Valley Cell Tower Goes Before the Planning Commission


Notice of Public Hearing:
The City is moving ahead with plans to allow Verizon to construct a cell tower on Pfeiffer Lane on private property.
The Planning Commission meets on Monday, November 16, at 7 Pm, to consider the action.
Members of the community have raised objections to this site and they have submitted their objections, concerns and comments, in writing to the City and the Planning Commission.
The report is here.

The City sent out this notice of Public Hearing:
The Pinole Planning Commission will hold a hearing in the City Council Chambers at 2131 Pear Street, Pinole, Ca. on Monday, November 16, 2015 at 7:00 PM to consider the items listed below. The Planning Commission will consider public input received and will review the project materials for the Pinole Verizon Wireless Communications Facility project application.

Design Review (DR 14-26) and Conditional Use Permit (CUP14-13): Pinole Verizon Wireless Communications Facility project.

Consideration of a design review and conditional use permit request to construct a new wireless communications facility including the installation of nine panel antennas mounted within a 34-foot tall faux water tank on a concrete pad foundation and an approximately 653 square foot fenced equipment area, located below the faux water tank. The project includes a stand-by 30 kilowatt (kW) diesel generator with UL 142 fire-rated 132-gallon diesel fuel tank and underground utility lines leading up to the proposed facility from Pfeiffer Lane. Grapevine plantings would be included on the north, west, and south sides of the fenced equipment area for screening purposes. The total disturbed area for the project would be approximately 4.483 square feet which includes the driveway modifications,utility tranches, and equipment areas.

Environmental Review:
The City prepared a draft Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) to identify the potential environmental impacts of the project. The Planning Commission will consider adoption of an Initial Study/MND and Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program in conjunction with consideration of the request.

Pamela Nobel.
Verizon Wireless
2010 Crow Canyon Place, Suite 355
San Ramon, Ca. 94583

2518 Pfeiffer Lane
Pinole, Ca. 94564
APN: 360-131-036

Project Planner:
Mike Moore, Contract Planner

If you attend:
Planning Commission meets, Monday November 16 at 7 pm., City Hall.

The Tower Topplers Fight on



The battle for the ears and dollars of cell phone subscribers is well documented, not just in Pinole but throughout the country.
In Pinole, the Cell Tower wars were fought between the City, Verizon and the Tower Topplers.
But that did not deter Verizon from continuing its efforts to place a cell tower in Pinole Valley, albeit, not at the hotly contested site in Pinole Valley Park.
After a period of relative calm, what the Tower Topplers believed would happen, has happened.
Verizon has found a private party who is willing to place the cell tower on their private property.

Members of the “Tower Topplers”, have submitted the following letters to for posting.
The following comments, statements and opinions are attributable to those individuals only and not to Ivette Ricco.

Letter from Vanessa Wilke to the Pinole City Council.

I am writing to share my concerns re: the proposed cell tower in Pinole Valley to be located above the creek.

I understand the council will be meeting about this in November.

My first concern is the roads, Pinole Valley Rd, Wright Ave, Doidge..any other roads that equipment vehicles

will need to travel to haul material. These roads are not rated to support the weight of those vehicles, like drilling equipment.

The roads were designed for residential vehicles not a 5 axle truck. Any truck over the 3 ton P.V.R. limit (6,000 lbs.)

My second concern is the stability of the hill on which they want to put the tower. I live across the creek,

2325 Hoytt backyard is the hill above the creek. In 1998, the last Big El Nino, my family lost our backyard due to a broken City storm drain that runs from the front of our court, under our property and umps run-off into the creek. This was discovered in February 1998, the whole slide into the creek leaving our home within 2’of the slide, a 24′ drop off.  We had to fight the city to get them to accept responsibility for repairing

our yard before the next rains began. At this exact same time we were sliding away, directly across the creek,

not far from the Tower site, the Wilbur family backyard was also sliding badly “without” our storm drain problem.

Their back hill above the creek was also covered in plastic tarps as were several other homes along Pinole Creek

that winter from the terrible rain soaked unstable land above the creek, praying each day no more would drop off!

That August we had been told the City would NOT fund the repair…meeting in closed sessions to discuss other choices.

The city called FEMA who took the project because 1. our home was in eminent danger & 2. FEMA had paid for slide repair in the same area in 1986…we moved in in 1981. The city had to front the money as it was an Audited project & would get paid when it was done. Thank goodness FEMA stepped in or we would have “washed away”! Remember all this started in on the property / drain didn’t begin until Sept. 98′. Kind of amazing still all these years

later that it was a “city drain” that broke on our side of the creek causing all this damage, yet the “City” would not accept

responsibility immediately. Once the work by FEMA began they worked 7 days a week to beat the next rainy season.

How does this History Lesson have relevance re: the Tower?  I am worried that NO ONE, the City, Fish & Game, &

highly doubtful Verizon.. have any knowledge of the severe problems of land movement in the Valley, especially near

& above the creek.  Four years of drought..Do you think that means the creek is a bare empty creek-bed waiting to

fill up with rain?? Think again…The creek is terribly overgrown, the 17 year old Broken off approx.15 feet of storm drain

culvert from 1998 is still laying down the hill from our yard. The creek is very narrow behind the 2 story wood house on

P.V.Rd.(previous Bundy  property)…when the El Nino rains arrive that creek quickly becomes a Swollen, Raging, Rapid River measured in acre feet. Everything will be swept up in its unstoppable path. Uprooted trees / shrubs from the creek bed, the old culvert, all are prime to become lodged and cause the creek to back up and rise .Due to No preparation to clear the creek this could cause devastating problems that could impact all “creek side” families and, the hill above reserved for the cell tower.

You say, but the Tower will be up on the hill… yes, a hill whose Base, (what is ment to “hold up the hill”) is Part of the Creek!

I would appreciate the Council addressing these concerns and sharing the discussion with the Community. You

have been advised of possible serious complications in the next few months due to documented, serious problems along the creek from the valley to the bay, as well as serious flooding problems…

Don’t ignore the warning… Please..

Take Action…Help protect the citizens in the Valley along the Creek. Reconsider the location of a Giant Tower being allowed to be built on potentially seriously unstable land.

Thank you,   Vanessa Wilke

Dear Winston and Planning Commission members,

I am writing to express my public comment on this pending application.

I see this application as a proposed Commercial Operation in an R-1 zoning, Suburban Residential area. This project has a very narrow benefit to the residents of Pinole Valley. That being the business relationship between Verizon Wireless and their wireless customers. At the same time there is a broad negative exposure to everyone who lives in close proximity to this proposed tower, with no benefit. If Verizon Wireless can operate a Commercial Enterprise in R-1 zoning, it sets a precedent for other applicants to do the same. Perhaps the real issue here is the weakness of Pinole’s applicable Ordinance, covering cell towers.

For anyone who has lived in this area, especially those whose property borders Pinole Valley Creek, the prospect of mudslides, flooding and geological slippage is very real. A trip down Pinole Valley Rd with a look at the hillsides will confirm that fact. The hillsides have shown a dangerous propensity for sliding. Pinole Valley Creek has eaten away at its banks during high precipitation events and the cycle of El Nino. If you are aware, the prediction for the strongest El Nino ever, shall affect Northern California in 2015-2016. The efforts to protect the hillside under the proposed Cell tower can actually exacerbate and cause major slippage at the constuction site. Add the influence of heavy machinery, excavations, drilling, etc, etc and you have a recipe for disaster. This site borders Pinole Valley Creek and whatever falls on that hill has an excellent chance of blocking and spoiling the Creek. A recent award of a grant to reintroduce Steelhead Trout into the Pinole Creek Watershed is in imminent danger from earth movement and spoilage of the Creek.

The issue of Radiation and EMF danger has been swept under the rug, courtesy of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The science used in consideration of that Law is now 20 years old. There are new indications and investigations into the long term health effects of concentrated radiation on humans, especially more vulnerable humans, like children. Yes there will be cell towers, but they should be sited as far away as possible from dense residential areas. The European standard is one thousand (1000) ft. The Pinole standard is one hundred (100) ft. This is a regrettable error and may very well result in liability for the City of Pinole.

Letter to the City Planner and the Planning Commission

This application for a Verizon Cell Tower may be a separate issue in a technical sense, but to the residents who opposed a similar cell tower, recently and nearby, they are are linked. Verizon Tower #1 was an 85 ft monstrosity that sat nearer to the valley floor in the quiet forest of Pinole Valley Park. The opponents rejected that application due to concerns for radiation safety and the effect on property values. The fact that it was proposed to be sited in the Park was adding insult to injury. The use of parkland for commercial purposes was found to be a violation Federal Law and State Regulations. The resultant rejection of that application led to threats of litigation by Verizon against the City of Pinole. A “Tolling Agreement” resulted which had all legal remedies halted. That same Tolling Agreement was undone by a “Settlement” between Verizon and the City of Pinole earlier in 2015. Why did Verizon settle? It is obvious to me and many others that a deal was reached out of the Public purview in “Closed Session” to pave the way for a SLAM DUNK when the new cell tower application came before the city. That is where we are right now. A City Administration and City Council that is prepared to ignore the opposition and approve Verizon’s application without any respect for the people they represent. I respectfully ask that you reject this application. Take the time to rewrite the Cell Tower Ordinance and start over.

Respectfully submitted,   Sal Spataro

Sal Spataro

2450 Stokes Ave

Pinole, Ca 94564

Letter to the City Planner

City of Pinole Development Services Department

2131 Pear Street

Pinole, CA 94564


Dear Mr. Rhodes,

In my previous letter I broached the subject of non-ionizing radiation at low levels on the chicken population of Pinole Valley.  I wrote:

Similarly, the MITIGATED NEGATIVE DECLARATION nor the Environmental Review Document for the Verizon Cell Tower located at 2518 Pfeiffer Lane (APN 360-131-036) has failed to mention or account for the negative effects of radiation from the proposed Cell Tower on the chicken population of the surrounding residences that house this species.  As you very well know farm animals are codified in the City of Pinole Ordinances and many residences in the Valley have Chickens.   See the information on the Department of Interior for the deleterious effects on Chicken Embryos.

I have included said Department of the Interior Letter which points the inadequacy of the current legislation on the effects of non-ionizing radiation on the wildlife of Pinole Valley.  There is a strong need to mitigate for the adverse effects on the chicken population in close proximity to the proposed cell tower.  Once again the MITIGATED NEGATIVE DECLARATION, Environmental Review Document and the report provided by Live Oak Associates is inadequate with regards to the Chicken Population. 

Not only is it the Chicken population of Pinole Valley at risk with the proposed cell tower but also the native endangered bird populations are at risk due to possible collisions with the proposed water tower as well as due to the non-thermal effects of non-ionizing radiation.  The MITIGATED NEGATIVE DECLARATION and the Environmental Review Document fail to address either of these two mechanisms which are deleterious to the native endangered bird populations (See Enclosure A of the DOI Letter – attached.

I have included the Department of Interior (DOI) Letter which provides references to the scientific literature on the chicken studies, the collision risk for shorter towers on endangered species, as well as the failure to address non-thermal effects of cell towers in this addendum for your careful consideration and for a written response.

Best Regards,

Anthony Gutierrez

The Loss of a Special Man


Thursday, October 29, 2015
Classy move by the Hercules City Council and Mayor McCoy.
Tom Lochner reporting Phil’s passing.

It is with great sadness that I advise the community that Phil Green, community advocate, council member and friend has passed away after a battle with cancer.

Phil was always true to himself and unapologetic about his point of view.
Ole Blue eyes sang “I did it my way”, and Phil embodied those words.

My deepest condolences to his great wife and life partner, Phyllis, his daughter Jenny, son Todd, mother Geri, brother Dare and sister Debbie.
We have all lost a valiant and special man.


Pinole SK8 Park Opening Ceremony


The very long-awaited Pinole SK8 Park has become a reality.
After eight years of set-backs, debate, discussion and community input, Sandee Glanz, her son Max, his fellow skaters and the Pinole SK8 park Committee saw their hard work pay off.
Pinole Community TV created a short video (a much larger one is coming) memorializing Opening Day.

Needless to say those of us who supported the SK8 Park are thrilled to witness the project’s completion.

Phil Green’s Celebration of Life


Monday, September 14, 2015.
There was an amazing turn-out and outpouring of love, affection and emotion yesterday at Phil Green’s Celebration of Life.
Although weak Phil was strong enough to persevere throughout the day, speaking to what some say may have been as many as 300 people. We were in awe of the courage he has shown, courage to accept, with grace and dignity, his fate and hold such a memorable event.
His family, wife Phyllis, daughter Jenny, son Todd, mother Geri, brother Dare and sister Debbie also showed great courage.
I took just a few photos (below), but if you have photos of “Phil’s Celebration of Life”, please feel free to send them to me at for posting on this blog.

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Paying Tribute.
Council member Phil Green spoke via telephone last night at the Pinole City Council meeting.
His message to the community was simple, he is battling cancer.
He is facing this fight just as he has faced so many others, with straight talk and with concern for his family and community.

We must not forget that our elected officials are human beings, with husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, mothers, fathers and loved ones. It’s something that is often lost in the rhetoric of politics and the heat of battle.

I have known Phil and his wife Phyllis for many years, they have been married for 46 years.
I know him because of his family, not because of his politics.

The call to serve your community is one that demands time away from your loved ones. Often, we as constituents, do not adequately acknowledge that sacrifice.
The greater calling in life, as far as I’m concerned, is to live life to the fullest and to be the most caring, loving and loyal person possible.
I think Phil leaves an important legacy for his family and for our city.

On Sunday, September 13, Phil is having a Celebration of Life.
This is an opportunity to pay tribute, to laugh, to share stories, to only shed tears of joy and embrace Phil with positive thoughts and memories.

The community is invited to visit with Phil on September 13, 2015, between 11 – and 4 at the Richmond Golf and Country Club.

Gateway Project – A Community Divided


The City of Pinole is proposing a new development project on Pinole Valley Road, west of 80. The Public Hearing is scheduled for Monday April 6, 2015.

The project is causing some citizens to raise their voices in protest about the possibility of gridlock, congestion, safety and the effect that yet another Starbuck’s will have on the small business community in Old Town.

The Planning Commission will meet on Monday April 6 at 7 Pm, at City Hall, to discuss this proposed project.
If you are interested in weighing in on this project, then now is the time to have your voice heard.
This sign was placed on a resident’s property on Pinole Valley Road, and the opposition to this development seems to be picking up steam and supporters.

R.I.P. Rich – Last Call


Saturday, March 28, 2015.

The life of Rich Voisey was celebrated on a beautiful Saturday in Pinole.
I did not take pictures because, honestly, I was too moved by the moment to take the time to memorialize it, I was there to remember, respect and honor a man I respected and admired.
But there are many others who are sharing their wonderful photos with others who may not have been in attendance.
If you have photos you wish to share with the community please send them to me for posting.

Goodbye Rich, you will be missed.

Funeral Service For Rich Voisey


Funeral Service Information for Line of Duty Death: Pinole Fire Captain
Richard John Voisey
The City of Pinole Fire Department and the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County Local 1230 are saddened to announce the line of duty death of Pinole Fire Captain Richard Voisey. Richard Voisey served the City of Pinole as a firefighter for 35 years, rising in the ranks from volunteer firefighter to Fire Captain.
Captain Richard Voisey, passed away surrounded by his family on March 4, 2015 at age 54, due to occupational brain cancer. Richard Voisey was a loving husband, father, son, grandfather and brother. He was a great firefighter, leader and citizen. We honor his memory and send our condolences to his wife, Nancy, his daughters Sasia and Sarah, his son, Joshua and granddaughter Autumn.
Funeral Service-
Date: Saturday, March 28, 2015
Time: 1:00PM
Location: St. Josephs Church, 837 Tennant Avenue, Pinole, CA 94564
The public is invited and encouraged to attend, event parking will be available.
Cards and Letters may be sent to:
IAFF Local 1230
C/O Richard Voisey Family
112 Blue Ridge Drive
Martinez, CA 94553
Monetary Donations in Rich’s Name: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the UCSF Foundation. Please make your check payable to the UCSF Foundation with a note indicating you wish to donate towards the Brain Tumor Research Center in memory of Rich Voisey. Checks can be mailed to: UCSF Foundation, P.O. Box 45339, San Francisco, CA 94145-0339. You can also visit their website and donate online at
Click on the “Make a Gift” tab on the left side.

RIP – Rich Voisey


HopeIt is with great sadness that I report that Rich Voisey, a man who lived life to the fullest has passed after a two year battle with brain cancer, a battle he fought with valor.
Rich was full of passion, passion for his family, his friends, his fellow fire fighters and for his community, Pinole. His passion and strong beliefs set him apart, even when he was challenged for those beliefs, Rich never backed down and fought the bullies who attempted to silence him. Rich was a community hero, and they don’t come along very often.
His smile and laugh are indelibly etched into our minds and hearts.
My deepest condolences to Nancy and his family. He was a man among men.
When you drive past Station 74 in the Valley, remember Rich and honor his memory.
Rich_VoiseyThe tribute to Rich at Station 74 is growing.
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Dancing between the raindrops


dancing_between_the_raindropsDecember 18, 2014

Hello world:

I haven’t posted anything recently as I continue my “year of the family” and personal introspection.
For someone who has been involved in community and volunteerism for over 14 years I have found the change in my daily routine challenging, interesting, at times boring, often peaceful.  It is a pace and a place I am not used to.
In the last 20 months I have cared for my daughter, husband, two sisters, and my mom. I don’t really feel qualified to be a care giver, but maybe that’s why I was challenged with that role.

In this current state of reflection and retirement I see working folks rushing off daily and am content in the knowledge that I am not sitting on the freeway at 6 am. Not needing an alarm clock anymore is a really liberating perk of retirement. No early meetings for me, oh no, sorry, can’t do it.
I usually open my eyes and think, “what day is it”?

I once had a boss, a big powerful man, with a personality and ego the size of his native New Joisey. He told me that he spent an entire year, as a college student, without speaking.
It was what he wrote his thesis on, and if you knew him you would realize that keeping him quiet for any length of time was harder than dancing between rain drops. But it gave him perspective, clarity and taught him to listen.
In some ways I have spent the last 20 months dancing between rain drops, or at least trying to.

My life experiences are no different for others. We all have challenges, tragedies, happiness and successes.
But at some point we should stop and assess our life.
When do we reflect, when do we say I’m sorry, I miss you, I love you, when do we say that people mean more than material things?
Do we wait until it’s too late? Too often and sadly that is the reality.

I am not a religious person, my life is lived according the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
I don’t need to hear that from a pulpit or read it in scripture. It is about living my life as the best person I can be, not hurting others, not betraying family, it’s about helping others and doing as much good as I can do in the years I am given. But family is first.
I reject those who say the right things yet do the wrong things.

As we head into a New Year I will set aside time to reconnect with my readers/followers on a more regular basis and keep you informed on our community.
But for now, I am slowly dancing between the rain drops.

Ivette Ricco


The Pear Street Bistro – Thanks You


The Pear Street Bistro, a popular restaurant and bar in Old Town Pinole, experienced a kitchen fire on October 28. The good news is that no one was hurt, but there have been questions raised about its future and status.
The best way to get the answers to these questions is to go straight to the source, which is what I did.

Gary and Francisco, owners of the Bistro want to let everyone know that they are working hard to reopen the Bistro and they will keep their loyal patrons informed by use of this blog, FaceBook and email.

Follow the Pear Street Bistro on FaceBook

Email the Bistro:

Giving Thanks from Pear Street Bistro

The Pear Street Bistro Family has much to be thankful for this holiday season.  We give thanks to the brave members of the Pinole Police and Fire Departments whose quick and able response saved Pear Street Bistro during our recent small fire.  We give thanks to the loyal customers and residents of Pinole for their continued support as we prepare for the grand reopening of Pear Street Bistro.  We give thanks to our committed staff who are working tirelessly to reopen Pear Street Bistro for our friends and family.  We give thanks to the City of Pinole for their assistance with the expedited reopening of the Pear Street Bistro.  We are diligently working with our insurance representatives and contractors to prepare for a reopening in the tradition of Pear Street Bistro.  We will continue to keep all our friends and family posted on our progress.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving and we will see you soon to create new memories at Pear Street Bistro.

Gary, Francisco and staff.

I know I am looking forward to the Bistro’s Grand Re-Opening with great anticipation.




