Friday, February 26, 2010

Our 'get-green' zeal has limits

Interesting development from the city's recent gathering that asked Tracy residents to prioritize the best of 85 ideas to help the city get greener.

The most popular, according to this Press report, was for the city of Tracy to give financial incentives for residents to install solar panels to power their homes and reduce electricity bills.

This, even though Tracy's biggest greenhouse gas emissions problem — by far — comes from its road-bound traffic.

An estimated 63 percent of Tracy's greenhouse gas emissions come from traffic. No surprise, given that the vast majority of our town's adults must travel elsewhere to find gainful employment.

That would logically suggest that the best way for the city to meet the state goal of reducing GGE to 1990 levels by 2020 would be to curtail the pollution spewed out the tailpipes of local drivers. But that's not what the drivers said at the "think green" meeting. Again, no surprise.

We (and yes, I'm including myself in this) generally don't want to change our own lives if it's an inconvenience, even if that change is better for the world and our community. Especially when it comes to our cars, such a road-loving culture we have become.

Compare changing driving habits to having someone help you pay for a valuable home improvement that lowers your bills, and it's a no-brainer which suggestion is going to win.

Which means asking for the "get-green" priorities of residents is great as a tool to figure out what kind of change folks would actually get behind, but not necessarily so stellar at figuring out what reforms would best solve the problem at hand.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The puck stops here

The Stockton Thunder minor league hockey team has a new owner. Thankfully, it has the same old place to call home.

According to an interview in the Stockton Record, new owner Brad Rowbotham said the team is "definitely not moving" -- to which this sometimes hockey fan breathes a sigh of relief.

Even if you're not a puckhead, there are few better ways to spend a winter evening in San Joaquin County than at the Stockton Arena ice rink watching the Thunder. It's cheap (if you don't buy beer) and entertaining as heck. If you've only watched hockey on TV and written it off, give it a go in person. You'd be amazed at what powerful, agile athletes these guys are.

Besides, where else can you see grown men brawl on pink ice?

Friday, February 19, 2010

A little more to puff on

Today's column (it should be the top story on this page) talks about the likelihood of a medical marijuana dispensary opening in Tracy.

It probably won't happen anytime soon, but if it was a more realistic possibility, I'd say "Why not?" — especially if it's a business that goes through the trouble of trying to get the proper permit and trying to operate on the up-and-up.

Then again, I say "why not?" when it comes to across-the-board legalization, too. So maybe I'm not the guy to ask.

Frankly, much of the concern about marijuana use is as overblown now as it was back in the day. In fact, when compared with legal (not to mention big-business) drugs like alcohol, it's hard to tell exactly what the danger is.

OK, so we don't want children to get their hands on it and, as the colloquialism goes, "smoke themselves stoopid." Of course, we don't want minors getting cigarettes or alcohol and rotting their lungs and pickling their livers, either. So there are not-insignificant penalties for providing such goodies to kiddies.

Still, admittedly, Marlboro Reds and fifths of Jaeger find their way into plenty of young hands. News flash: so does pot. In 2009, it got into the hands of 32 percent of 12th graders and nearly 12 percent of 8th graders.

Doesn't it seem like those billions of dollars to wage war on the herb have been very effective, does it?

Ironically, regulating marijuana's cultivation, harvest and sale could actually generate significant tax revenue for our currently cash-strapped government. Not to mention the resources it could silmultaneously free up — imgaine, police free of the burden of marijuana enforcement, prison and court rolls eased, a couple fewer sports stars forced to make meaningless apologies.

This is not to say that, should marijuana be legalized, a life devoted to reefer should be condoned. Alcoholism is a serious problem for society, families and individuals. So is cigarette use. In truth, overuse of anything can do serious harm. There should be limits on weed, even if it's legalized — I know I don't want super-stoned motorists getting anywhere near my '66 Rustbucket.

Which is why, legalization or no, there will always be a place for programs like DARE and laws enforcing sensible limits of use.

But thinking that everyone is going to Just Say No when it comes to pot — or even that it's the sensible thing to ask in the first place — is simply unrealistic.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Healthy *cough* living in *hack* San Joaquin

It's a bad blow to our county's public health that San Joaquin General Hospital is bleeding money and might lose personnel, be sold or even close.

SJ General serves a population that usually goes without medical care otherwise and helps make manageable a patient load that would otherwise swamp area hospitals. (For more on that, click here.)

