Thursday, December 30, 2010

More from Holly Drive shooting

A story that detailed a shooting on Holly Drive on Wednesday, Dec. 22, left out some harrowing information, according to a man named Ted.

Ted didn't want to give a last name, but evidently he is the man of the house that was the backdrop for the drive-by shooting.

Ted said that at least one bullet sprayed by the cowardly shooter flew through his house, missing the heads of a 7-yera-old and a 10-year-old "by inches."

It's likely that the shooting had something to do with gangs, and it's likely a stabbing on Dec. 29 on Eaton Avenue was retaliation for the shooting. Not surprising, as most of the violence in Tracy seems to be directed between members of rival gangs.

However, the Holly Drive shooting is a sobering reminder that, eventually, innocent people will get caught in the crossfire. Letting the thugs kill one another off isn't an answer. Because sooner or later, they're not going to just be killing themselves.

Not such a terrorist

On Friday, Dec. 24, a man was arrested at the Tracy Wastewater Treatment plant and booked into county jail. He was charged with a felony — making terrorist threats — for allegedly initiating a chlorine leak. He was ordered held without bail.

Pretty serious stuff, it seemed, when we reviewed the police records earlier this week.

But the man, whose name we will withold here for soon-to-be-obvious reasons, was released from jail and had all charges dropped. According to local police sources, the man might have been a little out of it, but didn't do anything illegal or terroristic.

Holiday stress, maybe?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Judge hits water issue nail on the head

Judge Oliver Wanger recently decided that restrictions on pumping Delta water to protect an endangered species weren't based on the best science available, forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service back to the drawing board.

But the real nugget of truth in the judge's 225-page ruling didn't have to deal with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the challenging conglomeration of exported water users who chellenged the restrictions.

The money quote — which perfectly summarizes the failure to manage the state's water supply and the Delta imparticular — comes as the judge scorns lawmakers for their "failure to provide the means to assure an adequate water supply for both the humans and the species
dependent on the Delta."

"Legislative failure." It kinda sums up the history of Golden State water management.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tracy goes nuclear?

Right now, Second Thoughts is poring through the Sustainability Action Plan to see what the City Council is likely to soon approve, after the planning commission gave it a unanimous thumbs-up last Wednesday.

Appendix A of the plan contains community feedback. Thinking it might be interesting to see what fellow residents suggested for making Tracy a more sustainable city, I took a peek.

The winner for most colorful suggestion (and no, I am not making this up) is...

"Nuclear laser to manage garbage."

Just another reminder for all of us to take our perscription medication.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Not such a gullywasher after all

The storm predicted to dump up to five inches of rain in the Central Valley and up to 10 feet of snow in the Sierras has certainly wet the streets the past three days, but it hasn't quite been enough to float away an ark, either.

According to the Tracy Press rain gauge, Tank Town collected 0.90 inches between Friday and Monday. That brings the season total to 4.66 inches, well ahead of last year's same-date mark of 2.73. (The grand total for 2009-10 was 11.64 inches.)

Despite the blue skies that peeked out Monday, predictions say clouds will continue to sprinkle Tracy over the next couple days, so the storm total could very well rise. But it looks like it'll take some serious cloudbursts for the weathermen to be proven right on this one.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

At the corner of East and 11th streets

Just got reports of a tussle outside Tracy High School, involving teens jumping out of cars stopped in the middle of the street and shouting at passers-by.

No word of any injuries or serious mischief, but we'll keep you updated in tomorrow's police log. Just check back at at about noon or so.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fire a cannon down 11th Street

Jim Meservy, the 2010 Male Citizen of the Year, has been around Tracy a good long time. Fifty-five years, to be exact. And the longtime resident, volunteer and honest-to-goodness-humble man shared some of the changes he's seen when I talked to him today for an upcoming article on his COTY honor.

Because he hasn't just seen some of the changes. "I've seen all of them, you could say."

Most vivid of his recollections was when Interstate 205 was laid north of town, turning 11th Street into a ghost boulevard.

It was so devoid of cars, he said, "You could almost shoot a cannon down it."

That was bad news for Meservy, who owned the Chevron service station at 11th and Adams streets (a station that's now a Valero). He said it cut business by about 50 to 75 percent.

But the cars eventually returned to the city's main east-west thoroughfare, as any afternoon drive down the old Lincoln Highway will easily demonstrate. In fact, from what Meservy told me, it looks an awful lot like it did back in the day, when 11th Street was main street.

Taking the jolly right out of Christmas

Ornaments and decorations are springing up all over town — including those of the award-winning variety. We'll soon announce the winners of the annual Rotary decorating contest.

In the meantime, though, we have this to report: Thieves in several neighborhoods appear to be scarpering with folks' expressions of merriment.

One woman I recently ran into in the police department who was there to discuss what she could do told me that she had lost several items that she had long held dear, and that two of her neighbors had been hit as well.

She didn't know if the thefts were connected, but I'll bet they were.

Sad that nothing's sacred.

Second Thoughts blog, reborn

Any alert readers of Second Thoughts have noticed the blog's been dead for a few months. No longer.

The blog is being re-invented as a Cutting Room Floor clearinghouse. I can't fit everything I learn while on assignment into news reports and columns, so this is the place I plan to show off that stuff.

Management at Second Thoughts hopes the extra tidbits gives a better, more complete picture of the people, trends and events that make Tracy tick.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Who says journalists don't have a sense of humor?

Thought journalists were all cynical, somewhat deadened and emotionally distanced by constantly covering tragedies, crimes and sad stories?

Well, possibly, but at least some of use have a sense of humor about our jobs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Phone Call of the Day

Yesterday's Phone Call of the Day came from an irate reader who was upset about — well, something. We newsroom dwellers couldn't quite understand exactly what the problem was, but it ranged from the competency of the Press to the reasons this person was "stuck in Tracy," and included some stream-of-consciousness word play as well as several repeated and drawn out renditions of the reader's name, address and Social Security number.

Needless to say, it was an interesting way to cap the work day.

So take this as a reminder for all of us to take our prescription medication. Take it also as a reminder that one should never, ever, share their full name, address, and Social Security number with a newspaper reporter.

Unless, that is, it's accompanied by a bank account number and directions to the Cayman Islands.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Plenty of water after all?

For some time, I and others have called misguided the claims that the government is creating a "Dust Bowl" out of the San Joaquin Valley's West Side.

As per this letter to the Westlands Water District — a letter that reveals Westlands, a chief "Dust Bowl" claimant, actually has more federal water this year than it knows what to do with — you can now add "disingenuous" to misguided.

Also, while we're talking about the fate of the Delta, consider this report, which reveals a sobering development: The same people who tried to discredit a nonpartisan, sceintific report about how much water the Delta needs to be healthy are now the ones conducting closed-door meetings that could determine how that water is divvied up.

Can you say "conflict of interest"? How about "foregone conclusion"?

One more equally revealing post about the Delta. Tom Philip, a strategist for the Metropolitan Water District, shares how Delta water is doled out during an average year here. It's an interesting look, and the results might surprise you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

One 'weird' quote of the day

The story of Kyle R., the teenager who escaped alleged imprisonment and torture nearly two years ago by leaping a fence with a shackle still on his ankle, is sadly real, but the details are so disturbing you'd think it was fiction.

Judge Terrence Van Oss, the judge presiding over the trial of the four people accused of beating the boy, admitted that he's just as surprised as the rest of us.

As the white-haried veteran of the black robe said today from the bench:

"This is one of the weirdest cases I've ever seen."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Luna shines on Tank Town

Earlier this week, heavenly bodies lined up as an appropriate reminder of Tracy's location in the state's great breadbasket.

The harvest moon, accompanied by Jupiter, actually lit up area fields and orchards on the Autumnal Equinox, something that hadn't happened since 1972 and won't happen again until 2029.

Despite the name of the celestial event — hearkening a time that said moon was used to extend the time the fields could be worked — there wasn't much harvesting going on during the 2010 harvest moon, as the mild summer and relatively late spring have delayed the gleaning in much of the county.

Monday, September 20, 2010

There, but for the grace of God, go us all

It's been some time since the last tragedy involving a carful of young drivers in Tracy, but when I heard about the four teenagers who died Saturday in an accident on Schulte Road, I was immediately reminded about that crash in front of West High School.

And while a few years have ticked by between these two accidents, my reaction remains the same.

It's too early for anyone to stand on a soap box and rail about teenage drivers, speed and the like. Young adults don't always make the best decisions. But the same could be said of all of us — it's just that those of us still here have been lucky enough to be spared the ultimate penalty.

