Growth and limits

A Modesto Bee article from 1961 said that a North Carolina textile-mill installation engineer, Jack Pirkle, had sold the Dos Palos Chamber of Commerce on the idea of locating a mill in South Dos Palos, to be built in three months, employ 85-100 people and to produce a wekkly payroll of $7,000 (in 1961 money). Presumably something like that was the abandoned mill mentioned in the article below about the desperate poverty of South Dos Palos today and for years in the immediate past.
We wonder why such a sophisticated outfit as California Watch, who underwrote the article, failed to see the most obvious economic fact in that region: globalism -- cotton still grown here in great quantity being shipped to Asia for processing, to be sent to other Asian locations and elsewhere to be made into clothes sold here in the Valley and elsewhere in the US and Europe. What more perfect example of globalism in the raw than the rise and fall of South Dos Palos?
Ol' Boss O'Banion explained they were just poor because they were rural and promised, perhaps as the former Ol' Boss O'Banion had promised years ago to another unsuspecting reporter, about how they was gonna get federal funds for sidwalks and such for the residents of South Dos Palos. And a UC Merced anthropologist said that the data on South Dos Palos demonstrates the tension between "low-income household expenses and the costs of basic services." So. stand back and watch UC Merced turn poverty into a commodity as they are desperately trying to do with lung disease for which they demand their own medical school.
We've collected here a series of articles that may look almost random to some readers, but all of which, we think, relate to local government policies now going on in the north San Joaquin Valley.
First, we have the feel-good economic article out of Stockton: Happy Days are just around the corner, again, according to University of Pacific economists.
Second, the South Dos Palos article.
Third is a story about a scandal in Oakdale city finances. The problem with Oakdale according to our observations and several comments made on this article is Oakdale's rampant cronyism. The cronies evidently went too far with looting the treasury so "investigators" were brought in by Mayor Paul, a former long-serving Stanislaus County supervisor. Mayor Paul's and the council's problem is to find a way of actually learning how much was stolen, find suitable scapegoats, and exculpate themselves. To do this, they hired, at great cost, three co-conspirators in the process of looting local government funds from Merced County to do the investigation. These gentlemen are known to be the epitome of discretion when it comes to tossing pebbles because their houses are made of very fragile glass.
The fourth story concerns a development plan for unincorporated land in the City of Merced's sphere of influence near UC Merced. As one wise observer noted, the down times, the times when construction is stopped, are the times when planning agencies make planning policies and commitments for the next boom.
Our question is: what is a development plan or a policy but a commodity, and usually an economic rather than political commodity, i.e. a commodity bought by a special interest rather than a policy for the public good urged by the public.
Not that considerations of the public good also fail to consider what no one wants to talk about: environmental limits to growth. The two -- limits and growth -- are inseparable reciprocals of each other. Limits are essential for human health and safety as well as the health and safety of endangered species. Growth is essential for our form of economy, our local version of capitalism, putting aside for a moment all the subsidies -- from water to highways -- that make what the politicians like to toot their horns about, "The Valley Way of Life."
The Valley way of life is self-destructive and constantly erodes our quality of life in the Valley. But it is no different from all but a few eccentric ways of life in America.
Badlands Journal editorial board

Stockton Record
S.J. surging to top in job growth
Forecast a bright spot among region's economic struggles
By Reed Fujii
STOCKTON - San Joaquin County is expected to lead Northern California in job growth this year as it and the Central Valley join the economic recovery already under way. A new University of the Pacific report released Tuesday doubled its projection for an improving employment outlook.
"The Stockton area was one of the hardest hit areas in the nation, but leads the state in job growth over the past 12 months," said Jeffrey Michael, director of Pacific's Business Forecasting Center. "The drag from housing has bottomed out, and other mainstay industries such as agriculture and transportation are performing well."
Bankruptcy unavoidable?
In his latest economic forecast, the University of Pacific's Jeffrey Michael analyzes Stockton's municipal fiscal woes and addresses three primary questions: Is Stockton's bankruptcy inevitable? What are the primary factors? Will other cities follow suit?
"The city's biggest financial liability is free health-care benefits for retirees," he writes. That benefit alone consumes 5 percent of Stockton's general fund and is growing, creating a liability greater than the city's highly publicized downtown improvement projects.
