisty saga of our own City Council and the goings on at City Hall: which includes the never ending discussion about What’s-In-Our-Water and Will-It-Eventually-Hurt-You.

What I have learned over the years is that the answer to those questions often depends upon which council member/or lawyer is talking, and what political or financial outcome s/he is seeking at the moment. Case in point: whether or not 1 Part-Per-Billion of Arsenic can kill you.

Livingston has wells that produce water with Arsenic levels that exceed 0.013 Parts Per Million. If you convert 0.o13 Parts Per Million into Parts Per Billion, you get 13 Parts per Billion.

The State/Federal Maximum Contaminant Level for Arsenic is 10 Parts Per Billion. However, depending on who you talk to, or what the litigation is about, the Arsenic levels in Livingston’s water may or may not be an issue or may or may not make you sick.

Anyway….back to my main point.

Every couple of years I take advantage of The Story Teller’s License as I sit at my laptop and write. What results is not an All Inclusive History of Everything That Happened over the Last Few Years. It’s just my general Kvetch about the way I see “Politics” playing out every couple of years or so in Livingston.

With a few references to the consequences thereof….

If you look over in the Right Hand Margin of this Blog, you will find plenty of links to loads of information about the continuing discussion about How-Much-Arsenic-Can-Hurt-You, and others such as:

  • The Recall, and Water Rates,

  • The Utility Rates Stakeholders Committee and the boatloads of money Restudying Livingston’s Water Quality Issues for the umpteenth time.

  • Notices of Violation from the State about the Old Industrial Waste Water Treatment Plant,

  • Arsenic Levels in the Drinking Water

  • 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 will not be paid for by Water Rates.

  • The impact of the Drought

  • The relationship between Foster Farms and The City

  • Multiple lawsuits against the City

  • And so on

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, were incapable of stringing together a coherent sentence, 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 2010 were tabulated.

Gurpal Samra, (Recall Proponent), won that “temporarily filled” Council Seat during the General Election in November of 2010 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, were incapable of speaking in coherent sentences; and/or were just “there” for God Only Knows what reason of their own.

Budget Variance - 2013-2014 Proposed Budget

And, as you can see from the graph above, Livingston’s financial situation started going to Hell in a Hand Basket. Rapidly.

The Elections of 2012 came and went. Mayor Pro Temp Margarita Aguilar had 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 there were still those 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”, didn’t understand the significance of the long term effect of what they were voting on, were incapable of speaking in coherent sentences; and/or were just “there” for God Only Knows what reason of their own.

And although most of that crop of newly Elected Officials didn’t “beat up” on City Staff quite as much as Previous Council Members did, it seemed mainly because there was fewer “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.

Then came General Election of 2014 and it became clear that relationships between the core of the Recall Coalition had fractured even further. Mario Mendoza: Treasurer of the Recall Committee, (and brother to Council Person David Mendoza) tried to unseat Mayor Pro Temp Gurpal Samra. As usual, Things got “just a tad” ugly in the process. (Adanan Bath also took out papers to run against Gurpal, but pulled out of the race and ended up being appointed to the Planning Commission)

After the election, the City Council consisted of the following:

  • Rodrigo Espinoza (Mayor),

  • Gurpal Samra (Mayor Pro-Temp),

  • David Mendoza (Brother of Mario Mendoza)

  • Arturo Saciaros,

  • Jim Soria. 

2014 – 2016 did not lack for it’s share of political/financial turmoil and Water Quality Issues:

  • There was the flap about Favoritism and how Fireworks Booth Permits should be distributed.

  • Due to circumstances beyond his control, Council Member David Mendoza had to resign and was eventually replaced by Alex McCabe.

  • The City Manager bailed by January 2015, and was was eventually “replaced” by a New City Manager who only managed to last a couple of months.

  • Same with Livingston’s Public Works Directors. They seemed to come and go even more quickly than the City Managers did.

  • And although “adjustment” to water rates, was eventually adopted, many necessary repairs and upgrades to the Water Delivery System were expected to be paid for through State/Federal Grants and loans.

  • Well #16, a well designed initially to be a “back up well”, eventually was pressed into “full time” service while Well #14 was removed from service (Temporarily?) due to high TCP levels.

