Denham, R-Calif., and his wiry 32-year-old Democratic opponent are locked in one of America’s most competitive congressional races, playing out here in this almond-picking, culturally conservative swath of California’s Central Valley. And yes, Josh Harder was until last year a venture capitalist. -- Schleifer, Recode, Sept. 20, 2018
Yessiree, the Luck of the Denham is alive and well, and will be immeasurably aided by this piece of backstabbing, courtesy of the waspish Recode. an online newspaper based in cyberspace, which covers Silicon Valley.
Now that we know that Josh Harder is not only a Stanford and Harvard grad but a venture capitalist (not, according to Recode, that we know what a venture capitalist is) we can just go back to the orchard and pick almonds and let Jeff Denham continue to represent us in Washington.
This publication, Recode, is so in love with itself and Silicon Valley that, to demonstrate its brilliance, it reveals itself to be as dumb as Denham. But, no matter. After this race, Denham will be safe until #Metoo gets on his almond-picking case.
The best thing Harder has going for him is his campaign manager, who, according to her webpage, left her East Bay precincts to come on down among us almond pickers "to fight the good fight in sensible lesbian shoes." Now what could be finer than that?
But the animosity of Silicon Valley toward the San Joaquin Valley isn't about almonds at all; it's about real estate and all the money Silicon Valley speculators lost in the real estate bust. They could never quite understand that although they were genius citizens of the New Economy and we were citizens of the Old Economy, we understood the buying and selling of land better than they did. For that we will never be forgiven. -- blj
A venture capitalist is running for Congress in farm country. And his opponent is turning those Silicon Valley years into an insult.
The race between Josh Harder and Jeff Denham isn’t just about one seat. It’s a referendum on how people feel about Silicon Valley.
Jeff Denham would like to make “venture capitalist” a dirty word. Josh Harder would probably be all right if voters didn’t know what one of those is.
Denham, R-Calif., and his wiry 32-year-old Democratic opponent are locked in one of America’s most competitive congressional races, playing out here in this almond-picking, culturally conservative swath of California’s Central Valley. And yes, Josh Harder was until last year a venture capitalist.
Most recently an on-the-rise enterprise investor at Bessemer Venture Partners in Silicon Valley, Harder these days takes pains to stress the more homegrown parts of his biography: His ancestors’ peach farm in Manteca; his years as a paperboy at the local Turlock Journal; and his decision last year, energized by Donald Trump’s presidency, to move home and run for Congress.
This race is so revealing not just because the battle for control of Congress rests on candidates like Harder — one of the 23 Democrats that must win for their party to flip the House of Representatives. But this is also an election that will show whether “venture capitalist” can be used as an epithet in politics, much like Barack Obama was able to use “vulture capitalist” to attack Mitt Romney’s background in private equity six years ago.
And at an even broader level, this election is something of a referendum on how people feel about Silicon Valley at this moment of reckoning for Big Tech. As tech’s wealthiest look in the mirror and increasingly see political candidates, the vitriol of this race is likely a sign of things to come.
“Who is Josh Harder? He’s a shady San Francisco venture capitalist,” a narrator intones in a new GOP television ad that began this week. “With shady San Francisco venture capitalist Josh Harder, it’s more for Josh, and less for you.”
Harder appears loath to talk about his Silicon Valley venture capital job, though he disputes that it is a serious political liability. In two events this past weekend — one before working-class voters in a second-floor union hall auditorium, and one on an breezy poolside patio as supporters enjoyed wine and cheese — Harder never brought up his background in technology investing, preferring to keep the spotlight on his platform and his opponent.
“He has to make me scary,” Harder said of Denham in an interview with Recode. “Because if he doesn’t, he knows we’re going to win. So he has to make it sound really evil.”
Harder aides say that he only lived in the Bay Area for a total of seven months, and the Democrat grew up here until he headed to Stanford for college. But there is a long history in politics of incumbents attacking challengers who change addresses just before filing for office. And some voters said in a series of interviews here that Denham’s attacks on television and the trail are breaking through, even if Harder fans dismiss them as baseless.
“If you don’t know anything about him, you’d say, ‘Wait a minute — why’d this rich guy move here just to run?’” said Timm LaVelle, a longtime Democratic activist who worryingly asked Harder about Denham’s attacks last Saturday evening. “It’s totally false, but it’s bad enough that if people have an inclination to believe the worst, it could add one percent or two percent — and that could make all the difference.”
