STOCKTON PROPOSES BANKRUPTCY PLAN
(Stockton, CA) – On Tuesday, June 5, 2012, the Stockton City Council will consider a contingency plan to be followed should the City and a sufficient number of its creditors be unsuccessful in reaching an agreement that prevents insolvency and restores the fiscal health of the City. The contingency plan will be presented at the regularly scheduled Council Meeting. The public session begins at 5:30 p.m.
The City and its largest creditors have been engaged in confidential mediation that began two months ago. The mediation allows the City to work with creditors to restructure debt and agreements under a process determined by state legislation which became effective January 1, 2012, AB 506. The legislation provides for a 60-day period of negotiations with an option to extend for an additional 30 days. The City and most mediation participants recently extended the mediation period through June 25, 2012.
“We remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement with a sufficient number of our creditors to get our fiscal house in order,” said Mayor Ann Johnston. “However, we must have a plan for any possible outcome to protect the health, safety and welfare of our community and maintain basic services. Without significant fiscal relief, the General Fund will be out of money by June 30, 2012.”
The state constitution requires cities to adopt a balanced budget by July 1 of each year. The majority of the City’s budget is not impacted by the City’s fiscal crisis. The total budget of $521 million includes $366 million in restricted funds, which cannot be used to resolve the General Fund crisis. The $155 million General Fund provides for services such as police, fire, libraries, parks maintenance and administrative functions. This funding comes from property tax, sales tax, utility users tax, business license tax and other sources, all of which have experienced significant declines for the past four years.
The City Council has addressed $90 million in deficits over the last 3 years and is faced with a $26 million deficit in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2012. The Council believes that any further service cuts will endanger the health and safety of the community.
The contingency plan that the Council will consider will allow the City to continue to operate, should the City be faced with insolvency by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30, 2012. The proposed plan would give the City Manager authority to file for Chapter 9 protection, if there are no other options to balance next year’s budget. The plan allows the City to provide day-to-day services until a long-term plan of adjustment can be negotiated and approved, should bankruptcy protection become necessary.
“This City has been in business for over 160 years and we will continue to be in
business,” continued Mayor Johnston. “We will come through the AB 506 process or chapter 9 with a financially sustainable future. Even though we have inherited this mess, we are committed to doing everything in our power to leave this City better, stronger and healthier.”
information provided by the city of Stockton, CA
California — As voters received their absentee ballots for the 2012 primary election, the California’s 13th Assembly District voters also received a negative campaign mailer by JobsPAC —a mailer that made Xochilt Raya Paredes reconsider her candidacy. Continue reading
Agency begins transition from paper-based to online environment
WASHINGTON— U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) launched the first phase of its electronic immigration benefits system, known as USCIS ELIS. The system has been created to modernize the process for filing and adjudicating immigration benefits. Continue reading
Selenium is Still Leaking into the San Joaquin River
Chris Eacock stands with his hands on his hips and looks out over the Central Valley’s sunny expanse of farms and wetlands and tries to explain the situation. As a natural resource specialist for the Bureau of Reclamation for the past 30 years, he began his career doing soil surveys and handling grazing leases on Bureau-owned land. Today, he manages the tougher side of that equation, the tainted drainage water now coming from farms. Salt and selenium from irrigated land on the west side of the valley have poisoned wetlands, damaged ground water and rendered farms unproductive. Eventually, the waste reaches the San Joaquin River and flows into the Bay-Delta, endangering wildlife and the state’s water supply.
Eacock insists that the situation has improved. “There is less pollution, people are still in business, and we’re all still talking to each other out here,” he said.
But more than a few are critical. “The discharges have gone down significantly, and they get a lot of credit for that,” said Tom Stokely, water policy analyst with the California Water Impact Network. “But there is still contamination happening in the wildlife refuges, and there is virtually an unlimited supply of selenium in those soils.”
In high concentrations, selenium is toxic to fish, livestock, humans and birds.
