Who Will Really Tell the Whole Redevelopment (Agency)Story?
Update: Been getting notices of the appearance on the closed session of several city council meetings in recent weeks, of the city's attempts to purchase one of the downtown's main Asian-American businesses, the Pacific Stix. It's highly unlikely that if the city purchases it, it will remain an Asian-American eatery run by Asian-American owners. It will either be handed off cheaply or maybe free to some other business looking to relocate or it will remain empty for months while the city fumbles around some more. with its "seizing the destiny" of the downtown.
The city officials who often have eaten here especially on city council nights should be ashamed of themselves for their participation.
More examples of racism in business practices in the downtown mall? The owners of that business and the employees who work there are among the nicest people and have been successful, in a building which saw quite a few tenants including the completely subsidized Toad in the Hole (which if you recall, had its rent paid by the city) belly flop or get pushed out as in the case of McDonalds. Truly a sad time in Riverside. The mixed up sales plan and assault on local businesses in the downtown has led to it becoming even more of a tumbleweed town after sunset.
Makes you wonder why some businesses get relocated, because the Greek's not the only restaurant struggling on the "Row" on Merrill but it's the only one that's getting relocated onto city property. The Citrus Grill can own tremendous back rent at the Plaza and then almost nail the BioKorium spot at Sixth and Main. But then others which aren't failures or choices for such assistance, like Pacific Stix not only don't get similar treatment as valued businesses but are even forced out by questionable business practices by the city.
"I have never, ever been presented with any physical evidence that would suggest that anything inappropriate is going on."
---Riverside Councilman Paul Davis to Press Enterprise
Brad Hudson you called down the thunder. Well, now you've got it! The Law is coming! You tell them I'm coming . . . and Hell's coming with me! You hear?! Hell's coming with me!
-Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, except for the Brad Hudson part.
---"Riverside Heat" on the Press Enterprise site
"We are a much less desirable target for the state now because if they take us over, there is nothing left for them to steal,"
---City Manager Brad Hudson
"Admiration is the daughter of ignorance."
"We're through the looking glass. White is black. And black is white."
"Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
UPDATE: Eastside once again loser in transfer of housing funds as "loan" to pay off Redevelopment's IOU to the State. The question as to why the Capital Redevelopment Fund had insufficient funds necessitating the loan from the low and moderate income housing program was never answered by City Manager Brad Hudson or anyone else but he clicked his pen a lot.
In other news, Public Works Director Siobhan Foster was asked by Councilman Rusty Bailey how many sewer lines or the span of them had been repaired or replaced in the last several years. She couldn't answer that question despite being in charge of that division. She's also had to deal with allegations by Public Works employees that they were retaliated after protesting favoritism in the city's work contracts.
Confirmed: Jeff Hall, 32, Neo Nazi and Water Board candidate killed in shooting at house. Son taken into custody.
(Excerpt, Press Enterprise)
Several residents in the neighborhood overlooking UC Riverside said they were still shaken from the early-morning shooting. Some refused to talk about it, while others weren't sure how to react after months of what they described as intimidation by Hall and other National Socialist Movement members who often visited.
"Honestly, I feel like it's over," said Juan Trejo, who lives across the street from Hall's home. "It was scary here. Hopefully we'll never see any of them again."
Trejo described a Halloween party at the home last year, when Hall flew a swastika flag from the home and guests wore KKK hoods. Trejo said Hall lived there with his wife and several children, one of whom called his son a "beaner" when the boy skateboarded near the Hall home.
The city fired me when I tried to make people aware of their corruption. Its been going on for years. Brad Hudson, Siobhan Foster and Tom Boyd all deserve to be fired for their corruption along with half of the city council. People think Bell is corrupt, I hope they keep digging into the City of Riverside. If Ed becomes mayor, wait and see how much more work his firm receives.
"In response to Sean Gill”s statement to Press Enterprise comments as appeared in Five before Midnight, “If Ed becomes mayor, wait and see how much more work his firm receives.” The truth of the matter is, when I become mayor, my firm, as was the case when I was a City Councilman, by law, will not be allowed to perform services for the City of Riverside."
