Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mountain House delivery issues

According to the community blog, the Tracy Press has seriously curtailed its deliveries to Mountain House.

"There is a Mountain House edition that has the same articles as the corresponding Tracy edition with a different name that they send out only here once a month."

Not to worry, MH readers. That Mountain House edition of the Tracy Press is still sent out every Wendesday and Saturday, and the front page is often designed to feature a top story more specific to the community.

Although I admit delivery there might seem fewer and farther between than reality would suggest, as no doubt most folks there need to leave for work long before the midweek edition hits their doorsteps in the pre-dawn hours.

(Thanks to alert reader and TP photographer Glenn Moore for pointing this out.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

News from the home(less) front

For those in the know, it's no secret that San Joaquin County has a homeless problem to go with its unemployment and crime issues — aka the Trifecta of Urban Decay.

But at least nationally, progress is being made.

This report, via USA Today, indicates that the number of chronically homeless individuals is declining. (The statistics are imperfect, because they don't include homeless families or those experiencing a single episode of homelessness, but we'll take progress where we can get it.)

Officials say one of the reasons the number is declining is because the ways of measuring — and therefore targeting — the homeless are improving. No thanks to the city of Tracy.

During the annual nationwide homeless count (mandated by Congress, by the way), the city was dutifully uninvolved with the proceedings. Luckily, a few local agencies took up the slack.

When the next count rolls around, the city should jump at the chance to build on a good-news national trend. Or maybe we can just pretend that homelessness is a problem for someone else. Namely, the homeless.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Smells of the newsroom

You can always tell when the photographer returns from covering a midsummer grass fire. It smells like a night around a bonfire at the beach.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ellis and the airport

The future of Tracy Municipal Airport could be decided at a 6:30 pm meeting Monday at City Hall.

I wrote previously that in a time of economic gloom, the flypad south of the city is the Little Airport that Could, establishing a bustling trade in repairing, building, shipping, hosting and housing airplanes.

But the economic renaissance could be squelched by the Ellis subdivision, which would build homes directly under the airport's most-used takeoff and landing approach. Ellis will have its hearing at City Hall at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. (The timing, I take it, is not coincidental.)

Bruce Ludeman, the airport's director for the city, told me that the airport's right of way would come before any complaints of future homeowners, but I have more respect (or possibly less faith) for the power of the local development community.

Tuesday's meeting will be a test of mettle for city leaders, to see if they stand tall in favor of a truly home-grown economic engine with potential for the future.

The airport is clearly the priority here, but I don't know if it's as clear from the City Council dias.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Columnist unplugs

Sorry alert readers, no random thoughts this Friday. This columnist is off to Big Sky Country for a week of fishing, hiking and goofing off. (Even us political junkies need some mental recuperation away from online and cable news.)

So until July 28, I should be delightfully un-reachable.

Enjoy the break.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Want to reduce crime? Think marriage!

Tracy police's Irene Rose, resident crime prevention officer, has this advice for keeping streets safe: think marriage.

Police can't do it alone, she said. If folks want to be safe, they have to pitch in and not expect the cops to do it all for them.

“We can’t do it without them. … To really prevent crime, the community has to be part of it.”

In other words: if you want help, help yourself by not withdrawing from the neighborhood you want to protect.

One way to do this is to get out and use parks, sidewalks and porches. If regular people are using public space, bad guys won't.

“I think of criminals as I do cockroaches," Rose explained — they don't like people, and they don't like the light.

Who would have thought keeping thieves out of your glove box would be like getting hitched to the boys (and girls) in blue?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tag, you're it

With a 4-1 Tuesday vote, the City Council decided Tracy's new brand will be "Think Inside the Triangle."

Despite what I consider the obvious shortcomings of the tag (aims too small, too abstract, too easy to mock) and plenty of other suggestions, it looks like we're stuck with it.

Now it's up to city leaders to make Tracy live up to its branding — cost, a cool $25,000 — as the place to be.

Tag, City Council. You're it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Guess who wants to build in Tracy?

Press photographer Glenn Moore snapped this photo at Tuesday's growth management ordinance meeting, a conference to decide which developments get priority.

