Saturday, December 29, 2007

A City Council irony

On Friday, the Press published to the Web a story about Councilwoman Irene Sundberg's association with a group that opposed the Schulte Road sports park. Of course, it's no surprise that Sundberg would join the group — we all knew she was staunchly against that site. And, as she pointed out in the article, she didn't exactly stand to benefit financially from the group's actions or from her vote. Her association was even vetted by the city attorney's office.

Now take this excerpt about Mayor Brent Ives' reaction.
Mayor Brent Ives said that he has seen no evidence that Sundberg would receive any money from the case. He did say that given the controversial nature of the project he would want assurance that all council votes are legitimate.
“Rather that leave the community guessing, it would be prudent to get it straight with the Fair Political Practices Commission,” he said.
Remember, it was Ives who was in murky waters with the FPPC regarding his work as a private consultant for many firms in and around Tracy, many of whom have official business with the city and the council.

Ironic indeed.

• Note to readers: Jon will be out of the office until Jan. 2 on a holiday ski trip. Give him a nice stack of e-mail to sort through over his break to And have a happy and safe New Year's.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• Extremely badly, very badly, or really badly: How will the assassination of Benazir Bhutto affect the just-around-the-corner Pakistani elections?

• I'm guessing extremely badly: The last thing Pakistan needed was the murder of an inspirational leader who believed in the power of democracy.

• At least we can say "At least it's not Pakistan": Our candidates for president might not be a popular group, but they're probably not going to attract a homegrown suicide attack. (Let's hope.)

• Because Christmas should never involve running from a tiger: The San Francisco Zoo.

• Guess these priests missed the memo about "peace on earth, good will to all men": Police even had to break up the brawl.

• Thank God for small favors: It might be arbitrary, but the New Year is upon us. Which means we get a chance to actually get it right. Or screw up all over again. As usual.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "A new year... a fresh, clean start!" "It's like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!" "A day full of possibilities!" "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy... Let's go exploring!"

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hawkins bounces back

While moonlighting as a sports reporter Wednesday night (Chris Roberts is on vacation), I saw something special at the West High gym — Tom Hawkins, standing next to the court talking with fellow Breakfast Lions.

It's usual for Hawkins to attend at least a few games of the Tom Hawkins/Tracy Breakfast Lions Tournament, which was named in his honor. But this year, it took a bit of an extra effort.

Press publisher emeritus Sam Matthews reported several weeks ago that Hawkins was ill. He told me that Hawkins had congestive heart failure and his kidney function was touch-and-go.

But Hawkins bounced back for at least the first-round games of the Tracy and West high varsity girls basketball teams.

Photographer Enrique Gutierrez told me how Hawkins explained his presence just a short while after such serious complications: Wouldn't miss it for the world.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Downtown Tracy Fight Club

If you're a regular Joe, you might want to steer clear of Gillett Alley. If you're a police officer, you might want to visit a tad more often.

There's an empty lot on the corner of Gillett and A Street that's become a hangout for folks with nothing else to do. And the scene of numerous fights and other disturbances. There have been, of late, numerous reports of fights there between armed, angry groups of teenagers, one sighted and immediately called in to police by yours truly. (It didn't seem wise to rush in alone, as there were plenty of guys with sticks looking for something to hit.)

For now, I'm calling the barren spot the "Downtown Tracy Fight Club." No rules, except that it's every goon for himself. But it'd be nice if the police take an extra turn refereeing now and then.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

One final thought for Christmas

"Christmas is not about giving perfection — it is about receiving love. That is true, theologically and traditionally. It doesn’t matter what you know about Christmas. What matters is how you accept the gift of peace on earth and new life for a new year."

~ Courtesy of the esteemed Mike McLellan

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Eve...

"On window panes, the icy frost
Leaves feathered patterns, crissed & crossed,
But in our house the christmas tree
Is decorated festively
With tiny dots of colored light
That cozy up this winter night.
Christmas songs, familiar, slow,
Play softly on the radio.
Pops and isses from the fire
Whistle with the bells and choir.
My tiger is now fast asleep
On his back and dreaming deep.
When the fire makes him hot,
He turns to warm whatever's not.
Propped against him on the rug,
I give my friend a gentle hug.
Tomorrow's what I'm waiting for,
But I can wait a little more."

~ Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes)

Episcopal response

In preparation for my Dec. 21 column about the Episcopal schism in the San Joaquin Valley, I called our local St. Mark's for help. They referred me to the Rev. Bill Gandenberger, who shared these thoughts via e-mail about the split:

First of all, I was wondering how this decision will affect the average, everyday worshipper at St. Mark's (or at any of the churches). Will the normal churchgoer notice, or will it change their experience?
Our intention is that there should not be significant changes noticeable to the average everyday worshippers within our churches because of the action of our convention to realign with a different province of the Anglican Communion. Our people will have the same styles of worship, the same Book of Common Prayer, the same hymnals and newsletters, etc. As I have said before to some of our churches and to other reporters, "Look around. What has changed?" The most noticeable change, and one given as a direction to our churches by Bishop John-David Schofield in his Pastoral Letter of Dec. 16, is that we are now to include our Archbishop Gregory Venables to the Prayers of the People during our worship services.
[Here's the Web site for more information.]

Second, what message does the church intend the decision to send? Or, is this a move that was made purely because of a moral decision within the church leadership and isn't intended to make a "statement" at all? Do you hope others to follow the church's lead?
Your readers may not be aware that 60 percent of the other Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion [22 out of 37] have impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church because of actions it has taken, which have caused scandal or difficulty to other parts of the world. The purpose of Dec. 8th’s vote at our convention, therefore, was not to change anything within the diocese but quite to the contrary. With the status of the Episcopal Church’s membership in the Anglican Communion looking more and more precarious, the people of San Joaquin simply wanted to remain what we have always been, namely Anglican. The Province of the Southern Cone of South America offered us the ability confirm our positive status and to be in full communion with the rest of the Churches in the Anglican Communion immediately and freedom to proclaim the great news of Jesus Christ boldly and without compromise caused by confusion in the Episcopal Church.

Also, who had a say in the decision? I understand that a final vote was taken, but must admit I'd like a more specific idea as to who voted and how it was decided as to who would vote.
Every Church in our diocese sends delegates who are elected at annual meeting of each church. Ordained clergy in our diocese also vote. We have to assume that these issues were openly discussed at each church prior to the Convention.

Finally, in regards to criticism of the split with the American body, many people have remarked that this decision is a divisive one that overlooks Christ's message of inclusiveness and repeated Gospel passages of him reaching out to the marginalized, outcast, etc. How does the San Joaquin church respond to this?
To be clear, we are teaching and believing what we have always taught and believed —from our perspective it is the leadership of the Episcopal Church that is bent on breaking away from mainstream, biblical Christianity. We are simply choosing not to follow them. We continue to reach out to the marginalized and the outcasts as Christ himself did and as he commanded, but we do so not to affirm their current situation or personal choice of lifestyle, but to be part of their transformation in Christ that the Lord desires. We reach out to offer hope and freedom through Jesus Christ because we all want that for ourselves too. The Great Commandment in the Bible is to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves and that is what we intend to do as earnest Christians who happen to live out their lives as part of the Anglican tradition.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The split that wouldn't stop

In response to a few who've wondered about how "historical context" matters to the Bible (in relation to my Dec. 21 column) — they ask if the Bible is supposed to mean different things at different points in history.

Well, no. And yes.

While the meaning intended by Biblical writers has not changed over the centuries, the meaning readers absorb from those passages has. Modern readers pore over the Bible with their own perspectives and prejudices (not to mention a bank of human knowledge that Ezekiel couldn't fathom).

So without knowing the historical context of the writers (and the society, mores and norms that influenced their metaphors and allusions) we can't possibly hope to understand their verses and chapters. Reading the Bible outside that context leads folks like you and me to pull out a much different meaning than what the writers put in.

Adding that key component makes the task of unraveling scripture less simple, to be sure. But we're gifted with brains. It'd be a shame to waste them.