The Dust Has Settled



The mid-term election is over, the results are in and the dust is settling.
Some results were no surprise, in other cases the results were revealing and unexpected.
Elections and the politics associated with it have become a macabre ritual. One that many voters are now finding unpalatable. Maybe we should hold elections on Halloween and really get into the mood.

Surprises? The big money campaign by Chevron was dealt a blow, their Richmond City Council and Mayoral candidates all lost.
The Richmond Progressive Alliance campaign, working with far more limited funds, resonated with the voters more than the slick mailers, TV ads and talking post cards.
The RPA has held onto its power in Richmond politics. It may be that the negative campaign and the flaunting of big money worked against Chevron’s candidates, certainly not the desired effect or result.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District School Board race took on a life of its own and was as hotly contested as any Board election in recent memory. It didn’t lack for varying points of view and philosophies presented by a diverse field of ten candidates.

There were dueling campaign finances at play in this race, the Kronenburg campaign was supported by advocates of the Bond program, whereas the campaigns of Block and Cuevas received support from Charter school advocates and critics of the bond program. Only one incumbent was re-elected, Kronenburg. The two new Trustees are newcomers, Block and Cuevas. They join Todd Groves and Randy Enos on the School Board. Gone are Eliane Merriweather and long time President Charles Ramsey.

In Pinole we were spared the hair-raising antics we have endured in recent elections, we may be small but there are a lot of politicos at work here.
The incumbents went unchallenged. It means another four years for Long, Green and Banuelos with little if any change to current policies or points of view.

Measure S.2 appears to have passed by the hair on its chinny chin chin.
Now the most expensive places to shop are El Cerrito and Pinole.
Others will follow suit as a sales tax creates a revenue stream cities can use for any and all general fund expenses.

The Fire Fighter Fire Storm


Fallen_Firefighters_Memorial,_Engine_Co._No._27,_HollywoodLocal Control – Is Pinole Getting it Wrong?

There has been an on going tug of war between Fire Fighters Local 1230 and the City Pinole.
I recently received some comments/observations/opinions, which I had not published.
The author of those comments wishes to remain anonymous but has agreed to allow me to post his comments/observations/opinions.
These comments/opinions/observations are those of the author only.



Fire Chief (1) Retired Fire Chief (1)
Fire Chief’s Executive Secretary Vacant
Assistant Chief Emergency Operations Vacant
Assistant Chief Support Services Vacant
Assistant Chief Administrative Services Vacant
Training Division Vacant
Training Chief Vacant
EMS Chief Vacant
Communication Division Vacant
Communication Manager Vacant
Facilities Management Division Vacant
Facilities Manager Vacant
Information Services Vacant
I.S. Manager Vacant
Logistics Division Vacant
Logistics Manager Vacant
Fire Prevention Bureau Vacant
Fire Marshal Vacant
Code Enforcement Vacant
Engineering Services Vacant
Exterior Hazard Control Vacant
Investigations Vacant
Public Information Vacant
Public Education Vacant

Costing MORE to Stay Stand Alone

FY 2014/2015


$3,800,219 (Stand Alone)



Hemet: Council contracts with county ending city’s fire department

Rodeo Reopens Station 75 with Grant Money



Because I’m Happy


I’m in my Happy Place.

On the heels of a personal and very public attack by my Pinole political nemesis; the real world and the people who matter most in my life, came into clear focus, yep, reality slapped me right upside the head.
My granddaughter’s health became a concern and my sister was facing major surgery, and they needed me.
I suddenly realized how low on my list of priorities this personal attack ranked.

Happiness is the truth. Come along.

I hope your summer was great and spent doing all the things that make you happy, mine was.
I have been enjoying three months at home without traveling for anything but enjoyment.
And I am savoring every minute of it.
Gosh how did I not see that there are a lot of people depending on me? Why didn’t I realize that time is the most valuable commodity one has to offer?
I have become reflective at the age of 69.
I have begun thinking about what I will leave behind.
I am making a conscious decisions to spend time with those I love and share experiences that leave a lasting memory. Because my happiness is about everybody except me.

Fall is in the air, football season is upon us, and I am in my happy place.

Pinole’s Measure S – Opposition



The CCT is opposing the Pinole Sales tax measure.
The Contra Costa Tax Payer’s Association has pointed put that this sales tax increase does not have a sunset date (therefore it is indefinite and permanent) and there is no oversight committee to review the expenditure of these funds.

Pinole’s current sales tax is 9%.
If the new tax measure passes Pinole’s sales tax rate will be 9.5%.
That would match the current sales tax rate in El Cerrito.

Sales Tax Rates in neighboring communities
The State Sales Tax is 7.5%.

El Cerrito 9.5%

Kensington 8.5%

Rodeo 8.5%

Hercules 9%

San Pablo 9%

Richmond 9%

Pinole 9%

Population by City, per Census (as noted):

El Cerrito
(2012) 24,048

(2010) 5,077

(2010) 8,679

(2012) 24,660

San Pablo
(2012) 29,720

(2012) 106,516

Pinole (2012) 18,729

Will you pay more to live in Pinole?

Can the City of Pinole, considering its limited growth potential, continue to consider itself a Full Service City?
Will parcel taxes, sales tax increases and special assessments be the only source of sustainable revenue the city can rely on to maintain the Full Service City designation with a stagnant population of less than 20,000?

Currently the City has established Enterprise Funds to support some of the services previously considered part of a full-service city designation. Among them, Parks and Rec, which includes the Senior Center and Pinole Cable TV.
These departments are now struggling to get by. The loss of revenue as well as the loss of Redevelopment Funds has dictated new strategies for budgeting.

It seems likely that services currently being offered through fund raising activities will need general fund support via new fees, taxes or assessments.
The same logic applies to the funding of Police, Fire and Public Works. Without development or growth (yes Pinole can always rely on its business to keep it afloat) how long before taxpayers are asked to pay more for basic services?

Is Pinole enamored with its Full Service City title?
Are taxpayers willing to accept more taxes, fees, and assessments in order to maintain the Full Service City status?
Data derived from the League of California Cities:

City Responsibilities Differ:
Comparing revenues and expenditures of different cities can be difficult because cities vary according to the needs of their constituents and the nature of the local economy, as well as the service and financial responsibilities of the city.
Less than 25 percent of California cities are full service cities, responsible for funding all of the major city general fund-supported services such as police, fire, library, parks and recreation and planning.
In about three out of 10 California communities, a special district provides fire services with property tax revenue that would otherwise go to the city.
In six out of 10 cities, library services are provided and funded by another public agency.
On the revenue side, these differences in financial responsibility among cities are generally reflected in the allocation of property tax revenue.
Other city tax rates and allocations are unrelated to service responsibility.

Trends in California City Finance
The following list summarizes trends in California city finance.

  • State and federal aid to California cities is declining, down from 21 percent of a city’s budget in 1974–75 to 10 percent today.
  • The sales tax base is declining, due to a shift toward a service-oriented economy and increasing Internet and catalog retail sales.
  • Limitations on taxes and fees that cities can impose are driven by
    13, Prop. 218 and other state laws.
  • State population growth is higher in cities.
  • Cities must respond to citizens’ demand for a greater array of services that bring with them additional costs and new challenges (high tech, cable, transit, etc.).
  • Public safety spending is up.
  • Infrastructure improvements and maintenance are lagging.

Take the Poll:


Pinole’s New Measure S – A Discretionary Tax – For or Against ?



The November election is on November 4, 2014. Approximately 25 days away.
The City Council race is not really much of a race as only the incumbents are on the ballot.
But Pinole taxpayers will be considering, Measure S (Measure S part 2) an increase to the current sales tax in Pinole from 9% to 9.5%.
This measure requires only a majority to pass as the tax is not specific but discretionary.
Which means that the voter must believe that the City of Pinole is being run efficiently, effectively and can be trusted to spend these new revenues for the purposes stated.
Councilmember Long stated that although the Council can not dedicate Measure S funds to specific expenses, that they can commit to shoring up specific areas such as Police, Fire and Public Works.
If you look around our city you can see the effect the loss of Redevelopment Funds has had on the City.
Couple the loss of Redevelopment Funds, the economic recession and the increasing costs of services and it is apparent that our City has many fiscal challenges.
The community has always supported its Public Safety and the maintenance of our streets, roads and parks is important.
However, the opposition to this increase to the sales tax is not supportive of the way our city has handled its relationship with our Fire Fighters.It is unhappy with the way some services they have long enjoyed and counted on as the reason for purchasing homes and raising families have been cut or eliminated and are being kept alive by volunteers.
Will Measure S.2 fix these problems?
Will Measure S.2 restore these services?
Will Measure S.2 give the taxpayer what they say they are committed to, but are not legally responsible to do?

At a recent City Council meeting a proponent of the increased tax explained how costs have gone up. Yes in life everything goes up, rarely do costs go down. The two hot dogs  with mustard and sauerkraut in the fifties in New York although a graphic image don’t address the questions being raised in this community about the proposed increase.

Those who oppose Measure S.2 point to the discord between the Fire Fighters and the City. They point to the uncertain future of Fire Fighters in Pinole and the doubt that new recruits have about working for this City.
They point to administrative staffing costs for a city this size.
The truth is that Measure S.2 is likely to pass, but it is not because taxpayers have faith in their elected officials, but rather because they want to have the critical services they pay taxes for.
If measure S.2 passes taxpayers are trusting that our elected officials are truly committed to using these new revenues for the services they say the taxes are for.
Measure S.2 is more about trusting our elected officials to do the right thing, to keep their word and to hold the line when it comes to staffing in areas other than Public Safety.


The future of the Pinole Fire Department has been the subject of heated debate over the last five years.
Currently all the unions in Pinole have reached contract agreements with the City, with the only exception being the Pinole Fire Department.
What is preventing the Fire Fighters Union from reaching agreement with the City of Pinole? The Police have reached agreement on a new contract, yet the Fire Fighters have not.
Sources tell me that the City is holding things up because of the pending PERB lawsuit and using that as leverage in the negotiations.

But, what do the citizens and taxpayers of Pinole want?
The reality is the Pinole taxpayer will foot the bill and bear the burden of the decision(s) made by  our City officials.

Is the Pinole taxpayer willing to pay more for their Pinole Police and Fire Departments?
Pinole taxpayers have always said “yes” to that question. Measure S was passed because of that. The Pinole taxpayer has been willing to pay for the things they want and feel constitute the quality of life in Pinole. This is evidenced by the extension of the Utility Users tax in 2012 which was to help our city get back on track.

Pinole taxpayers have always expressed a tremendous amount of pride in their Police and Fire departments. Pinole is a blue collar community with a strong sense of American tradition and pride.
There is little controversy regarding the need for maintaining Pinole Police services.
But recently questions regarding Fire Services and service models have been raised and standards challenged. Pensions and overtime for all public employees have come under close scrutiny.
Scrutiny and criticism is not surprising since Public Safety accounts for the greatest portion of most city budgets.

With a population of 19,000 and little room for more development or growth is it realistic for Pinole to maintain its own Fire and Police Departments?
Does this city have the revenue to sustain its “Full Service City” identity?

Will an increase to the current sales tax by 1/2% allow the City to maintain its own Police and Fire Fighter Departments in the long term?

Keep in mind that just as Measure S was a general purpose tax and can be used at the Council’s discretion, any new sales tax revenue will also be a general purpose tax to be used at the discretion of the City.
It will really come down to how much taxpayers trust our City government and elected officials.

Will the 1/2% be added to the existing Measure S Fund to bolster Public Safety and Public Works?
Will the revenue from an increase in our sales tax be earmarked for the areas of the budget taxpayers care most about?
Today’s Poll asked for your feedback.
Should the City take a long term approach and enter into contract with another city or perhaps regionalize this service?
Do the taxpayers want Pinole public safety at any cost?
Does the taxpayer want public safety at a reasonable cost?

Should Pinole Have Its Own Fire Dept?



Pinole’s Waste Water Rates



The following Comment and information was submitted by Mr. Tony Gutierrez, Pinole resident.
This forum is an opportunity for members of the public to respectfully voice their opinions and comments.
Mr. Gutierrez has expressed concerns relative to the current and future sewer rates for Pinole residents.
Although the majority of Pinole residents are serviced by Pinole’s sewer system, there is a portion of Pinole that is serviced by the West County Waste Water District.
The City of Pinole published a report in 2013 outlining the Sewer Rates.

“While visiting my retired aunt, who lives in Tara Hills, she was lamenting that her Sewer Rates were going up. She sad this year she will be paying $381 a year to the West County Wastewater District.

I will pay $681 this year living in Pinole Valley. This is a $300 per year difference. And by July 2017, Pinole Valley rates will rise to $750 annually.
At the April 14th Town Hall Meeting I questioned our City Manager whether or not she received 50% of her entire compensation package from the Sewer Fund in 2013/2014?
Ms. Espinosa responded, “She did not.”
I then asked, “What about the previous fiscal year?”
City attorney Ben Reyes intervened and told me, “That I was not allowed to cross-examine the City Manager.”
I just moved on to my next question.
Just three days later on the 17th, I once again asked the same questions at the Pinole/Hercules Wastewater Subcommittee meeting in reference to Item 8 on the agenda. This time Ms. Espinosa had recovered from her temporary amnesia.

During the last two fiscal years the City Manager’s Compensation has come out of the following funds;
General Fund: 24%, Redevelopment Administrative Fund: 26%, and the Sewer Fund: 50%.

In other words, for the last two fiscal years approximately $115 thousand of the City Manager’s Compensation package came out of the Sewer Fund.

The good news is that for the last two fiscal years the City of Hercules has been paying for 25% of Pinole’s City Manager’s Total Compensation Package, approximately $57,500.

For the upcoming Fiscal year starting on July 1st, Hercules will no longer pay any of our City Manager’s Total Compensation Package.
Well the reason why Hercules is not paying anymore is that they did to feel that it was justified for the City of Pinole to bill the City of Hercules for 25% of our City Manager’s Total Compensation Package for the last two years.

Since we have control and mange our own Sewer Plant why do Citizens of Pinole who live in Pinole Valley pay 78% higher sewer rates for a single family residence than our brethren who live in Tara Hills that use the West County Sewer District?”





Summer Musings


Hello everyone:

Summer time and the living is easy….Image

It has been a little over three weeks since my last post.
Those three weeks have been a whirlwind of activity.
My husband, Mike, and I celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary, yes I am that old.
My grandson, Kyle, graduated from High School.
My granddaughter, Rachel, qualified for a Weight Lifting Competition in Daytona Florida.
We started a small vegetable garden, Mike has the green thumb, me, well, not so much.
The small but very powerful gifts of life.

Community news:

The Pinole Swim Center on Simas Avenue is open. Time to jump in and cool off in our beautiful neighborhood pool.

The SK8 Park has gotten one significant step closer to becoming a reality.

The Tower Topplers are monitoring the City’s actions. The City and Verizon have entered into a tolling agreement which will effectively put any legal action on hold until after the November election.

The City is moving ahead with a ballot measure for an increase to the sales tax.
This measure will appear on the November ballot raising Pinole’s sales tax to 9.5%.
Critics claim this is simply a way to increase the city’s coffers for needs that are not related Public Safety needs. However, the City has negotiated a new contract with the Police and we expect that they are also in negotiations with the Fire Department. Given the not so friendly tone of recent negotiations it is hard to gauge just how this is going.

The City lost its appeal to retrieve over $13 million dollars in Redevelopment funds.
At the June 3 Council meeting, by a vote of 5-0, in closed session, the Council voted to not appeal the decision and to settle for the 19% the State does not dispute.
The 19% represents roughly $2.3 million dollars. It’s not the whole enchilada but it surely isn’t a poke in the eye.
A portion of those funds will go to the schools, parks and other entities.
The balance will go towards the City General Fund.

And then there’s the politics in Pinole.
The election grows near, run for the hills.
This year the City Council will have three seats available.
The incumbents are Tim Banuelos, Debbie Long and Phil Green.
There has been some political grandstanding already. None more obvious than the dialogue the council entered into during the SK8 Park discussion.
It all started when Council member Green stated that the funds for the SK8 Park had been available but had been siphoned off for other things.
The SK8 Park proponents were subjected to a not so fine example of political gamesmanship while council members Murray and Swearingen traded barbs with Green for 20 minutes.
Council member Long finally put an end to the shenanigans much to the relief of those in attendance.
This is simply the start of what is shaping up to be a nasty campaign to unseat Green and retain Banuelos and Long.
The burning question is, who will Jeff Rubin and the CCOP run against Green?
The early odds are on Mrs. Rubin and a dark horse entry being mentioned is Mary Horton.
I’m sure we will all be thoroughly entertained by what has become a running joke in parts of West County, Pinole politics.

See you around town.





relayfor_lifeFriday, April 25, 2014

Hello friends.
In February my sister was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
I wanted to be with her to support and care for her as she began her chemotherapy, thus, I have been away for a month doing what many others have done for family and friends in similar situations.
This is a deeply personal experience, but one that is repeated many times over in the world. My sister’s prognosis is very good and for that I am sincerely grateful.

I will begin to catch up with “Life as I Know It” over the next week, and from what I hear there is much to share with you.



Batten Down the Hatches – It’s Election Time



March 24, 2014

Ahoy mates, there be a hollie blawin in! That hollie is better known as Election time in Pinole and this year it is shaping up to be a real doozie.

Members of this community who keep their ear to the ground and follow the politics that swirl in and around 2131 Pear Street are either already hiding the children or are preparing for another episode of, “As the Pinole Politics Churn”. The political brouhaha surrounds the effort to oust Phil Green from office.

Green is a not so popular guy around city hall. He has been highly critical of the City Manager and staff has been on the opposite side of issues supported by the CCOP. Every other member of the Council, except Green,  was supported in their campaigns by the CCOP.
Green was elected in 2010, another political veteran (Swearingen is also a political veteran) who came back to lead the city. He returned to the Council stating his concern with how the city was being run, “the tail wagging the dog” as he put it.
Voting records will show that Phil Green has often been the only dissenting vote on many issues. It will also show that our council tends to vote as a block, usually by a 3-2 (Long will sometimes vote with Green) or by a 4-1 vote with Green being the lone ranger, the Green Cheese Stands Alone.
Diversity on a council is a good thing and is a basic tenet of democracy. Of course, cohesion and collaboration are also needed. A full discussion of issues is indicative of a properly functioning council.

But in the world of politics, power is the key to moving your agenda, your policies and ideas forward. If there is block voting on virtually every issue, are we getting full representation? Is this why a council member was heard to say, “Now they know who runs the City”?

Certainly the voters will get the last word, and that is as it should be. But information is strength and it is my goal to give my readers another perspective.

Recently I was asked, how much influence does the CCOP have in Pinole politics?
I have been told by a member of the CCOP, whose name I will not disclose, that the CCOP has a lot of influence. This person told me that the CCOP had pointed out to certain current councilmembers things they didn’t like and wanted corrected.
Specifically one member was told to stop making jokes from the dais, another was told to stop micro-managing, yet another was told to be more vocal and to be on time, the fourth council members was deemed to be “perfect”. Further I was told that these council members heeded their advise. Do you have a problem with that? Where are the independent voices?
Small towns and their politics are ruthless. Very often there is someone who wants to be the big fish in the small pond or the shark in an ocean full of guppies.

In 2013 Jeff Rubin began a public campaign to unseat Phil Green. He stood at the podium and leveled accusations of criminal activity at Green. When we look back at that personal attack it becomes clear that the CCOP had already decided they wanted Green out and wanted to replace him with another council member, one they support. Will that be Norma Martinez-Rubin, or perhaps, yikes, Mary Horton?

There has been some talk about Mary Horton making another run. Yes, that’s right, former Mayor Mary Horton, who resigned from the Council without warning, leaving her fellow council members stunned and unprepared. Yes, the same Mary Horton who was caught red-handed stealing campaign signs. So now we are coming full circle? Scary stuff.

In 2014, Rubin has toned down his rhetoric somewhat, signalling a strategy to separate Jeff Rubin’s persona, from his wife, Norma Martinez-Rubin and her possible run for office. (January 2014 video below)
That does not, however, preclude him from gathering his loyalists and setting forth on a campaign to unseat Phil Green. The games are fully underway.

At the March 18 City Council meeting another CCOP member, Mary Drazba, joined the fray. She accused Mr. Green of being a felon and an embarrassment to the city. She asked that he not be allowed to participate in the BBQ for the Troops on April 6th.  (video below)

These are the talking points for the campaign to unseat Green. The letters to the Times campaign is also in full swing. You will see the same players taking part in both the letter writing campaign and the speeches at the council meetings. It is a strategy that has served them well in spite of being fraught with misinformation and false accusations.

