CLOSED SESSION/REGULAR MEETING
LIVINGSTON CITY COUNCIL
APRIL 7, 2009
A Closed Session/Regular Meeting of the Livingston City Council was held on April 7, 2009, in the City Council Chambers with Mayor Varela presiding.
Mayor Varela called the meeting to order at 6:00 p.m.
Mayor Daniel Varela, Sr.
Mayor Pro-Tem Rodrigo Espinoza
Council Member Frank Vierra
Council Member Margarita Aguilar
Council Member Martha Nateras
Also present were City Manager Warne, Assistant City Manager Lewis, and City Attorney Subramanian.
The Council went into Closed Session to discuss the following matter:
1. Conference with Legal Counsel—Anticipated Litigation.
Government Code Section 54956.9(b).
Significant Exposure to Litigation (1 Case).
The Council came out of Closed Session and into Open Session.
CALL TO ORDER
Mayor Varela called the meeting to order at 7:05 p.m.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
The pledge of allegiance to the flag was recited.
Mayor Daniel Varela, Sr.
Mayor Pro-Tem Rodrigo Espinoza
Council Member Frank Vierra
Council Member Margarita Aguilar
Council Member Martha Nateras
CLOSED SESSION ANNOUNCEMENTS
There were no closed session announcements.
CHANGES TO THE AGENDA
AWARDS, PRESENTATIONS, APPOINTMENTS AND PROCLAMATIONS
1. Presentation of Proclamation for National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
Mayor Varela presented Deanna DeSilva with a Proclamation designating April 12-18, 2009, as National Public Safety Telecommunications Week.
2. Presentation of Proclamation for National Police Officers’ Memorial Week.
Mayor Varela gave recognition to Livingston Police Officers and commended them
for their hard work and keeping the community safe.
3. Special Recognition to Livingston Middle School Students Breanna Coronado, Gurleen
Chahal and Aryana Mires, third and fourth place winners of the National Wrestling Tournament.
Mayor Varela presented a Certificate of Recognition to the aforementioned students for their accomplishments at the National Wresting Tournament in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
4. Special Recognition to the Livingston High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team,
Co-champions of the Western Athletic Conference.
Mayor Varela presented a Certificate of Recognition to the Livingston High School
basketball team, co-champions of the Western Athletic Conference.
ANNOUNCEMENTS AND REPORTS
Supervisor John Pedrozo Announcements and Reports.
Juan Corona, Administrative Assistant to Supervisor Pedrozo, commented that he attended the recent Sikh parade which was enjoyable. On behalf of Supervisor Pedrozo he thanked everyone that attended. Mr. Corona thanked Mayor Varela for the tour and information on the City which he found very informative.
Mayor Varela asked Mr. Corona to tell Supervisor Pedrozo to continue his efforts on the high speed rail system.
Chief of Police Eldridge invited the City Council to a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) banquet on April 18. He reported that the Police Department will begin the Neighborhood Visits soon. A briefing will be held on April 30 at 5:00 p.m. Chief Eldridge said they have added the Electric Needle Tattoo Parlor to do face painting.
City Council Members’ Announcements and Reports.
Council Member Aguilar
· Thanked the basketball team players for being present and for doing a good job. She also thanked the parents of the boys.
· Honored the Firefighter of the Year for 2009. Her son was selected Firefighter of the Year. She said the dinner was very nice and a very formal way to meet firefighters throughout the community. She said Mayor Varela attended the event as well.
· Commented that the Art Shop in Merced on Main Street is an opportunity for the citizens in this area to view and purchase art from local artists. She noted an event will be held on April 18 from 4-7 p.m. The artists will be there and people will get to meet them and find out how they got into the field of art.
· Stated that she had a few situations going on. She requested an orientation of the “unity and focus” of the City goals and to look and see which way our City is going. It is a new City Council and a new year. She said that she had encountered a few difficult moments and found herself blocked in certain situations. She said that she would not want to be in it any longer, so she is requesting this and how the City Council is doing and evaluate each other and the City Manager. She said that she wanted to be a part of that, a solution, but unless the City Council gets together with an agreement it is not going to happen. She said that this is a way of getting things started. Council Member Aguilar also said it is an easy way to know what is going on. She recommended hiring a facilitator to come in. She said that she would like it put on the agenda for the first City Council meeting in May. She said that she is open to ideas and if any Council member had any sense of “uncomfortableness” they could call her. She said that she would prefer “that you would take the time to get to know me and give me the benefit of the doubt by getting to know me.”
Council Member Nateras
· Congratulated the students.
· Stated that she is the City Council liaison on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee and the Planning Commission. She wants the youth and the parents to know that the City still has openings for the Citizens’ Advisory Committee which meets the last Tuesday of each month.
· Reported that a meeting for the Relay for Life will be held on April 8 at 6:00 p.m. in
the Police Department. Another meeting will be held on April 25. This will be the last meeting before the event which is scheduled for May 15-16 at the Livingston High School track. She noted that the Relay for Life event is getting close and asked that anyone interested in putting together a team contact her or contact City Hall.
