Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Heckuva way to end the year

Those wondering how the local news scene in 2008 would close have their answer: Parking lot turf wars.

After the Press' Wednesday story about a pair of downtown shop owners duking it out over precious parking spaces by towing customers' cars, local news crews decended on the scene.

At least one camera crew has been camped in front of Pete's Liquors and Tarasco market — conveniently located across A Street from the Press office — for the better part of the day.

No known tows yet to report, but it looks like folks are keeping a careful watch on their cars while others wait like hawks for an unsuspecting customer to park in the wrong spot.

Will the turning of the calendar mean a new outlook that wipes away this small-minded feud? Doubt it.

Happy New Year indeed.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Protecting aboretal assets

Cities seem to often have trouble taking care of their trees. The Stockton Record has documented that city's often dying and disregarded foliage, and now a few of Tracy's green sentinels are set for a date with city chainsaws.

This story in the Press stems from a city of Tracy press release. Nearly 30 leafy 50-year-old trees are set to be removed because they present a safety hazard near the Tracy Ballpark — according to the city, several trees have dropped branches or have just plain fallen already.

There's no disputing that the trees pose a hazard and should probably be removed. Rather, the protest to make is about whose responsibility it was to take care of the trees in the first place.

The city's press release seems to blame crews from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for trimming the trees from utility lines in an "unbalanced" fashion. I'm wary to take the claim at face value, but I've seen what utility crews consider "trimming" in my parents' backyard in Stockton. I can tell you, aesthetics and tree health aren't their top priorities.

So it's likely that poor trimming jobs have a little or a lot to do with the trees' pending fate. But if the trees are on city property, and if the city cared about protecting its aboretal assets, it's the city's job to make sure the trees were pruned in a responsible manner. (Please, note the conjecture.)

Some might call this conversation overblown. I say it's a conversation worth having. Trees don't just make a city pretty, they help cool it down in the summer and provide their surroundings with a literal breath of fresh air.

We need more trees, not less of them. And protecting them should be more than a last-minute afterthought.

Taxpayers to lawmakers: we'll owe you this time

I've long thought that if pay was witheld from state and federal legislators who fail to meet their annual deadline with a balanced budget, we'd have an on-time, in-the-black fiscal spreadsheet most every year.

Now we might get to test that strategy, as the California controller says those in the state Senate and Assembly are first in line for IOUs if the state can no longer pay its bills.

It's a step that should have been taken a long, long time ago. This version of the budget is months late and still hemorrhaging red ink.

Too many lawmakers obviously aren't motivated enough by the public trust. Maybe their personal wallets are more of an incentive.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Black day for golden shores?

California's coast — from its sandy southern beaches to its rocky northern cliffs — is known for its beauty and abundance of life.

It soon might be known also for its oil derricks.

The view off Santa Barbara of drilling platforms emerging from the morning fog might become ubiquitous as the federal ban on coastal drilling expires. (Report courtesy the S.F. Chronicle.)

The state only controls the seabed for only 3 miles off the coast — so no matter how much Californians protest, a drill-friendly federal government could allow the pillaging of the state's offshore oil and gas reserves.

Our state's economy relies heavily on the beauty and natural bounty of the coasts. And drilling for more oil only puts off the day that petroleum is no longer a viable energy option. (Many environmental scientists and entrepreneurs say that day has already come and gone.)

Let's hope the Golden State doesn't become dotted with offshore wells. Some things are more valuable than even black gold.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Top 10 of 2008

No column this week. The family company, roaring fire and glass of 16-year-old single malt Scotch were too much to give up. But the column will be back in the Voice section Jan. 3.

Don't despair, though. The blog will still be active, starting with a wrap-up of the biggest stories of the year.

No doubt the "Biggest Story of 2008" honors will go to the sordid saga of Kyle, the teenage boy who escaped apparent abuse and captivity in a Tracy home. Four adults were arrested on suspicion of torturing him, and the trial will be back in the news early in 2009.

However, it's far from the most important story of 2008 in Tracy. Kyle's story certainly grips the imagination and headlines (it's not every day a bloody body races into a health club with a chain around his ankle and pleads for help), but these 10will undoubtedly have a far greater impact on our community, in no particular order:

• Ellis project gains approval
• Holly Sugar selected as sports park site over Schulte
• Delta College trustees waste millions of taxpayer money
• Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta stretched to the breaking point
• Ives wins re-election as Tracy mayor; Abercrombie, Maciel elected to City Council
• Foreclosures sweep through San Joaquin County
• More people than ever apply for charity assistance
• City wins public records lawsuit on technicality
• Economy takes nosedive
• Gas prices soar for summer, slump in winter

And of course, in the non-local category, Number 1 goes to Barack Obama winning the presidency in a landslide over John McCain after one of the longest campaign seasons in history.

Did any stories make your Top 10 list for 2008 that didn't make it into print here? Let us know. The list is open for revision.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas letter

My hands were all shaky,
my face had gone pale.
A letter from Santa
just arrived in the mail!

It was hand-written
in old-fashioned ink pen.
It was handsomely written
and dated twelve-ten.

"Dear Calvin" it said,
"I'm writing because,
this year I've repealed
my naughty-nice laws.

So now, I urge you
be vulgar and crude!
I like it when children
are boorish and rude!

Burp at the table!
Gargle your pease!
Never say 'thank you,'
'you're welcome' or 'please.'

Talk back to you mother!
Don't do as you're told!
Stick your tongue out
at your dad if he scolds!

Drive everyone crazy
I really don't care!
Act like a jerk,
anytime, anwhere!

I'm changing the rule!
The bad girls and boys
will be, from now on,
the ones who get toys!

Good little kids make
me sick, it's no joke.
Sincerely, signed Santa"...

... and then I awoke.

I hate being good
(or trying to fake it).
One day until Christmas,
I don't think I'll make it.

~ Courtesy of Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin and Hobbes"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An end to lawlessness

With things like dramatically increasing unemployment and general financial chaos to worry about, it's no wonder that some things aren't getting the press they deserve.

Things like the vice president of the United States admitting he broke the law, and that he's proud of it.

In several end-of-the-administration interviews, both VP Dick Cheney and President Bush have tried to reconstruct their miserable record of wars botched and a Constitution disregarded as something done for the greater good. As if their last-minute revisionism could change the reality of the past eight years.

Cheney especially insists that he and the administration he guided were right in their illegal wiretapping activities and in ordering "enhanced interrogation techniques" like waterboarding — procedures countless observers throughout history have documented as both being actual torture and also wildly ineffective.

But what is truly apalling is that so many people seem willing to let these now-admitted transgressions pass into history unpunished.

They must be punished. These — let's call them what they are — criminals against the Constitution must be brought before the courts and given a trial. (Note that this space says they should be afforded the due process they have denied so many others.)

If people like Cheney are allowed to be above the law, there is very little reason to think that future leaders will refrain from the same power-grabbing actions.

If they aren't at least brought to stand trial for breaking some of the highest laws in the land, we make the de facto admission that our nation's laws do not apply to those in power. The guy on the street may be fined for jaywalking, but the vice president can walk free after violating the Convention Against Torture, the War Crimes Act, the U.S. anti-torture statute, and the quaint little document that the country was founded on (See esp. Amendment 8).

Why? Because that's what a democratic nation founded on the principle that all citizens are subject to the law does.

Going after people in government who break the law isn't petty or part of a vendetta. It's vital to ensuring the rule of law and democracy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tracy makes concrete progress


The parking lot for the Tracy multimodal transit station lacks pavement, but drive by the train tracks on Central Avenue and you can clearly see the parking lot's boundaries, as well as the foundation and early skeletal stages of one of the main buildings.

The station could prove an achievement to pair up with the Grand Theatre and City Hall in the city's downtown revitalization, and what's even better, it was paid for the right way.

Though the station should cost more than $12 million, the city will only pay a cool $250K, thanks to city staffers busting their butts to secure grants and other funding for the project.

Of course, this could all go down the toilet if the station isn't used wisely to tie Tracy together and with the rest of the county.

But let's not go there quite yet. Right now, there's plenty to be positive about.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Use that triangle...

At least it didn't take long for the city of Tracy to start using its $25,000 "Think Inside the Triangle" slogan.

You can see, periodically on the Tracy Press Web site, one of the city's ads using the campaign. Slightly tweaked, it encourages: "Want more jobs in Tracy? Support local businesses... Shop Inside the Triangle."

Nice copy. Could turn out that this slogan -- as derivative and silly as it seemed at first -- could work.

Let's hope.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yes, it gets to us, too

Stories of sadness, loss and abuse often affect readers. Truth be told, it affects journalists, too.

We're supposed to be a conduit of truth, unfazed by what we see so that the public can know exactly what's going on. Yes, in the moment there's detachment — you're a professional, doing your job.