National operatives on both sides of the aisle say California’s Tenth District — which includes everything from rural farmland stretching toward Yosemite National Park and outer Bay Area suburbs home to super-commuters — is one of the country’s tightest. Denham, elected during the Tea Party wave of 2010, is fighting to hold onto a heavily minority district that backed Hillary Clinton by three percentage points in 2016.
Denham’s argument has not been subtle. Campaign signs across the district repeatedly shout two words: “veteran” and “farmer.” He is a very hard man to find on the campaign trail — he declined interview requests for this story — but Denham has positioned himself as the friendly neighbor next door, striving so much for a common man’s touch that the incumbent congressman recently battled in court to try and make sure his occupation was listed as a “farmer” on the November ballot.
And indeed, as a canvassing walk with a Denham organizer through a modest, American flag-lined Modesto neighborhood revealed, some residents have personal, hyper-local connections to their four-term congressman. This district is only about one to two hours from downtown San Francisco, but voters here have an intensely loyal connection to “the Valley” — and some revulsion for the other area that tech folks primarily think of as “the Valley.”
Sabrina Gonzales, an 18-year-old student who knocks on 700 doors a week for the Denham campaign and led Recode on one of her typically sun-scorched walks, isn’t inclined to repeat her boss’s attacks on the Bay Area. But she does think there’s a unique way of life on this rich California soil that farmers can especially understand — and tech investors, who deal in nine-figure company valuations and write checks in the millions of dollars, can’t.
“Even if they don’t know someone directly or are a farmer themself, it’s an identity of the Valley,” Gonzales said. “That’s what we’re known for.”
Denham volunteers make calls at campaign headquarters.
Hostility toward outsiders ranged from one woman who called the Democratic candidate a “spoiled little rich boy” (despite the fact that she herself recently moved from the Bay Area, as her front yard’s “Welcome to Raider Nation” plaque made clear) to folks like Jim Beal, who has just enough hesitation in his mind to give some pause.
“They say he’s from Turlock,” said Beal, shutting the door on his porch to quiet down three barking dogs inside, “Just like Jeff Denham.”
The key issue at doors, and the one that both campaigns are asked about as much as any other, is not the Russia investigation or other intellectual debates that grip Silicon Valley’s elite, but the very close-to-home questions about water use in this strawberry-growing, parched part of the country.
So it should be little surprise that both candidates, who will debate for the first time Thursday, are laboring to pitch their local bona fides. Harder said he “completely disagrees” that this is a competition about years-in-the-district (though just in case it is, he is quick to claim that, “if this race becomes about who’s lived in the Valley longer, I’d win.”)
Still, just look at the campaign slogans:
Jeff Denham: “From the Valley. For the Valley.”
Josh Harder: “Of the Valley. For the Valley.”
Harder allies privately admit with a laugh that their chosen candidate is playing down the investor part of his biography. After graduating from Stanford, Harder headed to Harvard Business School and then worked in decidedly white-collar jobs at Boston Consulting Group and Bessemer, where he was on track to become a general partner after investing in companies like Fuze and the recently SoftBank-backed Light.
Those contacts have helped him raise close to $1 million from the Bay Area, some of it from Silicon Valley investors such as John Doerr and Rob Stavis, a Bessemer partner who coincidentally is one of this cycle’s biggest Democratic donors. Several of his former colleagues at Bessemer have been Harder’s most active fundraisers, such as Ethan Kurzweil, another Bessemer partner who is hosting a fundraiser featuring the challenger this Saturday in San Francisco.
Kurzweil said that if Harder can survive the attacks, he would prove a new model for candidates from corporate America: Smart, early-in-their-career moderates who are willing to give up making big money to run for office. The tech boom over the last decade has created a whole group of these young professionals, many of whom are new to politics but could perhaps become credible candidates.
“I don’t know that we need tons of VCs in Washington, but can we get folks like Josh?” Kurzweil said. “Can Josh pave a path for people at Josh’s stage in his career?”
Kurzweil’s fundraiser is expected to feature some Silicon Valley heavy-hitters, according to an invitation seen by Recode, the sort of people who draw Denham’s ire. Asked in an interview if he was “proud” of his extensive Silicon Valley financial support, Harder would only say that he “support from all over” and pointed to national GOP backing for Denham.
When Harder does obliquely refer to his time at Bessemer, he tries to pivot to his record on job creation (much like Romney did).