---Former Riverside Councilman and mayoral candidate, Ed Adkison
[Alas, not brought to you by Redevelopment is the Downtown Public Library which the city can't afford to renovate]
Blogging about Riverside's been very interesting especially lately with all these revelations about the city buying back its own debt when a deal fell through with the county and picking up a county park despite budget cuts. It's spent over $90,000 on among other things trying to tell the Redevelopment Story (the abridged version) while leaving a few chapters of the saga on the cutting room floor. It's put up cute banners on some of its redevelopment projects that weren't quite technically redevelopment projects and not on others that clearly are but aren't "successes". Like the University Village which is under receivership and the Raincross Promenade which is a high end project turned apartment complex. So it's all relative with redevelopment projects whether or not they'll be included as installments in the mayor's exciting pulp novel on Redevelopment (Agencies) in Riverside.
And shifting jobs in development and redevelopment to be picked up by the general fund including through its recent "promotion" of the development director. Then there's the allegations of favoritism in how the city contracts out by city employees and so forth. The ball of twine just keeps unwinding, the more it does, the more protests from the 'Hall that there's zero risk, everything's "balanced" and whatever you do don't pay attention to that man behind the curtain.
Dost they protest too much?
The Press Enterprise's got its mind focused back on what's going on in its front yard and it's interesting reading its coverage including if you go back to the origins of the Renaissance which has cost over $1.5 billion so far. And while the tone of these articles seems a bit cheerful, all of them raise unanswered questions, and together, they don't make the city's financial situation look all that good. Because often times when there's so much shuffling going along with money or debt flowing from one account to the next to the next like some express train, that's because the cash flow is slowing down or even reduced to a drip.
The questions about this movement have been asked by many people at various venues for the past five years since the Renaissance began, most of the people who were asked them were ridiculed in the process and what the people have heard is that the budget's balanced and every dime's accounted for in the city's coffers. Yet, the string of articles in the Press Enterprise has made a lot of people wonder.
The more the city's finances start to drip dry, the more you'll hear those in charge of the financial coffers cheerfully tell everyone that the budget's balanced. I think the only people who believe that so far are the city council and its president, Mayor Ron Loveridge.
I'd love to say I drank the same Kool-aid but sorry, I just can't. As Election 2011 continues onward, hopefully the city's financial status including the Redevelopment Agency's $2 billion debt will become a greater focus of discussion and debate than trying to explain why bottom level city employees need pension "reform" but upper level employees don't and elected officials need full-time raises and any kind of pension and life-time benefits at all. If pensions need adjustment then it makes sense to start at the top, rather than use the numbers of those at the top to incite fury at those closer to the bottom without implementing any such change.
In the midst of Loveridge's campaign to do pension reform, he's decided to tell his version of the Redevelopment story, again doing what every elected official and management employee has done which is to conflate the word, redevelopment with the more accurate terminology, redevelopment agencies. No one's really against redevelopment, many people distrust redevelopment agencies and how they spend money as they accumulate debt. Funding an entity on debt is risky as those in the United States will find when the nation reaches its debt ceiling on May 16 and either has to engage push that red letter day up a few months or send the nation straight back into the worst recession ever before you can type those words out. The scary thing is that the nation's dug its self so deeply in engaging in debt accumulation as its export product to other countries that there's no longer anyway out, and apparently River City is also busy embracing that cause in its own financing, of digging a deeper hole.
[Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson accused Sacramento of stealing from Riverside but is City Hall being honest about the city's solvency?]
City officials elected and otherwise know this, so they don't mention redevelopment agencies at all instead choosing the term, redevelopment. They point their fingers dramatically whenever they have an audience, and accuse so and so of being against Redevelopment almost as if they're trying to exorcise a pox in their midst. But no, many people support redevelopment, they just wish there were no such thing as redevelopment agencies sucking the cash flow out of every other fund including the general fund. How can redevelopment agencies accomplish anything when they're draining the city? And when is someone going to ask Councilman Rusty Bailey to produce an itemized list of the 1500 jobs he claimed were created by Redevelopment?
A lot of the focus has been downtown for example, which itself is a redevelopment zone which for some reason like a swamp just grew a couple blocks larger just so it could call a certain building blighted but how many businesses have arrived in the downtown since the revival began. How many businesses have left downtown? At least 14 of them are no longer there, with more to follow and nothing to fill them. Most businesses are struggling to earn any cash at all because downtown is so user unfriendly, including through the use of the new paid parking system which is losing so much money, its draining money from other city funds to keep flush.