But after the adrenaline's gone, what you've seen and known can weigh down the soul.

Press photographer Glenn Moore has been in the middle of such a heartwrenching story, as he has taken photos of the house, numerous warrant searches and all three arraignments in the Tracy Torture Case. His behind-the-lens account can be found here, and it's an insightful look into how even veterans of the business feel their work.

As a journalist, when the story's breaking there's a job to do, and emotion can't get in the way, even on the scene of a grisly accident or horrific tragedy. Afterward, though, is a completely different story.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sac Bee states obvious about Delta

Finally, the voices of common sense are speaking up.

The Sacramento Bee's editorial today is basically what I've been saying for two years — there are plenty of people with a stake in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta's health, and all of those people need to give up something or risk losing everything. Without compromise, there just isn't enough water to go around.

Before the state plunges feet-first into a new generation of water works, though, it must recognize the limits of its hydrological heart – the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

For far too long, California has treated the Delta and its vast watershed as a resource to be tapped and exploited.

Excessive pumping and diversions, from all parts of the vast watershed, have hurt fish and other wildlife. Excessive conversion of wetlands has turned the Delta into a mono-culture of sinking islands, vulnerable to floods and earthquakes. Excessive pollution has made the Delta a filthy place to draw drinking water.

We have to realize that we can't just insert another straw and keep on drinking. Two very dry years combined with California's unquenchable (and growing) thirst have brought the Delta to the brink of collapse. If water-use-as-usual goes unchanged, the Delta will turn from unhealthy to untenable, and we'll really be up a dry creek.

In other words, any water plan for the state must be, as the Bee said, "grounded in reality." Because "promising everything to everyone is how the Delta ended up in its current mess."

Ellis at the council

It's 12:35 a.m., and I still don't know what's happened at the City Council meeting about the Ellis project, which was up for discussion and a possible vote tonight.

But I do know several things about the project:

• It makes no sense to trade home building rights for an aquatics center when a city consultant has recommended closing the existing city pool to save money. Especially when Surland, Ellis' developer, would get the aquatics center land if the city didn't start building there within two years.

• It makes no sense to spend countless staff hours right now figuring out a massive residential expansion when the homes A) can't be built until 2012, and B) we should be using that time to focus on budget balancing and economic revitalization.

• It makes no sense to surround the Tracy Municipal Airport with homes unless there is some sort of ironclad agreement that the airport will be able to operate freely no matter how much the Johnny-come-lately Ellis homeowners complain.

• A comprehensive public transportation model should be in place before Ellis goes forward, because $1.50 gas won't last forever (remember last summer, dontcha?)

• There must be substantiative answers to questions regarding the Jefferson School District's ability to absorb the hundreds of schoolchildren who will one day call the Ellis development home.

• The mock-ups given by Surland to the city and public for perusal look beautiful.

• Ellis can be a good project for the city, if done on the right scale, at the right time and with the right incentives.

Check back later today at for Eric Firpo's blow-by-blow account of the Ellis discussion and any City Council action.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A winter journey

After spending a blissful day telecommuting from Santa Cruz, I took the morning trip over the mountains to get in for a busy Tuesday deadline day.

And what did I encounter but snow. Inches of it falling on the Santa Cruz mountains, turning what's usually a temperate rainforest into a winter wonderland.

My reaction? Cool. Er, cold.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

No shopper riots in Tracy — yet

Today's column in part relates the sorry story of a New York mob so eager to save a few bucks on cheaply made consumer goods that they trampled a Wal-Mart worker to death.

Luckily, no such incidents have visited Tracy.

According to a source at the Tracy Police Department, no shopper riots — or even heated disputes — have happened in town.

The police officer I spoke to thought I'd be disappointed at the news, seeing as how bad news sells better and all.

On the contrary, I'm thrilled that, in Tracy at least, iPods and DVD players still aren't as valuable as a person's life.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Budget busters

Suddenly, the city of Tracy's $9 million projected deficit doesn't sound so bad. Not considering the "fiscal Armageddon" staring the state of California in the face.

The state's shortfall of $15 billion this year looks bad, but the 2010 deficit projection of a $40 billion (yes, with a "b") if no action is taken is downright frightening.

Makes one wonder what the folks paid to wisely spend taxpayer money are doing. Actually, I take that back. There's little left to wonder about. These legislators are obviously doing two things:

1. Spending too much money in a deluded belief that years of record revenue growth will continue forever.

2. Actively avoiding the reality that taxes must be raised to maintain the level of social services Californians are used to or that these popular services must be wildly slashed.

Unfortunately, these two things are exactly what's driving us toward the governor's vision of apocalypse. The picture isn't pretty.

In fact, our situation in Tank Town looks downright rosy in comparison. Although it's a sign of how bad things are when a $9 million budget shortfall passes for fiscal strength.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Don't blame the Cougars

Nearly every follow-up story about the fourth arrest in the Tracy Torture Case has opened by saying Anthony Waiters was a coach for the Tracy Cougars youth football team.

But the members of the Cougars want the general reading public to know something: Don't blame the organization for one man's alleged mistakes.

According to members of the team, Waiters, a semipro player in his own right, didn't do anything inappropriate with the Cougars kids and that they were as surprised as many Web site commentators who have said Waiters was "a good guy."

It's safe to say Waiters won't be welcomed back. Even if he is acquitted, his relationship with the looking-more-guilty-every-day Kelly Lau and Michael Schumacher — according to reports, Waiters called Lau his "friend" and was shown in Lau's MySpace pictures as Schumacher's drinking buddy — should be enough to keep him away.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Someone stop the bleeding... please

Man, the bad news just doesn't end for San Joaquin Delta College.

First it was a Civil Grand Jury report that slammed the board of trustees for wasting money, not listening to consultants, possibly violating California public meeting laws and basically being a completely disfunctional entity.

Then the state auditor weighed in and said the trustees squandered both public trust and public money.

The school's accreditation — a state approval to operate — was even put in question because of poor management.

Then the teachers' union endorsed not a single incumbent in the first truly contested trustee election in years.

Now, it turns out that one of the trustees not voted off the board (she wasn't up for election) wasn't following the rules when it came to reimbursement. She pleaded no contest to charges of corruption and resigned Monday.

Also looks like student leadership followed the lead of the trustees and spent student money frivolously. Although the report that lambasts the students and their adviser doesn't name the adviser, leading me to suspect there's more at work here than just a watchdog action, it seems a continuation of a disconcerting pattern nonetheless.

Luckily, new trustees will be sworn in tonight. Godspeed, ladies and gentlemen. Good luck fixing this train wreck.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Small shift in the spotlight

Now that the Tracy Three have been arrested and arraigned in a Stockton courtroom, datelines of news reports following up on the Tracy Torture Case will no longer read "Tracy." It looks like it'll be "Stockton" from here on in.

Small consolation to a town made famous — at least for a week or two — by one of the most horrifying child abuse stories in recent memory.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Predicting the future, 50 years ago

Back in 1958, a group of local residents foresaw Tracy's future as the Bay Area's bedroom. Too bad no one took their advice in the decades that followed.

A headline in the Jan. 27, 1958, Tracy Press reads: "Committee says Tracy should not become a 'bedroom town'."

The proclamation is courtesy of the Planning Our Progress committee, which evidently understood that the building of the Interstate Triangle (yes, that triangle) would open Tracy up to a future of commuters.

Lo and behold, the prediction came true.

In the wee hours Thursday morning, our current Planning Commission took a bold step to prevent a continuation of that trend. They sent back the proposed Ellis project, which right now does not meet the needs of the city as a whole but could be changed to be a jewel of a development.

Thanks to the majority of the commission, who, like a committe 50 years back, want a better future for Tracy.

In defense of the Delta

For residents of the San Joaquin Delta looking for someone to defend your turf, Mike Fitzgerald's your man. His latest piece in The Record pulls no punches in opposing "the rape/kill of the San Joaquin Delta":

... in recent years, state and federal agencies charged with guarding the Delta actually increased water exports.

Merely degrading the Delta wasn't enough. They're determined to kill the biggest estuary in the Western Americas and pipe a Peripheral Canal around the corpse.

To put it another way, the degradation of regulatory agencies is as bad as the degradation of the Delta. The agencies need systemic change, too.

The issue is more complex than a mere Balkan problem of NorCal residents and resources vs. SoCal's outsized water demand.

It's true that without plundering the Delta's limited water supply, folks in Beverly Hills would never have been able to build lush gardens in a chaparral desert. Then again, major agriculture in the Central Valley — the nation's breadbasket — would also never have come to pass. Keeping farmers in business is a major problem when advocates clamor for a decrease in pumping from the Delta.