His campaign literature reads: “After college, Josh went to work helping small businesses grow and succeed.”
“I talk a little bit about my background,” Harder said in the interview, when asked why he is reluctant to talk about his venture capital experience. “But it’s much more interesting to me — and it’s much more interesting to everybody in this district — talking about how we’re actually going to fix these problems, as opposed to whatever else.”
Harder works the crowd at an event in Turlock. Harder is deliberate, practiced and sometimes nerdily stilted on the campaign trail, much like he might be in a board meeting. More relaxed among the wine-and-cheese set than the union set, his flat ease makes it hard to recall that he was not the chosen candidate of the Democratic establishment. (Harder’s defeated primary opponent had his own memorable job title: Beekeeper.)
“Things are looking good for us. Right now, FiveThirtyEight — Nate Silver, that blog that does a lot of election predictions — shows us with over a 75 percent chance to win,” he says to predictable whoops and hollers in Turlock, before landing the air-sucking punch line. “Of course, that’s about the same percentage he had Hillary Clinton at in 2016.”
And, ever the strategist, Harder is quite aware on the stump of how he could be painted as a Bay Area rich kid. A question about the environment? “I had childhood asthma growing up here as a kid.” A complaint about an area bridge? “I drive over it every morning.” A voter claiming she’s from the country? “That’s not the country! That’s two minutes from where I live.”
But still, there is a hard-to-finger sense from talking to voters that Denham’s attacks are helping define him. Several Harder voters here said their friends had seen Denham’s television ads and then came back quoting the commercials and grousing about the Democrat’s alleged silver spoon.
That vague there’s-something-about-him doubt sits with people like Judi Picinini, who is backing Denham. Picinini was shopping for pumpkins at a discount supermarket on Saturday evening, and the Ripon woman was certain that Harder was some out-of-town rich kid.
Why’s that? She couldn’t point to any actual evidence. But still, the feeling lingered.
“I don’t think that’s made up,” she said. “There’s something to it.”
Los Angeles Times
The Next California | Part I: The Economy
Can California’s next governor fix the state’s problems? It depends on Palo Alto
By Melanie Mason
Graphics by Ellis Simani and Priya Krishnakumar
(Cameron Cottrill / For the Times)
The “birthplace of Silicon Valley” sits in Palo Alto’s 94301 ZIP Code — a wooden Craftsman one-car garage where 80 years ago the technology behemoth Hewlett-Packard was formed. Palo Alto has been seen as a technological vanguard ever since, a futurist playground brimming with programmers and engineers pioneering the next big breakthrough.
But it’s not technology that will give the ZIP Code outsized influence on the next governor of California. It’s taxes.
While Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox campaign on their visions for the state’s next chapter, it’s the financial success of residents in Palo Alto’s 94301 and a handful of other affluent ZIP Codes that will determine whether promises to build more houses, overhaul healthcare or invest in schools can actually be kept.
We are very dependent on millionaires. If the millionaires get a cold, we all die of the flu.— Mike Genest, former budget director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Source: California Franchise Tax Board
The state scooped up just under $1 billion from nearly 9,000 tax returns filed in 94301 in 2016 — more revenue than from any other ZIP Code in California.
Much is made of the widening gap between California’s very rich and very poor. But just as significant is how the fate of the latter depends heavily on the former.
California ZIP Codes that paid the most in income tax in 2016
Personal income tax
Compare revenue from personal income tax near you
“We are very dependent on millionaires,” said Mike Genest, former budget director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “If the millionaires get a cold, we all die of the flu.”
Residents in that single Palo Alto ZIP Code paid 28 times more in taxes in 2016 than all those living in Tehama County, 200 miles northeast of Palo Alto in the heart of California’s northern forests.
Tehama feels worlds away from Silicon Valley — the kind of place that exports walnuts and black olives, not a buzzy new app or revolutionary gadget.
So long as the taxpayers of Palo Alto are thriving — as they are now — their tax dollars help fund government programs in Tehama and other less prosperous areas of California.
Economists and politicians have long said that California’s volatile revenue base leaves the state at risk for a painful budgetary reckoning when the economy slumps. But there’s been little incentive to change the system as long as California’s economy booms. And the political risks of revamping the tax structure have so far proved more intimidating than the prospect of recession.
At the unveiling of his final budget proposal in January, Gov. Jerry Brown was asked what challenges could await his successor. Without hesitating, the governor predicted the state’s current economic fortunes would take a turn for the worse.
