Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Some might call it the 'Helm policy'

So the City Council has decided to clamp down on long presentations at the beginning of the council meeting.

It's an obvious response to public comment sessions over the past few months that have run on the long side. Much longer, in fact, than allowed for, according to the City Council's written policy.

Though there's been some criticism of the decision to be more strict with the time allotted for the council's public comment section at the beginning of every council meeting, the city appears to be on firm legal ground.

For the record, the California Newspaper Publishers Association's Jim Ewert, a Brown Act expert, has signed off on both the policy and the enhanced enforcement of the rules as meeting the letter of the law. He even went so far as to say the Tracy City Council is an "enlightened" bunch when it comes to allowing public comment, especially compared to some other cities.

By and large, Ewert is right. There are two public comment periods in each council meeting (the second of which is now virtually never utilized) and time for individuals to comment about each item on the council agenda in its turn. Also, the City Council has been far from heavy-handed, so far, when it comes to people sharing their views for extended periods of time before the council dais.

But it's hard to deny the practical effect of the city's new emphasis on a timely first "items from the audience" period. Namely, that it will push lengthy complaints about city leadership and policy — such as the comprehensive criticisms offered over the past few months by downtown business owner David Helm — to the end of the council meeting, when fewer people will be paying attention. That means such speeches could have less of an impact.

And that could create a perception problem for the city, even though the council is abiding by the Brown Act and (apparently) well within the law when it comes to accepting public comments. Because, whether it's accurate or no, when you read between the lines it looks like pushing long and critical speeches to a less prominent place in the meeting lineup is seemingly, at the least, a welcome side effect for the city.

And that kind of action, while legal, doesn't set a good perception nor create the type of tone conducive to public debate.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Under pressure?

A billboard erected to try to bring two suspects to justice in a murder investigation was defaced sometime between yesterday afternoon and this morning.

Black graffiti covers the names and faces of the two sought-after suspects, which as of Thursday were visible to westbound traffic on 11th Street east of town. Evidently, it's the work of friends of the suspects who don't want their buddies hauled off, or of the suspects themselves who don't want to be hauled off.

Either way, it's a sign that someone feels pressured by the billboard's presence. Which means it's imperative to clean it up as soon as possible, and get those faces back on the minds of the thousands of drivers who travel westward into Tracy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A conspicuous absence

No, I'm not referring to the over-long hiatus of the Second Thoughts blog, but to something that city planners left out when it comes to the proposed re-zoning of 11th Street.

This story highlights the changes the city wants to make, including outlawing future sit-down restaurants on 11th Street between East Street and Tracy Boulevard. The move would push such businesses elsewhere — city planners hope that somewhere is the Central Avenue-10th Street downtown axis.

But a notable absence from those 11th Street businesses included is the Tracy Inn, which houses a Mexican restaurant on the bottom floor (coincidentally, a watering hole rumored to have the best Margaritas in town).

I say it's notable because the Tracy Inn also received exemption from the Tracy City Center Association, the downtown business association that is funded by fees levied on property owners within its boundaries. Members of the TCCA make no secret that the Inn was excluded from the district to ensure the district was approved — the district needed the approval of owners representing a majority of the property within the boundaries to pass.