The Bee invited opponents and proponents of Measure G, the Safer Neighborhoods Initiative, to meet with our editorial board to discuss the proposed sales-tax increase to fund public safety improvements. Dave Thomas, president of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association, represented the “No” side, while Modesto City Manager Jim Holgersson, police Chief Galen Carroll, Assistant City Manager Joe Lopez and former City Council member Brad Hawn spoke in favor of the measure. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
Jim Holgersson: This is a holistic, strategic effort. We want to be able to prioritize those very valuable resources we’ve got. ... One of the reasons (Measure G) is a general tax is to engage those neighborhoods, to help partner and strengthen the neighborhoods – to make them safer. We want resources for code enforcement, progressive enforcement, programs to help kids make the right decisions. All those things are important parts of making our neighborhoods safer.
Dave Thomas: Trust. I don’t know how anybody can suggest that this council has been trustworthy over its lifetime, the current council. ... People come up, they talk, they’re impassioned ... often there isn’t even a courtesy of a “thank you” – it’s just “next.”
Brad Hawn: I’m with Dave. I think it should be a specific tax. My wife and I live by Graceada Park. ... I’ve watched the degradation of our city. ... My daughter won’t take my grandsons to Graceada Park because of what’s happening (there). ... There’s a lot about this tax measure I don’t like, but I also don’t like what’s happening in the neighborhoods.
Galen Carroll: I don’t think there’s any argument we have crime and neighborhood issues. ... We can sit and throw rocks at each other all day long, or we can try to do something. ... We’ll do our 100 percent best to keep the city safe; the problem is that our 100 percent best is that when (you) call the police, you’ll wait three hours to get an officer.
Holgersson: Reducing crime is not just about police. … The police are just responding call to call. What we all know about accomplishing a goal, especially making neighborhoods safer, you have to get on the prevention side of it.
Thomas: All of our neighborhoods have problems, and our Police Department is doing a heroic job of getting the job done. ... From my experience, you never have enough men in combat. Ever.
Holgersson: Where do you start? Well, you’ve got to be safe first. ... The biggest problems: drugs, gangs, jobs, auto theft, unemployment, crime, burglaries, streets, potholes, tagging, abandoned homes (code enforcement). It was clear from this, that the community was saying we need help. We talked priorities ... the neighborhood organizations helped us frame it and inform it ... they will be our partners eventually. The Safer Neighborhood Initiative came out of needing a strategy to make our neighborhoods safer.
Thomas: We participated in the preliminaries ... many of our people spoke up in favor of an increased tax, but a specific tax.
Holgersson: We have 300-plus neighborhood watches. If we’re going to be good partners, we need to respond when they call. ... They can’t handcuff someone; they can’t do the investigation that puts someone behind bars. ... We believe we need an infusion of additional resources to in fact reduce crime. Modesto doesn’t want to be in a top five in crime.
Thomas: Every person in the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association has just as much passion and love – it’s a word used a lot, but we love our city, too.
Holgersson: We used to have programs in the parks; those programs were all cut after 2008. ... Over those years, two gang units were cut.
Thomas: So why do we need money? We made decisions in the past (that we’re paying for now). ... The council approved pay raises for Modesto PD of 6 percent and a one-time incentive pay. Well, that’s a decision they made.
Holgersson: Modesto could have just gone the route of Stockton, just waving the white flag.
Carroll: Nobody is busing our criminals in; we’re raising them right here.
Thomas: We’re talking about cash here. I’m a numbers guy. I’m also a broken-down old pension guy. ... In 2009, we had $317 million in assets ... (now) underfunded liabilities (have gone) from $100 (million) to $200 million in three years.
Holgersson: I understand Dave’s position; he’s concerned with the fiscal side and we are, too. ... (Compared to Measure X) we tried to be more transparent; we had public hearings, meetings behind the budget, we developed a 10-year forecast model, we benchmarked across the state. (Our pensions are) 80 percent funded. Yes, there is an unfunded liability, but over a 30-year continuum, that’s pretty doggone good. Our employees have given back.
Thomas: We’re $210 million underfunded, what we owe today. How much would it take to buy our pension plan?
Joe Lopez: The $210 million liability is a direct result of the CalPERS losses ... it is what it is. If you go back to 2007, the city was superfunded (no pension liability). ... So we have to make up for the losses CalPERS has incurred ... and we’ve asked our employees to make up the difference. (Only) if everyone retired today, we’d owe $210 million.
Holgersson: We can’t turn back the clock. The 2001-02 council did that (increased pension liabilities); that trend has now been reversed. ... We’re happy to continue working with you to reduce the costs, but in the meantime we’ve got to get our community safer.
Hawn: No. 1, it has to have an oversight board – that has been done. ... The biggest issue is what Chief Carroll and I have been talking about, making this quantifiable. ... 1.2 to 1.4 doesn’t mean anything; so how about some performance measures? Over eight years, with this cooperation with neighborhoods and getting policing and parks and recreation, he’s committed to reducing crimes to the per capita state average. ... I’ve never seen government do this before.
Thomas: We’ve seen some major changes, including neighborhood policing ... we need to see how well they work.
Hawn: The reason I’m here is that I believe we’ve got to do something; something’s got to be done. This isn’t the only part, but it’s part of the solution. ... I wasn’t (supportive) a month ago.
Thomas: Do more cops mean less crime? I’m not an expert in that, but former Mayor (Jim) Ridenour is, and he was adamant several years ago. ... He said, in effect (when laying off eight officers), more cops don’t mean less crime.
Carroll: Just to be average, not to be the safest city in California, that paints a huge picture. ... If there is an 8 percent drop in crime statewide, then Modesto has to have a 53 percent drop in crime (to be average). ... That’s completely unacceptable.
Thomas: People don’t trust this City Council ... (the council) wants us to believe an oversight committee will actually be effective; the City Council is our oversight committee. ... An oversight committee ... will not be able to tell the council where to spend the money; the oversight committee is a sham; all we need is a responsible City Council.
Carroll: I don’t have (applicants) beating down the door to become police officers here. ... The cities over the hill say, “I’ll go to Modesto, they’ve got pretty good cops.” ... That’s (who is setting) the market value of those employees.
Thomas: Anybody who says Modesto shouldn’t be better is an idiot. ... We’re all on the same side. ... I understand you are stuck with the hideous decisions of the past. But I don’t have any sympathy.
Holgersson: (If it doesn’t pass, we’ll) continue to muddle along. ... We’ll be doing the best we can to move this program forward with what we have. We want to look at real outcomes. ... If we don’t perform, you let us know. We’ve set goals ... that will be our measurement, not the minimum number of police officers or firefighters.
Thomas: You can’t measure safer. I don’t know how you buy your way out of this problem. If the city made widgets and made money, would the city raise the price of widgets or cut overhead?