“What’s out there is darkness. Uncertainty. Decline and recession,” Brown said, reveling in his pessimism. “So good luck, baby!”
And while indicators show few signs of imminent collapse, that’s hardly enough to protect the next governor from a budgetary abyss. All it would take is for the wealthy in Palo Alto, Beverly Hills or Atherton to come down with the sniffles.
A rosy future?
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, University Avenue, Palo Alto’s main commercial drag, is thrumming with activity and affluence.
Stylish fast-casual restaurants sling take-out for workers of nearby “innovation centers,” outposts of Fortune 500 companies where software engineers reinvent how we drive, communicate or pay for things. Teslas, so ubiquitous they’ve been nicknamed the “Palo Alto Prius,” roll by in regular intervals. Cooler-shaped robots on wheels and their human handlers maneuver around pedestrians to deliver food and other goods.
It’s still a very vibrant scene here economically, but there are definitely cautionary signs of whether this can be sustained.— Judy Kleinberg, president of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce
The 94301 ZIP Code encompasses that bustling stretch, plus well-manicured residential areas that boast a median home value of $4.3 million, according to Zillow. Residents include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google cofounder Larry Page and Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook.
“One of the reasons that it’s such a desirable place for chief executives to live: It behaves like a small town,” City Manager Jim Keene said. “It’s almost familiar: ‘I know where the Google CEO is — big deal.’ There’s no glamour.”
For now, the future looks rosy.
“Will there be a recession in the Valley? You’ve got Microsoft, LinkedIn, Apple — all adding jobs. Google is expanding in the North Bay, Facebook is expanding,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Palo Alto-based Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.
But this year has brought reminders of the volatilities.
In August, Apple became the first American company to be valued at $1 trillion. But less than a month earlier, Facebook shares in July had plummeted nearly 20%, a $119-billion loss in market value that was the biggest one-day loss in stock market history.
“There are so many zeros in everything,” said Judy Kleinberg, president of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, referring to the eye-popping figures. “I think there’s a certain normalcy that’s bizarre. That’s our bubble — it’s not normal but it’s our normal.”
But not everyone in Palo Alto lives an ultra-flush lifestyle. Nearly half of the city’s residents are renters, and the booming tech economy has had negative consequences — surging home prices and worsening traffic congestion — that are causing some serious angst.
“It’s still a very vibrant scene here economically,” Kleinberg said, “but there are definitely cautionary signs of whether this can be sustained.”
Analysts at S&P Global noted in August that the state’s reliance on high-income earners and capital gains from Palo Alto and its ilk has increased its “susceptibility to fiscal volatility.”
So how much more does this red-hot economy have left in it?
Overall, experts predict a generally upbeat forecast for the state’s economy in the near term. Brown’s own Department of Finance projects continued growth in the civilian labor force, wages and salaries and construction through 2021, albeit at a slower pace than California’s recent gangbusters expansion.
But underlying the bullish projections is a gnawing sense that the prosperous economic run has been unusually lengthy — and bound for an eventual end.
The longest national economic expansion in history was a 10-year stretch in the 1990s. The current growth, which began in July 2009, is gaining on that record. For the next governor to make it through a four-year term without a contraction, the expansion would have to last at least 12 ½ years, said Jerry Nickelsburg, an economist and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.
“Twelve and a half years is longer than any expansion in the U.S. economy,” Nickelsburg said. “So the next governor may well have the good fortune of not having to go through a recession — but may not.”
There are other warning signs. High housing costs are felt as acutely in most of the state’s main hubs as it is in Palo Alto, making it hard to find workers to fill open jobs. Decisions made in Washington D.C. loom large over the state’s economic outlook. President Trump’s escalating trade war with China and other trading partners has led to retaliatory tariffs on American exports, threatening to kneecap farmers or workers at California’s major ports. His oft-threatened restrictions to immigration could cut off labor to key industries such as tech or agriculture.
When the bust happens, it can be sudden and brutal. Just ask former Gov. Pete Wilson.
In the early 1990s, cutbacks in national defense after the end of the Cold War pummeled the Southern California aerospace industry. Wilson took office in January 1991 with an estimated $7-billion budget shortfall; five months later, the gap ballooned to more than $14 billion.
Little more than a decade later, Gov. Gray Davis was slammed by the dot-com bust of the early 2000s led to tax revenues cratering to the tune of $25 billion for three years.
