Friday, May 29, 2009

That mulligan we were talking about

In my first column of 2009, I wrote that the new board of trustees at Delta College had a chance to make a dramatic turnaround at an institution rightly regarded as the region's gateway to higher education.

According to a Grand Jury report, they're making good on that opportunity.

Since Second Thoughts spent much space detailing the incompetence of Delta's old board, it's only proper to acknowledge the kudos given to the new board.

Friday random thoughts...

• Fight for your right to party: The cousin of Tracy's Maxim's nightclub ran afoul of a neighborhood group and the Stockton City Council. Now it's suing to keep its beats thumping and dance floor bumping.

• Let's do meth, grab our guns, wander into the wild and talk about a mutual girlfriend! What could go wrong? This unfortunate story of drugs and death ends poorly for everyone involved.

• This one must've slipped by the editors: A classified ad in a Pennsylvania newspaper apparently wishing for the speedy assasination of the U.S. president.

• Our latest catch-all pre-written headline form: State budget woes increase/decrease problem/service.

• This week's best bet for exercising your various First Amendment rights: A protest in Fresno this weekend is geared to kick off the campaign to legalize -- or, I should say, re-legalize -- same-sex marriage in California.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "They say idle hands are the devil's workshop." "I resent that. We work darn hard at this."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More cuts to education

In what is not a new theme, the state's budget crisis is going to make it even harder for people to achieve higher education.

The governor proposes eliminating in phases the Cal Grant program, which gives college students up to about $9,000 on a needs-based scale. It helps those who can least afford college go to college.

Making it more difficult to obtain a college degree, though it could save money in the short-term, is a long-term loser.

Less education typically means less money made over a lifetime, which means less revenue for the state, and a less-educated workforce will not bode well for our overall future business prospects.

Just another example of how we're talking more and more about trashing the future in our effort to "save" the present.

Isn't that what a river does?

Thomas Wagoner, general manager of the Lake Hemet Municipal Water District in Southern California, penned an op-ed piece in the Riverside Press-Enterprise calling for a dynamic leader to lift up the banner in favor of a Peripheral Canal.

As part of his argument, Wagoner states:

"Meanwhile, as water agencies impose tiered-rate structures and residents cut back on their water use, state officials are allowing millions of acre-feet of drinking water to flow through the delta and out to the Pacific Ocean each year in efforts to protect the Delta smelt. That is more than enough water to satisfy all of Riverside County's residential water needs."

I've heard plenty of people bemoan the water that flows out of the Delta and into San Francisco Bay each year. Let's capture that water instead of wasting it, right?

But if millions of acre-feet of water no longer emptied from the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers into the Pacific Ocean, we'd have a desert, not a Delta.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An expected but not welcomed Prop. 8 outcome

While today's 6-1 court ruling on Proposition 8's constitutional standing was expected by Second Thoughts, we're still pretty disheartened by the whole Proposition 8 fiasco and hope it will soon be overturned by voters.

This space's view of the proposition is pretty simple: It sucks.

For a more hopeful interpretation of equal protection and the California Constitution than what was given by the majority of the court, read the dissenting argument by Justice Carlos Moreno. (It begins on Page 151, here.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday random thoughts

We're breaking out the old Random Thoughts format again, since we've been shortchanging readers a bit on the blog lately. So, without further ado...

• The trail of destruction widens: As the list of allegations against Melissa C. Huckaby grows (and grows and grows), we get a picture of a very troubled woman. As if we didn't suspect it already.

• It's all coming together now: When the newsroom first heard the above-linked story of the man Huckaby allegedly poisoned — the guy who passed out in the McDonald's drive-through — we just thought it was the Dumbest. Driver. Ever. We think differently now.

• Why I'm afraid of the 1,600-home Ellis development, instance 107: The recent rash of letters to the editor complaining about plane traffic near the airpot. The complaints won't get better with more houses.

• Set your clocks for 10 a.m. Tuesday: When the state Supreme Court will issue its ruling on Proposition 8. (Lead-pipe-cinch prediction: many people will not be happy with the ruling.)

