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 www.tracypress.com 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.