Let the perfect cast the first stone. Or, instead, extend a sympathetic hand and hug. Because that's what our community should be about when tough times strike — and this certainly qualifies.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A trial no-brainer

The defense in the Kyle R. case — in which a teenager with a shackle on one leg escaped his alleged captors and bounded into a Tracy health club pleading for help — is seeking a change in venue.

Those details, as reported in the Press and elsewhere, have a tendency to stick in the mind, as has the case's popular label: The Tracy Torture Case.

That's made the defense claim — and not without reason — that the four defendents can't get a fair trial in San Joaquin County. So far, the judge seems to want to move ahead with the trial, since it's nearly two full years since Kyle R. made his first public appearance.

That fair trial business is kind of important.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A speedy review

There's a new environmental impact report for the proposed high-speed rail link through the Central Valley between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Those so inclined can take a gander at the Tracy Branch Library, 20 E. Eaton Ave.

Give your feedback about the project that could have big local implications to — it's significantly easier than going to the public meeting on Aug. 27 in Sacramento.

Making a case for library privatization

The folks at LSSI — the company seeking to take over management of the San Joaquin County-City of Stockton library system, of which the Tracy and Mountain House bibliotecas are a part — has a website it created obstensibly to inform locals about what a partnership with the private company would mean. Check it out here.

LSSI says that it can provide increased library services while spending less money, even establishing a reserve fund that could be used for later improvements. When asked how they could do this, officials with the company said that they have a tested and proven business model and turned around the question, asking why the county and city management haven't been able to provide more efficient services.

One answer might be that LSSI wouldn't have to deal with the California pension plan. If LSSI wins management of the library system, current government employees would be terminated and would then have to re-apply for jobs with LSSI. (For its part, LSSI says those employees would have preference in the hiring process.)

But since it's a private company, LSSI wouldn't be responsible for bolstering their employees' pension plans via CalPers — though an LSSI spokesman said that the company offers a 401k and a package of benefits that's "competitive" in the private sector.

Regardless of how LSSI plans to get there, any contract with the local governments would obligate LSSI to meet certain service levels and to meet them with a limited amount of money. In other words, if the company can't give the county/city the proper bang for the buck, that's LSSI's problem.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wait, rivers have water?

If you've ever wondered how badly we've dammed and diverted our rivers in the Central Valley, there's this reminder from the Fresno Bee:

"On the Valley's west side near Los Banos, something strange is happening this summer in the San Joaquin River — water."

Yup, it's a surprise when there's water flowing in the San Joaquin River. Good grief.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fire chief wears favored candidate on sleeve... er, chest

If you've been wondering what's happend to Chris Bosch, Tracy's former fire chief who left his position under cloudy circumstances earlier this year, he's still around.

And evidently, from the shirt he was wearing when I saw him today when he was representing the local nonprofit Tracy Volunteer Caregivers, he's helping Larry Hite's campaign for City Council.

No word, however, on what's happening with the severance pay dispute between Bosch and the city. When there's an update on that, we'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The transparency we've been talking about

In last Friday's Press, the editorial board called for the city to be more explicit when it comes to telling the public exactly what it's doing to cut costs, especially when it comes to union employees.

Earlier this week, we got exactly what we were asking for.

At tonight's meeting, the City Council will likely approve a set of consessions wheedled from the local Teamsters union, amounting to just shy of a half-million dollars in savings to the city's general fund. (Considering the savings, it should be a no-brainer of a vote.)

It might not be enough on its own to bridge the city's ongoing multimillion-dollar deficit, but it's a step in the right direction. And it's a major step in terms of the city sharing with voters exactly what employee groups are conceding.

Many will insist that union groups and city employees take more drastic cuts, so as to allow voters to turn down a proposed tax increase with a clean conscience.

But these deals with employee groups happen on Planet Earth. Unions are going to protect the interest of their employees. And in this case, Teamster jobs are guaranteed against layoffs for the rest of the fiscal year in exchange for a reduction in pay.

In this case, the interest of both the employees and the city lined up — but asking workers to give up even more without receiving something more in return is unrealistic.

The city and the union members deserve credit here for finding a compromise that helps Tracy and its taxpayers. It might not be enough to eliminate the city's stated need for a sales tax hike, but it certainly isn't going to hurt.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

San Joaquin Delta scores temporary win

An $11 billion water bond that would likely help build a canal to ship water around the dying Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will be delayed — at least by two years.

The effort to but the bond on the November 2010 ballot was losing steam, and the state Legislature figured there's a better shot of it passing if it's put on the 2012 presidential ballot.

But delay or no delay, the proposed vision of a Delta further drained and diverted isn't a healthy one. That remains the same, no matter how long the proposal is shelved.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Far from a final victory on Prop. 8

Though Second Thoughts and other backers of legalized gay marriage celebrated yesterday's court ruling affirming that California's odious Proposition 8 was nothing more than a Jim Crow-style slap in the face to the Constitution, it was a party with reservations.

Because this thing is far from over.

The folks who put the gay-marriage ban on the 2008 ballot and who went to court to defend its merits have already filed a formal appeal of Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling that same-sex couples have as much right to marry as opposite-sex couples and that the ban was based on personal moral and religious values rather than any Constitutional or legal foundation.

I hope that judges in higher courts see the wisdom and Constitutional merits of Judge Walker's argument, which you really should read. I found excerpts of his ruling here.

If you want Second Thoughts' feelings on the matter, consider some light reading here and here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Back at the blog

After a mild case of the vacation check-outs and a week spent recharging the batteries, the Second Thoughts blog is back under old management.

My apologies to those who found no new content for that week and a half, but we'll try to make up for the recent lull in August.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Are more cops the answer?

Not according to Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project, who was recently interviewed on the subject following the third fatal shooting of a police officer in Chi-town this year.

His thoughts — which appeared courtesy my Google news feed and are definitely another addition to the "Hey, that's not my Tracy" files — are relevant to discussions of budget and crime here in San Joaquin County, as Stockton has already thinned its Thin Blue Line and other entities could soon be forced to do the same.

Read the interview here.

Be a state lawmaker for a day

If you've been screaming at state lawmakers who couldn't pass a budget if their lives depended on it that you could do it better, here's your chance.

Follow the link to a nifty little widget at the Los Angeles Times website that lets you play budgetmaker.

See if you can close the $19.1 billion budget gap and still keep your re-election war chest filled!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Library privatization must be done right

Today's cover story about the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library system possibly outsourcing its management to a private company brings up some issues and concerns.

First off, LSSI has a convincing sales pitch. The way its people present what the company can bring to the table — lower costs and better services to the public — it sounds like a winning proposition. However, there are several things that must be done the right way.

Specifically, it comes down to the word public, as in public libraries.

Taxpayers fund libraries with the idea that anyone can use them — no extra fee required. Libraries, in this way, are a great intellecutal leveler, giving people of all incomes and backgrounds access to a wealth of knowledge and resources.

Taxpayers also fund them with the idea that books and periodicals will not be censored because of their content — or that if there is censorship, it is done by a duly elected governing body.

LSSI says keeping these features alive, and actually expanding the way libraries serve the public by helping implement various literacy and language programs, is part and parcel of the company's philosophy.

If so, it seems that the company offers the best of all worlds to taxpayers and library patrons. But county leaders must be diligent in reviewing LSSI's bid to ensure that the public good is truly being served.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Working on the (no chain) gang

The past two days, East 11th Street between Tracy and Interstate 5 has witnessed the modern version of a chain gang hard at work clearing man-sized bushes from the westerly shoulder.

A white sheriff's bus sits by while men clad in orange vests wield hoes and other various implements of destruction to tame the wild growth — a valuable service if ever there was one.

Because those weeds aren't just ugly. According to Tracy Fire Department personnel, 1 foot of dried brush, if ignited, yields about a 3-foot flame. If some of those 7-foot-tall monsters off 11th Street caught fire in the tinder-dry conditions that have led to several recent blazes, I'd hate to see the resulting inferno.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Preparing you for a strange Tuesday

There's a hazy sky and muted sun, with not a lot going on outside so far today in Tracy. Kind of an eeire day — and, according to my sources in the local coffee shop, a perfect template for a zombie uprising.

I don't buy it. But just in case, remember the rules of survival — aim for the head, stay one step ahead, and avoid basements, bathrooms and other enclosed spaces. Oh, and always double-tap.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

High-speed rail's consolation prize

What happens if high-speed rail in California falls through, as some have predicted?

