Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday random thoughts ...

• Can't say they didn't warn us about Bear Stearns: In 1999, when a raft of deregulation statutes were passed by Congress and Bill Clinton, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman wrote that the mergers the legislation was soon to engender would:
"create too-big-to-fail institutions that are someday likely to drain the public treasury as taxpayers bail out imperiled financial giants to protect the stability of the nation's banking system."

• There might just be a pattern here: Deregulation of the energy industry in California and other places (Enron anyone?) is yet another example of how, just like there are some things private enterprise does better than the government, there are some things government does better than private enterprise.

• This couldn't be a coincidence, could it? Deregulation of the financial markets began in the 1960s. That's about when the gap between the rich and middle class started to widen again in America.

• In other news, common sense might finally win over developer money: A state commission has told developers to back off building 123 homes in Clarksburg, an area that's in the shadow of Delta levees and in a flood plain.

• Anyone else feel like we're just turning in a circle? For the umpteenth time, President Bush announced that Iraq faces a turning point.

• Just for the heck of it: I saw an April 2001 article in the Tracy Press archives today in which President Bush said he'd protect people from gouging at the gas pumps. The average cost of a gallon of self-serve unleaded? $1.52.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "To make a bad day worse, spend it wishing for the impossible."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Get your corporate drink on

Word on the street is that BevMo — giant purveyor of all things liquid — is moving to Tracy. The retailer already has a store in Stockton and one in Pleasanton, and the Hamlet by the Highway looks like it's next on the list.

No word yet as to where it will be located. Or its possible affect on local liquor stores. But judging by the prevalence of Stockton's corner-store establishments specializing in Mickey's and Night-train, I don't think we'll have to worry.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

School district draws criticism

The proposed boundaries for a three-high school Tracy Unified School District (see them for yourself, here) don't seem to be very popular with the parents.

More than a few parents have commented that the jigsaw-patterned boundary lines seem to defy common sense, as some studnets who live in sight of the to-be-built John C. Kimball High School won't actually go to school there.

Unfortunately, common sense doesn't always work when crunching the numbers. The district is working around several factors involving present, projected school population and the eventual departure of Mountain House students. It's a bit like trying to decipher Viking runes.

Of course, that doesn't seem to excuse some decisions, like not sending students of the magnet arts Poet Christian School to Tracy High, which features an arts academy.

If you want to tell the district what you think of the proposed boundaries before it's too late, the next meeting for feedback is at 7 p.m. April 2 at Freiler Elementary School, 2421 W. Lowell Ave. So speak now, or forever hold your peace.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The window of weather perfection

Well Central Valley residents, enjoy it while it lasts.

Judging by the weather the past week or so, we've just entered the two month-long period when we can actually enjoy the valley. No cold to freeze your hose, no heat to hide from, it's our Spring Sweet Spot.

Of course, you could always complain about the wind...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Introducing one of your State Senate candidates

Today the Press Editorial Board was paid a visit by Lois Wolk, who currently serves in the Assembly and is the presumtive Democratic candidate to replace termed-out Mike Machado, D-Linden, in the 5th State Senate race.

She's up against Greg Aghazarian, a Stockton Republican.

Wolk's Assembly district encompasses about half of the Senate district she hopes to occupy, a Senate district with the lion's share of the infamous and crumbling Delta levee system. That whole water thing — especially protecting the Delta, defending housing developments from flooding and improving the water supply — is a big issue with her. So is planning residential growth in such a way that it doesn't put itself in the way of the next flood, which only makes sense.

As far as her campaign, she hopes people will focus on her voting record, something she said she's very proud of.

Stay tuned for Aghazarian's meeting at the Press. I'll give you an update as soon as it happens.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tracy's traffic crusader

Lincoln Boulevard resident Ron Pounding has made it his mission to help control the speeders who make Tracy streets a hazardous place to drive.

He's documented at least 16 accidents in a three-block stretch in front of his house in the past 3 years, and they're almost all attributable to speeders — "muscle car maniacs," as he likes to call them. We even saw one in a black Camaro scream by while talking on his front porch today.

Classy move, that burned rubber.

Pounding has been before the City Council and has done plenty of letter-to-the-editor writing for his cause. The most recent fruits of his labor include a new three-way stop at Lincoln Boulevard and Richard Drive. The next step he's considering is forming Citizens Against Speeding in Tracy to funnel citizen problems to the council members, who he says have been very receptive to his concerns.

I say count me in, Ron. As long as you won't grudge me my weekend country-road excursions.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Interference or guidance?

That's what many free-market radicals — like the ones you see all over the Fox (Might Contain Actual) News Channel — are asking themselves today.

After Bear Stearns (and its new parent, J.P. Morgan) got bailed out by a government agency for the "greater good" of the economy, it should be evident to all that our economic engine is not a true free market. Nor should it be.

