Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bidding adieu at the Tracy Press

As 2009 closes shop in anticipation for 2010, the Tracy Press is saying good-bye to two writers.

The first farewell comes from Justin Lafferty, Our Town editor, general reporter and cake-baker extraordinaire. Justin is off to explore other avenues and possibly become a teacher, though the Press is going to miss him.

The second see-ya comes from Mike McLellan, uber-volunteer and resident Ethics & Values guy. His writing, filled with wit and wisdom, will hopefully continue to make cameo appearances in the Press, and he's looking for a new title for an every-so-often column. (You can send suggestions to

Though it's with a certain sadness, Second Thoughts offers cheers to both on their new endeavors.

What doesn't kill me...

Makes me stronger? Wounds me slightly? Postpones the inevitable?

Which phrase completes the sentence was hard to tell this year, which wasn't exactly a banner one for Tank Town.

The trials endured by Tracy in 2009 are well-documented, so I won't repeat them in this space.

Despite the grief, loss and struggles of the past year, there was joy, too. In end-of-year retrospectives, it's easy to fixate on the bad stuff. Too bad, because there are plenty gems of goodness sprinkled even in the toughest of times — a fact worth contemplating when you're shrugging off your New Year's Eve hangover.

Suffice it to say, though, this newsman is glad for the chance for a fresh start with a new calendar, even if the whole "new year" thing just boils down to a number on paper.

Sometimes, a fresh frame of mind is all it takes to start anew. And that's something we can all be thankful for.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Off-roaders get temporary ticket to ride

Better than a Beatles song, off-road enthusiasts got the First Court of Appeal to postpone the closing of Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area southwest of Tracy.

Ride on, man, ride on.

But the cheers likely won't last. It will only be a temporary reprive the backers of a lawsuit to clean up Corral Hollow Creek convince the court that significant harm would be done if the park remains open until it has a permit and an improved management plan.

Wading into this matter is sticky business.

On one side: Thousands of people looking to have a good time riding trails in the hills, who also likely bring a fair amount of money to the local economy, as plenty riders don't call Tracy home. Also, the state Parks and Recreation Department, which runs Carnegie.

On the other side: Environmentalists who point to high levels of pollution in Corral Hollow Creek and evidence suggesting it's the off-road activity that's fouling the creekbed.

Complicating the matter: The creek is mostly dry, even during the wet season; The area was historically home to mining and industry and has a Superfund site as a neighbor; Another neighbor with a ranch nearby has had a hand in the lawsuit process.

And, of course, there's the mutual suspicion that seems inborn between environmentalists and off-roaders.

Listing the players and plays, however, doesn't make sorting out the game any easier.

The off-roaders, for their part, just want a place to play. It's a place that's been their home for years, and Carnegie wasn't exactly a pristine piece of land before the trail-masters hit the dirt. Given that, and how many people use the popular park, it makes sense for the local economy (and the spirit of good fun) to keep Carnegie open.

However, environmentalists like Bill Jennings of the plantiff California Sportsfishing Alliance have a legitimate beef in wanting to keep waterways — even mostly dry ones like Corral Hollow Creek — free of heavy metals and other poisons. And, let's face it, off-roaders don't have a repuation as the kindest stewards of the land.

It seems compromise is the order of the day. The least-disruptive alternative would be to keep the park open while an environmental protection plan and water permit are worked out by the interested parties. That keeps riders riding, businesses in business, and environmentalists protecting the environment.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Great ideas in technology

Good news for local Pacific Gas & Electric Co. ratepayers: PG&E has a new, technologically advanced way for you to see where power failures have hit and to find out when the problems might be fixed.

The bad news: It's online, so if your power's out, chances are, you won't be able to use it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas

The bug has won when it comes to the blog, but there is a Second Thoughts column in the Dec. 26 edition of the Tracy Press.

