Friday, June 29, 2007

Pole deserves better fate

The city's most infamous lightpole is set to be removed.

The pole that was at the center of the car crash that killed Mike Ucci, maimed Bret Clifton and injured Marie Ucci and Justin Baker will likely be removed because it is a safety hazard and, according to the city, probably turned into scrap metal.

In the case of a normal light fixtures, that might not be a big deal. But this pole is covered with messages from the Tracy community wishing, hoping and praying for the crash victims — and their friends and family.

If it needs to be removed for safety, so be it. But I have to think that this pole — so marked with affection and sorrow and hope and despair — deserves a better fate than the scrap heap.

If anyone has ideas, please e-mail them to me at Or, better yet, go to the July 3 City Council meeting and tell our elected representatives firsthand.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• Fast-track action: Tracy Unified School District is seriously on the ball in terms of making the Measure E bond money work as soon as possible. Following the June 2006 approval of the bond, the new West Building at Tracy High will be complete by August 2008, the new stadium and pool at West High complete by May 2008.

• On the other hand, the city of Tracy isn't just not on the ball, they've lost the damn thing. The Gateway Business Park project has been stuck in the city planning process since 1999 and is so behind schedule, Tracy's third high school will likely be complete before the business park is even started.

• Support for the Iraq war is at an all-time low. No comment here. Just the poll.

• Not a good start to summer: In the past week, authorities in Tracy have pulled a body from the Delta-Mendota Canal and found a gunshot victim in the trunk of a car. Let's hope this trend does not continue.

• Good timing: The city's decision to fix the street signs honoring Tracy's most recent war dead, as related in this article, is just in time for the Fourth of July.

• The folks who tagged the Grand Theatre don't strike me as the brightest bulbs in the bunch. Check out this picture to the right. Look at it closely. Any ideas as to who might have done it?

• Too bad the idiots shooting out hundreds of car windows around Tracy didn't leave such a valuable clue as to their identity.

• Random thought of the week: "When committing acts of vandalism, don't leave your name behind for authorities to track down later."

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "What does it mean when someone says, 'Give it the ol' college try?'" "It means you join your friends, get some cheap beer, order a pizza, and forget about tomorrow."

Monday, June 25, 2007

McNerney's earmark mania

Taking a step that few Congressional representatives have, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, made public his funding requests — known infamously as "earmarks." It's a smart political move that shows McNerney isn't shying away from his campaign pledges of supporting open government.

A quick glance at McNerney's requests shows a lot of local projects, including transportation improvements and even a $500,000 request to bolster the Tracy Unified School District's English-learner student program (a helpful request, because English-learners typically are at or near the bottom when ranked by state standardized testing).

A few other requests include several million dollars to expand a National Guard facility over the hill, allow the NG to establish a terrorist/natrual disaster response plan, extending the BART line and improving MacArthur Drive in Tracy from between Mt. Diablo Avenue and 11th Street.

The full list of 48 earmarks is available through this link.

Critics of McNerney will call this all "pork," his supporters will say it's a Congressman bringing needed infrastructure improvements and money back to his district. But, Tracy's Congressman is giving his constituents a powerful tool in rating his performance. And whatever the motivation behind this disclosure, it bolsters an already strong record in favor of open government, something that I wish more representatives in government would embrace.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• Sent in by alert reader Bill Lawrence: Tracy teens (and parents) often complain that there isn't enough to do around town, especially in the summer. Instead of waiting for sports fields, why not try this?

• "A Band-Aid on a bullet hole." That's how attorney Mark Connolly described a recent offer of affordable housing by a developer whose project was approved Tuesday night. He's right. If a medical analogy is to be used, Tracy's affordable housing stock needs a a rapid infusion. Stat.

• The Press editorial board is right when it says the new Democratic Congress has done distressingly little to curb the earmarks and ethical abuses that plagued both houses (especially the lower one) in recent years. I only hope there's more reform in store.