On the west side of the San Joaquin River, an area of large farms and agribusinesses stretch from Bakersfield to Patterson. The land, about 1.2 million acres, was once an alkaline desert, a sagebrush basin filled with coyotes, foxes, fish and watering holes. The city of Los Banos, in its center, was called the baths in reference to the artesian pools that once existed near the area. But in the 1960s, state and federal projects brought water to the desert via the construction of large reservoirs, water pumping facilities and canals. The Central Valley now has a complex network of interconnected channels and irrigation districts that move water all over the state.
The west side’s warm climate is great for year-round growing, but the land is also naturally rich in salt and selenium, and irrigating it creates a waste water problem and land-use issue, as salt and selenium progressively build up in the soil.
To address this, the Bureau began constructing the San Luis Drain in 1968; it was supposed to ship agricultural waste water to the Delta and the ocean. Instead, the drain was partially constructed and ended at Kesterson Reservoir, north of Los Banos and within a national wildlife refuge. The continuous flow of selenium tainted water poisoned bird, livestock and aquatic life, and in 1984, bird deformities were discovered there.
Kesterson was filled and the drain was closed, but since then, farming has continued on the west side, and selenium has continued to flow into the Grasslands Ecological Area, a 370,000-acre parcel that is the also largest freshwater wetland ecosystem in California. Most of the contamination now comes from the Grassland Drainage Area (GDA)—97,000 acres of irrigated farms within Charleston Drainage District, Pacheco Water District, Panoche Drainage District, part of the Central California Irrigation District (CCID), and Firebaugh Canal Water District.
After Kesterson closed, the drainage flowed into Salt Slough and Mud Slough, and then it flowed into the San Joaquin River. (Sloughs are swampy waterways.)
Today, the drainage water mostly flows into Mud Slough, but discharges are still regularly 5 to10 times higher than recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Eacock says this is still an improvement, “We’ve done better than expected,” he said. “The EPA and the Regional Board established the metrics, and the grasslands area farmers are meeting those limits.” The EPA has removed several water bodies from its impaired waters list, including Salt Slough in 2008 and three segments of the San Joaquin River, and declared the program a success. But the waste is still flowing into Mud Slough via the Grassland Bypass Project (GBP), which is a comprehensive plan to address the problem.
According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Report and the analysis of Dr. Dennis Lemly, a USDA biologist, specializing in contaminants and aquatic ecosystems, the current selenium concentrations in the San Joaquin River put juvenile salmon and steelhead at risk. Lemly writes, “USBR wants it both ways, to identify a problem and then say there is no problem. The correct conclusion is that available data and a reasonable interpretation of it clearly show that significant risks of substantial selenium toxicity exist, which will not be eliminated or substantially lessened by the GBP.”
He continues, “The success of salmon reintroduction depends on good water quality, and the selenium is going to create a significant hazard for those fish. It has to be below 2 parts per billion, anything above that endangers fish. In this case, because of bioaccumulation, the solution to pollution is not dilution. We have known this for decades. This is no secret. They have to stop the selenium at the source.”
That is the plan—eventually. By 2019, discharges to Mud Slough and the San Joaquin River are supposed to be eliminated altogether, with fees charged per pound of selenium over the limit beginning in 2015. That limit, however, is still 5 parts per billion, more than double the recommended amount.
Westside Farming Salting Up – Is There a Cost-effective Solution?
On a larger scale, the Bureau is under court order to provide drainage to the entire San Luis Unit, which includes part of the Grasslands area and Westlands Water District, which is the largest water district in the nation. The current plan includes land retirement, drainage reuse facilities, treatment systems and evaporation ponds.
But it has significant problems. First, it’s pricey.
The official Bureau estimate of the capital cost is $2.6 billion. However, the total taxpayer cost could be more than $7 billion. The annualized cost is estimated at $141 million for 50 years.
“Their own report shows that the project fails most of their standard benefit-cost tests by a wide margin,” said Dr. Jeffrey Michael, Director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific. “It is absurdly expensive, but it really isn’t optional as the courts have ruled that the government is obligated to provide drainage according to the 1960 Act.”
Notably, the money hasn’t been appropriated by Congress; new legislation is required for that. Instead, only $364 million (or 5 to 14 percent of the total) remain from the original authorization.
