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.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Heard it on the Mountain

While most were watching Joe Biden and Sarah Palin square off tonight, I was in an elementary school gym in Mountain House, listening to 17 hopefuls competing for five seats on the Mountain House Community Services District board.

I'll give my recommendations after the second half of the forum is completed (Oct. 23, for those keeping score at home), but I can tell you I was immediately impressed by the candidates. Save one, who seemed to be in a little over her head.

There was an across-the-board committment to the "vision" of Mountain House as a community with plenty of neighborhood and grassroots involvement. Everyone at the table truly buys in to what the master-planned development will eventually become. Which is good, because that's the reason these folks bought homes there in the first place.

County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas was on hand to emcee the event, and had this to say about the panel:

"I have never seen a more diverse and impressive group. ... It's a shame we can only elect five of you."

I agree wholeheartedly. Any town in the county would be happy to have this many capable people yearning for a spot on a governing board. Democracy has a bright future in Mountain House.

And after watching a rerun of the Biden-Palin affair, I think I got the better deal. Besides, we had cookies.