I, for one, wouldn't mind seeing SoCal get by on its own water sources, but letting farms blow away in a new Dust Bowl is an unsettling thought.

But Fitzgerald's main point, despite the sometimes-over-the-top rhetoric, is well-made:

The Delta's collapse is irreversible. Once a delicate mechanism that took millennia to evolve is smashed, its inhabitants gone extinct, there is no remedy under law.

The Delta, to say nothing of this region, will remain permanently impaired.

Bottom line: If something isn't done to protect that resource soon, we'll never be able to save it. And then we'll all be royally screwed.

So if finding a workable compromise between the stakeholders requires Delta residents to enter negotations on a hard line and move to the center later, so be it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Do as I say, not as I spend

In its final meeting before many of its members are supplanted by newly elected replacements, the Delta College board of trustees heard about the "alarming" and wasteful spending of the college's student government.

Shouldn't be surprised, given the example the students had to follow.

They were just quick studies.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Heart of darkness

It's always a surprise when the dark side of the human soul appears in your backyard.

At first blush, the story of a teenager who ran into a gym seeking shelter seemed a prank. But it became soon apparent that it was a true case of depravity, a story of a boy escaping slavery and untold abuse that grabs national headlines because of its utter atrocity.

The story is always the same: a "normal" family in a quiet subdivision, neighbors who didn't suspect a thing, and an unlikely escape. The upshot is also the same: a young person's life ruined.

We're not unfamiliar with the plot — and that's the truly scary thing. We've heard it before. But it doesn't get any easier with repeated listenings. It gets more and more difficult to fathom.

Let's hope our two (or, police say, three) Tracy abusers are punished to the full extent of the law if found guilty.

Let's also remember that such evil is not everywhere, but it can surface anywhere. This is not an indictment of Tracy as a town or a place to live. This is a crime perpetrated by individuals. And, if guilty, they should be held responsible for what they've done.

Monday, December 1, 2008

So crazy it's true

When we first heard about this story, I thought it was some teenager's idea of a prank. Since when does a 17-year-old run into a public place with a chain around his ankle saying he's been held prisoner?

Turns out, it happens today. In Tracy.

After calling Matt Robinson at the city, I learned that this made-for-TV event was legit. Police arrested two people in connection with the alleged imprisonment and are desperately seeking more clues — turns out traumatized captives don't often provide the most complete list of details.

Keep checking the TP Web site for more updates. We'll be on this story for the duration...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Thanksgiving

The blog will return after the long weekend, unless I change my mind and post sooner. Until then, I'll leave you with my family's favorite Thanksgiving prayer...

O Lord, this day we thank you:
For food, as we remember the hungry,
For health, as we remember the sick,
For friends, as we remember the friendless,
For freedom, as we remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service,
that our many gifts may be used for others.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A case study for Tracy crime

If you're one of those neighborhood activists who's long held to the Broken Window Theory — that small instances of blight beget worse blight — consider yourself vindicated.

A team of researchers in Holland has conducted an experiment that confirms common sense — allowing a little graffiti or a touch of public disrepair only encourages more people to behave less lawfully. A clean street could be the best way to deter everyday quality-of-life crimes.

This goes hand-in-hand with an approach to policing that puts a large amount of the onus on community members, not just the girls and boys in blue.

We all have an opportunity to keep Tracy safe and clean. Now we have scientific proof that our small efforts can make a huge difference.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Canal still on the periphery

It might have slipped below the radar during the Longest Election Known to Man, but plans for a new Peripheral Canal continue to pick up speed. And proponents.

Even Sunne McPeak, a former Contra Costa County supervisor and vociferous opponent of the canal, has changed her tune. Not good for those trying to protect the Delta and those living in it.

She related in an interview published this weekend that her support changed because conditions have changed from the 1980s, when her opposition was key in defeating the Peripheral Canal at the ballot box. The levees are worse, there are more demands on the Delta as water source, and the entire ecosystem is in peril.

But the canal will solve none of these problems.

Not while those in Southern California continue to insist on Delta-watered lawns in the middle of a chaparral desert. Not while we have insufficient water storage to tide us over from wet years to dry ones. Not while we seem to believe that better conveyance and increased storage will yield an unending supply of water.

The underlying factor to the state's water crunch — namely, that too many people and farms exist in an unsustainable fashion in places where water doesn't naturally occur in abundance — will not be addressed by a Peripheral Canal.

Judging by McPeak's change of heart, the lesson doesn't seem to be sinking in...

Long lines, sad signs

An annual food giveaway in Stockton this morning drew hundreds hoping for a brighter holiday.

Tracy's houses of help are experiencing similar high demand.

Luckily, there's plenty those of us not in need can do this season and every season.

Each trip to the grocery store, if you can, purchase one, two, five extra nonperishable food items to donate. This time of year, many supermarkets have collection barrels sitting just beyond the check-out lines. And other times of year, save up the goods and take a drive once a month to Tracy Interfaith Ministries at Parker Avenue and Grant Line Road.

Consider it my New Year's resolution, made 1½ months early.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My own Armistice

Sam Matthews' column in the Nov. 15 Tracy Press brought back my own World War I memories, though I was born some 65 years after the conflict ended.

My great-grandfather served in one of the American telegraph units stationed in France, and while he was there, he sent home plenty of postcards to his bachelor-for-life brother, Ernie Jaeger.

Here's a few views from the Western Front, as well as handwritten proof (if you can read it) that the Doughboys really were "whipping the Huns."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Part of a vast media conspiracy...

Evidently, I'm deeply embroiled in an insidious media conspiracy. And no, I'm not talking about the right wing's toothless saw about the "liberal" media.

Nope. I'm part of a below-the-radar pattern of keeping photos of black people as inconspicuous as possible in the Tracy Press.

I am not making this up.

Today, a very nice — albeit misguided — woman asked why her son's picture was on the Web site but not in the newspaper, and why it was taken down from the Web site. All the while she suggested that a clear pattern had emerged at the Press, wherein pictures of black athletes and persons were continually (though probably not purposely) downplayed or excluded.

I explained that the Web issue was a mistake, and that the story in question had accidentally been posted twice, once with the photo and once without. )The picture-less duplicate has since been removed from the Web site.)

As for the photo not appearing in the print edition of the Tracy Press, the photo selection process is complicated, imperfect and often done during last-minute deadline.

The steps:

The photographers go through their hundreds of photos (especially for a sports shoot) and choose their two to five favorites based on composition, clarity and which photos best fit the story as they understand it from either a reporter or assignment editor.

These top shots are reviewed by the sports or news editors and then given to the copy editors (that'd be me), who try to pick the photos that fit the space already prescribed by advertisements and that best tell the story, all while keeping in mind that stories and pictures on one page often affect how stories and pictures are placed on other pages. (Individual pages, contrary to popular belief, are not designed in a vaccum.)

To be honest, when I see a photo, I don't even register the race or gender of the person in the photo, except to make sure we don't call a "him" "her." I see an item that needs to be put on a page (along with advertisements and most times another story, more photos and headlines) in a logical manner with an accurate caption — and done in a few seconds. On deadline, it's strictly business and accuracy.

And every once in a while, the best photo — for reasons of space or just because we made a mistake — doesn't make it into print. The perfect combination does not always materialize, but a sincere effort is there. Our mistakes are very public, and we take pride in the job.

One of my college's administrators, Dr. Lane Bove, had a way to describe this kind of incident: "A teachable moment." So I tried to explain all this, and I assured the kindhearted woman on the phone that there was no conspiracy at the Tracy Press.

Since my account did not seem to mollify her much, I can only guess that sometimes what a person wants to see overshadows what we might be able to teach one another.

It's that time of year

The gossamer veil hanging over Tracy today isn't the tule stuff of mid-January, but the fog has returned.

There's a pleasant chill in the air that suggests a coat without demanding it, the kind of autumn day in San Joaquin County that makes you happy to live here (despite several reasons to not feel so kindly about it).

After a long, dry spring and summer, I welcome the cooler clime. And pray that more rain and snow are soon to follow.

Here we go again

Another commentary in the Tracy Press argues that allowing same-sex marriage would have been an assault on religious freedom.

File Mrs. Jan Haws' Her Voice under "Point, Completely Missed."

I fail to see how the state granting secular same-sex marriage threatens religion. Under California law before Proposition 8 was passed, churches were not forced to marry same-sex couples, and churches’ definition of marriage would hardly have been changed by the failure of Proposition 8.

If it had failed, the only definition that would have changed is in regards to the definition of "marriage" in the secular state government. In the USA, that is not the same as religion.

All that would have happened is that two people who love each other — in a sometimes cruel world that seems to stack the deck against love and happiness of any kind — would be able to marry regardless of the equipment between their legs.