Most modes of transportation except apparently Segways are banned in the pedestrian mall including bicycles and most people don't want to bring their cars downtown because either the parking's too expensive, the ticketing too aggressive and the businesses in the mall too inaccessible for one reason or another. The Greater Chamber of Commerce should be all over the city on the parking which is killing most of the businesses faster than the recessions did but of course not, because the Chamber picks and chooses the businesses it "supports" and the ones it cuts loose for Eminent Domain, including many businesses owned by Asian-Americans, Latinos and the few businesses left that are owned by African-Americans as most of those were threatened with Eminent Domain.
Maybe that's why the Chamber as an entity refused to endorse or participate in the very first and very successful Lunar Festival earlier this year because Asian-Americans don't own businesses, they don't spend money and they don't matter in the business world. If the Chamber could have gotten over its squishy feeling about that demographic to at least realize its tremendous buying power as the fastest growing racial group in Riverside proper, they'd have endorsed that event happily. And yes, Asian-Americans own many successful businesses in Riverside, which contribute money to the city's coffers through sales tax. But how many Asian-Americans are serving on either the Chamber's board of important people or the Downtown Businesses Partnership's board of important people?
Anyway, the downtown's been largely a success and the restaurants are seriously raking in the big dough up and down the strip because of the addition of the City Hall Cafeteria which of course hasn't sucked most of the public sector lunch crowd away from other eateries further down the Boulevard. I've seen much of the old Simple Simon crowd eating there instead and quite a few from the Tamale Factory, which if you remember used to be a stone's throw from City Hall.
This is what the Press Enterprise said about the Cafeteria's acquisition.
The email also alleges parks employees said they were told to set aside some of their budget "to subsidize the City Hall cafe," because the operator was Hudson's friend and "was not making enough money."
Sundeen said the cafe operator was given two marketing contracts and it wasn't improper.
"I reported to the City Council in closed session that I believe that all of the accusations are unsubstantiated and without merit," Sundeen said.
You have to love Sundeen's quotes. He goes behind closed doors on a non-agendized item to tell them everything's unfounded even as in the next sentence he said he never investigated the allegations of harassment and retaliation involving city employees. So he's defending the city, without actually doing any type of investigation? That sounds awfully informed and thorough of Sundeen but it's entirely fitting for the occasion. And it's not like anyone on the dais is going to ask any questions because the time to ask them was a long time ago.
But what's really interesting here is what he didn't say. Okay if the city council received this briefing behind closed doors from Sundeen, when was that and why wasn't a notation about it included on the closed session agenda as required by the Brown Act? Unless it was hidden behind one of those items involving "anticipated litigation" which tells you that either the item was never actually agendized as it should have been or someone in that email is scaring City Hall enough to think that this person, likely the city attorney employee on leave, is going to sue the city. The employee's who also hired an attorney to speak for her.
Sundeen doesn't say in his interview whether the employees went to Hudson for assistance on these allegations. If not, this is probably somewhat understandable, given that there's been allegations that some employees have been sent on unpaid vacations simply for taking Hudson up on his solicitation of questions at meetings and asking the *wrong* question. Which is why at some of those meetings including those urging "pension reform", Hudson doesn't get any or that many questions from the employees attending them.
Anyway, Sundeen did mention that the employees didn't go to Human Resources because they think that department's not independent. It's not, it's blanketed under Hudson and look what happened when the city had a relatively independent director in Art Alcaraz. He allegedly didn't want to change the educational requirements for the assistant city manager positions to drop the master's degree requirement and was eventually retired out and replaced by Rhonda Strout. After that, those pesky requirements were dropped and an employee who lacked a Master's was hired to fill that position in Tom DeSantis. The rest at least in relation to him is history.
Raychele Sterling was the city attorney employee placed on administrative leave, allegedly after she complained about the treatment of city employees who complained about the allegations of favoritism in the assignment of certain contracts. First of all, it was surprising to read of a city attorney employee under Priamos actually doing more than smiling and telling people who ask questions that he'll get back to them when he talks to his boss. But if Sterling was trying to do the right thing involving something unpleasant, of course she's not going to get accolades for it.