Generous wage contracts, particularly public safety, also contribute to the problem.
"For 2010, data from the state Controller's Office show average salaries for Stockton police and fire were 10 to 25 percent higher than Modesto, Fresno and Sacramento."
Michael said most cities in the region should be able to deal with their fiscal problems by cutting municipal services and laying off related workers.
"However, Stockton's problems with excessively costly contracts, retiree obligations, and debt are substantially worse than other cities," he writes.
"Bankruptcy will not be an easy fix to Stockton's financial woes; it is really an emergency measure to avoid a chaotic, uncontrolled situation that threatens basic public services, and a structured framework to negotiate and reorganize long-term obligations."
But for the troubled city, Michael concludes, bankruptcy seems "necessary and seemingly unavoidable."
Michael expects nonfarm employment growth of 4 percent this year in San Joaquin County, double his January prediction and far better than last year's 1 percent decline in jobs.
The region still lags behind others, such as the San Jose area, which is expected to recover to its pre-recession jobs level by 2013.
It'll probably be 2017 or later before San Joaquin County recovers all of its job losses, and unemployment is expected to average a daunting 15.5 percent this year, according to the forecast.
The prediction of strong job growth was surprising to Shelley Burcham, vice president at the San Joaquin Partnership, a public-private agency that works to attract new business and encourage business expansion for the county.
"We are seeing some signs of recovery," she said. "We have a lot of interest in our region from companies that are looking to locating or expanding here."
However, many of the proposed projects, mostly small businesses, would not generate a lot of jobs, she said.
"It's the small business market," she said, adding that that's not a bad thing. "It gives us a lot of stability and gives small companies a chance to grow. That's what we want, home-grown companies."
Strong jobs growth is just what Jennifer Wallace, president and owner of Premier Staffing, a temporary help agency in Stockton, has experienced.
"I believe it," she said of Pacific's jobs outlook. "We see that trend here, too."
Of her company's leading accounts before the recession, many laid off all their temporary help, she said. "For years, we didn't even have one person out there," Wallace said. "Now all those accounts, if they were able to hold on, we have employees there again."
Employment agencies often take the lead when a jobs recovery begins, as employers are reluctant to commit to permanent employment.
"Last year was really good and this year is even better," said Wallace, whose company currently has 500 employees placed at area businesses.
Economic growth is coming primarily from the transportation and warehousing sector, gains in retailing and restaurants driven by population growth and rising employment in health services. And all that is expected to be enhanced as a number of major public-works projects get under way.
"We ... see a great deal of public investment in the market here and the impact that has on job development," said Michael Locke, Stockton deputy city manager. "They are positive moves for the local economy."
In particular, the nearly $1 billion California Health Care Facility is expected to ramp up to full speed within the next few months. In addition, the Interstate 5 project in Stockton will continue and the Arch-Sperry Road connector to Interstate 5 should get under way, he said. Both are expected to add up to significant jobs expansion.
Further in the future, the health care facility will hire permanent nursing and psychiatric technicians, as well as prison guards and physicians. Plans also call for construction of a new county courthouse and a Veterans Administration medical facility.
"There's one downside we continue to work with, and that is the issue of housing. We continue to work off foreclosures," Locke said. "The expectation is we probably won't see ... new (housing) investment until 2014."
This year's job gains aren't going to swiftly return the employment market to pre-recession levels. Pacific's forecast, which goes out five years, sees San Joaquin County unemployment no lower than 12 percent over that stretch.
"It's undoubtedly a long way back, but I think it's clear now in 2012 that we're now, finally, moving forward," Michael said.

Merced Sun-Star
Census methods cost rural areas infrastructure aid
By BERNICE YEUNG - California Watch
Once a thriving rural community with a nearly equal number of bars and churches, South Dos Palos, an unincorporated area in Merced County, has been in decline for decades.
But it's still possible to make out the contours of the community from a time when it was a growing place. On the edge of town, which borders the city of Dos Palos, there's an abandoned reddish-trimmed building that used to be a popular pool hall.
The railroad station a few blocks away is dark and defunct, and it's not far from the skeleton of the produce storage shed where workers used to give melons to local kids. The textile mill that employed hundreds is an empty edifice, a disintegrating monument to a more prosperous past.
