Friday, October 30, 2009

Full steam ahead for peaker plant upgrade

According to this report, GWF Energy's effort to turn the Tracy Peaker Plant into a combined-cycle facility is moving right along.

With the California Energy Commission staff giving their green light, saying the project meets all laws, organizations and standards, locals can expect to soon have a bigger (some say better) power plant on the western fringe of town.

For more takes on the plant expansion, visit here and here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fine wine in Tracy, indeed

Jeff Brown, who oversees several vineyards in the Tracy Hills appelation, confirmed early reports that this year's local harvest is going to be a good one and survived an early October storm with nary a scratch:

"This year's harvest has been the longest and most productive in all of my years farming grapes, and next week I should be done with my last two varieties. I grow 23 different varieties here on Bird Road on 400 acres."

Varieties from Southern Italy, Portugal and the Rhone and Bordeaux regions are Brown's specialties. But he says the pride of his Tulip Hills wines (some of the grapes are grown in Tracy) are the Cabernets and Syrahs. "Excellent," Brown calls them.

So tip back a glass, and savor a real taste of Tracy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quote of the day

Intern: "You should really check out the Post Office."

Reporter: "Why's that?"

Intern: "Because there's a car in it."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big numbers! BIG NUMBERS!!!

So the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 10,000 last week, and the investment world rejoiced that the recession is over, confidence in the market has been restored, and all our problems are over.

Not so much. The hullabaloo over the Dow's recent surge is just more proof that the denizens of Wall Street do not live in what the rest of us like to call The Real World.

Remember, the last Wall Street surge was not associated with a surge in real wealth. The wealth was all on paper. In fact, the average American became poorer during the economic "boom" in the mid-to-late 'aughts, as real wages for the normal worker stagnated and declined even as those at the top of the pay scale saw their compensation increase dramatically.

Remember also that the most recent "boom" busted rather dramatically, precisely because all the gains were imaginary, just figures and machinations on someone's spreadsheet.

I don't get to jazzed up over the recent gains on Wall Street. Show me more living-wage Main Street jobs, and then I'll declare the Bull is Back.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A major blow to Tracy vitality?

In Saturday's Press, the editorial board gives a preliminary thumbs up on Page 10 to a proposed business district that could add some juice to downtown Tracy's vitality.

Right across the fold on Page 11 and earlier on Page 4 are stories that explore one of the major threats to that mojo. Fear.

Amore's Italian Restaurant was trying something different to bring more business — and more life — to its downtown locale: dancing at night. Whether it was rented to private parties or open to the public, it was an unusual evening when Amore's wasn't host to folks enjoying an atmosphere that isn't often found in Tracy.

The Oct. 10 shooting that killed an unsuspecting patron has effectively put the kibbosh on Amore's experiment.

That cold-blooded killing in and of itself is a tragedy, and my heart goes out to the family and friends of Niam Bey, who was by all accounts a good guy and family man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The secondary tragedy is that this incident could prevent other entrepreneurs from pioneering similar night life options.

It wasn't hip-hop music that caused the fatal shooting, nor was it alcohol or the many people who went in and out of Amore's to kick back a few, chat, dance and have a good time. And it certainly wasn't the restaurant, as Amore's had security present and, from police and witness reports, did what any responsible establishment would do.

But all of that and more are getting at least part of the rap, instead of just blaming the jerk with a handgun who decided to get in a fight and randomly blast away.

It's unfortunate. Because that kind of blame-it-all attitude could poison attempts to keep Tracy's downtown on a path of business, culture and retail by day and food, fun and libations by night.

Here's hoping that the fear loses out, and that downtown's mojo continues to grow.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Misleading press release of the week

GWF Energy LLC sent over a missive this week about its effort to expand production at the Tracy Peaker Plant titled, "GWF announces plans for environmentally beneficial conversion of Tracy power plant."

The release refers to the effort to turn the peaker plant into a full-time "combined cycle" facility.

The scoop:
GWF's release is technically true, as the plant will be cleaner per hour of run time in its new incarnation. However, that new incarnation will also release far more total pollutants and burn more fossil fuel.

