FPPC case against Berryhill brothers is going to trial

jsly@modbee.comJune 1, 2013 

Last fall, the Fair Political Practices Commission accused brothers Tom and Bill Berryhill of violating the state's campaign finance laws, including a serious charge of money laundering. The Republican Central Committees of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties also were named in two of the 16 counts.

The money in question was collected at a Tom Berryhill fund-raising event in late October 2008, according to the FPPC complaint, and within a couple of days it had ended up in Bill's campaign treasury to be used to pay for a last-minute TV commercial against his opponent.

When the complaint was issued last fall, Assemblyman Bill Berryhill was in a high-profile race for the state Senate, which he lost to Cathleen Galgiani. Tom Berryhill, whose Senate term runs through 2014, referred to the investigation as a "witch hunt."

While these kinds of cases are often settled before they reach the formal hearing stage, this one hasn't been. The hearing — aka trial — is scheduled to begin June 17 at the Office of Administrative Hearings in Sacramento.

The FPPC wouldn't identify the witnesses who have been called to testify, but based on the names contained in the 28-page complaint, it's likely to include some prominent names among local Republican leaders, including Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who was at the time vice president of the county Republican Central Committee, and Joan Clendenin, former central committee chairwoman.

No predictions from me on the outcome.

• • •

Denny Jackman is putting together Plan B, in case the Modesto City Council does not put his Residential Urban Limit proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot. Jackman, a former councilman and longtime advocate of farmland preservation, sent an email to supporters saying that he's making plans for an initiative for the 2015 ballot — and it would be much more restrictive than his current proposal.

The Residential Urban Limit proposal would, as the name suggests, limit only home construction, while an initiative — which is put on the ballot through the signature-gathering process — would restrict all development outside the current sphere of influence. That would, of course, put Jackman directly at odds with the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, which wants the city to set aside more land for business and industrial uses as a way to add jobs.

Jackman is frustrated with the way that city staff characterized his proposal when it went to the Planning Commission on May 20. "I left that public meeting with the belief that there was no intention to take the proposal seriously and that our community, come November, would (not) be any closer to having any plan that would help us avoid significant loss of our best surrounding soils to housing," Jackman wrote.

The Planning Commission neither supported nor rejected Jackman's proposal. Instead, according a staff report, it recommended "that the City Council appoint a task force comprised of interest groups to explore ways to protect agriculture and vital water recharge basins, develop plans for an economic corridor and incentivize infill development, and that this task force be integral to the adoption of the General Plan Amendment."

Jackman's plan is scheduled to be considered by the council's Economic Development Committee at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the basement of Tenth Street Place.

• • •

So what is the deadline to put measures on the Nov. 5 ballot? That depends on whether you are talking about the drop-dead deadline or the give-us-time-to- do-it-right deadline set by the Stanislaus County elections office.

Aug. 9 is the absolute last day that cities can get measures on the ballot, but county Clerk- Recorder and Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan would much prefer that cities get their proposals together much earlier, preferably by June 21.

Modesto has already placed one item on the ballot, Measure V, an advisory vote on whether the city should eventually extend sewer service to the airport neighborhood.

But two other items are up in the air — Jackman's Residential Urban Limit proposal and the mayor's proposal for a sales tax increase to better fund public safety. Marsh hasn't released any information about his proposal yet. Some clarity may emerge Tuesday night, when the City Council is scheduled to hear the results of a community survey — better known as a poll — on how Modestans view the idea of paying more.

Why should a city try to get the ballot proposals put together sooner rather than later? It's not just about making life convenient for the county elections folks. Once a proposal is finalized, ballot arguments for and against and rebuttals have to be written. When there's only a day or two for the arguments to be prepared, they won't be as thoughtful.

• • •

The Hill is a Washington, D.C., publication that follows some of the biggest issues of the day — with a smattering of items that are more interesting than significant. I was in Washington last week and picked up the May 23 issue, only to find an article mentioning our congressman, Jeff Denham, R-Turlock. Was he quoted about government waste? Or high-speed rail, a favorite topic? Or immigration?

None of those.

Denham and three House colleagues want to require Amtrak to accommodate passengers who want to bring their dogs and cats with them on the train. Denham told The Hill that his family's dog, Lily, flies with them to and from California regularly and that Amtrak should make the same accommodation for pet owners.

The bill states that the animals would have to be in kennels and only for trips of 750 miles or less, so Lily apparently won't be going cross-country.

The bill doesn't have a lofty name. It's simply the Pets on Trains Act, or HR 2066, if you're interested in tracking its progress.

The Hill failed to ask the most important question — what kind of dog is Lily? The answer from Denham's office: She's a French bulldog and she makes the trip to California about once a month.

My comment: People take their animals all sorts of places these days, so I guess if people want to pay the extra fare, the train should be OK, too.

And no, I didn't ask whether he thinks pets should be allowed on California's high-speed train, a project Denham now opposes.

• • •

Finally, a reminder: There will be a free workshop on the nuts and bolts of campaigning July 13, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Modesto Chamber of Commerce. Topics will include walking and knocking — the value of personal contact with voters, using social media, preparing for forums and interviews and a primer on the campaign finance reports.

Sign up through the chamber office, (209) 577-5757, or email mlopez@modchamber.org.

Sly is editor of the Opinions pages. Contact her at jsly@modbee.com or (209) 578-2317 or on Twitter @judysly.

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