Streets, roads, marijuana, and recreation-department salaries highlighted the August 1st meeting of the Merced City Council.
The amount of $876,000 in CalTrans funds has been made available to the city through the Merced County Association of Governments. MCAG, as you might remember, is the only local agency authorized by CalTrans to either forward local jurisdiction requests for US Highway Administration funds, and is the only agency authorized to distribute those funds.
At the last meeting, the city council voted to stop payment of certain funds to MCAG that may end the city's eligibility to either propose projects or dispose of highway funds.
The issues at hand in this report item were 1) to vote to accept the funds; and 2) to decide between two projects, one on the north side of town, the other on the south side.
The project on the north side is to complete the additional lanes to Yosemite Ave. between San Augustine and Highway 59, for the benefit of traffic flow in those recent neighborhoods in north Merced. The southside project are to repave N Street between 8th Street and Childs Ave., a street that services two public schools and an extensive Golden Valley Health Clinic facility that sees "hundreds of patients every day" according to its spokesperson. This project also includes repaving 15th Street from O to R streets, a popular route for getting to Costco, one of the largest retail stores in town.
Councilman Mike Murphy led the charge for the Yosemite Ave. lane expansion, as Mary Michael Rawlings, an employee of GVHC, spoke for the southside project.
Murphy grilled staff on its lack of an overall plan for street upgrades when support for the southside project appeared. In the ensuing discussion, he apparently did not hear what staff was saying: that back when the city had enough staff, c. 2005, they had developed a list of priority street projects but had been unable to get many of them done for lack of money and because what funds they had collected had been from grants with specifications that did not necessarily fit with the city's list of priorities.
No, staff, said, they did not bring that list with them to the meeting. (Were they asked to? Should they have?)
What staff had done was leave the decision up to the council, which exposed Murphy (candidate for mayor) a little too much as an unequivocal advocate of the northside project, so he had to blame the staff for not providing a list of the city's priorities and when that was not instantly provided, he must blame staff for not consulting with council on developing the priorities?
It's only a hypothesis and what lies in the background is the general problem of understanding municipal politics at all: it is not a rational process; politicians do not always act rationally in their own self-interest; special interests have a large influence on local government but at times they compete and nullify each other; and although the Common Good and the Public Trust is frequently loses the day, they do not always lose the day.
In any event, for whatever reason he had, Murphy managed to muddy the issue sufficiently to put off the decision for the next council meeting. There is a deadline coming soon for application for these funds.
We conclude that section with quoting a comment made by a former city councilman several years before he was first elected, that with the arrival of UC Merced stimulating such a building boom on the northside, what was known as central Merced, the area between Main and Olive streets, will become part of South Merced. That was an accurate prediction, particularly as it pertains to the condition of street surfaces. About the time the future councilman made the prediction, the city was losing its city engineer, whose parting comments included the warning that if many existing streets were not repaved then, in a decade they would have to be rebuilt from the dirt up. When Councilman Tony Dossetti asked staff what kind of job would be done on the southside project, staff replied that it would be a repavement job that would last between 10 and 15 years.
Our streets and roads in the older sections of town are deteriorating, and the rate of deterioration is now accelerating.
Parks and Community Services.
Councilman Murphy wants to take some unexpended funds from this department and give them to the Boys and Girls Club of Merced County. We are less than a month into the new budget, but the councilman seems determined to further weaken a department that has already been vandalized in these continuing hard economic times.
The first question that arose was a little sophistical exercise on the definition of "unexpended funds": are they savings or are they all or partially committed to the salaries for positions not yet filled. This led to brief mention of the 900-pound Troglodytes gorilla in the room. The largest pay package in city Parks goes to the director, $114,039.94, but the director, Mike Conway, is the assistant city manager. In years past, when the council approved every subdivision project and assured itself and the public that "development would pay for itself in Merced," the city had both an assistant city manager and a Parks director.