Technological advances in farming and manufacturing, coupled with the economic downturn, have created fewer jobs in the area, said Jerry O'Banion, the county supervisor who represents South Dos Palos.
"Basically, it's gone the way of rural America," he said. "Having the community out in a farming area is not a viable structure as far as being able to survive."
Despite ongoing efforts to revitalize South Dos Palos, as a poor and unincorporated community, development has been hampered by a dearth of precise information about the place and people who live there.
"It is extremely difficult to gather discrete data for disadvantaged unincorporated communities," Veronica Garibay of California Rural Legal Assistance's Community Equity Initiative wrote in an e-mail.
"For example, in many cases, these communities are placed in large census tracts or block groups that encompass a broad geography that includes wealthier areas. When data is aggregated, the results are not representative," Garibay wrote.
According to a community survey released this week, an estimated 48 percent of South Dos Palos residents live below the poverty level, and the annual median household income ranges between $15,000 and $18,999. The 2010 U.S. Census, however, reports the annual median income in South Dos Palos at $28,931.
Surveys of other low-income unincorporated communities reflect a similar phenomenon.
In Parklawn near Modesto, the U.S. Census says the median household income is $32,902, but a local survey puts the number at $18,999. In Lanare, outside of Fresno, the official federal tally for median income is $42,813; a local survey reports a range of $22,000 to $25,999.
"Many communities like South Dos Palos suffer from severe underinvestment in infrastructure," Garibay said. "Because they are low-income communities, many qualify for state and federal grants for improved services," especially for drinking water and wastewater.
According to the recent South Dos Palos survey, residents cited crime and safety, access to markets and services, and poor infrastructure as their top three concerns.
Robin Maria DeLugan, a UC Merced anthropologist who oversaw the South Dos Palos survey, said in an e-mail that the data demonstrates the tension between "low-income household expenses and the costs of basic services."
For example, despite the high poverty rates in the neighborhood, 65 percent of the residents buy bottled water at a cost of $10 to $40 per month because they are worried about the way the tap water smells and tastes.
Half of residents spend $200 or more each month on gas and don't use public transportation because of inconvenient schedules and routes.
Residents reported feeling unsafe walking at night because there are no sidewalks, few streetlights and dogs that run loose.
O'Banion said he plans to try to find federal funds to build sidewalks and upgrade water and sewer lines.
Despite the difficulties, incremental improvements can be seen in the community, which started out as an Italian enclave in the late 1800s, became an increasingly black neighborhood in the 1930s and now has a primarily Latino population.
Although abandoned buildings litter the landscape, it has its share of new houses interspersed between historic homes and tidy clusters of public housing and apartments.
The jewel of South Dos Palos is the recently refurbished George Washington Carver Community Center, the site of baby showers, quinceañeras and a monthly food bank.
The county is planning to open a kiosk at the center so that residents can sign up for social services without traveling 30 miles to Merced.
California Watch is a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. For more, visit

Modesto Bee
Oakdale's interim leaders aren't saving city money
By Kevin Valine
OAKDALE -- After firing its city manager a year ago, the City Council decided to save money by hiring a part-time, interim executive who would be paid by the hour and without benefits.
But Oakdale is not on track to save any money.
The city has paid interim City Manager Greg Wellman and two other part-time interim managers he brought onboard more than $206,000 as of April 6. And they will continue to draw paychecks with more than two months left in the fiscal year.
 The Modesto Bee - Oakdale City Hall
City Manager Steve Hallam — whom the council fired in April 2011 — earned $226,253 in salary and benefits in his last full year with the city.
"It's adding up fast," Councilman Tom Dunlop said about the pay for Wellman and interim managers Stan Feathers and Dee Tatum. "I didn't really expect to need this much support."
Dunlop and Mayor Pat Paul said the city has needed the expertise provided by the three. They have uncovered a series of financial shocks in recent months:
The Community Development and Services Department failed to collect money from a landowner who used a city consultant to help him develop his property. City officials say they are owed $250,000 and are trying to collect.
Sewer rate increases imposed on residents and businesses starting in 2010 have generated far less revenue than projected. The sewer rates should bring in $4.8 million annually, but are $700,000 to $1 million short.
That shortfall becomes critical in the 2012-13 budget year, which starts July 1, when the city has to make its first of 20 annual payments of $855,000 to pay back the money it borrowed to upgrade its waste-water treatment plant. Officials say the sewer fund only has about $233,000 in reserves.