· Thanked the Police and Fire Departments for their assistance with the “Every 15 Minutes” Program at Livingston High School. She said their efforts are very much appreciated.
Council Member Espinoza
· Reminded everyone that the Court Theater Committee will hold a Wine and Cheese
Affair at the Livingston Veterans’ Hall on April 19 from 2-5 p.m.
· Reported that the Livingston Community Network 2009 Scholarship fundraiser chicken dinner will be held on April 24. Tickets are $7.00.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra
· Reported that he attended a high speed rail workshop in Merced. He said that the workshop was very impressive with maps and presentations. Planning Commissioner Soria also attended the workshop. He said the high speed rail staff gave information and then wanted feedback. Surveys were made available to be filled out.
· Attended two meetings on a joint Palo Alto High School and Livingston High School two-day function where students from the two high schools will come together and visit two ranches, UC Merced and the Merced County Food Bank. He said the two high schools are trying to start an exchange program where the students from both schools can visit each other and be exposed to all kinds of opportunities, including farming.
· He also attended a Relay for Life meeting.
· Stated not to forget the Court Theater Committee wine and cheese event and said he also has tickets available for sale.
· Commented that he spent four days in Anaheim at a Key Club event with 4000 teenagers. He stated the Livingston High School Key Club is going strong. The Club came back with 11 awards.
· Reported the Livingston High School Future Farmers of America (FFA) will hold a plant sale on April 10 from 9-12 p.m. They will sell vegetables and flowers for $1 each or 16 for $10.
Mayor’s Announcements and Reports.
· Stated that the past week was good and he had a good time at the youth baseball opening ceremony. He commended Recreation Superintendent Benoit and her staff for a tremendous job. Noted that an Easter Egg Hunt will be held on April 11 from 10-12 p.m. for children 2-10 years old.
· Thanked Fire Chief Jose Flores for inviting him to the firefighters recognition and awards dinner. He said he appreciated the invitation and the recognition of Fireman Aguilar. He stated that he had a great time.
· Reported that on May 9, through the mentorship program he is promoting, there will be an event where there will be 20 motorcycle and two car show groups. Henry Escobar will be the guest speaker. He noted that through the program, they are trying to have youths focus on the right thing and promote good values and good things for themselves.
5. Resolution to Adopt the Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration for the
Livingston Sports Complex Project.
Community Development Director Kenney presented the agenda item. She gave a description of the Livingston Sports Complex Master Plan and the initial environmental study and its findings that the environmental potential impacts to the project can be mitigated to less than significant. Impact Sciences completed the environmental study and it was properly advertised and posted.
Council Member Espinoza asked if the adoption of the Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration by the City Council means that the City can move forward with the construction of the basketball courts, funded by a grant that the City has received.
Director Kenney responded that the City Council needs to adopt the Initial Study and Negative Declaration for the Livingston Sports Complex before any construction can occur. She will check with the Finance Department regarding the status of the grant.
Council Member Nateras noted that she saw a sign that stated that the soccer field is closed. Recreation Superintendent Benoit stated that the sign is coming down. The soccer field was closed for about two months because it was being re-seeded.
Mayor Varela opened the Public Hearing at 7:44 p.m.
Mike Torres, 1616 Eighth Street, asked why the City doesn’t complete what they already have. He said the City has a plan for the sports complex that isn’t even done yet and a concession stand that is seldom used. He also noted that there are two baseball fields with no lights. He asked why the City was buying more property when it has not developed the property it already has.
Director Kenney explained that the City purchased this property in the past and it is trying to get the environmental document ready in case there are any federal stimulus funds available.
City Manager Warne commented that before the City can construct anything on the property, it must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regulations. This agenda item being considered by the City Council tonight takes care of this obligation. He said the City is not buying any additional property.
Mayor Varela closed the Public Hearing at 7:46 p.m. as there were no further public comments.
Motion: M/S Vierra/Espinoza to adopt Resolution No. 2009-11, Adopting the Initial Study and Negative Declaration for the Livingston Sports Complex. The motion carried 5-0 by the following vote:
AYES: Council Members: Aguilar, Espinoza, Nateras, Varela, Vierra
NOES: Council Members: None
ABSENT: Council Members: None
Gerri Martin, 16181 Vinewood Avenue, commented that she knew the City is going through rate studies for water, sewer and garbage. She said that she received notices for all the parcel numbers that she owns outside the City. She was curious to know how this occurred. She wondered if this would result in an improper protest vote count when election results were tabulated.
City Manager Warne explained that State law required the City to send out notices in two ways. First, the City mailed out notices to everyone who receives a utility bill. Second, the City sent out public hearing notices to every parcel in the City. He noted that City staff asked the City’s information systems contractor to prepare a mailing list for this second group of people. He said that when the county property information was merged, some addresses were included for locations outside the City and notices were sent out inadvertently to people residing outside Livingston. City Manager Warne commented that he would much rather over notice than to under notice the public hearing. He told Ms. Martin to ignore the notice because she does not receive water, sewer or garbage service from the City. On the second issue, City Manager Warne stated that the only people eligible to protest are those that own property or live within the City limits. He said that this is the reason why the address of the parcel is requested on the protest letter.
