Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Poor, poor us

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 1-in-4 children in San Joaquin Valley are living below the poverty rate.

More than 22 percent of our kids and almost 17 percent of all county residents are below the federal poverty line. And if you know anything about the "poverty line," you know that it's a bargain basement measure of poverty, and plenty of folks living above that income level still can't make ends meet.

The federal definition of poverty is an annual income of $22,025 for a family of four.

That's for the whole country, mind you. So in a state like California, where the cost of living is a little more expensive than say, West Virginia or Alabama, it's hardly an accurate measure of poverty.

Translation: If you think the "official" numbers on poverty are bad, the reality is even worse.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A semi-regular tragedy

It seems that almost every other month, the Tracy Press or its sister paper in Patterson posts a story such as this one — a body dragged out of the Delta-Mendota Canal. In this case, possibly a fisherman who disappeared Monday.

The canal is a notorious death trap, for both vehicles and those on foot. Fall in, and you're probably not getting out.

If such an outfit existed, it would be the San Joaquin mafia's version of the Hudson River.

Yet the canal is still a popular spot for fishing trips, trips that far too often end in tragedy, as one apparently did this week.

Yes, there are fish aplenty in the concrete-lined Delta-Mendota and California Aqueduct. But there are better fishing holes to be had, ones that aren't one false step away from disaster.

Quote of the week

"A village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot." - Frank Schaeffer

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dim, grim economic forecast

According to the University of the Pacific Business Forecasting Center, it'll be at least one more year before the valley economy begins its bounce back, reports the Modesto Bee.

The largest contributors? Well, first off is another possible wave of foreclosures. (What, you didn't think that was over, did you?)

The other is the closure of the NUMMI plant in Fremont, a topic discussed in last week's column.

According to UOP, the unemployment rate in San Joaquin County should push 20 percent — Depression Era numbers if I've ever heard them.

But before you hide what cash you have left in a coffee can under your orange tree, remember that while those numbers are bad — horrible, if you consider what they mean in human terms — our area traditionally sports much higher unemployment than other regions.

So at least it won't be as bad elsewhere. Cold comfort, but that's all we've got right now.

Worst argument of the year

If you repeat it enough, maybe people will think it's true.

That must be the impetus behind columns like this, which continue to erroneously describe the story of drought in California as a matter of People vs. the Delta smelt.

But William Busse (and Fox News' Sean Hannity, whom I observed heading a misguided protest during his Thursday night broadcast while at the local In-Shape) continue to prepetuate the canard.

A brief corrective:

The smelt is a stand-in for the Delta as a whole. The Delta has been dammed, diverted, polluted and exported to the point it's no longer a stable ecosystem. The smelt — and the lawsuits and water pumping restrictions that surround it — is merely a legal placeholder for that crumbling ecosystem and the people who depend upon its health.

Just one of the many results of the overuse and abuse of the Delta — Delta salmon populations have crashed, contributing to a two-year idling of the commercial salmon fleet. (However, you won't see farmers who rely on subsidized Delta water say that this is a battle against farmers vs. fishers, because that simply doesn't have the impact of saying farmers vs. fish. Nor will you hear them concede that having water flow through the Delta to the ocean is useful, even though even fifth-grade ecology says so.)

The truth is, it's mostly those on the valley's West Side — the people whose existence would be impossible without the Delta-Mendota Canal and California Aqueduct — who are seriously being hurt by the pumping restrictions. The drought, though it is indeed causing fallow fields and failed orchards, is not being evenly felt by all farmers. In fact, for many farmers and crops, this is sizing up to be a record year.

Now, I think it would be great to have a very serious discussion about the impact of pumping restrictions on these farmers, the possible solutions and those ramifications.

But as long as the "Fish are more important than people" big lie is peddled by the likes of Hannity and Busse, it's a futile exercise.

UPDATE: Mike Fitzgerald, The Record's worthy columnist, also apparently saw the Hannity episode. He has this to say. If there's a more perfect description of the Fish vs. People insanity, I don't know where to find it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

More McNerney challengers

With Tony Amador throwing his hat into the ring to challenge Rep. Jerry McNerney in the 2010 election, the GOP primary is getting crowded.

