Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hotter in the classrooms

A parent wrote in to complain this week that local schools had the air conditioning turned off a week ago, during one of the hotter days of this relatively mild summer.

Intrigued, Second Thoughts investigated.

Turns out, it is indeed warmer on Tracy Unified campuses this year. Just not when classes are in session.

The district, in an effort to save money and be an environmental steward, ratchets down the air conditioning after classes are out in the afternoons. But when school is in session, a district spokeswoman said, students should be appropriately cooled.

Of course, that doesn't account for equipment breakdowns and that kind of thing. But there's no plan in place to save a few bucks by baking the kids.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Another hit to local journalism

An area newspaper is taking a big hit, and it isn't the Tracy Press. It's a paper that competes with the Press for local coverage: The San Joaquin Herald.

The Herald is the San Joaquin edition of the Tri-Valley Herald, owned by Bay Area News Group, which also owns pretty much every major paper between here and San Francisco that isn't named "Weekly" or "Chronicle."

Soon, it'll be known as The Times, and will officially be merged with the Contra Costa Times and East County Times. But re-naming isn't important — ANG has repackaged the same content for different papers for years. What's big news is the company is using the consolidation as an opportunity to lay off 40 people from its newsrooms — 17 percent of its news staff.

While the company claims this will allow it to "offer additional value for readers," it's hard to imagine how employing fewer news-gatherers will help these papers — ostensibly news-gathering organizations — better inform the people who turn to them to help make sense of the world.

Some might think the Press would celebrate a competitor downsizing, but that's far from the case. No blow to the journalism industry — and fellow journalists — is welcomed. No one here wants to see more journalists unemployes and less vital information get to the hands of our readers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

McNerney's homegrown challenge

Ricky Gill, the bright political up-and-comer challenging Rep. Jerry McNerney in the 9th District in 2012, opened his campaign with a salvo this morning, buying full-page ads featuring an open letter in two 9th District newspapers (Mountain House is in the 9th District, Tracy is in the 10th).

He came out swinging, mostly focusing on his in-district credentials, while painting McNerney as an out-of-town, and out-of-touch, carpetbagger:

"The fact is, Jerry McNerney has had five years to learn about and address our valley issues, and he just hasn't done the job. A first step in turning around our local economy is to stop outsourcing our Congressional representation in Washington to the East Bay. ... If you remember one thing about me from this letter, it's that I'm running for Congress not just to vote on your behalf, but to lead on behalf of our entire community." (emphais his)

At first glance, his letter is a powerful statement in favor of San Joaquin County residents. On second, closer look, it's a mixed bag.

He's absolutely right that San Joaquin County and the Delta region require their own voice in Congress, someone who knows the issues here and is dedicated to addressing them and fighting for its residents. But is homegrown synonymous with local knowledge?

Gill's examples that highlight McNerney's out-of-town status could be viewed as McNerney's ignorance of local issues — or they could equally be viewed as McNerney's informed stances that don't jibe with Gills'. I'd say it's more the latter than the former, but that's my personal take.

Ultimately, it'll be up for voters to decide whether Gill, a Lodi native, is the best man to represent the region's interests; if McNerney, with several years experience representing most of San Joaquin County can do the best job; or if that distinction lies with somebody else.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dems get the early drop

When it comes to staking a claim to the newly drawn political districts in San Joaquin County, Democrats are getting the drop on their Republican counterparts.

Today, Cathleen Galgiani confirmed to me that she's running for the 5th Senate district, which will be all of San Joaquin County, plus Galt and Modesto. The three-term assemblywoman is termed out in that chamber, so the state Senate is her best shot at staying around Sacramento.

Galgiani's Associate Press-style tag (D-Livingston) might suggest she's a carpetbagger, but that charge is leveled by her history and honest SJC roots. Galgiani is a fifth-generation Stockton native, and owns a home within walking distance of that city's vibrant Miracle Mile.

And though her district now only is partly in the county, she said “I always felt like I represented all of San Joaquin County."

Mike Barkley is another Democrat who declared immediately — actually, he's been working on his campaign since before the new districts were drawn. The man from Manteca might not have inside-the-Beltway orthodox views on a range of topics (scope his comprehensive and obviously thought-out platform here), but Barkley insists that's the type of representative you need if you want to shake up the District of Columbia. But smart money says he won't be the biggest Democrat in the Tracy-inclusive 10th Congressional District fight.

Rep. Jerry McNerney has also said he'll run to represent Mountain House (not Tracy) in Congress.