Until then, Happy Christmas. With a little reminder to stay true to the spirit of the season from my favorite comic strip:

Comic copyright of Bill Watterson.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The great Bug Battle of 2009

So, maybe it's not so "great," but a nasty-ish flu-like bug has scrambled my brain, thus the lack of recent postings. However, I will do my best to continue to update the Second Thoughts blog (and possibly pen a column for Saturday).

To all those others fighting off the virus going around, I'm pulling for you — we're all in this together.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why Scotland has so many pubs

This is the definition of coffee shop and ale house weather:

Weather like the fog blanketing San Joaquin County today is the reason why countries like Scotland and Ireland have so many pubs.

When you often walk to and from place to place in damp, chilly conditions, it's nice to know you don't have more than a block or two to walk until you can duck inside for a quick warm-up.
Too bad I'm spending the rest of the evening in the office.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tracy militia — a matter of time?

Stockton residents and a councilman in Lathrop have flirted with establishing armed militias. With yet another violent crime taking place in Tracy this week, it might be only a matter or time before Tank Towners publicly kick around the idea of arming themselves en masse.

I'll keep my ear to the ground and report back if and when those rumblings begin. Until then, here's a column about the Stockton and Lathrop efforts, originally published in the Press on May 9 and reproduced here, since it seems to have vanished from the Internet:

If you’ve always dreamed about playing cops and robbers with real guns and without that pesky Police Academy business, Alan Pettet of Stockton wants your help.
The 66-year-old has promised — or threatened, depending on your point of view — to raise a militia in that city if police there are laid off. Well, the Stockton Police Department earlier this month issued layoff notices to 55 officers, so we’ll soon see if Pettet was doing more than using his idea as political leverage.
From what I’ve read, though, the Vietnam War vet isn’t bluffing about patrolling the streets four to a car with rifles.
And I’m reasonably afraid.
He’s been quoted in the Stockton Record saying "Who’s going to stop us?" arguing it’s his constitutional right to form a militia. He’s even intoned that his group could oust the elected City Council and impose martial law upon the city, should he be sworn in along with the 270 people he claims are interested in his concept.
A semi-organized collection of volunteers taking the law into their own hands and launching a possible coup while armed with high-powered rifles. What could go wrong?
I’d chalk this up as an isolated incident of crazy, if it weren’t for the suggestion of a Lathrop city councilman more than a week ago. Christopher Mateo said that each council member could be given a badge and a gun — after sufficient training, of course — and sworn in as deputized officers of the local police department.

Thankfully, law enforcement representatives have urged these enthusiastic citizens to holster their proposals. This is not the kind of self-policing we’ve been asking for.
At some level, it’s difficult to criticize the efforts of Pettet, Mateo and anyone else who wants to make their communities safer. After all, one of the easiest ways for residents to secure cities and neighborhoods is to take personal responsibility for those spaces. These guys are nothing if not dedicated, personally
trying to protect themselves and their neighbors.

But it’s a peculiar brand of protection. These plans call for citizens to embrace an active, even pre-emptive, use of force — a far cry from keeping a gun for personal defense.
And as far as safety is concerned, while some members of these movements, such as Pettet, have extensive firearm training, others probably don’t.
And knowing how to aim and fire a gun is not the same as knowing how to use a gun. Or how not to use one.
Then there’s the whole issue of justice and equal enforcement.
If given license to uphold the law as they see fit, these outfits could easily become as dangerous as the crooks they seek to stop. Real police officers undergo months of rigorous training and
evaluation before they’re given a badge, Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman told me Friday.

He added that, without such training, an armed militia could be a liability.
“I would be concerned if I were to go through a town that had a militia that lacked that training and experience,” Sheneman said, “even if they were well-intentioned.”
Thank sanity the militia talk has missed Tracy.
Such do-it-yourself justice is a hazard to public safety — especially since there are proven ways for residents to fight the criminal element without resorting to armed recon missions.
Several Tracy neighborhoods have found that crime can be controlled peacefully, and local statistics show that Neighborhood Watch and other vigilance organizations are quite effective. Bet the house that this is the type of help police are after.
For those who share Pettet’s and Mateo’s grassroots fervor, the Tracy Police Department offers several crime-prevention programs in which concerned citizens can participate.
A self-governing militia is not among them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In search of those bright lights

In response to this week's column, reader Victor_jm provides this link for people interested in checking out Web-surfer approved holiday light displays.

