The WCCUSD Audit, My Thoughts


Monday, September 26, 2016.
As promised, I am posting the video of the Final meeting of the Clay Investigation Subcommittee on September 15, when they accepted the VLS audit.

My comments on the conclusions of this audit (as requested) begin at 1:53:29 and run to 1:57:58

WCCUSD Articles in the Richmond Confidential

Investigation reveals possible WCCUSD fund mismanagement

School board votes to accept controversial audit, police may investigate

Article in the East Bay Times

West Contra Costa school board accepts audit report

Hello everyone:

I have been more than a little busy lately, all good.
This post is meant to bring you up to date, from my perspective, on the year-long WCCUSD Forensic Audit and the Clay Investigation.
I will add more detail and links to videos of the most recent meetings as time allows.
But for today, while the events are fresh in my mind, I want to share these thoughts with you.

The Clay Investigation has concluded. It has been my honor to serve on the Clay Investigation subcommittee along with Trustees Block and Cuevas.
I was appointed to that subcommittee by the school board, not by position but by name.
The audit process took a year to complete. It was a process spurred by allegations made by district employee, Dennis Clay.
The allegations were serious, they alleged mismanagement of the $1.6 Billion Bond Program.
The forensic auditors (VLS) and the Clay committee attorney (James Kawahara), were all vetted through a lengthy process to assure their qualifications and their complete independence from the District.
The subcommittee recomended the final report be sent to the BOE, on September 15, 2016.
The Final Report was adopted last night, September 21, by the BOE by a vote of 4-1, Trustee Groves dissenting.

Over 100 recommendations were specified to reduce the areas of High, Medium and Low Risks identified in the audit process.
Many of the High Risk areas are centered around budgets. Budgets, the foundation of any financial framework, were apparently manipulated and made to fit costs, not the other way around, there was a glaring lack of cost and budget controls in place.
I am outraged at the inefficiencies and mismanagement reported in the audit.
You should be too.

Now we must rely on the elected leaders of the District and Superintendent Duffy to truly lead and implement all of the recommendations made in the audit.
If, the recommendations are fully implemented, then, and only then, can this District begin the slow process of restoring trust in the community.
Leaders must have the courage to lead, to be accountable and to admit that mistakes were made.
We expect our children to go to school to learn, t0 get better, to do better, to learn lessons from mistakes made.
We should expect no less from District leaders.

My comments below are in response to comments made about the audit and me on a FB page.
Posted to the West Contra Costa Schools FB Group:

I have refrained from responding to the critics of the audit in this forum. But I now intend to speak freely and reply to those who loudly and insistently made some comments about me and the audit.
You said this was a useless audit? Really?
SGI has garnered over $90 Million dollars in fees from, us, from you!
SGI has double dipped, manipulated budgets and operated as if they were in charge. Actually they were, because the District gave them a contract with no termination date, and that contract offered the District no recourse for termination. No wonder SGI felt invincible.
SGI hindered the investigation and its scope. The Forensic auditors were denied access to information and interviews. This, in spite of having a “right to audit clause” in their contract.
We now know that this Bond Program has lacked some very essential elements.
There was an alarming lack of processes, procedures, documentation, follow-up, policies, oversight, budget and cost controls, just to name a few.
Would we have known any of this were it not for this audit?
How much of our tax payer dollars were spent inappropriately as budgets were manipulated and made to fit costs, not the other way around?
The cost to our District and our schools is undetermined but real.
How many ineffective and inefficient practices have allowed funds to be siphoned off leaving us now with a mere pittance of $200 Million for 21 schools after spending not only $1.6 Billion dollars in voter approved bonds but also using state funds and developer fees?
You called this audit a Sham.
No, the sham was what the communities who entrusted their leaders with the Bond Program were subjected to.
There are 21 schools still in need of rebuilding, repair or modernization. The cost for the completion of the work, in my estimation, will be at minimum $1 Billion.

I care not about the politics, I care for the children and their education.
I have spent the last three years arm wrestling with the School District to provide me and the CBOC with information and answers.
I did not want to believe that the Bond Program was in such trouble, but I did my due diligence.  Now after 6 years of hearing  rumors and whispers, some of them told to me secretly by staff and now former staff, It is apparent that they were, sadly, true.

And as for the comment made on this FB page, that, I, Ivette Ricco, drank the Kool-Aid, that is like being called silly by the Three Stooges.
I am totally independent. I am not a candidate, I am not seeking to garner votes nor am I protecting alliances or self interests, I am not pro or anti Charter schools.

I am a product of the NYC public school system. I grew up in the South Bronx.
My parents left their homes in Puerto Rico as young adults and raised four daughters on one salary, in a two bedroom apartment.
School, for me, was a sanctuary.

I believe in public education and I believe every child is entitled to receive the best education this nation can offer.

This audit is a sad statement on the failure of the District and its leaders to rein in the contracts and contractors.
It is the proverbial tail wagging the dog scenario.
And, for the record, Kool-Aid, is not my drink of choice.

It’s Always Sunny in Pinole?


Well, almost always.
Sunny or foggy, it’s still the place we call home.
First, thank you for reading my blog, the numbers have been unbelievable.
Today Riccofreako  is taking the easy way out and simply attaching the Pinole City Manager’s Administrative Report, but pointing out a few items of particular interest.
You can get the full report with all the details below.

Monday, August, 8, 2016 Planning Commission, 7 PM
Tuesday, August 16, 2016, City Council, 7 PM

Saturday, August 6,  9 am to 9 am. Relay for Life
Collins Elementary School

November 2016 Local Election, Pinole
As of August 3rd, nomination papers pulled by:
4 Year Council Seats (2) Roy Swearingen (I), Pete Murray (I)
2 Year Council Seat (1) Maureen Toms (I), Kenneth Berling-Orozco, Sarita Lynnette Evans
Treasurer, 4 Year Term, Dina Rosales

The City is purchasing the Faria House
Just as a point of clarification, I was the “speaker”who asked that the Council consider making space available to other Pinole non-profits, specifically the Pinole Artisans and the Pinole Chamber of Commerce in the Faria House.
I did not specifically request office space be allocated for these organizations, rather I simply suggested that the space in the Faria House might be used to benefit and share with other non-profits “looking for a home”.
I recently toured the Faria House with Jeff Rubin and we discussed the purpose of the Faria House and whether or not it could be shared, in some manner, with the aforementioned organizations. I clarified that I had not spoken to either of these organizations but that they currently do not have a visible presence in Old Town and could certainly use one.
After discussing the options and the obstacles, Jeff and I agreed that some type of display area for these organizations could work. They could place material, flyers, etc, in an area that provides visitors with information and materials at the proposed museum.

I have again offered my help for fund-raising for this project, as I do not support the use of public funds for the interior renovations. I am not a contractor but the condition of the interior of the property is bad and the work needed is extensive.

I will support the use of grants, fund-raising events and other methods of raising funds for this project.
Based on my tour and the bids I have seen, I expect that the cost for renovation will cost no less than $400,000.