It is ironic that Mrs. Haws voted Yes on Proposition 8 because she wants to protect freedom of religion, when that very vote breached the separation between church and state. In essense, Mrs. Haws is saying that there must be religious freedom — as long as people are only free to obey the laws of Mrs. Haws' religion.

It is this faction of religious believers imposing their will on same-sex couples, not the other way around.

Besides, the only way to justify the ban on same-sex marriage is to rely on religious precepts, precepts that are not even held by all members of the same religion. This is shaky ground for a Constitutional amendment.

The approval of Proposition 8 encroached on religious freedom, setting the precedent that it’s perfectly OK to start establishing a theocracy if a bare majority supports it.

Freedom of religion means that everyone’s religion is treated equally by the state, and that is best done out of arm’s reach so that the state cannot become an arm of religion and so that religion does not become a tool of the state.

Religious freedom is a very, very, very good thing. But only when it's truly religious freedom.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gotta love that spirit

This past weekend, a group of dedicated citizens took the steps of Tracy's City Hall protesting California voters' collective decision to classify same-sex love as second-class.

Their cause might be righteous, but it's no surprise if their calls went unheard, as City Hall is rather unoccupied on Saturdays.

Even if their protest was scheduled for midday Wednesday, the effort would merely be symbolic. It's the county clerk who issues marriage licenses, not the city.

Still, it's good to know the cause is alive. Too bad there wasn't more of this fervor before Nov. 4.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Creepy, creepy Santa Claus

As many already know, Christmas carols and synthetic garland are already filling local retailers. (I personally heard holiday tunes at the MacArthur Drive Rite Aid two weeks before Halloween, and the workers there said they were sick of it already.)

In this age of Christmas creep, when magazines sell their Santa wares from July through January, at least one space will be holiday-free for a little longer.

There will be no more Christmas-related items at Second Thoughts until Thanksgiving has passed. You're welcome, you're welcome.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's all in how you say it

This came through the fax today, regarding the Tracy Cougars youth football team:

"A few of our kids came down with the stomach flu the night before (the game), however they were determined to play. All our kids left everything they had out on the field."

Hope at least they felt better afterwards.

Religious calling out

In the past few weeks, religious groups have gotten a bad rap. And rightly so.

Many religious groups and churches were the driving force behind Proposition 8, the voter initiative that now means the love between some people is worth less to society than the love between the rest of them. Hardly "love thy neighbor as thyself" stuff.

However, that's not the whole story of the religious community.

These groups also do a good deal of good.

Take a look at the Our Town support groups listing -- almost all of the groups meet at churches. Churches and groups give to charity and perform corporal works of mercy year round, even though the general focus in the rest of society is centered on charity during the holidays. They provide a support network for their members. Some even open their community halls on Election Day as polling places.

Without this kind of kind-hearted dedication, our cities would be much more desperate places to live.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What goes around...

The nasty little cold that's going around has taken hold at the Press.

The blog will be back in business as soon as its author can breathe through his nose again.

Thanks for the patience. And get your flu shot, if you haven't already.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Really, there is cause for optimism

If anyone thought today's column was overly negative, that wasn't the intent.

There are real problems in Tracy, however, and a real change of direction is needed. Building more houses and dedicating limited resources to that kind of development does not make sense in the current climate. Pretending that isn't the case won't help.

Yes, eventually, we will need more houses. But that eventually is not now. And the priorities of the City Council must reflect that reality.

I'm an optomist about Tracy. I think that with the right decisions and foresight, this good community populated by great people can become even better.

But the betterment of a family, neighborhood, city, state or country often requires adjustments of trajectory. Tracy is in need of one of those right now.

I also think that our elected officials — long-sitting though some of them are — have more than enough ability to accomplish that. I know that some of them have the desire.

The question is, will they actually do it?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Random election thoughts...

• One step closer to the Taliban: Congratulations California voters, you have just written discrimination and a narrow religious precept into the state constitution by passing Proposition 8.

• Big. Hypoctires: According to Prop. 8's writers, the initiative was meant to be retroactive, meaning that folks peddling themselves as defenders of marriage purposefully took it upon themselves to try and break thousands of unions asunder.

• Now the real work begins: Barack Obama won the election, but those celebrating need to keep in mind that it could take a lifetime — let alone four or eight years — to fix what hath been wrought. Progress will be slow and measured, not sweeping and grand. Get ready to pitch in and help. Change won't happen if we just sit around and expect the politicians to do it for us.

• The work is local, too: Mayor Brent Ives is back for at least another two years, and it's up to us to give him the support he needs to steer Tracy in a better direction. And speak up if he wanders off course.

• An investment in Tracy's future: An educated town is more likely to draw serious consideration from potential employers, and the passage of the Measure S school bond on the heels of Measure E is a sign that locals are serious in building a strong community, from the kids on up.

• Guess it wasn't so brilliant after all: Selecting Gov. Sarah Palin was an instant shot in the arm for John McCain's campaign, but her complete unreadiness for the job ened up a deal-breaker for many voters.

• Good to know the spin machine is still well-lubricated: Obama's 7 million vote margin isn't a mandate, according to Robert Novak. Of course, he said Bush's 2004 margin of 3.5 million was.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

After the election

Today, a tired, election-battered community and country wake to find a brand-new future, even though almost everything is the same as it was 48 hours ago. A little encouragement to get through the day...

"I read that scientsits are trying to make computers that think. Isn't that weird?? If computers can think, what will people be better at than machines?" "Irrational behavior." "Maybe they'll invent a phsychotic computer."

"Mom and dad say I should make my life an example of the principles I believe in. But every time I do, they tell me to stop it." "I'm not sure that total self-indulgence is really a principle."

"Our lives are filled with machines designed to reduce work and increase leisure. We have more leisure than man has ever had. And what do we do with this leisure? Educate ourselves? Take up new interests? Explore? Invent? Create?" "...Dad, I can't hear this commercial."

"Why do I get the feeling that society is trying to make us discontented with everything we do and insecure about who we are?" "I suppose if people thought about real issues and needs instead of manufactured desires, the economy would collapse and we'd have total anarchy."

"Everything is so darn hard! I wish I could just take a pill to be perfect and I wish I could just push a button to have anything I want." "The American Dream lives on." "Why should I have to work for everything?! It's like saying I don't deserve it!"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The party's over

California polls just closed. And already the major networks are calling the whole shebang for Barack Obama.

Our local races will take some time to sort out, but one thing is clear — at least nationwide, a message of "change" took root. (After eight years of the President Bush fiasco, who can you blame?)

We'll see if similar sentiments reign closer to home. Check back at for updates. I'll be back with you tomorrow, alert readers.

Enjoy the evening.

My voting snafu

Turns out the soggy folks in Virginia aren't the only ones with voting problems.

I strolled into the Tracy Community Center to cast my vote today — same place I cast my primary ballots in February and June — and was summarily instructed to go to the Grace Baptist Church. My polling place had been moved, and I hadn't paid close enough attention to notice.

So I walked to my car, drove down to the Tracy Boulevard polling place and, after two screwed-up ballots, cast my vote.

And I wasn't the only one. At least two other people at Grace Baptist had stories to match mine.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The lay of the land

With one day to go, we decided to take a survey of the local electoral landscape.

Congress, 11th District:
Incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney is poised to reclaim his seat -- a poll taken two weeks ago gave him an 11-point lead over challenger Dean Andal, but the conservative from Stockton is known as a strong closer. Andal was the underdog in previous races, especially for his first campaign for an Assembly seat, and he has always pulled it out in the end.

As I wrote this, my phone buzzed with another mayoral phone ad. Conventional wisdom has the three-way race for the mayor's seat whittled down to two main contenders: Mayor Brent Ives and challenger Celeste Garamendi. Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert, though widely popular, has simply been dwarfed in the fundraising category this election cycle. Her pledge to not take more than $99 per donation -- that happens to be the threshold above which donations must be reported -- hampered her in comparison to Ives and his backers (he's also been given plenty of "independent" support from a PAC called For A Better Tracy, which was organized by developer Tony Souza to batter Garamendi and Councilwoman Irene Sundberg) and Garamendi and her coalition of donors. This race might be too close to call on Election Night.

City Council:
A five-man race for two seats is largely down to three contenders: Councilman Steve Abercrombie, Councilwoman Sundberg, and former police captain Mike Maciel. While challenger Larry Hite is well-known in the community and Larry Gamino has done some great work as a South Side activist and earned a Tracy Press endorsement, it would be a real shocker if one of the two Larrys pulled off an election victory.

Polling data doesn't exist for Measures S (TUSD bond) and T (term limits for mayor and council), but there's been neither sight nor sound of organized Measure S opposition. Tracy Unified has proven itself extremely reliable in handling the money from its most recent bond issue (Measure E in 2006), and voters will probably trust the board of trustees again to use taxpayer money wisely to upgrade middle and elemetary schools. As for Measure T, term limits have been popular in other jurisdictions, passing almost every time they appear on a ballot. Again, no polling data exists for this specific measure, but I wouldn't be surprised if Tracy voters gave it a green light.