Second, the plan doesn’t entirely fix the environmental problems caused by selenium and salt. The minerals will have to go somewhere. But where? Some suggest that more land retirement is a better alternative than trying to manage the waste. Lawsuits have ensued; the farming community is demanding drainage service, and the environmental community is calling for discharges to stop. In addition, according to a National Academy of Sciences report on Bay-Delta stressors, the latest version of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan may increase exports to the area and exacerbate conditions.
No clear resolution is in sight.
A few, frustrated after 30 years of political wrangling and litigation, have stepped up and decided to deal with the issue directly, individually. One of them is Westlands Farmer, John Diener. “The question is, how are we going to solve this problem?” Diener said. “The Bureau of Reclamation is in the middle of this political situation, and everyone goes back and forth, and nothing is happening. So let’s get something done here.”
Diener is getting something done on his own land, Red Rock Ranch in Five Points, CA, located southeast of Fresno; he farms about 3,000 acres of fruit and vegetable crops including almonds, grapes, wheat, alfalfa, tomatoes, onions, garlic and spinach. The combination of continuous irrigation and poor drainage has resulted in concentrated levels of salinity and selenium in the soils. Trapped irrigation water forms a shallow, or perched, water table. With nowhere to go, the salty water rises closer to the surface towards the root zone and affects the fertility of the soil. In Westlands Water District, more than 200,000 acres have saline groundwater within 10 feet of the soil surface. More than 100,000 acres have already been retired.
Diener manages a 640-acre parcel on his ranch that has no discharge at all. He uses a subsurface drain tile system that leaches salt out of the soil and water table, and then returns land to production. The drainage water is then re-cycled several times to irrigate blocks of increasingly salt-tolerant plants (halophytes), such as wheat grass and prickly pear cactus.
“Ultimately, the goal is not exposing the drain water to the community at large, whatever that is – the ducks, people or whatever. It’s a matter of how we treat resources that we have at our disposal and how we manage those things for the best benefit of everybody,” Diener said.
But the situation is anything but easy. “We need to find a way to keep the land productive, but that becomes difficult when you have environmental concerns stemming from soils with naturally high levels of these mineral deposits,” said Dr. Gary Bañuelos, an Agricultural Research Service plant/soil scientist. “We’re hoping to produce crops on unproductive land with minimum water and slowly manage the selenium content out the soil.”
Still, there is no way with typical plants that sufficient quantities of selenium can be removed. All the selenium does is regenerate from a deeper soil depth and slowly migrate towards the surface, Bañuelos added. “Instead, we’re changing the perception that these soils are not useful,” he said.
Prickly pear cactus, a salt-tolerant crop, naturally produces antioxidant rich fruit and adding selenium makes it even healthier. (Selenium is essential to good health in small amounts.) But even with mineral absorption from cacti and other salt-loving plants, eventually, it all gets super concentrated, and Diener ends up with a big pile of salt on his ranch, which is the case for many farms on the west side. Water supplied by the federal and state projects brings the equivalent of 40 railroad cars of salt into the area every day, about 4,000 tons of salt daily.
Diener hopes to sell the excess salt to glass producers, since sodium ash is used in the glass manufacturing process. “The glass factory in Madera needs 20 tons a day, and we can generate that in a minute,” Diener said. “The idea is make the waste into marketable products.”
The next article in this series looks at the big picture – how California’s water plans and projects fit together or don’t.
CDC Provides Travelers with Tips for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games
Millions of international visitors will travel to the United Kingdom (UK) this summer for the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games between July 27th and August 12, 2012. In many ways, travel to and throughout the UK is similar to travel in the United States when it comes to health and safety. However, the expected Olympic crowds in the host cities increase your risk of illness and injury.
CDC is providing updated travel recommendations for the Summer Olympic Games in London at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/news-announcements/london-2012-olympic-and-paralympic-games.htm. By following these simple recommendations, you can stay safe and healthy while at the Games and bring home winning memories to last a lifetime.
Visit your health care provider four to six weeks before your departure date and get up-to-date on routine vaccines, especially measles. There’s a large measles outbreak in Europe, and a lot of unvaccinated American travelers got sick last year. Also be sure to contact your health insurance provider to learn the extent of your medical coverage and consider purchasing travel health insurance if necessary.