Amador last campaigned in Orange County (he just moved into the 11th District from Elk Grove a month ago, the Lodi Sentinel reported) and he now hopes to beat out fellow conservatives Brad Goehring and Jon Del Arroz for a seat in the House of Representatives.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A blow for the local economy

This just in: Tracy's been beaten out in the quest to host a to-be-built South County Administration Building. Your winner — Manteca.

It's too bad such a center couldn't have been located here, especially since it would have been a boon to the local economy.

Hear it told by Manteca City Manager Steve Pinkerton:

"Working with the council, we felt like this was something that was worth pursuing, given that this could bring hundreds of jobs to the area, along with as much as 1,000 people a day coming into the area to access county services and spend money in our community.

"We looked around for the win-win situation, which would be a cost-effective place for the county to build with utilities in place, amenities, a location that was beneficial to the county and at the same time a location that could help the economic development of the community."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Turn it into a town hall

For those who were disappointed with Rep. Jerry McNerney's recent phone-in town hall meetings (and if I recall, there were more than a few) the Democratic representative will host one of his "Congress at your corner" events from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, at the Margaret K. Troke Branch Library, 502 W. Benjamin Holt Drive, in Stockton.

Consider this your chance to score some face time with our local representative in the halls of Congress.

Not so patriotic

After proclaiming his opposition to Patriot Act policies that threaten civil liberties as a senator, President Obama seems to want to extend several of the act's controversial facets.

For those of us who were hoping Obama would undo some of the Bush administration's overreaches in terms of executive power, this is a huge disappointment.

What a fickle mother

Mother Nature blessed us with a cool fall weekend for the bean festival (which happened to go nicely with Saturday's column — sometimes the timing is just lucky).

But oh, that woman, she's fickle.

Predicted temperatures by week's end top triple digits.

Break out the swim trunks — summer's coming back for (what we hope is) one last hurrah.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight years later — what we've lost

Musing today about the attacks of Sept. 11, I didn't think so much about my initial reaction to watching the Twin Towers tumble, killing thousands and covering New York City with dust, or even where I was. (For you curious readers, I was in my freshman year college dorm room at the time, glued to the TV along with my suitemates.)

I thought about what we've lost since then. What we've done. Both personally and as a nation.

The people with relatives and friends who died in the attacks obviously suffered extreme loss. (One of the people who worked in my college newsroom had a family member who worked in one of the towers.)

But the nation has suffered, too.

Since that date we've launched wars, tortured prisoners, become less trusting, more afraid, more bitter, more divided.

Today, I don't have a moral. (If you must have one, read the most recent Tracy Press editorial.)

Today was a day for reflection. A day to remember what we've lost.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bean buzz building

Stepping outside the Tracy Press after dark, yellow lights were flashing and people were moving.

There was no police action -- it was part of the pre-setup for the Tracy Dry Bean Festival, which technically kicks off Saturday. (Though as a veteran of schoolyard festivals, I can tell you that a set-up night, hopefully complete with icy cervecas and grilled meats, can be the best party night of all.)

With the streets set to close Friday afternoon, the buzz is building for Tracy's biggest annual party.

Hopefully, we'll see you downtown come Saturday.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Columnist fail

You might have noted that there was no live blog from the Kimball High School campus as President Obama addressed the nation's students.

My apologies, as I seem to have come down with a case of strep throat for the second time in a month.

However, I'm pleased to say that, from my own reading of the speech's transcript, that it was about as admirable — if not boring — of an address that the president could have given to students.

Sad thing is, the inspirational exhortation will likely mean very little if the students aren't raised in an environment — that includes parents and teachers — that sets academic achievement as something that's important, expected and worked toward.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stimulus capital improvement continues

As promised in Saturday's update regarding the city's stimulus package, the following is a list of infrastructure projects hustled onto the fast track. The list comes courtesy of City Manager Leon Churchill.

Completed (at a cost of about $17 million)
Old City Hall renovation, 11th Street median improvements, alley rehabilitation, street overlays, 10th Street improvements, traffic calming (have you seen the new humps on many midtown avenues?), bus shelter improvements, Northeast Industrial Area infrastructure improvements, CNG fuel station expansion.