There's differing versions of events on why she was placed on administrative leave. Maybe I'm just a little bit dense here but why on earth is Sundeen commenting on the status of one of City Attorney Gregory Priamos' employees and not Priamos? Couldn't anyone find Priamos or is he not answering his city issued cell phone when the respectable news media outlet comes calling?
Anyway, here's the conflicting versions provided on Sterling.
He added that Sterling is on paid administrative leave "strictly at her choice."
Perry, Sterling's attorney, called that characterization inaccurate.
"(City Attorney Greg) Priamos placed Ms. Sterling on administrative leave on April 22 for an unstated reason," Perry said. "Ms. Sterling has not committed any misconduct and she is ready and willing to return to work at the city attorney's office.
Okay, so Priamos' newest spokesman Sundeen says that she chose to go on administrative leave yet her own attorney says uh, no Priamos put her on leave without telling her why and that she's ready and willing to return to work. Okay, then if she's the one that volunteered to go on leave, but wants to work, call her into the office on Monday and get her back in her spot writing and signing work contracts! If Sterling doesn't show up for work then, it's going to be pretty clear who put her on leave, so it's just tiring if the city's being dishonest and playing the city residents for the fools that it clearly believes us to be.
But the safe bet is that Sterling won't be returning to work this week even though she's said she's ready and Sundeen, in lieu of her boss Priamos, has claimed she took the leave on her own, which again her lawyer denied. Then of course, Sean Gill won't be returning to work apparently either.
But never fear, Hudson's on the case involving Sterling's allegations and has assigned this legal firm in Rancho Cucamonga to get to the bottom of it. Will the city iron out a written contract that can actually be accessed by a public document request or not? That issue was raised by a local activist, Kevin Dawson at a Finance Committee meeting when he requested legal contracts from Best, Best and Krieger and not a single one could be found. Isn't that just wonderful, for how money generated by people's taxes to be spent without a paper trail? On such shaky foundations, accountability is born? Why hasn't a single elected official addressed the issue as to why the city retains outside legal firms for legal services and can't produce written copies of these contracts when someone like Dawson asks for them under a provision of state law?
And in the midst of the mystery of the invisible legal contracts, the shuffling of what's left of Riverside's cash from one account to another account to another account and so forth (so you kind of get lost on the merry path) had taken on a more desperate tone as the house of cards built on the Redevelopment Agencies finally begin to shift on their flimsy foundations. That's become apparent just if you've been following the discussions at city council meetings and articles written by the Press Enterprise in the past several years. Seriously just trying to follow the money trail presented by these sources is enough to give you a bad case of vertigo. Yet one city council member, Paul Davis had the following to say. He was according to the article on the favortism allegations, the only city official who could even be located for comment. He refused to comment and then commented on the city's financial matters.
Councilman Paul Davis declined to comment directly on the issues raised in the email, but said he has extensively reviewed city finances and audits.
"I have never, ever been presented with any physical evidence that would suggest that anything inappropriate is going on."
The only problem with reviewing the city's audits is that they were either done internally by employees reporting to Hudson and not anyone else and as for the "independent" audits, they were done by Meyer Hoffman McCann which according to its audits, Riverside was pretty close to being perfect. The issue with that is that the now troubled firm proclaimed the same thing about Bell's audits, in fact that city even won some sort of awards for its finances.
About a year later, the police department was breaking down the mayor's door to arrest him and members of the city council and the highest paid city manager in the state.
So much for that auditing firm, which has been criticized by the State Comptroller's office for not following proper procedure during its audits of Bell's finances. And no one on the dais has the kind of skills to even realistically keep up with the flow of money in this city, let alone understand or really even explain it. Most city residents can't even sort out the audit reports that were put out with Meyer Hoffman McCann for five years, you know those "perfect" reports and how to do so is never explained to the city residents whose taxes go into the city's coffers. Perfect just like the ones that firm did for Bell...and probably Victorville (which is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission) as well.
That's why there's so much talk about pensions at the bottom of the employment ladder rather than those at the tip-pity top and what's going on up there. If it's so necessary to cut labor budgets and pension programs, why is it that Riverside is neck and neck with Moreno Valley for the most expensive city manager in the state? Remember Riverside was in second place for a while behind the city of Bel before the orange jumpsuits came out.
