County display at the Capitol gets makeover

Susan Eggman’s legislative aide Christian Burkin let me know today that San Joaquin County’s display in the corridors of the State Capitol has been given a makeover.
Every one of California’s 58 counties touts its resources, attractions and features with their own display in the Capitol corridors, he said.
The project to update the display dates back to late-2013, when Eggman noticed the display was looking a little worn and dated.
The display, managed by San Joaquin County, had not been updated for at least eight years, according to Burkin, and no funding had been allocated for its maintenance.
Eggman’s staff worked with then-San Joaquin County Agriculture Commissioner Scott Hudson to create an advisory committee that included representatives from other elected officials in the county, as well as the SJC Board of Supervisors.
The group came up with some design principles, which were eventually brought to life by the Modesto-based Never Boring Design. the company was one of several that were considered, Burkin said.
The update cost about $7,000, borne by the county, and reflects San Joaquin’s combined urban and rural character. he said. It also incorporates the port, agriculture and the importance of the Delta.

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More the Woodbridge Wilderness Area

My story on the Woodbridge Wilderness Area Master Plan was printed in today’s record, noting that it will not be presented to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors in December as originally planned.
There were many reasons why the county parks commission chose to hold off on the presentation, the biggest of which that the consulting firm that drew up the plan failed to include how much any of the amenities — or even parts of the project — might cost.
There were other reasons for the delay as well.
Commissioner Mary Fuhs said that many WWA volunteers and residents who live in the nearby area didn’t really want to see a lot of the amenities suggested by the consultants to be included in the master plan.
Those amenities included an amphitheater that could be used to present educational programs; wayfinding signs with information relating to how long the trail loops are; and a 200-foot-long boardwalk that would traverse the length of the meadow inside the WWA.
Many of these amenities were the basis for commissioner Christian Phillips to conclude that the more of them you put in the wilderness area, the more wilderness you’re removing from the area.
He said when you call something a wilderness area, you don’t expect many of the amenities suggested by the consultants to be present.
Parks department director Duncan Jones said amenities such as the boardwalk — an elevated wooden pathway — are becoming more prevalent in parks and wilderness areas across the state.
Boardwalks provide year-round accessibility in wilderness areas, and help reduce erosion.
However, they do take away from the natural aspect of a wilderness area, to which Phillips alluded.
Jones will be bringing a revised master plan to the commission later this year.
The master plan can be found here:

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Perceived ethics violations

At today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Bob Elliott presented a list of actions performed by fellow supervisors that could be perceived as code of ethics violations.
Most of them were directed at board Vice Chair Chuck Winn with regards to his vote during the appointment of the new county assessor-recorder-county clerk, including campaign contributions received from Steve Bestolarides.
Elliott also cited chair Kathy Miller’s disclosure of research in making her final vote that ultimately gave Bestolarides the job last month.
He said while Miller noted five other supervisors had become county assessors and were currently serving in that capacity, she did not disclose that only one of them had been appointed while serving as supervisor.
That information was revealed in one of my earlier blogs.
However, I must make it clear that Kathy Miller did not withhold any information with regards to current assessors and their previous careers as supervisors.
During the Aug. 25 board of supervisors meeting, she was not asked by fellow supervisors or anyone from the public how those former supervisors had become current assessors.
When I contacted her after the meeting, I only asked which county assessors had previously been supervisors. She provided me with just that — a list of the five, which also had the year in which each had taken the job.
I took it upon myself to research each assessor and discover how they got the job — information that is readily available to the public with internet searches.
Elliott said that the information presented in my blog could be perceived as an ethics violation because Miller did not provide that openly.
In my humble opinion, I don’t see any possible violation, as she only disclosed the information in which she was asked to provide.