Where has the CCOP been recently?
During the whole cell tower fiasco the CCOP was conspicuously absent.
When the City Manager and Council’s actions were disclosed and the missteps brought to light, where was the CCOP?
The cell tower issue and the park and Fire Station conversion will cost this city dearly.
Where’s the concern for the taxpayers and their money?
They have termed the actions of the City Manager and the Council in this flubbed process, as “a little mistake”.
This “little mistake” has already been very costly and will continue to be very costly. It is the taxpayer who will foot the bill for this “little mistake”. Concerned citizens should care that their leaders have erred and that those mistakes are costing the community dearly. But that’s not the case when they are “one of yours”.
But when it comes to political theatre and the advancement of the CCOP brand and ideas, the CCOP becomes fully engaged.
Election time is when they will show up at every council meeting and set into motion their campaign strategy.
In the following months you will be party to the ugly side of Pinole Politics.
It promises to be no holds barred, UFC, match, CCOP vs. Green.

The rules in politics, as I once was told by a former Pinole Mayor, is that there are no rules.
Indeed. Batten down the hatches.

The Fate of the Pinole Fire Department – Part 2 -Elephant in the Room


March 17, 2014
We can not discuss the fate of the Pinole Police Department without discussing the closure of Fire Station 74, also known as the Valley Fire Station.
Pinole’s economic renaissance began in the 1990’s with Pinole Vista Shopping Center. The City’s growth and prosperity during that period was made possible because of a healthy economy coupled with aggressive investing using Redevelopment Agency Funds.
As the population in the Valley grew the demand for a Valley Fire Station also grew. Years went by, city councils came and went and promises made were never kept. But, in 2000, the City Council, armed with an optimistic economic outlook and a growing demand by the residents in the Valley, made the Station a priority. In 2002 it became a reality.

As we fast forward four years to 2006 we find ourselves living in a world with new and challenging economic realities. Economic shock waves hit not just in Pinole but the entire world.
At about the same time violence and crime landed on Pinole’s doorstep as a shocking murder took place in Fernandez Park and gang activity escalated.
These factors soon made it clear that Pinole was facing Public Safety issues. Issues that could not be addressed without increased revenue and/or decreased spending.
Of course no one saw the Great Recession coming or could imagine its impact.

The City Council, citing the need for increased revenues to sustain Public Safety and Public Works and to keep Station 74 open, campaigned for Measure S. Measure S was passed in November 2006.

Measure S was sold to the community as a way to sustain our Public Safety services, Public Works services and keep the Valley Station open. The ballot language clearly states that. These are the same or similar reasons being given for placing a 1/2% sales tax increase on the ballot in November 2014.

The elephant in the room, Pinole Politics.
The Firefighters Unions along with other Unions are active players in the political process. When the recall movement began to pick up steam in late 2007 the firefighters took a stand in opposition to the recall. The Police Department remained neutral.
Things have never been the same for Pinole firefighters.
Now some may think that this just can’t be true, if you feel that way, then you have not been keeping an eye on Pinole politics, it is the proverbial Elephant in the Room.

With a post-recall City Council, from 2008-present, in place the City of Pinole has sought ways to reduce the Pinole Fire Department budget and reduce expenses across the board for all departments and personnel.
Among the changes made were to restrict the firefighters’ activities while on the clock, such as no stopping at the store and no attending city council meetings. Time management issues to be sure.
It is certainly the prerogative of the City Manager and the Council to make these changes if they impact the bottom line. But one has to wonder just how much the “Elephant in the Room” had to do with this.
Of course contract negotiations were taking place annually among all the unions and the City. However, only the Fire Department and its Union has come under such intense scrutiny and attack.

Throughout the State of California fire department budgets have been pointed to as a major economic culprit. We hear and read about this issue almost daily. There are many issues to be sure, and reforms are on the horizon.
As we explore the state of and the fate the Pinole Fire Department it is prudent to compare the fire services currently offered in neighboring cities.

In “The Fate of the Pinole Fire Department” Part 3, we will look at two neighboring cities and their fire departments, El Cerrito/Kensington and Rodeo-Hercules, cities with similar demographics and populations.

The Fate of the Pinole Fire Department – Part One



Part One:
The Pinole Fire Fighters, along with other Fire Departments and Districts In the State of California are at a critical juncture. In fact, public safety (police and fire) as a whole are at the top of most municipalities budget concerns.

Pinole is considered to be a “full service” city.
What constitutes a full service City?
The California League of California Cities defines full-service as offering major municipal services such as police, fire, public works and planning. Some cities have fire or recreation services through a ‘special district’ comprised of two or more cities. Other full-service cities have enterprise funds that also support sewer services.

The issue is, can Pinole, with its small population and current revenue continue to support and sustain “full-service” city Police and Fire Departments services without additional revenue or without changing the service models and/or joining other departments?
Two thirds of the city’s budget of approximately $12 million dollars is allocated to Public Safety, Fire and Police.
City of Pinole Budget – 2013-2014
ublic Safety, Pages 97-127

Every year the city must review its budget and prioritize its needs.
Over the course of the last 7 years public safety costs have been an issue. The city reduced its personnel overall, after the loss of redevelopment, take-aways from the State and during the course of the Great Recession.
It also negotiated reduced benefits and salaries for many departments.
It is no surprise that Public Safety has been at the forefront of budget concerns. What is somewhat of a surprise to residents is the very public battle between the city and its fire department.

It is also no surprise that Pinole residents view their Police and Fire as the most important service the city provides. Pinole residents have considered Pinole a safe place to live and to raise their families. They have expressed those sentiments on more than one occasion at the ballot box, Measure S is one example, the UUT is another.

But can Pinole continue to afford to consider itself a full-service city?
The primary issue for all Public Safety departments and their unions has been the battle over pensions and benefits, salaries have not been the major sticking point in the negotiation process.

And although the Police and Fire are both engaged in negotiations on a regular basis, it is only the fire department that has been targeted by members of the council, staff and the CCOP as the reason for our city’s budget woes.

The Firefighters filed a PERB lawsuit in 2011 against the City of Pinole.
There are two PERB complaints;
1. Unfair labor practices. This suit is about the closure of station 74 while Local 1230 and the City were in the meet and confer process over the impacts of this action on the fire employees. The PERB Board ruled in favor of Local 1230 and this ruling is currently being appealed by the City. Settlement could be 500,000 to 1.5 million. Still to be determined.
2. Unfairly imposing part of the Employers cost of PERS on the Employee. The PERB Board ruled in favor of the City and this ruling is currently being appealed by Local 1230.

In another interesting turn of events, the City originally rejected a $1.3 million dollar SAFER Grant, which the Fire Department states was intended to re-open Pinole Valley Fire Station 74, then later accepted it. But the acceptance of that grant by the city was done not for the purposes of re-opening Station 74, but rather to offset the Fire Department budget.

Some History:
In 2006, with the cost of services rising and the city unable to make long range budget plans for continuing to provide “full service city” Public Safety levels, a special tax measure was placed on the ballot.

I am providing the reader with this background information as we explore, over the course of the next month, the fate of the Pinole Fire Department.

Measure S Pass: 3,308 / 59.65% Yes votes …… 2,238 / 40.35% No votes

Measure S, Ballot Language, 2006, Ben Reyes
The City Council of the City of Pinole placed Measure S on the November 7, 2006 ballot to ask voters to consider an ordinance imposing a general transactions and use (sales) tax of one-half of one percent (0.50%) to be administered by the State Board of Equalization. The proposed tax will increase the local sales tax rate in Pinole from the current 8.25% to 8.75%. Measure S is a general tax and would only become effective if approved by a majority of voters casting a vote on the Measure at the November 7, 2006 general election.

City Staff projects that the General Fund will be out of balance during fiscal year 2008-2009, and will not be sufficient to maintain the Minimum Reserve level. At the current rate of expenditure, Staff projects that the City will likely experience a budgetary deficit by fiscal year 2010-
2011. The projected budgetary shortfall can be attributed to factors outside of the City’s control, including significant increases in the cost of employee health insurance and retirement benefits, decreases in revenue from existing taxes and fees, property tax take-aways by the State, and general increases in the cost of materials and supplies necessary for City operations.

Absent an additional source of General Fund revenue, the City may not be able to maintain adequate staff and service levels. For example, Pinole Police may not have enough patrol officers to confront increases in crime, particularly around the Pinole Vista Shopping Center area. The Fire Department may not be able to continue to staff the Pinole Valley Fire Station with minimum firefighting crews. The Public Works Department may not be able to maintain roadways, storm drains and other water control and discharge infrastructures.

The proposed transaction and use (sales) tax is estimated to generate approximately $1,800,000.00 per year for the City of Pinole. This is a local tax which will be collected and placed in the City of Pinole’s General Fund account. Under Proposition 1A, this local tax revenue cannot be taken away by the State or County. This revenue would be sufficient to prevent the forecasted deficit in the Minimum Reserve and would allow the City to provide adequate levels of public safety, public works, and necessary support services. This tax does not have a “sunset provision” and will continue to be levied unless repealed by the voters. Proceeds from the local transactions and use (sales) tax may be expended for any municipal purpose. If the tax is not approved by the voters, the City would likely have to implement reductions in general municipal services.

By placing Measure S on the ballot, the City complies with Article XIIIC of the California Constitution (adopted by Proposition 218), which requires the voters to approve an ordinance which imposes a general tax. A copy of the proposed ordinance is printed in the sample ballot.

DATED: August 7, 2006

Argument For Measure S, Betty Boyle
Passing a local half-cent general sales tax is critical to preserve and improve essential city services, including, but not limited to, public safety and street and storm drain repairs. Additionally, the tax will provide funding to continue the full staffing of our fire station in Pinole Valley.

The City of Pinole has been one of the most efficient and fiscally conservative full service cities in the County, as determined by an independent finance consulting study. Compared with other cities of the same size, Pinole provides better services and programs with fewer resources year after year.

In the past four fiscal years, the State of California has taken over $5.5 million from the City of Pinole to balance the State’s budget. Additionally, neighboring communities are permitting superstores that will divert current sales tax from Pinole and weaken our General Fund.

Despite our efficiencies, we still have a number of unmet needs. Public Safety needs include additional officers to focus on gangs, narcotics, violent crime, and vice. Other items include disaster emergency preparedness and regional aid programs. Additional funds are needed for the repair and maintenance of our aging storm drain and street infrastructure.

The local half-cent general sales tax would generate $1.8 million. This tax places the least amount of burden on the residents of Pinole, because the majority of the tax revenue is generated from residents of other communities. However, Pinole citizens are assured that 100% of this tax stays in the City of Pinole and the State cannot take any of it away! Join Pinole citizens in fighting to maintain our high community standards, our property values, and keeping Pinole safe by VOTING “YES” ON MEASURE S.

Betty G. Boyle
Mayor, City of Pinole

Argument Against Measure S, Rod Melgard
Pinole is hardly short of money. Lacking a chapel, they paint murals costing hundreds of thousands on concrete overpasses and retaining walls. The City employs a person whose job it is to trespass on private property, peek over fences (what does your garden grow?) and give otherwise law abiding citizens, citations for what they see thus requiring owners to plant their front yard to cement or asphalt to avoid further molestation. While the street in front of your house goes to ruin you are cited for parking your boat in your back yard. These are visible wastes and, like an iceberg, six times as much is hidden. (Pay a good grant writer this money and watch it grow!)

The Pinole Council proposed Pinole Vista to be a financial savior for the city. Now they say it’s a drain which needs more tax money for support. Ten years ago they “needed” the Utility Tax “temporarily” until Vista was completed and providing income to the City. Two years ago this temporary tax essentially became permanent.

The State is unlikely to be taking Pinole’s money away. Property taxes are going up at an incredible rate due to price increases as are other sources of income. The Council is just political fear mongering. This Council is also the Redevelopment Agency Board of Directors and has amply demonstrated it cannot think two years ahead nonetheless predict shortages in 2011.

If sales tax is such a good idea lets vote this one down and next year vote on a tax that is twice as high with the additional revenue used to reduce our regressive utility tax.

These taxes are not justified at this time. I request your vote of NO.
Rod Melgard

Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth



January 30, 2014

I was asked to take a look at the December 17, 2013 Pinole City Council meeting. Specifically I was to look at the comments made at approximately 11:20 pm, by Pinole residents David Ruport and Sal Spataro.

Mr. Ruport and Mr. Spataro presented the City with a gift, information they discovered that could possibly give the city an “out” regarding the conversion of Station 74. Station 74 was caught in the Tsunami known as the Tower Horror. Unfortunately, Station 74 became collateral damage when the Grant deeds for Pinole Valley Park were discovered.
The State informed the City that it could not convert Pinole Valley Park land for a use other than “recreational outdoor use”. This effectively put a stop to the cell tower in the park.
But it also, shockingly, resulted in the discovery that Station 74 was out of compliance and had been built without going through the State’s mandated conversion process.
Being out of compliance places financial sanctions on the city. This turn of events also may have put the last nail in the coffin for those clinging to the hope that Station 74 would re-open someday.

Mindful of this and determined to leave no stone unturned Mr. Ruport and Mr. Spataro researched case history, online records and data from the State and the City and came across some information that could potentially put a crimp in the State’s case.

On December 17, 2013, Mr. Ruport, stood before our Council at nearly midnight, armed with copies of documents that seemed to indicate that in the 1990’s the City had made an effort to follow the conversion process and that the State had knowledge of the City’s intent but failed to follow through. Mr. Ruport presented them with his gift.

What followed is an interesting exchange between members of the City Council, staff and Mr. Ruport.
Rather than thank Mr. Ruport for bringing this information to their attention he was peppered with comments that would make any citizen think twice about stepping forward to help our City out of a jam.

Mr. Spataro, in his comments is much more direct and to the point.
He says, “we’re finding all the answers”. “We found it why couldn’t you?”

The City has stated that they are working on the conversion and that they must:
1. Research legal questions.
2. Allocate staff time and resources.
3. Research the records and files from the early 1990’s to the date of construction in 2002.
4. Identify an equivalent piece of exchange property.

The research to accomplish these tasks comes with a price tag to the city and therefore to the taxpayer.

Mr. Ruport handed the City information that may or may not assist them and possibly reduce legal costs and staff time.
Irrespective of how the information is used or how accurate or helpful it is, our elected officials and staff should have embraced and voiced their appreciation for the time and effort Mr. Ruport put into his research.
Take a look at the videos below. You can decide for yourselves if our elected officials and staff looked a gift horse in the mouth.

if you would like to provide your feedback please complete the form below.

and the Cell Tower also rises


Palm-Tree-Cell-Tower January 24, 2014

Neighbors in Pinole Valley and in close proximity to Pinole Valley Road, reported today that unmarked survey vehicles were spotted shooting property lines at a home, long thought to to be Verizon’s location of choice in Pinole Valley. One of the neighbors asked one of the surveyors if they charge by the hour. The surveyor replied that they charge by the project and that yes, Verizon is putting a cell tower behind the home on Pinole Valley Road. Members of the Tower Topplers, who have kept an eye on possible Verizon activity in Pinole Valley are speaking out:

Is Verizon Wireless Building Its Cell Tower in Pinole Valley After All? For readers living in Pinole, especially in Pinole Valley, you may be aware that the City of Pinole signed a contractual agreement in December 2012 to allow Verizon Wireless to build a 80 foot cell tower in Pinole Valley Park behind the soccer field at Wright Avenue.

This decision led to months of contentious questioning, debate, and calls for action by many Pinole Valley residents to the City Council and City Staff. The history of the closed and open City Council meetings, special forums, and actions by the City Staff are too lengthy to lay out here but more information to get you up to speed on this matter of Verizon vs. local residents of Pinole Valley can be found at: Life as I know it blogsite and City of Pinole website

In short, the contractual agreement between Verizon Wireless and the City of Pinole is on hold due to the fact that a cell tower cannot be built in a public park that was purchased with State and Federal Parks grant money.
By October of 2013 many local residents fighting the building of this tower had hoped the matter had resolved itself, albeit with quite a heavy financial loss to the city for failing to meet it’s contractual obligations to Verizon. However, these residents have remained vigilant and attentive as they suspected Verizon would follow through with it’s commitment to build a tower in the park regardless of local opposition and with full knowledge that the City Staff and City Council feel as though they cannot legally stand in their way.
Now it appears these fears have come to fruition.
In the late morning on Friday, January 24th, several unmarked surveyors’ cars were seen parked at the entrance to the fire road at the furthest end of the park. Two surveyors were seen talking to a local property owner in that resident’s driveway. One resident in the neighborhood noticed this action and took a walk up the fire road behind the park and met some of the surveying crew who told him they were completing this surveying job for the Verizon cell tower that was being built.

We know the tower cannot be built in the park. We also know the City Council approved plans on Dec. 17, 2013 to enter into a 60-day tolling agreement with Verizon. During this period Verizon would waive it’s legal right to sue the city of Pinole for breaking their contract, but this also provided Verizon with time to solicit & court nearby homeowners to lease portions of their property for development of an 80 foot cell tower (see City Council Meeting Minutes 12/17/13).
It now appears this is exactly what Verizon has been doing and they now plan to try to move forward with building a cell tower on a private residence property in Pinole Valley as they vowed to do in October 2013, regardless of objections from local residents and growing concerns about the health risks, disturbance of protected Native American remains and artifacts, and potential erosion and creek damage that could occur if a tower was built in this area.

The location Verizon has targeted for the towers are the properties just past the Wright Avenue intersection of the park and very near the site of original tower slated for the parkland. It can safely assumed those are the residents that Verizon is now courting, as well as City officials who have been completely silent about any actions Verizon has taken since October 2013 and clearly seem to be approving the surveying of a new site. This brings up many unanswered questions that the residents of Pinole Valley may want to try asking the City Manager, Belinda Espinosa, and her staff, Mayor Banuelos and the rest of the Pinole City Council, and Verizon representatives if they would care to provide any answers.

The questions that seem most important to ask include: ·
Do the neighbors of this property owner know that an 80-foot cell tower is being built next to their homes? If not, how will they be informed? Do they have any legal or civic right to object to a cell tower so close to their homes?

What are the short-term and long-term health risks related living so close to a radiation-emitting cell tower? What are the health risks to the residents in the hills above the valley floor, which will be at the level of the radiation-emitting devices atop the tower? ·
Is the property and hillside beside the homes in this area next to Pinole Valley Creek stable and safe to build a tower on? Will it cause erosion? Will it damage the creek and wildlife that live there?
What compensation is this property owner receiving for allowing a tower be built on their property? What is typically paid for leasing property space for a cell tower? (Verizon was going to pay the city $2,200 a month to as payment when it was to built in the park).
Will Verizon be able lease out space on the tower to other providers (e.g. AT & T or T-Mobile)?
Will any of the revenue generated from additional leases be passed on to the property owner or is that Verizon’s financial gain alone?
Are there city or local municipal codes that regulate building of cell towers and large diesel-powered generators on private property adjacent to other private residences?
Will the property owner who leases the land space to Verizon be liable for damages that could occur due to fire, erosion, and health problems of nearly residents related to exposure to radiation from the tower?
What attempts has the city staff or city council members made to ensure this property owner is aware of the risks that might be involved for his own property and health and those of his neighbors?
Has Verizon informed this property owner of all liability they will hold for any of unforeseen consequences or legal actions taken related to the cell tower? Has the City staff diligently worked with Verizon to locate an alternate site a safe distance from private residences such as the open space at the top of Wright Avenue or closer to Castro Ranch Road?
Does the City staff and City Council plan to inform residents of these new developments in public meetings?
How do they plan to alert local residents of these meetings? It will be interesting which questions local residents determine are most important to find answers to and who will provide them with those answers.
In the meantime you can expect these attentive local watchdogs will keep an eye out for their pristine parkland and best interest of their neighbors and families.

The Cell Tower – Year in Review


Cell Tower

January 17, 2014

I have been following the Pinole Cell Tower situation since March of 2013 when I became aware of the City’s intent to place an 80 Foot Verizon monopole in Pinole Valley Park. I was against the installation of a cell tower in one of the most beautiful parts of Pinole Valley and against the use of the Park for commercial purposes. I soon discovered that many fellow Valley residents were against a cell tower in this location and for more than just aesthetic reasons.
What followed has been a  hard-fought 10 month battle by residents to prevent Verizon from building a cell tower in Pinole Valley Park. The City has been between the devil and the deep blue sea since March of 2013.

