There's so much wrong with the City of Salem's planned $600,000 reduction in water costs for all high-volume irrigators -- a roundabout way of saving the Creekside Golf Course $60,000 a year -- that it almost has a delicious rightness to it.
Meaning, hopefully this travesty-in-the-making will wake up Salem's citizenry to what has been obvious to those who closely watch goings-on at City Hall.
Crony capitalism is alive and well in Salem, but it should be dead and gone. Here's how Wikipedia describes it:
Crony capitalism is a term describing an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, or other forms of state interventionism. Crony capitalism is believed to arise when business cronyism and related self-serving behavior by businesses or businesspeople spills over into politics and government, or when self-serving friendships and family ties between businessmen and the government influence the economy and society to the extent that it corrupts public-serving economic and political ideals.
Thanks to Statesman Journal reporter Tracy Loew, we know what sleazy machinations are going on in the City of Salem's little-known "Water-Wastewater Task Force." Two related August 14 stories tell the disturbing tale.
Here's excerpts from "Creekside Golf Course wins water rate cut" (a somewhat misleading headline, because the rate cut still has to be approved by the Salem City Council at an October 10 meeting)
Salem’s residential water rates would rise an average of 65 cents per month next year to accommodate a rate decrease for irrigators under a plan approved Thursday by a city water advisory committee.
The deal was reached in response to a request from Creekside Golf Course, the city’s largest irrigator.
Creekside’s owners, developers Larry Tokarski and Terry Kelly, said that without a rate cut, the course would fold, taking about 50 jobs with it.
“The reality is here that if the water rates are not changed significantly, the course will close. That’s a fact,” golf club member Kent Hunsaker told the committee, which advises Public Works Director Peter Fernandez.
Some members of the committee supported Creekside’s request, but balked at extending the deal to all irrigators, which pay the highest of the city’s eight rates.
“It’s not unusual to try to save or to create 50 jobs in this town forgiving taxes for years on end, for doing a whole variety of fiscal gymnastics to get them in,” said City Councilor Chuck Bennett, a committee member. “I’m not sure why in the case of a business like this we wouldn’t do the same kind of thing relative to this cost.”
Wow. Let's do some disentangling of the messy B.S. being reported on here.
The Creekside Golf Course would get a comparatively measly $60,000 a year reduction in its water bill if this Crony Capitalism proposal is approved by the City Council. (See option #5 on page 3 of this staff analysis.)
Yet Creekside owners Larry Tokarski and Terry Kelly, along with their willing City Hall crony, Mayor-elect Chuck Bennett (currently a city councilor), want us to believe that saving $60,000 a year in its irrigation bill will make the difference between keeping the golf course open, and closing it down.
Do Tokarski, Kelly, and Bennett really think Salem citizens are that stupid? Or do they just hope that nobody is paying attention during these lazy days of August? Well, I guess it could be both.
Anyway, crony capitalism has worked well for Tokarski and his Mountain West Investment company before. That's how he got the City Council to give him big tax breaks for developing prime downtown riverfront property. (See my 2014 post, "New City of Salem 'corporate welfare' giveaway to Mountain West Investment.")
Tokarski and other corporate bigwigs in Salem know how to play compliant city officials like the special-interest orchestra that they are.
Give me a freaking break.
Creekside Golf Course isn't going to go under, taking those 50 jobs with it, just because the City of Salem decides not to save the golf club $60,000 a year on its water bill. Golf is in decline in the United States. Many fewer people are playing golf. Younger people aren't taking up the sport. Lots of golf courses are closing every year. See here and here. Excerpt:
The owner of the course, a development firm named, aptly, Stuck in the Rough, intends to turn the acreage into a residential development, an option available to resorts in prime residential areas. "What else could you do with the place?" Gorski asks. "Golf just didn't work. We couldn't get the young families to come out."
Even before it was shuttered last fall, the Malibu Golf Club decided to cut down drastically on its exorbitant water bill. "They were only watering the tee boxes and the greens," says former club pro Gene Hori. "The good news was you could hit these monster drives, because the fairways were like asphalt and the ball would skip forever."
Well, Malibu must have a smarter City Council than Salem does. Because the recommended water rate reduction for the Creekside Golf Course and other large irrigators will go into effect unless a public outcry stops it.
What makes the $60,000 a year giveaway to Creekside even more ridiculous is that on the same day the Water-Wastewater Task Force met to recommend the water rate reduction (August 11), several members of Tokarski's team were telling the South Gateway Neighborhood Association about a plan to turn the golf course into a planned development.
Reporter Tracy Loew told this side of the crony capitalism tale in her "354 homes proposed for Creekside Golf Course property" story.
Salem’s troubled Creekside Golf Club has a new general manager with a plan for turning a profit.
“Every day there’s rumors about Creekside,” said Danny Moore, who replaced general manager Tom Whitaker a month ago. “I’m trying to convince everybody, hey, this place is going to make it.”
At the same time, the property’s owner – developer Larry Tokarski – is moving forward with a plan to turn the entire 18-hole championship course into single-family homes.
On May 27, Tokarski sent the city of Salem a pre-development application for a 156-acre, 354-unit planned development.
“We’ve developed a plan here that represents construction of lots on what is the golf course on those areas we believe can be redeveloped to single family residences,” Mark Grenz, president of Multi/Tech Engineering, told the South Gateway Neighborhood Association on Thursday night.
Tokarski did not attend the meeting, but sent his lawyer, Allen Sorem, and Grenz to talk to the group.
The city encourages developers to meet with neighbors during the application process, Sorem said.
But the 60 or so who turned out were furious, at one point refusing to let the pair make their presentation.
Last April, the neighboring Creekside Homeowners Association filed a lawsuit against the golf club’s owners – Tokarski and developer Terry Kelly – saying they have a contractual obligation to keep the course open.
So it seems obvious that Tokarski is using the threat of closing the golf course, and of building 354 houses on the fairways/greens, to pressure the City of Salem into reducing Creekside's water bill.
But the end of Loew's story shows how skeptical City officials and citizens in general should be of the $60,000 crony capitalism rate reduction (which turns into a $600,000 rate increase for non-irrigators after all is said and done).
“We’re a month or more out before we have enough information to finalize our [housing development] application and get it ready to go,” Grenz said.
In the meantime Moore, the club’s general manager, said he is working on increasing the club’s revenue, including booking events through 2017, while cutting down payroll.
“I’m showing two smart businessmen, hey, this can work out,” Moore said. “They’re smart men and they’re going to make their own decision.”
The Creekside Golf Course already is laying people off, at the same time Mayor-elect Chuck Bennett and other gullible city officials are claiming that the paltry $60,000 a year rate reduction for Creekside will save 50 jobs.
And golf course manager Moore makes clear in his final quote that Tokarski and Kelly, the Creekside owners, haven't made a commitment to keep the golf course open. They could get their $60,000 a year water rate reduction, benefit from it for a few years, and then close the course -- making it into a housing development.
Like I said, Salem citizens/voters need to wake up and smell the City Hall crony capitalism that is taking money out of the pockets of this town's version of our 99% and making the 1% like Tokarski and Kelly even more rich and powerful.