Mike Torres said he received a concern from two City residents. He said the residents have seen work being done at the Court Theater by City workers. They asked if the Court Theater Committee was going to reimburse the City for their wages. He also asked if the City is paying the employees to repair the building to bring the building up to par or is the Court Theater Committee paying these expenses.
City Manager Warne commented that the City encourages any citizen that has a question to call City Hall. He explained that the City owns the Court Theater and the Court Theater property, so it is permissible to have City employees work on the building. In addition, he said, the City’s building inspector had determined that, due to the age of the building, that some of the plaster was falling off the roof of the building and could potentially injure pedestrians. City employees are currently working to correct this problem and the work should be done in the next couple of days.
Mayor Varela stated that after the November election he talked to the City Manager regarding the Court Theater. He noted the door was chained up and the bird feces on the property did not project a good image. Mayor Varela said he asked the City Manager if the City could clean and paint the front of the theater building. He thinks the building now looks great after some paint and cleanup work. The City is using the marquee to announce public events. He said that the City was trying to clean up the theater to make the downtown nicer. He said that the City is not going to knock down the Court Theater at this time.
Katherine Schell Rodriguez, P.O. Box 163, Livingston, asked how many people have lived in Livingston for at least 10, 15, 20 and 30 years, and remember some of the flooding that would happen in some part of town after a rain. She remembers getting stuck in her truck and getting out in water up to her knees. She commented that as she was driving around town today she was reflecting on how there is hardly any flooding during this year’s rainy season.
City Manager Warne commented that the City has completed a number of flood control projects to solve localized flood problems, and will continue to identify those areas that need additional flood control work.
Jose Flores, Livingston Fire Company, reported that at the recent “Every 15 Minutes” event at the Livingston High School, a piece of equipment failed and injured one of the firefighters. He had to be taken to the hospital. He stated that the Fire Department’s jaws-of-life unit has been in service for 15-20 years, and is in dire need of restoration and/or replacement. Chief Flores said the Fire Department is planning a pancake breakfast fundraiser on May 2, from 8 a.m.-12 Noon. Members of the Fire Department are selling tickets. He said that hopefully the Department will be able to purchase a new jaws-of-life unit in the future.
He said that rescue equipment also comes from Delhi or other places when the Livingston Fire Department responds to an incident.
Council Member Espinoza asked if the Fire Department knew the cost estimate for a new jaws-of-life unit. Chief Flores said he did not know an exact amount at this time.
City Manager Warne said that Armando Rios, battalion chief from Cal-Fire had come to talk to him about the incident and the equipment failure. He said that the cause of the equipment failure was a small hole in one of the $45 hydraulic hoses. The City has not objected to the replacement of the hoses for this equipment, and there is money in the Fire Department budget to do so. He said that a new jaws-of-life unit costs about $25,000. He said that the purchase of a jaws-of-life unit will need to be considered as part of the budgetary process. He said he suggested to Armando Rios that Merced County also participate in the purchase of the jaws-of-life. Armando Rios said that some of the equipment from other Merced County stations could be transferred to Livingston.
Mayor Varela asked how long a jaws-of-life unit lasts. Chief Flores responded about 15 to 20 years. Mayor Varela asked how often does this equipment get serviced and certified. Chief Flores said the equipment is serviced and certified annually by an independent firm. Mayor Varela asked when was the last certification completed. Chief Flores said he would have to look at the records for an answer. Mayor Varela stated that he saw an overturned cement truck that had been in an accident last weekend. He was impressed by the actions of the Fire Department and the tow truck service that was on the scene.
City Manager Warne presented the following items for the City Council’s consideration under the consent calendar:
6. Initiating Proceedings Under the Landscape and Lighting Act of 1972, Division 15, Part 2 of the California Streets and Highways Code, et. seq., Declaring the City’s Intention to Levy and Collect Assessments Within the City’s Landscape and Lighting Maintenance Assessment District for Fiscal Year 2009/2010, Approval of the Engineer’s Report, and Setting a Time and Place for a Public Hearing (Resolution No. 2009-12).
7. Initiating Proceedings under the Benefit Assessment Act of 1982, Government Code Section 54717, et. seq., Declaring the City’s Intention to Levy and Collect Assessments within the City’s Benefit Assessment Districts for Fiscal Year 2009/2010, Approval of the Engineer’s Report and Setting a Time and Place for a Public Hearing (Resolution No. 2009-13).
8. Resolution No. 2009-14 Urging the National Basketball Association (NBA) to Reinstate its 18-Year Old Ban on Courtside Liquor Advertisements and Encouraging all Citizens to Join with the City’s Youth and the Livingston Friday Night Live Mentoring Chapter of Livingston, California to Petition the NBA to End Courtside Liquor Advertising.