The most contested one on the ballot is Proposition 8, and it's coming down to a dead heat. The question seems to be: how many social conservatives vs. how many social liberals will come out for this initiative given that the presidential race for California is all but decided.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Water in short supply

This time, they're serious.

The state plans to deliver only 15 percent of the water requested by water agencies and irrigation districts in 2009.

That means fallow fields for farmers, fewer rural workers with jobs, and cities forces to ration the wet stuff.

Either break out that rain dance, or get ready for shorter showers and expensive food.

Not cool

So the Tracy Press' story about the scurrilous and completely false drunken-driving hit-and-run accusation leveled at Councilman Steve Abercrombie hasn't exactly cleared the air.

Rumors about the Abercrombie incident that never happened (read the full story here) continue to fly and mutate. I won't even dignify the new ones by mentioning them.

Trust us, they're not true.

Now, if you've got beef with the developer-related donors throwing big wads of cash his way, that's cool. But that's a far cry from making up a story about Tracy's DARE guy driving under the influence.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Arguments in favor of Proposition 8

As expected, Saturday's no on Proposition 8 column prompted quite a response, which included a good number of counter-arguments as to why the proposition should be passed. A few responses to the top three Prop. 8 Support arguments, with a sincere thank you to all those alert readers who wrote in:

"If Prop. 8 fails, my church will be forced to accept an agenda that it has always and will always uphold or face lawsuits and have its tax status revoked."

I share the concern that churches and religious organizations be allowed to practice freely and without government interference. While I think the state has a responsibility to grant the same rights to same-sex couples as it does to heterosexual couples, churches should be free to marry who they want, including saying no to couples that don’t adhere to their religious standards. The First Amendment is there to protect churches from government intrusion as much as it is to protect government from becoming an arm of religion.

Luckily, Prop. 8 has no bearing on this issue. The court ruling that overturned the ban on same-sex marriages expressly states: “no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.”

So if Prop. 8 fails, California churches will still have the autonomy and authority to judge who is worthy of marriage under that belief system. But the state will no longer be able to discriminate.

"...Voters who vote against Prop 8 are voting themselves out of their right to vote. Do you realize that no matter what the 'issue' happens to be, what has actually happened here is that the California Supreme Court judges have overturned the vote of the people. They have taken away a vote that the voice of the people had a right to."

The courts have a responsibility to read and review the laws of the land and overturn those that are unconstitutional — even those passed directly by the voters.

In the case of the 4-3 decision in the California Supreme Court, a Republican-dominated court exercised the same type of power displayed in the decisions of Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia, in overturning popular laws because they denied other people of their legal civil rights.

This function of the court could very superficially be seen as undemocratic because it can override the will of the people, who are supposed to have the largest say over governance in our system. However, it truly embodies the republican spirit of our government because it prevents a tyranny of the majority, ensuring the protection of the rights of all people — not only those who happen to be in the majority.

To paraphrase Paul, what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular.

I, too, share the fear of a government that takes rights away from its populace, but I fear as much as a tyrannical government a tyrannical populace, willing to deny their fellow citizens unalienable civil rights based on gender, religious persuasion, race, sexual orientation, or any other difference that has no bearing on a person’s capacity as a citizen. Ideally, the courts are a check and a balance against both an overzealous government and an overzealous populace.

"Like you said ... marriage is a building block for communities. It's all about the KIDS. Children have a fundamental right to be raised by a father and mother. Studies that found that this is the most desirable situation, but in places where same sex marriage is allowed adoption agencies will be FORCED to give same sex couples equal standing when that is not the best thing for the child."

Letting the government into this aspect of life sets a dangerous precedent. Just because a mother-father combination is ideal (let's concede the point for the sake of argument) does that mean the government outlaws other arrangements like single-parent households, grandparents who raise their grandchildren as their own kids, or godparents who take over when parents cannot handle the load?

No. This is because there is freedom of association in the USA, and that includes choosing who you build a family with. The government has no business telling its citizens how to build their families, and that precept should apply to same-sex couples.

Furthermore, consider how many broken homes and abusive situations stem from heterosexual marriages. A child who has two loving same-sex parents committed to one another in building a family and becoming a part of their community would be in a far more “ideal” situation than a child dealing with a divorce or unhappy heterosexual parents. I think that anything that encourages loving people who want to be parents to raise children as responsible citizens is a benefit for communities.

Thanks again to everyone who left a comment or sent an e-mail. Let's do this again sometime.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A presidential endorsement

Sen. Barack Obama is my choice for president.

I'll even tell you why.

It's because of his thoughtfulness, his intelligence, his rhetoric — all of which suggest an approach to governance markedly different than that of President George W. Bush. It's because of his middle-class driven tax plan, his health care goals, his emphasis on renewable rather than drillable energy — all of which suggest, judging from history, more prosperity and a better lot for the average American.

Aside for my enthusiasm for Obama, John McCain's campaign has made it impossible for me to vote for him. The Sarah Palin for VP pick was disconcerting, but what sealed it was how he traded his considerable honor for a shot at political success. Slimed by Bush in 2000, McCain turned around and hired the same folks to slime Obama in 2008. And it's a shame.

But why isn't this announcement in Second Thoughts, out there for all of Tracy to read in real newsprint? Why, when the call of history begs me to write something, anything to mark a watershed election? Why, when there is only one scheduled run of my column before Election Day?

Well, it's because what we say in Tracy doesn't matter. Not when it comes to the presidential election.

We have the Electoral College to thank.

Without it, the Central Valley would be a hotbed of activism on the presidential scale. In a traditionally conservative region with a growing liberal population, there would be big efforts here to drive more people to the polls. Under a different system, votes in the Central Valley could help expand Obama's lead or help McCain make up crucial ground.

But because of our archaic College, we knew four years ago that unless San Francisco and Los Angeles sunk into the Pacific Ocean, California was going to send its overall support to whatever human was running as a Democrat.

As long as the Electoral College is in place, what I write — and what you read — in Tracy will have no impact on a presidential race.

I'm crossing my fingers for the day that all of Tracy's political-minded have a real impact on the presidential election. Too bad that more than 200 years of history is working squarely against us.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mountain House endorsements

After Round 2 of the Mountain House Community Services District forum, I’m ready to make my endorsements, as promised. Some of them, at least.

I come to my conclusions with the perspective that the board is starting from scratch, that in this instance, experience and leadership are vital to getting Mountain House government on the right track. You don’t want any false starts.

Based on that criteria, out of the 16 candidates for the board _ the council that will set the tone and direction of the budding community’s leadership _ one trio stands head and shoulders above the rest:

Matthew Balzarini: His experience as a police officer, firefighter and 9-1-1 dispatcher gives him intimate knowledge of what it takes to keep a community safe. This knowledge will be invaluable.

ML Gordon: He’s got 30 years experience in city government, something that might come in handy in building an administration from scratch.

Warren Fortes: In short, he knows what’s going on, and was one of the few candidates to demonstrate knowledge of the details, issues and other organizations that will shape Mountain House’s development.

That leaves two other seats up for grabs, and about seven people worthy of filling them. So this might not be the most helpful endorsement list in the world -- but it’s a start at least.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Relieving the pump pressure

I know you've been waiting for this. Gas, cheaper than $3 a gallon.

Go ahead. Fill up the SUV. Take the Rustbucket for a weekend cruise.

Enjoy it. Low gas prices, whether or not we drill domestically, are not here to stay.

A mailer's worth how many words?

If votes were decided on campaign pamphlets alone, Brent Ives might have my vote.

His most recent campaign propoganda (and yes, all these fliers are propoganda) touts his experience with city finance and his involvement in shoring up the city's monetary reserves. Fiscal prudence sells during tough times. It even has a paragraph on the back from former Democratic Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, someone whose opinion is largely respected.

The graphics are crisp, it's largely positive, and the production quality is pronounced. I was impressed.

But, as with all such mailers, it doesn't tell the whole story of the time he's spent on the council, a council that -- for a decade and a half -- has seemed only too willing to OK haphazard residential growth.

The consequences of the past 20 years of growth haven't really been felt yet. We're getting an inkling, but we really haven't suffered from stretched fire services, and gas prices haven't stayed high enough long enough to really punish us for a sprawling footprint that doesn't include enough job hubs.

UPDATE: Ives' name has also appeared on a still mysterious mailer that also endorsed Barack Obama for president, a "no" vote on Prop. 8, and a "no" vote on Prop. 4. Never thought I'd see that happen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Welcome Wal-Mart?

