Thursday, July 28, 2011

No punches pulled on McNerney announcement

Rep. Jerry McNerney, who has no district to call his own thanks to redistricting, has announced that he will move to San Joaquin County and seek to represent a planned district that will include the north part of the county, as well as some of eastern Contra Costa County.

(It should be noted that congressional reps don't have to live within the district they represent, though Second Thoughts maintains it's good form.)

The campaign of Ricky Gill, the 24-year-old Lodi native who's made his SJC roots a cornerstone of his early efforts, seized on the announcment to draw first blood in the race:

"Jerry McNerney's claim to have adopted San Joaquin County as his 'home' is laughable. During his time in Washington, he has utterly neglected the people of San Joaquin County and the greater San Joaquin Valley," said Colin Hunter, who works for Ricky Gill for Congress. "We trust the voters will recognize that McNerney is moving to San Joaquin County for political purposes, plain and simple."

Gill seems like a thoughtful man, and he speaks in nonpartisan terms that seeks to build bridges with others, even those at different points of the red-blue spectrum. But if you thought his campaign would be so congenial, it's time to think again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Jerusalem lends hand to Stockton school

The Lincoln Unified School District in Stockton (I know, a tad out of our coverage area) has rejected an idea for a charter school, saying the proposed academy does not meet its standards.

But the charter system has proven beneficial in the Tracy area — New Jerusalem's Delta Charter and Tracy Unified's Tracy Learning Center being two prime examples.

So it's no surprise that New Jerusalem is stepping up to the plate for the proposed Academy of Business, Law and Education, offering to partner with the up-and-coming school so it can become a reality.

Friday, July 22, 2011

More downtown business group tidbits

One significant thing that wound up on the cutting room floor of this column about the Tracy City Center Association is a brief primer on its origin. And it's a creation tale that chaps the hide of some folks who didn't get a say in the matter.

The genesis story of the TCCA involves a bit of politics.

Several city parcels, notably the Tracy Transit Station, were included in the district, giving the city one of the largest votes when it came to whether or not to approve the business association. Meanwhile, one of the largest private parcels historically considered to be in the downtown — the Tracy Inn, which includes Tracy Thai and the now-defunct Dick's Newsstand — was left out, after being included in initial draft plans for the district boundaries.

It was a move to help ensure the district was approved, and that maneuvering has left a bad taste in the mouth of several people — especially some merchants who didn't get a vote in the matter. Remember, the TCCA vote was one among property owners. (Which, for full disclosure, included the Tracy Press. Our ownership voted in favor of the TCCA.)

Second Thoughts wishes the TCCA all the best, and hopes it can bring new life to downtown. The revitalization of the city's historic core is essential to making Tracy the type of city many hope it can be, and the TCCA and its volunteer members are dedicated to making that happen.

The TCCA is an organization that has the potential to really change downtown for the better. But we'd be remiss if we didn't remember the "how" of it came to be, and the friction that resulted.

Friday, July 15, 2011

True public servants

Addition to the Better Future Files: Read this heartbreaking yet uplifting story by Press reporter Denise Rizzo, and then you'll know what public service really is.

The firefighters, police officers, city councilman and other volunteers who went to the aidof Angela and Leo Smith — whose money for a ramp to help Leo, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, was stolen by some lowlife while the couple was at the hospital — are true heros. Because that's how a town like Tracy gets better. One helping hand at a time.

In a world in which so much is going wrong, it's nice to know decency still rules many human hearts.

Hopefully, the selflessness of these volunteers is an inspiration to the rest of us. Good way to start the weekend.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Closer to that solar farm

A city of Tracy plan to turn the old antenna farm off Schulte Road into a solar array that produces clean power for the local grid is a step closer to reality.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committe approved legislation that would transfer to Tracy 150 acres, land that's vital to the solar project. The full Senate is set to vote soon on the measure.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer. Rep. Jerry McNerney introduced identical legislation in the House of Representatives. Both houses of Congress must OK the bill before it can become law.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Keeping our cool

A week ago, Tracy was sweltering in 100-plus degree temperatures. Today, unofficial temperatures have the daytime high pegged at about 80.

The reason? You know if you looked toward the Altamont this morning, where fog crept over the hills and wrapped itself partly around the feet of Mount Diablo. The Bay Area's fog is keeping us cool — the the breeze caused by warmer inland temperatures doesn't hurt, either.

The cool but sunny weather is supposed to last as least until Friday. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, July 8, 2011

At least we're not Stockton

Folks in town have made much ado about public safety in Tracy, especially over the past two years, when year-ending spikes in gang activity have focused the media's spotlight on the issue.

But at least we're not Stockton, where even the police station is a target of drive-by shootings.

Now THAT is a public safety problem.

Lawsuit in waiting

One more interesting twist in the saga at our local police department.

Capt. John Espinoza's lawsuit has so far not moved forward — as of Friday, July 8, it hadn't even been served to the city of Tracy, at least according to San Joaquin County civil records department.

Usually, the plaintiff has 90 days to serve the entity he or she is suing before the court issues an order to show cause — courts like to know why a lawsuit is filed but not followed up on. For Espinoza, that 90 days has come and gone, though the court hasn't yet sent out its OSC.