Citizens Bond Oversight Committee Vacancy
The WCCUSD CBOC seat is vacant.
I served on the CBOC for 6 yards, 3 as Chair and believe it was one of the most important use of my time.
The work this committee is doing is important and necessary.
A representative from Pinole is needed.
Application Here

Pinole Valley High School Project Status Report, 6/30/16

Have a safe and happy weekend.

Go Team USA!



National Night Out Tonight


I have been busy enjoying family and life but it has been brought to my attention that the Annual National Night Out event has changed its traditional format here in Pinole.

The mission of National Night Out is to bring together neighborhoods and to have the community meet and spend time with their public servants.
Let’s always support the men and women who serve and protect us.
This was accomplished in the past by having the public servants caravan thorough the community to several pre-arranged locations.
However, this year there is a major shift in that tradition as National Night Out will be consolidated to one location, Fernandez Park.
National Night Out is today, Tuesday August 2, from 4 to 8 at Fernandez Park.
The following activities are planned:
K9 Demonstration
DUI/Command Center
Crime Prevention
Traffic/Motor Unit
DJ Music by Pistello
Bounce House
Snow Cones
Local Vendors

Pinole Approves Purchase of the Faria House



July 20, 2016
Ok, the dust has settled, the votes are in and the Pinole City Council, by a vote of 4-0 (Council member Banuelos was absent) has approved the purchase of the Faria House for $30,000.
The Council did agree to pull this Consent Calendar item as I requested so that the community could express their opinions.

After spending the last three years of my life as Chair of the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee and arm wrestling with the School District to get information that the public should be entitled to, I am hyper-aware and sensitive to organizations that are reluctant to share Public information with the Public.

The Appraisal link is below.
2100 San Pablo Ave Pinole – (Credit Bid)_Redacted-2

I received the Faria House Appraisal via email yesterday about 3 hours before the meeting.
The Council did not appear to be concerned that the appraisal had not been made available to the public along with the Agenda packet.
I had consulted a Real Estate attorney on the question of appraisals as public documents.
He replied, “an appraisal is normally a private document belonging to the party that hired the appraiser. If the appraiser was hired by the City, then presumably it is a City document subject to public review to the extent available for such City documents.”
The Appraisal is dated June 15, 2016, I believe the Public should have been able to review this document no later than July 14, 2016, when the Agenda was posted.
This transaction does not involve negotiations between two different parties, the City is both the Buyer and the Seller, therefore the document should have been made public in a timely manner.

Assistant City Manager, Hector De La Rosa mentioned during the discussion that the renovation bid of $322,000, was prepared by a contractor, not by the Appraisal firm, he also stated that another estimate for renovation is in the range of $500,000.
I did not see a separate document that backs-up that estimate.
I would like to see the cost estimates before the Council moves into the next phase of this project.

Members of the Faria family were there to express their desire to have the Faria House become the City of Pinole Historical Museum.  There were some touching and comical moments as members of this family and, other, not so young citizens expressed their frustration at the time it has taken to get this far.
Council member Toms explained the Successor Agency process to everyone, it is the same process I have outlined in my original post (below).
Members of the Historical Society were also there to express their desire to designate the property for use as a Museum.

However, Mayor Swearingen correctly pointed out that the agenda item under discussion was not about the use of the Faria House, but rather about the Purchase of the property.
By pulling this item from the Consent Calendar it afforded the Council the opportunity to explain to the public why the property was given a Fair Market Value of $30,000.
A productive discussion before a decision is made should never come under fire.

The use of the Faria House will be taken up at a later date, the Council did not set a date for that discussion.

My suggestion to allocate space in the Faria House for other non-profits that serve the community has been questioned because there are concerns that the floor plan and the square footage of the Faria House will not accommodate anything more than the Historical Society and its artifacts.
I am planning to tour the Faria House to get a better sense of exactly how limited that floor plan is. I am offering my support and my services to the City to work towards a reasonable and responsible solution.

I have no beef with the Pinole Historical Society. I am not at war with anyone, I am simply expressing my point of view, and my concerns as a 45-year resident of Pinole and as a community advocate and a taxpayer.

There is enough acrimony in politics today, isn’t it better to be open, inclusive and think of this City as ours?

July 19, 2016

Sometimes one just have to wonder how things get so distorted and “spun”.
The following email was sent to members of the Pinole Historical Society and others regarding my position on the purchase of the Faria House as stated in this post.
The funny thing is those who received the email are reading my post and asking why has my position on the Faria House been so misrepresented to them?

“Hi all,”

“Ivette Ricco announced on her blog that she will oppose the purchase of the Faria House at Tuesday’s council meeting. Her blog post is here:”

“Please attend the council meeting and speak in favor of the purchase of the Faria House for the purpose of establishing a museum. The council needs to hear that there is public support for this project. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. This will be among the first items on the agenda.”


Jeff Rubin
Pinole Historical Society

So what did I clearly state below?

I support the establishment of a Museum in the Faria House.
But, the Pinole Historical Society is just one of the local non-profit organizations in Pinole who seek a home that is affordable and offers them a place where the public can easily interact with them; among them the Pinole Chamber of Commerce and the Pinole Artisans. These organizations serve this community and have served the community for many years and if the Faria House is to serve all, then these organization must be included in the plan.
Other potential uses could also be considered.
The Faria House could also serve a great venue for meetings and small private events.

Asking that this Consent Calendar Item be pulled until the public has had an opportunity to discuss this is a reasonable and responsible request.
These are public funds, the initial purchase of the Faria House and Property was made with Redevelopment Funds, taxes paid by all of us. The General Fund is also taxpayer money.
What’s unreasonable about asking to have this transfer of title tabled for more public discussion?

July 18, 2016
The Pinole City Council will consider the Purchase of the Faria House for $30,000, from General Funds tomorrow.


07C – Pinole City Council 7-19-2016 -Faria House-2

What’s happening?

In 2011 the Legislature dissolved Redevelopment Agencies in California.
That action allowed the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Pinole to create a “successor agency”. The City decided to be the “Housing Successor” to the former agency.
That transferred certain housing assets to the City.
Among the properties transferred as a Housing Asset was the Faria House.
The property was transferred for affordable housing and if subsequently sold would have the proceeds, by law, used for affordable housing purposes.

In March 2016 the City sought direction on properties formerly owned by the Housing and Redevelopment Agency, and specifically the Faria House.
The City had three options:
1. Purchase the Properties at Fair Market Value.
2. Continue to Use the Faria House and land as affordable housing (it’s current designation).
3. Preserve the property as open space.

In June 2016 the City received the Fair Market value appraisal on the Faria House.
The Faria House was appraised as a mixed commercial/residential use consistent with the zoning and based on its “highest and best” use.
The appraisal took into consideration the location, amenities, size and parking, and the known factor that the property has been vacant for many years.

The appraised value of the Faria House and its land was estimated at $350,000 with a credit for renovations in the amount of $322,000.
This property has been given a Fair Market Value of $30,000.