But some interesting news as stated earlier came out of City Hall with the promotion of Lorson although so far she's not really gotten a raise. It looks mostly to be a transfer of one management employee's salary out of Development/Redevelopment into the City's General Fund. Lorson took credit for making the Fox Theater the incredible success it is today and last year, the Human Resources Board had wanted a face to face interview with her to address concerns about the high attrition rate particularly among older employees in the Development Department. But Hudson showed up instead and aw shucked his way into telling the Board that no, that interview wasn't going to take place and the board should go off and redefine it's mission and objectives.
But was it a real promotion or merely another reshuffling of money from one funding source to another?
[Newly crowned Asst. City Manager Deanna Lorson in a decision that raised a lot of brows as her boss, City Manager Brad Hudson does some more money shuffling]
There's also more fuss about the 8%-9% of deferred compensation from most of the employees and not as much as City Manager Brad Hudson's 25% deferred compensation for example. No discussion about why city council members can get a pension and life time benefits for simply putting in a term and a year in office. In fact, as one city council member, Steve Adams so eloquently put it, it's too premature to even really discuss impacting the salaries and benefits of elected officials and management employees negatively yet city council members should be full-time and have their pay increased. Adams calls the Riverside Firefighters' Association's adoption of the two-tier pension plan as "excellent" yet isn't even open to making any discussions about the salaries and benefits of city council members including their pensions. At least city employees work many years and many deal with public safety issues to collect theirs at the end of careers lasting 30 + years not those that are less than 10 years long. When Loveridge isn't authoring the redevelopment story, he'll be benefiting from two general public sector pensions, as a college professor and as a city official.
Adams collects a medical retirement on top of his pension for serving on the city council for an alleged "in the line of duty" injury that some allege was during an intramural football game. Hudson allegedly dispatched his newest assistant city manager, Lorson on her first day of that position to call the city's largest bargaining unit, the SEIU Local to adopt the two-tier pension plan. Lorson was the direct beneficiary of the shifting of her salary from development/redevelopment to the city's general fund.
It it just me or do others feel that the multiple spinning plates that City Hall's tried to keep balanced up in the air are finally coming crashing down?
We hear all this talk mainly from the City's Financial CEO Paul Sundeen who cheerfully tells us that buying back one's own unrated bonds is "zero risk" in a game that's known for its risk. We hear about how Riverside Renaissance has already been paid for when the real accounting hasn't yet begun. Oh, and you'll see your contributions on your utility bills for plenty years to come through increases and additions of special fees. This expensive program will be the gift that keeps giving on your utility bills, because I've been looking at my bills and I can see the differences in what's being paid in just the past several years, can you?
[Asst. City Manager of Finance Paul Sundeen explains a point of finance to members of the Finance Committee, always with a cheerful smile]
[The Finance Committee has started meeting again but when will it address what's really going on with the city's financing of Redevelopment not to mention the public services?]
Remember when for an entire year, the finance committee never met at all? It was stashed in mothballs while Chair Councilwoman Nancy Hart waited for the city management including Sundeen to tell her when to meet and what to discuss. That's pretty much what she said including during a city council not long before the committee started meeting more regularly, you know like monthly. The first time it had done so since the arrival of Hudson in June 2005 led to a sharp reduction in Finance Committee meetings no matter who actually chaired it. There's more discussions and more people asking questions and last time out, the committee interviewed three independent auditing firms, recommending one from up in Oregon to follow in the footsteps of the departing Meyer Hoffman and McCann.
As always more to come....
Tuesday, May 3 at 3pm and 6:30pm, the city council will be meeting at City Hall to discuss this agenda. What's funny is how the skimpy the agendas have gotten at recent meetings. The discussion calendars are for the most part still filled with fluffy receive and file reports but the massive amount of spending hidden on the consent calendar has markedly slowed down. What's on the agenda that strikes a chord is the marketing efforts involving the sewer fund. They're talking about chemicals that make noxious smells but nothing stinks as bad as the fund itself.
As well as the city's efforts to cut its costs by reducing pension benefits for new hires. In her first act as the new assistant city manager, Deanna Lorson dialed up the SEIU Local and told them they're to adopt a similar plan to that given to the members of the Riverside Firefighters' Association. But what's ironic is of course, Lorson had her salary and benefits left untouched by her promotion which in a sense was simply a money transfer from a city department/redevelopment to the general fund.