Of course, the whole thing's moot if you believe the writers were merely metaphysical hand puppets. But besides trampling sticky concepts like free will, that's just creepy.

Friday random thoughts

• If you think the roads are crowded now: The total population of San Joaquin County as of July 1 was 680,183. Stockton's new growth plan puts the city at a population of close to 550,000 by 2035. That is pretty scary math.

• Time to grab your front-row seats: The 2008 Tracy mayoral election between Brent Ives, Celeste Garamendi and Evelyn Tolbert (not assured but overwhelmingly likely) promises to be a barnburner. Literally. Someone might get set on fire.

• Why the moral high ground is so important: Stories of extremist torture chambers in Iraq are chilling reminders of the people we're fighting, and they make you wonder what kind of person would endorse such tactics. Oh yeah, people like this. And this. And, though he's officially on the fence, like this.

• Hide the vodka — 49ers fans have one less thing to cheer for: Bryant Young, the last active member of SF's 1994 Super Bowl winning team and quite possibly the classiest guy to ever wear Gold and Crimson, will probably hang it up after the team's dissapointing 2007.

• Suzanne Tucker's newest protege: SF Mayor Gavin Newsom said he was in touch with many folks following the oil spill in the bay. Of course, he won't let us see that correspondence, because it was on a "personal" cell phone. Maybe he was texting his newest mistress?

• The sad thing is, we proably need it: Some fear the Schulte Road land will now revert to federal hands and become a prison.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Hey, yeah, I did something GOOD! We're talking jackpot! We're talking multiple trips from the pole to haul it all!" "Your selflessness is the hope of the season."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A subprime solution

The governator and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson visited Stockton this week with a few words of encouragement for those facing foreclosure: ride it out.

Not exactly what folks were looking for. But really, what else is there to do?

Congress and the government can take on predatory lenders for the good of the economy — folks who were in business actively deceiving and fleecing buyers don't deserve to be in business any longer. But a bail-out for Average Joe or Average Corporation doesn't seem like good business.

I hate to be heartless here, but the subprime mortages were business ventures that came with inherent risk. It's like the stock market. If I sink $5,000 into a company and it goes belly-up, I'm not entitled to government compensation for my poor investment. (And if I was willfully swindled by that company, it's the company, not the government, who owes me compensation.)

The same principle applies to the mortgage meltdown. This is the predictable outcome of people entering into loan agreements which they couldn't possibly live up to. To punish lenders — or taxpayers — for the good-faith bad business decisions of these homeowners makes no sense whatsoever.

To bail out the corporations who bundled these risky mortages as investment vehicles would be even worse. That's rewarding high rollers for making edge-of-the-knife decisions that are likely to go bad. What's to prevent them from repeating the practice when Uncle Sam's waiting with another check? These financial "gurus" knew what they were doing. Their crocodile tears don't impress me.

I believe the government should help people, and I believe in a fair playing field. But this is one instance in which government help will ultimately hurt. My heart goes out to all the people facing the loss of a home. But the government shouldn't be responsible for covering a risky bet that both borrowers and lenders lost.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Police scanner item of the night

"A Moons Over My Hammy and a hot chocolate."

And Tracy's Denny's was safe for the rest of the night.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No winners in sports park battle

Here I thought the Schulte Road sports park was a done deal. (The proof, sadly, exists here. I swear, I never wrote that.) Silly me.

Tuesday, the City Council proved me wrong, when Evelyn Tolbert joined Irene Sundberg and Steve Abercrombie in rejecting the construction contract for the park. It surprised me. But it probably shouldn't have.

Tolbert was the obvious swing vote coming into Tuesday's meeting, and she swung on the side of the folks who said, "Who cares about the pipelines — this park just doesn't make sense." It was a common-sense vote from a politician who prides herself on common sense.

But the troublesome fact remains that in this battle, there were no real winners.

The push to put the sports fields at Schulte Road was misguided from the start. It was a crappy location for a bunch of children to play at, as noted (in nicer terms) by many at Tuesday's council meeting. But the campaign steamrolled ahead. Supporters poured themselves into it, and others poured themselves into its opposition. And for several years, nothing got accomplished except posturing and bickering.