That man in the blue shirt in the front row of the City Hall room is Les Serpa. Serpa is just one of the many who stand to gain — or lose — big from the city's gut-check of what has been a haphazard development plan.

Let's hope that the biggest stakeholders, the residents who live and work here, gain the most.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tell the free market to shove it

With the most recent Fed bailout of a financial corporation saddled by poor loans (read: taxpayers paying for private executives' bad decisions) it's time to end the silliness of declaring that we live in a "free market."

While many finanical bigwigs have no problem decrying government regulation of business, which often prevents nasty things like Savings & Loan crises or the schizophrenic packaging of complex and sure-to-go-downhill loans for short-term gain, they seem to have little problem when taxpayers keep them from going belly up.

Regulation could have prevented this whole blow-up, and kept taxpayers off the hook for debt racked up by financial gurus making seven, eight, even nine figures. But no, that wouldn't be an efficient way to run a market, the radicals said.

Instead, these "too-big-to-fail" enterprises were allowed to make incredibly risky decisions knowing that if they failed, the U.S. government (brought to you by Jane and Joe Taxpayer) would have to step in to prevent a possible worldwide financial meltdown. Instead of choosing a profitable capitalist model meshed with reasonable oversight, folks at the top of the economic food chain wanted whatever model allowed them to cash in before the other shoe dropped.

It should be obvious now that a pure free market is not a recipie for success. It's a recipie for greed, graft, and everyday folks getting the shaft.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday random thoughts

• This might be something important: The city's growth management ordinance is under review Tuesday evening at City Hall. Those concerned about which developers will have first dibs at building here would do well to show up.

• One is better than two: The South County Fire Authority is continuing talks with the Lathrop Fire Department to merge the two units. While that could improve resources and response times, Steve Abercrombie, councilman and SCFA board member, says there are still plenty of details to be hammered out.

• I wonder what John McCain says to this: Iraq's own prime minister agrees with Barack Obama that a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from the country is necessary for security.

• Guess the recession is more than "mental," eh Phil Gramm? IndyMac Bank became the second-largest financial institution to close in the history of the country because of tight credit and the foreclosure crisis.

• People complain about Tracy's recent violent crime "wave", but...: Have you even checked out Stockton? If there isn't a stabbing or shooting, it's been a really great day.

• Can't we please, please decide to find something better? The city's "Think Inside the Triangle" brand idea could be up for a vote Tuesday. Here's hoping sanity — and good taste — prevail.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another brand scam?

Tracy isn't the only city dealing with a branding issue. Stockton, evidently, wants to "Celebrate!"

You might ask, "What's Stockton got to celebrate?" And you'd be right. Partially. Despite the perceptions, it's a city on the rise, and if it can ever control its crime problem (and its developers controlling the city problem) it has a gleaming downtown and some great ideas for fixing up its long-neglected waterfront.

Consultants have said the brand would help fix Stockton's "grim" vision of itself.

Is it any better than Tracy's asinine "Think Inside the Triangle"? I don't know. To me, it still sounds corny and bereft of heft.

But at least these consultants are recommending options for the city's downtown to make it a more amenable place.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You know it must be hot when...

Cacti start wilting in neighborhood gardens. I'm serious, I saw it today.

And think, I'm going to play softball after work. (There's a fine line between being competitive and being criminally insane.)

The future of heat waves

Want to know what'll happen when rising energy costs make it too expensive for normal folks to run their air conditioners? Visit the Lolly Hansen Senior Center next to City Hall.

On days when the mercury passes 100, the center turns into the city's cooling station, a place for people without the luxury of air conditioning to find a break from broiling heat.

Evidently, only one person showed up Tuesday with the express purpose of cooling off. But when energy costs become prohibitive, more and more of us will head to places like the senior center to beat the heat as a community.

Only one small way rising prices will bring us together.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tracy's birthday boy

Er, birthday man.

Esteemed publisher emeritus Sam Matthews turned 76 years young today, and he's still going strong.

Sam's weekly column, Tracing Tracy Territory, is one of the mainstays of the Press' local coverage, and editing it is one of the highlights of my week on the copy desk.

He's a virtual encyclopedia of Tracy history — I'd wager no one in town knows more about the place than he does — and along with Google, he's the best resource we have as an editing team.