Pack a travel-health kit that includes medicines you take regularly, along with fever and pain relief pills. Travel only when you are well, and delay your trip if you feel sick.
While in the UK, make sure to follow these important prevention actions to keep yourself healthy and safe:
1. Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
2. Practice healthy behaviors: Drink alcohol in moderation, avoid drinking and driving, and use latex condoms if you have sex.
3. Stay alert, especially in crowds.
4. Exercise caution while traveling in the UK: be careful crossing the street, wear a helmet when you ride a bike or motorcycle, use a seatbelt if traveling by car, and remember that Londoners drive on the left, the opposite side of the road.
5. Follow local laws and customs and Olympic and Paralympic Games security regulations. Make a photocopy of your passport to carry with you at all times.
6. If you get sick while abroad, notify your health care provider when you return. Share full details of all your symptoms, activities, and adventures for the best follow-up care.
If you are also traveling to other European countries, you can find out more about other country specific health risks by checking the CDC Travelers’ Health destinations website for the most up-to-date health risks and notices of all countries.
Information provided by the Center for Disease Control.
STOCKTON, CA — The Oriental fruit fly quarantine continues in Stockton, agriculture officials say they hope to end it in July. Continue reading
> The connector ramps from southbound and northbound Interstate 5 to > eastbound State Route 4/Crosstown Freeway and the eastbound on-ramps from > El Dorado Street, Stanislaus Street and Wilson Way are closed due to > accident. There is heavy congestion in area. Use alternate routes if > possible. No estimated time of opening.
(Stockton, CA) – The City of Stockton has selected a new director to head its Community Development Department. Steve Chase, Director of Planning and Environment Services with the City of Goleta, will join the City of Stockton in July as the chief official of building, planning and development. Continue reading
STOCKTON’S AB 506 PROCESS EXTENDED
(Stockton, CA) – The City of Stockton announced today that participants in the confidential neutral evaluation process, AB 506, have agreed to extend the mediation process beyond the originally scheduled 60 days, for an additional 30 days, through June 25. Continue reading
STOCKTON’S AB 506 PROCESS EXTENDED
(Stockton, CA) – The City of Stockton announced today that participants in the confidential neutral evaluation process, AB 506, have agreed to extend the mediation process beyond the originally scheduled 60 days, for an additional 30 days, through June 25.
“This is a good sign,” said Mayor Ann Johnston. “It means that our creditors understand our fiscal circumstances and it indicates that they believe that it is worth the investment of time and resources to work toward a solution.”
On February 28, 2012, the Stockton City Council approved moving forward with financial restructuring, using a process established under AB 506, which went into effect in January of this year. AB 506 allows financially distressed local governments to work with creditors and interested parties to restructure debt and obligations in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy. The financial restructuring involves only a portion of the City’s total budget – the General Fund – which represents approximately $155 million of the City’s $521 million budget.
A neutral evaluator (mediator) was selected jointly by the City and by participants at the end of March, which began the initial 60-day window for negotiations. Former United States Bankruptcy Judge Ralph R. Mabey, of Salt Lake City, Senior of Counsel to the Los Angeles Law Firm of Stutman Treister & Glatt, is the mediator. One of the provisions of AB 506, Government Code Section 53760.3 (r), allows a majority of the participants or the local government to approve an extension of 30 days, beyond the initial 60-day period.
Stockton was the first city in California to initiate mediation under the legislation. The extension of time will allow negotiations to continue through most of June.
“We are doing everything in our power to avoid bankruptcy,” continued Mayor Johnston. “Mediation is our last and best chance to come to an agreement and get the City of Stockton on firm financial footing that will restore services and allow us to become fiscally solvent.”
For additional information or questions, please visit www.stocktongov.com or call (209) 937-8827.