Now, the council has decided what many did a long time ago — that the Schule Road site didn't fit the needs of the community. Not a bad decision, but such a "victory" should leave us feeling hollow.

After all that energy, time and money spent, after all the animostiy and emnity generated, we're at Square One when it comes to building places for young athletes to play.

Hopefully, we've learned from this mess and will make a better go of it the next time around. And there's no time to waste in getting started.

Break out the umbrellas

It rained here early today, but for those not attached to the Weather Channel, more's on the way.

I spent the better part of two hours driving through heavy rain in the Rustbucket today as I headed in to work from Santa Cruz. It's on its way here. And then, hopefully, to the mountains to shore up a snowpack that we desperately need for summer water supplies (not to mention skiing).

So be careful out there as the rain continues.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas lists worth sharing

Most of the Letters to Santa the Tracy Press has received from local kids have been the usual — dolls, video games, etc. A few, though, ask for much less, and much more at the same time.

I thought this one, in particular, was from a kid who really deserves her Christmas wish to come true.

"Dear Santa.
"I want a puppy for Christmas beause sometimes I am very lonely. Even though it takes a lot of responsibility, at least I would no longer be lonely. If my wish comes true, I will still not forget my other responsibilities. If I don't get a puppy, I'll try harder next time.
"I think it's cool that you know when I'm sleeping or awake. Even though I've become older, I will still believe in you no matter what. You rock Santa Claus! I wish I could go to the North Pole to see your factory and everything!
"Sincerely, Bianca ~ Bethany Elementary fourth-grader"

Santa, if you're listening, please bring Bianca a puppy.

Friday random thoughts...

• Look on the sunny side ...: If the Schulte Road site for a sports park is abandoned, let's turn as much of it as legally possible into a solar farm.

• ... And take a walk on the wild side: The rest of it could be used as a wildlands park, much the same as Oak Park off 8 Mile Road north of Stockton.

• Finally put the money where his mouth is: Al Gore.

• Should we blame the journalists again? Without the dedicated, investigative work of two reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle, it's quite possible baseball's steroid addiction never would have been brought to light.

• After much ado, they return to find that they're out of a job altogether: Except for the reruns of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," I'd never have noticed Hollywood writers are on strike. Maybe TV really isn't that important, after all.

• Christmas consumerism watch: 6 gifts for 10 subjects. I'm looking good headed into the home stretch.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Baseball's bombshell — close to home?

Villainry most vile!

It's the sound of the Mitchell Steroids in Baseball Report hitting the airwaves, naming baseball players who've taken banned substances to boost their performance on the field. But the reaction, so far, has been pretty lame.

First, anyone who didn't think tiny Marvin Bernard (formerly of your San Francisco Giants), let alone Mark McGuire or Roger Clemens, wasn't on juice wasn't paying attention. So the righteous indignation should be directed to the image in the mirror — that's where the tacit support came from. And yes, I cheered on Barry Bonds just like every other guy who bleeds Orange and Black.

Secondly, who can blame these guys for trying to gain an edge when there was no testing in Major League Baseball? Belive me, if there were some sort of substance I could take to improve my job performance, I'd be sorely tempted. *takes long sip of coffee*

No, this report should only be troubling because it shows just how prevalent abuse of hormones and drugs is in sports. And you can be sure it's trickled down. Even to high school.

In any community where prep sports are big, you'll find rumors, hints, suggestions about who's taking what to be bigger, faster, stronger. Just like the pros, because the competitive spirit is the same.

We need to look at our own athletes, coaches and sports programs to see if any of the problems that MLB turned a blind eye to are also getting a free pass right here at home. Not to condemn the kids. Not to turn them into miniature scapegoats like Bonds. But to help them.

We will hopefully find that none of that is going on in Tracy, because the stories of young men and women sharpening their minds and bodies through dedication and hard work deserve to be recognized as such. But that self-examination is necessary.

