Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday random thoughts ...

• Thin ballot, thick responsibility: Don't let the lack of heft fool you, the June 3 election is as important as any other. (Although that's probably not the encouragement Apathetic America needs.)

• If you vote for the same thing, you don't really deserve change: An alternative translation of the GOP's "The change you deserve" 2008 campaign theme.

Who woulda thought it'd work like that? For years, enlightened economists have said higher prices would be the only thing that would make Americans rethink their wanton use of gas and oil. Hmmmm.

• But guard your gas tanks: More and more crooks are getting their fuel fix by siphoning — or just plain drilling into — the gas tanks of others. Bonus points for anyone who engineers a painful (but nonlethal) means of deterrence.

• Cheerio, BA: I finally found a gift to send to British Airways. (Although they did send my dad and I a very nice credit for a future trip — anything to get us back to Terminal 5, I guess.)

• If you thought it's only 'bums' who frequent food banks: Check this AP story.

Calling all Bean Fiends: The deadline to submit your best bet for the Name the Bean Theme contest is this weekend. Send them to, or regale the blog with your legume genius.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A humble campaign request

Can we just agree that if a news piece gets its big break on YouTube, it doesn't deserve the full force of the media engine?

I think that the reason these "YouTube issues" have been so big in the news isn't just that video sharing is wildly popular, it's because discussing these issues doesn't take any work.

No reporting. No insight. No context. Nothing between an open mouth or flowing pen and a couple easy pot shots at a candidate. What's not to love? (Except, of course, that poll after poll show what Americans really want from political pundits is thoughtful, balanced reporting on substantiative issues.)

A religion teacher of mine used to call this kind of thing constipation of the brain and diarrhea of the mouth.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day mailbag

OK, so less of a mailbag, but I love coming into work on a holiday and finding a full comments section from a recent column. Let's get the ball rolling:
"I think Jon gets a kick out of writing stuff that gets people all fired up, little does he know, it doesn't make him good or smart ... just the opposite happens. Its pretty clear that he is someones puppet." — Ubbo Coty

I've never worked that well with strings attached — if I did, I could probably make a whole lot more money than I do now. In this case, I really think that the public interest is best served by a government that's as open to the people as possible. And I'll stand by that whether it appears I'm on the take or not.

"Then by the same 'moral standards,' won't you please be so kind as to tell us how much Mark (Connolly) is spending on front page advertising in the Tracy Press?" — Francis Hineman

I would love to, but I can't. I simply don't know. And that's by design. In a business where advertising pays the bills and you often have to cover issues involving your advertisers, it's better that the people producing the content don't know who's paying how much.

"After reading this and the first article again, now I think the City wants to have their cake and eat it too. I mean if they think that the councilwoman must be named in the appeal then why did they defend her with their lawyers. If the lawsuit is really against her and they can't make her turn over the records then why did they defend her in the first place. I hope she doesn't get away with this. Miscarriage of justice would be the term. The legal system never seems to get to the bottom of anything." — Drama Queen

When I left the Sacramento courtroom, I felt as though I was part of a wildlife transfer program. It's a disorienting experience.

"According to your opinion pice, the Press has some excellent legal arguments, but, unfortunately, their attorney screwed up some totally basic legal issue, forgot to list Tucker's name on some legal forms, and as a result, the court may simply ignore your legal arguments altogether because the Press' lawyer was too stupid to fill out the forms correctly? Is that right?

"If your description is correct, the irony would be quite enjoyable." — Friend of JM

It's only enjoyable if you don't demand accountability from public officials.
Keep that feedback coming, alert readers, and I'll keep answering.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday random thoughts...

• Yet another benefit of living downtown: Walking the Tracy trifecta of Ralph's, The Great Plate, and The Shamrock. In one night.

• Why the Central Valley will never meet strict air pollution control standards:
Windy days like Wednesday and Thursday.

• Quote of the week: "I think what this clearly shows is that they can even screw up spending the taxpayers' money unwisely," from White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, on a farm bill gaffe by the Democratic Congress.

• Straight Talk Express meets Quickest Developer in the West: Sen. John McCain, and his fundraiser stop with tycoon Alex Spanos.

• Hope we won't miss them while they're gone: Four wildland firefighters from Tracy are battling the Santa Cruz County blaze.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Why don't superheroes go after more subtle, realistic bad guys?" "Yeah, the superhero could attend council meetings and write letters to the editor and stuff."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tracy's fault lines

I ran into Mayor Brent Ives at Girard's Deli today, and shared an interesting observation from his ongoing campaign for mayor.

He said that in knocking on doors to drum up support, there are plenty of people (a disturbing proportion, judging by the look on his face) who don't really know (or care, I'd guess) where the city's downtown is. It was disheartening to hear, but not surprising.

The underlying problem, of course, is that many people here are not connected to the city. Finding ways to bridge the gaps between the separate worlds of Tracy, as I suggested, is one of the prime challenges that will face the next mayor. That's something Ives truly understands.