As far as Tracy is concerned, hopefully not too much.

The biggest benefit of high-speed rail for Tracy is that a connector between the San Francisco-to-LA and Sacramento-to-LA lines would hopefully run through the city, linking with BART in Livermore and securing a faster, more reliable commuter conduit than the current Altamont Commuter Express.

But according to a presentation from ACE at Tuesday's City Council meeting, getting ACE on its own rails and operating at a higher speed — up to 90 mph with current equipment if new tracks are laid on an exclusive right-of-way — is in the long-range planning cards with or without high-speed rail.

So I'm still hoping for that bullet train to happen. But if it doesn't, Tracy's still looking at a pretty decent consolation prize.

Don't blame Tracy for fouling the Delta

When it comes to the push and pull over who is doing more damage to our state's most important waterway — those water-sucking dudes in the Central Valley and SoCal or the Delta residents polluting it with waste and runoff — consider Tracy expunged. At least from the latter category.

While Tank Town does draw some of its water from the Delta-Mendota Canal, which is filled with huge pumps that actually make some Delta waterways flow backwards, Tracy's doing a great job of not fouling that water in the first place. Or so says Steve Bayley of the city's Public Works Department.

The city discharges treated wastewater into Old River, but Bayley explained the city's new treatment plant takes out all the ammonia in the waste — chemically turning it into nitrogen that's released into the air, which is 70-something percent nitrogen to begin with. That means cleaner effluent, and a cleaner Delta.

If we could only get those other cities and fertilizer users on the same page.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Off the real estate grapevine

While foreclosure rates are far from flagging, those homes don't appear to be staying on the market for very long.

Word on the street is that investors are starting to buy up what homes they can — as fast as they can — and turn them into rental units while they wait for the prices of homes to rebound.

And, according to this recent Record report, that rebound is slowly starting to happen.

You mean it's actually helping?

The other day, I ran into one of the many Tracy residents who formerly worked at NUMMI, the massive and revolutionary auto plant in Fremont that shut down earlier this year.

He's looking for work, and is being trained for a new line of work by a heavily panned Act of Government — the federal stimulus. Without it, he told me, he'd really be up the proverbial creek.

That stimulus, however, will soon run out. And when it does, the news will not be good for workers here, nor for those across the country.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bankruptcy — what it means, and what it doesn't

In the Calling a Spade a Spade Department, the Tracy Press Inc. — which publishes the Tracy Press newspaper — has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

What this means is that the company has a chance to reorganize its financial house and plan a path back to a stronger financial position.

What it doesn't mean is that the Tracy Press is shutting down.

The Tracy Press will continue publishing in print every Friday and on the Web at every day. We're still going to be here in the newsroom tracking down the stories that matter to this community.

As we said when we went to a once-a-week print publishing schedule: We're part of this city, and we're not going anywhere.

Tracy councilman endorses McNerney

Sometimes, local politics makes for alliances that transcend petty party affiliation.

Such was the case this week when Republican Councilman Steve Abercrombie gave his endorsement to Democrat Rep. Jerry McNerney.

Such thumbs ups don't happen much on the national stage, where blind partisanship and staying on the party message often take precedence. But locally, this kind of thing happens all the time, with Democrats endorsing effective Republicans and GOP-ers giving the high sign to worthy Dems.

Because when you talk local politics, it's about getting things done. Being available and active. Oh, and bringing money to the district. (That means earmarks, and it's something we'll get into later when we discuss the ongoing local congressional race.)

After all, red and blue don't really matter when you're talking green.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy fiscal new year!

Today is the true beginning of the year, as far as government, schools and other such agencies are concerned. But there's not a lot of reason to break out the bubbly and confetti.

There's still no state budget in Sacramento — and while that might not exactly be new for our dysfunctional Legislature, it's still news. And another Fail.

Whatever compromise eventually comes together and is signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it will likely mean more pain for school districts such as Tracy Unified, which have already had to lay off teachers, cut community favorite programs and increase class sizes.

The outlook is gloomy for cities, too. Tracy projects a deficit next year, unless there's some miraculous economic turnaround that no one expects.

In fact, things are likely to get worse before they get better. Not only is the economy not likely to turn around, but federal stimulus money that has been pouring into state, city and school coffers isn't going to run forever.

Yup. It looks like a bleak new year.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Doing the civic duty

Yesterday, I performed my civic duty by standing in line, waiting in a room, and explaning to a judge why I couldn't perform my civic duty.

Yes, I was called to Stockton for jury duty today, and it was a fail. On my part.

Judge William Morris gave a stirring speech in Department 14 of the superior court house in downtown Stockton, invoking patriotism, civil responsibility and the guarding of our democracy to encourage prospective jurors not to offer phony claims of "hardship" to get out of jury duty.

So it was with trepidation that I stood up and told the judge that I couldn't afford going without pay for the two weeks the trial was scheduled for.

It was the truth, but it didn't make me feel any better.

Serving on a jury and supporting the criminal justice system is one of the most basic requirements of citizenship in the United States, and the more people who shirk that duty, the worse the system is.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Signs of life in downtown

Good Start Nutrition is set to open soon in downtown Tracy at 917 N. Central Ave.

While Second Thoughts doesn't know exactly what GSN is (we're making an educated guess that it has to do with food for young'uns) it's a good sign that a business is opening its doors in downtown.

However, we question whether the location is the best fit. The venerable and tastefully expanded 12 Monkeys — in this space's opinion, far and away the best house of ink Tracy has to offer — is right next door.

Although there could be countless tie-ins waiting to happen.

• Baby portraits for your back
• "Hot Mama" discounts
• Matching tats for Mom and Dad specials

OK ... so maybe not.

The Press' Hester Prynne

I swear, walking around downtown Tracy trying to get a quote is near impossible. At least when you're wearing this thing:
It's like my very own scarlet letter.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thwarting Walmart for Dummies

According to the Wall Street Journal, a consulting firm has made its own cottage industry out of preventing Walmart from moving into communities, working on behalf of other large grocery chains and passing off the opposition as a grassroots movement.

Says the Journal:

"For the typical anti-Wal-Mart assignment, a (Saint Consulting Group) manager will drop into town using an assumed name to create or take control of local opposition, according to former Saint employees. They flood local politicians with calls, using multiple phones to make it appear that the calls are coming from different people, the former employees say."
"Safeway, a national chain based in Pleasanton, Calif., retained Saint to thwart Wal-Mart Supercenters in more than 30 towns in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii in recent years, according to a Saint project list and interviews with former employees. Former Saint employees say much of the work consisted of training Safeway's unionized workers to fight land-use battles, including how to speak at public hearings."

It's worth noting that Tracy's Walmart project will move ahead after a lawsuit aimed at the to-be-expanded giant was dropped for lack of follow-through on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Keep in mind, this kind of thing is typically totally legal. It's just further proof that while citizen-based movements sometimes really are citizen-based, they can also be used as tools by vested interests with deep pockets.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thoughts on Melissa Huckaby

Thanks to the official sentencing of Melissa Huckaby for the murder of Sandra Cantu and the details that have been released regarding the case, this past week has given me — as well as everyone else in the Tracy Press newsroom — a lot to think about. Specifically, about what the role of the media, especially a community paper, is when it comes to publishing distrubing information about criminal cases.

It's a balancing act, with the public's right to know and the media's watchdog role on government pulling hard against the right of victims to privacy and a general sense of common decency.

It's led to some spirited and emotional newsroom discussions. Because, contrary to what's often assumed, we don't treat this stuff lightly. We honestly belong to a paper that prides itself on being a part of the community it covers.

You can see the compromise we arrived at in Friday's Tracy Press. Basically, that publishing salacious or gory details for their own sake don't add anything to the public's understanding of what happened in this case and simply hurts greiving family members. However, when stomach-turning information helps contradict Huckaby's statements, and demonstrates that she's either lying or unaware of what she has done, that merits consideration. We believe our readers should be treated as adults.

(For an overall defense of media action in cases like this, The Record's court reporter has an interesting take. You might not agree, but it's worth a read.)

As for Huckaby, it's hard to show any sympathy for her tears in court on Monday. It's absolutely fitting that she will have to live with the guilt and shame of murdering and abusing an 8-year-old girl for the rest of her life. The pain she's wrought is immeasurable. I doubt Huckaby even truly comprehends what she's done. And nothing she can do will make it an ounce better.