Verizon has threatened to sue the City of Pinole for breach of contract. Several Council members believe that Verizon will do exactly that and that Verizon has a cause for action. Other council members believe that the lease agreement, never ratified by Council, precludes litigation.

The City has attempted to appease residents and Verizon. But, neither the Tower Topplers nor Verizon is ready to throw in the towel. A 60 day “cooling off period” ended on December 17, 2013. On December 17, 2013 the City announced that they were entering into a tolling agreement with Verizon, allowing 6-9 months to seek a resolution.

Verizon’s deep pockets and stable of lawyers may have a case against the City of Pinole based on the fact that the City Manager signed the lease agreement on December 12, 2012, prior to Council ratification. Others believe that with the new found information relative to the Park’s grant Deed restrictions (Tower Toppled), that the City can avoid litigation.

Regardless of what Verizon does or how the City offers to compromise, there is still an estimated $350,000 in fees that Verizon has spent to locate the tower in Pinole Valley. If, Verizon finds a private property owner in the Valley willing to place the tower on their property, (word is there are two property owners interested in earning the estimated $20,000 a year), what becomes of the fees already paid by Verizon to the City of Pinole? Chances are the City will have to “eat” the fees or offer to waive all fees for the new location. This situation has been a drain on City resources. The $20,000 in projected annual revenue for the City (estimated) for the Cell Tower is a drop in the bucket compared to what the City has paid thus far and may yet have to pay to extricate itself from this administrative foul up.

The “Topplers Knock One Out of the Park
” uncovered by the Topplers has the City in a most uncomfortable spot. The Topplers discovered that Pinole Valley Park land was purchased with State and Federal Grants, and therefore can not be used for anything other than outdoor recreational use.

This discovery has really thrown a monkey wrench into the City’s plans for the Tower. But it is also facing possible sanctions for not properly converting the land used to build Station 74. The conversion process is expensive and lengthy and will result in more costs to the City and ultimately to the taxpayer. The City has had to allocate staff resources as well as increased attorney fees to try handle this fiasco.
The final tab is still undetermined, but it is safe to say that the City of Pinole has lost money due to this mishandled affair at a time when our City can ill afford to be losing money in this manner.

Sources tell me that Fire Fighters Union Local 1230 has won its court battle against the City of Pinole and that the city is now filing an appeal. This lawsuit and its potential costs to the City of Pinole could be crippling.
More on that at a later date.

This story has not ended. The Tower Topplers I have spoken with are poised to continue to fight to keep a cell tower out of Pinole Valley.
Other residents throughout Pinole are wondering just what the final tab will be to the taxpayer.

Tower Topplers, Cell Tower, 2013 in review:
I asked members of this very active and passionate group, referred to as the Tower Topplers, to sum up the almost 12 months of controversy in a recap of 2013.
Their comments are below.

The Tower article links for 2013:
March, March 27. The Cell Tower
June, June 15. NO to the Cell Tower
July, July 12. Tower, to be or not to be.
July, July 18. Council Reverses its decision.
August, August 20. The Smoking Gun.
September, September 4. Topplers knock one out of the park.
September, September 17. Topplers vs. City, Part One.
September, September 21. Tower Toppled.
September, September 27. Topplers vs. City. Part Two.
October, October 3. Nearing the Finish Line.
October, October 8. Let them eat cake.
October, October 11. Follow the bouncing ball.
October, October 15. Pay the plumber.
October, October 22. Julie Maier sounds off.
October, October 22. Tower talk spark fireworks.

The following comments and opinions expressed are those of certain members of the group known as the Tower Topplers as submitted to me for posting on Life as I Know it.
Ivette Ricco

As you know the costs of the Verizon Fiasco in 2013 were immeasurable.   Many in this town have lost faith completely in the City Government and the Elected Officials who are elected to provide policy decisions to the city staff.
 What started out as a stealth attempt to ram through a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), back on March 23, 2013 at a City Planning Meeting by the City Planning Staff morphed into one of the largest fiasco’s that the City has probably faced since its inception.
At the January 15, 2013 City Council Meeting, Council and Staff were going through all City owned properties to see which ones could be jettisoned or sold to make good on two Assembly Bills that were passed by the State Legislature which is the Law on how the various Redevelopment Agencies across the State were to be dissolved.  
The mandate was coming from the State of California’s Department of Finance.After going through a list of the properties that the City had transferred to the City of Pinole from the Redevelopment Agency to see which ones were revenue generating and to determine which ones could be sold, Patti Athenhour remarked that the Verizon Cell Site could be added to the list of rental properties.   Patti had just filed a memorandum of loan agreement with the Contra Costa County Assessors office that afternoon, January 15, 2013.
On March 23, 2013 the Planning Commission approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), which was further conditioned on Verizon Wireless obtaining a lease for the property in question, 1270 Adobe Road, situated on A.P.N. 360-210-002.
There were a handful of residents at this meeting, who voiced their concerns with the health risks of the cell radiation, the back up diesel generator, the noise from the generator, the destruction of view shed, amongst other issues.   Their concerns and opposition fell on deaf ears and it quickly became obvious that it was a “stealth job”.
 Little did anyone know at the time, that this was basically a game of charades because City Staff had already signed the lease with Verizon Wireless on December 12, 2012 and City Staff was just going through the motions of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.   
The planning commission spent more than an hour, on March 23, 2013, debating whether a faux tree was more appropriate than the 80 foot “monopole” design that had come to the Planning Commission.
At the February 5, 2013 City Council Meeting, Ratification of the Verizon Wireless Lease appeared on the consent calendar, with a Staff Report written by Belinda Espinosa, indicating that Staff had provided approval to Staff to sign a lease with Verizon Wireless in closed session on February 21, 2012.  
Pete Murray, who was Mayor at this time, never announced that any decisions had been made or actions taken in closed session.  The tape does not lie. Despite this Pete Murray has stated in open session on at least one occasion that the City Manager did indeed have authorization to sign the lease with Verizon Wireless.
At the February 5, 2013 City Council Meeting, Sheila Grist asked that the Verizon Wireless Lease item be pulled from the Consent Calendar.
The ruse was up. Mayor Long pulled the ratification of the Verizon Lease from the Consent Calendar.
At the April 16, 2013 City Council meeting Staff brought back the Verizon Wireless Lease as item 9C. Approve the Lease Agreement with Verizon Wireless For A Cellular Tower at Pinole Valley Park [Council Report No. 2013-34; Action: Approve Resolution and Lease per Staff Recommendation (Allison)].  
 By this point Matt Bielby, Valley resident, who had been present at the March 23, 2013 Planning Commission, started a door to door campaign and had gathered up a handful of residents and organized a protest complete with signs and everything for the April 16, 2013 Meeting.   Item 9C was pulled and no action was taken on the Verizon Cell Tower Lease. 
Once again, at the May 7, 2013 City Council Meeting Staff brought back the Verizon Cell Tower Lease for Ratification as item 9C Ratify the Lease Agreement with Verizon Wireless For A Cellular Tower at Pinole Valley Park [Council Report No. 2013-44; Action: Approve Resolution and Lease per Staff Recommendation (Espinosa / Allison)] CONTINUED FROM APRIL 16, 2013.
 Once again, the Tower Topplers were present and protested before the Council and, once again the Verizon Wireless Lease issue was continued to the June 4, 2013 Council Meeting as a closed session item 3A CONFERENCE WITH REAL PROPERTY NEGOTIATOR – GC §54956.8  Property Location: Pinole Valley Park – APN: 360-210-002
Pinole CA 94564 Agency Negotiator: Belinda Espinosa, City Manager & Dean Allison, PW Director Under Negotiation: Verizon, LLC – Lease Price & Terms
At this juncture, June 4, 2013 Council thought that they could appease the opposition to the Verizon Cell Tower in Pinole Valley Park by just re-negotiating the terms of the lease.  Many on the Council were unhappy with the “Monopole” and were adamant about the faux tree concept and thought that they could kill two birds with one stone.   Council negotiated an additional $200 per month on the already low $2000 per month, the faux tree, and a few other minor concessions.  Wow, yippee!
 At the June 4, 2013 the vote to Ratify the Lease item 9C was once again continued to the June 18, 2013 City Council Meeting.  9C Ratify the Lease Agreement with Verizon Wireless For A Cellular Tower at Pinole Valley Park [Action: Continue to June 18, 2013. (Espinosa / Allison)]
 By the time that the June 18, 2013 City Council Meeting rolled around, the Tower Topplers were a force to be reckoned with.   By this juncture the group was about 50 residents strong and showed up in force at the June 18, 2013 City Council Meeting.  Along with the people that showed up to speak at the meeting, a signature petition along with a petition was in full swing.    
 Well in any event in front of a packed house the Pinole City Council Voted 4-1 to NOT ratify the Lease with Verizon Wireless.  The only dissenting votes was Councilmember Swearingen; Mayor Pro-Tem Banuelos and Councilmember Swearingen were extremely confused with the negative vote.  The motion which was provided by Council member Green was to not ratify the Verizon Cell Tower Lease in Pinole Valley Park despite the issue being brought back by City Manager Espinosa and Public Works Director Allison in the affirmative.   
9C Ratify and Approve An Amendment to the Lease Agreement with Verizon Wireless, LLC For A Cellular Tower at To Be Located at Pinole Valley Park [Council Report No. 2013-68; Action: Adopt Resolution Per Staff Recommendation to Approve the Lease Agreement (Reyes/Allison)]
The victory was short lived because Verizon came back to Council Meeting on July 2, 2013 as a closed session item.  Immediately following the closed session Council voted to bring back the Verizon Lease under threat of Litigation by Verizon Wireless.   The vote taken to reconsider the Verizon Lease was a 4-1 vote with Council member Green being the only dissenting vote.   The motion was put forth by Pete Murray and seconded by Mayor Pro-Tem Banuelos.
 The City Council brought back the Verizon during Closed Session on July 16, 2013 under 3A CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL- ANTICIPATED LITIGATION Pursuant to GC Section 54956.9(d)(2) (1 Matter) Verizon Wireless. 
 And at the same meeting Council brought back the Verizon Lease as 9C Reconsideration of the City Council June 18, 2013 Action Related to Ratification and Approval of an Amendment to the Lease Agreement with Verizon Wireless, LLC For A Cellular Tower at To Be Located at Pinole Valley Park [Council Report].  
On July 16, 2013 a day that will live infamy, Council voted to ratify the Lease with Verizon Wireless.  The vote was 3-2 with Mayor Long and Council member Green in the Nay column.
Verizon Wireless also attempted a very weak and not statistically significant phone campaign and had the audacity to present the results at the July 16, 2013 City Council Meeting.  Basically, Verizon asked their wireless customers if they wanted better cell coverage without offering a NO option.
This is basically equivalent to asking an arsonist if they want to go see a big bon fire.
I say in infamy, because little did Council know that by making this historic reversal, they were setting themselves up for utter and dire failure.  
While, Councilmember Swearingen, Mayor Pro-Tem Banuelos, and Publics Works Director were yakking it up at Mel’s Diner, with comments like, “We showed those guys who runs this town”, amongst other trash talking comments, the Tower Topplers were not happy with the vote.
 During an all out brain-storming session, the Tower Topplers had identified a possible path to keep the Verizon Cell Tower out of the Park.   
Two members of the Tower Topplers had contacted the California Departments of Parks and Recreation and had spoken to a Christelle Tallion.  Christelle assured the individuals that the location of the Cell Tower site was on land purchased by the City of Pinole with funds obtained in the early 1970’s offered by the Federal Government to the States to distribute and to enforce.
The one caveat that came with the monies was that the land purchased with the funds provided by the Congressional Open Spaces act of 1965 was to be “used for outdoor recreational use only in perpetuity”.   Well, well, well, it looked like the Tower Topplers were onto something.   
 Christelle Tallion attempted to contact the City of Pinole on numerous occasions and each time she was rebuffed by City Manager Belinda Espinosa and Hector De La Rosa.  Christelle took it upon herself to do a 5 year site visit since she had not visited the Pinole Valley Park in ten years, so a visit was due.
Christelle Tallion came and toured the proposed cell tower location and found that it would be out of compliance with the Open Spaces Act of 1965 which had provided the funding to purchase the lands if it were to be built. 
Not only did Christelle determine that if the Verizon Cell Tower were to be built it would be a violation, she also discovered that Fire Station 74 had not gone through the proper conversion process as required by the Congressional Act and immediately determined that the City of Pinole was in violation of the Open Spaces Act of 1965 whose enforcement falls to the State of California.    Christelle put the Pinole Valley Park in the classification of “Conversion”.
This has huge significance for the City of Pinole because it has been determined by the City Manager of Pinole, Belinda Espinosa, that while in conversion the City of Pinole is of:
(1) Not able to apply for California State Grants while in conversion,
(2) Not able to apply for Federal Grants while in conversion,
(3)  Possibly not able to borrow the $24 Million loan from the California Low Interest Rate Revolving Fund to Upgrade the Sewer (Alternatively the City would have to go to the open bond market and get a higher interest loan that citizens will have to pay for), and
(4) Possibly needing to repay the Federal Government for the two SAFER Grants that were awarded to the City of Pinole in December of 2012 (Technically only the $1.2 Million grant is a SAFER Grant, whilst the smaller $65 Thousand dollar grant is an equipment grant and will be used to buy a new water hose, however both are FEMA Grants).
In any event, the City Council had a special 9/11/2013 Cell Tower Workshop to address all of the Citizens’ concerns.   
This was the biggest Dog and Pony show that I attended since I was a kid and went to Barnum & Bailey.  While at the meeting it became obvious that the presentation and the Staff Report had been prepared by City Attorney Reyes.  It was full of legalese, guarded and plain outright fraught with blatant lies.
Ironically, City Manager Belinda Espinosa broke ranks with Council and Staff and admitted for the cameras that she did not have authorization to sign a lease with Verizon Wireless on December 12, 2012, despite the first Slide of Mr. Reyes PowerPoint presentation asking the Billion dollar question, “Did the City Manager have Authorization to Sign the Lease with Verizon Wireless?”  This was followed by the succinct answer, “Yes.”  The first bullet point was a flat out pokerfaced lie.
 I guess the succinct answer makes it a little lie, but then again it is still a big freaking whopper.  
Now at the time, September 11, 2013, Staff and the Majority of the City Council were in complete denial about something that the Tower Topplers had understood since the beginning of August.
This is that the City had screwed the pooch when they decided to let Verizon dictate to them where they wanted to put the Cell Tower.
Eventually, the City Council and Staff woke up and realized that they were in quite a predicament with Verizon threatening to litigate on one hand and the State of California Department of Parks and Recreations reading the City the Riot Act. 
So what does the City do?  Follow Verizon’s lead of course.    
Paul Albrittion, lead attorney for Verizon comes to the Pinole City Council Meeting on October 15, 2013 and meets with Council in closed session, encouraging the City to enter into a 60 Day Tolling Agreement with Verizon.  Verizon promises to not apply for any building permits and the City promises to not rescind the lease and neither party can litigate during the “Cooling off Period”.  Council votes for a 60 Day Cooling off Period.  No Tolling Agreement just a cooling off period.
Well December 17, 2013 rolls around, officially ending the 60 day cooling off period and City Attorney Ben Reyes provides a 1.5 page Staff Report on the Verizon Cell Tower with absolutely no new information.  And what did this 1.5 page report cost the Citizens of Pinole.   While I am sure it has cost the City much more than the fees that Meyers Nave has charged; here are the numbers taken from the Warrant Lists.  Yup, we got 1.5 pages for $25 Thousand Dollars.   Amazing!
Warrant List Date
10/1/13 – 10/11/13
10/12/13 – 11/1/13
11/22/13 – 12/13/13
 Well, not to be outdone in 2013, the City Council also instructed City Attorney Ben Reyes to enter into a Tolling Agreement with Verizon while Verizon finds an alternative place in the valley to put their cell tower.   Council nor Staff have reported out the terms of the Tolling Agreement but based on the fact that Verizon will need to first find a suitable location (Either rent from a private citizen or purchase a property), Apply to the FCC for a license, undergo CEQA, undergo NEPA, and obtain a Conditional Use Permit, it looks like 2014 will be another stealth year for the Pinole City Council.  Attorney Ben Reyes says the Tolling Agreement could be for 6-9 months.
But wait there is more; after the Tolling Agreement expires Verizon will be free to sue the City of Pinole for the damages it incurred, $350 Thousand.  Unless, the City has a “wink and a nod”, i.e. quid pro quo  back room deal with Verizon to walk away from the $350 Grand if the City helps Verizon put a tower in our pristine valley.     

Hope for our Hero – Rich Voisey



Pinole Fire Fighter Rich Voisey is fighting the biggest fight of his life.
Rich has been diagnosed with Stage 3 Brain Cancer.

Rich is well known to the citizens of Pinole. He has served this community for many years and is loved by many. We are raising  funds to get the proper medical treatment for Rich. Rich has been a part of the Pinole Fire Department for over 28 years and is a resident of Pinole.
Rich has served this community and given back, we can now give back to Rich and Nancy.
Rich is a devoted family man and as we all know, an illness such as this impacts everyone.

Please help us raise funds to cover medical costs not covered by Kaiser. UCSF can perform surgery but the costs for this treatment are not covered by Kaiser.
A new website has been created to help raise money to cover Rich’s medical costs.

Hope for Our Hero – Rich Voisey

A Fundraiser is being held on February 15 at Station 74.
Fund Raiser for Rich – February 15, 2014.
Fundraiser for Rich. Come down to Station 74 at 1:00 and enjoy the day while raising money for Rich’s medical costs.!projects/c21kz

Donations link
Please follow the link to donate.

Goodbye 2013


Goodbye 2013
You have made me cry; you have tested my resolve; you have made me reflective. You have offered me perspective and clarity.
Goodbye 2013
You have given me the comfort of my family and my friends in moments of grief and sorrow as well as in moments of happiness, joy and pride.
Goodbye 2013
You have had an impact on my life I never expected when I rung you in a year ago.
Goodbye 2013
You have been filled with worry, anxiety and sadness but you have made me grow.
Goodbye 2013
You have taught me many lessons; you have given me strength; you have reinforced my belief in the power and compassion of good people.
Goodbye 2013
You have been tough on me. Now it’s time for me to set new paths, new goals and to move forward with passion, grace, dignity, forgiveness and hope.

Sand_2013Ivette Ricco

A time for family


Hello dear friends:
2013 has been a year that has tested me in ways I never had expected. I began the year by stating to those who know me from my volunteer activities and community activism, that this was, for me, the year of the family. It has been that, and it has been painful and difficult. My family has been my number one focus this year. I am not a religious person. I believe in the power and compassion of the human spirit. I believe in being the best person possible and doing unto others as you would have others do unto you. 

Sadly, too often public forums are used for negative dialogue and to launch personal and painful attacks even when you are down, it has happened. I will just consider the source and move forward.

I prefer to use this forum today, to honor and pay tribute to my mother, Haydee Fuentes Lopez who passed on Saturday November 16, 2013 at the age of 92.
It takes maturity to achieve clarity and appreciate what others have done for us and the part they played in our lives. This is the time for family, for rejoicing, for sharing and for caring. The following was my eulogy to my mom.

This one’s for you mom.
My mother:
She was beautiful. Her eyes were dazzling.
She was strong and feisty. Yes we were afraid of her. Even as grown women.
She was eccentric and baffling. She was frugal, or just plain cheap.
She was fiercely independent. She was incredibly stubborn.
She loved music and laughter.
She loved little children and animals.
She loved her home, her flowers and trees.
She loved Puerto Rico and the ocean.
She loved us but it was hard for her to express that love until recently.
She lived a good life with a loving husband, loving family, caring friends and neighbors.
She was never boring.
She was a protective mother who never let anyone take advantage of her daughters as we were growing up in the Bronx.
When those green eyes flashed with anger, it was time to run and hide.
She would never turn away family members. It seems we always had someone sleeping on the couch when we were living in a two bedroom walk up tenement in the Bronx.
She made the best Puerto Rican beans, Grandma Beans!
Over the last few years we tried, unsuccessfully,  to convince her that she could no longer live alone in Puerto Rico. So we took turns going to see her and taking care of her. We may not have been perfect daughters, but we were perfect when it came to caring for her.
As she grew older her eccentric habits and rules made us all crazy.
But those habits are now fond and funny memories.
I call them Mom’s Rules.
I want to leave you with some of them so that you can smile when you think about my mother, Haydee.
Mom’s Rules
Unplug every electrical appliance after use.
Turn off the lights and TV even if you are just running to the bathroom.
Lock every door, padlock, chain and window by 6 PM.
If it looks like it might rain, shut every louvre pane, there are about fifty of them you must crank, and it always looks like it might rain in Puerto Rico.
Then open them all a half hour later.
Don’t turn on any lights even it it’s pitch black.
Lift the toilet seat, yes, we are all female, but she wants the air to circulate in the bowl.
Do not throw anything away, ever!
That includes containers from take out food, plastic utensils, old papers, rubber bands, paper clips, diaper pins, invitations and announcements, bills, knick knacks, seat cushions, pillows, stuffed animals, broken cups or dishes that date back to 1970.
Do not throw away any leftovers, there is always a dog somewhere waiting for scraps or pigeons looking for bread or corn.
Her flock of pigeons had grown to about 50 and she fed them three times a day. They were like her children.
It is hard saying goodbye, but we had mom for 92 and a half years. And we have a lifetime of memories. Let’s celebrate her spirit, it will live forever.
Happy Holidays.