While the press release touts the per-hour efficiencies that the new plant will produce, it fails to mention the gross impacts.

The analysis:
The new and improved power plant will indeed be cleaner relatively speaking, but calling any fossil-fuel burning plant "environmentally beneficial," especially one that is going to increase its pollutant output, is an outright contradiction in terms.

That doesn't mean the expansion is a bad idea (in fact, the Press Editorial Board endorsed it). But at least people should be aware that GWF's company line isn't telling the whole truth.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Police drill spices up Friday night

We received more than a few phone calls tonight about a bunch of police staking out a building in northern Tracy. Apparently, they said, hostages were involved.

Had this city, fresh off a fatal shooting at a nightclub, already moved on to a bigger, badder front-page event?

Not quite. It was a training exercise, the Tracy PD confirmed.

A few quick thoughts:

• It's nice to have a community that cares about knowing what's going on enough to call the local newspaper office.

• It's nice to have a police department that prepares for the wrost-case-scenarios.

• It's not so nice that no one who called seemed especially surprised. Concerned, but not surprised.

Your charity dollars at work

This week, the Tracy Community Council of the United Way (full disclosure, I sit on the board) announced its grant award recipients for this year.

The recipients applied for and received the grants based on their work in the community, especially for their work with the poor, needy and underserved.

Without further ado, your winners are:

• Boys & Girls Clubs of Tracy
• Give Every Child a Chance
• Hospice of San Joaquin
• Manteca CAPS
• McHenry House Family Shelter
• Pregnency Resource Center of Tracy
• Second Harvest Food Bank
• Tracy Art League
• Tracy Free Clinic Inc.
• Tracy Interfaith Ministries
• Tracy Volunteer Caregivers
• Vinewood Center for Children and Families
• Women's Center of San Joaquin County

Please, a big round of applause. And consider supporting any and all of these outfits as the holiday giving season draws nearer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fast start to the rainy season

In the 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday morning, Tracy received 1.09 inches of rain, bringing our season total since July 1 to 1.27 inches (according to the uber-sophisicated Tracy Press rain gauge).

In 2008-09, it took until the middle of December to sniff that mark.

Let's hope this is a harbinger of the wet season we need.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The letter we couldn't run

Every once in a while, a letter to the editor doesn't run in the Press' print edition because it doesn't meet our publishing guidelines. I try to post the more interesting ones in this space.

This one, from a frequent contributor, somehow appeared in my inbox weeks after it was sent in, and even longer after the original letter to which he refers was published — too late for it to run in print. However, the writer has an interesting idea:

In last Saturday's Tracy Press, I read Betty Hanson's letter about the word change that had been made to her letter. Betty, don't feel bad; I've written many letters to the Tracy Press, and most can't find their way to print without being altered in some way or another. In Wednesday's Press, I wrote a letter in about the president's trip to Martha's Vineyard. More than a word was changed, and the icing was the changing of the word "paying" to "playing."

Perhaps with the cutting of the number of days Tracy's paper is circulated, they also cut proofreading.

On occassion, the Tracy Press should let the letters to the editor be the letters sent to the editor and not the version that they ultimately end up putting in the paper. Sometimes, the letters written by we simpletons are better comprehended. If not, the Tracy Press should change the name to Letter to the Editor with Alterations!

There is also the "better-read factor." After some of the changes the Tracy Press makes, you might have to re-read the article for it to make sense.

To the editor, a plea! Leave the letters as they are and let the chips fall where they may. Allow the writers to deal with the public scrutiny. After all, it is our opinion.

While taking the writer's advice would save us a lot of time, unfortunately, it could also make the Your Voice column less-than-readable. Sometimes, extensive editing is needed on submitted marterial. But believe it or not, those editing take extreme care to preserve the intention and opinion of the writer. We just don't always get it perfect.

For the record, this 218-word letter was presented here in edited format — as the original contained no fewer than 19 grammar, syntax and spelling errors.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Understatement of the week

While Second Thoughts is all for Tracy as the next Emerald City (this type, not this type), the state's reasoning for putting its weight behind the think-green effort here is less-than flattering.

