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Federal follies: $2 million tree planting projects
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Joe DeAngelis can be entertaining.

He - along with Georgiana Reichelt and Richard Hanson - are three folks you can bet won’t hesitate to stand up and say their two cents at council meetings.

DeAngelis brought a calculator to the podium during Tuesday’s council meeting to make a point on the expenditure of redevelopment agency funds on the HOPE Family Shelter. He frantically punched in numbers of various RDA investments in the homeless shelter as if he was keeping a running tab of the cost to taxpayers. He obviously had the numbers tallied already. But the ploy drew a couple of laughs and it made people listen to him even though they may disagree with him or refute some of his basic contentions.

His attempts at brevity are serious.

It was classic DeAneglis regarding another agenda item authorizing $2.01 million for the planting of 5,400 trees 3,900 shrubs, 28,700 cubic yards of mulch, and 500,000 square feet of hydro seed for grass plus irrigation systems along a swath of Highway 99 and the 120 Bypass through Manteca.

“Doesn’t this not seem like a colossal waste of money?” he asked

Then he went into his spiel.

He figured it is being done at a cost of $410 a tree. He proposed paying a homeless person $200 a tree and spending the rest on materials so that the unemployed could be put to work. Of course, it is a bit more complicated than that by a long shot but DeAngelis got people’s attention.

Then he suggested just piling $2 million in small bills inside the council chambers and lighting it on fire.

DeAngelis emphasized that just because the $2 million was in the form of “Obama Bucks” - shorthand for the federal stimulus funds - doesn’t mean it is OK for the city to accept it.

He said it would make more sense to spend the money on needed road improvements. DeAngelis noted that given what Jerry Brown did to the state freeway system the last time around as governor with appointing Adrianna Gianturcco to oversee Caltrans that before much longer we’d all be driving on gravel roads instead of freeways.

DeAngelis got laughs.

And, yes, staff is correct that the money they obtained from Washington, D.C., could only be used for “transportation project enhancements” which is bureaucratese for landscaping under rules laid down by the federal government.

The council went ahead and approved the contract for the landscaping project and that was that.

Too bad the three minutes DeAngelis had at the podium couldn’t have been expanded a bit by getting into the “Original Sin” committed back in the 1970s when Congressional stalwarts like John McFall were in power.

That is when the federal government kicked the door wide open to undermining local control via taxes by rolling out a program dubbed “Federal Revenue Sharing” in a bid to prime the economy.

It was grandiose. The federal government would give local jurisdictions around the country that applied a bag full of money for projects based on a per capita formula. If some jurisdiction opted not to participate, their money would be redistributed among those jumping on board.

There was one caveat. The federal government – read that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. – got to approve what local projects actually got the money. And then there was the small detail of “administrative overhead.”

Studies in the 1970s determined that for every tax dollar taken out of a community under federal revenue sharing that community go back 70 cents and were essentially told what they could with the money.

It made no sense unless you were a Congressman looking to tell people at election time you delivered the bacon from Washington, D.C.  The only problem was that the bacon they delivered was paid for proportionately by the constituents they were impressing with the federal government’s generosity minus a 30 percent handling fee.

It posed the same dilemma for local elected leaders that Obama Bucks do today. Manteca residents are going to be paying for the stimulus package for the next 30 or so years. If they don’t go after what they can, Manteca residents would be financing projects in other communities.

That “them” against “us” mentality is a reality when it comes to going after federal funds. It isn’t an issue as to whether the project is the best use of federal tax dollars or even if it makes sense for the federal government to spend the money. When you’re starving thanks to someone taking a big cut of what powers local services and infrastructure -  taxes - then you’re apt to scramble for what crumbs they toss back your way.

Yes, it shouldn’t be that way but it is.