The importance of SJ General's role in our local continuum of care is even more apparent after the release of a University of Wisconsin report detailing the health of the nation's counties. While ranking 53rd of 56 California counties in Health Behaviors and 50th in Social and Economic Factors, San Joaquin County ranks 39th in the Clinical Care category.

San Joaquin's spot at No. 51 of 56 in overall Health Factors and No. 38 of 56 in terms of Health Outcomes aren't good, but I'd anticipate we'd sink even lower without good ol' SJ General.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Water watchers, you're not going to believe this...

Thank you, Los Angeles Times. Your editorial board is, by my estimation, the first of any major publication to understand what's going on when it comes to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the pumping projects that are draining it of life.

Your board seems to get that the Western Central Valley was never a sustainable farm operation in the first place, and that Sen. Dianne Feinstein's attempt to deliver water in a custom package to these farmers amounts to a big middle finger to everyone else who relies on or lives in the Delta.

Alert readers, check out the startlingly sane editorial here. (And, if you must, contrast it to the usual rhetoric-laden exhortations, which cite the Endangered Species Act as the favored bogeyman despite an arm's-length list of culprits for the Western Central Valley's water "crisis".)

Stock rising for Peaker Plant expansion

According to the Central Valley Business Times, the expansion of the Tracy Peaker Plant cleared another hurdle recently.

GWF wants to turn the 169-megawatt peaker facility — which powers up and down according to energy demand on the grid — into a full-time facility pumping out up to 314 megawatts. (More on that from the Press' editorial board here.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mythbusting — San Joaquin Delta style

Restore the Delta has unleashed this myth vs. fact sheet in an effort to counter the massive amounts of bad information regarding water pumping and water use in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

You won't find this information in most news reports, so widespread is the misinformation about Delta water use, especially when it comes to what water is pumped out to Places Previously Unwatered.

Please, read it. Be more educated than your senator.

Oooh, that smell

Those with finely attuned olfactory senses might have noticed a faint sweetness in the air this past weekend. It's a sure sign that area almond orchards are blooming, along with ornamental cherry, plum and dogwood trees.

It's a sign of spring — one that, for this writer, comes at least a month too soon. To end the state's three-year drought, the Sierras desperately need one, two, or three more good blastings of snow. (And spring skiing conditions in mid-February is just not a good sign on that front.)

So while I'm enjoying my first day in sandals since late-October, I'd gladly take another month of being bundled up.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sneak a peek at aquatics design

If you've been waiting for a look at what the Ellis aquatics park — or a chance to air grievances about it in public — the City Council will review the project's conceptual plans at its March 2 meeting.

According to Rod Buchanan, who heads the city parks and recreation department, those drawings will give everyone a better idea of exactly what will likely be built at the park, and in what stages.

For more about the aquatics park, check this recent column. Or, check back at City Hall on March 2.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No Tour de Tracy in 2010

The Amgen Tour of California — the most prestigious bike race in the country — won't go through Tracy in 2010 as an encore of its 2009 trip into town.

A year ago, the best bikers in the world, including Lance Armstrong, sped through Tracy, bringing out crowds enthusiastic supporters, a large portion of whom were students.

This year's trek will once again take bikers up and over the Altamont Hills, but the route over the top will instead take them from Livermore down Del Puerto Canyon road and into Patterson before a dash across the valley to the Stage 4 finish line in Modesto. (You can see the full tour map here.)

Some folks might be glad to hear there won't be any cyclist-induced road closures, but I'm going to miss the blur of bikes in Tank Town. Here's hoping for the tour's return in 2011.
Photo copyright of Glenn Moore/Tracy Press

The Better Future Files

For more months than Second Thoughts cares to tally, the news has been mostly bad, bad and more bad. Especially when it comes to cities, counties and special districts placing more of a burden on the people whose money they collect in exchange for services.

But when times get tough, the tough get going.

People are making extra efforts to keep their communities together. A few have started nonprofits, some have sponsored charity drives, and others have taken over where cities have left off.

In that spirit, The Better Future Files will share stories of locals going above and beyond.

The first in the dossier comes from Stockton (courtesy the Record's Mike Fitzgerald). And though it's not from Tracy per se, I think it's a story of a community doing something positive that Tracy residents can take a lot from.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Delta pumps power down, a bit

Looks like federal regulators have decided to export a little less water out of the Delta because of the presence of the endangered Delta smelt, diluting the effect of a judge's decision on the eve of the weekend.