Or, if you want my personal recommendations, in Tracy check out any of these locales, winners of the Tracy Rotary Club's annual decoration contest.

And if you're headed toward the county seat, check out Meadow Lane in Stockton (east off the Benjamin Holt exit, north on Alexandria Place, east on Meadow Lane). It's the city's reigning champ when it comes to the Season of Lights.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The water crisis we can't see

By now, followers of this blog are probably well aware that the state's vital waterways face a crisis. But there's a water crisis literally under the surface of the state that, until now, has largely been hidden from view.

Thanks to the folks at NASA, we have a visual to confirm what common sense long ago said was happening: The state's groundwater table is being rapidly depleted.

Drought conditions didn't stop water agencies, farmers and other entities from pumping enough H2O from the Central Valley water table the past six years to fill the largest reservoir in the nation — the lake made possible by Hoover Dam.

Those overdrafting from aquifers lay the blame (tell me if this sounds familiar) on environmentalists who have succeeded in reducing the amount of water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They're essentially saying that groundwater reserves are being destroyed because they can't further destroy the Delta.

It's another facet of California's water puzzle that is far from sustainable. And it'll remain that way until the myth of infinite growth is put six feet under.

Another sign of the Apocalypse

Our doom must be nigh. How else do you explain this recent poll, which found Californians trust Britney Spears — Miss Responsibility herself — just as much as the Legislature when it comes to managing finances.

If the poll's methodology is sound, you can throw this on the mounting pile of evidence suggesting our state needs to blow up its governing system and start anew.

At Second Thoughts, we're asking Santa for a California Constitutional Convention.

Friday, December 11, 2009

It's up to the lawyers now

Read this and this.

Then you'll understand why this is good news.

The quick wrap: County officials need to slash more than $50 million from the budget. The District Attorney, if it is forced to lay off seven attorneys, won't be able to prosecute run-of-the-mill misdemeanors.

So a compromise was offered. Forego pay increases to save several of those vital public safety positions.

Part of it's a political move. If the members of the county attorney association say no, meaning those misdemeanors go unprosecuted, county lawyers look like they're more concerned with protecting individual pay than keeping the peace in the county. That's old-fashioned country hardball.

That said, if we're strictly speaking public policy, it makes much more sense for the association to accept the compromise and continue their good work protecting the citizenry.

There comes a time to look out for Number 1. One would hope that time isn't when general law and order would come in at Number 2.

C'mon guys. We need this help.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Public opinion: Cut taxes, raise taxes, save more, spend more

If you're confused by the headline, maybe you don't want to check out these new Bloomberg poll results.

In short, a majority of those polled (and if it's a good poll, by extension a majority of Americans) want the government to simultaneously tax the rich and enact an across-the-board tax cut; spend more on infrastructure, job training and job creation, and reduce the national deficit; avoid tax raises on the middle class and avoid cuts to entitlement programs.

Yup. We want the government to provide the best of everything, but we don't want to pay for it.

It's the American way.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Coal in Tracy manager's stocking :Updated:

Just in time for Santa's trip down the chimeny, a Web site has decided to gift Tracy personnel director Maria Olvera with a sockful of coal by naming her the nation's 11th-worst boss for 2009.

While you can read the inglorious top-25 list at the eBossWatch web site, I'm taking this shot at Olvera with a grain of salt. One big enough to season my entire Christmas goose.

Because the ranking seems to stem from a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a pair of disgruntled former Tracy workers who accuse Olvera of demeaning employees, using abusive and degrading language, and generally creating a hostile work environment.