9. Approval of Minutes of Meeting Held on March 17, 2009.
10. Approval of Warrants Dated April 1, 2009.
Motion: M/S Vierra/Nateras to approve the consent calendar as presented. The motion carried 5-0.
DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS
11. Authorization to Establish a Community Garden Adjacent to the Livingston Sports Complex and Enter into a Community Garden Use Agreement Between the City of Livingston and the Merced County Hunger Task Force.
The agenda item was presented by City Manager Warne. He said that he had been working on this item with Mayor Varela and Pastor Bill Ruth.
Pastor Bill Ruth commented that the Hunger Task Force was formed eight years ago, with the purpose of making Merced County hunger free. He stated they have started a food bank for low-income people. They have had three food summits and have been looking for strategies for food security. Pastor Ruth noted that food security is when people wake up in the morning and they know where they can go for fruits and vegetables that are healthy. The Hunger Task Force has come up with strategies for food including a community garden.
Pastor Ruth stated that the 12 acres of City land in question is perfect. He said they would also like to have a park like setting in the middle of the community garden, where people could come, sit and visit. Pastor Ruth commented the he heard the word “temporary” tonight. Although they would like to have something permanent, he understands the situation and is okay with it. He commended the City for thinking of them and working with them.
Mayor Varela stated that the garden is a good idea and powerful tool to help people in need. It could be used as a transition because the land is designed for the sports complex. He said it would be good for the Hunger Task Force to create something like this in the community. He said that he was in Delhi and they do not have a piece of property like this parcel in Livingston.
Pastor Ruth stated that he is not naïve. He knows that the land was designated for something else in the future, but they do appreciate using it now.
Council Member Aguilar thanked Pastor Ruth. With regard to helping the needy she
said that being an educator they are working on Earth Day (April 22) which includes maintaining land and taking care of our planet. She commended Pastor Ruth for his efforts and those involved in the project.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra asked Pastor Ruth who will pay for the water.
Pastor Ruth said the reason the Hunger Task Force has not started the project is because of the funding. However, the Request for Proposals (RFP) went out today, so they anticipate that grants will cover some of their costs. He said that the Hunger Task Force will be asking a minimal fee from the growers. He added that a lot of education will come from this project such as how to conserve water and manage the land.
Council Member Vierra asked who will be able to have plots.
Pastor Ruth responded first come, first serve. The service clubs and Future Farmers of America will also help along with master gardeners too.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra asked if other related buildings will be included. Pastor Ruth said a container will be placed on the property to store equipment, seeds, etc.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra asked about garbage. Pastor Ruth said they want to put compost piles on the land even where residents can drop of their green waste.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra said that the City approved the environmental document for the project tonight. He said that the agreement gives either the City or the Hunger Task Force that right to terminate the agreement with 60-days notice. Pastor Ruth said he was concerned about the 60-day provision because the group wanted to plant some permanent fruit trees and other trees.
City Manager Warne said he thought the City could determine appropriate areas for the planting of these trees where they would not need to be removed even when the property was developed into a sports park. Pastor Ruth thought that this was a good idea.
Council Member Espinoza felt that this is a good project and hopefully it would be feasible. He commented that the City is looking into raising the water rates, so hopefully the Hunger Task Force will use drip systems for irrigation.
Pastor Ruth commented that maybe people will be enthusiastic about gardens and will rip up their lawns and put in gardens. Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra said he knew of some apartments that have put in gardens, such as the Olive Tree Apartments.
Jean Okuye, 1081 W Olive, said she visited a community garden in Hawaii that had 110 permanent spots. She commented that what is being discussed is great idea. She said the Hunger Task Force has a sprinkler system which was donated and felt that even the farmers could donate time. Ms. Okuye noted that there are bylaws for the community garden in Hawaii and the people must maintain their spot and pay for their water.
Pastor Ruth commented that May 3 would be the first organizing meeting for the proposed community garden.
Mayor Varela stated the City Council has been talking about promoting positive things for the community and the community garden would serve the purpose of getting people involved.
Ms. Okuye commented that last week they had six people from juvenile hall working for the Farm Bureau. There are other ways of getting work done.
Motion: M/S Nateras/Espinoza to Authorize and Establish a Community Garden Adjacent to the Livingston Sports Complex and Enter into a Community Use Agreement Between the City of Livingston and the Merced County Hunger Task Force. The motion carried 5-0.
12. Authorization to Televise City Council Meetings, Purchase Equipment and Prepare Video Productions of City Events to Show on Public Access Channels.
Mayor Varela introduced the item and City Manager Warne made a short presentation. He said that many cities televise City Council meetings and community events. QuickPCSupport, the City’s information systems contractor, was asked to prepare a proposal that included a list of equipment needed to broadcast City Council meetings and other community events. He said that the total cost of the system was $47,568. There is a $220 annual maintenance fee for the maintenance of the equipment. QuickPCSupport will obtain the equipment, install it and train City personnel to operate it. The money will be taken from the Municipal Facilities Impact Fees Capital Projects Fund.