Part of the problems we face now is certainly attributable to the laissez-faire attitude with which recent presidential administrations have taken in regards to regulation. Stuck to the attitude that government is bad in all manifestations, they have loosened restrictions on everything from market transactions to environmental protection to food safety. So it should be no surprise that financial markets now are reaping the whirlwind of terrible loans packaged so that not even guru investors (you know, the CEOs making seven- or eight-figure incomes) really knew what they were getting into.

You're not crazy if you hear echoes of the loose and free credit market that led to the 1929 stock market crash.

Our recent financial marketplace was a total crapshoot, and now that the big boys have rolled snake eyes, the government's finally stepping in. And that's a good thing. We don't want a market collapse, even if it means bailing out the scoundrels who got us into the mess in the first place.

But let it be a lesson that government oversight is not an evil to be avoided. When judiciously and wisely used, it can actially save us much grief. Not to mention money.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday random thoughts

• Tracy commuters get the shaft. Again: The California Transportation Commission recommended a proposed 4,800-acre industrial park and rail hub in Crows Landing should get $25 million in state funding despite vehement local opposition to the project's size and scope. Meanwhile, it denied the ACE train's bid to get funding for obtaining the right-of-way to the Union Pacific rail line it uses — a line that the Crows Landing hub wants.

• It's the economy: Mayor Brent Ives said Thursday that one of the challenges facing Tracy business in the future is that we're now a slow-growth city. But what's the alternative, haphazard out-of-control building? Please, someone tell me there's a happy medium

• Analogy of the Week #1: A recession is like going bald or getting a beer belly — it's hard to say exactly when it starts, but it becomes pretty obvious over time. (John Mitchell, economist)

• Analogy of the Week #2: Unification of a school district is either a beautiful marriage or a bitter divorce. (Bill Lebo, Lammersville School District superintendent)

• Another reason I like journalism: Being informed about the world around you only matters if you do something with that knowledge, but someone's gotta be there to do the informing.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "So basically, this maverick is urging everyone to express his individuality through conformity in brand-name selection."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

State of the City redux

If you really care about Thursday's economic assessment, read the full story here.

But there was another wrinkle to the 2-hour long event at the Grand Theatre. Mayor Brent Ives, ostensibly giving a glimpse of the city's present and future, took a swipe at one of his rivals in the 2008 mayoral election.

He landed a body blow to Celeste Garamendi, who happened to be in attendance, saying the slow-growth law she helped author is hurting the city:

“Certainly any time a city has a reputation for being a slow-growth city, it is an economic weakness. It’s difficult when you have a reputation in the business industry out there — when you have a reputation for being slow growth, it’s difficult to mitigate.”

He also seemed to hit hot-button anti-growth activists in his speech's final minutes:

“This isn’t a selfish pursuit serving your community. This is not a place for single issue — this is a place for broad understanding of what it takes to make a healthy city."

The Press editorial board promised the 2008 election wouldn't be boring. No kidding.

Off to see the wizard

I'm off to the State of the City address today, where an economic expert and the mayor of Tracy will tell the town's movers and shakers why they shouldn't be so gloomy about the economy.

Expect and updated story on the Tracy Press Web site before the afternoon grows old. This should be a good one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Where the war on terror should be fought

Plenty of people like to talk about the War on Terror. Even though they try to scare up support for their policies by invoking the specter of a foreign-born terror attack, the war is still being fought "over there, so we don't have to fight it over here."

Problem is, plenty of folks are fighting it "over here." Most of them are kids.

There are wars every day in the heart of American cities. Gang wars. They fester, they simmer, they occassionally boil over. But they're mostly in poor areas, ghettos and barrios, so they get little attention. Except, of course, when they spill over into more affluent territory.

So while our leaders are focused on the worldwide war against shadowy figures in caves miles away, beautiful kids are killed right in our midst. (For a poignant example, read this column by Bill Simmons, who's a great writer except for his man-crush on all things New England.)

Until our priorities change, until we commit to trimming the rotten limbs from the tree of society and offering the kids who want to do the right thing more hope and help, the war at home will continue.

Tom Benigno tilts again

You have to say this for Tom Benigno: he doesn't give up.

The man has run for every office under the sun, including mayor of Tracy and the 11th Congressional District. He's been less than successful.

He's at it again for 2008, this time planning to take on District 5 Supervisor Leroy Ornellas. (When Ornellas told the Press editorial board in months past he wanted competition, I wonder if this is what he was referring to?)

Benigno's strategy, it seems, is to try to run unopposed. He insists that Ornellas is termed-out from his seat on the county board, but the San Joaquin County Counsel in 2007 gave its legal opinion that Ornellas' first term, when he was elected to serve the remainder of a deceased supervisor's stint, did not count against his term limit magic number.