Under construction (at a cost of about $35 million)
Widening of Grant Line Road between Parker Avenue and MacArthur Drive, downtown transit statino, water well No. 9, miscellaneous water and wastewater line replacements, Old Schulte Road improvements, Lammers Road improvements (Phase 1 in front of Kimball High School).

Ready for construction award (at a projected cost of $8 million)
Sidewalk rehabilitation, Bessive Avenue reconstruction, water booster station upgrade, replacement of Dr. Powers Park restroom, park playgound equipment replacement, various water and wastewater projects, street overlays and slurry seals.

Under design (at a projected cost of $35 million)
Corral Hollow Road widening from Grant Line Road to the West Valley Mall entry, Grant Line Road repairs and widening from MacArthur Drive east to the city limits, Corral Hollow Road widening from Grant Line Road to Old Schulte Road, miscellaneous water and wastewater line replacements.

President to *gasp* encourage learning

For those who haven't heard, President Obama plans at 9 a.m. Tuesday to address students in schools across the nation and encourage kids to further their education.

This has prompted plenty of folks to worry that their children will be insidiously indoctrinated by the country's leader. (I guess having an education is the equivalent of being a communist-facist-traitor to some folks, which kind of explains how these guys have an audience.)

The speech will be shown in many -- not all -- Tracy Unified School District classrooms. And as a nod to the several parents who have called in concerned that their child might be inspired by the leader of the free world, no students will be compelled to watch the speech. School district officials assured me Friday that there will be alternative options made available.

I, for one, am not worried about a political message being sent through the speech. First off, it would be an ethically suspect thing to do, and I expect better of the president. Second, it strikes me as an extremely politically unwise thing to do -- can you imagine the backlash if the president used school time to plug his pet programs (even though that didn't stop President Ronald Reagan from doing it in his school address 1988)?

Stay tuned. Second Thoughts will be reporting live from a Tracy classroom as the speech unfolds Tuesday.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Simplifying the Peripheral Canal debate

Usually, I'm not a fan of oversimplification. The world is full of nuance, and neglecting to realize that leaves you with this.

However, the debate over the Peripheral Canal truly can be distilled to these two essences:

• If you rely on water pumped down the California Aqueduct and Delta-Mendota Canal, you're in favor of a Peripheral Canal.

• If you rely on the Delta as a healthy, vital waterway with actual freshwater in it, you're not in favor of a Peripheral Canal.

Glad we could clear that up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The best e-mail we couldn't publish

Sometimes anonymous letters to the editor come in with no contact information. Without a name, they can't run in the Press (per our editorial policy). But that doesn't mean we can't showcase some of the gems here:

Wake up fellow Tracyites
We have many problems in this town of ours.
It all started many years ago. I've been here since 1979. This used to be a quiet, friendly, decent little town!
Where are all the smiles? I see none every day as I make my daily errands. Why?
1: The people who run this town have the wrong priorities.
2: The people who run this town have succumbed to big developers, and now it is getting out of control — starting in the early 1990s. My qualifications for this statement are as follows: a lifetime in construction.
3: Where is the $7 million they lost in the 90s?
4: Why do we have a cultural theater on Central Avenue, which they spent $20 million on — yes, $20 million — that loses money every year and was tagged upon completion? Must be the wining and dining, in my book.
Do we Tracyites want to be Stocktonians? Not me! But we're already halfway there!!!
Let's nip it in the bud (my favorite beer).
We need to support our local police department and fire department even if they get their federal grant — they deserve it.
Signing off...
~ One Grumpy Old Man, Tracy

As per One Grumpy's suggestion, I'm going to nip another Bud and see if it makes more sense then.

A stimulating update

Back in March, Mayor Brent Ives rolled out his plan to give local business a shot in the arm — the Tracy Investment Plan.

Now it's September, nearly five months after Ives declared the city would invest millions of dollars in an effort to keep Tracy's fortunes from sinking too far with the rest of the economy.

We at Second Thoughts want to know how that multifaceted effort is panning out, especially in light of depressing recent job statistics.

Tune in this Saturday to the Tracy Press for answers.