However, I do have sympathy on this one level — she was not born like this. Huckaby is fully responsible for what she did, oh yes. But I wonder what happened in her life to turn her into someone capable of murder.

Huckaby took that leap to take a life and ruin a family. But I'm willing to bet she didn't get close to the edge all on her own.

A bridge with troubled pavement

This evening at the Tracy Transit Station, the city of Tracy will start to publicly deal with a problem long familiar to local motorists — the 11th Street bridge east of town. Or, as my car calls it, "No, no, please — not that."

The street, to put it mildly, is not smooth (shades of my most recent column about the mess on Grant Line Road). However, unlike the Grant Line issue, there's no real reason that we at Second Thoughts can postulate for the road's disrepair. Other than that it's old and desperately needs repairs or replacing.

According to a city press release, it appears replacement is the preferred option. No surprise, since several years ago the overpass was declared not up to snuff by the feds in an annual bridge report.

So tonight, you have a chance to weigh in on "proposed alternative designs" being considered for a new 11th Street bridge. Stop by 50 E. Sixth St. at about 6 p.m. if you — or your car — are interested.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Delta residents — Delta water 'outsiders'?

Water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have been ratcheted up once again, according to reports from Central Valley news outlets.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said that it's a victory for his region over "Valley outsiders."

Except that many of those "outsiders" he refers to are, in part, residents of the same valley. It's just that they happen to live where the water is being diverted from, rather than being diverted to.

Those who depend on water exports to till often marginal land in Parts Previously Unwatered have quite the nerve to label as "outsiders" residents of the San Joaquin Delta — who this past decade saw marked increases in the water pumped out of the Delta and the dramatic adverse impact those diversions had — or fishermen who rely on a healthy ecosystem for their livelihood.

That's not to suggest the folks near Fresno and on the western side of the lower Central Valley shouldn't get any Delta water at all. Just saying that a little honesty in this debate could go a long way — especially from a congressman.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why fix those medians now?

I've heard a lot of grumbling about the "improvements" being done to the medians on 11th Street, especially the timing of the work given the city's financial straits. I put improvements in quotation marks, because I've heard serious doubts as to whether these rocky centers are actually an upgrade.

I can't answer the question of taste, but I can tell you that the money for the median work isn't coming from the city's General Fund. It's from developer fees that are specifically set aside for median improvements on Tracy's main thoroughfares, according to City Manager Leon Churchill.

In other words, this is not money that could be used to shore up the city's projected $4.8 million deficit for 2010-11. It's not money that could pay for firefighters and police officers. It's not money that can be used to maintain your local park, or keep Joe Wilson Pool open. It's money that either must be used for median upgrades, or sit unused.

So, Churchill said, instead of not spending money just to feel more frugal, the city decided to go ahead with the long-ago planned construction.

In reality, the only quibble I have — aside from the small delays the work has caused — is that there seems to be a serious dearth of trees on those new medians.

I get the rock — it's low-maintenance, doesn't need water, etc. But the city needs trees. Not just for looks, but for shade and their natrual cooling effect on brutally hot days.

For a town trying to reach Emerald City status, I would have thought more fast-growing trees would have been a no-brain decision. Then again, when it comes to getting green, "no-brain" is a relative term.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Murphy's Law for journalists

When you have a very important Web edition planned for the day, you can count on your website to be a complete functional and visual mess...

Friday, June 11, 2010

More on the mall incentive

One thing that hit the cutting room floor of today's story about the city of Tracy's plan to give Macy's $2.75 million to move into the struggling West Valley Mall is a word about where the money's coming from.

The residential specific plan is a document that guided growth in the city for some time a couple decades back. The money the city is using for Macy's — which will be augmented by a similar amount of money from General Growth Properties — came from a settlement with developers who built under that RSP.

Even after builders mitigated the impacts of those various developments scattered across the city, I've been told, there were disputes that the city didn't get all the money and fees it was entitled to. So there was a suit, and a settlement. That settlement left Tracy with about $5 million to use for one-time capital improvements.

It's what helped pay for the City Stimulus: master planning of vast stretches of western Tracy, the $500 auto mall gift card program, and the $1 million small business loan fund. Now, it's being used to help boost the mall before it reaches the point of no economic return.

We'll have more on this in a follow-up report before Tuesday's City Council meeting, where 3 of 2 council members will have to approve spending the money if Macy's is going to come to Tracy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Better Future Files, cont'd

The latest installment of the BFF — a dossier of Tracy folks trying to make a better future for their city and neighbors — comes courtesy of the Coalition of Tracy Citizens to Assist the Homeless.

The ad-hoc, grassroots effort led by Marvin Rothschild and aided by several prominent locals, is celebrating a milestone at 2 p.m. Sunday at Corral Hollow Realty World (a makeshift headquarters for the coalition at 10th and B streets.)

That accomplishment worthy of coffee, snacks and general revelry: The coalition has placed 100 people into homes since it started working to ease homelessness in Tracy.

Bravo, good citizens. Bravo.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Final bullet for CA high-speed rail?

At least one policy wonk — Michael Lind of the New America Foundation's Economic Growth Program — is dissing the idea of California high-speed rail, and high-speed rail in general. Remember, Tracy is pushing hard to be a major stop on the to-be-built system that's supposed to link NorCal and SoCal and improve regional transit, to boot.

In fact, he's calling for an expansion and smarter use of our Interstate freeway system, which has served the country — and helped it sprawl — since its inception.

Read Lind's interesting take on the future of American infrastructure here.

Stressed out in San Joaquin

Yet another set of statistics that says San Joaquin County is deeply mired in an economic morass. This time, courtesy of The Associated Press.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Get involved in your own safety

Talked to police Chief Janet Theissen today in person for the first time. Mostly, we rapped about the department's renewed effort to get the community involved in keeping Tracy's streets safe.

In her own words, Theissen is big proponent of community policing — the idea that the most effective form of combating crime is to get non-uniformed residents to secure the streets of their city, a notion heartily endorsed on numerous occassions by Second Thoughts.

The theory goes that if people use their public spaces, know their neighbors and take ownership of where they live, work and play, there just isn't a whole lot of room for ne'er-do-wells and worse.

Theissen seems to be genuinely on board with the idea — she's certainly been visible in the community and has made herself available to folks who live here — and it's one reason I have hope for a safer, saner city.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Funny money matters in 11th District race

One note that should be added to Friday's story about Tony Amador, Elizabeth Emken, Brad Goehring and David Harmer, the four GOPers hoping to take down Rep. Jerry McNerney:

The money figures from the FEC, apparently, don't tell the whole story about who is raising what.

First of all, the figures are from the whole election cycle. That means the money Harmer raised in his 2009 special election bid for the 10th District seat counts toward his reporting total.

Also, when a candidate puts money into his or her campaign fund and then takes it out, it counts toward both income and disbursement totals. That means you could cycle the same $10,000 in and out of your campaign account 10 times without spending it, and you would report $100,000 in expenditures and $100,000 in contributions attained. While that wouldn't give you any more money to spend, it would inflate your fundraising numbers — and in the eyes of many political observers and insiders, that can make someone an imminently more attractive candidate.

Also again, those totals do not represent money just raised for the primary campaign season. It includes money that candidates might be tucking away for the general election campaign, as well.

It should be mentioned that these notes also apply to incumbents such as McNerney, not just challengers.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rhetoric meets reality

Friday's Tracy Press cover story brought you the nuts-and-bolts campaign pitches of the four Republicans who look to be Rep. Jerry McNerney's main challenger this fall. But there's some analysis that didn't make it into the final report.

One thing in particular struck me during the interview process for the story. All four are running against an incumbent, and all, at one point or another in this campaign, have made reference to the corrupting nature of Washington, D.C., and that what the 11th District — and nation — needs is a representative untouched by that influence.

But they have also touted their experience working with legislators, knowledge of the legislative process and their ability to be effective from Day One.

There's a great argument to be made for being an outsider — someone who comes in with an outisde-the-Beltway perspective. There's also a great argument to be made for being experienced in the legislative process — someone who knows the ropes and who will be an effective representative of their constituents. (If you can't be that, remember, there's little point of being in Congress.)

However, it's tough to run as an outsider if you're also touting insider credentials. Just a thought.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tracy Press makes the nightly news

Rich Ibarra — he of the Channel 3 roving news team — just stopped by to interview someone at the Tracy Press about its shift to once-a-week publication. That someone just happened to be me.

If you're interested, I'll be on one of their afternoon or evening newscasts, at 5, 6 or 6:30 p.m.

