Frohman: “No on L”

Bruce Frohman
Bruce Frohman

The following is the argument against Measure L submitted to the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters for the November 8, 2016 Voter Handbook. The measure is a half percent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. Following the argument in the handbook is background information that could not be included in the handbook due to space limitations.

I don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes. However, I resent being asked to pay one half percent extra on every purchase in the next 20 years to fund a welfare program for urban and residential developers.

A substantial portion of funds collected will be spent on expressway and road widening projects to induce urban growth. Such projects should be paid for with Capital Facilities Fees collected from new urban growth. Why should you and I add to developer profits every time we buy something?

Since 2000, the number of valley commuters to the Bay Area has doubled. Do you want more expressways so that more folks will commute from many new subdivisions built along new expressways? How will you benefit?

If this proposal only fixed roads, I would support it. But this pork barrel tax gives average citizens little benefit.

Your elected leaders had funds to build two six lane expressways in north Modesto, but couldn’t afford to repave existing streets? Do the expressways benefit you or homebuilders?

I served on the Modesto City Council from 1999-2003. Before election, I saw developers influence elected leaders who granted immense subsidies. I spent my entire four years on the council working to identify and eliminate gifts of public funds.

Unfortunately, the same interest group lobbied for many proposed expenditures in Measure L. A few items that taxpayers might actually want were thrown in so that you would believe this would be beneficial to you.

Studies were done at taxpayer expense about convincing voters to say yes. Don’t be manipulated into making the wrong choice.

If you approve this, you will pay for 20 years. Once it passes, you can’t stop it.

Please say no to Measure L. Demand better.

Background Information

Since the 1980s, a group of residential developers has sought to control local governments. Former Modesto Mayor Peggy Mensinger warned about the existence of this group before she left office. This is not a half-baked conspiracy theory; campaign donation records support the conclusions.

The group’s intent is to gain favorable subsidies for developers and their allies. Their elected minions help the industry by rubber stamping residential projects despite citizen protests. They grant zoning variances and change zoning to accommodate applications, and enhance profits by charging less in infrastructure fees than is necessary to support the projects.

Through campaign contributions and recruitment, the residential developers support candidates sympathetic to their interests. They donate large sums of money, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars, and elect a majority of city council members in every city. They do not have to influence every candidate to have their way, just control a majority.

In Modesto, the Village One funding debacle is a primary example of undue influence exerted on a city council.  To save developers money, the plan for the village was changed more than ten times. While I served in office, we had to take five million dollars out of the General Fund to finish storm drainage because inadequate Capital Facilities Fees were collected. Animal urine was flowing in the streets.

City wide, Modesto had fees set $30 million below what was needed to provide infrastructure to approved residential projects. In 2001 to 2002, developers threatened lawsuits and some council members vociferously objected to raising fees. The city needed two years to adjust fees upward to eliminate various subsidies granted by a previous city council.

Measure L and Residential Developers

Because residential developers have not paid the full cost of providing infrastructure to serve their projects for many years, the cities and County of Stanislaus have developed a backlog of road repairs. In addition, a list of expressways has been created to increase road capacity throughout the county.

The intent of Measure L is to use sales tax money to fund unpaid residential developer infrastructure subsidies that have accumulated since the 1990’s AND to enable future subsidies for the next 20 years.

In a past failed sales tax increase proposal, I urged the politicians to pass a quarter percent sales tax proposal to fund existing deficits but raise developer capital facilities fees so that future deficits would not develop. Developer-friendly politicians throughout the county decided on a half percent sales tax increase so that they would not have to raise infrastructure fees to where they belong.

The elected leaders in Stanislaus County feel so strongly that residential developers should receive subsidies that they would rather raise taxes on those that can least afford the tax than the wealthy who own the industry.

Good Intent but Bad Public Policy

While the sales tax measure will fund some worthy projects, proper use of the revenue cannot be guaranteed. As long as residential developers control and/or have strong influence on a majority of city councils, your elected leaders cannot be trusted to use additional tax revenue wisely. The independent citizens’ committee to oversee expenditures will be worthless if it is packed with appointees friendly to developers.  Modesto’s citizen committees were often packed with a super majority of developer friendlies in the 1990’s.

As long as local governments are predisposed to subsidizing home building, there is no reason for any citizen outside of the residential developer industry to support Measure L. Your tax money will be used to provide more subsidies, not to deliver all of the projects you want.

Contrary to what you may hear, I am very informed about what is going on. I have been watching and participating in our local government for over 30 years, four years as a city council member.

Please see other articles in the Valley Citizen, including archives, for further information on why we should not support Measure L.


Bruce Frohman
Bruce Frohman
Bruce Frohman served on the Modesto City Council from 1999-2003. He believes the best way to build a better community is to have an informed citizenry.
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