Life as I Know it


This blog is my personal expression of life. Often I use this blog as a forum to express my opinions about life as a Pinole resident.
And sometimes, I share with you some more personal and delicate areas of my life.
Those of you who follow my exploits are aware of the struggles my family has had attempting to care for my mom.
This year has been, for me, the year of the family.
It has been a tough year, a year that has stirred deep emotions and has made me very reflective.

Mom is 92 and 1/2 years old. She is the strongest woman I have ever known. But doctors are saying to us that the end is near.
I am discovering feelings about my mother I never either knew I had or simply refused to accept. You see, I am my mother’s daughter, after all.

I have come to realize how she took care of us when we had nothing and lived in a walk up tenement in the South Bronx.  I remember how she fought for us and I mean literally fought for us on the mean streets of the Bronx. She never let anyone take advantage of her daughters. I realize now how she went to work at a local discount store to give us what we needed and to help out our dad. These are things you don’t appreciate when you’re 18 years old and are looking for a way to escape your mother’s control.

I see my mother now through softer more gentle eyes. I see now how much she loved her “babies” as she now calls us when she is living in her dementia-clouded past. I see now that a mother is also a person, and even when you don’t necessarily like them you always do love them.

mom and dadMom and dad

The Fate of Station 74?


Fire Station 74
On Tuesday, October 29, the City Council held a special meeting to discuss Fire Station 74, also known as the Valley Fire Station. The Valley Station was built in 2002 to provide public safety to the Pinole Valley area, but it has been closed since July 2011 as a cost cutting measure.

The Pinole Fire Fighters submitted and received a federal SAFER Grant in the amount of $1.24 million which they hoped would help re-open the closed fire station. In June the Council voted to turn down the Grant citing costs over and above the SAFER grant funds.
In August the Council reversed course again and accepted the $1.24 million federal grant.
However, the re-opening of Fire Station 74 is still a long way from becoming a reality, in fact, the chances of that happening grow slimmer by the day.

What was presented at Tuesday’s workshop by Interim Fire Chief Carlos Rodriguez was a plan to consider two service models. Both service models would coordinate from Fire Station 73 in downtown Pinole. The Chief explained that using his service models there would be six firefighters to staff two engines. When only five firefighters were present the department would deploy one engine plus a two person medical response vehicle. These service models would make use of the SAFER grant.

But the re-opening of the station in any capacity has encountered another obstacle.

In the fight over the construction of a Verizon cell tower in Pinole Valley Park, residents opposing the tower came upon a grant deed that precludes the City from using the Park for anything other than outdoor recreational use. The National Park Services has deemed that Fire Station 74 was built on deed restricted park land and therefore it is out of compliance. This turn of events has sent the city scrambling for ways to stall the conversion process,  seek help from elected officials or find alternative(s) other than a full-blown conversion. A full-blown conversion would take five years or longer. In the interim the City’s current and future grants are in jeopardy.

The City of Pinole  with a population of a little over 20,000 is one of the few cities to maintain its own Fire Department. Past and present council members have stated that Pinole is a full-service city. Unfortunately the City of Pinole does not have the revenue to effectively accomplish this without asking its residents and taxpayers to pay more.

More and more communities are looking for alternative service models and ways to provide public safety. The City of Pinole may have to consider going to the ballot box to ask taxpayers for more money. Measure S, a special tax for public safety, is not sufficient to run two fire stations. The City may also have to reconsider contracting out its fire services or joining another district. Many communities are working together and regionalizing their public safety operations to control expenses and provide better service.

But, for now, Fire Station 74 is a very nice building, in a beautiful location, sitting empty and unused and caught in the middle of a flubbed process.

Tower Talk Sparks Fireworks


Tuesday October 22, 2013

An amazing display of kicking the can down the road took place at the Tuesday, October 15, City Council meeting amidst anger, heated council exchanges and a speaker’s mic being cut off.

Among the highlights (low-lights), took place about an hour into the meeting when Valley resident and citizen Julie Maier was cut off during her speech and her mic was turned off. The Mayor then asked that Julie be removed from Chambers.
Mayor Long told Julie, “Put it in writing and have it posted somewhere.”
It is in writing and it is posted right here.

The Mayor had instructed all speakers to limit their time to 2 -2 1/2 minutes.
As Mayor she has the authority to “set the rules” for conducting the meeting.

Mayor Long took exception to the length of Julie’s Maier’s speech stating that at a previous meeting Ms. Maier had spoken for six minutes.
The record will show that Mr. Jack Meehan’s comments began at 9:18 pm and were completed at 9:23 pm. Mayor Long allowed Mr. Meehan approximately 5 minutes to speak.

Mayor Long on accountability and the process:
“People were accountable.
“We all make mistakes in our lives and we don’t cut our hands off because we did something wrong.”
“We could all have done a better job of bringing this to the public.”
“The thing is we jumped into this.”
“I still support your cause.”

Resident, Jack Meehan on competency:
“Extricate yourselves from a bad and costly situation. When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
“There’s no need to be a lawyer to know and follow the law.”
“Not having competent authority, because you did not have and still don’t have the authority to abrogate, circumvent or ignore the Grant’s prohibition on commercial use of the parkland, that is the meaning of having competent authority.”

Resident,Soon-Young, on the process:
“As a community we want to be involved in the process. We were left out.”

Resident, Sal Spataro on the city government:
“I have to say that I have lost faith in the City government, we have a very weak city manager.” “She couldn’t be hired anywhere else and we hired her twice.” “The City Attorney, “he’s doing a good job for Meyers Nave, but for Pinole, not so much.”

Councilman Swearingen on the lease agreement:
“I don’t think we have the ability to rescind the agreement.”
“You just can’t say no.”
“We will try to please you people.”

Councilman Banuelos on the tower:
“Right now I’m still kind of torn, but the more time that goes on, the less I am in favor of this tower.”

The most heated exchange took place between Councilman Green and Councilman Murray:
Councilman Green demanded the Council take action immediately and rescind the contract. A contract he stated was signed by the City Manager without proper authorization. The City Manager was not present at this meeting.

Councilman Green on the lease:
“I think it’s ridiculous that we don’t rescind the agreement. “Let us show some courage and defend the citizens of this community.”

Councilman Murray:
“I’m not going to bother going into re-arranging the facts, because I’ve done it several times.”

Councilman Murray defended the council’s actions as well as staff’s and stated.
“Look it Phil, we know you don’t like the City Manager.”

Councilman Green:
“That’s not true Pete. That’s not true at all. Don’t be saying that if it’s not true.”

Councilman Murray:
“She signed a conditioned lease. The lease was not ratified until we ratified it.”
“But the point being is we re-negotiated.
“Blame us because we wanted to re-negotiate the contract.
“We asked for the moon and Verizon gave us the moon.”

Councilman Green:
“No. They did not. They did not give us what we asked for.”

Councilman Murray:
“God. Where do you come from? Where were you?”

Mayor Long steps in:
“Ok, stop. I have to agree with Phil. (Speaks to Murray) “You viewed it as negotiation. I viewed it as looking at deal points.” “That itself does not constitute the signing of a lease.”

Councilman Green:
“The City Manager did not have the authority to sign the lease. You did not (to Murray) come out and announce that decision in public. “Did you as Mayor announce that she had the authority to sign that lease?”
“Something wrong here.”

Councilman Murray:
“You’re re-writing history again.”

Councilman Green:
“These are the facts. “Let’s talk about the facts.”

Councilman Murray:
“These are not the facts. “You don’t know the facts.”
“When I listen to what you say sometimes I say, whoa, where is he at?”

Councilman Green:
“The council didn’t have the courage to say no to Verizon  is why we’re in the mess we’re in.”

Members of the opposition group wondered why the presentation, when published with the agenda, had not indicated that these were Verizon’s suggestions. Further, why was there no mention that a meeting had taken place with Verizon on October 7?
The lack of background information for the power-point offered the opposition no time to properly prepare for the meeting or to address the various options and in fact raised alarm throughout the community.

The most troubling options appeared to have been the possibility of placing the cell tower at Fire Station 74, directly across from Ellerhorst Elementary School and the possibility of Verizon invoking eminent domain on existing park property.

What seems abundantly clear is that Verizon is not going to walk away from their goal, to place a cell tower in Pinole Valley. What is also clear is that the City is spending large sums of money on legal fees due to this series of miscalculations and missteps. To date the legal fees charged by Meyers Nave for the Cell Tower since August 2013 exceed $17,000.

What is also clear is that the City is caught between a rock and a hard place.
If they rescind the lease Verizon may be poised to sue.
If they attempt to place the tower in the Park the State and Feds, who have deemed both the cell tower and the Fire Station as non-compliant, will face the likely prospect of all future grant funds being “frozen.”

What is the exit strategy? How will this besieged council handle this dilemma? They have opted to take a “time out’, giving everyone sixty days to look at the alternatives. But decisions must be made soon.

If the city and/or Verizon can locate a residential property owner in the valley whose location meets Verizon’s criteria then they may be able to extricate themselves from the Park Grant issue as it regards the tower.

I have been told that Verizon has approached at least one property owner on Pinole Valley Road about this possibility. My source tells me that Verizon has offered to take this individual on a casino junket and basically wine and dine him. Thus far he is resisting their overtures, but other adjoining locations could be considered.

Finding a comparable location that meets Verizon’s criteria could offer a way out of this major debacle. Verizon would get its tower, Pinole Valley Park would be left untouched and the City could avoid a legal battle with Verizon.

However, that $26,000 projected revenue source? Kiss that baby goodbye.
In its stead the City is incurring attorney fees daily and will likely have to reimburse Verizon for some of its fees.

On the heels of the Tower Horror the City will need to decide how to move forward with the non-compliant status of Fire Station 74. More expenses, more work, more time, more legal fees and bottom line, more costs to us, the taxpayers.
Conspicuously absent from these machinations, the Concerned Citizens of Pinole.

The City Council on Tuesday, October 15, decided to take the path of least resistance. They have signed a tolling agreement with Verizon which allows the city 60 days to continue to research city files and records, communicate with the State and attempt to mitigate the cell tower location.

There are many lessons to be learned from this frustrating exercise in futility.
Clearly, transparency, accountability and due diligence have proved to be kryptonite for this council on this issue.

But, perhaps, the most troubling and unfortunate reality is that this is not a new lesson we are learning.  Rather, this is a repetition of previous contractual errors made by the City when dealing with corporations and signing contracts.

It is a lesson the city should have learned from past flawed development contracts, contracts that were one-sided and did not favor the city (us) contracts that were only reviewed by legal council as to “form.”

The need for better oversight and greater due diligence, was an issue discovered by Interim City Manager Charlie Long during his tenure. We were promised better government and better standards.
These standards should have been in place long before Verizon entered the picture.

Julie Maier Sounds Off


At the Pinole City Council Meeting, Tuesday, October 15, 2013, resident Julie Maier was in the midst of her speech regarding the cell tower, when Mayor Long turned off her mic and asked that she be removed from the Council Chambers. Mayor Long said to Julie, “Put it in writing and have it posted somewhere.
Here it is.

Julie sent me this email:

“I am attaching my written speech from the other night that was cut off. The portions in italics I did not read at the meeting since I knew I only had 2 minutes, but as you saw I still went over. It is the last portion with bulleted points when my mic was turned off and Debbie continued to interrupt me. I am especially proud of my final comment about earning our respect and admiration but I have no idea if they heard that at all. You can use all or portions of it, whichever you like.”

“Still two days later what is most upsetting to me is that I spent almost two hours writing and careful preparing what I wanted to say, in large part due to the alarm the copy of the staff report caused among our group and the Ellerhorst community, and I was only afforded 2 minutes to present my views. If staff had included just a single slide at the beginning of the handout of their presentation that clearly stated that these are options Verizon suggested in a brainstorming session and the staff has not agreed to any of them or is not recommending any of them tonight, then all of these people would not have spent 5 days sick with worry and outraged that staff did not appear to be listening to council’s direction. I still had a lot to say about the entire process of this lease and also wanted to share what I am looking for in terms of values and leadership skills of my city council. I found it impossible to condense that into a three minute or two minute speech. While I can understand the need for time limitations when speaking at council meetings, I also think they are arbitrarily applied since many speakers that evening were not stopped at 3 or 2 minutes and because I have also spoken longer than 3 minutes in the past. I do wonder if I was stopped because the mayor and some council members did not want to hear the challenge I was placing in front of them. I will need to continue to work on my editing skills and also consider other venues to get my views, concerns and questions across to the council. I was very appreciative of Phil Green’s support of my right to heard and finish my speech.”

The Speech

Thank you forgiving me the opportunity to speak to you tonight.

Cell Tower lease site and Station 74, although connected by the fact that both are in the boundaries of Pinole Valley Park, are separate issues. That was very clear in the comments made by the council and many speakers at the Oct. 1st meeting. Staff was told at that meeting to proceed on their fact-finding mission and bring back information on Station 74 conversion and the cell tower lease as separate issues. Most of the council members also stated at that meeting that the cell tower was obviously not going to be built, but that we had to deal with issue of Station74 and that Verizon had to be informed of these new restrictions from the State and National Parks.

A very big concern for the council has been fiscal ramifications of Verizon’s lease being rescinded and conversion of the Station 74 site. You said you had to consider the effect on current and future state and federal grants—this was especially a concern for Councilmember Baneulos and Councilmember Swearingen wanted “whatever deal was best for taxpayers”. Losing grants would certainly not be good for the taxpayers. Having to repay for Verizon for costs they have already incurred in addition to some restitution for rescinding lease is also not ideal. However, I don’t see how the city is going to avoid losing some money on this bungled lease development that should have been fully researched and vetted before any memorandum of lease or permits were signed. The city staff and the committees and council members who approved their actions without doing their homework are responsible for this financial mess.

Since the state parks grants have clearly delegated that no commercial use is allowable in park, therefore I do not believe eminent domain is an option for Verizon. Although this commercial phone company claims to be a public utility they have no right to this property without exigent need which they have never proven.

Due to those state park grant restrictions, the City manager and City attorney were not legally competent to agree to a lease without being fully informed, so lease is voidable as Mr. Meehan so clearly explained at the Oct. 1st meeting.

Yet now, two weeks later staff returns with the most ridiculous idea yet, building a cell tower at the gateway to the valley…across the street from our local elementary school. You cannot kill two birds with one stone in this case. Remember they are separate issues. I unfortunately no longer trust that staff has the best interests of the Pinole residents at all.

Here is what I am requesting tonight of my elected officials:

First, I want you to stop treating these presentations, suggestions and recommendations from the staff as holding merit or serious of consideration.

Second, I want you to stop allowing the city staff to stall the end of this cell tower lease. I am not sure of staff’s motives, but they either are still trying to hide their incompetence or they more interested in Verizon’s interests than those of Pinole residents.

Third, please to stop spending precious time and energy protecting staff and extolling all that has been learned from the uncovered mistakes and blunders that have been discovered. Our city manager admitted at the 9/11 meeting that she made a mistake by signing the addendum to the lease without your approval and accepted full responsibility. This was big step forward. She made a HUGE mistake and admitted it. There is no need for you to continue cover that up or take partial blame. She expected she would get your approval, but then you voted against approval so she was left with a BIG mess to extricate the city from. Don’t spend your time helping her to find a “duct-tape” solution or explanation. They were not competent to execute the lease, so stop trying to protect them and say they are competent and were not responsible for the disaster that has occurred.

Fourth and VERY importantly, please stop backing down from Verizon’s threat. They are acting like a big schoolyard bully. Our park, our elementary school, our city does not belong to Verizon! Pay them for their expenses so far and perhaps some other other restitution for their time & trouble and then tell them to move on. I am not scared of Verizon and they are NOT going to build a cell tower across the street from my daughter’s school or restricted state park land and scared Native American sites. I don’t want you to be scared either. I don’t really care how committed they are to a site in a valley. We are just as committed to keeping our families, our neighbors, our children and our school staff safe. Stand up to them. Demonstrate leadership. How about for once, following Councilman Green’s lead and taking action to protect the residents of our great city?!

I truly think that City staff and Verizon believe they can wear us down and eventually we’ll give up. We may be tired of these games, but we are not going away or backing down. Verizon is NOT building a cell tower in our park or next to our elementary school. It is NOT going to happen…with or without your leadership and support.

You have a choice to make tonight. It is choice I have challenged you to make at other meetings over the summer.

  • I challenge you TONITE to put your constiuents before city staff reputation and agendas.

  • I challenge you TONITE to put the safety, health and quality of life of the residents of Pinole before the corporate interests of Verizon or any other corporate entity that wants to do business in our town.

  • I challenge my City Council to choose citizens over paid staff, choose citizens over Verizon.

Rescind the Verizon lease tonight. It is the only ethically and morally correct action to take at this point. The state and national parks have told you it is not allowed and illegal. Your constituents, including children, have begged you for months to listen to their concerns and ideas. These concerned citizens dedicated their personal time, the legwork, and a fair bit of funds to uncover a lot of missing information about the park, safety concerns, and the history of the proposed site and we discovered a way out of this lease for the city.

You have a responsibility to us…your office does not obligate our respect or admiration. You have to earn that….and you have one more chance to do so tonight.

Thank you.

Pay the Plumber


As citizens prepare to attend tonight’s City Council meeting, I thought it was appropriate to provide you with Jack Meehan’s statement to the City Council on October 1.

If the Council has clearly understood the message, not just from Mr. Meehan but from the residents in Pinole, they will do the right thing for their constituents tonight and terminate the lease agreement with Verizon Wireless.

Cell Tower – Follow the Bouncing Ball


bouncing-ballFriday, October 11, 2013
Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water….
The City of Pinole and Verizon’s effort to place an 80 foot monopole in Pinole Valley Park may have come to a screeching halt, temporarily, but that hasn’t stopped the City and Verizon from looking for another way to build a cell tower in the Valley.

At the October 1, 2013 Council meeting Mayor Long and Council member Green asked that the Tower and the Fire Station issues be separated.
Mayor Long asked that that action be placed on the agenda for Tuesday October 15, 2013. However, Tuesday’s agenda clearly shows that this chess match is far from over.
Agenda HERE

Among the options (below) being considered is the Co-Location of the Verizon Cell Tower at Fire Station 74 on Pinole Valley Road. Fire Station 74 has been the subject of controversy since its closing in July 2011.
This new option will have to go through a lengthy process before it is even viable, but perhaps the most significant, issue from residents’ point of view, is the close proximity of the Fire Station, to Ellerhorst Elementary School, which is 0.1 miles away and directly across the street.
Placing a cell tower in this location, in the shadow of the Ellerhorst schoolyard, may meet stiff resistance from environmentalists and from parents of students attending Ellerhorst.

Fire Station 74

Ellerhorst Elementary School

Action: Receive Report & Provide Direction (Reyes)Agenda item number 9C under Old Business:
C. Consider Options Regarding the Lease Agreement with Verizon LLC for a Wireless Cellular Facility at Pinole Valley Park [Council Report No. 2013-111;

Pinole Valley Park, Verizon Wireless Lease
Update on Verizon Cell Discussions

  • Continue to Research City Files
  • Legal Research
  • Meeting with Verizon
  • Follow Up with State Parks
  • Options

Legal Research

  • Review State Parks Regulations
  • National Parks Service – Furloughs

Meeting with Verizon
Verizon’s Options

  • Conversion
  • Temporary Use Permit (until alt. site is located)
  • Co-locating on Fire Station 74 property

Cost to Relocate Cell Tower

  • Estimated at $300 to $400K
  • Viable Sites

Meeting with Verizon

  • Process Timeframe
  • Three year process to obtain site approval
  • Committed to site
  • Site must address Verizon Plans
  • Coverage

Follow up with State Parks

  • Clarification on Conversion Process
  • CEQA, NEPA, Section 106, Build Plan
  • Timeframe

* Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties, and afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment. The historic preservation review process mandated by Section 106 is outlined in regulations issued by ACHP. 