The pair — Elizabeth Allred and Ethel McFarland — also say they were fired in retribution for having complained about their working conditions.

Keep in mind that this lawsuit is pending and that what Allred and McFarland allege — the seeming basis for BossWatch's ranking — has not yet been proven substantial in court. It's just a formal accusation. We don't really know if Olvera deserves a public lambasting or an exoneration.

So while this might make great fodder for someone wanting to prove a point against the city — I mean, saying Tracy employs the 11th-worst boss in the whole friggin' country is pretty sensational — I say that until the lawsuit is settled, Olvera doesn't deserve the serving of compressed carbon.

UPDATE: City Manager Leon Churchill defends Olvera here, and his response seems far more measured than the ranking from eBossWatch.

You think it's cold now...

... Try spending a night on the streets.

No, I haven't done it. Certainly not when the mercury dips below 32 degrees. But every time Jack Frost gnaws on my nose, I can't help but think about the people who can't simply duck indoors to thaw their fingers and toes.

To help the homeless and those who can't afford to heat their homes, donate coats and especially durable blankets, sleeping bags and tents to Tracy Interfaith Ministries.

Tracy Interfaith is easy to reach — its office is in El Pescadero Park, where Parker Avenue dead-ends at Grant Line Road.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Putting your health Furst

I usually hesitiate from passing off another newspaper's opinion as must-read material. But this editorial from the Stockton Record is worth a glance.

It excoriates county public health officials, specifically Dr. Karen Furst, for being less-than-helpful in answering media questions about the H1N1 virus and communicating with the public about when and where the vaccine will be offered.

I've only personally dealt with Dr. Furst once, while researching a column about the real vs. perceived danger of West Nile virus. It wasn't the best interview I've ever had, but I imagine it can't be fun being pestered by the media for answers reporters could easily find elsewhere.

However, what I think is most noteworthy about this subjedt is not the Record's beef with county health, serious and justified as it may be.

What's striking about the H1N1 scare is that it has so far proven no more deadly than the common flu. Yes, it is a health concern, particularly because of the population it seems to hit hardest and because of its potential to mutate into a much more dangerous virus.

But it seems a lot of the media attention devoted to "swine flu" could be directed elsewhere. Say, like reminding everyone that we're still embroiled in a couple of very expensive wars.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

'Tis the season at the Tracy Press

Today the Press welcomed a pair of Christmas trees into the office. They're stately firs, and they perfume the place with a scent that screams wintertime, at least to me.

We're planning on decorating them in turn — we're thinking ornaments made wholly from Tracy Press newspapers for the newsroom conifer.

Gotta stay true to the product, and all that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The new plan, same as the old plan

It's expected that President Obama will later today announce a major escalation in the Afghanistan war. Damn.

Though Obama campaigned on drawing down forces in Iraq and escalating in Afghanistan, this is the time the U.S. should be disengaging from both fights. It is a drain not only on human lives, but on resources that we don't have.

If this escalation goes through, there should indeed be a sort of war tax, a proposal that has come from the Democratic side of the congressional aisle.

Since then-President Bush told America after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to resume consuming and go about normal life, the sacrifices of the "War on Terror" have been borne by only a small portion of the population. Namely, the servicemen and -women who do the actual fighting, and the families they have left behind.

Furthermore, we have so far paid for these wars through debt financing, ironic considering both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have been the darlings of establishment policital conservatives, and those same conservatives have been railing against health care reform in part because of its huge cost. (Maybe war debt is OK, but debt to give everyday Americans better health insurance options is not.)

It's time to spread the true cost of this war around, because aside from it being fiscally irresponsible to finance these wars on debt, more Americans need to be reminded that war is a tough, nasty, and expensive business. If driving that message home means wrenching open a few wallets, so be it.

We might just find that if rank-and-file Americans have to share more of war's cost, war will suddenly become a much less popular endeavor.