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Congressman drops by for coffee
• Mitchell eatery hosts 'Coffee With a Cop' event
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Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith and Congressman Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, met up at the Oct. 3 “Coffee With a Cop” event held at the Farmer Boys restaurant on MItchell Road. A relaxed Denham, who is in the midst of a re-election fight, chatted with Ceres officers and the public. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Congressman Jeff Denham showed up at Wednesday morning’s “Coffee With a Cop” event held at Farmer Boys in Ceres to visit with officers and police brass.

“It looks like there’s a good turnout,” said Denham, who expressed relief that the election was just 34 days away. Denham exuded confidence that he will be successful for a fifth time to represent the Ceres area in Congress but admitted it could be a close one. Democrat Josh Harder is seeking to defeat him.

“Now is the time people really start paying attention,” Denham told Lt. Rick Collins.

Denham talked about the disastrous effect the state’s proposed Bay Delta Plan would have on the valley. He said the director of the federal EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is expected to visit the 10th Congressional District to address “something unprecedented against the state.” Denham noted that the EPA chief was reluctant to weigh in before the election because some will claim it’s political. But Denham pointed out that the decision is to be made the day after the election.

“The adverse effect of them holding this water back is that these late pulse flows, or this late flush of the water out to the ocean can tear down our levees and cause floods,” said Denham. “There is not another issue that would devastate the Valley like this. This is like complete devastation. If you take that much water away it not only shuts down the farms, but it’s our drinking water, it’s the hydro power. One out of every four years that Melones would be empty; that’s power for 250,000 homes. It’s unbelievable. People ask me why I’m so fired up and it’s because I’ve never seen anything this bad.”

Denham said the National Marine Fisheries (Service) is the lynchpin of the plan.

“The National Marine Fisheries used to be for the ocean and now it’s monitoring our drains. They’re the ones who will have to implement it so that’s why we’ve got the president involved,” said Denham.

The state Water Resources Control Board is proposing to take up to 40 percent of the water in Don Pedro, New Melones and McClure reservoirs and flush it out to the Delta and bypassing use by farmers. While proponents of the plan say it’s about protecting species of fish and battling salt water intrusion into the Delta, others suspect it is a way to grab Northern California and pipe it to Southern California if Gov. Brown gets his way to build the Twin Tunnels.

Denham insists that the pulse flows created by the plan could blow out levees and cause flooding, especially around the Manteca area.

The Republican also predicted that President Trump is expected to sign his water bill.

Vice Mayor Mike Kline was the only member of the Ceres City Council to attend the event. He was asked to weigh in on constituent concerns of crime.

“I hear the most about panhandling,” said Kline. “Our PD does a good job of getting them to move along.”

He also said citizens are concerned about homelessness.

“But I realize the problem is everywhere and nobody has a real solution.”

Roger Alvarez, who has been the city’s lone code enforcement officer since February, talked about how busy his job remains. Some relief is coming after Jan. 1 when a newly budgeted code enforcement officer comes aboard.

“With the size of this city there should be maybe three or four of us,” said Alvarez. “But we were granted another position by the City Council so hopefully by the end of the year we’ll have more help.”

It’s the job of code enforcement to notify property owners of violating the municipal code, handling public nuisances like trash piles and parking cars on lawns, cracking down on businesses operating out of the wrong zone and cleaning up homeless encampments.

Ceres Police Sgt. Jason Coley, who oversees code enforcement, said the city gets about 12 new complaints a day.

“What the public needs to understand is this guy (Alvarez) is swamped with work,” said Sgt. Coley. “I would estimate we get 12 new cases every day of things we have to check out. The new person is going to help tremendously but they’re still not going to have time to be proactive. They’ll have to put aside things to be proactive.” 

Alvarez said city residents are allowed two bulky item collections per year through Bertolotti Ceres Disposal but it must be scheduled. He said those with rental homes cannot let their evicted tenants to pile up discarded furniture and other debris.

Abatement of nuisances is only compounded by due process. After notifying someone of a violation, the city must give them five days later, which triggers a written notice that gives them another 10 days. If after 10 days the problem exists, the city must issue a “notice to abate” which comes with another 10 days. If it’s still not done, a second citation comes with another 10 days.

“That’s 30 days to get one violation corrected,” said Sgt. Coley. “It doesn’t happen overnight. We have to give people due process to get stuff done.”  

A recent decision handed down by the Ninth District of the U.S. Court of Appeals has made the job of code enforcement officers harder in California. The ruling in the Bell v. the city of Boise declared that cities cannot enforce laws against the homeless sleeping or camping in public if there are no beds available at local homeless shelters.

“So if we want to hold them accountable for sleeping in public, we basically would have to call the shelter,” said Coley. If they have room the city has to direct the homeless person to the shelter. But since Modesto Gospel Mission – the closest facility to Ceres – is always full, the net effect is Ceres must put up with the problem.

The city of Modesto has provided space and toilets in Beard Brook Park near the Ninth Street Bridge for overnight camping.

Coley said the homeless cannot trespass on private property, however.

Alvarez said one of the Ceres schools called the city on a homeless who was camping there and defecating in front of the school kids.

Other CPD employees attending the event included Lt. Chris Perry, Sg. Travis Hudson, Officer Kevin Sakasegawa, Sgt. Danny Vierra, and officers Kyle Morris, Brian Peterson and Christian Izquierdo. City Manager Toby Wells showed up as did council candidate Gene Yeakley who is running against Linda Ryno in District 2. 

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Ceres Police Sgt. Jason Coley (left) and Code Enforcement Officer Roger Alvarez speak to Ceres businessman and downtown property owner Shane Parson about issues of concern over coffee at Farmer Boys on Wednesday morning, Oct. 3.
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Ceres Police Lt. Chris Perry (left) speaks to two unidentified residents during “Coffee With a Cop.” - photo by Jeff Benziger