Use of Facility

  • Temporary and Long Term
  • Reuse for Outdoor Recreation Purposes


  • Conversion Process
  • Up to Five (5) Year Process
  • Current and Future Grant Funding
  • Temporary Use of Site
  • National Parks Service to determine replacement acreage
  • Appraisal of existing park and replacement site
  • CEQA, NEPA, Section 106 on existing and replacement site


  • Co-Location of Cell Tower/Fire Station
  • One application for conversion
  • Reduces risk of lawsuits
  • Use of facility while proceeding with conversion


  • Tolling Agreement (see legal definition below)
  • Allows time to discuss alternative options with Verizon and State
  • Furlough of Federal Workers
    A tolling agreement is an agreement to waive a right to claim that litigation should be dismissed due to the expiration of a statute of limitations. Its purpose is typically to allow a party additional time to assess and determine the legitimacy and viability of their claims and/or the amount of their damages without the necessity of filing an action. During this period, the parties waive any defense by way of any statute of limitations which would otherwise arise during such period.

    Termination of Lease

  • Legal and Financial Ramifications
  • Eminent Domain
    Definition of Eminent Domain:

    “Eminent Domain” – also called “condemnation” – is the power of local, state or federal government agencies to take private property for “public use” so long as the government pays “just compensation.” The government can exercise its power of eminent domain even if the owner does not wish to sell his or her property.

The City Council meets on Tuesday, October 15, 2013.
If you wish to address the City Council on its plans for the Cell Tower, Fire Station 74 and the options they are presenting, please attend the meeting.
Agenda here.

Let Them Eat Cake!


Tower_Cake_croppedTuesday, October 8, 2013

This past Saturday a picnic took place in Pinole Valley Park. So….?
Yes, that in and of itself is not a big deal. What is a big deal is that the picnic was planned, set-up and attended by 40-50 Pinole residents who have been involved in one way or another with the effort to stop the Verizon Wireless Cell Tower from being built in Pinole Valley Park.

There was food, fun, kids, dogs, music from Gutierrez Sounds and the No to the Cell Tower cake (pictured) donated by the Bear Claw Bakery. Who says you can’t have fun while fighting Goliath (Verizon) and City Hall? The day was spectacular and spirits were high. There was enough great food to feed a small army, and yes, the small army came with an appetite.

The Tower Topplers have grown in numbers and their passion and energy has neither diminished nor subsided. They are ready to collectively roll up their sleeves and do whatever needs to be done to see that our city and those who run it are accountable to its citizens.

Next up, the October 15, 2013 City Council meeting.
Look out world!

The Cell Tower – Nearing the Finish Line


Thursday, October 3, 2013

View the City Council meeting here
The Pinole citizens group that has banded together to fight the City and Verizon’s plans to erect an 80 foot cell tower in Pinole Valley Park is nearing the finish line.

All that remains is for the Pinole City Council to rescind the lease signed by the City Manager and City Attorney in December 2012 and later ratified by a split council on July 16, 2013.

That action (to rescind the lease agreement) may be agendized for the October 15, 2013 Council meeting.

The National Park Service had indicated to the group, when contacted about the proposed cell tower in Pinole Valley Park, several months ago, that the cell tower was “just the tip of the iceberg”. Indeed.
Pinole Valley Park was purchased with Federal Grants and therefore is subject to very specific deed restrictions. The land can only be used for outdoor recreation purposes, in perpetuity.
The State has notified the City that the cell tower can not be built in Pinole Valley Park because the land can not be used for commercial purposes.
This was a significant victory for the group which took the initiative to research the grants and to contact the National Park Service. The little engine that could!
This group of ordinary citizens has spent countless hours and spent their time away from their families to do whatever was necessary to stop their beautiful park from being scarred with an ugly cell tower.

But, the biggest surprise has been (the tip of the iceberg the State referred to) the State’s contention that Pinole Valley Fire Station 74 did not meet the deed restrictions terms of use, and therefore the City was out of compliance. Bringing the Fire Station into compliance would require a lengthy and costly conversion process.
We (the cell opposition group) will be following this situation closely as it proceeds. It has been a surprising and unexpected by-product of the fight to keep the cell tower out of Pinole Valley Park.  This is, of course, of great concern to the group and the City.

On Tuesday the City Manager presented a report which sought to explain what the City had learned, what it was trying to do and what more needed to be researched.
Staff, the City Attorney and several Council members’  position is that more research is necessary. City Manager Espinosa stated “We are still researching. The more we research, the more legal questions we have.” City Attorney Ben Reyes stated, “We really need to review what our options are. The project (cell tower) is on hold and no building permits will be issued.”

Council has been quick to defend staff and its due diligence, citing the lack of information or records, no evidence of grant deed restrictions and records that were lost in the explosion of 1998. However, the two projects in question post date the 1998 explosion.

The Council seems ready to tackle the cell tower issue first and separate the two issues. There appears to be some hesitancy on the part of several council members who admit that mistakes have been made and do not want to make more mistakes.

Council member Murray, “Instead of throwing our hands up do a little research to see what path will be travelled.” “We are on a fact finding mission.” “So that we don’t trip and fall and make another mistake.” “So that we do not make quantum leaps anymore.”

Council member Swearingen, “We spent over two years talking and working on this project.” “We just didn’t do this overnight.” “Opposition didn’t show up until six months ago.” We obviously didn’t do our job, we didn’t alert people.” “We took a lot of time to get where we’re at and did our due diligence.” “It may have been a mistake. “It may have been wrong to do it.” “Now we have a lot more diligence to do.”

Members of what we call the Cell Tower Topplers were unwilling to let the Council and Staff off the hook.
A member of the group summed it up succinctly.
Soon-Young, “I hope we learned a lesson.” “Going forward, if you plan these kinds of things for the future, notify us citizens.”

The most emphatic argument to stop the cell tower and to stop it now was made by former Pinole Mayor Jack Meehan.
“I have to say very frankly that right now you’re groping for a duct taped repair job on a flubbed process.” “When you authorized or directed the signing of the lease you as a council were not competent to authorize and sign the lease.” That means there is no lease, it means it is void or voidable.” “The City should resolve to rescind and extinguish all matters regarding dealing with Verizon.”

“If you get a bill from a plumber for flushing out the facts that should have been brought out by diligent search by staff, by the applicant and by others involved in this matter, including attorneys, Sal the plumber, I suggest you send the bill to Myers Nave, the legal firm.”
“You are not obligated to build a cell tower there.” “Why not put it to rest now?”

According to an article in today’s Contra Costa Times, Verizon has stated, “Verizon Wireless anticipates working with the city to resolve any issues necessary for the parties to amicably fulfill their mutual obligations.”
Will Verizon walk away without a fight? That remains to be seen.

The cell tower topplers are ready to take a  victory lap, they are about to cross the finish line. It is a fine example of citizens doing the right thing for all the right reasons.

Cell Tower – Part Two


Friday – September 27, 2013

What began as an effort by residents who reside near Pinole Valley Park to stop the City from leasing park property to Verizon to build a cell tower has evolved into a much bigger issue with what may be long term ramifications.
The Pinole City Council has placed the Cell Tower, Station 74 and the California State Parks and Recreation Grant issues on the agenda for Tuesday, October 1.
At this point the City as well as the State are in the process of researching the deed restrictions and the processes used to convert Parkland.
Meeting starts at 7 pm, 2131 Pear Street. Tuesday, October 1, 2013.
Agenda Here

A. Update on the California State Parks Grants for Pinole Valley Park [Council
Report No. 2013- 106; Action: Receive Report (Espinosa)]

The following is an excerpt from the Staff Report on Agenda Item 10A:

“The City of Pinole processed and approved a Conditional Use Permit and a lease with Verizon Wireless for the lease of approximately 1,000 square feet of park space located in Pinole Valley Park. During the various discussions regarding the lease, numerous citizens expressed their concerns for the location of the cell tower, health issues related to radio frequency levels, and whether or not there were restriction on the park land. On August 29, 2013, Staff received a phone call from a State’s Park representative that the City had applied for a grant for the purchase of the Sobrante Ridge property (no known as Pinole Valley Park), and that there were restrictions on the allowed use of the property.
Staff was directed to investigate the facts and to confirm whether or not this was true. On September 19, 2013 Staff met with representatives from the California State Parks Department in order to determine the facts surrounding the issue of the park property being purchased with State and Federal Park grant funds and whether or not there were restrictions on the property that would disallow the cell tower to be located on park property.

Review and Analysis
As part of the City’s due diligence, Staff began pulling all records that the City maintained and found the following;
Grant Deed for the purchase of the Sobrante Ridge Property was filed on October 2, 1978
City Resolutions #1249, dated September 7, 1976, authorized the submittal of grant applications to purchase and develop the park. No resolution was discovered whereby the City received or accepted a grant for the purchase of the property.
Various maps of the parcel were reviewed.

During the meeting with the State, the State Parks Department provided us with additional background information and limited documents which we are reviewing now. We will present the information obtained and discovered at a public meeting to be scheduled in the near future.

For this initial report we have two issues to present. Information impacting the location of the cell tower and its lease, secondly, impact to Fire Station 74 which is also located within the park boundaries.

Use of the Park land
The basic issue is that Pinole Valley Park was purchased with State/Federal grant monies (1978) and at the time, according to State Park Representative there was a condition to restrict the property to “outdoor recreational use”. There is no evidence on the recorded deed or title of Pinole Valley Park that reflects this grant condition. The City Attorney’s Office is reviewing the documents to determine whether the restriction applies.

For the Cell Tower
With the Verizon cell tower located within Pinole Valley Park, the State has opined that the use of a cell tower is not in conformance with parkland use. Specifically, the State considers the cell tower a commercial use which is not allowed within the park. Furthermore, they do not consider a cell tower as a utility.
The State has stated that the park is supposed to be used only for “outdoor recreational use.”

Fire Station 74
It has been confirmed throughout the years that Fire Station 74 is also located on Pinole Valley Park property. This was also confirmed by State representatives at our meeting. By definition, a fire station is not designated as an “outdoor recreational use” although it is a public safety building.
Staff has reviewed its files and has determined that the City did subdivide the parkland to create a legal parcel for the location of the Fire Station, did perform an environmental review, did submit the property documents to the State Clearinghouse but sis not communicate with the State Parks Department for Conversion of the property. The State has indicated that they do not have any application for conversion of the property where Fire Station 74 is located.

Conversion Process
According to the State Parks Department, the parkland property is restricted for “Public Outdoor Recreation” purpose in perpetuity.
However, the grant funding regulations provide an option called a “Conversion” process. The “conversion” allows an application to be submitted to the State and National Park Service which permits a land swap for the conversion of the portion of park land being used for purposes other than outdoor parks. The converted land must be a new “outdoor recreational use”, not use of an existing park or existing open space.
State Park representatives informed Staff that the City has to be the applicant in order to process a conversion and that the conversion process could take a minimum of 2-5 years to process and some have taken as long as ten years.

Cell Tower
In exchange for the 1,000 square feet of cell tower space usage, additional square feet of new  “outdoor recreational use” property would have to be purchased and dedicated as such. in addition, a new study would have to be conducted to determine the “view shed” which includes the visibility of the cell tower from all angles which may or may not add additional acreage that has to be mitigated under the conversion process. This study is done by an independent consultant, to be retained by the City of Pinole.

Fire Station 74
As previously mentioned, Fire Station 74 is also located within the park boundaries. Moreover, it appears, through review of City files, that the City followed the typical process to establish a parcel and construct a facility including preparing an environmental document and sending it to the various agencies. It appears the City, at the time of building Fire Station 74, did not go through a “conversion” process to mitigate use of the park land. The State representatives indicated that they have no information/record that the City applied for or was granted a conversion.

Staff will continue to research old City files to see if there is any indication that a conversion was applied for and approved by the State. We are specifically looking through redevelopment project files for Fire Station 74 since the facility was built during this time period.

Non Compliance with Conversion Process
According to the State Parks Department, if the City does not comply with the allowed use of Parkland, the City may be subject to sanctions including, but not limited to, ineligibility for future State Parks and Federal grants.
Additionally, during the conversion process the City may be ineligible to obtain State and Federal Grants.

Due to the limited documents from City and State files, Staff continues to look through internal files as well as State’s files performing its research. Without a complete list of documents from the State, Staff is researching the information received and will be developing a list of additional questions for the State. The City Attorney’s office also needs time to review the documents and answer several legal questions.”

Cell Tower Gets Toppled!!



David has beat Goliath!
Yes, that persistent, hard working and passionate group of Pinole citizens that banded together to stop the City from installing a Verizon cell tower in Pinole Valley Park appear to have dealt the final and most crushing blow to this proposed project and claimed Victory!

Armed with just their passion and dedication, this group of residents  kept the pressure on the City as they fought for their park.
Their goal was to keep Pinole Valley Park for recreation use, not as a home for an 80 foot cell tower, and to ensure their park would be kept pristine for present and future generations to enjoy.

This battle has been waged at the grass-roots level. Grass-roots is defined as something that originates from the common people.
How appropriate that a grass-roots effort by common people has saved Pinole Valley Park’s grass, trees, creek and everything surrounding it.

The saga of the Cell Tower has been told on this blog from the time that the community first became aware of the City’s plans to move forward with the tower. I, personally, objected to the proposed location. But this fine group of citizens explored every possible method to derail this project and throw a monkey wrench into it. Monkey wrench delivered!

They won what appeared to be a major battle on June 16 when the Council rejected the lease by a vote of 4-1 with Swearingen dissenting.
But Verizon put the pressure on the City; on July 18 the Council reversed itself and voted to ratify the lease by a vote of 3-2, Green and Long dissenting.

This group (Pinole Preservation Society) has no officially elected leader, but, the monkey wrench hit its mark when Sal Spataro, with the help and assistance of others researched the Grant Deed used to purchase the park land.
Bull’s Eye!

Taking the proverbial bull by the horns Sal Spataro set out to contact someone at the State Park and Recreation department about the grant terms and conditions. He struck gold when he made contact with Cristelle Taillon, Project Officer Outreach/Special projects Grants and Local Services.
Ms. Taillon researched the Grant used to purchase Pinole Valley Park and discovered that the City was indeed out of compliance. Pinole Valley Park could not be used for commercial purposes and further that the City had improperly converted park land when they built Station 74.

It now appears certain that the City of Pinole will not be able to erect the tower and may be facing a difficult dilemma as it attempts to correct improper and incorrect actions taken by previous and present administrations.

This discovery raises serious questions about what has occurred over the last 40+ years with regards to this park land and how administration failed to realize that they were bound by grant deed restrictions.

What is unclear is how the City will deal with these issues.
Will Verizon select a new location in Pinole?
Will Verizon attempt to recover the monies it has spent to date for the proposed tower?
Will the city be embroiled in another legal action?
Will the City dismantle Station 74?
Will the City attempt to use the facility for recreation purposes?
Will the City need to review and revise its General Plan? The new General Plan apparently never uncovered the deed restrictions. How costly will that be?

It seems, at first blush, doubtful, that the City will elect to go through the lengthy and costly conversion process.
Every scenario points to new expenses at a time when the City is seeking ways to save money. The projected annual revenue from Verizon, $26,000 a year, pales in comparison what the City may end up paying to unravel this mess. The City has a projected reserve of 38%, will the City have to dip into the reserve to offset these costs?There remain many questions to be answered.

After months of research, meetings, communications, walking and talking to the community and challenging the City and Verizon, the PSP can claim victory. It is really a proud moment for the citizens of Pinole who took on City Hall, Verizon, all the legal pundits and everyone who thought this was a lost cause.

Kudos to all of you. I am honored to have played a very small part in this victory.

Matt Bielby: Comment

From your perspective what has been the biggest disappointment, lie, or flawed procedure during this entire process?
How do you sum up your feelings about our city?

“I am not quite as upset now as I was a few weeks ago, because I am optimistic that these grant conditions are going to keep this pole out of our park.  With that said this whole process has been frustrating and infuriating.  The thing that has upset me the most though, is to have one of the City Council members (who flip flopped, Pete Murray) turn around and on 3 separate occasions blame his constituents (the ones at the meetings) for not being more involved in the process earlier.  Especially in light of of the fact that he now admits to having given the City Manager authorization to sign a lease, a binding contract months before any notices or public hearing were even held.  Having been witness to the whole notification process (being one if the citizens within the 500 ft. notification area) I can accurately say that this process was done on the most minimal level possible, and in retrospect appears to have been a blatant attempt by staff to ram this thing through without anyone noticing.”

The community wins!

Tower Topplers Take on the City – Part One


On Wednesday, September 11, 2013, the City of Pinole held a public workshop to address the issues surrounding the installation of a proposed 80 foot Verizon cell tower in Pinole Valley Park.

The meeting was intended to answer the long and varied list of questions that had been raised by the group opposing the cell tower.
It was the first time the “Tower Topplers”, also known as the Pinole Preservation Society, had an opportunity to address the City Manager, staff and Council with the expectation that their questions would be answered.
I think this comment made by Julie Maier to the community speaks volumes about the effort this group has made:
“I just love my little city and PV park and I don’t like what the City Council, the city manager and Verizon is attempting to do.”
Even Pinole Historical Society VP, Jeff Rubin stated, “It’s just a crummy place for a tower”.

The meeting on 9/11/13 has been described by some in attendance as a “dog and pony show”, and a long one at that. I don’t think this city has seen such a passionate response and such strong community feedback, since the R word was being spread in 2007.

The timeline provided previously shows that the lease for the tower had been slated for approval on the consent calendar on several earlier occasions. Consent calendar agenda items are normally approved without discussion or debate either because they are routine procedures or already have unanimous consent. They are typically non-controversial. Were it not for Sheila Grist, a resident opposed to the cell tower, it is likely the lease would have been approved without any public debate whatsoever.
This not only implies that the City Council was fully aware of the proposal and the lease agreement being negotiated by staff, with Verizon, but that they did in fact move the process forward.

There are two very important legal terms we must be cognizant of when discussing contracts and agreements:
Execution of a contract:
to complete; to make; to sign; to perform; to do; to carry out according to its terms; to fulfill the command or purpose of. To perform all necessary formalities, as to make and sign a contract, or sign and deliver a note.
Ratification of a contract:
The confirmation or adoption of an act that has already been performed. A principal can, for example, ratify something that has been done on his or her behalf by another individual who assumed the authority to act in the capacity of an agent.

The City Manager stated that although the Council did not officially authorize her to execute and sign the lease agreement, that they gave her and staff implied direction to negotiate and execute the contract. The City Manager, City Attorney, City Clerk and Verizon principals signed the lease and executed it on December 12, 2012.

The City Council, once they became aware of the strong opposition to the Tower, tried to extricate itself from the deal by rejecting the lease and not ratifying it at the June 18, 2013 meeting by a vote of 4-1, Swearingen dissenting.

Subsequently, as all hell broke loose and Verizon threatened to sue the City for not dealing in good faith (Verizon agreed to 9 of the 10 deal points the city requested) two of the City Council members who had rejected the lease in June, reversed their position, Murray and Banuelos,  and voted in favor of the lease at the July 16, 2013 Council meeting. The motion passed by a vote of 3-2.

Those in opposition believe that they have had the wool pulled over their eyes, that the city has not been honest and has not served the best interests of its citizens.

As the cell tower battle heated up the opposition banded together to fight the project using whatever means possible.

Among the arguments opposing the cell tower in Pinole Valley Park included, electromagnetic radiation, the desecration of Indian Burial Grounds, ecological consequences, the commercial use of the Park and the awful location chosen for the tower.
Last but not least the group’s research has uncovered another possible problem for the City; that the City accepted State and Federal Grants for the purchase of the land for Pinole Valley Park and therefore must abide by the Grant restrictions for its use.
The State of California has scheduled a meeting with the City for this week. It is not a public meeting, unfortunately.  But we are all very interested to discover if the City of Pinole has converted parkland without proper and prior authority.
The consequences of such a finding by the State and the Feds can be severe. If the City is found to have improperly converted land using State and Federal Grant money they could face financial consequences.