Staff, under cross-examination by Murphy, a lawyer, explained we think as best they could the ongoing salaries shuffle in Parks. The city Finance Director was even summoned to the podium to explain more about the Parks budget. His main point was that it is unwise to take away unexpended funds, particularly when the budget is less than a month old and applications for the departmental positions are just beginning to come in.
Murphy's argument was that $10,000 could open the Boys and Girls Club for a half day on Saturdays, which would certainly be a benefit to some youth. But we wondered if that money might in a short time go to something that would benefit equally or more. There was not any discussion of that, probably because it is not something that can ever be reduced to dollars and cents, which was the issue before the council that evening. And, although Murphy mentioned that there were other non-profits out there, he only spoke about the Boys and Girls Club. The chairman of the board of the club is Nellie McGarry, former city councilwoman, active Republican, candidate for the state Assembly, owns a rental agency, secretary of the Community Foundation of Merced County, first-vice chair of the Merced County Work Force Investment Board, has been given awards by both the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Soroptomists and the Business and Professional Women of Merced, and has been active in youth programs in the city and county.
Whether or not Murphy can deliver $10,000 in public funds to her private non-profit, it would seem that McGarry would not be a bad person to have in your corner if you're running for mayor. Club Director Tony Slaton is also an important figure in town to add to other Murphy supporters like every police and sheriff's deputy organization in town and the Citizens for the Betterment of Merced Count.
On the other hand, that may be making too political what in fact is simply good public service in a place and at a time when there aren't too many people as active as McGarry has continued to be since her term on the city council.
In January, the city council banned all commercial pot cultivation and deliveries but agreed to two public study sessions. Following the two sessions, and considering the movement toward legalization in the state, the council directed staff to compose a draft ordinance, which was presented to the city Planning Commission in May. This resulted in two drafts, one from the commission, the other from staff, which were presented to the city council on July 5. They failed on a 3-3 vote. A draft ordinance was approved by the council on a 4-3 vote on July 18 "authorizing medical marijuana dispensaries (subject to specific conditions and requirements), delivery of medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries, and limited indoor cultivation of medical marijuana for qualified patients."
First of all, this means that no applications for dispensary conditional use permits will be accepted until the city has adopted those "specific conditions and requirements."
Busy Councilman Murphy challenged legal staff on the issue of whether dispensaries could be "online" before state regulations have been established. But Prop. 215 in 1996 and the California Supreme Court decision in People v. Kelly (2010) have already legalized many aspects of medical marijuana.
City legal staff asked Murphy if he wanted to hold off on the ordinance until after the November election, which includes Prop. 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, which would legalize and tax the production, sales and distribution of all marijuana, and includes special provisions for medical marijuana.
Murphy's response we thought was odd. He said, "I don't think there's enough votes for that ..." We wondered if he thought it was his business to predict how other council members would vote if such a question came up for a vote.
City legal staff replied that there were two possibilities regarding approval of dispensaries: 1) to wait until the city has adopted regulations, or 2) wait until the state has adopted regulations. Thirdly, he added, if the council remains silent on the issue, an operator could legally apply for a CUP the day after the meeting.
Mayor Stan Thurston asked that since no applications will be accepted until the city has established regulations, should council members vote No if they want to wait for the state's regulations. Thurston has been a consistent opponent of the ordinance and this was a curve ball.
The ordinance passed.
The Obama administration has denied a bid by two Democratic governors to reconsider how it treats marijuana under federal drug control laws, keeping the drug for now, at least, in the most restrictive category for U.S. law enforcement purposes. -- Carrie Johnson, Washington Post, Aug. 10, 2016.
Multimillion-dollar operations, probably cartel grows, were busted in Mendocino National Forest this month by an interagency narcotics task force. One sheriff, part of the bust, noted that the grand effect of state and local efforts to legalize and tax marijuana may be to increase sales on lower priced black market pot. As Nick von Hoffman wrote for the Post in a series on the Haight in 1967, the marijuana market cannot be organized or controlled in the same way other narcotics have always been by the mob and the police. It has always followed a different beat.