Benigno's gambit is a savvy procedural move, but it looks like he'll have to run on issues.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Redistricting on the ballot? ... again?

If you're increasingly frustrated with the gridlock of Sacramento or Washington D.C., perhaps consider turning your ire on the district-drawing process.

It seems logical that it would be better for voters — and the country — if districts were drawn to include people who are affected by similar geographic and economic concerns, not just as a method to preserve incumbent seats. Of course, politicians control the process, so a political status quo is what we get.

Another effort to bring nonpartisan redistricting could hit the ballot this fall, but it might not be the best remedy. An interesting piece on the matter, as it pertains to Sacramento, by the Bee's Dan Walters.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Could Tracy be the next Vallejo?

Vallejo, known to valley folks as the place of Six Flags Marine World, could also be the first city in memory to declare bankruptcy. The question to ask on this side of the hill is, could it happen here?

Tracy isn't even in the neighborhood of bankruptcy now. The numbers speak for themselves. But if finances aren't handled well the next several years and deficits mount, the city could certainly end up on that block. There are several lessons of Vallejo's financial death spiral that can be applied to Tracy:

First, Vallejo never readjusted its economy after the naval base there closed in 1996. Tracy's equivalent of that base is the one-two punch of the Tracy Defense Depot and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. While the depot has received awards for being one of the government's best installations, the lab is cutting some 900 jobs in the first part of this year. That'll have a big effect on the scores of Tracyites who take home an LLNL paycheck. Tracy's survival long-term depends on bringing in high-paying employers, not just more chain restaurants and strip malls.

Vallejo also paid too much for its city and public safety employees. Its city manager earns more than $300,000 a year and its police and fire department workers earned a base salary between 10 and 15 percent higher than their Bay Area counterparts. You can't keep overpaying people and not expect it to bite you later, and Tracy needs to learn that lesson.

Vallejo also let its downtown rot from the inside out. The area is filled with vacant businesses and crime. Tracy must continue to invest in its historic downtown and drive investment and building inward — not to the outlying areas that will sap vitality from the city's core.

The most pressing lesson, though, is planning ahead. Tracy has built up its rainy-day fund, which should see it through a few bad years. But Tracy faces a prolonged downturn, as its fortunes have been disproportionately tied to the housing market. That adjustment needs vision and a willingness to break with the recent past.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday random thoughts...

• Ives, Garamendi (and maybe Tolbert) oh my! The race for Tracy mayor has begun, and while the marquee matchup right now is a rematch between 2004 candidates Celeste Garamendi and Brent Ives, rumor has it Evelyn Tolbert is waiting for the right moment to announce her candidacy.

• And folks say we're the 'Tracy High Press': A SF Chronicle story about USF's four-time All-Conference Dominique Carter calls the former West High standout a "21-year-old Tracy High grad."

• A better description of what makes a man a 'D.C. maverick' there never was: A recent comment explains that Sen. John McCain isn't a moderate just because of his "arrogant refusal to be a craven imbecile."

• A Mountain (House) of effort: Mountain House residents' desire for their own high school doesn't seem to make much sense on the surface, considering John C. Kimball High School will be built and paid for by 2009 and on the east edge of Tracy. But if MH keeps growing, it makes a ton of sense to keep kids close to home and keep cars and buses off the road.

• These names have a nice ring to them: Looks like TUSD will follow my advice (or disregarded my advice and listened to the many, many others who suggested the same thing) in naming the West High sports facilities and Tracy High stadium.

• There's still naming to be done on the run:
I still think it would be cool to name the West High track after a notable runner or track coach. If any alert readers have an idea, I'll pass it along to Superintendent Jim Franco when I get the chance.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week:
"I like maxims that don't encourage behavior modification."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sometimes the news comes to you

There are days when you spend all day sifting through e-mails, listening to the scanner, walking the street to get a photo or story. Then, there are days when police pull over wayward drivers in the Tracy Press parking lot.

Cool, huh?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Back among the living

The flu bug that knocked me out the past few days is finally releasing its grip. Now that I'm off the couch, it's back to the blog.

The first thing that's caught my attention is the presidential race between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Strangely enough, it's the second time the media has proclaimed Clinton dead in the water, and it's the second time she's scored big primary wins.

It seems that most folks wanted to bury Clinton before her pulse has stopped, which isn't that surprising — even though she started this race as the favorite, she's faced an uphill battle. Here's an interesting take on one of the reasons why.

In spite of her big Tuesday wins, she must win the remaining Democratic primaries by unprecedented margins to gain the nomination at this point, or somehow find a way to get the uncounted Florida/Michigan delegates into the convention and then rely on a Superdelegate swing.

I have pity for how Clinton's campaign has been a target for so much vitriol, both overt and covert. But if she wants her party's nominee to succeed, it might be time for her to pack it up.