If the City is to purchase the Faria House at the Fair Market Value, according to this appraisal (no data has been offered on the Appraiser nor has a copy of the Appraisal been offered as part of this agenda item), the funds for the purchase of the Faria House will be taken from the General Fund and the proceeds from the sale will be deposited in the Housing Fund to be used for Future affordable housing projects/programs.

In a recent article in the Pinole Historical Society Newsletter, several projects in the City were mentioned to point out how the City has helped finance various projects and serve the needs of the community.
It reads in part:

“Do we need a community museum?”

“Did we need a library when we forked up the money to build it?”

“What about the new Pinole Skate Park for those who enjoy that activity?”

“Our Community Playhouse is undergoing an interior rebuilding to better serve its audiences.”

“The Senior Center opened in 1990 to meet senior citizens’ activity needs, and is undergoing a quarter-million-dollar re-roofing project.”

“The money spent on these projects demonstrates how the city addresses the lifestyles and interests of all people who live in Pinole.”

Yes, the City does attempt to address the lifestyles and interests of all the people who live in Pinole, it should.
It’s the role of government to serve its community, all of its community.

The Pinole Historical Society has long wanted to establish a Museum in Pinole.
They have artifacts that need to be stored and preserved.
The roadblock has been the cost of such an endeavor and the difficulty in finding funds to not only purchase a property (Faria House), but to also determine how to fund the renovation of an old structure in need of major and costly renovation.

There is major difference in the use of Public Funds and the use of other, special funds allocated.
As an example, it is my understanding that the Pinole Library is county owned and funded.
The Skate Park used Measure WW funds and Measure S funds.
The renovation of the Community Playhouse used Measure WW funds and Measure S funds.
The Senior Center roof replacement is being funded with 2014 Measure S funds.

I support the establishment of a Museum in the Faria House.
But, the Pinole Historical Society is just one of the local non-profit organizations in Pinole who seek a home that is affordable and offers them a place where the public can easily interact with them; among them the Pinole Chamber of Commerce and the Pinole Artisans. These organizations serve this community and have served the community for many years and if the Faria House is to serve all,  then these organization must be included in the plan.
Other potential uses could also be considered.
The Faria House could also serve a great venue for meetings and small private events.

I am in favor of creating a space that serves the community, celebrates its history, its present and its future and affords the various organizations in the community a place to call home.

But It is Always About the Bottom Line
The use of public funds for the purchase of the Faria House (general fund) means that the Faria House must belong to everyone.

So let’s think about this.

The cost of $30,000 is considered by many observers as extremely low, based on the location of this property in Downtown Pinole.
I have heard that other property owners in the area are concerned that this evaluation can affect the value of their similar properties in Pinole.
I’m not a realtor or an appraiser, but I sure would love to see the comps for this appraisal.
Either way it is really just moving the money from one City fund to another.

This is a consent calendar item on tomorrow’s agenda, July 9.
That means that unless this item gets pulled, there will be no in-depth discussion and will simply pass with a majority vote.
The Resolution is to Transfer Title of the Faria House Property in exchange for the Fair Market Value, $30,000 and move this asset out of  Affordable Housing.

I think we are entitled to see the full appraisal, and learn who conducted the appraisal before the Council agrees to the purchase of the Faria House.
In addition if the Council moves ahead with this, they will have set a precedent for the remaining Successor Agency properties, among them the Historic Bank Building.
That’s why it’s important for the community as a whole to know the specifics of the appraisal.
The appraisal should be a public document and be available online just as the agenda is.

If after due deliberation and consideration and feedback from the community, your elected officials deem this is an appropriate use of public funds, the next step should be to create a committee of citizens that includes all the non-profits in Pinole seeking a place to call home.

Thereafter, a plan should be established to determine how funds for the renovation of the Faria House can be raised.
$322,000 is just an estimate, that cost is likely to change and frankly it is certain to rise.
Suggestions for raising funds for renovations should include grants and fund-raising events.

There needs to be a very public conversation about the  use of public funds for renovation of this property and the decisions made should be very carefully scrutinized.
I am not convinced the City can or should use public funds to renovate this property.

I ask the City Council to:
1. Remove this item from the Consent Calendar.
2. Place the full Appraisal on the City Website.
3. Identify and meet with local non-profits to garner their input.
4. Fully vet this purchase before making a decision that impacts the community and use of public funds.



Pinole Summer Sounds


Summer time and the living is easy.
We have great weather in Pinole and I love it.
Now that you are either on vacation or taking time to relax with family, you should remember that you can have a pretty darn good time without going very far from home.

Pinole’s very popular Cinema in the Park and Summer Sounds return!
There are two concerts and three movies on tap.
Pack a meal, chairs, and a blanket for those chilly nights.
Or enjoy a fine meal in Old Town, The Pear Street Bistro, The Pinole Creek Cafe, and Tina’s Cafe, are among the restaurants neighboring Fernandez Park.
The Youth Center will have concessions available for purchase.
Summer Sounds: 6:30-8:00 pm
Fito Reinoso & Los Classics de Cuba
Cuban Salsa, July 14
Margie Turner & Outback Blues Band
American Blues, July 28


Pinole Cinema
Movies begin at Sundown
Captain America, July 30
The Good Dinosaur, August 6
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, August 13
For more info contact Rochelle, 510-724-9062 or via email,

Community Playhouse – “Legally Blonde”
The Teen/College Company will produce the Broadway musical Legally Blonde in July.
Friday, July 22nd at 8:00 pm
Saturday, July 23rd, at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm
Sunday, July 24th at 2:00 pm
Pinole Players


The Pinole Swim Center is Open
What better place to be than the Pinole Community Pool when the temperature rises?
Here is the Schedule

City Business:
City Council Meeting
Tuesday July 19, 2016 @ 6:00 pm

City Manager’s Administrative Report, July 7, 2016

See you around town.





WCCUSD – CBOC Annual Report



Recently, I have received requests to speak to organizations and members of the community about the WCCUSD Bond Program, and specifically about the role of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee. Many of the questions I have been asked are answered in the CBOC 2015 Annual Report.
I now present to the community at large the CBOC 2015 Annual Report.

The WCCUSD and all California School Districts that finance school facilities with voter approved Bond Funds have the expenditures for those Bond funds overseen by a Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee.
On November 7, 2000, California voters approved Prop 39, the Smaller Classes, Safer Schools and Financial Accountability Act.
In exchange, for passage of Bond Measures with only 55% of the votes, instead of 66 2/3%, the Legislature created the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee to assure the community that bond funds are expended as outlined in the schools district’s bond resolution.
The Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) issues an annual report in accordance with Prop 39.

The 2015 CBOC Annual Report was approved by the CBOC on June 22, 2016.
As the longest-serving member of the WCCUSD CBOC (three terms 2010-2016), and having the distinction of being the longest-serving Chair in the history of the WCCUSD CBOC, (2013-2016), it is with great pride that I present to the community the CBOC 2015 Annual Report.

Please take the time to read it thoroughly.

WCCUSD 2015 Annual Report.