We talked about the challenges facing newspapers and the Press in particular, specifically declining revenue, competition from the Internet and TV news, and just a seeming decline in citizenship interest in general.

Ibarra also shared about some of the changes in the TV news business since he began working at Channel 3 — which just happened to be 30 years ago today. (Quite the accomplishment in this business, by the way.)

He and his cameraman are a two-man crew basically tasked with covering everything south of the San Joaquin-Sacramento county line. So times are tough all around, not just for your local paper.

A cautionary tale for City Council

As the Tracy City Council considers raising revenue (city speak for taxes) at its meeting tonight, there's a story in Stockton, our county seat, that the five council members should keep in mind when directing staff to deal with the city's continued budget deficit.

It's also a story that should get the attention — and fair reading — of union members and representatives.

You see, Stockton's fiscal ship is sinking faster than Tracy's. Much faster. So much faster that bankruptcy could soon be an honest consideration. One of the major holes in the government's hull is its union contracts — fire and police there receive (to the average working stiff) too-good-to-be-true benefits. And, unlike Tracy's outfits so far, it seems as though they've been more obstinant than helpful in negotiations.

So, what's the lesson for Tracy and its unions? That the housing boom, and the money it brought with it, is over. And it ain't coming back any time soon. That means everyone will have to recalibrate what is fair compensation — and fiscally responsible compensation — as cities try to live within their means.

Unions and cities can work together so that employees still get pay and benefits that are the envy of their neighbors while cities keep their financial houses in order. Or, they can squabble, waste money, drive the city further into the red and tarnish the reputation of police and fire employees who otherwise are usually the toast of the town.

Your decision, guys.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The times, they are a-changin'

When I joined the Tracy Press in 2005, it was a six-day-a-week publication. As of next week, we're down to a run of once a week in print.

Though we're still going to publish breaking news and sports stories on the website, it's signals a change in how we bring you the news. It's also a big change for me, personally.

City Editor Eric Firpo will no longer be the worthy hand at the helm of our news coverage. Instead, I'll be shifting a decent slice of my focus to hard news. Have no fear, the Second Thoughts blog will still be in operation, as will my tenure as the dude in charge of the Voice section.

However, fans of the Second Thoughts column will have to be patient, as it will no longer publish on a strict weekly basis. Rather, it'll run on a whenever-I-feel-like-it-and-have-the-space basis — because as its name implies, we want to field as many voices as possible in the Voice section.

This is a tough transitional time for the Press, but we're also excited. Because this gives us another chance to hone our focus and bring you news that matters about Tracy, Mountain House and San Joaquin County. It's a silver lining in a cloud that otherwise is pretty freakin' dark.

I just hope you alert readers decide to bear with us. Because while we might be down to one publication a week, we're not abandoning our mission — to be your eyes and ears, and to give you the best understanding possible about what's happening in our communities.

Friday, May 28, 2010

More water soon headed south?

Looks like the Westlands Water District — one of the primary forces helping drain the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and pusher of a peripheral canal — is having some success in court fighting protections against excessive pumping of Delta water.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Send us your history

Later this year, the city of Tracy is celebrating 100 years as a city. And the Press is helping throw a party with a special section dedicated to the history and changes of Tank Town. We want your help, too.

If you have stories, photos or other memorabilia from Tracy's past, share them with us. Send them to the Press at 145 W. 10th Street, or to, and we'll do our best to get them into our special section, set to publish in late July.

Heck, we might even get those photos back to you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A contradiction: pro pot, and pro D.A.R.E.

Today's Press featured a pair of letters to the editor claiming that Drug Resistance Abuse Education actually does more harm than good, especially in its portrayal of marijuana as a bogeyman.

Therefore, the writers claimed, the city of Tracy would be in the right to discontinue funding D.A.R.E. to the tune of $60,000 a year.

That prompted a response from Tracy resident Ed Burnell, who supports D.A.R.E. by saying, in part:

"The DARE program, in my opinion, has the potential to save the City more than it costs. The cost to the community for investigation, prosecution and incarceration of just one person will usually exceed the cost of funding the program for a year. While it offers no guarantees, DARE needs only reach one student per year to be a good investment."

Which was the exact point of my most recent column.

But Burnell takes the argument a step farther:

The anti-DARE voices are the pro-legalization of marijuana voices. ... From where I sit, a no-vote for DARE funding is a smile and a wink and a thumbs-up to the legal pot crowd, and all that follows with them.

Not so fast, Ed. Just because you support D.A.R.E. — and giving kids the tools to deal with issues including drugs, alcohol and violence — doesn't mean you can't also support legalized pot in good conscience.

There's a not-insignificant list of arguments to be made in favor of legalized marijuana — its recreational use is already widespread, enforcing laws against it costs money and jail space we don't have, it's far less harmful than some legal drugs like alcohol, the state could make a tidy profit off pot taxes and many of the arguments against pot have been fueled by hyperbole, half-truths and racism.

Besides, even if California voters legalize pot in November — which I believe they should — there's still a need to warn kids about responsible use and to keep the stuff out of the hands of minors. I mean, just because alcohol is legal doesn't mean we don't educate kids that it can be both a source of responsible enjoyment, or a scourge that can rip apart lives and kill people.

You can be pro legal pot and pro D.A.R.E. without being a walking oxymoron. In fact, I think it makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We're all wet

If you're thinking that this has been a pretty strange May —especially compared to last year — you're not alone. The statistics are with you.

According to the Tracy Press rain guage, since the end of March we've received 2.1 inches of rain — quite a bit more than the .9 inches we saw in the same time period in 2009. In fact, that 2.1 inches is a full 30 percent of last year's annual total.

Factor in the constant winds and relatively cool weather — have we even had a day in the 90s? — this has been a May for the books.

Which is nice, if you like spring weather or you're counting the drops in Sierra reservoirs like a hawk. But if you're chafing for shorts, sandals and warm Delta breezes — or a farmer whose crop could be ruined by a late rain — chances are you're pretty set for summer to arrive.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wine yes, lines no

"Shoot me now," said one worker at the Friday Spring Wine Stroll to Press photographer Glenn Moore as the evening got under way. The problem: lines that reached Space Mountain proportions marring what was otherwise reportedly a lovely time in downtown Tracy.

Evidently, there was a backlog as people exchanged their tickets for wine glasses — a new tact that hadn't ever before been used at the stroll, as people before always purchased their glasses directly.

At the exchange table — where people turned in their tickets, were ID'd and given identifying wrist bracelets before picking up their glasses — the process didn't work as well as had been previously hoped, and lines grew so long that Glenn couldn't help but take pictures to tell the story.

I hope that before the next stroll rolls around, organizers either return to the old method or figure out how to speed up the ticket-glass exchange. Because it's just wrong to keep folks from their booze.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A sign of progress

This from Larry Hite, City Council candidate, regarding Tracy's slow but noticeable progress when it comes to self-promotion:

"After years of badgering city hall and the city council to start putting up 'banners' to advertise citywide events (to attract people to our city to spend their money), I noticed today that a big banner is stretched across the center divider on 11th Street at Lammers Road advertising the Wine Stroll!

"This is fantastic......we have actually 'cracked the eggshell' as Mayor Brent Ives would put it, and we are making progress toward telling the outside world about Tracy and its local events. Now we just need to keep the pressure on to make sure they put up banners for all events.... ie, Fourth of July, Bean Festival, etc.

"This is a HUGE victory for business in Tracy!"

I'll disagree on one point. It's perhaps a modest victory. But — huzzah — a victory nonetheless.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Remember, it's all about me

If you want to see a real Master of Ceremonies do work, head to Wicklund School in Mountain House tonight at 7 p.m.

The political forum moderated by yours truly promises to be the most heart-pounding, faint-inducing, tear-jerking performance by a true MC since Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

(It's also your one and only chance to personally quiz and question, at the same place at the same time, all of the candidates vying for a seat on what would be the very first Lammersville Unified School District board of trustees, which would lay the foundation for the education in the community of Mountain House for decades to come.)

But remember, it's all about me.

Downtown on display -- again

Every year, downtown Tracy -- still in the midst of a major redevelopment effort -- gets several chances to put its best foot forward. Perhaps its best one is coming up Friday.

The Wine Stroll is an annual tradition in which the good businesses in downtown Tracy -- with help from the city, and soon help from the new Downtown Business Alliance -- open their doors and pour fine local vino for fine local residents who want to get plastered. With class.