Anti-Tower Group Knocks One Out of the Park


The Pinole Valley Cell Tower Battle Rages On
Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A dedicated and hard working group of Pinole citizens who oppose the Verizon Cell Tower in Pinole Valley Park has very been busy contacting elected officials, visiting county offices, looking up maps, records and contracts, researching land grants, contacting the California Parks Department as well as speaking to members of the Indian Nation in an attempt to stop the proposed Verizon Cell Tower in Pinole Valley Park.
At last night’s Council meeting, resident Sal Spataro may just have knocked it out of the park, literally.
He stated at the meeting that members of the group have been in contact with the State of California Parks and Recreation Department. The State’s Senior Project Officer, after some research, has advised Sal and the group that Pinole Valley Park is protected by the State because the property was purchased with grant money and that the land is restricted for recreational use only.
Watch Sal speak to the council .

Should this new and dramatic development prove to be true, the City Council may have the ability to save face and reverse their highly unpopular decision.

This battle has stirred the passion of Pinole residents on several different levels. Some oppose the cell tower for environmental reasons.
Some oppose it for aesthetic reasons.
All are up in arms about the flawed process that has brought this project this far with little if any public input.

The group has addressed the Planning Commission and  pointed out the flaws in the Planning Commission’s By-laws, specifically the lack of public information relative to the sub-committee’s findings (the PC sub-committee visited the site(s) in advance). The Planning Commission responded by revising its by-laws.
The group requested that the notification process be improved so that another situation such as the Verizon Cell Tower does not get approved with little if any advance notice to the public. The City has responded by including upcoming permit information in the weekly City Manager’s report.

This tireless group has made it their business to speak at City Council meetings and ask for answers to a multitude of questions regarding the process for approval of this project. The City has responded by saying that mistakes were made but to date there has been no explanation as to what those mistakes were, who made them and how the City intends to rectify those mistakes.

The group keeps hammering away. They want answers.

The Smoking Gun post shows the timeline for the project. Questions remain as to how a lease can be signed and executed without council ratification. How a lease agreement can be recorded without the Planning Commission’s knowledge and before they considered the Conditional Use permit (CUP). How and why the City Manager and the City Attorney signed off on the agreement before ratification by the Council. How and why Verizon considered the agreement signed on December 12, 2012, before Council ratification, to be a legally binding document.
These issues are mentioned in the Times article today.

There are many more questions that have arisen, far too many for me to list.

Those questions and the persistence of this group has prompted the City to schedule a:
Special Workshop for Wednesday September 11, 2013 at City Hall, 2131 Pear Street, start time is 6:00 PM.
The City will try to address the questions of the group.
The citizens have indicated that they want answers, not excuses.


The Smoking Gun


Tuesday, August 20, 2013
The “Smoking Gun”

I have been sent a video, some data and a timeline (below) by Pinole residents who vehemently oppose the proposed Verizon Cell Tower in Pinole Valley Park.
They believe that the City Council has not been completely forthright and honest regarding their knowledge of the lease agreement with Verizon or the series of events.

The January 15, 2013 Council meeting video clip (above) shows that the City Council was aware of the lease. It also shows the City Clerk notifying the Council that the lease agreement had been signed, filed and recorded. The clip shows the City Manager stating that the council was aware of what was going on. In the video Mayor Long asks, “it went through Planning?” City Manager Espinosa states, “Yeah”. The Planning Commission did not approve the CUP until March 25, 2013.

During the July 16, 2013 meeting the Mayor dares Verizon to provide written documentation of a contract agreement. The video for that meeting seems to contradict earlier statements. July 16 video here (comments are approximately 3 hours and a half into the meeting).
City Attorney Ben Reyes survived an attempt to oust him for his part in this legal morass by a vote of 3-2. The same council members who voted on July 16 to ratify the agreement, Murray, Swearingen and Banuelos, voted to retain Mr. Reyes’ services.
To date there has been no indication that the Council plans to take any action against City Manager Belinda Espinosa for her part in these procedural mistakes.

The Cell Tower Timeline
There are two things that Verizon needed to put a tower in the Park:
1. A lease from the city for the land to be rented by the city to Verizon
2. A Conditional Use Permit (CUP)
These are two parallel processes.

* The Pinole Historical Society receives a letter regarding a proposed T-Mobile cell tower at 3790 Pinole Valley Road. This location is near the dog park.

* The Planning Commission Sub-Committee meets at a site to do a walk through.

February 21, 2012
* Agenda item 3.B, closed session. Conference with real property negotiator GC 54956.8. Property location, 3790 Pinole Valley Road. (cell tower)
After closed session no announcement was made by Mayor Murray regarding this item.

December 12, 2012.
* Verizon contract signed by, City Manager, Belinda Espinosa, City Attorney, Ben Reyes, City Clerk, Patricia Athenour.
Verizon Area Vice President Walter L Jones, Jr. signs agreement on behalf of Verizon.

February 5, 2013
* Report 2013-10 item 7D shows property address as 1270 Adobe Road.
Ratify approval of a lease with Verizon for a Cell Tower at the Pinole Valley Park, address 1270 Adobe Road.

* First page of the staff report indicates that the Planning Commission will review the CUP in April. City Manager Belinda Espinosa states on the record that “it has not been sent over to Verizon or anything like that”.

February 19, 2013
* Verizon item is not on this agenda.

February 2013
* Residents receive a Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration dated February 13, 2013.

March 2013
* Notice of Public Hearing received by residents post dated March 13, 2013.

March 25, 2013
* CUP goes before the Planning Commission. CUP is approved by a vote of 4-3.

April 16, 2013
* Agenda item 9.C, old business.
Approve the lease agreement with Verizon Wireless for a cellular tower at Pinole Valley Park. Mayor Long announced that Item 9C was being held over to May 7, 2013.

May 7, 2013
* This item did appear on the May 7, 2013 agenda but as a closed session item.
The Council adjourned closed session at 10:17 pm and Mayor Long announced there were no reportable actions from Closed Session.

June 4, 2013
* Item 3.A, closed session. Continued from April 16, 2013.
Ratify the lease agreement with Verizon Wireless for a Cellular tower at Pinole Valley Park. At 7:20 pm Mayor Long reconvened the meeting and announced there were no reportable actions on the items.

June 18, 2013
* Agenda item 3.A, closed session.
Conference with real property negotiator, Verizon, LLC, lease price and terms.
Mayor Long reconvened the open session meeting at 7:20 pm. She announced there were no reportable actions from closed session.

June 18 agenda item 9.C (old business). Continued from June 4, 2013.
* Ratify and approve the amendment to the Lease Agreement with Verizon Wireless, LLC for cellular Tower to be located at Pinole Valley Park.
Failed by a vote of 4-1. Dissenting, Roy Swearingen.

July 2, 2013
* Verizon Wireless legal representative Jim Hearn states that “Verizon Wireless has a valid existing and binding lease”.

July 16, 2013
* The Verizon Lease Agreement is ratified by a vote of 3-2.


Verizon spent some money meeting the demands of the Conditional Use Permit on a piece of property that they did not technically have a lease for.
Why? Because in order to obtain the lease Verizon needed the approval of the City Council, they council had not ratified the agreement and did not ratify it until July 16, 2013.

At what point was the City Manager given direction by the City Council to execute the lease agreement with Verizon?
There are differing opinions on just when the City Council gave direction to staff.

Did Verizon receive the approval of the City Council before they invested in the necessary processes to obtain a CUP? We believe that it did not.
Because it was never reported in either closed or open session that the Council gave approval to the City Manager to execute the lease with Verizon.

The City Manager and the City Attorney did sign a lease with Verizon without City Council ratification in December 2012.

The Mayor is saying that the City Manager “Misconstrued” the council’s direction at the February 21, 2012 closed session City Council Meeting.


The January 15, 2013 City Council meeting video clearly shows that the Council was notified of the lease, the recording of that lease and the location in Pinole Valley Park. But there were no objections, discussion or  questions raised pursuant to this lease agreement and the apparent filing that the City Clerk reported on that date.


At the February 5, 2013 City Council Meeting, ratification of the Verizon Lease appeared on the Consent Calendar for this meeting (the City Manager prepared the Agenda for the Meeting).

A resident went to that meeting and demanded that the Verizon Lease be taken off of the consent calendar because at that juncture there had been zero public input on the Verizon Lease. The Mayor obliged.


The Agenda under the Verizon issue of the Consent Calendar with the corresponding staff report (2013-10), written by the City Manager, states that the City Manager was given permission in closed session on February 21, 2012 to sign a lease with Verizon.

This is what Pam Nobel of Verizon was reading at the City Council Meeting where the Council approved the tower.

Note it states that approval was granted in closed session, however it was never reported in open session, by Mayor Murray, nor in the minutes of the February 21, 2012 Council Meeting.  

Pete Murray who was Mayor on February 21, 2012 went on record at the July 16, 2013 meeting claiming that the City Manager did indeed have the Council’s approval to sign the lease with Verizon.   


February 2013
The second thing that Verizon needed was a Conditional Use Permit from the Planning Commission.   In February of 2013 residents approximately within 500 feet of the location of the tower were informed of a negative impact mitigation hearing.

March 2013
In March of 2013 these same residents received notification of a Public Hearing on the Conditional Use Permit.  Residents went to the meeting and learned more about the plans.

The plan called for three co-located wireless carriers with the possibility that each carrier will have their own generator (Verizon was asked if they would share their generator with the co-located cell phone companies and they explicitly said no).

Winston Rhodes, City Planner, was asked if this meant that the plan could possibly have three carriers each with a 132 Gallon tank of diesel fuel.  He said yes.  Consequently the plan actually calls for almost 400 gallons of diesel fuel in a high fire location (red zone).  However Mr. Rhodes assured us that each carrier would have to go through their own separate Conditional Use Permitting (CUP) Process.

The common denominator on the lease and the CUP resides with the City Staff, and the buck stops at the City Manager’s desk.

Two separate processes were parallel, except they intersected at the City Manager’s Office.  Parallel lines that intersect are no longer parallel by definition.  And that intersection is the City Manager’s Office.

Who knew what and when on the Council and on the Planning Commission is open to conjecture.

As taxpaying residents, we strongly feel that we are owed an explanation of all mistakes made, of misinformation given, to the minutest details, since we are now forced to live with the onus that Verizon has everything that they need to build the Tower in our park, very near our homes and Verizon has complete control of this park property.

The Planning Commissioners, some on the record, and some off the record have told us that they did not know that the lease had already been recorded at the Contra County Clerk’s Office at the time that they approved the CUP in March of 2013.  This appears to be true as evidenced by the time line we have put together. 

How can a process put into place to protect the residents and taxpayers of this community be circumvented and be done without the community’s input?
Why are our elected officials suppressing the truth and being less than open and transparent?
Residents will hold our elected officials accountable. Our elected officials should hold staff accountable.
We are disappointed in our elected and appointed officials. They have shown a complete disregard for the wishes of their constituents.

Pinole Council Reverses Cell Tower Decision


celltowerThursday, July 18, 2013

The Pinole City Council on Tuesday July 16, reversed its decision of June 18 and voted 3-2 to ratify the lease agreement with Verizon to erect a 78 foot monopole, camouflaged as a faux tree on Adobe Road in Pinole Valley Park.

The council chambers were jam packed with approximately 50 residents, some carrying “NO to the Pole” signs, some with their toddlers and children in tow.
The majority of those present were there to express their opposition to the erection of a cell tower at Pinole Valley Park. Of the 21 speakers, 2 were in favor of the tower, citing increased coverage and the need to have cell phone coverage in the case of emergencies and power outages.
The 19 who spoke against the tower voiced various concerns among them health concerns, the location of a commercial entity in a public park and the relatively small $26,000 fee being paid by a giant corporation.
They urged the council to stand firm on its June 18th decision and to listen to the voice of their constituents and not be intimidated by Verizon.

The cell tower saga and the timeline of decision-making makes one wonder how this all came to be. There are questions regarding when the lease was signed, when the city council authorized staff to proceed, and when residents received notification.

Last week Verizon sent residents who publicly opposed the tower detailed information and copies of the agreement signed by the City Manager.
The signed agreement is dated December 12, 2012 and is signed by City Manager, Belinda Espinosa.
But the council seems to have either been unaware that the lease agreement had been signed by the City Manager or had expected that they would have the last word on the agreement by ratifying it, they officially ratified it on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, seven months after the City Manager signed the agreement.

Records show that the City Manager stated on a February 5 staff report that, “staff reviewed the deal points with the city council in closed session on Feb. 21, 2012. The City Council authorized the city manager to proceed and sign the lease”. However, on February 21, 2012, the council did not report any action had been taken in closed session.

On February 5, Espinosa stated that the lease was operational only upon the approval of the Conditional Use Permit by the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission approved the CUP by a vote of 4-3 on March 25, 2013.

As recently as April 16, 2013 the staff report included a copy of the agreement with Verizon’s signature, dated December 3, 2012 and Espinosa’s signature, dated December 12, 2012.

The cell tower had been discussed since 2010. Initially the Pinole Historical Society was sent a letter asking if they had any objections to a tower on Adobe Road, a historical location. They did not object, the location presented at that time was not the current chosen location.

As Mayor Long noted, this cell tower came up at a meeting of the Save the Swim Center Committee. It was presented, by staff, to the committee as a possible sustainable source of revenue to operate the swim center. The committee was buoyed by the possibility of receiving a dedicated source of revenue for the maintenance and operation of the pool.
At that time, I wondered if the council had agreed to utilize this source of revenue for the swim center and why it had not been mentioned by the city council at any of their meetings.
I asked Debbie Long about it and she quickly communicated that this was not a done deal and should not have been brought to the committee.

The timeline that Verizon presented in its documents begs to question, was the council unaware that this project was moving ahead without council ratification?

If, as Pete Murray stated on Tuesday, the council had given “implied direction” to staff, why was the council so surprised that the contract had been signed on December 12, 2012?

Why then did the council vote on June 18th, in light of this, to not ratify the agreement? Did the city believe it could reject the agreement based on the fact that the council had not officially ratified the lease?
That vote on June 18, was 4-1 with Roy Swearingen dissenting, members, Long, Murray, Banuelos and Green all voted NO.
Why did the council, a month later reverse its decision by a vote of 3-2? Banuelos and Murray reversed their position.

The answer is clear, Verizon was swinging the legal hammer directly in the direction of the city and the council knew it was caught between a park and cell tower.

On Tuesday two council members reversed their decision of June 18 citing the strong possibility of a lawsuit by Verizon, a lawsuit the city did not want to fight and would likely lose. The city, as Murray stated, has a balanced budget but any shift in another direction could have Pinole facing Stockton’s plight.

The Pinole Fire Fighter’s Union Local 1230 has a lawsuit pending against the City of Pinole. Should they prevail the city will feel that impact. Rising attorney fees have been mentioned at council meetings in reference to the Fire Fighter’s litigation and the brouhaha last election over the election code. A legal battle to defend the city and the agreement bearing the City Manager’s signature was certainly not a welcome prospect.

The fear of a lawsuit caused two council members to reverse direction. Long and Green who voted NO, maintain that the council never ratified the agreement.

As I left the meeting at almost midnight there were some very angry citizens. A few of them called for the ouster of the City Manager, stating that she should be accountable, that she signed the agreement before the council had ratified it and had overstepped her authority.

The group opposing the cell tower at the park, has not given up. They will fight on.


The Pinole Valley Cell Tower – To be or not to be


Friday, July 12, 2013
What started out in April as a review for and the approval of a  Conditional Use Permit for a Verizon Cell Tower at Pinole Valley Park, has evolved into a dramatic grass roots campaign by residents vs. a media campaign by behemoth Verizon.

Verizon customers, I am a Verizon subscriber, received this text message on their cell phones on Wednesday:
“Free message from Verizon: Reply YES to support improved Verizon Wireless service along Pinole Valley Road from a camouflaged treepole at the east end of Pinole Valley Park.
Email Support to convey your support to the Pinole City Council at their July 16 meeting or for more info.”

Shades of David and and Goliath.

The City Council voted 4-1 against the Cell Tower on June 18th. But Verizon has raised the stakes by threatening litigation, citing the fact that Belinda Espinosa, City Manager, signed the lease agreement in December of 2012.
But, the Council, led by Mayor Debbie Long, believes that the contract is unenforceable without Council approval.
The West County Times, reported today “Pinole Council to reconsider cell phone tower in park after Verizon threatens lawsuit” reports that Verizon believes it has met the terms of the contract and will take the case to court.

Mayor Long voted to reconsider the June 18 vote expressing safety concerns. There was talk that the Police department might be impeded due to “dead zones” in that part of Pinole Valley. However, at the most recent Financial Sub-Committee meeting the chief of Police assured Mayor Long that safety was not an issue.

The threat of litigation by Verizon in the face of the pending litigation by Fire Fighters Local 1230 is about as welcome news as another Great Recession.

In speaking to the residents who have fought the cell tower, successfully, in what now appears to be have been round one; they expressed their support of those council members who will not allow Verizon and its team of lawyers to intimidate them.

Matt Beilby, part of the group that has been fighting this tower stated, “We stand by the City Council and want them to stay strong on this issue. They voted this tower down once before and the will of the people on this issue has not changed. We feel this is a blatent attempt by Verizon to “bully” their way into our park and we hope the city council doesn’t give into their threats”.

Julie Maier sent this email to her contacts throughout the city.
“If you are a Verizon customer and received a text message today asking you to support a cell phone tower at Pinole Valley Park to improve your cell phone service, please be VERY WARY.

Verizon is trying to force and bully our City Council members into building a cell phone tower directly across the street from the residences on PV Rd. and Wright Ave. after they voted not to ratify building the tower in that location! They want to build it on park property even though dozens of local residents have worked hard for months to stop the construction due to unknown health risks, potential fire hazard ( a huge diesel fuel tank is attached to tower), and aesthetic concerns about a fake cell phone tree in the midst of our beautiful parkland. This cell phone tower should be built away from residences and certainly not in our pristine parkland. Please don’t cave in to this corporate bully and give them your support and if you really don’t want to see this cell tower built, then join Tony Guitterrez, me and many other Pinole Valley residents at the City Council meeting next Tuesday, July 16th and tell the City Council to stand by their June 18th vote and not let Verizon bully them. 
On June 18th after a very long City Council meeting, the Mayor and the rest of City Council listened to the very real concerns and wishes of about 18-20 residents who spoke against ratifying a lease to this site to Verizon. After listening to us for close to an hour, they voted 4-1 to NOT ratify the lease. A victory!!

Then on July 2nd after hearing that Verizon may force litigation, they decided to look at the decision again at the  July 16th meeting (next Tuesday).
I believe they feel threatened and bullied by Verizon’s litigation team. We need the Council to stay strong and show resolve and stick with their initial decision.
They need to hear from a lot more of us that we don’t want a cell tower built in a residential just 50 yds. off the road in a historic (site of an old Adobe in the valley) beautiful and vulnerable wooded area in PV Park. There are much more suitable locations up on ridgeline of the hills away from the park, ball fields, local school and residences.
It would be great to have a big turn out at this meeting. If you can’t make it, then please call or email the Council members before Tuesday to share your concerns. You can reach them at:”

Phil Green              cell      676-6172
Tim Banuelos         cell      872-9646
Pete Murray            home 222-1910
Roy Swearingen     home   758-4720
Debbie Long                     684-3080
If you want to find out more about the plans and why so many of us are opposing it, please call me or email me and I’d be happy to tell you my concerns. Thanks for listening and for any support you can offer–it is really appreciated! I’ll now step off my soap box.
Julie Maier


Let’s fill the Council Chambers on Tuesday to put Verizon on notice. We do not want an 80 foot faux tree cell tower in our beautiful park land.


Life as I know it


we_areThursday July 11, 2013

Life. It has taken me on many interesting journeys.
But this year, it is the year of the family. I often reflect on those that I have loved and lost. Some of them have been taken much too soon. Others have lived long and happy lives. From each of them I have taken away some knowledge, gained some wisdom and enhanced my perspective.
I have been caring for my 92 year old mom for a large part of this year, first in Puerto Rico, and more recently in Orlando Florida, where I took her to be with my sisters. Three weeks ago she suffered a stroke, and I flew there to be with her and my sisters.

But the political wheel does keep on turning.
Jeff Rubin has taken exception to my posts and made that very clear at a recent Council meeting.
In my world and life the cheap shots taken by Jeff Rubin relative to this blog are a mere irritation and pesky nuisance. Frankly they are not unexpected. Jeff Rubin and I have been sparing for about five years.