Ivette Ricco
Former Chair, WCCUSD, CBOC


PSB – Rising From the Ashes




PSB – Rising from the Ashes

In October 2014, the Pear Street Bistro, was partially destroyed by a fire.
The Bistro or PSB, as locals know it, was a popular and bustling restaurant and bar located in the heart of Old Town Pinole.
It took 14 months, 14 very long months, for the Bistro to re-open its doors.
But, it re-open it did, on January 2, 2016, much to the delight of its many loyal customers.
PSB celebrated its five month anniversary on June 2, 2016.
I recently visited with Francisco “Paco” Flores the owner of PSB.

I asked, “what happened in October of 2014”?
Paco stated that the fire in October 2014 was caused by equipment malfunction.
I wondered why it had taken so long for the Bistro to re-open its doors.
Paco says that it took six months just to get the insurance company to begin the process.
In addition, all new permits had to be obtained since permits expired after 6 months, leading to more delays.
I wanted to know what had happened to the staff, many of whom loyal customers, such as I, had gotten to know.
Paco shared that the long wait made it impossible for all of the staff to return as they had begun work elsewhere. But that approximately 70% of the old staff did return, in spite of the fact that the restaurant was closed for over a year.

Paco has worked tirelessly with the help of others (Gary Wong) to ensure that the Bistro is not only as good as it was before the fire, but to give customers an enhanced experience.

So, I asked, “how has business been”?
Paco says business has been better than expected. There was some concern that customers had found other places to patronize, so the emphasis was on taking all the positives from before and adding even more to the PSB experience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, what’s new?
Here’s what’s new.
New floor.
New paint.
New lighting.
New Chandeliers.
New marble table tops.
New media wall with 6K resolution.
New 4K display at the entrance.
New 70 inch LED TV at the bar.
New PO system.
New phone system.

Ok, but what about the food?
The menu has had only a few changes, about 30%.
The most popular Lunch items are the Margherita Pizza and the Bistro Burger.
The most popular Dinner items are the Chicken and Waffles, Cioppino and the Lomo Saltado Steak.
The Wednesday night 1/2 pound Prime Rib Dinner special is hugely popular.

Ok, and for the bar patrons?
Happy Hour from 3-7 at the Bistro is always “the” place to be.
The atmosphere is fun, the drinks are good and reasonably priced and the food is definitely a cut above typical Happy Hour fare.

Paco told me about a recent visit from two, shall we say, silver-haired visitors from Walnut Creek, who had read a review in the Mercury News and decided to come and check it out.
The review they read touted the Chicken and Waffles, which they ordered, but it also mentioned the new signature drink, the Pear Bomb.
The Pear Bomb, is, well, a drink that is meant to be taken in one large dose, but the couple, unaware of that fact, gingerly sipped theirs.

PSB is attracting not only locals but folks from other Bay Area cities because of its unique atmosphere, good food and creative drinks.

And, new cocktails have been created by the bartenders.
The most popular cocktails are the Pear-tini and the Jack Daniels Single Barrel Old Fashioned.
Among the new cocktails is the Blood Orange Mojito.
In order to be as accurate and authentic as possible for this report, I had a Blood Orange Mojito, just for authenticity’s sake.
Ok, let me just say, don’t drink this on an empty stomach!
It was delicious.

The Bistro is available for special events and parties.
In keeping with its history of community support and involvement it is host to meetings held by the Pinole Rotary and the Lions Club.

They promote all the local teams and have been packed during the recent Sharks and Warriors playoff runs.

Paco is a high energy guy, and he can be seen working everyday of the week.
He is still making improvements. As an example he has reduced the noise level in the dining room by installing carpeting and is also decreasing the sound level in the bar area with carpeting on the floor and the walls.
He has recently added a new Order To Go service.

You can follow PSB on Facebook.
To arrange for a special event contact Paco directly.

Pear Street Bistro
2395 San Pablo Avenue
Pinole, Ca. 94564

It’s Food Smack-Down Time!



It’s the  fifth year of the Pinole food smack-down also known as the Culinary Clash, presented by Kitchen@812.
2016 Culinary Clash
Friday, June 10 from 5:30-9 PM
812 San Pablo Ave., Ste. 2
Pinole, Ca. 94564

Four Teams
Four Culinary Creations
One Champion

Watch as four teams Fire up the Stoves and do battle in the kitchen for the Grand Prize.
This year’s Master of Ceremony, “Mack” Williams, welcomes the four teams:
Team Chevron led by Chef Narcisco Salvador
Team Contra Costa County led by Chef Phillipe Routhier
Team Mechanics Bank led by Chef Marc Maier
Team PG&E (the defending champions) led by Chef Meyta Saetern

The Judges:
Greg Dunmore, The Japanese Pantry
Alison Negrin, Chef Alison Negrin & Associates
Kevin Tucker, Old Skool Cafe
Your ticket entitles you to sample the teams’ creations, samples from 15 businesses, beer, wine and entertainment.
This is a fund-raiser for the Non-Profit Food Incubator, Kitchen@812.


812 San Pablo Avenue
Pinole, Ca. 94564
Tickets here


Pinole Community Playhouse Gets a Facelift


One of the nice things about living in a small community is that you get a chance to know great people who make contributions for all the right reasons.
This is the case with Patti and Dave Clark, the couple behind Pinole’s Community Playhouse.

*The Pinole Community Players, a group for adult performers, was organized in 1986 when local residents Dave and Patti Clark and Gary and Nancy Gill met and created a non-profit theatre organization with a goal of bringing live theatre to our community.
Since the beginning, full-scale Broadway shows have been performed without interruption. In the beginning the formative company consisted of a group of traveling players who performed in venues such as St. Joseph’s Parish Hall, St. Joseph’s School Auditorium and the Pinole Valley High School Little Theatre.
In 1991 after meeting with the Pinole City Council, the group moved to the former Eagles Hall and Senior Center and the Community Playhouse was formed.
Recent renovations supported by the Pinole Community Players, The East Bay Regional Parks District (Measure WW funds), the City of Pinole, and local residents who contributed financially to the project are now completed and make the Playhouse a downtown jewel with a totally remodeled theatre including new, comfortable stadium seating and expanded audience sight-lines.
The Art Deco design and air-conditioned interior create an elegant, artistic environment that is pleasing to all who attend performances there.

Ribbon cutting ceremony with Pinole Councilmember Tim Banuelos who donated his architectural talent to this project.


In 2016 the Pinole Community Players are celebrating their thirtieth year of producing full-scale Broadway shows in our community.
Recent productions have included Godspell, Arsenic and Old Lace, Next to Normal, Carrie, Rent, Thirty-Nine Steps, Chicago and Merrily We Roll Along.
Their newest production, Wait Until Dark opened on June 3 and runs through June 18.

Upcoming shows are, The Rocky Horror Show in October and a Holiday Production, Sounds of the Season,  in December.
In addition to the Broadway productions the Community Playhouse holds a 5-week drama  workshop for youth. The drama workshop starts Monday June 20 and runs through July 24.
There is also the Pinole Young Actors Group, a 4-week Summer Drama Workshop.

