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City Council disappoints on waste wheeler issue

I’ve never been more disappointed in the Ceres City Council after last week’s meeting.

Mayor Chris Vierra, Councilman Bret Durossette and Mike Kline each decided they’re okay with seeing garbage cans in view as they drive down the street.

It was a bad decision and I applaud the efforts of Channce Condit and Linda Ryno to support the law that’s been on the books for a long time – and calling for increased enforcement.

Mike Kline’s actions were supremely puzzling actions last week. Kline indicated that he was going to support the existing law that requires residents to keep their garbage cans out of public view six days of the week. He spent some time explaining that after his original comments were published in the Courier, residents were dismayed and expressed they don’t want to see cans left in public view. Kline said: “I was approached many times about my opinion of this matter and with that being said, the direction that everybody gave me that it needs to be left at the clear standards we have, that it must be behind a screen and away from public view. So that’s what was expressed to me because of the way I stood before. So I can agree … that it should be out of public view.”

Repeat: “should be left out of public view.”

But when it came time to vote, Kline paused, and stated he would stick with his “first thought” that it’s okay to keep cans “against the house” – which is not out of public view. I’d expect a candidate for county supervisor would not wish to give an opponent evidence of flaky voting patterns.

Ceres has a significant aesthetics problem but their decision will lead to more people who just don’t care about curb appeal.

I was certain that the mayor – who had been absent from prior discussions on the topic due to family medical issues – would defend the existing law in the interests of aesthetics. I was stunned at how wrong I was.

Durossette admitted that he didn’t read the Courier article so he didn’t know if or how he was quoted. Doesn’t matter for he knows he called himself “wishy washy” on the subject. Durossette, who wants to be mayor, admitted he has been caught violating the city code regarding garbage cans but made light of it. Despite that the law is already on the books, Durossette said it is “overkill to make them put it in the back.”

I agree with Renee Ledbetter, who makes her living by showing and selling properties in Ceres (and an official with our Ceres Chamber of Commerce), that leaving cans out doesn’t make any neighborhood look good.

* * * * *

Imagine living in Riverbank and your mailing address is Oakdale. That would be confusing.

Or how would you feel living in Denair and your address is Turlock? Sonora if you’re in Jamestown? That would be wrong, you’d say – and you would be right for saying that. Why then is it acceptable that parts of Ceres have a Modesto mailing address?

It needs to change.

A little history is in order. Go back to the days when Ceres was a tiny little town and there was a rural gap between Ceres and Modesto. That area was labeled Modesto for mailing purposes as was the miles-wide belt surrounding Modesto. (To this day the Fruit Yard at Yosemite and Geer Road still has a Modesto mailing address even though it’s closer to Waterford or Empire.) Ceres, of course, annexed most of the area north of Hatch Road and south of the Tuolumne River. Ceres city officials also made the area to the river its “sphere of influence.” There are still pockets of land which are still unincorporated, meaning that it’s still in the county. But ultimately those pockets will be annexed to Ceres; it’s not a matter of if but when. This area will never be taken by Modesto, which makes it all the more ridiculous to keep the Modesto mailing address.

It’s ridiculous when the mayor of Ceres lives in Ceres but has a Modesto mailing address. It’s ridiculous that when anyone in that area calls for service, Ceres Police or Ceres Fire responds, not Modesto, but they have to write Modesto on their correspondence.

Having a Modesto mailing address means that postal patrons have to go to the Paradise station in Modesto to hold mail and pick up certified letters and packages. That’s a lot farther of a drive then to the Ceres Post Office on Mitchell Road. 

On Feb. 12, 1993, we published a story about the dilemma. Then City Manager Gary Napper said that changing the zip code would “eliminate a lot of confusion for city residents who routinely call the city of Modesto for service. The Modesto zip code fools many into thinking they’re Modesto residents when they’re actually Ceres taxpayers.”

A change can only occur by a vote of the affected postal patrons. I understand there was a vote in the 1980s that failed. In the early 1990s the city revisited the issue. The U.S. Postal Service did an analysis and recommended the change. In December 1992 U.S. postal officials said the change would save $10,455 annually in fuel costs. With today’s fuel costs, imagine what the savings might be today.

I am familiar with the disaster of the 1994 vote. The old blood – the same ones who resented Ceres invading their territory – fought the change, offering excuses like as “we’re going to have to change our stationery” and “it’s going to cost us to change the recordation on our property.” I believe it was all about status since these people wanted to be identified with Modesto, not Ceres. 