The city has borrowed $875,000 from other city accounts to pay off more than $4.3 million in debt it issued to build the South Willowood Drive fire station, which opened in 2006. City officials say the account designated to pay off the debt — the fire community facility fees — has no money. The city is paying $180,000 annually until 2036 to pay the fire station debt.
Wellman said he fears there is much more borrowing among other city accounts.
The city has had to deal with management, performance and morale problems in its Public Works Department. Tatum is reviewing the department and recommending how the city can fix it.
"This team we have assembled, they have uncovered all kinds of problems and they will come up with solutions," Paul said. "I think it's worth every penny. At the end of the day, we will save money with these guys."
High cost of firing
Oakdale decided to use an interim, part-time city manager for this fiscal year because of the cost of firing Hallam. The city owed him $175,090 in severance pay and for his accumulated leave time. That leave time included $32,246 for sick time, $9,297 for management leave and $27,028 for vacation time.
Oakdale is the most generous among Stanislaus County's nine cities when it comes to letting employees cash in their leave time when they retire or leave their jobs for other reasons. In the past four years, Oakdale has paid out about $1.1 million to about two dozen departing employees.
Wellman, Feathers and Tatum are retired local government managers and are drawing pensions from the California Public Employees' Retirement System. Under CalPERS rules, they can't work more than 20 hours a week. Oakdale is not providing them with benefits.
Wellman said after 90 days on the job he realized there were serious problems and he'd need to work more hours and would need help. (The city received a waiver from CalPERS for him to work full time this year.)
"We started turning over rock after rock and something would crawl out," he said. "There are lots of good people who work for the city. But they don't have the skill set to do the stubby pencil work to ensure the accuracy of financial data."
Wellman — whose career includes stints as Atwater's city manager and Merced County's chief executive — has worked nearly 1,569 hours for Oakdale since August. At $93 an hour, he has earned almost $146,000.
Feathers — a former Modesto budget officer and Atwater finance director and assistant city manager — has worked 546 hours since September. At $74 an hour, he has earned $40,404. Tatum — who retired as Merced County's chief executive officer in 2009 — has worked nearly 272 hours since February. At $74 an hour, he has earned more than $20,100.
Hearing complaints
Dunlop, the city councilman, said how much the city has spent on temporary managers is among the top complaints he hears from constituents. But he said the city needs the leadership and experience, especially with Oakdale down a few department heads because of retirements, a resignation and a layoff.
"They are highly experienced professionals," he said. "The bottom line is not being able to manage your business is the most expensive option."
Neighboring Riverbank used a retired government manager as an interim, part-time city manager. Pam Carder, a former Riverbank planning director and Lathrop city manager, served in that role from April 2011 to February.
She worked 20 hours a week and did not bring in extra help. But she had advantages Wellman doesn't: Riverbank has far fewer employees, a full complement of department heads who took on extra duties, she was familiar with the city because it's her longtime home and she didn't have any financial surprises.
"I didn't have the complicated stuff that Greg has had to work out," Carder said.
Oakdale has started recruiting for its next city manager and hopes to have that manager on the job by September or October.
Wellman's last day as interim city manager is June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Oakdale will need another interim manager until it hires a permanent manager.
But Wellman, Feathers and Tatum will continue to work for the city. The City Council recently approved contracts to bring the three back as temporary, part-time help during the 2012-13 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Their contracts call for them to work 15 to 20 hours a week at $74 an hour without benefits.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at or (209) 578-2316.
 HuntForRedOctober Cronyism is the forte of your current Mayor.  Slowly infiltrate "Friends of Pat" as "volunteers" and then block vote them onto the Council later.  Remember the deals as a Supervisor - it's not about the City!  Heck - I bet she wants her former Supervisor aide to fill the empty Council seat!  She'll say she was a former council member but a lot of people fill that bill.  If not her, I bet the mother of the resigned councilman has the next best shot.  Cronyism - NAH!