The Pinole Community Playhouse is located at the center of Old Town Pinole at Tennent Avenue and Park Street.
Plan a night out with dinner at one of our fine local restaurants and walk to the Community Playhouse for a show.
You don’t have to travel very far to enjoy a great night out in your own little corner of the world.

Pinole Community Playhouse
601 Tennent Avenue
Pinole, Ca. 94564

*Excerpts provided by Patti and Dave Clark.

Pinole Artisans – Movement and Growth


The Pinole Artisans group,  was founded in 2004.
They began as a small group of dedicated artists, eventually growing to its current roster of over 60 members. The Artisans held their first public art show in July of 2004 and have been adding more members, shows and venues since.
Previously located in Old Town Pinole, the Artisans’ Gallery is now located at Pinole Vista Crossing, 1360 Fitzgerald Drive, between Togo’s and Avenue.

Their new location is open and airy and enhances the many pieces of art on display.
Currently the works of 19 artists are on display and 28 artists will be represented in their Show.

Featured artists will also be featured.
New ideas and new types of art is included in the works of art, as an example they currently featured tattoo art.

But they also have beautiful pieces of jewelry and even hand-made soaps.

The new location is a new beginning for the Artisans and the “Movement and Growth” title accurately reflects that spirit.
Eric Carlstrom and Ira Velken are the Co-Managers at the new gallery and are happy to help you become a member or simply view the works of art.
The Artisans hope to add new members, expand their vision, and to work with the City of Pinole on projects such as the restoration and the maintenance of many of the murals around town.

Stop by the new gallery, open Tuesdays – Saturdays, 11-5, Sundays 1-4.
1360 Fitzgerald Drive, between Togo’s and Avenue.
Visit their website or call, 510-724-2008.


Garden of Gems, Thanks for the memories


A popular and unique small business is closing its doors, the Garden of Gems.
This one-of-a-kind business, one that provides custom care and service has been  challenged in today’s business environment.
Lee Ann Miller and her daughter Amber have offered their unique brand of service for the last 18 years, but sadly they have been pushed out.

The Garden of Gems was previously located at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Tennent, (for seven years) where Tina’s Cafe is currently located.
The landlord raised the rent and Lee Ann was forced to relocate to its current location at 2235 San Pablo Avenue.
In spite of the lack of parking at the newer location Lee Ann had been able to maintain a loyal following and customer base, even during the Great Recession.

I asked Lee Ann why she has decided to close the store.
“Our revenue is down 46% and there is not enough sustainable business.”
“Customers are buying jewelry from places such as Costco, but when they need a ring sized or anything custom done, they can’t get that from places such as Costco, there is no customer contact or custom services.”
“In addition Costco doesn’t need to maintain inventory as we do, so their overhead is lower.”

Lee Ann says that most of her business comes from repairs, repeat customers and word of mouth.
I asked Lee Ann to speak directly to her customers:
“We are so grateful for all the years of support and appreciate, above all, the relationships we’ve made and maintained.”
“As a matter of fact, I met my husband here, he was a customer, as was my sister-in-law.”

“After 18 years in business we have decided to close our doors. We realize we can no longer survive these tough economic times. Our mission has always been to service the needs of the community by providing unique quality jewelry at a good value. We are proud of the reputation we have earned as your local jeweler. We are honored that you have allowed us to be a part of many of your lives and special events.”

Lee Ann laments the fact that customers are wondering where they can go to take care of their needs and they wonder who they can trust, the way they trust Lee Ann.
But, the good news is, that her daughter Amber, will remain in Pinole, and has secured a location on Quinan Street where she will continue her mother’s business, although on a smaller scale. So the Garden of Gems will live on.
Amber will provide repairs and other custom services and sales.
I will update this article when Amber is ready to open her doors.

I asked Lee Ann what her plans were and where she was going.
Lee Ann and her husband David are heading north to Oregon.
They aren’t exactly ready to retire, just ready to explore other possibilities and forge new adventures.

I have had the distinct pleasure of knowing and working with Lee Ann, she has been a great supporter of the Pinole Chamber of Commerce and has generously contributed her time, and talent to our many events, especially the Annual Awards Dinner.
She also has always generously donated items for Chamber raffles as well as for other local organizations.
Thank you Lee Ann for being such a wonderful person and business owner. You will be missed.
Thank you for everything you have done for this community.

Before Lee Ann heads north, be sure to go by and say thank you.
There is a Going Out of Business Sale taking place with discounts of 20-60%

The Garden Of Gems
2235 San Pablo Avenue
Pinole, Ca. 94564
Tues-Fri 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM
Saturday 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM



A Toast to Youth – Cheers!


The Pinole Youth Foundation invites you to their Wine Tasting Fundraiser.
Saturday, June 25, 2016. From 4 – 8 PM.
Pinole Senior Center, 2500 Charles Ave., Pinole.
Tickets are $20 per person before May 25, $25 after May 25.
Tickets are available at the Pinole Senior Center or at





Spring Plant Sale



The Pinole Garden Club is holding its annual plant sale this Saturday, May 21.
The Pinole Farmers Market in Old Town Pinole (in the Pear Street Bistro parking lot).
From 9 AM to 1 PM.
Succulents, herbs, vegetables, annuals, perennials, tomatoes, drought tolerant plants.
All propagated or grown from seed by Pinole Garden Club Members.

The Pinole Garden Club has been active for over 50 years.
They are dedicated to creating and promoting further interest in outdoor and outdoor gardening, plant life, in pollinators and appreciation of the natural beauties of California.
They contribute to:
USDA Penny Pines Reforestation Project
Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker
Horticultural College Scholarship
Gardens at Heather Farms
World Gardening through Heifer International Tree Seedling Program
Pinole Library – Garden Books and DVDs
Pinole Garden Club
P.O. Box 25
Pinole, Ca. 94564

Join them at the Pinole Farmers Market on Saturday.


About Pinole


What’s happening? Or as we say in Spanish, Que Pasa?
Well for one thing, lots.
I am sad to say that one of Pinole’s most iconic and generous small businesses is closing its doors.
The Garden of Gem will shut it doors for good on June 26.
It has been my personal pleasure as the Executive Director and President of the Pinole Chamber of Commerce to know and work with Lee Ann Miller and her daughter Amber.
In addition it was Lee Ann who convinced my screaming granddaughter Rachel, when she was only 5 to let her pierce her ears.
Lee Ann has always given back to the community with grace and generosity.
It is now time for the community to express its appreciation for all that she has done, her generosity and community spirit.
I will be writing a story about Lee Ann, Amber and the Garden of Gems for this blog, stay tuned.

Here’s a sample of the goings on in Pinole as posted to the City Manager’s Weekly Report, May 5, 2016.
You can read the entire report here.

Date and Time



Tuesday May 17, 2016 6:00 pm

City Council meeting

City Council Chamber 2131 Pear Street

Monday, May 23, 2016 6:00 p.m.

Joint Planning Commission/Council meeting

City Council Chamber 2131 Pear Street

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 3:00 p.m.