Aside from the obvious Bacchanalian revelry, the very cool social vibe and the opportunity to refine one's palate, the annual stroll allows downtown Tracy to shine.

Despite its documented flaws, when pumped with a bit of 70s rock and soulful jazz and populated with a couple thousand friendly folks, the soul of Tracy's historic heart comes out to play. It's a taste of what downtown could be if revitalization is shepherded in the right direction. And it wears quite well.

So if you can afford a babysitter and $25 for an evening-of ticket, come on down. And if you need a last-ditch DD, hit me up. I'll be working at the Press office.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Awesome! But don't hold your breath

So, San Joaquin Delta College officials say that the south-county campus could be a beautiful bastion of "green" in just 15 years.

It sounds great. Awesome. Stupendous. But locals are encouraged not to get too excited, because so far the Mountain House campus has a history of not living up to expectations.

Back in 2004, voters passed a huge bond to the tune of $250 million to renovate the college's main Stockton campus and get the ball rolling on a modest but permanent campus in Mountain House.

For a variety of reasons, that didn't quite pan out. You can read some of the saga here, but suffice it to say that the process was a disaster. It opened several semesters late, with less bang for more buck, and lacking the gravitas typically befitting a college.

Furthermore, it's unknown exactly what kind of scrill voters will have to pony up to see the "green" vision at Delta's south-county campus become a reality. It could take another sizeable bond, and good luck getting that one passed any time soon.

In short, don't put too much stock in those predicitons for 2025.

That said, Mountain House has a collegiate learning center, and for that we should be thankful. Even though it's all portables and not exactly an eye-catcher, it's educating teens and adults alike. It fills a crucial role in our community, despite being a few miles outside Tracy.

And when it comes down to it, the way the college looks is secondary to the results it produces. I'd much rather have a beautiful, environmentally friendly, student-attracting permanent facility than the current portable-on-asphalt setup, but looking good on a brochure is not the primary mission of a college. It's to give folks the kind of education that leads to good jobs and stable communities.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ride on — if you can

Tomorrow is Bike to Work Day, sponsored by the city of Tracy. Of course, per the city's own statistics, fewer than 66 percent of the city's workforce will actually be able to bike to work.

That's because Tracy is a commuter town. And for those who work over the hill, riding a bike to work is probably a little bit out of the question — unless you get creative. Say, by riding to the downtown Tracy Transit Station and hopping a bus to the Altamont Commuter Express, or just riding your cycle to ACE in the first place.

Still, the turnout at the Tracy Transit Station celebratory gathering from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. Wednesday might be a little smaller than anticiapted. Which is too bad, because the whole get out of your car concept is something Tracy badly needs to work on.

But don't feel too bad if you can't do the cycling thing. I won't be biking to work, either — I'll be walking, just like every other day.

That sucking sound returns

And it could be more of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water headed south. A judicial decision could allow more water to be sent to large farms in the southern Central Valley and SoCal cities.

How much water can be "safely" pumped form the Delta without hastening its seeming inevitable collapse, however, has yet to be determined. Stay tuned...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Former Wine Cellar awaits rebirth

The space that used to belong to the Tracy Wine Cellar — which was a fixture of downtown and a favorite hangout for vinophiles — is undergoing a facelift.

The owner of the Wine Cellar, it’s been widely reported by downtown insiders, moved because the property owner would not give the business enough of a break on the rent — and was even considering raising said rent.

So, a local institution of fine culture bit the dust.

It’s yet another example of how downtown will never reach its full potential if property owners don’t get on board with the businesses they shelter.

But now the space on 10th Street is getting a facelift. On Tuesday, workers were busy installing new carpet and slathering the walls with fresh paint. They had no idea who would be moving in — apparently, the space is open to whomever would like it.

Here’s hoping that, whatever the store’s reincarnation is, it restores a bit of the panache that downtown lost when the Wine Cellar departed.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Morbid curiosity, or true news value?

Several news organizations, including the Stockton Record (but not including the Tracy Press), are taking legal action to unseal court records and lift the gag order regarding the Melissa Huckaby-Sandra Cantu case.

The news outlets want access to the records sot hey can answer the questions still swirling about the case, and they're willing to go to court to get it.

But is this just morbid voyeurism? What could possibly be gained from revealing the no-dobut sordid and sickly details of the 8-year-old Sandra's murder?

Possibly nothing. Possibly everything.

After such an unthinkable crime — as attorney Stephen Clark told the Press, "There’s no motive that anyone could comprehend. This is just one of those ones where no one would understand.” — we still search for answers. It's because of the nature of Huckaby's crime — one that not only was especially heinous, but one that also breaks nearly every convention in the homicide handbook — that there's so much curiosity.

To confront some of the darkest sides of humanity, you first have to know them. If court documents are never unsealed, and if the gag order is never lifted, we may never know what exactly happened to Sandra Cantu, or why Melissa Huckaby did what she did.

We may never know, regardless. But not even getting the chance is a surefire way to keep the mystery murky.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Candidate puts his foot in it

This is exactly why modern political campaigns have PR flaks. Because candidates sometimes say and write really, really stupid things.

Monday, May 10, 2010

One more murder under wraps

Melissa Chantel Huckaby pleaed guilty this morning of kidnapping and killing Sandra Cantu in 2009, apparently bringing to a close one of the most sordid tales in Tracy history.

That makes two of five Tracy homicides that have ended with some sort of justice.

I say "some sort of justice" because it hardly seems that life in prison without parole is a fair trade for taking the life of a sweet 8-year-old with the world in front of her. There's no punishment appropriate for what Huckaby did that can be meted out in this world.

However, it will hopefully bring some closure for a community that found itself the center of a national media storm more than a year ago for all the wrong reasons. It also offers hope that our justice system (and even the media) truly does work.

Of course, it won't cure our homicide hangover for 2009.

Still without a conclusion are the homicides of Clayton "Cotton" Riggins (found bludgeoned to death in his home), Naim Bey (fatally shot at Amore's Italian Restaurant) and Spencer Sampson (gunned down on East Street near Tracy High School). And then there's the alleged torture case of a then-16-year-old boy who escaped in the final month of 2008.

But 2010 is a long way from over, and all but the Riggins case are in court. So Second Thoughts holds out hope that these cases will all be closed before the calendar flips.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Well, we asked for it

You might've heard grumbling about the city of Tracy's newest plan to help stimulate businesses locally -- in this case, spending up to $75,000 in tax money to figure out ways to help make the West Valley Mall more attractive.

But if the griping comes from a person who also complains the city doesn't do enough to attract businesses and jobs, you might feel entitled to tell them to kindly shut it.

For years, I and many others have asked the city of Tracy to be more business-friendly, to focus on economic development that wasn't simply building more houses. Spending money to determine the best approach, as the city has done in this instance, is just one of the many ways to accomplish that goal. Building a commercial base typically doesn't come without expense.

In other words: This is exactly what we asked for.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Farm Bill supports biggest players? We're not surprised

Earning this week's No-Duh News Report award is a San Francisco Chronicle story titled "Crop subsidies found to help largest farms most."

Evidently, despite supposed efforts on the part of Congress to help small farms compete, the Farm Bill is still a bloated piece of legislation that essentially writes giant welfare checks to some of the biggest players in agri-business.

In other words, no news here.

It's still news in our region's case, however, because the Farm Bill is helping destroy the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in its own way.

That's because many growers on the Central Valley's West Side — you know, the folks growing water-intensive crops like cotton in a grassland desert — are getting Farm Bill largesse. They grow subsidized crops with subsidized water from the Delta, but they want government to get off their backs.

Ironic, but we're not surprised.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The agricultural water picture

April storms mean that the Central Valley Project can be more generous with its water allocations. Farmers south of Tracy who receive water from the Delta-Mendota Canal will get 40 percent of their water contracts filled this year, up from an estimated 30 percent just weeks ago.

But while that might be the touted news item, who gets how much water — especially in the Central Valley — is a complex issue.

This Central Valley Business Times report has a fairly decent rundown of who's getting what. If you're interested.

Flame on, 2010

Just in time for Cal Fire's "Wildfire Awareness Week," fire season has unofficially begun in Tracy.

At least four engines and a water tanker were called to battle and extinguish a grass fire on the northeastern bank of the Delta-Mendota Canal off Chrisman Road south of town today.

No damage was apparent as I drove by the smoldering scene, but it — along with the Altamont Hills that have shed their spring green in favor of their warm-weather gold — is a reminder that grass fire season has arrived in the Valley.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Handicapping the 11th District race

If signs dotting San Joaquin County are any indication, the race for the Republican Party primary election in June is down to Brad Goehring and David Harmer.

