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Tensions ran high as the council met late

Running a council agenda from 6 p.m. to nearly midnight ought not happen again. Last week’s meeting had too many heavy items. Remember, the Morton Black well quote: “The mind can absorb no more than the seat can endure.”

The yawning public slipped off to bed and councilmembers started snapping at each other.

Making a decision about contracting out fire services at 11:36 p.m. probably is not the best framework for good government.

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Tension was high between Bret Silveira and Couper Condit during the city budget discussion last week.

Condit – just as did his brother Channce – insisted that all of the marijuana revenues go to public safety and code enforcement. Each time it’s been brought up it gets shot down and for good reason: it’s an ineffective strategy to add police and firefighters.

I don’t blame Silveira for telling Condit: “We’ve beat this dead horse so bad! You keep bringing it up, we beat it down, we beat it down, we talk about it, you keep bringing it up.”

Can we be serious about the political pablum? Let’s look at this logically.

The city is expecting to receive $1.3 million in revenues in FY 2021-22 from the developer fees from three marijuana businesses in Ceres. All that money gets deposited into the General Fund, which during this coming fiscal year totals $26.7 million. About 80 percent of the General Fund goes to public safety. Thus, about $1.04 million in marijuana revenues ALREADY goes to public safety! So Condit is essentially quibbling about where $260,000 goes. Keep in mind that the council has sole power in where it directs funds to go. Earmarks are just smoke and mirrors.

If you listen to the budget discussion, Condit plays a numbers game for political posturing. I’m now quoting him directly: “I would like to make another motion. This is regarding marijuana developer agreements. I would like to take those out of the General Fund and create their own fund to be utilized specifically for the police, fire and code enforcement departments … about $700,000 on our police department out of this money, and $350,000 on the fire department. That would leave us with around $100,000 to play with hopefully for code enforcement so we could get more code enforcement officers on the street.”

No and no and no. Since police operations gobble up 55.49 percent of the General Fund, it roughly gets 55.49 percent of the marijuana revenues ($1.3 million times 0.5549 is $721,370 already going to police.)

Since fire takes up 31.49 percent of the General Fund, fire already gets $409,370 of marijuana revenue.

Since code enforcement takes up 0.0193 percent of the General Fund, it already gets $25,090 from marijuana revenues.

The remainder of 20 percent goes to other essential city departments.

Condit is being disingenuous as his own numbers are not extra funds to be allotted! Boil it down and it is really a discussion about how to divvy up $260,000 (the 20 percent) by robbing it from other departments.

A council can allocate any position it wants without earmarks, yet it didn’t do so.

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We really don’t get good government with an electorate that is unnecessarily ill informed.

There was a lot of misconceptions circulating at last week’s City Council meeting and on social media regarding the council’s decision to contract fire services with the city of Modesto.

One woman identified as Jacqueline made the outlandish claim that “the response time would be triple” in a Modesto fire contract. It occurred to me that she was under the wildly false impression that fire trucks would be rolling to Ceres from Modesto fire stations. People should become informed before they make such grossly inaccurate statements. The truth is that all Ceres stations will remain in operation with all Ceres firefighters remaining on staff. They will be augmented by Modesto Fire which will provide extra manpower and leaders. Firefighters will be trained to do advanced life support with the delayed arrival of ambulance paramedics. If anything, Ceres residents will be safer now! The contract will result in a savings to the city, which means the council could hire more police officers to patrol the streets where there is an apparent epidemic in speed demons racing up and down Ceres streets.

Oakdale has been very happy with Modesto running its fire department as evidenced by statements made at last week’s meeting. One of those singing the praises of the Oakdale-Modesto merger was Albert Avila, a Ceres resident who manages the city of Oakdale’s tax money! The other was from Oakdale Mayor Charilyn Bairos who said the contract exceeded Oakdale’s expectations. She noted that concerns about community identity being lost “faded away” when she attended a fire prevention presentation in Oakdale schools. 

Social media was abuzz with gadflies making more claims. Some suggested that some underhanded dealings with money must be going on at City Hall because of all that dough coming in from the marijuana developer agreements. One suggested an audit, probably not realizing that the city gets audited annually and comes out clean.

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I’m going to leave her name out of this but one woman in town who is close to one councilman’s family and mimics every issue he brings up left some public comments on social media that I think should be addressed.

Apparently she didn’t get the memo that her favorite councilman voted for the Modesto fire contract because she tore into the city leadership, saying “That is why I believe all city employees besides fire and police chief all should reside in Ceres.” Interesting statement since three members of the council who DO live in Ceres loved the idea of a contract and voted for it.

She then attacks me saying “including the person who writes articles about our town.”

It’s an insult to professionals how she suggests “when your city manager doesn’t live in the town they are representing I believe they do not have the best interest in the city they are representing.”

The city manager only does what the elected officials from Ceres tell them to do.

But to be told you can’t do your job well because of where you live smacks of bias and wreaks of hometown elitism. I spend more time immersed in reporting and writing issues facing Ceres than I do at my own home. I’d venture to say I am more in tune with Ceres issues than the average Ceres resident. 