Finance Subcommittee Meeting

City Council Chamber 2131 Pear Street



The City of Pinole along with the City of Hercules will be holding a groundbreaking event for the Water Pollution Control Plant Upgrade Project the morning of May 18th. Attendance at the event is by invitation only due to space constraints.
Many people have work tirelessly to bring this project to this very important milestone.
At the event, we will be thanking all the project team members.

This upgrade has been in the works, pun intended, since 2009.
There has been a lot of talk about this Plant Upgrade and some community members remain convinced that the cost of this project is extreme.
These resident are also voicing concern about Pinole’s rate increases given Hercules’ rapid rate of growth, Hercules’ population is listed at approx. 24,000 while Pinole’s is listed as approx. 18,000.
Hercules and Pinole share expenses for the plant.
The City Website provides data on this subject.
I have also heard some grumbling about the lack of information being provided regarding the May 18, 2016 ground breaking ceremony.
Comments are welcome on this blog or via email to


The Pinole Youth Center would like to celebrate art and fun with the community through a Cookies & Canvas event. The event is scheduled for Saturday May 21st from 4:00 pm -8:00 pm at the Pinole Youth Center. We invite everyone to enjoy cookies, while painting a beautiful masterpiece. This event is open to the public! All ages are welcome. Call (510) 724-9004 for ticket sales.


The sixth annual Pinole Community Service Day will be held Saturday, May 21, 2016. This is a great opportunity in Pinole for residents to help make their community or neighborhood a better place to live. Last year, more than 150 volunteers participated in a variety of community projects which paired volunteers with community organizations for three-hour, hands-on service projects, followed by a free thank you lunch. Register and have a free breakfast from 8-9 a.m. at the Pinole Youth Center, work from 9 a.m. to noon, and then return to the Youth Center for lunch. To sign up to volunteer as an individual or a group, click the Volunteer Application in the Manager’s Report or email

Community Service Day, 2011.
The Community Corner Team.




Please see the attached Wanted Poster that the Police Department is circulating. You can also find the information on the Police Departments Facebook as well as other social media outlets. We want to encourage residents of Pinole to be the “eyes and ears” in the community and to report crimes when they see them.


The Police Department will be sponsoring a Citizen Academy beginning May 21st and continuing until June 25th. Classes will meet on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at the Public Safety Building. The Citizen Academy is designed to give an inside look at the Pinole Police Department. Speakers will include the Chief of Police, Police Officers, K-9 Officer, Dispatchers, Detectives, and others. There will also be a tour of a Contra Costa County jail facility. The Citizen Academy is open to Pinole residents and citizens who work in Pinole who are 18 and older. Please see the attached application form. Call Crime Prevention Officer, John Palmini, at 510-724-8961, for more information.

Layout 1

Items in Italics are derived directly from the Pinole City Manager’s Report, May 5, 2016.
Got news? Got something to say?
Ok, but I control this blog so keep it clean.
Want to promote a local event?
Shout out.




Gateway West, A Map


Recently I have been asked by members of the community to tell them what exactly is being built on Pinole Valley Road adjacent to Kaiser.
I had a vague idea but couldn’t answer all of their inquiries.
Most residents are aware that several developments are taking place but are not quite sure what is going where.
I took a look at the City’s website to try and get a better visual picture and answer the questions I have been asked.
But the diagrams on the City’s website don’t help the average person who has little or no background in land development or construction or those who have not kept pace with the actions of the City.
I asked the City Planner, Winston Rhodes if he could provide a simple map to better define the ongoing projects.

The diagram below was sent to me by Winston, thank you Winston.
*5/13/16, the developer’s map, (link) has more detail, thanks Tony.


The “map” indicates that there will be a Tropical Smoothie Cafe and a Habit Burger on PV Road adjacent to the Bowling Alley.
Sprouts is shown on PV Road adjacent to Henry and across from Kaiser.
Starbucks drive-thru is located at the PV Road Highway 80 Exit (westbound), adjacent to Kaiser.

I hope this helps everyone who asked me to get this info for them.

WCCUSD Approves New Master Plan


The Goal:
“The Facilities Master Plan will guide the prioritization and sequencing of construction projects utilizing the remaining bond funds and future projects beyond current funding. The process includes a data gathering activities in the fall including Demographics, School Capacity, Input Meetings, School Site Assessments and Standards leading to the creation of an overall District wide Needs List. A Prioritization Committee of Community Members from each city, Elementary Parents from each High School Family, Community Bond Over-site Committee Representative and K-12 Operation Representatives will be tasked with taking the input from the Input Meeting and devising criteria for creating a score card for sequencing construction projects. In January and February, the results of these efforts will be brought back out to the community for additional input. The final option will be taken to the Board of Education before Implementation can begin.”

The Result:
By a vote of 3-2 the WCCUSD voted on April 27, 2016 to approve an amended New Facilities Master Plan.
This process concludes months of meetings with special committees created specifically  to develop priorities and criteria, followed by community meetings.

Recognizing the limited bond funds available and the critical needs of schools, the Board voted to attempt to address the most pressing and serious safety issues for the remaining schools identified, a total of 21 schools were included in the scope of the New Facilities Master Plan.
Implementation plans will follow.
Read the CCT article here.

Pinole Valley High – update


There is good news to report on the fate of Pinole Valley High School.
CCT article here.
At the April 13 WCCUSD Board meeting, the Board, by a vote of 3-1-1 approved the new budget, thereby setting the stage for the completion of Pinole Valley High School.
If all goes well the school will be ready for the graduating class of 2019.

I thought long and hard about this important decision.
I had discussions with members of the public and elected officials, the Pinole City Council and members of the School Board,  about this critical vote.

As a member of the CBOC I have had a front row seat on all things Bond related.
Our task is to oversee the Bond Program expenditures.

I took everything I knew and felt into consideration.
After crunching the numbers, I reached the conclusion that there was no guarantee that any of the other options offered would decrease the cost of the school, and in fact, the other options would delay this project further and possibly result in little if any cost savings.
In the end, I supported Option A, to increase the budget for the school by approximately 33M, thereby setting the budget for PVHS at approximately $233M.

It is as, I’ve said, a staggering amount of money.
Is this an ideal conclusion? For many, it is not.
I won’t get into the politics of this, I have heard enough political rhetoric and seen too much political theatre and histrionics already.
There was certainly no lack of that at the meeting.
A wise man told me that often politics gets in the way of thoughtful discussion and conversation, yes, indeed.

I also think it is fair and appropriate for WCCUSD staff to bring options to the Board.
Unfortunately that type of long-term and bottom-line thinking and initiative has been lacking and perhaps discouraged for many years.
Former staff members have spoken to me, in confidence, about their frustration and inability to implement cost controls, or adhere to budgets because of political pressures.
A current staff member, Dennis Clay, has put his job on the line to speak out about the Bond Program.

So, I applaud staff for offering options and playing an important role in these decisions.
They are, after all, our experts, the people we hired, they are not contract workers.
It’s an important distinction.

I am pleased that the Board understands that after 16 years, this program must be better managed.
It is time to put a long-term strategy in place.
It is also time that this District learn from the mistakes that have been made.