Their campaign signs and slogans dot major intersections -- as well as lesser-known stretches -- from Lodi to Tracy. But in this race, localized signs don't really mean much in terms of who's building significant support.

The 11th District is a classic gerrymander, originally engineered to secure a Republican seat in Congress. Changing demographics mean that the district is now split nearly evenly between Democrats and Republicans (there's also a significant number of independent-identifying voters). But those far-reaching boundaries -- which include Danville, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Tracy, Lodi, parts of Stockton and rural San Joaquin County -- remain.

So candidates come from around the district. So sometimes the lack of signage could mean something, sometimes it probably doesn't.

It probably doesn't for Elizabeth Emken, who lives in Danville. Far over the hill, so it's not unreasonable to suggest her power base lies in the western half of the district.

And Goehring is a large landholder in northeastern San Joaquin County. So it's no surprise he has a fair amount of local support.

But Tony Amador, who's from Lodi, seems to not have generated too much sign-buzz around the county.

As for Harmer, who is from San Ramon, his signs on this side of the Altamont Hills could mean he's got an edge in campaigning.

I expect Harmer to have the most refined political machine, however, as he is fresh off a failed 2009 campaign for Caifornia's 10th Congressional District. He also made a run for Congress in Utah in 1996, again unsuccessfully. He knows his way around a campaign, so it's no surprise he's focused on reaching "far-from-home" areas in his district.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Come meet the Rustbucket!

Those who've followed the column have probably heard mention of my 1966 Rustbucket.

It's my first car, and I've had it since I was 15. And while it was actually far from a heap, it turned out to be a self-fulfilling deprication — I spun out and wrecked it on April 7, 2009. It was totaled.

But now, after a lot of great work from Troy's Body & Paint at Chrisman Road and 11th Street (the same guys who did the car on the cover of Saturday's Tracy Press), she's back.

If you want, you've got a chance to meet the car in person Saturday at the Clutch Burners Picnic in the Park car show from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Dr. Powers Park.

And please, don't call it a rustbucket. Call her Rhonda.

Welcome West Nile

The first avian case of West Nile virus in San Joaquin County in 2010 was confirmed this week. No humans have been infected yet this year, but it's usually only a matter of time for our mosquito-friendly region.

The San Joaquin County Mosquito & Vector Control District is warning folks to begin their annual vigilence.

“To avoid West Nile virus, it is important that residents of San Joaquin County protect themselves from mosquito bites. Equally important is to drain standing water from their property. Recent rain fall potentially will provide habitat for mosquito development as the temperatures begin to increase,” said Aaron Devencenzi, district spokesman.

For most of us, West Nile gets more press and hype than it sometimes warrants. Except, that is, for the people who get the disease, which has some seriously nasty consequences for a small percentage of the population.

So sure, exercise common sense when fighting off those vampire bugs — drain standing water, spray on repellent, wear long sleeves and pants if you're going into prime mosquito country. Just don't take it too far.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Congressional race keeps on chugging

In the Republican race to see who will challenge Rep. Jerry McNerney in the november elections, former rivals continue to choose sides.

This past week it was Robert Beadles who announced his support, throwing his political weight behind David Harmer, who has launched two unsuccessful congressional campaigns before — in 2009 in a special election for California's 10th District, and in 1996 for Utah's 2nd District.

But Beadles, who said he signed on to be Harmer's campaign co-chairman, thinks this time will be different. Not in small part to what Beadles says is his clout on this side of the Altamont Hills, as Harmer hails from the western edges of the 11th District.

"This one (race) close to home is where I can help the most," he told me last week. "I know the district, I know the people, and I’ll be able to support him 1000 percent.”

As for why he chose Harmer as his choice as the best Republican left in the field, Beadles had this to say: "He’s genuinely a good guy. I know he'd be a zillion times better that McNerney. And out of the four (GOP candidates) still in the race, I think he’s the best qualified.

"I honestly feel that he’ll represent us."

Harmer is tilting against Elizabeth Emken, Tony Amador and Brad Goehring on June 8 for the right to run against McNerney.

McNerney's camp has kept largely quiet about the campaign, probably waiting to see who emerges from the field of GOP contenders before focusing its fire power to defend a Democratic seat in one of the few true swing districts left in the country.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Leaving downtown

At least one business that's leaving the friendly confines of downtown Tracy is Reich's Medical Supply.

The pharmacy is staying, but the medical supply shop on 10th Street is heading for different pastures -- a place closer to Sutter Tracy Community Hospital.

Two main reasons for this.

One is that, according to the store's manager, it's just not the best fit for the current area. Downtown doesn't have a whole lot of handicapped parking -- and there are plenty of people who need that parking who need medical supplies. Proof, in my mind at least, that while downtown Tracy is a good place to do business (and will eventually be even better), it's not an ideal match for every business under the sun.

Second, the store ownership couldn't get a good enough deal on rent. Which ties into one of today's column topics -- property owners and business owners need to work together if merchants are going to keep their shingles out.

Maybe this one will turn out for the best. But let's hope more businesses aren't on the way out of downtown Tracy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New problem, same as the old problem

School bullying worthy of front-page news?

The root behavior is far from new, despite the spin today's Press story put on the subject — bullying in cyberspace is no just-happened phenomenon. Furthermore, mean people have been around since people have been, and it's especially poingant in childhood and adolescence. Newer forms of communication — Facebook, Twitter, et al — naturally would become conduits for such bullying.

The problems it creates aren't new, either. Self-loathing, creeping hostility, outright anger. And, if left to fester, it sometimes surfaces violently — sometimes toward self, sometimes toward others.

And that's why it earned top story honors today. Because bullying — which should be called what it is, cruelty and intimidation — is an insidious problem that occurs every day.

Will it ever be eradicated? No. But proactive programs like those at Tracy Unified, Jefferson and Lammersville school districts can improve the odds that Tracy or Mountain House won't be the next town to experience a "why didn't we see this coming" moment.

It's worth acknowledging that from time to time. Even on the front page.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More DUI education surprises

Turns out the folks at the Press weren't the only ones surprised when West High School decided to (for unknown reasons) not host the Every 15 Minutes anti-drunken driving program this year. It also caught former participants off guard.

Hotchkiss Mortuary, located on Highland Avenue in old-town Tracy, has provided a hearse, a casket and the use of its facility for past local renditions of Every 15. Just another Tracy institution who contributes time and material support to make sure kids get the best education possible.

According to Lou, who runs the mortuary, "We dedicate our time to it, because it's very important." He added that the kids who have been part of the program in the past have been exemplary and provided "a great service to their fellow students."

So he said he was "surprised" when West decided to eschew Every 15.

One reason I've surmised is that, the last time it was West High's "turn" to host the event, it was canceled in favor of something less hard-hitting. West student Mike Ucci had recently died in a car accident in front of the high school campus, and many people thought the real-life death was enough to drive home the message of teen driving safety.

Perhaps that hiatus, which at the time was supposed to be temporary, was enough to put the Every 15 event out of mind. But if that's so, it should be brought back to West High. If, of course, the state reimbursement grants are still available come 2012.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mastering the toughest job in advocacy

This week's anti-drinking and driving presentations at West High and Tracy High might not have been dramatic (for more, see this week's column), but they were by no stretch of the imagination worthless. Quite the contrary.

It's pretty tough to keep the attention of a group of several hundred teenagers. As an adult addressing said gaggle, it's even tougher to connect with them. Yet, somehow, Lori Martin manages.

A victim of a drunken-driving accident when she was in high school, Martin gets kids to laugh at some points and somberly ponder in others. When she talks about how good her life was at the time of her accident — about her grades, her athletic feats, her boyfriend — there's a palpable connection.

It's a feat made even more impressive by what happened to Martin in that head-on crash. She was in a coma, had broken bones all over her body, lost most of her hearing, and suffered brain damage.

It's not easy for her to talk or hear, but she's a natural when speaking to a group of teenagers on the cusp of celebrating prom and graduation about the dangers of drinking and driving.

After Martin's Thursday speech at West High, California Highway Patrol officer Bob Rickman called her a "brave," "strong" person. I couldn't agree more.

Taxed Enough Already?

Just in time for calming your Tax Day outrage, some facts, figures and perspective about those taxes you pay to Uncle Sam:

• Some 47 percent of Americans pay no net income tax.