The services in the Cowboy Capitol look to be going downhill because there are hardly any department managers left and the classified staff run around their managers to the Council if they feel they have been treated unfairly.  There are no qualified people running the city's day-to-day operations anymore.  Mr. "Interim" City Manager (CM) read a statement at the last City Council meeting - all of those things were identical to what his predecessor had told him a year ago - nothing new.For $206K you would think you would get a new and original perspective, not regurgitate the old stuff in a new wrapper.  Looks like a paycheck to me.  And the developer $200K+ was not a surprise either - the CM is supposed to oversee those contracts and knew about it ahead of time.  Nice way to throw the outgoing person under the bus because they won't be around to comment.  But those things sure play well on TV and in...

 bradhtms: The cronyism of the past Mayors and certain council's friends demonstrate incompetence, if not fraud, for the mis-management of all functions within the city. I thought the airport was the supreme mismanagement, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. When the council fired Mr. Baker in 2006 over his reluctance to the Taj Mahal Fire Station and other financial fiascoes, all control was lost. With a new but now departed councilman with brains and the guts to question, "what is going on here"; a new Mayor of great integrity, add an experienced interim city manager, the secrets are disclosed. Now to fix a dozen or more missteps to the tune of millions of dollars at a time when millions of pennies won't help. Time to clean house from top to bottom and get what you pay for.
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 lillyputt: I was not saying anything about our situation with the federal government just a reference to it's always the other guy that just left that made all the problems. When you add all their salaries together I think the City could have hired a full time person to do a 3 man job. I think 222.00  per hour for 3 could be a lot cheaper with 1 plus benefits.
lillyputt: What are the cost to the City with all the extra pay along with the payouts. And you know Mr. Hallam is gone it's like the Obama theory it must have happened on the other guys watch. and it take 3 to do a 1 man job.
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 compconsult:  This situation has nothing at all to do with Washington. But since you mentioned it if you are in reference to the economy or the wars we are stuck in then yes the Bush administration did cause those issues. 
 larrynextdoor: Mr. Dunlop here you go again you opened your mouth. Your concern is how much is being spent on the current management team.  What about the misappropriation of city funds
while you have been a councilmen.  You have said in council meetings not to question the management staff. Sorry, you were talking about the ex city manager Steve Hallam, the one you approved the
huge severance package for.  So Mr. Dunlop how are you going to fix the problem? I’m sure you will force the  employees to cut their salary again. Can you say RECALL………………..
HuntForRedOctober: Question - what would you do if the Mayor wanted to cut those salaries and benefits?  I'm hoping you would RECALL her as well?  Better check votes before you lump responsibility on one person in five.
Merced Sun-Star

Residents listen warily at Bellevue corridor plan meeting…AMEERA BUTT
People who live in the Bellevue Road area voiced some concerns Friday about growth during a hearing at City Hall on a plan for potential development in the corridor leading to UC Merced.
The city is in the beginning stages of putting together a long-range planning document -- the Bellevue Corridor Community Plan. It is expected to identify sites for a future business park, retail space, offices, single-family housing and apartments.
Bellevue Road is one of the major routes that people use to get to UC Merced. The plan will be completed by Spring 2014, and there will be several public hearings on it in the future, city officials said. There will also be a citizens' advisory committee.
Richard Cummings, principal planner at UC Merced, also presented the UC Merced growth plan.
Frank and Rose Vega, who live on East Bellevue Road, showed up to the meeting to find out what was going to happen.
Previously, the couple attended general plan meetings when the city was trying to get it approved.
"We're just listening," Frank Vega said.
Debbie Hnilo, who lives off of Farmland Avenue on Mountain View Lane, was also curious to see what was going to happened in the plan. She's lived there for 18 years.
"Hopefully it won't overdevelop," she said, adding that there is wildlife in the area, including foxes.
The corridor is a 2.4-square mile area of open range bounded roughly by Farmland Avenue to the north, Lake Yosemite to the northeast, Lake Road to the east, East Cardella Road and other boundaries to the south, and the stretch of G Street that runs from Foothill Drive to Farmland Avenue on the west.
William Stockard, who lives on East Cardella Road, asked city officials who was going to represent the residents.
"I have a supervisor, but as far as I know, (neither) the City Council nor the city of Merced staff represents me," he said.
"I look at the Bellevue Corridor as a polite term for urban sprawl."
He wasn't afraid of what UC Merced was going to do in the area. But he was concerned about what private developers would do along the Bellevue Corridor.
"I love where I live. It's great. I don't care if the property values go down or up because I like to live there, and I like to have the space I have," he said.