Mayor Varela stated that this is all part of a program that the City is trying to implement to get the youth involved. Youth can be involved in preparing productions of City events. He said the City Council is always going to look for ways to get the community’s youth involved and investing time in this generation of kids. We are working on a possible skate board park.
Jorge Campos from QuickPCSupport gave an explanation of the system the City wishes to purchase.
Council Member Espinoza asked for the total amount of money in the Municipal Facilities Impact Fees Capital Projects Fund. Finance Director Lewis said that $1,642,729 is in the fund. Council Member Espinoza asked if these funds can be used for this project. Ms. Lewis replied that they could.
Council Member Espinoza thinks this is a good way to have the community get a close up view of what the City is doing
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra said the proposal mentions Charter Communications’ Channel 2 and noted the City has had so much trouble with that channel. He asked if this equipment was going to be upgraded as part of this proposal.
City Manager Warne explained that Channel 2 Charter Communications equipment would be upgraded as part of this proposal. He explained further.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra said he knew City staff was not happy with the Channel 2 Charter Communications’ equipment. If the City is going to purchase a new system it needs to be worth it.
Jorge Campos gave a further explanation of the system. He said that programming can be scheduled. People will also be able to access the meetings through the Internet.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra asked if the July 4th celebration announcement could be placed on the system. Mr. Campos said it could.
Council Member Aguilar asked if the City has an idea of who would be overseeing the system and if there are any additional costs to operate the system. She thought it was a good idea to get the kids involved.
City Manager Warne noted that the plan right now is to assign Toni Pacheco from the Recreation Department as the system operator. She is very excited about it.
Council Member Aguilar asked who will have access to the system. She asked if other community organizations would be able to post notices for school events, etc. City Manager Warne replied that the City’s government partners and non-profit organizations would be able to post events and broadcast items on the system.
Council Member Aguilar asked if the City will have a schedule, such as a calendar. City Manager Warne said the City would have to work out the details, but the City will post a programming schedule.
Jorge Campos commented that information is stored on the hard drive and so everything can be scheduled.
Mayor Varela commented that the City Council will start here and then promote the system. He said that the system opens up whole new opportunities to work with the schools and other groups. There is so much potential and this is a win-win situation for the community.
Council Member Aguilar asked about the server and how long the information can be kept on the server. Mr. Campos explained that the server can store 600 terabytes of information, and so there is plenty of room. There will be no problem keeping items stored. Mayor Varela stated that the system is state-of-the-art.
Motion: M/S Varela/Aguilar to Authorize the Televising of City Council Meetings, Purchase Equipment and Prepare Video Productions of City events to Show on the Public Access Channels. The motion carried 3-2, with Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra and Council Member Nateras voting no.
Council Member Nateras said that she voted no because she did not feel that she could vote to purchase this equipment when the City is considering raising the water, sewer and garbage rates.
13. Consideration of Response to Grand Jury Postscript to FY 2007-08 Grand Jury Report and City’s Operational Inquiry Report.
The agenda item was presented by City Attorney Subramanian. She said that the City received a postscript to last year’s grand jury report on January 19, 2009. This report is attached to the staff report. The City has 90-days to respond to the report. At her request, she had been directed by the City Council to find a person to conduct an independent inquiry into the allegations in the grand jury postscript report. After obtaining three proposals, she selected Linda Tripoli to conduct the inquiry into the allegations. Her report is dated April 2, 2009, and is attached to the staff report.
As part of her inquiry Ms. Tripoli interviewed Police Chief Eldridge. She did not interview former Mayor Gurpal Samra as he did not respond to requests for an interview from her office. City Attorney Subramanian stated that she e-mailed former Mayor Samra twice and called him once on the phone, and received no response. Ms. Tripoli did e-mail him and he did not respond until after the report had been made public along with the staff report from the City Attorney. Former Mayor Samra did respond late Friday evening, stating that he had not received her e-mails because they had gone into a spam folder. Ms. Tripoli requested on Monday that former Mayor Samra e-mail her with any response or comments to the report, specifically responding to allegations and interview summaries with Police Chief Eldridge. Ms. Tripoli has not received any response or e-mails from former Mayor Samra. City Attorney Subramanian stated that Council Member Espinoza refused to be interviewed.
Ms. Tripoli has made two findings and two conclusions along with two recommendations that are contained in her report. She found that Mayor Samra contacted the Police Chief at least 10 times trying to influence him to change his directive regarding not towing vehicles where drivers were found to have suspended drivers licenses. She concluded that the conduct was inappropriate and violated the Livingston Municipal Code.
Ms. Tripoli also found that Council Member Espinoza contacted the Police Chief one time in person in an effort to influence him to change his directive about not towing vehicles where drivers were found to have suspended drivers licenses. She concluded that the conduct was inappropriate and violated the Livingston Municipal Code.
Her two recommendations are listed in the staff report. They are:
1. The City Council should direct Council Member Espinoza that any and
all contacts by him with any City employee, including the City Manager, regarding
his personal towing business be in writing and copied to the City Council. This
will enable the City Council to attempt to ensure Council Member Espinoza’s
compliance with Section 1-6-4 of the Livingston Municipal Code with regard
to his personal business.