Revenue decline was even steeper in the Great Recession: In 2009, the state lost more than $35 billion. It was left to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and later Brown to pick up the pieces.
“We would get to things like Medi-Cal and I would ask my staff…we need to cut $2 billion or something,” Genest, said of trying to stanch the budget bleeding during the Schwarzenegger years. “They would say, ‘look, there isn’t any way.’
“It was just horrendous to be there,” he said. “And it will be again. Those problems are all there just waiting to resurface — and they’re getting worse.”
‘Weathering the storm’
Rural Tehama County is still smarting from the last recession. In his quest for cuts, Schwarzenegger slashed a land conservation fund that paid about $30 million to rural counties statewide — to a token $1,000 annually. Tehama’s share, which had been close to $1 million, plummeted to $12. The fund hasn’t been restored, and the county has yet to add back the staff positions it lost.
“In two words: It sucked,” Tehama County Supervisor Bob Williams said of governing during the downturn. “You’re making decisions as an elected official that affect people’s lives and affect their livelihoods.”
The county weathered the last storm through a combination of furloughs and hiring freezes, convincing public employees to shoulder a larger share of retirement costs and addressing increased demand for social services such as CalWorks with a skeleton staff. A local library narrowly escaped closing when the community rallied with bake sales and raffles and a rent break from the landlord.
Teslas or food delivery robots would look out of place in Red Bluff, the county seat. Instead, the city boasts a historic downtown, lined with Victorian buildings and anchored with an Italianate clock tower — a replica of an 1886 landmark that burned down more than 30 years ago. The sluggish pace of recovery shows in shuttered storefronts throughout the county — the slightest change in fortunes could put Tehama back on its heels.
“It wouldn’t take a recession to create a budget crisis,” said Justin Garosi, an economist with the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. “If the stock market were to have a really poor year, if it greatly reduces the amount of revenue from capital gains — that would create a budget hole even if the regular economy were fine.”
The vulnerability stems from the state’s lopsided reliance on personal income tax — including taxes on capital gains — to fund its budget. Nearly 70% of California’s revenue comes from personal income tax, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. That share has steadily risen since the 1950s, while other sources of revenue, such as sales and use tax and corporate tax, have declined in significance. And personal income tax revenue is especially concentrated among the state’s top earners. In 2016, the top 1% of filers paid out nearly 46% of income tax revenue.
When that top 1% is doing well, the state does very well. When Facebook went public in 2012, for example, the resulting surge in capital gains revenue injected at least $1.4 billion in revenue directly associated with the initial public offering in the subsequent three years.
Some budget experts said the state could better manage the risk of relying so heavily on the wealthy.
Ana Matosantos, who served as the top budget official for Schwarzenegger and Brown, said checks on volatility include budget reserves, avoiding ongoing spending commitments, and good planning. Reducing taxes on the rich would be more stable, but would also mean less money in state coffers — a combination that would “make inequality worse,” she said.
“Progressive tax policies are reflective of the growing wealth and income inequality,” Matosantos said. “It is appropriate and fair to consider ways to calibrate tax policy to reflect the growing demands on public services caused by extreme wea lth inequality. If we want a tax system that raises more revenues, we need taxes to apply where the money is.”
As governor, Brown has spouted a less optimistic view of California’s dependence on the rich.
He has relished raising alarms about unpredictability, displaying large charts at budget news conferences to show the jagged peaks and valleys of capital gains revenue over the decades.
Yet under his tenure, the state has grown more dependent on high-income earners. In 2012, he convinced voters to approve new income taxes on the wealthy — starting with those earning $250,000 a year — as well as new sales taxes to stave off billions in cuts to education.
Key to that successful campaign was the promise that those taxes would be temporary. But in 2016, labor groups representing teachers and public employees were victorious in their push to extend the income taxes until 2030. The tax rates generate up to $9 billion in additional revenue each year, enabling the state to spend more on programs.
To guard against budgetary whiplash, Brown has preached limiting spending on new programs, leading to perennial battles with legislators. He also championed a revamped rainy day fund, sequestering a portion of capital gains revenue that is above historic norms.
By next summer, the state’s cash reserves will total $15.9 billion, with the vast majority socked away in that fund.
That would provide some cushion in the next recession, but stop short of fully taking the sting out of a downturn. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that a mild recession would lead to a $40-billion decline in revenues, leading to a $20-billion deficit. A moderate recession could slash revenues by $80 billion, leading to a $40-billion shortfall.