But the next mayor should also consider that the continuing push to build far-flung subdivisions is one of the surest ways to worsen the city's fractured profile.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No ruling yet

SACRAMENTO — The 3rd District Court of Appeal issued no decision regarding the Tracy Press' Public Records Act Request against the city of Tracy today. But the court did try to shoot plenty of holes in the Press' argument.

The main focus was on a relatively minor procedural issue, but one that could lead to the outright dismissal of the case. It involves whether the Press' appeal improperly left off Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker's name (she was named as a party when the case appeared before the Superior Court in May 2007).

The court decided to hammer home this issue, asking questions of the Press' attorneys before the oral arguments even began, returning to the procedural question time and again. What many of us thought was the main issue — whether the e-mails sent from Tucker's personal computer concerning public business are public records — was largely MIA.

If the case is dismissed, the court will have missed an opportuntity to ensure that public records and open meeting laws cannot be legally skirted by using private means of communication. But guessing that the court will dismiss the case is, at this point, pure conjecture.

The decision is expected within 30 days. We'll keep you posted.

A day in court

Today the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento will hear the Tracy Press' e-mail case against Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker. (For a previous rant that's worth 8 minutes of your time, check here.)

The thrust of the Press' argument is that e-mails concerning public business sent from someone acting in an official capacity are subject to Public Records Act requests — even if they were sent via personal computer — because they concern public business and were sent by someone acting as a public official.

Check back often, alert readers. I'll be back with an update sometime in the early evening.

Monday, May 19, 2008


My Saturday column contained two pieces of inaccurate info that need amending:

First: Division Chief David Bramell's name was mispelled.

Second: Councilman Steve Abercrombie (not Suzanne Tucker) is the second city of Tracy representative on the South County Fire Authority board. Tucker, however, is an alternate and was present at a January meeting that had some concern regarding the report mentioned in my column.

Sorry for the mistakes, which have been corrected online but unfortunately remain in the print edition (I couldn't get my hands on enough white-out to complete the job).

No bull

The economy might have put the nail in the coffin for 2008 Portuguese festa bullfights, but animal-rights activists sure had a helping hand. And who can blame them? Torturing animals for sport is a pretty barbaric thing, even if that's not the intent of the event.

I mean, it's good fun for the humans, but what about the bleeding participant? Let's stage the event with a couple enterprising die-hards in a cow suit, and see how they fare.

The only part I will personally miss is the sound from the ring floating all the way to Press office at 10th and A streets. The noise of so many people gathered together in Tracy's downtown — and living it up with an ice-cold cerveca — is magic.

But for some, it's a nostalgic tragedy that there won't be a fight at the festa this year. Cheer up though, mates. The best part of last year's fight was when members of the Suicide Squad took on the fans. Maybe we can get them back for a bull-less encore.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday random thoughts...

• Another reason sprawling growth is bad #1: If Ellis and Tracy Hills are built, we'll need an estimated three new fire stations, according to William Kirchhoff's assessment of our fire agencies.

• Another reason sprawling growth is bad #2: The same report says not counting those three stations, we need two additional fire houses just to adequately protect the West Valley Mall, the Gateway project and John C. Kimball High School.

• Not a good statistic: Compared to other local cities, Tracy has the lowest firefighter-to-citizen ratio, though that stat gets better if the South County Fire Authority is taken as a whole.

• I'm with President Bush all the way on this one: He's planned to veto the bloated Farm Bill, which, while it does provide a much-needed boost in food assistance programs, still gives away far too much money to corporate farms already enjoying record high crop prices.

• News alert: Talking head actually challenges more obnoxious talking head to fact-check! Chris Matthews, in this video. (Watch the whole thing. Trust me, it's worth it. Though if you're impatient, the money quote is at 3 minutes.)

• Irony of the week: Ever notice how subdivisions are often named for the places destroyed to make room for them?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Let the (gay) wedding bells toll

Today the California Supreme Court ruled that homosexuals have as much right to marry as heterosexuals. Strangely, despite the fears of marriage "protectionists," my parents' holy union has not been assaulted, and my relationship with my girlfriend is as meaningful as ever.

Though it overruled an existing voter-passed initiative (not the most savory of propositions) the court made the right call here, as the state constitution as well as the U.S. Constitution contains an "equal protection" clause. All citizens should be equal in the eyes of the law.

Marriage, as far as the government is concerned, is a legally binding contract between two consenting adults of sound mind. To me, that means the government has no business denying that legal right to people on the sole ground of their sexual orientation. So good call, state Supreme Court.

Note that this decision doesn't mean private persons and organizations — protected in their beliefs by the First Amendment — have to follow suit. Houses of worship, or any group or indivudual for that matter, are as free as ever to condemn and shun same-sex unions.

Thankfully, the California government no longer has that option.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Feeling the fire

The fire season has begun, and it's not even summer yet.

A wet January and February combined with an Atacama-like March and April have left the valley ripe for grass fires. This week's expected triple-digit temperatures aren't expected to help.

So the powers that be have declared the rest of this week "red flag" territory, which means extreme fire danger.

So watch where you're tossing those matches, and make sure your Lake Del Valle campfire is out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Where the campaigners stand

The City Council race will take more than 5 months, but we already have an idea of who will form allegiances with whom if elected:

Mike Maciel, a former police captain, is in favor of a development deal with The Surland Cos. and had Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker in attendance at his campaign kickoff Tuesday.