Late Tuesday, the City Council to OK'd the 76,000-square-foot expansion that would turn our Wal-Mart into a supercenter.

My impression: A mixed bag for Tracy.

The consistent support for the propsed Wal-Mart grocery softened my initial position that allowing the expansion was nothing but bad news. Many consumers want cheaper food, and retailers in the Grant Line Road corridor see an improved Wal-Mart as a magnet for shoppers.

These are good things.

But many of my original concerns remain unanswered.

Wal-Mart is likely to drive at least one exisiting grocery store out of business. Which is fine, it being the free market and all. And I won't shed a tear over stiffer competition for SaveMart, which has the lion's share of Tracy's grocery market.

But what happens to a shopping center that has its commerical anchor shut down as a result of that competition? It's left with a empty hulk of a hard-to-fill building that will surely drag down the smaller businesses that used to bank on the grocery's drawing power.

That will not be a happy story to report.

Also, remember that in the same corner of town to Wal-Mart is the to-be-built WinCo, already given approval. Add Costco to the mix, and that's three discount grocers within 1½ miles of one another, drawing plenty of traffic away from the city center.

Ah, yes — the traffic. The Grant Line Road corridor is already overmatched at times, especially where Grant Line hits Byron Road just west of town. If you think the area's busy now, just wait until the WinCo and new Wal-Mart are up and running.

The bright side of this vote is that people feel like City Hall understands their need for cheaper goods and more businesses in town.

The dark side is that an economic boom on Grant Line Road might be a bust on Tracy Boulevard.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Get behind Golphin

Tracy's interim police chief, Rick Golphin, named to replace Chief David Krauss, isn't sitting still with his "interim" title. He's tossed his hat into the ring for the permanent position.

It'd be nice to have a home-grown candidate get the nod for the job — someone who knows the character and characters of the city, someone with an intimite knowledge of the needs and challenges before even sitting behind the chief's desk.

But folks from all across the country have likely put in their resumes. We'll just have to wait and see who the city leadership select.

Meanwhile, Stockton is having its own police chief fun, with commentary courtesy of venerable Record columnist Mike Fitzgerald.

The mayoral debate, live-style

OK alert readers, here’s the written-live posted-later blog of the Tracy mayoral forum on Thursday night. We at Second Thoughts did this for the first presidential debate, and we’re trying it again, since it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. (OK, so it’s just me, and I’m also manning the Tracy Press camera for the event.)

Let’s begin the marathon!

7:13 p.m.: Evelyn Tolbert kicks us off, followed by Brent Ives and Celeste Garamendi.
Tolbert’s staking her night’s message to effective leadership and evidence of action, not just words and promises – and she has a lot in her record to back her up. “Listen to the evidence.”
Incumbent Ives does the same in his opening statement, emphasizing early his fiscal leadership in helping the city to build an emergency fund for tough economic times and his leadership in general.
Garamendi is banking on shared “values and principals,” and she delivers the most polished intro of the night, digging to her generations old Tracy roots and the community’s promise that she, too, believes in. (She is from a political family, remember?)

7:23: Our first interruption from the audience, and we’re only 10 minutes in! “Cut the business tax,” stops the mayor for a beat. This has good times written all over it.

7:32: Garamendi scores in the opening. She clearly shines with a prepared statement, let’s see how the questions go.

7:32: Actually, let’s wait on that. Tolbert gets an intro rebuttal because of Garamendi’s extensive time overage. We need a way to penalize such infractions. We need a TP Forum Sin Bin!

7:35: First question about the Tracy Animal Shelter and a “no-kill” policy.
Garamendi launches into a general budget priorities and shared-resources speech hammering on incumbents, including animal shelter shortcomings.
Ives mentions capital improvement budget actions that are going toward improving the animal shelter and a south county shelter and possible no-kill network.
Tolbert “doesn’t have the answers,” but talks about her effort to form a group that will use “the expertise within our community” to come up with short- medium- and long-range goals.

7:41: The possibility of a gang-free zone ordinance is raised. (Yep, no gang problem in Tracy.) To the mayor!
He touts his efforts to make the whole city a gang-free zone, and Tolbert also capitalizes on what is so far the Sound Bite of the Night. It’s “capitulation” to only designate a few secluded gang-free zones and not protect the whole city.
Garamendi goes after the mayor’s five-point plan of no-tolerance gang policy, and calls out City Hall’s “ivory tower indifference” (yes folks, this is hardball) before agreeing with Tolbert and Ives’ whole-city approach.

7:47: Wow, “Joe the Plumber” even makes a cameo. Somewhere, John McCain’s debate preppers are smiling.

7:48: Onto the question of how to make Tracy better for business.
Tolbert wants to increase the speed of permitting and reducing/waiving fees, and look into the possibility of fast-tracking and incentivizing focus. She wants to focus on green jobs, which fits in nicely with her longheld green initiative policies.
Garamendi is really going after the “change” message without saying “change.” She said the results of the incumbents’ work simply aren’t there, and points to the fact that the job issue isn’t even on the city’s 2008 priorities and goals report.
Implementation of the vision of a business city is key, according to Ives. He stressed that there have been successes (Costco warehouse, for example) and goes back to the leadership he’s shown on safety and budget – without that, he said, they wouldn’t even be able to look at job creation as a priority.

7:53: By the way, the mayor’s point that no one can unilaterally bring jobs to Tracy is a point very well made.

7:54: The Boston Red Sox just kept the Rays from going to the World Series, and Garamendi is throwing some chin music. (Underdog-sports combo metaphor. In some political writers’ circles, that earns you double points.)

7:56: A question of union support gives Garamendi an opening to detail what she calls
a city disregard for not increasing fire and police support. Ives, of course, is endorsed by the fire and police unions in Tracy, and fires a real hard one back, saying he’ll take the words of firefighters over that of a candidate any day. Tolbert actually wants to answer the question, which was about the candidates’ support of labor unions. She says they serve a “necessary purpose.”

7:59: And Tolbert likes the firefighters. (Can you imagine what would happen if a political candidate said he or she didn’t like firefighters?)

8: “It’s definitely warmer here than it was last night.” Thank you, Bob Matthews.

8:01: We’re going to break these entries up a little more.

8:01: “We have a lot to do in terms of job creation.” Mayor Brent Ives, channeling Captain Obvious.

8:02: Tolbert talks about the importance of building a three-person majority on the City Council to pass policy. She’s playing to her strong suit and playing one of Ives’ old saws – governing with consensus. “No one does anything alone in a democracy. If someone does, get scared.”

8:04: Garamendi says that incumbents weren’t able to pass a job creation agenda when there was a consistent “5-0 majority” before 2004 on the council. “The only excuse we didn’t hear for not creating jobs is ‘the dog ate my homework.’” My sound equipment is catching on fire.

8:05: Garamendi has building trades endorsements. She lets people know about it.

8:06: Consensus-building question goes to Tolbert, and she mentions listening as the first priority and that she doesn’t care who gets credit as long as something gets done. Someone is making sense. This can’t be a political forum.

8:08: Consensus-buster? Garamendi says she will provide “leadership” and “articulation of common values” so that we can “bring the council together.” That’ll bring a “change of heart on the council”?

8:09: Garamendi uses the opportunity to plug the council race, too. No mention of anyone in particular, but take a wild guess who she’s talking about.

8:11: “So what I’ve heard is that she’s going to stack the council so she can get her way.” Garamendi is getting under Ives’ skin, and he gets after her for being “negative” about the city and her and her husband’s sowing the seeds of discontent. (Hey, I’m a writer, I get to paraphrase.)

8:12: And Ives breaks out a Thomas Jefferson quote. Bring out the big guns.

8:12: Bathroom break. You’ll be able to tell if you watch the TP video because it’s the two-minute stretch when the camera isn’t focused on anything.

8:15: What’d I miss? Any fistfights? No, just a question about naming three specific things that the city has done right the past 10 years. Just to say off the cuff, the downtown, Grand Theatre, City Hall, Mayor’s Community Youth Support Network.

8:15: Oh, wait, Ives just rattled off the same things I was thinking about.

8:16: Yep, it’s easy to forget that with so much to fix in this city, Tracy has a lot going for it. This is a feel-good moment. I gotta say, I like it.

8:19: Going in, I thought that Garamendi might come off as too strident for many voters. She’s definitely the most divisive of these candidates personally, which is hurting policy arguments that are really good ideas.

8:22: “The environment is a nonpartisan issue.” Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert, channeling Captain Obvious.

8:25: Yes, we get to transportation. Finally.

8:26: I think Garamendi has mentioned the word “incumbents” in every answer. I should have kept track of this earlier.

8:27: But in this answer Garamendi is spot-on. Tracy’s development boom did not consider how the varied subdivisions would link together and to the city hub. Now we’re left with a patchwork of disparate neighborhoods.