We need to take the next step. And that step is focusing the spotlight on ourselves and our community.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Feeding the monster to the north

Seems like some folks just don't learn.

Fresh off a suburban building orgy in the 1990s, Stockton is set to do it again. This week it adopted a growth plan that would see its population double by 2035. That means more than 550,000 people living in Stockton in another 30 years.


That means thousands of acres of land will be gobbled up by concrete and tract homes. That means more strain on social services in a region of the nation already hard-hit by poverty and crime. That means a likely merging of Stockton and Lodi to the north, and a possible merging of Stockton and Lathrop to the south.

Say hello to the future of the valley -- where cities bleed into one another, traffic jams are part of life, and infrastructure groans under the increased burden.

Why the folks to our north think this is a good growth model is beyond me. There are hundreds of examples up and down the state that should have given city planners pause for thought. But it looks like sensible planning was jettisoned for a blueprint that gets developers work and gets the city more fees.

And San Joaquin County residents get sold out. Again.

Nonprofit status

Let Children Play Now, depending on what type of nonprofit they set up, might not be able to actively campaign in the upcoming election. Which could make yesterday's supposition irrelevant (see below), although it's still, in my opinion, a spirited read.

If LCPN chooses to become a 501(c)3, the most popular type of nonprofit under federal code, using its funds for lobbying purposes could be difficult, if not illegal. According to a local expert on nonprofit business and accounting, they could still engage in "educational" effort. But these activities would have to be reported to the government during tax time, as nonprofits are supposed to operate "pretty much above board."

It will be interesting to see how this group organizes itself, what classification it files taxes under and who is on the board of directors. Not to mention where its funding comes from, if it has any at all.

Regardless of what happens, LCPN play to become a bigger player in the local political landscape could have quite an impact (or, depending on its funding and organization, absolutely none at all). Welcome to the Tracy exurban jungle.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And they keep on playing

I asked in last week's column where Let Children Play Now went to. We got a response.

One of the group's organizers sent in a letter to the Tracy Press. The letter makes clear the intent of the group to form as a nonprofit organization, characterized in the letter as an extention of the drive to get a sports park built on Schulte Road come hell or highwater.

The group's nonprofit standing (depending on what type of nonprofit they file for) could add a new wrinkle to the upcoming Tracy mayoral election between generally pro-growth Mayor Brent Ives and slow-growth advocate Celeste Garamendi. As a nonprofit, Let Children Play Now would be free to funnel as much cash into the election as it wanted — as long as it was not "coordinated" with any specific candidate's campaign.

Any bets on if the group donates?

Let Children Play Now received support from one of the developers offering sports facilities in exchange for guaranteed building rights. Aside from being trade bait to secure a future payday, the sports parks were beneficial to the builders in and of themselves — they're serious amenities that would be located near or in the proposed Ellis and Tracy Hills developments.

Remember that Garamendi has been an outspoken critic of these plans. And despite her loss in the 2006 mayoral election, she and her political allies have continued their work to convince the City Council that the deals (and at times the developments themselves) were bad for the city and that the Schulte Road location is not the best option for a sports park. Now that she's running again against Ives, who consistently backed the developer agreements, the developers' projects and the sports parks, you can bet the groups with vested interests in the success of the developments will come after her just like in 2006, when Ives was the beneficiary of a concerted ad blitz against Garamendi.

Now developers have another way to insert their will into the campaign. And the middle man could be an independent nonprofit that they helped get off the ground in the first place.

This, of course, is speculation. But the connection is there, and so is the possibility. The question is, will it become reality?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sporks park saga continued

In my Dec. 7 column, I related how Councilman Steve Abercrombie had already made up his mind regarding a vote on the Schulte Road Sports Park.

No mistake there.

But since the column ran, the councilman has evidently been deluged with phone calls by folks wondering why he's voting in favor of the plan. That part wasn't in the column, but evidently people drew their own conclusions from the following graphs:

The drive culminated with Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker’s Nov. 6 exhortation to move up the vote to the Dec. 4 meeting — those worried about the safety of the Schulte Road location had experts lined up to attend the Dec. 18 affair.