It is my first amendment right to express my opinions. And it is also the right of others in the community to speak their mind. I offer no apologies.
In my posts I have used excerpts from statements and comments made by others in this community. They see things in a different light and have differing opinions. Posting them on my blog shouldn’t get anybody’s britches in a bunch.

But, it’s fine. His comments have in fact, gained me some unexpected popularity and new followers.
Thanks Jeff.

To contact me send an email to

Pinole Firefighters – Why are they leaving?


Fire_FighterslTuesday, August 20, 2013
The Pinole City Council reversed its decision of June 2013 and have agreed to accept a Federal $1.24 Million SAFER Grant.
The Grant was previously presented as a way to reopen Valley Station #74 for a two-year period.
But the Council, after initially approving it, decided that the cost to man the station with overtime, was excessive.
The Council rejected the Grant.
That action not only took the community by surprise, but it also did not sit well, with Mike Thompson, who had championed the Federal Grant for Pinole.
On the heels Pinole’s rejection the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District moved to obtain the grant.
On Tuesday the Council again changed its mind. This time citing the viability of new options that would mitigate the overtime costs and allow the addition of services.
Tom Lochner reports on this here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

As was reported by the West County Times’  Tom Lochner on June 11, 2013, Pinole lost four fire fighters to other cities.
Why, I wondered, would these fire fighters make that move? Was it due to better benefits, salaries, training? What would cause them to “jump ship”?

Was it prompted by the politically charged climate in Pinole, a climate that some say is “toxic” and anti-union? Did it have something to do with Jeff Rubin, the most vocal member of the Concerned Citizens of Pinole,  the political action committee behind the 2007 recall and instrumental in the election of four of the five sitting council members and his self-proclaimed war on Local 1230?

To be sure there are serious concerns about the firefighters union and other labor unions’ salaries, benefits and pensions. Valid concerns exist not just in Contra Costa County but throughout the state. Most agree that pension reform is necessary, but many also agree that changes must begin at the State level and that true and comprehensive reform will take time. But, a line seems to have been drawn in the sand in Pinole.
I asked Vince Wells, President of Local 1230, the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, to comment on the exodus of fire fighters in Pinole. His comments are posted below.


Four of Pinole’s firefighters have resigned and left for other Fire Departments. One was hired by the City of Vallejo, and the other three moved next door to the Rodeo Hercules Fire District. This is due to the toxic environment that exist between the firefighters, city management, the City Council, and the group once known as the “Concerned Citizens of Pinole. One only has to go back and watch the many city council meetings where fire services were on the agenda to see how disrespectful they were to those who provide Fire and EMS protection to the citizens of Pinole and surrounding jurisdictions. I believe more of the firefighters would leave if they weren’t so vested in the department and late into their careers. I predict that the firefighters hired to replace them will not stay long either, unless there are drastic changes.

The Citizens of Pinole need to engage and hold their City Council accountable to provide them with firefighters that are well equipped, staffed, and have the training necessary. The firefighters morale also has a significant impact on the level of service provided; the current morale is amongst the lowest in the county.

Getting a job as a firefighter is very competitive. Sometimes you take what you can get until you arrive at the department of your choice. That was not the case with those that left the department. Most of them were from the area. and enjoyed working in the community in which they grew up in or around.

The City Manager was aware of the fact that Chief Hanley was going to hire three of the Pinole Firefighters. This was not something that was unknown to Pinole. It is my opinion that the City Council and City Management wanted to lower their staffing and did not want the responsibility of having to take the SAFER grant to re-open station 74. They will use this as their excuse along with the “unfair labor practice” charges we have filed against them. Do not be fooled by the attacks on the ethics of Chief Hanley, this is a smoke screen. Their desires all alone, were to get the staffing down to no more then 12 firefighters to put the re-opening of station 74 further out of reach. Mission accomplished!


This is a deadly serious topic.
A civil dialogue within the community and among the stake holders is long overdue. This public feuding has gone on far too long and has only served to alienate our firefighters and to place our city in a most precarious position, one that may put Pinole citizens and businesses in harms way.

NO to the Valley Cell Tower Wins -Maybe!



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My sources have informed me that the City Council is considering reversing its decision to reject the proposed Verizon cell tower in Pinole Valley Park.

It seems that Verizon is threatening a lawsuit based on the fact that a contract had been signed by the City Manager, Belinda Espinosa. With the city  expending large sums to fight litigation on several different fronts, Verizon’s threat to sue has given the council reason for pause.

The opponents of the cell tower, who had declared victory, are now organizing to prevent the cell tower from being erected in the Valley location. 

Sources say Verizon has approached  a private citizen to obtain permission  for the cell tower, on private property near the park.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The City Council meeting last night was chock full of surprises, more about that in a later post, not the least of which was the Council’s NO vote on the Verizon cell tower.
We now know why there were so many closed session meetings about this project. It seems as if the lease agreement with Verizon had been signed by city staff before the City Council had given its approval. That procedural misstep paved the way for the council to reject the ratification of the lease agreement voting it down 4-1 with Councilmember Swearingen the only yes vote.
Those who opposed the tower and were in attendance at last night’s meeting (15 residents waited patiently until late into the evening) were very happy and very grateful for the community’s support and for the council’s decision.
We will wait and see if the cell tower idea is reincarnated at some other location.

Matt Bielby, who spearheaded the opposition has written this “open letter”to the Pinole City Council.

Open Letter to the Pinole City Council:

Thank you for taking the issue of the Verizon cell tower in Pinole Valley Park as seriously as you did.  Also, thank you for listening to your constituents and voting this cell tower down.  I know it takes a lot of guts to stand up to a large corporation like that and tell them no.  It was heartening to see that the system works; that, although so many things in this world are messed up, some things do work.  In this case, the little person, the citizen, was able to voice their concern for a poorly planned and executed venture and the city council listened.  I know it has changed my opinion of politics in general and has made me inspired to know that one person can make a difference.

Thank you,
Matt Bielby


Skating on Thin Ice – Update



Max Glanz

Update – Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Pinole City Council by a vote of 5-0 authorized staff to execute three design contracts for the Pinole Skate Park.
By approving these contracts the City and the SK8 Park Committee have now set into motion a schedule for the design and construction of the SK8 Park.
Kudos to all for their persistence and dedication to this “vision”.

For those who have been following (for the last seven years) the progress or lack thereof of the
Pinole Skate Park, there are some recent developments to report.

On May 22, the Skate Park Committee met with City representatives and laid the ground work for the future of a Skate Park in Pinole.
This meeting was significant in that some of the most important issues were finally addressed, concerns aired and possibly mitigated.
For those of you who are in favor of the Skate Park this is good news; news that has been a long time coming. But we can expect that the proposed project will continue to be  discussed and debated before it becomes a reality. What we do know is that a major step has been taken in the campaign to bring a Skate Park to Pinole.

Below are comments from Sandee and Max Glanz, Skate Park Committee members following the meeting.

“Here is what happened at the skate park meeting last night:
Council approved the preferred larger 10k sq ft site in PV Park (located only yards from the original site). Council also approved moving ahead with the Design and Engineering aspect of the project and approved acquiring contracts with the Sk8 Park Designer and Civil Engineer who did the feasibility studies.
Most importantly, Dean Allison proposed construction to start in 2015 however Council and the Skate Park committee felt that was too long of a timeline. Council made/approved a motion to start construction in Spring/Summer of 2014!!
Our committee, the skaters of Pinole and much of the community has waited for a meeting like this for over 7 years! ”

The Pinole Skate Park Committee still has obstacles to overcome.
The preferred location in Pinole Valley Park could be an issue, and the possibility of cost overruns might present a new set of challenges. But, for this group of dedicated and persistent Pinole Skate Park advocates, these issues don’t seem insurmountable. Not after working for the last seven years just to get to this point.

Express Yourself


Monday, June 3, 2013

I have only been home for a week and already I am hearing some interesting scuttlebutt.

The City Council has been postponing the decision on the proposed Verizon Cell Tower since April. I oppose the Verizon cell tower because of its proposed location.

It is widely believed that the City Council was prepared to sign off on this lease agreement in March-April, but the Conditional Use Permit (CUP), a necessary piece of the processing, needed approval from the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission did approve the CUP. In the interim, the community became aware of this proposed cell tower and expressed opposition for a variety of reason, most notably the location at Pinole Valley Park.
The lease negotiation appears on the Council agenda for tomorrow under closed session. There are two agendas for tomorrow, one is listed as a Special Meeting.
Regular Meeting
Special meeting

I believe the opposition may have come as a surprise to the City. They had been trying to seal the deal with Verizon for the tower on Adobe Road for about a year. The proposed cell tower was brought to the attention of the Save the Swim Center Committee last year as a possible source of sustainable revenue for the Pool, an idea the Council put the kibosh on, understandable as they were still in the throes of fiscal meltdown. The lease, as originally proposed, would pay the City a $5,000 up front fee, with lease payments of $24,000 per year.
The Planning Commission noted that Verizon had proposed other locations, but that the final location at Pinole Valley Park, was the one all parties (not including the community) agreed was best.

The City had to tighten its belt and made dramatic cut backs to services in Pinole over the course of the last three years.
We were all asked to share the pain, we did that.
To this community’s credit, they stepped up and did what was needed to retain and preserve the services they cared about.

In November voters extended the Utility Users Tax for another 8 years so that we could “Keep Pinole, Pinole”.
No promises were made, but it was clearly implied that the UUT would help retain and restore these important services, and for many it was the reason they voted, YES.
By all accounts the City’s budget situation has improved, how much we won’t know until the new budget is presented this month.

The question is, has the city’s financial position improved so much that they are now in a position to offer bonuses to staff? That is the scuttlebutt around town. Pinoleans are spitting mad about this possibility.

Services this community has supported through their taxes and fees, were jeopardized due to the economy, some of those, the Senior Center, Parks and Recreation and PCTV, have relied on fund-raising to stay in business. Volunteers have worked long and hard to raise funds to keep them in business. Why? Because they believe these services define their community and are the reason they choose to live here.

Now, volunteers have reached a point where they are asking, “how much longer will we have to do this, when is the City going to assume its rightful responsibility and allocate resources in its budget to maintain the services we want and pay for?”

If Pinole’s economy is moving in the right direction, with the help of increased revenue and the UUT, then taxpayers deserve to know how the City can possible justify any increase in salary, benefits or the handing out of bonuses, before allocating resources for these services.

It would be a dark day indeed in Pinole if the new budget does not allocate city resources for these services yet allocates bonus money or increased administrative staff costs. It would not bode well for the campaign to increase sewer rates.
Keep Pinole – Pinole, indeed.

Hola – Hello – Aloha – Hi


Greetings all. I am home after a long and difficult trip.
Tomorrow, Mike and I celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary which we will spend together, catching up.

As you may recall, the purpose of my trip was to try and convince my 92 year-old mother that she could no longer live alone in Puerto Rico. If you think a political campaign is grueling then you should try to campaign for what’s best for my mother! She is one tough cookie.
But, I am happy to report that after weeks of conversations, intervention from her priest as well as her doctor, I succeeded in getting my mom to leave her “Isla” and travel with me to Orlando Florida, where she is staying with my sisters. It was touch and go up until the moment I got her through security at the San Juan airport. I feared she would bolt at any moment.
This was a big step but the reality is there will be more hard work to do in order to have her remain in Orlando. More angst is in store for everyone. I kept a dairy of my trip and will be posting bits and pieces of it as time goes on.

I am still dealing with jet lag and overall exhaustion resulting from this difficult trip. But, I am getting my bearings back and will be able to update “Life as I know it” soon.
Of interest will be an update on the Verizon cell tower, the Skate Park and the Proposed Waste Water Treatment Plant Rate Increases.

50784_2013 Fun Run Logo

Remember that this Sunday, June 2, is the Save the Swim Center Fun Run.
The weather promises to be beautiful and the $25 donation will go towards maintaining one of the city’s most wonderful amenities, the Pinole Swim Center. Register here.


Because I’m Your Mother, That’s Why!



April 21, 2013
When I started my blog I knew I wanted to keep my community informed and involved about Our City, but I also knew that for me, family comes first.

Mother’s Day is a few weeks away and I am hours away from leaving Pinole to fly to Puerto Rico to care for mom.

My 92 year old mother lives alone in Puerto Rico. She went “home” after living in New York City for over 40 years.
I admire her strengths, but her care has become increasingly difficult. She has moderate dementia, a multitude of age related problems and has refused any and all outside help or services. She refuses to pay for anything she doesn’t deem necessary or important, which in her mind is pretty much everything.
My goodness how much is a loaf of bread? Yes mom it’s two bucks.

My sisters and I have been travelling from the States to care for her the for the last 3+ years. Moving her is not an option, she refuses to leave her home and Puerto Rican law is on her side. 
She fell twice yesterday (the last day my other sister was there with her) and is now alone dealing and with her bumps and bruises.  I will fly to Puerto Rico to try and care for her and try to reason with her, yet again. The odds of my getting through? Slim to none. Or as we say in the Bronx, “Forgedaboudit”.
I’m sure there are some of you saying, yeah, been there, done that.

Mom has become a legend among my friends and family.
Like many elders, she is fiercely independent, strong-willed, and plain old hard-headed. I started jotting down her “idiosyncracies” a few years ago. I add to the list whenever I visit. My sisters have also contributed to Mom’s Rules through knowing gales of laughter.
Mom’s Rules help me find humor in what is a sad and tough situation for my sisters and I. We love mom and want to protect her.
I want to share some (not all) of my Mom’s Rules with you as I jet off to be with her. I hope it makes you smile and appreciate family a little bit more.

Mom’s Rules
If broken expect the silent treatment and a hunger strike.

Unplug every electrical appliance after use.
Lock every door, window, and padlock by 6 pm.
Don’t turn on any lights even if it is pitch black.
Don’t use the hot water unless you absolutely have to take a hot shower and then make it quick.
Lift the toilet seat, yes we are all female, but that doesn’t matter, she wants air to circulate in the bowl.
Do not throw away anything, that includes containers from take out food, plastic utensils, old papers, rubber bands, nick knacks, paper clips, diaper pins, old cards, invitations, bills, documents or envelopes, seat cushions, stuffed animals, plastic flowers, broken cups, Melmac dishes that date back to 1970, Styrofoam cups, and containers, ancient utensils or cookware.
Do not throw or give away old appliances or electronics even if they date back to 1960 or full of rust, don’t work and will never work again.
Do not use the air conditioner unless you are gasping for air, same goes for the fan.
Manually shut the 40-50 window louvers in the house if there is any chance of rain at all, (there is always a chance of rain in Puerto Rico).
And hour later open them all up again.
Don’t go to the store and stay too long or you’re leaving her alone and don’t care about her.
Don’t feed her any meat; she won’t eat it when you’re looking.
Don’t throw away any of the hundreds of pairs of socks she owns and never uses. Must be a throw back to her days in New York.
Don’t throw away or give away any of the multitude of clothes, shoes and hand bags she has in the closet that she doesn’t wear and will never wear again.
Don’t throw away any of the empty or half empty bottles of cologne, used lipstick, or make-up.
Don’t use any “good” sheets on the beds; use the ones that have no elastic to keep them on the bed.
Don’t wash too many clothes because you’re using too much water.
Don’t use the water hose because her water bill has gone up.
Don’t disagree with her she knows better than we do.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there.

Mafalda: But…why do I have to do it?
Her mom: Because I order it. I’m your Mother!!
Mafalda: If it’s a question of titles, I’m your Daughter!!
Mafalda: And we graduated on the same day! Or not?



The battle between Pinole residents opposed to the construction of cell towers continues.
The initial battle waged in 2013 was won by the “Tower Topplers”.
That battle centered around the construction of a Verizon cell tower in Pinole Valley Park.
The newest Verizon proposal is for a cell tower on private property.
Members of the “Tower Topplers” are citing various health and safety concerns as well as the proximity of the cell tower to residential homes. The Pinole ordinance has been changed to allow a cell tower to be within 100 feet of a residence.
This new proposal was rejected by the Planning Commission.
However, Verizon is appealing that decision before the Pinole City Council on February 9, 2016.

Below is a commentary sent to “Life as I Know It”, by Tony Gutierrez, a member of the “Tower Topplers”.

The Pinole City Council has scheduled an appeal/public hearing on Feb 9, 2016 at 6pm at City Hall.
The meeting is for discussion and voting on the Planning Commission rejection of Verizon Wireless’ application for a conditional use permit to install a new cell tower in Pinole Valley .
The Pinole Planning Commission rejected the application, on November 16, 2015, citing at least 7 reasons, involving zoning and inappropriate and dangerous citing in a residential area.
A little history: Three years ago, the City of Pinole , despite fierce local opposition, signed an agreement with Verizon, to erect an 85 ft cell tower in a forested area of Pinole Valley Park , in close proximity to many residences.
The tower was stopped when the State of California informed the City of the illegality and potential legal actions they faced, due to violation of Federal law.
The Feds provided the funds to buy parkland, administered by the State Parks and Recreation. . That grant money is heavily restricted and land purchased for parks cannot be used for commercial purpose and came with the caveat that the and can be used for “outdoor recreational uses only”.
There is a question of whether or not Verizon knew that the City had to right to lease the lands to Verizon Wireless.
The City of Pinole has pleaded ignorance, however now deceased Council member Green said that he had informed Council that the lands could not be used.
Council member Green had said that when the first time he was on the Pinole City Council he had wanted to develop the lands for high end properties but had run up against the limitations back then.
The City of Pinole went ahead with the deal with Verizon to see if it could backdoor this facility in while no-one was the wiser.
When the State of California found out about the agreement with Verizon to use protected parklands for a Cell Tower , the State notified Pinole that this was illegal.
When the State came down to inspect the location of the plot rented out to Verizon they also noted that Fire Station 74 had been illegally built on protected park lands as well.
The City of Pinole was given the option to “convert” the two properties or demolish the fire station.
In the case of the fire station the City opted to convert the parcel and purchased two parcels of privately owned undeveloped land on Pinon Avenue in Old Town Pinole (Downtown).
So now the City of Pinole not only has a fire station that they have not been able to open but has spent nearly $300,000 to buy lands for a park that sits idle because the City has no funding to develop it for public use.

The deal with Verizon went up in flames and Verizon threatened to sue the City of Pinole . Verizon and Pinole signed an 18 months Tolling Agreement to freeze the Statute of Limitations.
Subsequently, Verizon and Pinole have signed a Settlement Agreement which says that Pinole will do their due diligence to help Verizon secure a replacement property to find as a replacement for the park location and allows for Verizon to collect financial damages to recover money that Verizon spent to do the studies to receive the original Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the Park Location.

Verizon has stated that they had expended $350,000 to obtain the CUP. Verizon is on record stating that they have looked at alternative cites (aside from the Park location) for the cell Tower. The first of these locations was also on illegal park lands and was the same location that Fire Station is located. At the time the considered this location the parcel had not been “converted”.
The second alternative location was on a private parcel owned by Cleddy Mackay (Mack’s property) on Pinole Valley Road adjacent to the original park location. This location was not allowed by the State of California because this location required an easement through the park for maintenance purposes of the Cell Tower .
This was considered a commercial use by the State and this location was not suitable.
The third alternative location was once again with a private residence and this location was abandoned because the land behind the property was too close to the creek which is subject to landslides.

Now Verizon has found a resident who has agreed to erect a tower adjacent to his house, on private property, next to subdivision homes in Pinole Valley .
The Planning Commission on November 16, 2015 rejected the application for the Conditional Use Permit on the following grounds:
1. Hydrology and Drainage Issues off of the site and towards the creek
2. Aesthetics of the tower are not compatible with the residential neighborhood
3. Aesthetics of the project not compatible with a single family area
4. Diesel Generator is not compatible with a single family area
5. Concerns about perching the Tower on the edge of the property
6. Vegetation for screening is inadequate
7. Concerns on the load on the top of the hill on the bottom of the hill Verizon has now filed an appeal of the decision of the Planning Commission.

This is what will be heard on February 9th.
Unfortunately, The City of Pinole is not very clear on the process for the appeal.
In fact according to the City, the hearing will be a hearing de novo, which has residents uncertain about the procedures since apparently the procedural issues for the hearing de novo have not been codified by ordinance.
Also many residents have raised the issue of whether or not there exists a conflict of interest with the City Council of Pinole being the body to hear the appeal/hearing de novo because of the terms of the Settlement Agreement with Verizon for the original mis-steps of approving a lease agreement and a CUP for the original park location for the cell tower.

Tony Gutierrez