8:29: Ives has an inside track on this question because he’s on the Altamont Commuter Express Commission. If you have rail questions for a Tracy politician, he’s the guy to nswer them. Really.

8:30: Um, pretty big gaffe on the TP tape. Ives’ 8:29 response was focused on Garamendi. And his response was a good one. (Getting the evil eye.)

8:32: Ives backs Irene Sundberg’s idea from yesterday that the courthouse belongs on the Chrisman Road property. A downtown courthouse “Doesn’t fit my vision of downtown.” It doesn’t fit the needs of the area because it empties at 5 p.m. and is dead on weekends, he said.

8:34: Plenty of hurdles to building a courthouse in the Bow Tie, and Tolbert details them very well. She knows her stuff. She also backs idea of building the courthouse at the Chrisman Road property. If Ives wins the mayoral seat, there’s a working majority for the plan right there.

8:35: Tolbert has a great public attitude: “Dude, what’s up?” This is more entertaining than the presidential debates by a rate of about three martinis. Dry, icy, Sapphire gin martinis.

8:36: “Downtown is the best location” for the courthouse. Garamendi isn’t backing down from her idea of a Bow Tie “business builder” and “job generator.”

8:38: And another TP film gaffe of the wrong person in the picture when another’s speaking. One more and we’ll get the all even. (Getting beaten with a folding chair.)

8:39: Please, please let all the candidates get behind the Measure S school bond that would help repair, among other things, the school that’s helping host this very forum.

8:42: Woo hoo! Everyone endorses Measure S. Consensus at last!

8:43: Oh, wait, Garamendi does sneak in a dig at the incumbents for “underfunding” our schools via developer-friendly agreements. And she says Ellis is going to short the Jefferson School district by millions, and the Jefferson trustees said so in a letter.

8:43: “No one doubts that Celeste says what she means when she says she’ll get in the way of growth.” Thank you Mayor Ives. The mayoral-presidential entertainment gap just went up by another martini.

8:44: Ives says that every development agreement and school money amount has been OK’d by school districts, and you can’t make new residents pay for schools built ages ago.

8:45: Tolbert points out that a Tracy Municipal Airport runway expansion is not the top priority at the airport in its development, but that lengthening the main runway is a good idea. There’s a bright future there, she says. I agree, but it isn’t in lengthening the runway.

8:48: The Ellis project could choke the Tracy airport, according to Garamendi, and she cites a staff report suggesting that selling the airport and relocating could be a plan because of “planned” encroachment.

8:50: The real encroachment is the industrial plant and intersection of Corral Hollow and Linne roads, Ives said. Um, point to the mayor. You can’t expand the runway without taking out that industrial parcel. You can see it, too, if you bother to go to the airport. The intersection is a red herring – anyone who’s driven the 880 through San Jose would agree.

8:50: I’ve given up on zooming into each candidate. I’m going widescreen mode and hoping YouTube ups its resolution. (Getting forcibly dragged from the premises.)

8:51: Holy Lord, we’ve already shattered the one-and-a-half hour time limit and we have two more questions.

8:52: Term limits Measure T comes up, and Garamendi supports it. I think she’ll be the only one.

8:53: And the 2006 mud-slinging “through Brent Ives’ campaign” comes up, in reference to the tens of thousands of dollars spent by a PAC to keep Garamendi from gaining the mayor’s office that year. John McCain’s camp could have taken tips from Garamendi when it comes to swinging for the fences.

8:54: Ives responds by countering that his campaign didn’t do any personal attacks, and that those ads were through an independent expenditure group.

8:55: Yep, Ives and Tolbert both say no to Measure T, especially for a city of Tracy’s size that boasts a non-career City Council – reasoning courtesy of Tolbert. Hear hear! We can always vote the bums out.

8:57: Hearing her talk, it’s getting harder and harder to rag on Tolbert for her campaign contribution limit policy. Though I’d still like her to list all those donors.

9:03: Garamendi pulls out an e-mail (sent today!) tying Ives to "independent" efforts in this year's campaign as a counter to his previous argument. She then asks “who’s pulling the strings” of Ives the candidate and Ives the mayor, and says the incumbents “wash their hands like Pontus Pilot” of underfunding area schools. My motherboard just started smoking.

9:06: Garamendi is going waaaaay over her limit on this question. I’m telling you, we need this Sin Bin thing.

9:07: I swear, that’s not me shaking the TP camera. Really. (Once again getting forcibly removed from the premises.)

9:07: Let the closing statements begin. Garamendi hammers again on the current mayor and councilwoman, saying that they’ve made “dead end” choices that have basically engineered a city that’s good at building subdivisions but lacking otherwise — and not without reason. The evidence is all around us. And she signs off on a very positive note of “leadership” and “independence” and about her vision of Tracy as a leader of the county and region. She did well tonight.

9:10: Ives reiterates that this is a community that has a bright future because of past planning. “It’s not out of accident, it’s because leaders were there” making public safety job No. 1. “What we’re talking about are troubled times ahead, and what we’re talking about is will we have the kind of leadership and judgment” to get us through. And he closes with a good shot at Garamendi’s 2006 call to spend the city’s reserve funds, funds that are now seeing the city through lean times. Very. Strong. Finish.

9:12: Except that Ives pulled a “My friends” reference and made an experience pitch straight from the June presidential campaign. How did John McCain get into Monte Vista Middle School without me knowing?

9:14: “You do have a clear-cut choice … please do not confuse anger and negativity with passion.” Tolbert has an inclusive message in her closing. This is her strength, and she’s built her whole campaign on the notion that she’s the person that can get things done from the mayor’s seat in an inclusive way, and not without reason. She says that she will be able to get things done because she has in the past. And she hammers on “politicians” who take credit for everything that’s happened on their watch and show up out of nowhere with a vision at campaign time.

And that’s a wrap!

Stay tuned for Saturday’s column for analysis. That is, if I can duct tape my keyboard back together.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quick council forum notes

Three quick thoughts from the Tracy Press-sponsored Wednesday night City Council forum:

• Irene Sundberg came to play: Her answers painted a picture of a civil servant in the mix of vital and ongoing projects to improve the city's economic health. She refered to her record and didn't seem to be caught off-guard by anything. She was in control.

• Larry Gamino is not ready for prime time: He knows how to get things done as an activist. He cares deeply about Tracy. He is a true rouser of the rabble. But on the public stage, he crumbled.

• Larry Hite remains hidden: The "forgotten candidate" of this council election failed to score a game-changer at the forum. His campaign has been largely dwarfed by the efforts of Mike Maciel, Steve Abercrombie and Sundberg, and the forum was his big chance to make a mark. It didn't happen.

• Bonus note: Abercrombie, in my opinion, effectively deflected criticism that they were recipients of too much money from outside Tracy. If, that is, you trust him. (As a longtime cop, most people would say he's earned that kind of trust.)

I'll be at the mayoral forum in just a few minutes. Expect a more in-depth blog coming Friday morning about that three-way debate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another reason not to trust Wikipedia

Correct me if I'm wrong, but something might be amiss with the St. Mary's High School in Stockton entry on Wikipedia:

Current enrollment is 1091 students. 36% of the total student body represent Black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian minority groups. And everybody else is white! The faculty consists of 6 Religious (Priests, Brothers, and Sisters) and 82 gay teachers and support staff. Student/Faculty ratio is 17/1.

The administrators might want to look into that one...

* Courtesy of alert reader Bob Brownne.

More forum follow-up

Piggybacking on yesterday's blog, some have disagreed with the assessment that Dean Andal "won" the debate against Rep. Jerry McNerney, arguing that Andal did more attacking than arguing. I'll agree. To a point.

The contrast between the two was especially obvious in the closing statements.

McNerney talked more positively about energy issues that he was working toward, the pleasure of serving the district and what he called his continuing committment to those in uniform (veterans issues has been a central theme of his two years in office).

Andal shared a heartwarming story to close, but first warned that McNerney was a tax-raiser who made an "immoral" decision by voting no on an Iraq funding bill that did not contain a timetable for withdrawal.

As I said yesterday, the "low blow" of the evening.

However, Andal was more comfortable in the environment and, therefore, appeared to come out the better. The public forum is clearly his forte.

Still, that doesn't mean Andal would make the better Congressional representative.

In fact, there's plenty of reason to belive Andal's performance makes him less likely to be successful in Congress. Compromise and cajoling is a big part of the job. It's hard to do that when you're taking pot shots at the character of the folks across the aisle.

Monday, October 13, 2008

From the forum

So, being a moderator for a debate sounds more fun than it really is. But I'm glad I stepped in to referee the Jerry McNerney-Dean Andal 11th Congressional District forum on Saturday in Tracy.