2. The City Manager should inform all City employees in writing that they should immediately notify him in the event they have any contact initiated by Council Member Espinoza regarding his personal towing business. The City Manager should also inform all City employees in writing that they are to take no action as a result of any such contact, but rather proceed in the manner they were proceeding before such contact.
City Attorney Subramanian recommended that the City Council adopt the report prepared by Ms. Tripoli, concur with the findings and conclusions and adopt the two recommendations in Ms. Tripoli’s report. In addition, City Attorney Subramanian recommended that the City Council adopt the draft response to the Merced County Grand Jury Postscript and authorize that it be sent to them.
Mayor Varela asked if there were any comments.
Council Member Espinoza stated, “I wasn’t going to come to this meeting because today is my birthday. My parents were going to take me to dinner, but I am not afraid to come to the meeting. I do not feel that I did anything wrong. Yes, for the record, one time I went to the Chief of Police as a business owner and as a resident. Of course, I was aware of the law that came into effect, but after three or four months and not getting any business; it was not normal business, so the only thing I did was to go to the City Chief of Police and ask as a business owner what was wrong. The only thing that he told me was that the law was in effect at that time. I did not ask for any tows. And he stated that he was just following the law and that was all he did, and I said, ‘thank you.’ That was my statement. I don’t think that I should answer questions of an investigator that is being pushed by people who are doing nothing but just harassing me. Go to the Grand Jury and getting investigators in the past. Last year I was being attacked personally and my business was being attacked by the Council and past Council Members. Shaw Towing was here 20 or 30 years and no one said anything about parking on Main Street. Rite Aide been here forever and now I am being attacked. And I have been here ten years and I think I am one of the best businesses here. I have never had a problem with the Police Department or Chief of Police, and we usually get along pretty good. But here this is all political because of who I support. I know there have been people here pushing for Grand Jury investigations on whatever lies. All I have been doing is helping this community. I have a lot of support in this community. Obviously, I was reelected two years ago. And you know whether I continue or not that is my decision. Not people that are wrongfully attacking me and going to the Grand Jury because they know something out there in the County, and all of these lies. Anyone can go to the Grand Jury with lies and say so and so said this and so and so did this. You know what, nobody has to have any proof. I have not done anything wrong. Thank you.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra stated that he did not know who Council Member Espinoza was directing his comments to about Council Members going to the Grand Jury. He was not one of those that went to the Grand Jury, and he resented the suggestion that he was one of them. He said that he had no idea who went to the Grand Jury. This report, as it indicates, is incomplete just like in the first one from the Grand Jury. The report states that there is more to come. The report does not do the City Council, staff or citizens justice. It makes accusations, but it does not address the Political Reform Act, the law that states a person cannot use their position for personal gain. He said that the City Council sat for hours while the City Attorney told the City Council what it could or could not do. The Council directed the City Attorney to come back with a completed report, but this had not been done. He read a portion of the report that stated that there is more to come. He said that this was going to go on forever. Mayor Pro Tem Vierra said these things need to stop. It does not make sense unless the City Council has a completed report.
Council Member Aguilar stated that she agreed. She mentioned in her comments that there has to be some kind of unity in regards to the goals and the way that the City government is being operated. The report states that the City Council has attended numerous trainings on our responsibilities. She encountered some of those difficulties, so if we need to continue in a positive role that we have right now. She said that she requested some information about her duties as a member of the City Council, and it took her a week to receive it. She asked who is leading and stated that she is not a follower. She asked if the reference in the report to the City Council having numerous trainings referred to the previous City Council or the current City Council.
City Attorney Subramanian replied both. She stated that some Council Members have had ethics training twice in a year, and some City Council members have had it three times. The report is referring to the current City Council.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra commented that he has had ethics training three times within a year and a half, which is getting old.
City Attorney Subramanian stated the reason she could not bring back a full report was that additional information and allegations were made during the investigation. These need to be looked into. This incomplete report was brought forward because the City Council has 90 days to respond to the Grand Jury Postscript.
Council Member Nateras asked if the Council has to accept the report if it does not agree with the report. She asked about looking at state law as it relates to using a person’s official position for personal gain.
City Attorney Subramanian replied that this report didn’t analyze the conflict-of-interest law as it relates to the Political Reform Act and the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). The report reflects the comments that were made from the Grand Jury report about inappropriate conduct.
Council Member Nateras stated that going back to Council Member Aguilar’s statement about her request for her City Council duties. She said that she would have thought that Council Member Aguilar would have requested this information before she ran for City Council.
Council Member Nateras stated that the Council cannot continue this way. She said she knew that currently there is a Council Member that goes to the staff and does not ask, but demands things be done by staff when the Council was told during AB 1234 training that they were not to do this.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra commented that the Grand Jury came back to the City after the last report because it wasn’t complete, so if the City sends them another incomplete report, are they going to come back again? He stated that his feeling was that the report be turned back to the City Attorney so she can finish this report with whomever and then the City Council votes on it. The City should then submit the report to the Grand Jury. He said he would make the motion to continue this matter to the next meeting.