“Is [the rainy day fund] going to obviate or eliminate the need for any budget reductions in the next recession? No,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Brown’s Department of Finance. “Is it going to mitigate it? Yes.”
A sweeping overhaul of California’s tax structure could make the state’s revenues less volatile, but it would also mean imperiling a herd of sacred cows.
Broadening the tax base would shift the dependence away from high-income earners, but would in turn put an additional burden on low- and middle-income residents — an unpopular prospect anywhere, but particularly in liberal California.
Revisiting Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 initiative that slashed property taxes and capped the annual increase in assessments for residential and commercial properties, could mean a gusher of revenue to local governments and schools, easing the need for the state to spend so heavily in those areas. But the law, particularly on residential taxes, remains politically untouchable, at least for now.
A handful of options have long been under consideration in Sacramento. State Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) has repeatedly called for a sales tax on services. A partial revision of Proposition 13 — a so-called “split roll” that would tax commercial properties based on market value, instead of purchase price — has gained popularity in liberal quarters and may be on the ballot in 2020, but it faces stiff resistance from business interests. Environmentalists have encouraged a tax on extraction from California’s oil or natural gas reserves, a move fiercely opposed by oil companies.
While both gubernatorial candidates have gingerly talked about taxes, neither has made the issue a focus of his campaign. Republican John Cox has called for slashing the personal income tax, and reducing state spending along with it. Democrat Gavin Newsom has said he’s open to exploring tax reform, including broadening the sales tax, so long as it gets approval from voters.
Policy and political experts say true overhaul would require a combination of multiple proposals, spreading the pain evenly among interest groups.
“Getting real tax reform done would be the political unicorn of policy change,” said Dana Williamson, a Democratic consultant and Brown’s political adviser. “It would take a lot of money, a coalition of competing interests and a popular governor willing to make this their top priority at a time when voters aren’t clamoring for change.”
The clamor certainly isn’t coming from Palo Alto. Residents of the 94301 ZIP Code have voted overwhelmingly to impose higher taxes on themselves, with roughly 64% backing Proposition 30 in 2010 and 61% supporting Proposition 55 four years later.
Nor does there seem to be a real fear of being able to ride out any coming economic storms.
“In many ways people take it for granted,” said Keene, the city manager, of the current prosperity. “There’s a kind of faith that we can transform ourselves as needed.”
Out in Tehama County, however, Williams’ outlook is less cheerful. He worries about the county’s growing pension obligations, the more than 40% of residents relying on Medi-Cal and local walnut farmers who fear the effects of Trump’s tariffs.
“We’re going to get hit. We see it coming,” Williams said. “Any time we have a little bit of extra, we shove it over to an economic uncertainty account because we’ve been there before. But I don’t know if we have enough to withstand if a big economic crisis hits us.”
Ceremony canceled as Modesto dog park opening unclear due to homeless campgrounds1.
By Rosalio Ahumada
Officials have a canceled next week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for a newly constructed dog park at Modesto’s Beard Brook Park, which has been designated a campground for homeless people while the city works to provide more shelter beds.
A federal appeals court on Sept. 4 ruled that people cannot be prosecuted for sleeping on public property when they don’t have viable alternatives.
The dog park, which is enclosed by chain-link fencing and locked gates, was scheduled to open to the public Sept. 29 with the ribbon-cutting ceremony. But city officials felt a ceremony celebrating the opening of the dog park would not be appropriate.
Thomas Reeves, a city spokesman, said the city right now wants to focus all its resources on ensuring the safety and well-being of the community, including the homeless who will now be using the park as a temporary campground.
He said the dog park might still open as scheduled Sept. 29, but “just without the pomp and circumstance.” For the city to use its resources on a ribbon-cutting ceremony while responding to a rapidly evolving homeless situation “would be sending a conflicting message.”
Modesto is working out the details to provide portable toilets, sanitation, regular cleanups and security at Beard Brook.
But Reeves said Wednesday that city officials are not certain when the dog park will be open. City officials have stressed that letting homeless people camp in Beard Brook Park is a
temporary solution while Modesto, Stanislaus County and others work on increasing the number of beds for the homeless as well as services.
Officials have said they are working with The Salvation Army and the Modesto Gospel Mission, which each operate homeless shelters.
The appellate court ruling comes as Stanislaus County considers declaring what is called a shelter crisis because there are more homeless people in the county than shelter for them.