I must remind the lady that lots of people work for the benefit of Ceres who do not reside in Ceres. That’s what professionalism is all about; paid to do a job and do it well for employers. I’ve got news for her – there are a lot of Ceres police officers and firefighters who don’t live in Ceres. They live in Modesto, Turlock, Waterford, Hughson and Atwater. To say that a firefighter can’t fight fires well in Ceres because one lives in Turlock is ridiculous. To say that a police sergeant can’t do his best for Ceres because he lives in Hughson is equally absurd.

She goes on: “Money is mishandled and gets used for things such as commercial advisors who’s rate is $25,000 to tell us what should come to Ceres instead of what the constituents want.”

She must be referring to the part-time economic development manager hired by the council who has been attempting to expand Ceres’ tax base by attracting new businesses to town. The council determined that it couldn’t afford a full-time manager. The woman’s numbers are off; in the last fiscal year Hallam billed the city about $51,000. A full-time economic development employee would cost about $180,000 per year.

Steve Hallam doesn’t tell anyone “what should come to Ceres instead of what constituents want.” I’m sure he would be just as happy as anyone to land a theater or entertainment center or a Target or a Red Lobster for Ceres but there’s something at play called economic viability. If the community can’t presently support a business because the population base is too small or doesn’t have a lot of disposable income and in close proximity to nearby cities with established commercial centers, then there’s nothing the city can do.

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It’s easy to run one’s mouth at a council meeting and not be called out for speaking so without a command of facts. There was a man who made the outlandish charge that “we’re changing our behavior because Bertolotti Disposal failed to plan to prepare to purchase the necessary equipment and facilities they knew were going to be required of them to comply with state law.”

That’s far from reality. Residents of California are being required to change their behavior regarding separating waste because of a control freak state Legislature and governor. If you want to complain about the rising cost of garbage in Ceres, go to Sacramento and bark at the state legislators and governor. Or, what might be easier is to vote them out of office.

Bertolotti is a contractor which does what the city tells them what service to offer. The city was forced by the state to go to all these extra steps, which meant that Bertolotti was told to buy 12,000 new cans so that residents can have three cans. The planning for the extra can would have been in the works for over a year, so so much for the man’s charge that no planning has taken place. Bertolotti is not going to eat the cost of a third can – you are, the resident. That’s what Sacramento does – passes laws that cost all of us and makes California highly unaffordable. Again, if you don’t like the way the state runs roughshod over cities, quit electing people who want to control every aspect of your life.

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Life has become miserable in liberal run cities. Look at Chicago where the worst mayor in America, Lori Lightfoot, doesn’t seem to be too concerned about mass murders. Last week Chicago had its third mass shooting in four days. (Mass shooting is defined as four or more victims). In her equity and inclusion agenda, Lightfoot has banned police from chasing criminals and the DA refuses to prosecute many crimes. She seized on the crime to slam guns and ask for federal money while totally ignoring the fact that dangerous criminals are being released onto the streets to commit more heinous crimes.

At her press conference, Lightfoot said: “In Chicago we’ve done absolutely everything possible and we need help.” That’s hardly the case; they haven’t done everything possible. They might start locking up dangerous criminals and keep them there.

Marvin Flanagan was accused of murdering a man in a home invasion robbery before Christmas. He had been convicted of five prior felonies, including armed robbery. Chicago liberals let him out.

Chicago has 200 more people murdered this year than last.

In 2020, 32 people who were charged with committing murder, attempted murder, or aggravated battery with a firearm were free on bail in Chicago for serious felonies. Four of the accused men are charged with shooting, and sometimes killing, more than one person. But the actual number of killings and shootings committed by persons on bail is almost certainly much higher as Chicago has made arrests in about 27 percent of Chicago’s 2020 murders and 2.7% of non-fatal shootings.

But let’s look closer to home, San Francisco had a similar thing happen last week. A 94-year-old Asian woman was stabbed multiple times by accused burglar Daniel Cauich, 35, who was released from prison nine days prior. Cauich had reportedly been arrested five times for burglary in 2020. He was sprung by a judge on June 7 to await his trial after his most recent arrest for burglary on May 18.

San Francisco is also where shoplifting is so rampant that 17 neighborhood Walgreen’s have been forced to close because of unchecked theft. CVS has told its employees not to intervene because the thieves so often attack them, calling San Francisco “one of the epicenters of organized retail crime.”

Brendan Dugan, head of CVS’ retail crime division, said their stores have security officers assaulted on a regular basis in San Francisco.

Instead of taking out its anger on Democrats who enact such policies of not going after shoplifters hard, the SF citizenry targeted their angst at the stores. When a Walgreens that had victimized 18 times for theft in a four-month period announced it was closing, a group of citizens started a petition demanding that it remain open! Get that? The little social justice warriors demand they take the losses, saying, “Walgreens Corp has an annual revenue of around $139.5 billion. We think they can afford to keep needed stores like this open.”

Oh, I see, since the corporation makes money in other cities where people believe in procuring goods by actually paying for them, we all should pay higher prices so they can give stuff away to the junkies and homeless pilfering goods for a drug habit, and pooping in the streets of liberal havens. No thanks, you made your bed, San Francisco, now lie in it. Let Walgreen’s decide how best to run their company – for profit – and if that means abandoning a crap hole city and make them wallow in their poor choices of elected officials, then tough. I believe you need to face the consequences for your actions.

This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation. How do you feel about this? Let Jeff know at