Here's wishing Sam many more happy returns.

Monday, July 7, 2008

More signs of the times

With each day it seems there's another story detailing the impact of a housing market run amok. Today's focuses on Stockton, the county seat.

Evidently, the city's debt rating has been lowered, which means

Moodys, the financial house known for its professional ratings and money management, said “The downgrades reflect the city’s deteriorated financial position, which is not expected to improve in the near term."

Just another example of how relying on boom-and-bust businesses, like Stockton did with the housing market, is a sure bet for trouble.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A cool place for a takeoff

Today's column about the Tracy Municipal Airport just wasn't big enough to include some of the other cool things happening south of the city:

• Get Real Behind the Wheel founder Ken Ucci and the Altamont Motorspots Park are talking with the city to use some of the taxi lanes for a teen driving and racing course.

• It was also the site of this year's hazardous waste collection day, when folks turn in their busted electronics for proper disposal.

• American Legion Park, named in honor of the group who founded the airport in 1929, is a peaceful (though slightly windswept) place to watch takeoffs and landings.

• Corporate VIPs aren't the only precious cargo flying into Tracy. Just the other day, a waiting ambulance took a few freshly landed organs to a waiting recipient. I'm sure he or she was thankful for TMA that day.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Oohs and aahs

On the roof of the Tracy Press building to watch Friday's fireworks display, you could hear the crowd at Peter B. Kyne Field exlcaiming its approval.

A fitting aerial display for the Fourth, even if I did have to watch it on a work night.

Flag-waving Friday random thoughts

• Today, red and blue are not gang colors: But don't think that's going prevent some from thinking otherwise.

Saluting the flag alone does not make you a patriot: It's important to honor the symbol of this wonderful nation, but there are more important things to being a good citizen than simply acknolwedging our shared piece of cloth.

• Do you know the five rights enumerated to you by the First Amendment? If so, you're one of the less than 1 percent of the U.S. population that can. (Speech, press, religion, petition, assembly.)

• 49% of people believe the president can suspend the Constitution? This article is not encouraging news for patriots.

• With or without work, with or without fireworks, this is one of my favorite holidays: Pops Goes the Fourth makes my list of top Fourth of July traditions. That music is magic.

• And finally, a humble thank you: To the many men and women past, present and future who have given or will give their blood, sweat and tears to protect this country, its citizens and its Constitution. These heroes come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and I owe them all a profound debt.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sweet success

So this is what success smells like — the scent of settling effluent near the old Holly Sugar factory.

Despite odiferous opposition, Tracy finally has a suitable sports park location on 150 acres north of town next to the old plant and current sewage treatment facility. Yes, there's a pungent odor if you get too close to the treatment plant, just ask the folks who drive into the Tracy Animal Shelter each day.

But the council decision to build sports parks near Holly is a good one, a sign of progress after years of stalled and misguided efforts. There's plenty of land out there to expand, the city won't have to pay for the land to begin with, there are no developer strings attached and the offending odor actually wafts away from the future fields' location because of the prevailing Delta breeze.

OK, so the site isn't perfect. And the planning process that got us here has been mismashed at best. But there's a positive development in the city's sports park saga.

Three cheers for sweet success.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Death and Destruction

Five people shot. Out in front of a home. Gangs possibly involved. Right here in Tracy.

I'm waiting for the knee-jerk reactions, including gun control, increased police patrols, a renewed push for a bigger jail and "zero tolerance" laws.

I've said before that local law enforcement needs more tools to combat crime, and the county does need an expanded jail to deal with the criminals who are caught.

However, punishment alone will not prevent incidents like last night's. In fact, nothing will guarantee 100 percent safety (a reason why we shouldn't sacrifice our souls in the name of fighting terrorists, but that's another tangent).

If you're looking for a solution, look to youth groups, strong schools and involved families.

Unfortunately, there's no way to legislate these kind of things in a free society. There are, though, plenty of ways to support them, including paid maternity and paternity leave, mandatory vacation time, guaranteed sick leave, and more available affordable day care.

Yes, that will all cost more money, most likely in the form of taxes. But given incidents like last night's and the multifaceted costs of pervasive law enforcement, might it not be worth it?