Beard Brook Park sits along Dry Creek and south of Yosemite Boulevard, between the E.&J. Gallo Winery and Stanislaus Food Products. While the park has been closed for several years, homeless people say they have camped out there despite attempts to move them out.
The park long has been populated by homeless people. City officials have considered ways to generate more recreational activity there and reclaim it as a regional park.
Edward Mendez has been camping since 2011 in a spot near the south end of the park. He doesn’t believe he and other homeless people will interfere with dog lovers on the other side of the park.
“Here, we’re at the end,” Mendez said Wednesday about his makeshift campsite. “Nobody sees us. We’re out of the public’s eye, so to speak.”
Construction of the dog park is mostly complete, except for some signage that needs to be installed. Mendez was confused why the dog park hadn’t opened yet.
“I don’t see why they built the dog park here in the first place,” he said. “All that fencing, and now they’re not going to use it.”
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. agreed to pay the costs of creating the dog park. It was part of a PG&E-funded project to relocate a 650-ton locomotive with tender from Beard Brook Park, where the train had sat since 1960.
The train sat atop a gas line about five feet below the surface, so moving it allows PG&E to quickly access underground utilities if the need arises. The train was moved last year to the Amtrak station on Held Avenue near Parker Road in Modesto.
Bruce Dow of United Samaritans Foundation conducts outreach with homeless people each Wednesday at Beard Brook Park and other areas throughout the city. He tells them where they can find free food and other services from charitable organizations.
He was back at the park this week to discuss the city’s plan for the temporary homeless campground. United Samaritans used to serve free meals to homeless people at the park Monday through Friday until about a month ago. Dow said most of the homeless campers had moved to other areas of the city, fearing police citations or arrests if they stayed at Beard Brook Park.
Dow said the past few days had resulted in a dramatic change in city policy toward homeless people in Beard Brook Park, at least.
“They know they’re not going to get bullied and pushed around if they stay here,” Dow said in the park’s parking lot.
He agrees that homeless people will keep to themselves while residents visit the dog park, but the unfair stigma surrounding homeless people will keep pet owners away.
“Nobody is going to come down here with their dogs,” Dow said.
Some homeless people are worried the park will become overcrowded as other people throughout the city leave other parks and relocate to Beard Brook.
Josh House, who has been camping at the park for about four years, said a large population of homeless people in one park won’t be a problem. He said he and other homeless people living at Beard Brook have shown to police themselves, even though he says a bike has been stolen from him 12 times.
It’s a tough situation for everyone involved, including the law enforcement officials who were forced to cite homeless people for camping at the park. But House said the police officers he’s encountered have been polite and professional. He said a group of probation officers who were questioning some of the homeless campers returned to the park with meals for House and others.
Camping at the park helps them avoid the option of leaving behind their belongings to stay in an overnight shelter. House and others hope that the charitable groups that used to provide services at Beard Brook will return.
“It’s going to help a lot of people,” House said as he hauled a bicycle trailer with his belongings. “They really need it.”
1. A little oral history: Beard Brook Park was called Morton Park when I played Little League baseball there around 1953. The Beards, a prominent Modesto family with property along the creek, tried to get the city to rename Dry Creek, which runs along the park and occasionally floods it, Beard Brook. This was met with municipal derision and rejection. But the got stuck on the park.
Families used to go there to picnic, watch the baseball games, swim in the creek, and play.
Its present use, as a homeless camp, actually harks back to the heyday of the Cling peach, which brought thousands of migrant workers, many by train, from Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, for at least a decade after I graduated from Little League. The main hobo jungle was beside the Beard's short-haul railroad from Modesto to Empire, where it met the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks. The fruit tramps used the banks of Dry Creek to get through town mostly undetected, to the orchards northeast of town. Or else they'd walk out Yosemite Ave. towards Empire and look for work in those orchards.
E&J Gallo Wine Co. has built on the old hobo jungle site.
Migrant families would come into town on Crows Landing Road, or cross the 7th Street bridge out of town, turn at the I'm Inn, drive through a trailer park and camp on the bank of the Tuolumne River right across from the Modesto Reds ballpark. The bank made a nice amphitheater and you could easily hear singing and guitars from the road across the river.
After the peach harvest, hundreds of farm workers would climb on Southern Pacific boxcars and gondolas along Highway 99.
Meanwhile, in Palo Alto and at Stanford, folksingers sang Woody Guthrie songs. --wmh