On the GOP side, Ricky Gill will be in the mix against McNerney for certain. He is the lone Republican so far to get ahead of his Democratic counterpart. He declared early this year that, however the districts would be drawn, he'd run to represent San Joaquin County and be a truly homegrown candidate, something the area has been sorely lacking for years. He's an energetic and sharp-as-a-tack guy with a ton of promise.

The GOP's Jeff Denham has all but said he will run in the 10th Congressional District opposite Barkley and whomever else joins the race, but has not officially declared that will be where he tosses his hat. We'll have more on him and his positions when he gives the official "I'm in."

With this year's redistricting, the 2012 election season looks like it could be a bumpy ride. So hang on — Second Thoughts and the Tracy Press will try to keep you as up-to-date as possible.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Grand success

To anyone wondering if the Grand Theatre could ever be a viable spot for big musical events, you have an answer. The show of country artist Kellie Pickler is all but sold out, less than 10 days after tickets went on sale.

If you're interested, the last count had five individual tickets left for sale.

That means a recognizable artist agreed to perform in Tracy, and completely filled the house. This suggests the Grand, if it can match the right talent to the Tracy audience, can keep its seats filled with high-level acts — something critics in the past have questioned.

It's an encouraging sign that the theater can inch its way toward self-sutainability, even though that was never the plan for the place in the beginning. (Nor should it be the place's primary goal.)

It's good to see the Grand succeeding. But those who have kept their finger on the art center's pulse have known that all along.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

SJC's political wrestling match continues

Leroy Ornellas, Tracy's rep on the county board of supervisors, condemned the process of redrawing supervisorial district boundaries after the other four supervisors voted in favor of new maps yesterday.

To wit:

Just as state Legislators drew maps to their political benefit 10 years ago, it appears that the temptation to fiddle with district boundaries for political advantage is too strong for some folks to resist. The process of redistricting was intended so that voters could choose their legislators, not so legislators could choose their voters. Carving up districts in such a way so as to enhance your political careers is wrong. It's bad government, and I won't be part of it.

To read why Ornellas was hopping mad, see last week's Second Thoughts column. In short, supervisors were in charge of redistricting, not citizens, and some observers have accused supervisors other than Ornellas of tinkering with the lines behind closed doors and giving the public scant time to review the changes.

His words are about as close as you'll see one person call out colleagues in public on political skullduggery.

Meanwhile, other supervisors, especially Steve Bestolarides, defended both the process and the decision, and said that media reports (including last week's column) were unfair to the supervisors, mischaracterized the process and were baldly inaccurate.

Bestolarides said "political hyperbole" had clouded a process that was agreed to by all supervisors, and said it was a shame that certain rules seemed to apply for four supervisors, while other rules seemed to apply for one. You can guess which man he was talking about.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

National Night Out, rethought

By outward appearances, the new order for Tracy's National Night Out was a success.

People were playing, strolling and laughing on the greensward by City Hall earlier this evening, and the event's organizers said so many people showed up that they ran out of hot dogs and hamburgers (though some reports indicate a few folks went back for more than their fair share of the freebies).

However, it strikes Second Thoughts as something of a letdown to have NNO in one centralized location, instead of spread throughout the city, as in previous years.

Sure, it might save money. And it might make for a better party. (Getting the city manager in a dunk tank has gotta count for something.)

But the idea behind NNO is to take back city streets. It's not just to get information from public safety officials — it's designed to get neighbors talking to one another in their own front yards.

That's why the neighborhood-by-neighborhood block party idea was such a success. It got people unafraid to use their public spaces, which is one of the best ways everyday citizens can fight back against crime. It's something that goes missing when the event is concentrated in one space.

I'm glad tonight appeared to be a hit. But I'd rather see National Night Out spread throughout the city.

Monday, August 1, 2011

R.I.P. Leo Smith

Leo Smith — the man whose family was helped by a small army of Tracy volunteers after this story ran in the Press — died this morning, Councilman Steve Abercrombie reports.

Smith and his wife, Angela, got to enjoy the hard work of the Tracy community less than three weeks. But Leo's final days, I have no doubt, were made better by the folks who gave up their time and talents to help a fellow Tracyite in need.

His death so soon after the work was completed in no way diminishes what those people did for him, out of the desire to do the right thing. And it in no way diminishes the joy he and his wife got from knowing that other people cared about them, that they weren't merely on their own, that they were part of the community.

That's the kind of gift that cannot possibly be overvalued.

It's a sad story, yes. But it's a reminder that a little time, a litle effort, can mean the world to someone else. And that spirit is a huge part of what makes Tracy special. At least in my eyes.