• What a concept: Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, talking candidly about how much budget cuts suck.

• Slowly edging closer to balance: A court ruled that people as well as fish must be considered when talking about how much water is exported from the Delta. Now if they would just also be forced to include those subsidized crops and water...

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "In my opinion, we don't dedicate nearly enough scientific research for finding a cure for jerks."

Lies and the lying lairs who tell them

OK, so no column this week. The flu bug that took me down Thursday was just too much to write through. Though I promise next Saturday, May 30, we'll be back to normal.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

And the columnist is down!

A nasty taste of the flu or food poisoning has me down for the count.

The blog will probably be out for a day or two, but expect a column as planned for Saturday's Tracy Press. I hope...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shortchanging the future — and the present

If you haven't heard yet, our region's biggest driver of higher education could soon be crippled.

San Joaquin Delta College, which serves more than 20,000 students a semester — many of whom are adults trying to improve their education for a shot at a better job or those who simply can't afford a typical four-year university — is staring a 20 percent revenue reduction smack in the face.

And that was before voters rejected the five budget propositions on California's Tuesday special elction ballot.

This is, as they say, not good.

The number of people (see: working-age adults) applying for school in times of recession increases, Delta officials have told me, because higher education offers a way up and out. Delta College's relative affordability and strong academic reputation makes it especially attractive for the just-out-of-work and just-out-of-high-school alike.

Unfortunately, more budget cuts will undermine that part of Delta's mission. And with it, futher erode the quality of education in the Central Valley, a place that can ill afford more bad news when it comes to education and economics.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's Election Day!

Not many people are expected to show up to the polls today. So consider this a friendly reminder.

This is also usually where I give my vote recommendations for public perusal. But honestly, in this case I don't think it matters.

More budget cuts are coming whether these propositions pass or not, and the budget system will remain dysfunctional whether these propositions pass or not.

We have a decision of whether to shuffle some numbers around now and pay for it later, or bear the unbearable thought of more school and public safety reductions and give ourselves a slightly cleaner slate down the road.

So, happy Election Day!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Community Building 101

Modesto-based Bright Development boasts on its Web site: "Bright doesn't just build homes, Bright builds families, neighborhoods and communities where homeowners like you can indulge in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

But does building neighborhoods and communities include squeezing strapped school districts for cash?

This story in the Saturday Tracy Press explains how Bright exercised its rights to the land acquired by the Tracy Unified School District via eminent domain and obtained what a jury determined to be a "fair" sum for the land — even though the Pombos, who kind of own the land, agreed to a price that was far less.

Sounds, OK, right? After all, Bright's legally entitled to the land and that money. Even though Bright argued that a high school in the middle of their planned development off Lammers Road would actually decrease property values (because of all those fighting, drug-dealing teens, of course), fine. That's fair.

But insisting that TUSD also pay $576,000 in legal fees? At a time when school districts have already slashed millions from their budgets and are waiting for the next axe to fall in Sacramento?


Bright wasn't available to comment for the Press report. I haven't talked to them, either.

I'm eager to hear Bright's side of the story. If I get some answers, expect a rehash of this blog in a future column.

Bring them all to account

This space has repeatedly called for those who authorized and rationalized the United States' now-irrefutable torture program to be investigated and, if need be, brought to justice. And this should go across party lines.

Many apologists for the Bush administration's apparent willingness to torture prisoners have, this past week, cynically tried to turn the focus onto Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was (the CIA says) informed about the "harsh interrogations."

Apparently, for some craven people, political affiliation is more important than the rule of law.

As if her political stripe would deter those who truly seek justice.

If Pelosi was aware of this most henious activity and did nothing to try and stop it, she should be held accountable as well. Any Democrat or Republican with a role in this sordid affair should be brought to account.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The jobs-water connection

You know the commonly accepted idea that the California drought has led to a spike in unemployed agricultural workers?

It doesn't hold water.