• There's no such thing as an American political party against big government. Whichever party is in power wants that power expanded. Big government is here to stay. So it's a matter of what priorities we want our government to have.

• Just when the Bush administration gets close to doing something that would reinforce American values, the meeting gets canceled. Maybe there's no hope after all.

• President Bush has compared the Iraq situation to South Korea, permanent bases are being constructed in the country, and military officials have said that counter-insurgency efforts usually take about 10 years. So, who wants to bet our troops will be home by next October?

• Welfare for the rich: Tracy Press contributor Tim Michael Case wrote Tuesday: "Our capitalist society is turning more and more into a socialist society with every growing tax bill." He's right. Look at how much money in no-bid contracts the government is sending to Halliburton et al. (Here's a hint, no-bid contracts aren't free-market capitalism at work). I also wonder if Mr. Case is referring to the millions of dollars the wealthiest Americans have recieved in recent tax bills as a result of tax cuts.

• Random thought of the week: "If at first you don't succeed, failure might be your style."

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "They say two wrongs don't make a right, but what are you supposed to do then? Just let the biggest guy make his own rules all the time? Let might make right? ... that sounds reasonable."

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• You might not be aware of it, but the Tracy Press' own columnist, the Rev. Mike McLellan, is a candidate for president. Here's his platform and declaration of candidacy. Seriously. When 2008 rolls around, give him a vote or three.

• Random thought of the week: "Let's agree to respect each others' views, no matter how wrong yours might be."

• Heat like Thursday's 104 makes me wonder how so many people lived in desert cities like Las Vegas before energy-consuming air conditioning and the rampant overuse of far-away water resources. Oh, that's right. They didn't.

This story in Thursday's Tracy Press makes me wonder and worry: if you're arrested for something, wouldn't it be nice to know why police think you're guilty of what you're charged with?

• While most of the global focus is on Iraq, a civil war has been taking place in the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian government has been dissolved. Seems that one Middle Eastern powder keg just isn't enough.

• Flag day came and went June 14. In memorial of that holiday, I think it's fitting to remember that it is the ideals the flag stands for, not the cloth and dye of the flag itself, that really matter.

• Sometimes, I just want to crawl into a corner, curl into the fetal position, and hide.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Finding consensus and common ground is dull. Nobody wants to watch a civilized discussion that acknowledges ambiguity and complexity. We want to see fireworks! We want the sense of solidarity and identity that comes from having our interests narrowed and exploited by like-minded zealots. ... Nothing gets solved, but we're all entertained."

••• Alert readers: Thanks for making this blog a place for real discussion instead of debates that become shouted rage. Keep on posting in good health and good faith. •••

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Slow children at play

As the Tracy Press reported Thursday, residents in the Lincoln Boulevard-Lowell Avenue neighborhoods are fed up with speeders and reckless drivers. So city engineers came up with one novel solution: turn the 4-lane parkway into a 2-lane residential road with one lane in between for left-hand turns.

Reducing the load-bearing capacity of one of the city's four main north-south thoroughfares might seem like a pretty goofy idea for an area that already suffers traffic congestion, but the plan might work. It's worked in other areas, like Stockton's Miracle Mile, so this idea is worth considering.

However, it should also be of note that these narrowing projects are usually done in commercial districts to increase parking and the feel of an old-time downtown strip in addition to discouraging speeders. Lincoln Boulevard is not a pedestrian-heavy commercial district. Its purpose is, as engineer Ripon Bhatia is quoted, a "to carry traffic. You want people to drive on those streets" like Lincoln Boulevard.

Tracy, remember, is designed with many looping and closed-off subdivisions that don't lend themselves to through traffic. Main avenues, like Lincoln Boulevard, are designed to (barely) carry the load that these neighborhoods can't support. These engineers better think long and hard before turning Lincoln into a bottleneck, from a residential main stretch into an impassable mess.