• Including income, payroll, property, excise and sales taxes, however, those in the top 1 percent of income-earners in the United States earn about 21 percent of the total personal income in the U.S. and paid about 23 percent of the taxes.

• Those in the next lowest 4 percent earned about 14 percent of the total income and paid about 16 percent of the total taxes.

• Those in the next lowest 5 percent earned about 10 percent of the income and paid about 15.5 percent of the taxes.

• Those in the next lowest 20 percent earned about 18 percent of the income and paid about 17.5 percent of the taxes.

• Those in the middle 20 percent earned about 12 percent of the income and paid about 10 percent of the taxes.

• Those in the next lowest 20 percent earned about 7 percent of the income and paid about 5 percent of the taxes.

• Those in the lowest 20 percent earned about 3.5 percent of the income and paid about 2 percent of the taxes.

In terms of percentage of overall taxes paid compared to income — which is the only really accurate way to compare these things — that's pretty fair. (Although, when you consider the top 1 percent of Americans takes in around 21 percent of the income and the lowest 60 percent takes in about 22.5 percent, it might seem a little less fair.)

Furthermore, that 47 percent includes plenty of middle-class folks who simply qualified for enough tax credits, say for buying or owning a home, that they were able to reduce their tax liability to zero.

What this means is that we can legitimately fight and argue about what our taxes are paying for, but can't really claim that the tax system is unfair to the rich, as some would-be populists contend.

So please, let's toss out the misleading and often-recited rhetoric claiming that 47 percent of the people in America pay no taxes. Cuz it simply ain't so.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Other news about 'Tracy'

Yet another installment of the news that fills my inbox about "Tracy" that isn't related to Tank Town.

Today's best "Hey, that's not my Tracy" moment:

In Tracy City, Tennessee, you don't have to be alive to be elected mayor.

According to The Associated Press, Carl Geary defeated the incumbent mayor by a score of 268 to 85, even though "his death had been widely reported," as it seemed the candidate passed "a few weeks" before the vote was cast.

Just further proof that, in politics, higher brain function is not a prerequisite.

Milk was a bad choice...

In honor of Ron Burgundy's poor consumption decisions, I chowed down Wednesday — against my better judgement — on KFC's new health-assaulting creation, the Double Down.

I was soon reminded why they call it "better judgement." (For pictures of this ordeal, see Press photographer Glenn Moore's blog.)

The sandwich is bacon, processed cheese and a mayo-like sauce slathered between two deep-fried chicken breasts.

The sandwich has also got a lot of attention after the fast-food chain rolled it out nationwide recently. The nice lady working at the 11th Street KFC told me that the sandwich has been an exceptional strong seller locally. Guess there's plenty of Tracyites who, like me, can't resist the allure of meat, meat and fatty filling.

It's all salt and grease, with the taste of the chicken blending into the bacon blending into the cheese — and it's not a good blend like a fine Meritage. It was so greasy, that if it hand't been wrapped in paper inside a fast-food box, it would've bled through the paper take-out bag. (And, in one small spot, it still did.)

Maybe it was simply too much for me, a guy who usually considers drinking Classic Coke a dietary indulgence and hits the gym at least thrice weekly. But I also love a good chicken-fried steak, and bacon in my mind occupies its own major food group, so I'm left with the conclusion that this sandwich just isn't that good. All hype.

Still, I'm left with a disconcerting tought: Just like after watching Morgan Spurlock poison his body with 31 days of McDonald's food, I'm partially disgusted, but partially fiending another round.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Motion pictures — what a grand idea

If you remember opening weekend of the new Grand Theatre, you probably don't recall if for Linda Rognstad's tepid christening of the revitalized venue. You probably remember it for the screening of "Gone With the Wind."

Even though I attended the former and not the latter, the theater was packed with patrons who wanted to see the classic at what used to be Tracy's premier spot to catch a flick. All for the very retro price of 25 cents.

Sadly, such events have been few and far between since the Grand reopened its doors.

But there's good news. Thanks to a capital investment by the city of Tracy, a digital projector will soon be in the Grand's posession, one of the guys working at the theater told me this week.

He suggested that the upcoming season of offerings at the Grand will include plenty of top-notch movies, from old school classics like GWTW to more modern-but-retro hits like "Back to the Future."

It's an idea that was long overdue. And I, for one, can't wait to see Doc Brown and Marty McFly on the downtown silver screen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I've been wrong about water

In all my discussions — both in this blog and the Second Thoughts column — it occured to me that I might have made a mistake.

I've said all along that California is in a water crisis, that there's simply not enough water in the state to go around. I realize that I've been wrong.

California — at least Northern California — is the definition of a water-rich area. That's why San Joaquin County farmland is so fertile, why the fishery in and outside San Francisco Bay used to be one of the best, why it was so easy for people to settle down here in the first place.

Compared to many places around the globe, our corner of California is a virtual water world.

So, how are we in a drought? How can the Delta, fed by the state's mightiest rivers, dying?

It's a testament to how we've decided to use — or misuse — nature's bounty that we're talking about droughts in Northern California and the collapse of an entire ecosystem.

Simply put, we've found a way to use almost all nature's provided. Between massive farming operations in a semi-desert and locating millions of people on chaparral land in the arid south, we've overdrawn our water account.

California is the star athlete who earned record cake yet somehow managed to burn through his cash within three years of retirement. Yes, we're that guy.

Only tough decisions — decisions that could uproot thousands of workers and fallow thousands of acres of farmland — will put us on the road to sustainability.

It won't be popular or especially kind to those affected. But our water account's overdrawn. And the bills will soon be due.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bonus blog of the week

Somewhere in this week’s tax column is a riff on a famous quote in support of paying one’s taxes. First to guess it gets a round of Barista’s coffee _ my treat.

Only catch? You’ve got to come to downtown Tracy to claim your prize.

Oh, and you’ll have to spend time with me. So I guess that’s two catches…

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Calls show housing crisis far from over

Just in case you were wondering, the foreclosure crisis ain't over yet.

We got proof this week after this Wednesday's cover article — detailing how one Tracy woman who managed to keep her home despite it going into foreclosure and is now helping a few others do the same — generated dozens of phone calls, all from homeowners seeking the help of Omaira Muñoz, the protagonist of our feature.

On Wednesday, the newsroom became a virtual relay office for those desparate to keep their slice of the American Dream — a wrenching reminder of the Great Recession's human casualties.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Three's no crowd at City Council meeting

One of the reasons it's been such a quiet news Wednesday (see post below): There were only three members of the City Council at last night's meeting.

Councilmembers Suzanne Tucker, Evelyn Tolbert and Mike Maciel were the only members present at a meeting with an agenda that can only be described as "bare bones."

At the previous meeting there was a suggestion from city staff to forego the meeting, given the sparse nature of the agenda and that Mayor Brent Ives and Councilman Steve Abercrombie wouldn't be able to attend. (Plus, there was one item, a city staff report on traffic connectivity and general mobility in Tracy and its environs, that really could have used the attention of all five council members.)

But the three councilmembers who would be present voted in favor of the April 6 gathering, anyway.

Which doesn't sound so bad, until you consider this: If the city's desperately trying to find ways to save money and reduce staff time, one way might be to cut down on uncecessary meetings.

A quiet day in the newsroom

It's been a fairly quiet day around Tracy.

No fires, no big crimes, no earth-shattering news — nothing to really rattle the newsroom. Just a bunch of sunshine streaming through the partially-drawn drapes, mocking us desk jockeys for not being able to lounge in Lincoln Park or hit up Old River Golf Course.

(Of course, now that I've said that, something's bound to go wrong. It's like the journalist's version of Murphy's Law.)

But hoping that doesn't happen, enjoy a relaxing Wednesday.

A touch of fiscal sanity

Earlier this week, reports the San Jose Mercury News, city of Tracy department heads agreed to forego their cost-of-living pay increase beginning this month and to cut their compensation package for the 2010-11 fiscal year by 5 percent.

The estiamted savings are a drop in the bucket compared to the city's estimated $6 million deficit for the next fiscal year.

However, as this Tracy Press report made obvious, reductions in employee compensation — particularly outsized benefits and retirement packages — will be key to getting Tracy back in the black.

Give credit to the department heads for sharing some of the pain, for rank-and-file workers for taking on furlough days and to the police and fire department unions for agreeing to less money than their boom-year contracts inititally called for.

But city employees, beware. There's still a big gap to fill. And slicing out more of city employee compensation is bound to be the most politically popular move.