According to an analysis of state jobs data by Jeff Michael, the head of the University of the Pacific Business Forecasting Center, the three-year drought and a decrease in the water pumped south from the Delta have not led to a corresponding drop in employment.

Read his analysis for yourself, here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Delta smelt push and pull

There's an effort to take the Delta smelt out of the state water-export equation.

California Department of Water Resources officials are saying that there's a population of smelt that has taken refuge far to the north of the pumps outside Tracy. Which means that these fish aren't affected by the pumps. Which means the pumps can be turned back on, since the pumps won't put the smelt in the extinction bin.

Note especially this excerpt from the Sacramento Bee report covering the story:

If (the DWR's effort is) successful, the state would avoid future releases of hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water for the benefit of the tiny fish – water that could otherwise meet needs of users throughout California.

If it weren't for the Delta smelt, the state's water worries would be over! We could meet the needs of users if it weren't for this insignificant icthyoid!

If only.

As noted here, the smelt in this environmental battle is merely a stand-in for the Delta as an ecosystem.

So a new smelt population might not be affected by the pumps. Cool. That doesn't mean increasing the output of pumped water will have no affect on the Delta.

Furthermore, simply getting around the Delta smelt will not solve California's water problems. The state's water issue goes far beyond pumping restrictions, or even a drought. It's rooted in the inescapable fact that, as the system is currently contrived, there isn't enough water to meet the needs of farmers, urban dewllers, and wildlife.

Until that becomes the accepted starting point for discussion, the rest is just window dressing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

California's fruit basket and mixed nuts

Despite the drastic measures that some farmers are taking during our three-year drought, including fallowing fields, a report from the Modesto Bee suggests that some crops are still doing quite well overall.

One exception seems to be almonds, a signature crop of the Central Valley that enjoyed a bumper production season last year. But according to another report in the Stockton Record the statewide almond harvest will likely be significantly down — even a 10 percent decrease from last year was said by some to be "too optimistic."

Friday, May 8, 2009

An honest thief

Altert reader "Jeanie" called yesterday to report a curious case that shows even thieves can be honest.

Just days after having a credit card number stolen and having $3,000 spent on her account (and eventually returned to her by her bank), the retired Tracy resident received a phone call.

She related the call to me for the benefit of all other alert readers:

The man on the phone asked to double-check her credit card info. Jeanie thought the guy's line was fishy and refused to bite.

"I caught you, this is a scam," she said.

"You're right," said the guy. And he hung up.

See? Honor among thieves. Kind of.

Right-wingers have valid beef (for once)

Recently, the Obama administration released a memo warning Homeland Security agents to be on the lookout for "domestic rightwing terrorists." (Read the full memo, here.)

Those who self-identify with the right wing of the conservative movement but who are not terrorists are, understandably, miffed that the government seems to be singling out a certain brand of belief as leading to terrorism. I imagine it's similar to how many Muslims feel.

Notwithstanding the facts that recent major domestic terror attacks (Oklahoma City, for example) have been by folks from the militant right wing and that the memo deals with these militant persons rather than conservatism as a political ideology, conservatives in general have plenty reason to be angry.

Any form of repression aimed at a certain bent of political thought (even if that repression is only monitoring and even if that political thought is kooky) should be headed off by the First Amendment. Freedom of association and speech and all that.

Terrorists and terrorists-in-planning, after all, can be prosecuted no matter what their motives are. It's the action or planning, not the ideology, that is illegal.

Lefties should be sympathetic. This is eerily familiar to the George W. Bush administration using the Patriot Act to snoop on antiwar protesters and groups that didn't toe the Bush ideological line. (Although, it is ironic to see conservatives support Bush's actions but recoil in horror when Obama turns the tables — something some of us warned could happen if such power was given to the Executive Branch.)

I'd like to think we can remain vigilant and alert without squelching freedom of thought. Remember, you can only claim to support freedom of speech if you protect the speech you disagree with.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Maybe your vote doesn't matter

I've always been a big advocate of not caving in the face of preplexing voting issues. But if you're about to throw up your hands (or maybe just throw up) regarding California's upcoming election, you're not alone.