In the past, the “official” City Council mantra about Water Quality was, “We’re aware. Everything is fine. It may be “brown” sometimes but it’s Nothing to Worry about here. If anyone says different, they’re just making trouble”

More recently it has become “Nothing really new here. No surprises, really. We’re just in the same troubles as everyone else, because of the Drought.”

But, It’s been One emergency well repair after another. Even Foster Farms has recognized that it was in it’s best interest to help out the City with a repair or two in order to keep the water flowing. It is also worthy of note that the first well upgraded with a TCP Filtration System was a well used primarily to help deliver water to Foster Farms.

Remember that Settlement the City Received from Dow Chemical Company, from the lawsuit started back in 2005 over elevated levels of TCP in Livingston’s water? That has been dipped into several times over the years for “water related” projects. (Not all of them TCP related) There is still a boatload of work to be done to upgrade and repair our Water Delivery System. A recent Staff Report indicates that if things go as indicated on the State/Federal level, ALL of our well will be Out Of Compliance with the new TCP-1,2,3 Maximum Contaminant level slated to go into effect early next year.

So.. here we are, only a few short days away from another General Election. This time, for the office of Mayor and THREE council seats. Mario Mendoza is giving it another try. So is Adanan Bath. Alex McCabe and Arturo Sacairos are both trying to hang on to their seats for another term. As usual there are the “political newbies” to add to the Mix: Wapinder Kang – Livingston Police Officer; Jason Roth – Service Advisor; Juan Aguilar, Jr. – Firefighter/Social Worker. (If I have linked to the Wrong Facebook pages – please let me know!)

Jim Soria is on the Ballot for Mayor. (Mayor Espinoza has Moved On to The Board of Supervisors) There is also a Write in Candidate for Mayor: Rosalinda Ruiz

Once again we have Candidates for Office who have hardly ever shown up for City Council meetings since the last election.

And we are still looking for a new City Manager……

And we are still looking for a new Public Works Director…..

And there is still Litigation in progress: on more than one front. When the new Maximum Contaminant Level for TCP finally goes into affect, I would not be surprised if there was even more litigation in Livingston’s future.

And we have still not yet fixed that mess of a General Plan Update 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. Although it seems to have been set aside for the moment.

The Council Meeting which would have taken place on November 1st has been canceled. Looks to me like EVERYTHING is being placed on hold until after the the Elections.

"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. Although this time around, there doesn’t seem to be quite as much heartburn about Political Signs this year as in years past.

I’ve heard about a few sign’s being stolen, but no general uproar over the signs on City Property/Right of ways, and similar locations.  In years past, that had been a BIG deal with certain candidates.

I guess it just depends on whose running.

Or whose not…..

I said it before, and I’ll say it again now, the Ethical and Effective Council Member of the 21stCentury 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 .

POSTSCRIPT TO THE ELECTIONS OF 2016 (January 2017) After all the votes were counted, Jim Soria won the Mayor’s seat by a significant margin. As for the Council seats: that’s where things got a little more “complicated”. Results for the race for Council were as follows:
2016 Council Election Results

Which meant

  • That Juan Aguilar Jr. was elected for a four year term

  • That Wapinder Kang was elected for a four year term, and

  • That Arturo Sacairos was elected for a two year term.

  • Alex McCabe was in 4th place

  • Mario Mendoza placed 5th

  • And so on down the line

However, it was discovered that Wapinder Kang could not be sworn in as Councilmember and keep his job with the Livingston Police Department. According to Government Code 53227.  (a) An employee of a local agency may not be sworn into office as an elected or appointed member of the legislative body of that local agency unless he or she resigns as an employee.  If the employee does not resign, the employment shall automatically terminate upon his or her being sworn into office.

Council Member-Elect Kang chose to remain as a Livingston Police Officer: opening up a vacancy on the Council. On January 17, 2017, the Council appointed Alex McCabe fill the Vacancy.

Because the seat became “vacant” during the first half of what would have been a 4 year, State Law will only allow Mr. McCabe to hold office until an individual is elected to complete the term at the next general municipal election (November 6, 2018).

Which will mean, next time around, there will be 4 seats on the Council up for grabs.

  • Mayor – Currently held by Jim Soria

  • 3 Council Members – Currently held by Gurpal Samra, Alex McCabe and Arturo Sacairos

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.

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

 

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.

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