Belluomini's Good Idea
Councilman Michael Belluomini introduced a request for the city staff to draft an ordinance to name streets in developments that have not been built or exist only on final maps after fallen veterans from the City of Merced.
Mayor Thurston, a veteran, praised the idea of "incredibly brilliant," and offered to buy Belluomini a drink "if you drink."
There was no opposition from the council and several veterans and representatives of local veteran orgnizations spoke in favor of it during the public comment period.
The motion passed unanimously.
We found Merced Sun-Star reporter Thaddeus Miller's excellent piece on campaign financing for the council in 2013 very useful although this November we will be voting for our first district-based, rather than citywide-based, candidates.
Merced candidates give final funding report
The last campaign contribution statements before the election are in, detailing who’s leading the money race, who their big supporters are and just how much is being spent to get elected to municipal seats.
By Thaddeus Miller http://www.mercedsunstar.com/latest-news/article3279534.html
Since Sept. 21, incumbent Mayor Stan Thurston has collected more campaign dollars than his opponent, but Councilman Noah Lor’s coffer is still more than $33,000 heavier, according to the final documents due before Election Day.
Thurston’s latest contributions equaled $4,223, for a total of $23,632 for the year. That’s compared to Lor’s $3,759 in recent donations and yearlong total of $57,101.
All of the candidates for mayor and Merced City Council were required to file campaign contribution forms by the close of business Thursday. The paperwork was to include contributions through Oct. 19.
Thurston’s most recent contributions were $2,000 from Merced Motel-Hotel Association; $500 from Yosemite Avenue Partners of Merced; $500 from Merced Police Officers Association; $500 from Brawley Enterprises of Merced; and $723 in amounts of $100 or smaller.
Money given to Lor recently includes $750 from Pacific Gas and Electric Co.; $500 from the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers of Modesto; $500 from Merced County Democratic Central Committee; $200 from Minnesota-based attorney Fue Thao; and $495 in contributions smaller than $100.
Five of the eight City Council candidates filed itemized statements. Candidates Alex Gallardo Jr., a teacher; Peter Padilla, a State Farm Insurance agent; and Monica Kay Villa, a homemaker, informed the city clerk’s office they are not accepting $1,000 or more in contributions, which exempts them from filing an itemized list.
Candidate Michael Belluomini, the retired director of facilities planning for the Merced Union High School District, brought in the most money of council candidates during the filing period with $6,142. His total contributions for the year is $11,987.
Belluomini most recently received $2,214 from Citizens for the Betterment of Merced County; $500 from Berent Isenberg of Merced; and $3,428 in donations under $500.
Since late October, Merced County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Blake, who also is running for council, received $5,140 to raise his yearlong total to $15,679.
Donations include $500 from Peace Officers Research Association of California of Sacramento; $500 from PG&E.; $500 from Merced County Democratic Central Committee of Sacramento; $500 from the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers of Sacramento; $500 from Merced Police Officers Association; $500 from Northern California Carpenters of Oakland; and $1,340 of donations in smaller than $500 increments.
Candidate Jana Mowrer, a home health care manager for Lamerson Landy Care, has garnered $3,457 in recent donations. Her total to date is $8,201.
The most recent donations to Mowrer include $750 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee of Los Angeles; $500 from Robert Akema of Le Grand; $500 from Anna Akema of Le Grand; and $1,107 in amounts smaller than $100.
Incumbent Councilman Josh Pedrozo has received $26,053 to date, which was increased most recently by $5,646 in contributions.
Pedrozo recently received $1,000 from the California Real Estate PAC of Los Angeles; $500 from Merced Motel-Hotel Association; $500 from Hanimireddy Lakireddy of Merced; $500 from Merced County Democratic Central Committee of Sacramento; $500 from the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers of Modesto; $500 from Anchor Valley Properties of Berkeley; and $1,946 from donations less than $500.
Candidate and UC Merced lecturer Chris Ramirez has most recently raised $4,231 to raise the year’s total to $11,085.
His latest contributions were $1,000 from himself and $3,231 from donations of fewer than $500 each.
Election Day is Nov. 5.