The reason could be one of many things. A breakdown between attorney and client, a mutual agreement between plaintiff and defendant to hold off to see if things can be worked out, a plaintiff just letting the thing go.

But we're unsure of a reason in this case. There's a call in to Espinoza's attorney, Christopher Miller, seeking an answer. We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tracy, the sloping city

Alert reader Steve Riddle called the newsroom today, trusty GPS device in hand, to corroborate a couple stories by publisher emeritus Sam Matthews that tried to track down Tank Town's elevation.

Riddle said that outside Raley's on Tracy Boulevard in the south of town, the elevation was above 70 feet. But the farther north he drove on Tracy Boulevard, the lower the elevation.

"It depends on where in Tracy you are," he said.

He reported 67 feet above sea level at Tracy Boulevard and Schulte Road, and 29 feet by the water tower outside the Boyd Service Center near Sixth Street. Which fits nicely with what Sam found out in his most recent column, even if the specifics are off.

Riddle insists his GPS is accurate to a T. He said that, when he compares it to official elevation signs in the mountains, the device "is right on the money."

We'll let Sam take over on this one and figure out how high the town.

Update II:: Another wrinkle to the police chief saga

Reporter Denise Rizzo broke the story this week of Tracy's new police chief, who just resigned his post from Turlock to return to the burg where he made captain. Three cheers for the new chief, Gary Hampton.

One thing the story didn't explore, however, is the exceedingly quick turnaround from Chief Janet Thiessen's resignation to hiring her replacement. Folks familiar with the process have told me it isn't uncommon for police chief (or for that matter, department head) searches to last six months. This one was conducted and closed in less than 30 days.

Also, it's just been made news today that Thiessen, whose resignation was supposed to be effective this Friday, July 8, will stick around until Aug. 14, the day before Hampton is supposed to officially take over. Evidently, the city wanted to avoid naming an "interim" chief.

After Thiessen, Capt. John Espinoza was the highest ranking officer in the TPD and seemed a logical choice to serve at least as interim chief, as he has on occassion when Thiessen was out of town. But Espinoza has also filed a lawsuit against Thiessen and the city, and while some agree with the suit that Espinoza has been a victim of bad practices within the department and city government, others have commented that he is somewhat of a polarizing figure.

(As far as the lawsuit's merit and outcome, we'll have to see how the courts sort that out. Expect updates from the Tracy Press as they become available.)

It's speculation, but those extenuating circumstances might have been a factor in getting a new permanent chief in as quickly as possible and eschewing the "interim" designation. For the record, when Chief David Krauss left, Capt. Rick Gophin was named interim chief until Thiessen was selected for the job.

• This entry was updated from its original form.

Remembering the Fourth on the fifth

One of the enduring values the United States was built upon — at least in the eyes of people like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin — was that unchecked and unquestioned authority is a path to tyranny. Hence the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the rights of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances and to speak without fear of government reprisal, as well as the protection of journalists to print their material without prior review or censorship. (It also guarantees the right to assemble peacefully and the right to religious freedom.)

It's a concept as American as apple pie.

Attendees of Tuesday's City Council meeting were reminded of this by a citizen who has made himself a staple at council meetings the past year or so: David Helm, who somewhat fittingly owns a tavern on Central Avenue and 10th Street. (I say fittingly, because the American independence movement gathered steam in the bars and pubs of New England.)

He took to the podium again Tuesday, the fifth of July, to say it wasn't his intent to be "highly critical" of the city, a characterization offered by a recent Press report on the City Council's Brown Act compliance. Rather, he quoted Jefferson and Franklin, saying that it's the duty of all citizens to keep government honest.

"When things are wrong, they need to be righted ... that hasn't been done so far," he said, referring to an investigation of police department personnel that has dragged on far beyond the city's own time limits for such inquiries.

Aside from the specific complaint, which needs to be addressed by the city, the take-away is that an involved citizenry is a key to ensuring government functions with the interest of its constituents in mind. We've seen — especially on the federal level — that government can become an insular place that serves the well-connected, rather than the average guy and gal.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Flyboys aren't only ones with stake in airport

As the early comments show on this story, there's not a whole lot of sympathy for folks who can afford their own planes.

But the city of Tracy — and us earth-bound plebes — should still care about the repair of runways at Tracy Municipal Airport.

The airport is an economic engine. Hangar rentals, fuel sales, and other business out there (as documented in this oldie but goodie column) bring money into the city. Which, last time I checked, was a good thing.

If the runways keep chewing up planes, and if the hangars aren't up to snuff, the flyboys will go elsewhere. And they'll take their money with them. (Also, there's a safety and liability issue that we won't even get into.)

The bigger worry I have is not that pilots aren't satisfied, but that this story points to a continued pattern of not fully realizing the airport's potential. More amenities, including business expansion and the opening of a restaurant, have all been discussed, but the plans keep stalling out. Not only that, but if the Ellis subdivision is eventually built right under the main approach to the airport, there is a serious possibility activity could be curtailed.

Tracy Municipal Airport has the potential to generate money for the city and local economy. It'd be a shame if that potential was squashed by inaction, poor planning and provincialism.