Thursday, October 27, 2011

Proceed with your campaigns

Looks like the many folks who have flocked to the redrawn districts around Tracy and San Joaquin County seeking political opportunity (it's like the Sooners, but for cash and power as opposed to land) can continue their campaigns.

The state's supreme court dismissed a challenge by California Republicans that said some of the boundaries were drawn in an underhanded manner.

Sorry GOP, the underhanded stuff happened when lawmakers of both parties were allowed to draw their own districts, which is what happened in 2000. That's why we had citizens do it this time.

Occupy the Central Valley

Occupy Wall Street — the loose movement decrying corporate greed and government complicity — hasn’t made an appearance in Tracy, to my knowledge. But it has appeared in San Joaquin County.

A smattering of protesters has been sighted in the downtown of county seat Stockton, carrying the now well-known “We are the 99%” signs and trying to convert passers-by to the cause.

Still, some folks seem unsure about what the protesters want. In fact, some of the protesters don’t even seem to know what they want.

In my opinion, they’re standing up for a very American principle — the idea that when power is concentrated in the hands of too few, democracy dies.

Whether in the form of wealth, political influence or a police state, too much power spread among too few is anathema to the republican form of government envisioned in the Constitution. And that’s true whether those few are government officials, businessmen, or anyone else.

I think the protesters are, though maybe not in eloquent terms, giving voice to the simmering sentiment that the American deck is more and more stacked in favor of those with the deepest pockets, biggest microphones and closest connections.

I don’t think these protesters want a hand out. I think they want a level playing field.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The roots of Tracy's lost courtroom

We all know things don't look good for the county's superior court system. Tracy just lost its courthouse, after all. But according to an article at, the current underfunding of the San Joaquin County courts is the product of a flaw in how the state decided to originally allocate money for the institutions.

San Joaquin County jurors can't get coffee in the waiting room. There's no bottled water in the courtrooms and no Post-It notes for employees to use. Private security guards have replaced sheriff's deputies at some screening stations and civil courtrooms.

This month court leaders took more drastic action, closing the Tracy courthouse and all but one courtroom in Lodi. Small claims court will be dark most days of the week.

San Joaquin is one of the state's handful of chronically underfunded courts, as calculated by a formula tied to caseload. Its problems stem from its days under county control. State court funding levels were set by matching county allocations to courts in the 1994-95 fiscal year. San Joaquin and other counties were suffering the effects of a recession that year, which effectively put their courts financially behind those in other counties that had fared better.

Part of the remedy, the author writes, is to change how the money for courts is redistributed. Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cardoza calls it quits

We called it. Dennis Cardoza, who represented South-Central Stockton, a narrow neck of San Joaquin County, and many parts farther south in Congress, has officially announced its retirement.

As many political observers, it's not a shocker. Redistricting left Cardoza without a natural district to defend, and many strong potential candidates he'd have to wrestle.

Too bad. Cardoza has been one of few people to stand up and demand relief for the thousands of Central Valley homeowners who were flayed by the housing bubble's collapse. If they could get some refinancing help, maybe they could keep their homes and have more money to put back into the economy, the thinking goes.

But so far, observers say the government has been slow to act, and banks have balked.

And in just over a year, one of the few voices calling to change that status quo will leave the halls of Congress. Sigh.

Out of the shadows

Michelle Brown isn't around to tell her story. That's why two weeks ago, the Women's Center of San Joaquin County told her story for her as part of a message against domestic violence.

The 26-year-old and mother of a 5-year-old daughter was a victim of domestic violence, shot to death by her boyfriend after work while trying to break out of the abusive relationship.

A cardboard cutout in City Hall stood in memory of Michelle, a reminder of the message behind Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is October.

Domestic abuse is often a hidden crime. Though we see it in the police log, folks at the Women's Center say it's a crime that's vastly under-reported. And sometimes, when it becomes apparent, it's too late.

The cardboard figure outside the council chamber was just one more effort to encourage those who are suffering to step out of the shadows, and a reminder to everyone else about what can happen behind closed doors.

Different power plant, same story

This story from the Stockton Record should be pretty familiar to folks in Mountain House and Tracy. Build a power plant in Alameda County, send the smog to the San Joaquin Valley.

By now, this is no random occurence. It's a pattern. We've seen efforts to do this time and again (though not always successfully), and it always seems like San Joaquin County gets the short end of the stick in terms of pollution fallout and lack of tax revenue.

Of course, it isn't counties that approve sites for power plants. That is vested with a state agency, though counties can voice their pleasure or umbrage at a possible location. (I'm guessing Alameda County folks don't mind reaping the economic benefits of a plant when the wind will blow the less-than-desirable side effects into someone else's backyard.)

Mitigation measures extracted from power producers by our local air pollution control district (in the case of this plant, $200,000 worth) undoubtedly help. But that doesn't excuse the trend.

Expect it continue, though, as the area near Mountain House previously targeted for power generators has nearby water supplies and easy hook-ups to electrical infrastructure.

Breathe lightly, my friends.

Catch as catch can

Time to catch up on some blogging, as we've been fairly buried recently. Expect sporadic updates in the future, as the Press is on the lookout for a new managing editor, as Kelsy Ramos, who was with the paper for nearly 7 years, has stepped down to pursue other interests.

We'll try to keep you updated.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Don't be part of the news

One of the cardinal rules in journalism is, "Report the news. Don't be part of the news."

Well, today, at the coming-out party for Jose Hernandez's campaign for Congress, my notepad and pen got caught in the action, when at least a dozen kids pressed forward for autographs before I could grab my interview — another crowd member suggested my pen would be better than their pencils, and my pad would make a good writing platform.

Not wanting to disappoint the kids, I temporarily donated the services of my equipment. (Photographic proof below.)

Darn kids.

An emotional issue... meeting tonight

This column about whether or not to put the name of Staff Sgt. David Senft on the Tracy War Memorial after he killed himself during his fourth tour of duty in the Middle East has generated the most response out of any column I've written during my six years at the Tracy Press.

For good reason. Honoring servicemen and suicide are extremely emotional issues both. Combine them, and hoo boy.

For the record, nearly all the feedback I've received is in support of putting Senft's name on the memorial despite the argument of Scott and Julie Conover, whose son is on the war memorial for dying in battle. They say the fact that Senft took, instead of gave, his life is reason to make a distinction when it comes to the memorial.

The Conovers understand it's a touchy subject. I talked to Scott on Friday after the column ran, and he said he respects Senft's family and has the utmost sympathy. But he said that while Senft served bravely, his final action should mean the difference between being on and off the memorial.

“We support the military, and we support this family, too, whether they know it or not,” he told me. “We just don’t think a suicide belongs on the war memorial.”

For their part, Senft's family thinks he without a doubt deserves the honor. My take is on display in the column.

All this emotion promises to play out tonight at the American Legion Hall. I've heard the War Memorial Association plans on moving the meeting into a bigger part of the hall than it's used to — this could be the best-attended WMA meeting in history.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tracy gets on the anti-cancer bandwagon

Tracy looks like it's finally getting its cancer-fighting bandwagon rolling with its first Walk for the Cure, an effort of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, an organization dedicated to breast cancer education and eradication.

But if that seems like a story that sounds like it's not from your corner of San Joaquin County, it's because this is Tracy in southwestern Minnesota — it of the 2,163 population. (It's a repeat guest of the "Hey, that's not my Tracy," section of Second Thoughts.)

It's not too far off to say it's one Tracy following in the footsteps of another. The Tank Town Tracy has had one of the most successful anti-cancer fundraisers in the most populous state in the union. Good to see one of our smaller sibling cities doing the same thing.