The September 1994 ballot didn’t fare well for change. Of the 2,374 ballots that went out, only 1,329 were returned. The proposed change went down in flames, 959 to 278, mostly because the “no change” crowd was feverishly energized.

It seems like someone in Washington D.C. should consider a vital change: once a city annexes land or amends its general plan to expand its sphere of influence, postal zip code designations should be updated if another town’s name is attached.

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Aeromax, a small business which sells parts for military aircraft, has had enough of California. They are leaving Canoga Park for business-friendly Texas.

Owner Micki Brizes said the move is because of excessive regulation, quality of life issues and homelessness, which he says is getting worse each year. He said one UPS driver visiting his business was attacked by a pit bull that jumped out of a homeless person’s RV.

An employee with Aeromax, Mauricio Lopez, said he is moving to Texas with the company, citing out-of-control rents in So Cal.

* * * * *

Josh Harder wants to punish PG&E for turning off the power – through taxes.

It’s not odd to me at all that the knee-jerk solution of a Democrat would be to inflict damage through taxation.

I’m not qualified to say if PG&E has just been sluffing off much-needed maintenance so that executives can get bonuses but I also understand that it’s the environmental policies of state lawmakers which prohibit PG&E from maintaining the areas around power lines. Perhaps a little of both.

Harder’s bill would revive the alternative minimum tax for utility companies that offer executive bonuses while failing to invest in infrastructure. Sounds like legislative specifically to be punitive against PG&E. While Democrats routinely like to use taxes to punish corporations and rich people – and dismiss that their tax burden on the middle class as tolerable – Harder in essence is using an arm of government to punish a California utility if they give bonuses to its executives.

Harder acknowledges that wind is to blame for PG&E’s dilemma but he also blames “the executives at PG&E who have opted to give themselves huge bonuses and pay millions to lobbyists instead of making their infrastructure climate resilient.”

Would that including giving $208,400 to the lobbyist-in-chief Gov. Newsom?

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Defense attorney Frank Carson recently sat down with our newspapers to answer questions in the aftermath of being found “not guilty” for the murder of Korey Kaufmann, 26, of Turlock. Oh, and he just happened to have his attorney, Percy Martinez by his side.

To hear Carson tell it, the DA on a whim decided to pin murder charges on Carson and his buddies, the Athwal brothers over the death of Kaufmann  because Carson was winning cases and the DA didn’t like that.

Carson is no choir boy. I remain troubled by the not guilty verdict given what I read in the very thick arrest warrant.

Besides ample proof that Carson and the Athwals don’t know how to carry on a conversation without the use of F-bombs, we see motives far from pure, and circumstantial evidence that the Athwals were involved and covering up. The prosecution built its case on the claim that Carson was ticked off over a series of thefts from his Turlock property and masterminded a plan to catch one of the thieves and send a message to all the others. They claimed Carson orchestrated a criminal conspiracy that ultimately led to the death of Kauffman and that thereafter the defendants worked to hide the homicide from authorities and thwart any investigation.

Does Carson really expect us to believe that the Stanislaus County DA staff is so corrupt as to prosecute to “impact the job I was doing for my clients in trial”?

Carson lambasted the judge, too, saying he was “intent on acting as a prosecutor.”

Perhaps most insulting is that Carson evokes the name of God and a divine plan for his verdict.

Just some of the troubling aspects of the arrest warrant:

• Carson’s sharp anger and abusive nature, for one thing, his contempt for police and lies told officers in other cases, such as that he had legal paperwork to effect an eviction he attempted in Modesto on May 22, 2011 when he did not.

• The anger expressed by Carson in early 2011 at thieves striking his property to the point that he carried a gun with him on one night.

• Kauffman’s body was discovered on August 19, 2013 in the Stanislaus National Forest and cell phone records of Baljit Athwal showed he made a trip to the area on June 26, 2012. That trip came one day after police first made contact with him, his brother Daljit Athwal and Robert Woody. In March 2014 when Modesto Police Detective Jon Evers asked Baljit Athwal about his trips to the mountains, Baljit said he took his son and one of his friends on a day trip but refused to provide their last names. Wouldn’t you want police to rush to them and get a statement to give you an alibi?

• Baljit Athwal reported his pickup stolen on April 27, 2012, less than a month after the Kauffman disappearance. He claims the pickup – which was equipped with a transponder anti-theft ignition security system – was stolen from Wild Oak Drive in Ceres. Four hours later the pickup is found burned in a rural section of Merced County. Because Athwal said all the keys were accounted for and the truck is essentially theft proof, Athwal was investigated for insurance fraud. Why was the truck “stolen” and burned? Insurance fraud or to burn evidence?