Surely no one should put up with repeated speeders and accidents in front of their home. But that street was there before these angry residents bought their homes. And getting rid of speeders on one stretch of road might just not be worth creating even more of a traffic problem for the entire city.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Free speech alert

Note to readers: Alert reader Bill Lawrence made a very enlightening comment regarding this post, which significantly changes my personal opinion. I agree with him that, given the case's specifics, the 9th Circuirt Court of Appeals made the right decision. However, I am leaving the original post up, but please do not read this post without also reading Bill's great comment. Thanks.
A Contra Costa County religious group wanted to use a public library meeting room — which is open to public groups — for its whorship services. They were denied in a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

I'm in favor of a strong, neigh impenetrable, wall between church and state (thank you for coining the phrase, Thomas Jefferson). I guess the court ruled that the group praying in a public library was a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

But a lawyer representing this religious group has a point. This ruling essentially treats religious speech as "second-class speech." That's a troubling notion.

Religious worship is protected from government intrustion by the First Amendment, and the government is prevented from establishing any religion (often interpreted to mean that the government should not support or favor religion over non-religion, a position I find beneficial to both the country and faith community).

However, as long as this public meeting room is open to groups of all faiths, I see no reason why this type of speech and worship should not be allowed. It isn't sponsored by the library, and the library (a public, government institution) doesn't seem to be guilty of favoring religion over non-religion simply by allowing the group to use its facilities.

I say, give free speech its broadest definition. Let them pray. And then let the atheists have their own meeting directly after.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• The California High School Exit Examination might be "just fine," as one Tracy Unified official told me Wednesday, but there is a question as to whether we should do so much testing at all. With all the preparation for standardized achievement and aptitude and college entry tests, it's a wonder there's any time left for real learning.

• Maybe there's a test we can have to see if students are taking the right number of tests?

• So the compromise immigration bill was all but sunk in the Senate. Now the true test: will any of the folks who helped torpedo this legislation come up with a better alternative? I have my money bet on "No."

• Speaking, of, it's amazing to me how each generation of nativist Americans has a new, different way to wrap up xenophobia in a package that somehow seems reasonable at first glance.

• Paris Hilton was released three days into a measly 23-day sentence. Seems that, even in America, there's more justice for some than others.

• A John Upton report on Friday said a local developer is proposing to sell 15 percent of its planned houses to public servants (teachers, firefighters, police) and low-income residents for significantly reduced prices. It's a wonder the proposed sports and aquatics park deals didn't include something like this. You know, something that contributes to actual community.

• That old, warm fuzzy Cold War feeling: President Bush and President Putin are rattling the nuclear saber. Aaaah, just like old times.

• We're spending thousands of dollars figuring out how to fix the City Council Chambers dais. Didn't Councilwoman Irene Sundberg lodge her complaint about the dais' height 8 weeks before the damn thing was finished? Glad the contractor acted so quickly to fix the mistake.

• Random thought of the week: "War is the most uncivilized aspect of the civilized world."

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "The problem with being avant garde is knowing who's putting on who."

Monday, June 4, 2007

Hidden in plain sight

The June 5 City Council meeting features an agenda item on what to do about the dais that is, well, a bit too tall for some short council members. Documented proof below.

It's difficult to see the council, but Irene Sundberg (far left in the photo) is really just a tuft of hair to the audience. The council is looking into lowering the dais or raising their chairs (yes, it takes an official agenda item at a meeting to get higher chairs.)

As wonderfully funny as it would be to have the council members sit on grown-up Hi-Chairs, it might be even better to just leave them sitting in the basement. After all, that dais was made of bulletproof material at great expense. It kind of ruins the point if the council members are sitting above the protective dais. (Sundberg should be happy she's fully protected now — those Let Children Play Now! types are a bit unstable. One even brought a shovel to a meeting this year as a prop.)

Or perhaps it should just be left that way because of its current unintentional comedy (I'd say it's about a 7 out of 10 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale). From behind that ledge, the council members can't really see their constituents, and the council members are rendered largely invisible from the public. How ironic a metaphor do you want?