From behind the lectern, it looked like Andal scored a victory. He had the zingers that McNerney lacked, and he was more straightforward in several of his answers. But Andal also scored the lowest blow.

You'd expect McNerney's answers to be more complex, as he's a congressman. Even two years in office provides plenty of track record for an opponent to pounce on. But Andal reached into the realm of dishonor when he said McNerney's vote against funding a surge in Iraq was "immoral."

As McNerney pointed out, in Congress the only way to influence the way the Iraq war has been waged is via appropriations — especially refusing to spend money on what McNerney called an "open-ended" conflict led by President Bush. So McNerney voted against it. When it became apparent the president would allow troops in the field to run out of supplies before he changed his strategy, McNerney voted to fund the Pentagon's request.

Andal painting that as immoral is especially misleading, since, if elected to Congress, Andal would probably find himself the victim of similar mischaracterizations.

With all the procedural votes a congressman faces, and with all the earmarks and riders attached to many large bills, Andal the congressman would surely find himself between a rock and a hard place: vote to violate his no tax pledge, or vote against overall popular and valuable legislation and leave himself vulnerable to truth-stretching attacks.

To be fair, mailers from an outside group that is backing McNerney are harping on similar distortions of the truth. (Check your mail slot, I'm sure you'll see them soon.)

Most notable among the out-of-context stretchers are that Andal voted to mandate skirt-wearing in private business offices and opposes tougher date-rape laws. This didn't come up in the forum, but it's making the rounds.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quiz your future Congressman

At 7 p.m. tonight, Oct. 11, members of the 11th California Congressional District will have the chance to ask questions of incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney and challenger Dean Andal.

And they'll actually answer.

I'll be the emcee (God be with me) of the 1½-hour event designed to give district voters the chance to hear firsthand from the people who, come January, will represent us for two years in Washington, D.C. And it's the only time Andal and McNerney will face each other on the same stage in even a quasi-debate format.

But the star of the show is the voters. So show up, ask a question, and make a decision.

It's democracy at its finest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The change we don't need?

Out of all the dysfunctional elected bodies we get to vote for this fall -- Congress, Assembly, state Senate, Delta College board, City Council -- the Tracy Unified School District board is humming along just fine.

I sat as a panelist at the TUSD forum Thursday, and confirmed what I thought about the board from previous encounters: These guys know what they're talking about.

They handled the Measure E bond -- the one that rebuilt the West building at Tracy High and brought you Steve Lopez Stadium and the coming rebuild of several other Tracy High classroom structures -- with aplomb. They made cuts to the school district's budget and restructured jobs so that the pain fell as far from the classroom as possible. They know what has to be done.

The challengers all acquitted themselves very well Thursday, and they would all make good trustees. They really would. But why fix what isn't broken?

Friday random thoughts...

• Crisp air, a light breeze, the rustle of golden-red leaves: I love fall.

• Um, Obama supporters, don't celebrate yet: He's leading in battleground states and in national polls, but there's a lot of time between now and Nov. 4. And it will not, it will not be pretty. And a liberal group's apparent registration fraud doesn't help.

• The final sip of coffee is always the most bitter: Mudslinging in the presidential campaign reached a new low this week, with 20- and 30-year-old associations and misdeeds paraded (and voters publicly calling one of the candidates "terrorist" and yelling "kill him").

• If he's so easy to identify, why haven't you caught him yet? A guy who wears a Band-Aid on his face every time he commits a robbery did it again in Tracy on Thursday.

• I guess this means we have a lotta money to pay back: The national debt clock ran out of digits this week.

• Because it's the only time our two congressional candidates will take the same stage this campaign season: 7 p.m. Saturday at Monte Vista Middle School, Jerry McNerney vs. Dean Andal. Don't miss it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

City Council ethics still a hot topic

Open government in Tracy has been a cause of Celeste Garamendi stretching back at least to the last mayoral campaign cycle.

In April 2007, amid a public records scandal and court battle that the city eventually won on a technicality, Garamendi was one of the main proponents that the city adopt an ethics code for elected officials. The effort died for lack of City Council support, even though Councilwoman Irene Sundberg backed the idea.

I wrote a column about the need for such a code in January, and the point stands. There's no reason an ethics code should not be in place.

Garamendi is still pushing for the reforms, and is unveiling her plan as part of a made-for-media event at 11:30 a.m. Friday in front of Tracy City Hall. She says it's part of her effort to shake city government from its past practices.

"I absolutely believe (the lack of open government) is one of the ways in which the status quo is maintained," she told me today. "I think the light of day would help."

If only we would let it shine.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Also known as a really bad day

Since 2 p.m., we've heard over the office police scanner:

• A motorcycle vs. big-rig accident on Grant Line Road
• A car taking off from police and overturning on Tracy Boulevard and Beechnut Avenue
• A man who slit his throat in a home near Kelly Elementary School and had to be airlifted out by medics
• A man threatening to soak himself with gasoline and set himself on fire at 11th Street and Chrisman Road

The moon won't be full for another week. What's going on out there?

Signs of a small town

The "No Parking" notices are already up on downtown streets — Tracy's homecoming parade is Friday afternoon. Fire up the band.

It's not just for the high schoolers or the old-time "coming home" Tracy grads, either. Believe it or not, it's nostalgic for the rest of us, even if our high schools never had such a thing. (It's that whole bygone-era Norman Rockwell Americana thing, right?)

So I'll be one of the folks taking in the sights and sounds of the Tracy, and later the West, homecomign parades.

But remember, if you see a cake on wheels, run for the hills.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Drill, baby, drill?

My girlfriend and I took the scenic Highway 101 when driving down to L.A. last weekend, passing through such scenic cities as San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara.

Ah, Santa Barbara, with its offshore drilling rigs hanging in the coastal haze. No doubt VP nominee Sarah Palin, 11th district challenger Dean Andal, and other proponents of offshore oil exploration find them beautiful.

I will admit, there is a certain functional appeal to the rigs, knowing that they're feuling my car as it flies down the Great California Highway. But it is not a natural beauty. It is one of utility, and such sights change how we think of our world.

It tells us that our surroundings are there to be exploited rather than viewed with awe and wonder. That a sweeping vista can be bought and sold. That there is a price tag on the priceless.

But there are some things that are beyond value.

A cup of coffee with a friend. A warm place to sleep. A swath of untrammeled wilderness. An appreciation for the planet not based solely on how its resources can be extracted to increase worldly wealth.

You can't drill for that.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A special place in history

Publisher emeritus Sam Matthews has long been known around the Press newsroom as a walking encyclopedia of Tracy history. Now he gets to share a little more with the town he knows like the back of his hand.

The new main classroom building at Tracy High will bear a mural and a plaque describing the building's history — from its building in the early 20th century, to its many uses, to its eventual demolition and rebuilding.

Sam Matthews is the man who penned the words for that plaque.

A special place in history, indeed.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Developing news from the north

Remember the Let Children Play — Now! group? The one that said it wasn't backed by developers but disappeared as soon as two developer agreements fell apart a couple years back? Stockton has 'em beat. By a long shot.

They have the Alliance for Responsible Planning. A developer-backed group that actually wants to overturn the most sensible planning decision Stockton's made this decade.

A little while back, Attorney General Jerry Brown came to a settlement with the city of Stockton over its newly minted general plan because it was — according to Atty Moonbeam's office — "egregious" in its treatment of land and its call for sprawl. (No surprise that developers wanting to close the gap between Stockton and Lodi had major pull in the general plan's creation.)

Stockton took a second look at the general plan and agreed.

But in response to the legal settlement, which mandates Stockton focus more on infill growth as it doubles in size the next 40 years, developers are mobilizing.

More than 25,000 signatures are on a petition that would set up a public referendum to approve or invalidate the Stockton City Council's decision.

Any guess who's behind the drive? That's right. A.G. Spanos.

Just another instance of big pockets organizing "grassroots" support in an effort to exert power from the bottom up as well as the top down.

Friday random thoughts...

• Those were the days: When late summer meant tomatoes being harvested and the Heinz Co. plant humming near Tracy High.

• Funny how perspectives change, isn't it? To most teenagers, this story of two grape harvesters run amok is probably a real side-splitter. To most adults reading the tale of punks gone wild, not so much.

• I'm so terrified I'll just sit here and do nothing: According to local economic gurus quoted here, I'm doing just the right thing for the current financial crisis.

• "Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself": It's pretty hard to justify this much bacon in an economic bailout bill.

• Guess I'll have to find some other presidential candidate to endorse: Mike McLellan, and his withdrawal from the race.

• Enjoy the evening for me. Please: While hundreds are strolling downtown Tracy, I'll be upstairs in the Tracy Press, well within earshot of the madness and music, making sure there's a Saturday paper.