• Two men sworn to uphold law and justice were caught coaching the suspects on how to thwart the investigation.

Yeah, lots of unsettling information all while nobody has been held to account for a man’s murder.

* * * * *

As a fan of the TV show “Survivor,” I felt it was terrible that CBS included an exchange between contestants Jamal (black) and Jack (white). Jack asked Jamal to handle a pot over the fire using his do-rag or durag instead of “buff.” Jamal pulled the race card, saying he was offended by the word, that it has been used by white people to stereotype black men as thugs, murderers, and deadbeat dads. Jamal went on to add that this also leads to them visualizing black men with ample tattoos, wife beaters, and durags.

Nowhere in the Wikipedia definition does it suggest durag is a racist term. In fact, Wikipedia said: “However, because of rappers, such as A$AP Ferg and the return of waves as a hairstyle, they have now regained their status as a fashion among the African American community.”

Jamal threw the unchecked accusation that the durag comment was “deep seated” while Jack just didn’t challenge it.

So wait. Jamal was offended by the use of a legitimate word for a piece of clothing which people of all colors wear to suggest it was racist, yet he goes on to shame Jack for being white person? How does Jamal know Jack’s struggles in life, or is he assuming that all white people do well simply because they’re white? If so, that’s nonsense. Jack accepts the shaming dispensed on him and stupidly embraces the liberal notion that he’s “privileged” because of his skin color. If that isn’t a hypocritical juxtaposition, I’m not sure what is. Truth is, all Americans are privileged because he lives in a country where people of all color have a chance for economic, political and social advancement.

CBS should have edited out the exchange but went with it. In fact, host Jeff Probst suggested that it was a teaching moment that ranked “up there with one of the most compelling moments we’ve ever had on the show.” Come on, dude. If a black American feels it’s so offensively racist to say the word durag, I suggest he impassion others to quit wearing them. Jack used the term “durag” because that’s what they’re called, regardless if Jamal thinks it represents the root of race problems in this country.

CBS, like most of the major networks, pushes a liberal agenda that squarely takes aim at white males all the time.

* * * * *

Addictions are a horrible thing and often lead to tragedies. That’s why I think our laws have it wrong with dealing with some in our society.

Take the case of Rigoberto Ramirez Aleman, 37, of Modesto. He was busted for misdemeanor drunken driving in October 2014. The judge told him “if you continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both and as a result of that driving someone is killed, you can be charged with murder.” Aleman was released from jail and went straight to his sister’s home to binge drink for hours, got in a car and drove into another car at 12th and L streets in downtown Modesto, killing John Bixby, 38, of San Mateo. 

Four days before the Oct. 19, 2014 crash, Aleman pleaded no-contest to misdemeanor driving under the influence of drugs, child endangerment and drug possession. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail but because he displayed “good behavior” while locked up, he was given credit to shorten his stay and was supposed to be out Nov. 13, 2014. But because of jail overcrowding and the state’s realignment plan – crafted by Democrats and Gov. Brown – Aleman was released almost a month later.

Only in California.

* * * * *

Leave it to government to screw things up. Because state policies don’t allow us to keep up with housing growth as population grows, rents are going up. Because rents are going up, the state is passing rent control. Because rent control is taking effect Jan. 1 and will tie the hands of landlords, rents are being prematurely hiked. Because rents have been jacked up, the L.A. City Council wants to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the rent increases.

The simpler thing to me is government gets out of the way and gets rid of these ridiculous regulations that add time and expense to housing projects.  California ranks 49th in housing units per resident. According to the report, “Current State of the California Housing Market” by the Next 10, an independent nonpartisan organization, “The costs of development and stringent regulations have contributed to the relative lack of homebuilding in California. Tough environmental and zoning laws sometimes create obstacles for homebuilders that are seeking approval for development, especially in coastal cities. Although these laws (such as the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA) reflect good intentions and were enacted to preserve the state’s natural land, they are in need of comprehensive reevaluation and reform as they are often poorly implemented and subject to serious abuse.”

As of 2017, the shortage has been estimated at 3 million to 4 million housing units, or 20 to 30 percent of the overall housing stock. Only more construction will prune California’s high cost-of-living – and homeless population.

This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. How do you feel about this? Let Jeff know at