City Attorney Subramanian replied that if the City Council did not move forward with approving the report this evening that it would be late. She recommended the Council move forward and adopt this report tonight.
Mayor Pro-Tem Vierra stated we knew there was a time limit. He said the assignment for the report was given to the City Attorney on February 2. He asked why the City would give something to the Grand Jury that is incomplete.
Mayor Varela stated that he would request that the Council please be respectful. He also felt that the report did not go far enough. When we received the information from the Grand Jury, it was obvious that they felt that some things had not been properly addressed. He said that he was not satisfied with the report. It does not change anything. We need to change the perception that comes from the dais. He said that he knew that he had a conflict of interest pertaining to Foster Farms. He does not talk to them about City business because there are rules and laws that prohibit it. There are rules that we have to abide by. He said if he needed something he goes directly to the City Manager because that is what the rules call for. The Mayor said he did not need extensive training to know this, it is just common sense. There are rules and ethics and we need to follow them. The rules have been broken and we need to stop that.
Mayor Varela stated that he felt that every time that former Mayor Samra contacted the Chief of Police, it was as if Council Member Espinoza contacted the Police Chief because it was in his “best interest.” He felt Council Member Espinoza should have taken steps to tell former Mayor Samra not to talk to the Chief for him.
Council Member Espinoza stated he could not control anyone else.
Mayor Varela stated, “Yes you can. If someone is going on my behalf I am going to tell him: ‘do not do that. Don’t do that.’ That is integrity and that is what is lacking. We need to open our eyes.” He said that he was tired of seeing Livingston trashed in the Merced Sun-Star. The City has great things happening here including a championship basketball team, a community garden and a video program. He is tired of hearing about Samra and Rodrigo, but that is the reality of it and that has to stop and change.
Mayor Varela made a motion that the City Attorney write a letter to the Grand Jury stating that the City Council is not satisfied with the investigation report and ask for an extension so that we can get a real report and a real investigation that can be sent to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Council Member Nateras seconded the motion. No vote was taken at this time and the discussion continued.
Mayor Varela states that there must be accountability. We cannot have this come back in six months. The City Council is going to clarify its role and objectives. I respect this panel and there have been mistakes in the past. He opened the issue up for public discussion.
Police Chief Bill Eldridge stated that he would like to clarify some things on his behalf and on the behalf of some of the staff members. He said that when he was contacted by the Merced County Grand Jury to go down to room 303 in the county administration building, he refused and suggested that they come to his office. He said that he did not contact the Grand Jury. He did not hide anything and was honest and open. When asked a question, he said that he gives an honest answer and not an opinion. He said that this issue is not personal.
He said that his concern from the beginning was that this investigation would not be an in-depth, qualified investigation. He said that not everything has come out in this investigation. He said that he is not blaming anyone and everyone is human. There is fear because of the ineptness of this investigation. He felt that the investigator’s report was “half of what it should be.” We need to get together as a team. The staff works extremely well as a team with the City Manager. Chief Eldridge stated that the City Council is faced with potential Title 7 violations and they will have a strong case. He said that he did not hate someone because they made a mistake. He said that he is not picking on the City Attorney, but he felt that the City needed a more qualified investigator. Livingston is the laughing stock of the county and we are going backwards. He cannot handle our own problems and our own decision-making. This is not personal for him. He said that he does not hate Gurpal Samra or Rodrigo Espinoza. He said that he is not going to let his personal thoughts interfere with his actions.
City Manager Warne commented that he had expressed his concerns about the investigation because it did not address all the issues. He said that the City has a strong, cohesive staff and everyone on the staff is striving to do the best they can for the City of Livingston. However, he said that the staff is tired of Grand Jury investigations and tired of dysfunctional City Council members that cannot get along with each other. Staff is also tired because some of the behaviors that have led to the Grand Jury investigations and Grand Jury postscripts are continuing particularly with one of the members of the current City Council. This person has attacked staff several times. The City Attorney met with this person today and we hope that she understands, but we want an end to this. If we need to send the report back, we should do it and then bring it back and bring the past to closure. We need to bring inappropriate behavior on the part of elected officials to an end.
Barbara Ratzlaff, 1458 Main Street, directed a question to Council Member Espinoza regarding the Grand Jury investigation. She asked how can he plead the fifth amendment when he was approached by the Grand Jury for questioning. She wanted to know how he could do this. She asked how could Council Member Espinoza not reply when he was summoned by the Grand Jury. Ms. Ratzlaff said she believes the City is going in the right direction. She stated that last year’s City Council was an embarrassment and the situation was very bad. She said she can see a 3-2 split on the current City Council. She commented that the Council is working for the citizens and the members are more educated as far as things going on in the City. She said that she hated to see the Grand Jury come back, but maybe that is the case in order to get some answers.
