What did the Modesto Bee know and when did they know it? What do they know now?

From Mark Vasche's column on Sunday April 11, 2004.

"Our goal -- in Turlock, and in Modesto, Merced, Manteca and all the other communities we serve -- is to give people news and information they can use to make wise decisions, both large and small, in their lives as residents, consumers and voters".

The following letter was submitted to the Modesto Bee on Sept 10, 2001.

September 10, 2001
Modesto Bee Editorial Board

1325 H Street

Modesto, Ca. 95354

Dear Boardmembers:

In my January, 2001 “State of the City Address”, I requested the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors to…"Give Modesto, and for that matter all of the cities in Stanislaus County, the state and federal monies we are entitled to. We know better how to spend those tax dollars to benefit our communities and provide the level of services our citizens expect from their municipal governments."

Today, I repeat this request. Give us those funds. We can put them to their highest and best use.

I will again use the Waste-to-Energy facility and landfill to illustrate my point. All of the burnable garbage from the cities and County that can’t be recycled is supposed to go to the Waste-to-Energy facility. What can’t be burned or recycled usually goes to the County landfill next door to the facility. Most of the garbage goes to the Waste-to-Energy facility, so only a few hundred tons of garbage a day gets put in the landfill. The Waste-to-Energy facility should operate another 40 years, and at the current rate, the landfill could operate at least 70 more years.

The City is the County's "partner" in the Waste-to-Energy facility. We made a huge financial commitment to this project. Yet the County continues to use ratepayer money in ways that work against our citizens’ needs and interests.

The County still charges the ratepayers almost $200,000 a year to rent the Waste-to-Energy site. Since 1989, local residents have paid $3.5 million in rent to the County for use of the site. The City’s ratepayers paid nearly half of that rent. The County bought the property outright for less than $7,000. I can't imagine the Supervisors would pay rent to a landlord if they owned the house! Yet, the County continues to charge the ratepayers over and over, and to date they have collected 500 times the original purchase price.

The County is also still going ahead with its project to build a huge landfill on the West Side - not for the benefit of city or county residents - but to provide cheap disposal for the Bay area. The landfill would take up to 6,500 tons of garbage a day. It would have capacity for over 100 million tons of garbage.

In the last few years alone, the County has spent over $19 million of ratepayer money on this project, and more will be spent. It got these millions of dollars to build this huge landfill by overcharging local ratepayers at the existing landfill. Local ratepayers have paid too much, so Bay area ratepayers can get cheap disposal.

Local residents spent over $100 million to build the Waste-to-Energy facility to reduce the amount of trash going to the current landfill and extend its life. We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to put recycling programs in place and teach our citizens how to reduce waste, with the same goal of preserving landfill capacity. We succeeded, and we thus have many, many years of capacity at the current landfill. We built the Waste-to-Energy facility to get recycling credit and produce electricity from the garbage we burn. We don't need any more landfill capacity.

Yet, the County is not only using our citizens’ money to build a big dump they don’t need, it is also paying a consultant to solicit garbage to bring to the new landfill and the Waste-to-Energy facility. If other cities send garbage to our Waste-to-Energy facility, our garbage would have to go to the landfill, defeating the whole purpose.

That same County consultant had also negotiated contracts with a big Bay Area garbage company to bring medical waste to the Waste-to-Energy facility, so that company could shut down its medical waste incinerator in Oakland and silence protestors. Fortunately, when the City insisted that this project be discussed in an open, public forum, the Board of Supervisors responded to the concerns of the citizens and decided not to pursue the medical waste project. But the project to build the huge landfill for out-of-County garbage is still going forward.

And now there is a new proposal to use some of the landfill property. The County paid $14 million of the peoples’ money to buy 2,100 acres of land, even though the County’s own appraiser said the land was worth only $10.75 million. When we questioned this purchase, the City was told that most of the land “had” to be bought for “habitat mitigation” for endangered kit foxes. But the new proposal is to dump over 10 million gallons of wastewater from the Tartaric plant on this land. This wastewater is so foul it created a huge nuisance on the West Side, and the State ordered its abatement. How is this consistent with providing “habitat” for an endangered species?

Are these appropriate uses of the ratepayers’ money? Are these the type of “services” citizens should expect from government? I think not. We don't need a mega-landfill. We already have capacity for our garbage. We have paid millions for that capacity. We don’t need to waste ratepayer money buying expensive farmland for “fox habitat”, and then dump industrial wastewater on it. We don't need to import garbage, or become the dumping ground for Northern California. We don't need to subsidize services for the Bay area. We do need to consider the consequences of the County’s continuing to pursue these questionable “garbage” projects on the West Side, projects like the tire burner, the medical waste project, or the mega-landfill. Becoming California’s “Garbage Can” will do little to improve our image or promote our efforts to attract business to the region.

In closing, I repeat: It is the cities, not the County, who know better what kind of services our citizens need and want. It is the cities who know how best to provide those services with the funds collected from the taxpayers. Give us those state and federal funds we are entitled to.


Carmen Sabatino


cc: City Council

Board of Supervisors

City Manager