Written By: Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s Church, Stockton CA 95202
Fifty years ago, a quiet farm-worker, together with a diverse gathering of people concerned with the rights and the wellbeing of those who labor in our fields and orchards, founded the United Farm Workers. A grass-roots organization supported by many leaders in the highest levels of American government, the UFW has changed for good the conditions of campesinos (farm workers) and all who work with them throughout the United States. Continue reading
STOCKTON, CA— “We have to change the way we run this city; we need to change the structure of how we do things,” remarked Mayor of Stockton Ann Johnston at the 2012 State of the City. She highlighted, “We know that a band aide approach will not solve this… We have to do radical surgery to this patient —in that general fund.”
The city’s gloomy finances, a budget deficit, and sky rocketing crime shadow the city’s sunny days and in her State of the City Address, Mayor Johnston gave a detail account of the past, present and hopeful future for Stockton.
How did we get here?
Johnson explained the unsustainable retiree benefits costing 417 million dollars, the large bond debt of 319 million for infrastructure projects like local community, fire houses, the ball park and the arena that we are still paying on today. Generous labor contracts and State raids on City finances such as the removal of vehicle license fees and removal of the Redevelopment agency that she says helped to transform Stockton’s waterfront. The Prior council made mistakes and mismanaged funds without any back-up plan for a rainy day. The Valley continued deeper into its own recession beyond that of the country with extreme unemployment, foreclosures and housing market collapse (from 3,000 home built in 2007 to only 150 in 2011) with the next year’s budget looking just as gloomy.
Whats the problem?
The total budget for the city is 520 million, however only 125 million is accessible and in crisis. The 366 million that is left behind is in restricted funds for things like sewage, water, and measure k that cannot be touched. Past city councils tried to move some of the 366 million to the general to cover things like police, community centers and library’s but the city was sued and lost. With a little more than a month left, the council has until July 1st, 2012 to pass a balanced budget.
What is our current situation?
The city must pass a balanced budget; the city cannot print money or borrow. The city is required by the state and city charter to balance. Only three options, to tax, to cut, or to negotiate however, the taxes that the city would have to pay to get out of this debt would be unconscionable, the city has already cut the budget by 90 million and cannot cut any further without jeopardizing the safety of its residence, so Johnson says “We have to change the way we run this city we need to change the structure ,” by negotiating with debtors in a process called AB506, a new law, Stockton is one of two cities in the State (Mammouth Lakes is the other) that will be going through this process.
STOCKTON, CA – “We have an increase in crime. We have had an increase in violent crimes; most of it a result of lifestyle choices like prostitution, gangs and drugs but the city says they remain committed,” said Mayor Ann Johnson at the State of the City address early this month at the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce annual event at the Stockton Port, “We remain committed to cracking down on the criminals that are terrorizing our citizens.”
Johnston explained that the city is presently working on the following:
The Silver Lining
Johnson Said that it was not all bad. The city is overhauling the Community Development Department to make it easier to do business, and that over 100 people are taking out business licenses a month that want to do business here. The city is working with Public Works to create the delta water supply project – a 200 million project which will bring us a reliable water source.
“Many would be envious of the water we have,”added Johnson. The city has also partnered to create a coalition to fight the state to take Delta water, to save the delta adding that it would be an “Economic disastaster should anything take our water around the delta instead of through our delta.”
Johnston continued, “The city will continue with infrustruture for restricted funds, infrastructure like the I-5 interchange project that seeks to connect 99 to bring in more business to the south side of Stockton,”
The State has invested in a prison Hospital in Stockton, with a 50% local hire requirement the state will bring 2400 employees on board in 2013.
The port, as reported by the Port Commissioner, is an international point of commerce, it is the only port on the west coast that is exporting more than importing- a good economic sign.
STOCKTON, CA—Delighted community members sat quietly as they listened to the musical abilities of K-8 students; Harmony Stockton students held their first spring concert on Thursday May 10 at Marshall Elementary School. The hour long concert featured performances with violins, recorders and a chorus. Continue reading
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – WildAid’s second annual Gala Fundraiser hosted at the Terra Gallery in San Francisco on May 11, 2012 at $120/ticket; bringing celebrity ambassadors to represent WildAids Mission to, “End the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes by reducing demand through public awareness campaigns and providing comprehensive marine protection.” Continue reading