As Tracy spokesman Matt Robinson told the Press earlier this week: "They selected Tracy because we have essentially not been considered a city that would be a poster child for sustainability."

In other words, if this city can do it, so can anyone else.

That assessment might seem overly harsh, but let's face it — it's not inaccurate. Tracy is a sprawl spot. As are most of its neighboring Central Valley cities.

Which means we really are the perfect laboratory for seeing if haphazard development can be turned into something more Earth and people friendly. My fingers, at least, are crossed.

Thanks for my Peace Prize

So I've been a booster of President Obama since he was Candidate Obama. But receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for what basically amounts to just being alive? Puh-leeze.

More than really honoring anything the president has actually done, I think this decision demonstrates how little people in the international community really thought of our leadership the past few years, and how hungry the world was for a thoughtful, more reasoned America.

To honor the likely motivation of those who bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize on Obama, I think it should have been renamed for this one year to the Nobel "America's Most Recent President So Screwed International Relations That We Decided Simply Replacing Him Was A Huge Step Forward For World Peace" Prize.

In which case, I feel America's voters should really get this award.

So Mr. President, thank you for accepting this Nobel on my behalf. I'm adding this accomplishment to my resume.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Editors — the last line of defense

Copyright of Stephan Pastis, creator of "Pearls Before Swine."

Cutting class

The south county satellite of San Joaquin Delta College is revving up, but the college overall is winding down many courses and classes.

Budget cuts are forcing administrators to consider narrowing the college's focus, according to several local reports, possibly even the base level English, reading, writing and math courses.

Another $3.65 million in cuts will do that to you.

But the upshoot is that, to quote one of these news outlets, Delta College "may never be the broad community resource it is today."

One of the best aspects of Delta, as it currently stands, is that it is an institution that serves a wide variety of people in an area where affordable higher education has been hard to come by. It would be a shame if that were to change.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You mean there's still shop at school?

The emergency scanner lit up not a minute ago about a structure fire at Tracy High School — specifically, according to dispatchers, in the "welding shop."

Which is big news. I didn't know the school still had a welding shop.

Another reason to save the Delta

Want a reason to protect the Delta from encroaching interests from Parts Previously Unwatered? How about San Joaquin County's $2.1 billion agricultural output in 2008, a 6 percent increase from the year before.

San Joaquin farmers get a good deal of their water from senior rights to rivers and — you guessed it — the Delta.

But to quench the thirst of places with junior rights — places that arguably shouldn't have been farmed with permanent crops in the first place — one breadbasket might be damaged to sustain another.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Farewell to a helluva reporter

Today, Jennifer Wadsworth left the Press for greener pastures.

Jenn, as she's called in the office, was a boon to the newsroom. Not only was she a solid reporter with golden instincts and a knack for wheedling a story out of people (who could forget how she helped police unwrap the sordid tale of Melissa Huckaby, the suspected killer of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu), she was a genuine person.

To see her handle the pressure of the circus following the Huckaby stories — including the near-constant requests for interviews from Nancy Grace, Geraldo, even Dr. Phil — was to see a humble professional.

Happy trails, Jenn. The Press will miss ya.

Steady at the Helm's

When the economy tanks, there's nothing like a good brewhouse where you can fill your tankard.

And Tracy's got a new one — Helm's Alehouse, right at the corner of Central Avenue and 10th Street.

The tinted windows might not provide a great feel from the outside, but once you're inside, there's great beer on tap — including a unique watermelon-flavored brew served with a wedge of melon I've not been brave enough to try — and traditional pub fare with a California twist. (Order the jalepeƱo burger, but you'll regret it if you're macho about it.)

The outfit is run by the aforementioned David Helm, a police force veteran and a great barkeep. He'll talk to you all day, or leave you alone if you're the antisocial type.

It's a great addition to downtown. Here's a round to it sticking around, and beating out the curse that seems to follow whoever sets up shop in that space.