Council Member Espinoza stated that it was obvious that you are attacking Council Member Aguilar. She has just been trying to be open and have the same knowledge. She is just trying to get the right information. She was elected with more votes than any of us. She goes to the City Manager and now she is harassing the City Manager. She is just trying to figure out how to run the City. As an elected official now she is getting attacked because she doesn’t follow the same thinking or same political ways of what “you guys” are trying to accomplish. She is pretty popular with the community and that is who she has to answer to.
Gilbert Reyes, 325 Emerald Drive, stated, “Just because you Mr. Espinoza were elected, you just sit there and you say you are worried about the budget, but you are costing this City this money for this investigation. You knew what your buddy Samra was doing. You didn’t do anything to stop him just because it was going to benefit you. Just because you were elected and you are liked doesn’t give you the right to do whatever the hell you want to. My whole thing to solve the problem is that you should resign immediately. Do this in the best interest of the City.”
Mohani Thiara stated that if the Grand Jury investigation is incomplete, it should be sent back and let them complete the investigation. We do need some answers. I have been coming to the City Council meetings for the last two years and it has not been very pleasant. She said that she appreciates the Mayor’s comments on the need for integrity. She said that she respects the Chief of Police and we need to put the past behind us. She also said that the City needs answers. Ms. Thiara told Council Member Espinoza that she did not think that anyone was attacking Margarita Aguilar. She said that Council Member Aguilar should have known her responsibilities and her role before she ran. She thought that everyone is well liked and asked people to have their facts straight before they spoke.
Council Member Aguilar stated she apologized if anyone took her situation as a personal attack on staff. She stated that she has been asking to get information and maybe she was asking questions that no one is willing to ask. She said that we just got our code book on Tuesday. She stated that she has been in office for four months and when she asks for something, she feels she is looked at like why does she want the information and who is she going to give it to. Council Member Aguilar asked for the benefit of the doubt. She is aware of “the whole division thing” and an individual blogging that she is costing the City money. She said that her job is not a popularity contest and said she had been asked to fill out record request forms. She does not feel that she should have to do that. She said that she needs information to do her job and thought that she would get it in a timely manner. She feels that a week is too long to wait for information.
Pastor Bill Ruth said he has known the City Council members for a long time and he hears there is a lot of division and personal attacks. He is literally praying for peace and for businesses to be helped. He stated the City is in trouble, financially and spiritually and we all need to take a look at this and come up with solutions. Pastor Ruth thanked the City Council for listening to him and said he prays for peace to reign within the City.
City Manager Warne stated the City has a City Manager form of government and Ms. Aguilar has asked for information and staff has provided it in a timely manner. He commented the staff has been inundated with requests from her for information. The staff has provided all the information Ms. Aguilar has requested. City Manager Warne noted that a Council Member cannot go to a department head and request and demand immediate information and disrupt the on-going work. Staff members have on-going work and priorities. Staff will provide the information in a timely manner. He stated he was sorry this had to come out in a public meeting, but the things that are being said are not true. He added that those who work with staff know how we respond.
Mike Torres stated we hear on the street that we had a bad Council last time. The people elected you, hoping that you would do a better job than the last Council. We pay you a certain amount of salary to attend the meetings. He said that the current City Council members just started together and asked if this is what the City could look forward to. We cannot continue this for the rest of your terms. What is going to happen? Take time out and take a look at yourselves. We elected City Council members to make decisions. He asked if the City is going to continue with Grand Jury investigations and lawsuits. When you do something right you will get an “atta boy,” and when you do something wrong, I will come up and tell you.
Mayor Varela said that earlier today Council Member Aguilar met with the City Attorney to get a handle on the rules. He said that we are going to move forward. He said we just have to deal with the political clean-up of the community. He said that he knew that coming into office, and we can find some common ground. We have great people up here.
The Mayor stated that a motion had already been made. It was:
Mayor Varela made a motion that the City Attorney write a letter to the Grand Jury stating that the City Council is not satisfied with the investigation report and ask for an extension so that we can get a real report and a real investigation that can be sent to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Council Member Nateras seconded the motion. The motion carried by the following vote:
AYES: Council Members: Aguilar, Nateras, Varela, Vierra
NOES: Council Members: None
ABSTAIN: Council Members: Espinoza.
Mayor Pro Tem Vierra asked if there was a time frame to complete the investigation. City Attorney Subramanian said she will prepare a letter for the Grand Jury after this meeting stating the City will need additional time to complete its review. She said that based on these comments a completed report will be brought back to the City Council as soon as possible.
14. City Manager Announcements and Reports.
City Manager Warne reported that the new City newsletter will be arriving tomorrow or the next day.
The meeting was adjourned by consensus at 9:35 p.m.
City Clerk of the City of Livingston
APPROVED: May 5, 2009
Mayor or Mayor ProTempore
The written meeting minutes reflect a summary of specific actions taken by the City Council. They do not necessarily reflect all of the comments or dialogue leading up to the action. All meetings are digitally recorded and are an official record of the meeting’s proceedings. Digitally recorded verbatim minutes are available, upon request, and may be obtained at Livingston City Hall.