The District must be held accountable for the Bond Program, its successes and its failures.
Taxpayers must be able to rely on bond measure language that is precise and can be the tracked back to expenditures.
Taxpayers I have spoken to are not willing to “trust” or believe in this District.
It will take major philosophical changes to improve the communities’ relationship with the district.
Leaders must lead.

The Clay Investigation report is tentatively due in August or September.
This comprehensive forensic investigation should tell us how this program has been functioning and what, if any changes, need to be made.

What we need now is a clear strategy to address the very real needs of the remaining schools.
The New Master Plan optimistically identifies $200M to try to meet the needs of some of the 21 schools.
It is in my opinion, akin to putting your finger in your ear to stop a nosebleed.

The Facilities Subcommittee meets today. The Options it will choose to recommend to the full Board will be discussed.
That recommendation will go before the Full Board on April 27.
Once the Board has chosen an option that option will be converted to a plan which will be ratified by the Facilities Subcommittee on May 17 and the full board on May 25.

PVHS will be built, students and parents can look forward to a beautiful new, modern school.
But this School District must hit the reset button and find a way to embrace the needs of all of its students.






Pinole Valley HS, Graduating Class of ???



The Front Lines
I have been on the WCCUSD Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee since June of 2010, the longest serving member in its history.
I have served three of those years as the Chair, longer than any Chair in the WCCUSD CBOC’s history. On June 10, 2016 I will term out.
I have seen and heard many things. Frankly, there have been many “what the….” moments.
I challenged the District to keep its promises and stop arm wrestling with the CBOC.
I insisted that they stop placing obstacles in our way. It is the task of the CBOC to actively review and report on Bond Program expenditures. That can not be done without cooperation from the District.
The CBOC serves as an important voice for the tax payers who approved $1.6 Billion in bond measures. This committee has made great strides and has become much more than the District’s cheerleading squad.

The End Game
I have been highly critical of the District and its management of the Bond Program, its lack of costs controls and lack of adherence to budgets. Promises were made to the voters that realistically can not be met. Many taxpayers who bear the burden of the Bonds may never realize a benefit for their schools, from those funds.
There was no plan that clearly defined where the program was, where it was going or how it would get there, what we termed, the “End Game”.
The CBOC asked the District for a plan, a strategy, because it seemed clear to us that finishing what was started could not be accomplished with the remaining bond funds.
In 2015 the District began to develop a New Facilities Master Plan, the first update since 2007.

It was not until 2013-2014 that the District, after coming under intense public and media scrutiny, followed by the defeat of Measure H, (the proposed seventh Bond Measure), and the scathing, 2015 Grand Jury Report, “A Case of Stymied Oversight”; that the District altered the way it conducted business.
In February 2014 when asked directly about budgets, then Associate Superintendent Bill Fay, stated that this District’s Bond Program was “scope-driven”, not “budget-driven”.
My jaw dropped, as did the jaws of many of the CBOC members. It was one of those “what the…” moments.
Add to the equation investigations by the SEC, the IRS and most recently, the Clay Investigation and clearly there is ample reason for skepticism.

New Facilities Master Plan
The New Facilities Master Plan, is seeking to define the “End Game”.
The Bond Program as a whole, has a total of $400M still available in Bond Authorization.
This ongoing effort has analyzed and evaluated various criteria to establish needs and priorities for the 21 “untouched” schools in the District.
The New Master Plan allocates $200M, to these schools,  $200M was previously set aside for Pinole Valley High School.

Now communities are actively lobbying for their piece of what’s left of the Bond Program $1.6 Billion dollar pie.
As expected stakeholders are speaking out against the cost of building PVHS, because the perception is that the additional $33M needed for the completion of PVHS would reduce the $200M and negatively impact their schools.
This New Master Plan attempts to accomplish a lot, with very little, $200M for 21 schools.
Based on project estimates and the real needs of the 21 schools included in this Plan, which are many, it is Mission Impossible, in my opinion.

The reality is that the Master Plan’s $200M option (option A), “solving small scale issues” (the Band-Aid solution) is based on project estimates, today, now, not tomorrow or five years down the road. This option is the most favored according to the surveys conducted.
But, if we’ve learned anything it is that construction budgets and estimates are moving targets.
Option B would touch 4 schools, in a “combination of modernization and/or replacements”, for $200M, the total to do all the schools in this manner is estimated to be $687.2M.
Option C, to divide the funding between all the school families is TBD.
Option D, “continue replacements with revised standards”, would cover the 4 schools for $200M, or all of the schools for $947.1M.
Option E, “continue all schools replacements”, would cover 4 schools (subject to potential funding) for $200M, or “continue all schools replacements” for $1,041,900,000B.
So, if, the decision is to continue to replace all the “21” schools, the cost to accomplish that is projected to be $1 Billion.
Clearly this will require more Bonds. How do you think that is going to go over?

So what is Fair?
The feelings of frustration and anger are real. The community has been given little reason to believe or trust that the District can keep its promises and do what is necessary for their schools and their children. The District has failed many of its parents, students and taxpayers.

Nobody is happy.
And frankly, I share the anger and frustration of all the stakeholders and the taxpayers who have so generously approved these six bond measures with the expectation that improved facilities would translate to improved student achievement in a safe and clean learning environment.
Seems to me that we all are “victims”.

Pinole Valley High 
On March 15, 2016 the bids for Pinole Valley High School were received.
The BOE’s approved budget (approved in September 2015) for PVHS, $181,900,000, has risen to approximately $222,000,000.
In 2010 the estimated budget was $120,000,000.
In 2013 the estimated budget was $181,900,000.
These increases were not the result of “extravagance” or “excess”, according to the Project Status Report, but rather the result of the changing economy and the moving target so inherent in construction.
Increase due to:
There has been an escalation of 3-5% per year
Extended Design and DSA approval process
Contracting Environment
Labor Force Availability
Volume of Bay Area Projects bidding and under construction
Impacts of downward market forces over the last 4-5 years on available contracting communities
Size site and access affecting contractor logistics (onsite storage & staging), sequencing of work.
$222M, yes, that is a staggering amount of money.

But will the $33M members of the public are asking to have reduced from PVHS’s budget be adequate to meet the needs of those 21 schools?
Should the BOE now draw a line in the sand at PVHS?
Will the Band-Aid solution work?
Will the projected estimate of $200M based on today’s dollars remain static or is that also  a moving target?
Will the choices the BOE will make on April 13, solve the problems?
Can the BOE reach a compromise solution?
Is it time for the District to change its standards and revise its Ed Specs?
Should the WCCUSD follow the standards used by Charter Schools?
That, my friends is a whole other kettle of political fish.

So what is fair?
Here we are now.
And the hope that the new Pinole Valley High School will have its first graduation class in 2019, is in serious jeopardy.
The choices are excruciatingly difficult.
And no matter what the result, there will be an awful lot of angry people.
This all becomes political theatre now. 