For starters, it's nearly impossible to sort out which unions are and are not endorsing the budget measures on the upcoming ballot. (If you want a good recap, click on this link.)

Then there are the fighting factions.

Some say that schools will suffer the most if voters fail to approve the raft of propositions, especially Prop 1A and Prop 1B. If the ballot measures fail, school districts will most likely take another big hit when it comes to funding. So if you think things are bad now, vote "No" and see what happens.

That plea isn't sinking in, according to many polls. A lot of people are voting no just because Legislators are asking for the voters' help after appearing to have bungled the budget beyond repair.

It's hard to fight that kind of well-deserved resentment, even though, ironically, it's the voters who might ultimately be to blame for the CA budget sinkhole, by passing the two-thirds majority rule for budgets and countless other revenue-restraining and mandatory-funding propositions.

Sadly, it might not matter. The state's probably screwed no matter which way Californians vote on May 19.

But if you ask for my opinion, anything that will keep schools from chopping programs further is worth voting for.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

City spending

At the City Council meeting earlier tonight, the council approved spending up to $200,000 to consultants to enlarge the city's public profile and to kick off an advertising/marketing campaign.

This on the heels of an Associated Press-provided report that Tracy hired lobbying firm Jordan & Associates for $48,000 to push its funding case for the next year.

On the surface, it smacks of throwing money away to consultants while city workers are cutting back on their hours and city services are being curtailed. But that might not be the whole story.

According to that same AP report, Leon Churchill, Tracy's city manager, millions of dollars could be gained (exceeding $75 million) from Jordan & Associates' lobbying efforts.

And $200,000 for marketing and advertising might be a pittance compared to what the investment returns, if the effort is as effective as the city hopes. (Think, few corporations become successful and attract business without good marketing and advertising.)

Or, to paraphrase Councilman Mike Maciel at Tuesday's meeting, sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

Here's hoping that Maciel is right, and that these City Council decisions prove to be sound investments instead of money down the drain. Because Tracy (or any city) should spend as little money on consultants as possible.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Notes from the Relay

One thing was obvious walking around Relay For Life on Saturday, aside from the improved attendance when the rain stopped: The kids rule the place.

Peter B. Kyne Field at Tracy High was packed with kids, raning from 7-year-olds playing soccer to high school students walking the track in some pretty interesting costumes. Most were alternating between volunteering and hanging out with friends.

It's great to see the high levels of participation among Tracy's youth. Sure, a lot of them were Scouts, or students, or brought by parents. But they were there.

Kids who are involved with being generous with their time and talent often grow up to be adults of a similar mindset. And we can use all the giving adults we can get.

Who cares if for a good part of the day many of the kids at the relay were just romping around? If kids think something like the Relay For Life is fun, they're more likely to do it again.

So keep those soccer balls handy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine flu: An illegal immigrant?

You just knew this would happen.

A virus gains a foothold in Mexico. It appears in the United States. And anti-immigration forces go nuts.

Ok, technically, anti-illegal immigration forces. The outbreak of swine flu north of the Rio Grande is, in their view, largely attributable to the unregulated flow of people into El Norte.

It's a handy argument for those who have made clamping down on illegal immigration their personal cause. But that's all it is -- a handy argument.

Let's be honest. The travel of the swine flu to the States would have happened without illegal immigration. Global society, remember? (Hell, it looks like even a White House staffer has caught the bug.)

That's not to say securing the border is an unworthy goal. It's definitely something that must be done for many reasons, not least of all national security. But if we can't be realistic about it and the issues that accompany it -- and dismiss the obviously ethnocentric baggage that often tag along in such debate -- we're not going to get anywhere.

It'd be better to talk about this reasonably, instead of using the "NAFTA flu" as a political cudgel. Because until we figure out a way to make legal immigration more widely available and mitigate the factors that lead to illegal immigration, no amount of resources will secure the border.

Unless, of course, you want to redeploy those troops in Iraq to the Mexico border.