But it’s a moot point. Councilman Steve Abercrombie said Nov. 6 he already knows what his decision will be. Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert agreed to move up the meeting to give the community “a resolution.” Tucker said the council has had enough community input: “We’ve heard enough from the community. … We want input from staff.”

To clarify, Abercrombie told me he plans to vote against the sports park in its current form. Want to know why? Check out the Dec. 14 Second Thoughts.

Oh, and Abercrombie also happens to be a really nice guy.

Friday random thoughts...

• 66 years ago: In remembrance of Pearl Harbor.

• Please, put away that sword: Even if the National Intelligence Estimate is faulty (remember that whole Iraq WMD business?) President Bush and all the other blowhard war-hawks should shelve the rhetoric. Military action against Iran is a very, very, very bad idea.

• A short (and by no means comprehensive) list why it's a very, very, very bad idea: It would send oil prices through the roof. The military would break if we invaded — and a draft would be necessary. It would alienate our few remaining allies in the region (excepting Israel). And, worst of all, it would galvanize support for radicals like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who really isn't all that popular with his people.

• Beware the intrinsic contradiction: Mitt "Made for TV" Romney said in his faith speech that "We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny." Ironic, seeing as how many of the voters he's trying to woo would like nothing more than to make the U.S. a Christian theocracy.

• Let me be the lowest bidder: For significantly less than the $1.2 million California will spend to build a Delta smelt refuge, I promise to buy a couple of high-quality fish tanks and make the little guys my personal pets.

• The journalist costs WHAT? Good thing no one rounded up any Tracy Press folks for the Brighter Christmas jail and bail. As one of my colleagues said, we'd still be out there.

• The weekly Christmas consumption watch: My total shopping bounty = 2 presents for 10 subjects. Retailers are weeping. I'd better step it up.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Tis the season to advertise."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Truism of the week

"Your character is revealed by how you act when no one but you will ever know what you did."
- Gregg Easterbrook,

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fuel efficiency boom's a bust

The House votes today to "dramatically" improve the fuel-efficiency of U.S. cars.

This legislation promises that by 2020 U.S. auto fleets must achieve an average of 35 miles per gallon. It also stipulates that electric industries will get 15 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020, and strips $21 billion of oil industry tax breaks.

Sounds good, so why the dramatic in quotation marks? The legislation only sets the end-time deadline, so Detroit automakers could stall for another 12 years and improve fuel efficiency in 2020. Also, the time lapse between the bill being signed and the standards being enacted allows auto and energy companies to appeal the standards, apply for waivers, and basically shirk the standards altogether.

Why not enact something that begins raising fuel standards incrementally in 2008? Your guess is as good as mine, but as a national commentator wrote Tuesday: politicians like to claim huge success without actually achieving anything.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy Hanukkah

The eight-day Jewish celebration began at sundown today. Typically engulfed by its outsized younger sibling, Christmas, most folks don't know much about Hanukkah besides dradles and menorahs. So here's the holiday's history.

Here's to eight crazy nights.

Finally, a little bit of wet

For only the third time since June, Tracy saw rain.

We got 0.10 inches of rain between Monday night and Tuesday morning (I know, I checked the Tracy Press rain guage at 5:03 p.m.). With our mini-drought, of course, we need more.

Alas, ranting and raving about the need for rain won't do much good. Talking to the TUSD board about getting the proper name on the Tracy and West football fields, that a newspaper man can do. But who do you berate to get more showers? I have a feeling the Big Guy Upstairs doesn't appreciate demands from earth-bound desk jockeys.

So, I guess there's nothing to do but wait patiently, with the skis set firmly in the furthest reaches of my closet. Unless, that is, anyone knows a good rain dance.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Can't get enough Abs

Officer Abs — aka Councilman Steve Abercrombie — is hoping to get the City Council a little more face time.

For about $2,000, the five council members can decide Tuesday to put their mugs on the walls of seven different government buildings around Tracy.

One of my colleagues suggested the pictures be hung in the Post Office — you know, where they keep the wanted posters.