That's measured good news for Delta defenders. Not to mention the fish.

But treating pumping levels as something that can be changed on a day-to-day basis just because of the presence of a fish makes it far too easy to miss what should be the real debate we should be having about the Delta.

Namely, that you cannot extract infinite resources out of a finite resource. The Delta, being one of those aforementioned finite resources, cannot be tapped forever at increasing rates.

We can continue to plunder/protect the Delta in cycles depending on the presence of a fish if we want. But that won't save the fish or its ecosystem.

If we want to protect the Delta — for farmers, fishermen and, yes, the wildlife — it will take a more determined and cohesive plan than what we've seen so far.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Big ag wins temporary Delta victory

Still bemoaning drought conditions, lobbyists convinced Federal Judge Oliver W. Wanger to enact a temporary stay on pumping restrictions designed to help the crashing population of salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

For two weeks, the judge ruled according to The Associated Press, the pumps will be turned on, and Parts Previously Unwatered will receive more Delta water than is probably healthy for the Delta.

If this is any indication for the future, those fighting to protect the Delta from water interests who have historically treated it as nothing more than a giant well — instead of a delicate and once-rich ecosystem that can, when properly managed, provide for wildlife, humans, fishing and agriculture — have a major uphill battle.

Something we all should read

If you care about those things the Constitution stands for — especially individual rights in the face of a nameless, faceless authoritarian government — this recent missive by Glenn Greenwald is worth your time.

The basic point: If you ever wondered how the Salem witch trials got rolling, you only need listen to mainstream "debate" about proesucting "terrorists."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

If only it were true...

Consider this posting from the Tracy Press comments section, under the story announcing Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker won't seek another council term:

"Sure, why not retire with lifetime health and retirement benefits befitting of royalty. All the people on the city of Tracy city council are crooked for giving themselves these benefit packages during "closed to the public" city council meetings. They should be jailed for stealing public funds."

*Sigh* Where does one even begin?

Council members receive a small monthly stipend somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 -- whatever the exact amount, it's certainly not something you'd call full-time compensation. Council members also have no city-paid health or retirement plan, though they might get benefits through a private or previous public employer (i.e. Mike Maciel and Steve Abercrombie, who were cops and, we assume, accept the benefits that come with that employment history.)

If this commenter's post was true, it'd be the scandal of the decade in Tracy. And as a newsman, nothing would make me happier than to splash such malfeasance all across the Tracy Press' front page. (Breaking news of such backroom deals is the stuff that Pulitzers are made of.) Hell, even such a violation of the Brown Act would make the 'paper.

But the comment has no apparent basis in fact. (Please, please, please, someone prove me wrong -- and give me the exclusive interview!)

Nope. This is just another reminder that we should all take our prescription medication.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

One down, four to go

Could this be the year of closure?

Yesterday, one of Tracy's five homicide cases of 2009 came to a conclusion with the plea agreement of the Morgans, the couple who brutally stabbed, beat and strangled Cynthia Ramos.

The Morgans, appropriately, will spend the rest of their lives in jail — and Second Thoughts doesn't imagine it'll be a pleasant stay for them. Not that I'm shedding any tears.

It's a modicum of justice for a town desperately in need of some. And we could use more — four homicide cases from 2009 still await resolution.

In the case of Clayton Riggins, investigators appear to be stumped, at least temporarily. But for three — the Sandra Cantu, Naim Bey and Spencer Sampson killings — someone's at least been arrested. (In the Bey and Sampson cases, multiple someones have been arrested.)

Let's hope Tuesday's news is the first of many cases that will draw to a close this year.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

They're baa-aack

Ever since I've been at the Press — four-plus years, for those keeping track — downtown has had a peculiar seasonal population. Every winter, a murder of crows moves into the trees in the center of the city.

This weekend on the way between the office and home, I was greeted by familiar caws. A glance upward was greeted with a vision of hundreds of crows perched in the nude branches of nearby trees.

Why do they show up every year? I don't know. I'll try to find some answers and report back here.

(For added fun if you happen upon the flock, caw back and flap your arms, and watch countless black shapes take to the sky. As a drawback — or possibly a bonus — it'll annoy the hell out of the neighbors.)