The Home Team
The Board Of Education will vote on the available options for the completion of Pinole Valley High School on Wednesday April 13, 2016, at 6:30 Pm. Lavonya Dejean MS.
The Options they will consider at that meeting are:
Option A. Award as bid, increase the project budget by $32,300,000.
This will decrease available funding associated with the WCCUSD Long Range Facilities Master Plan by $32.3M.
Option B – Redesign the project to 1200 student capacity, and within existing budget:
*Reduce overall square footage
* Revise WCCUSD Standards (preferred products, CHPS, etc.)
* Streamline Program Requirements
* Considerations:
+Time for redesign and DSA approval, anticipated 12-24 months
+ Opportunity costs, anticipated (Escalation, portables lease etc) $10M
+Total reduction required with opportunity costs $45.7M

In closing, I want to thank my colleagues on the CBOC for their support and hard work.
It has been my honor to lead the CBOC over the last three years and although we may not agree on certain issues, I know that we all want the very best for our children.
Go Spartans.





Pinole Schools


PVHS Project Status and Update
As the Pinole representative on the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, I would like to make you aware of the Special Facilities Sub-Committee Meeting being held on Monday, April 4, 2016, at 1:00 pm, FOC, 1400 Marina way South, Richmond.
This meeting was called to discuss the updated PVHS budget.
It is important information for everyone. The recommendation made at this meeting will then be sent to the BOE for their approval on April 13.
On Tuesday, April 5, 2016, at 6:00 pm. the District will make a presentation on the New Master Plan to the City Council.

Click to access AG-2016-04-05.pdf

I encourage all those interested in the status of the Bond Program and their respective schools to attend both of these meetings.

Pinole to Consider Purchase of Faria House


At the March 1, 2016 Pinole City Council meeting the Council considered a resolution that would direct staff to explore the feasibility of purchasing the Faria House. They also are to explore issuing a RFP for the sale of the Bank Building and the vacant lot currently known as the “Community Corner”, 2301 San Pablo Avenue.

Staff was directed to order appraisals on each of these properties as well as several other vacant city-owned properties.
The Historic Faria House has been long been discussed as a potential home for, the Pinole Historical Society, Pinole non-profits such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Pinole Artisans, a tea house and for rented or leased office space.
But, the cost of remodeling, construction and making the Faria House ADA compliant is cost prohibitive. Estimates over the years were said to be in excess of $500,000.

Faria House at its original location.

At the March 1 meeting the Council discussed developing a plan that would evaluate the value of the Faria House and the City’s ability to purchase it.
Once the appraisals were received the City could set forth a plan to consider its purchase.
The cost of remodeling the property might be mitigated by grants. Identifying financial sources to purchase and remodel the property would become a part of any long term plan for the acquisition of the property.
Bank of Pinole Building

The Bank Building and the Community Corner will also be appraised as the City explores its options.
These two Old Town landmarks, if developed properly, could enhance Old Town and help to restore some of its lost vibrancy, a goal the City and the Chamber have shared for more than 9 years.
Community Corner, 2301 San Pablo Avenue

In addition to those agenda items the Council considered a resolution that would ban Plastic bags and styrofoam.
There were various viewpoints presented by the Council on this item, ultimately the Council agreed to have staff research this further.

The City Council Meeting Video is“>here.

Under Citizens to be Heard, I notified the Council, and the community, that I was now the Pinole resident representative on the WCCUSD Citizens Bond Oversight Committee. I am also the Chair of the CBOC Pinole Valley High School Citizens Bond Oversight Committee.
If you are interested in becoming a member of the CBOC, please feel free to contact me,

The next Pinole City Council meeting will be held on March 15, 2016



Pinole Loses Another Public Servant


Pinole has lost some of its valued citizens and public servants recently.

Judy Lee, Treasurer
Rich Voisey, Firefighter
Phil Green, Council member
Dean Allison, Retired City Engineer.


Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There’s a land that I’ve heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream,
Really do come true.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops,
Way above the chimney tops,
That’s where you’ll find me.



Old Love


I’ve been thinking about how society has evolved and how some very basic areas of life have changed.
Yes, it’s time for old age reflection, or what those under 30 consider ancient history.

Social media is ruling the way people interact and redefining much of what we do and feel.
So what is everybody looking for?
Does have the answers?
Will you find the “one” with your app?

Modern medicine has ensured that vowing to stay together until  “death do us part” will be much harder to accomplish.
Life has a much longer expiration date these days. If you marry early, chances are you will have to do it a few times before you get it right.
Dating? It is now a function of social media. Yes there’s an app (actually many apps) for that.

No other part of humanity is more integral than love.
Love, the most frequently used or referred to term in the world.
Songs are written about love. Books are written about love.  People celebrate love. Mourn lost love. Do crazy things for or because of love.
Love is something everyone seeks. Love is something humans need. Love is what makes the world go round.
I was a dreamer.
I grew up believing love and marriage were exemplified by the families on Donna Reed, Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best.

I thought I could live happily ever after and worry free if I had a house in the suburbs surrounded by a white picket fence.
But, that vision of family wasn’t even close to what my family looked like.

But TV and the movies had us believing that passion was Bogart and Bacall, Gable and Leigh and that house in the suburbs was every American’s dream. The TV was my window to the outside world.

I grew up and realized that it was a fantasy. That it is so much harder than they made it look.
Eventually unrealistic values got beat out of me by reality. But it took a while, life didn’t move at warp speed.

The young people of today lose their innocence much too soon.
You can never recover innocence.
Yet, there is enduring and lasting love. And it has little to do with the fantasy Hollywood creates.

I have shared the majority my life with one person, Mikey.
Old love, it is nothing like young love, not even close.

Old love is cozy and comfortable, like that pair of jeans or sneakers you just can’t live without.
Old love is easier than young love. There aren’t as many demands on old love. You know what works and what doesn’t work. You know what feels good and right.
Young love is stressful, it’s chaotic, and yes, it is exciting, but tiring. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

Old love doesn’t need all that. It’s serenity and familiarity.
It is the ability to communicate without speaking.
Old love is drinking a glass of wine and reminiscing, about the life you have lived, together.
Old love is about appreciating the gifts life has given you.
Here’s to Old Love.


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.

IMG_2820IMG_2822IMG_2825 IMG_2826 IMG_2827 IMG_2828

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.

Where has the time gone?

Time, it is something we can’t get back, it is our most valuable asset.
I have been pretty busy with many things since I lasted posted to my blog. And in spite of the name being mocked, I remain very proud of the ideas and positions I take when I wrote. Lately I have been reminiscing and taking stock of my life. I am now 74 years of age, I will be celebrating my 55th wedding anniversary with my childhood sweetheart. My only child, my daughter Cindy is going to be 51 years old. I have two beautiful grandchildren, Kyle who is 23 and is engaged to be married in 2020. Rachel who will be 21 in June and is going to take the world by storm, once she figures out what she wants out of life other than making a lot of money!
Writing for me is cathartic, it allows me to move outside the lines and freely express my opinion, my way.
I am going to try to squeeze in some of my personal thoughts and feelings into my blog and use this platform for embracing the many sides of Ivette.