Larry Hite, a home inspector, has previously said his outlook for governance is more or less in line with that of Mayor Brent Ives.

Larry Gamino, former railroad man, is more of a wildcard. But he's on record saying older neighborhoods should be improved before expanding the city further.

Councilman Steve Abercrombie is a swing vote and a voice of moderation in the current council.

Irene Sundberg, who I'm guessing will run to defend her seat on the City Council, is a slow-growther and is more often than not in opposition of Tucker and Ives and often supports Celeste Garamendi, who's running for mayor alongside Ives and Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert, who herself is a swing vote on the council depending on the issue.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

One more prison solution

Another possible solution to the county's and state's prison population problems — arrest fewer people.

That's not going to go over well with a lot of folks, especially when it seems like crimes and criminals are everywhere. But hold the condemnation for one second — we need all the ideas we can get when it comes to the sad state of the California penal system.

Drug offenses are one of the reasons the state's prison system is so full. It's also another reason why state spending on prisons will soon outstrip its investment in education — an unsavory propisition that speaks to wildly misplaced priorities.

Legalizing certain drugs like marijuana (at least for adults, as with alcohol and cigarettes) might be the easiest way to alleviate the pressure on the prison system, not to mention taking away the need and incentive for purveyors of the weed to pack heat. Such a move could reduce the quantity of many crimes associated with black-market drug-running.

With the prison system at a crisis point, it's at least worth strong consideration. Because the status quo simply isn't going to cut it.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday random thoughts...

• Slow on the draw: Celeste Garamendi officially launched her campaign for Tracy mayor Thursday, but the race has been going on for some time. Mayor Brent Ives, at least, has plugged his "Let's all work together" theme and taken shots at slow-growthers, even in his State of the City address.

• An open government theme from Garamendi? How refreshing: The Tracy Press e-mail case against the city and Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker will be heard in Sacramento court May 20. You know I'll be there.

• Welcome, Leon Churchill Jr. You can proceed to not follow your predecessor: Let's hope that the city's internal inertia hasn't already pushed over Tracy's newest hire.

• In other words, we're completely hosed: Read the first section of this report, a capsule of the alliances, battles and strategies of the past few years in Iraq, and tell me if you come to a more optimistic conclusion.

• Because kids need someone to emulate who is grossly overpaid and doesn't have to worry about losing his job: Barry Zito.

• Why couldn't Oliver Stone just let the history of incompetence speak for itself? "W," the upcoming movie.

• The "Name the Bean Theme" contest continues: Send your suggestions for the theme of the Tracy Dry Bean Festival to

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The other Tracy's mayoral election

Tracy, Calif., isn't the only Tracy wrestling with a 2008 mayoral election. Our cousins to the north in Tracy, New Brunswick, Canada, are having one, too.

Maybe it's contentious by their standards, but from here, it seems like a downright genteel affair.

The Daily Gleaner, the area's newspaper of record, describes a race where the gloves are decidely on. At least as described by this article, it's without the sniping and grandstanding featured so far in our race for mayor.

Maybe there's more we could learn from Canada than how to play hockey.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Best Fest contest early favorite

In the contest to give the 2008 Tracy Dry Bean Festival an appropriate theme, there's an early leader in the clubhouse:

"There is a methane in our madness." - Mike McLellan

The bar's been set, alert readers. Keep trying to vault it (or at least knock it down).

Remember, all entries can be posted here or sent to

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tracy corners 11th District art market

For the second year in a row, a West High School student has won the 11th Congressional District art contest.

The 2008 winner is Bilal Houseyni, whose "George Meets Picasso" will soon hang in the halls of Congress. The painting was on view Saturday at the Grand Theatre.

This space tips its hat to the young artist, and the West High art department. This city needs its artists, and West seems to be doing a great job of developing them.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday Random Thoughts ...

• Back to your regularly scheduled program: The president is asking for $70 billion more dollars to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don't worry, though. While voting to support our misadventure with their right hands, Democrats will vigorously shake their left hands in menacing disapproval.

These guys need an advisor or something: If you're trying to secure rights in the United States, you might not want a Mexican flag as your rally's primary symbolic vehicle.

• Breathe deep, smell the pander: While Hillary Clinton and John McCain want to spend more money we don't have on a gax-tax holiday that won't spell relief for consumers, Barack Obama certainly looks capable of telling Americans hard truths. Or, as Clinton and McCain would say, someone who can lead on Day 1.

• Blast from the Past I: Californians might have to start rationing water, recalling the drought years in the early 1990s.

• Blast from the Past II: Lines are growing at the city's cheapest gas stations, recalling the oil embargo days of the 1970s.

• Relay reminder: The Relay For Life begins Saturday at 10 a.m. at Peter B. Kyne Field. If you're not going, assuage your guilty conscience by donating to the Tracy Press relay team!

• Alert readers, have your voices heard! The contest to decide the Tracy Dry Bean Festival's theme is ongoing. Send your suggestions to this blog or to