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Current assessors who used to be supes

This week, Supervisor Kathy Miller switched positions on appointing a new assessor-recorder-county clerk and voted in favor of fellow supervisor Steve Bestolarides.
Miller said during the Aug. 25 meeting that researching all 52 current assessors, recorders and county clerks (because some offices are not combined like San Joaquin County’s), influenced her decision.
During her research, Miller said she found 18 of the current county assessors had held posts at the city council, board of equalization and county supervisors levels prior to their current jobs.
Of those, she said 5 had been supervisors.
Miller sent me a list of all 52 assessors she researched. Indeed, the assessors in Napa, Nevada, San Francisco, San Mateo and Yolo counties had all be county supervisors prior to their current posts.
Here’s the thing: only one had been appointed while serving as supervisor.
Carmen Chu was appointed to San Francisco County’s Board of Supervisors in 2008 to replace the legally embattled Ed Jew. She was then elected to the position in 2008 to serve the remainder of his term, then successfully ran for re-election in 2010 to serve a full four-year term.
She did not complete that term, as SF mayor Ed Lee appointed her to the county assessor’s job in 2013.
Mark Church, the assessor in San Mateo County, was a supervisor there from 2001 to 2011. He too, became assessor while in office in 2011, but ran for election to do so.
Yolo County assessor Freddie Oakley was supervisor from 1997 to 1999. She became deputy assessor in 2000, then ran for election to be assessor in 2003.
The other two assessors were elected to their posts after leaving their respective supervisorial positions.
Napa County assessor John Tuteur was county supervisor from 1973-81, then successfully ran for assessor in 1998.
Similarly, Nevada County assessor Sue Horne was supervisor from 2001-2008, then ran for election to the her current post in 2010.
So Miller is right. It’s not uncommon for supervisors to become assessors. However, it’s rare that a supervisor would be appointed to the position while still serving on the board.
Just food for thought.

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Apparently, it was unclear when the supervisors would continue its discussion of the appointment to county clerk-assessor-recorder in a sidebar accompanying my lobbyist ordinance story in today’s paper.

The sidebar state’s “Tuesday’s meeting.” It should state the Aug. 25 meeting.

Also, the resulting vote in my story on that proposed lobbyist ordinance was wrong. Here’s what actually was approved:

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 18 approved a lobbying ordinance as presented by a 3-2 vote, giving direction to the county administrator to bring back a report on its effectiveness to the board in early 2017. At that time, the board will will decide to retain the ordinance, modify it or eliminate it.

I apologize for the lack of clarity in the side bar and the mistake in my story.

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15 years!

It was 15 years ago today that I began my first day as a full-time newspaper reporter with the Independent Newspaper Group, covering the City of Belmont. It’s hard to believe. It seems like just yesterday I was starting out.
If you’re not familiar with ING, don’t worry – it’s been defunct nearly a decade. The paper was run by the Fang family, long-time owners of AsiaWeekly, a San Francisco paper catering to the city’s Asian demographic.
The Independent was originally the Fang family’s free, twice-weekly publication delivered to the entire population of San Francisco in the 80s. The family ended up buying out about a dozen community newspapers like the Belmont Enquirer and San Carlos Bulletin in the 90s and rebranding them under the Independent masthead. While we were instructed to identify ourselves as reporters from The Independent, names like ‘The Belmont-San Carlos Enquirer-Bulletin’ still adorned the front page under the main masthead.
I was there two years. Belmont is a sleepy bedroom community of about 40,000. Nothing happens there. Prior to my hiring, the Belmont City Council was known as one that could not, for the life of it, get along. The council members hated each other. There was infighting and so much indecision that major projects like a new library couldn’t get passed. It made for great copy.
However, that all ended months before I was brought on to cover the city, and by the time I attended my first city council meeting, the bickering politicians had been replaced by people who were actually friends. Things were hunky-dory, and the people rejoiced.
One of the most interesting stories I covered for the Independent was a car bombing. A man woke up one day and got in his Saab to go to work. He saw some kind of 2×4 with a clock attached to it lying on the floor in front of his passenger seat. As he reached for it, the device exploded. It blew the Saab in half and he lost his right arm, if I remember correctly.
A cul-de-sac was taped off, and Belmont Police, to my knowledge, never did figure out exactly who the culprit was, even though a hysterical woman showed up on scene the day of the bombing claiming it was her sister’s ex-boyfriend. The woman claimed her sister’s former beau had turned stalker in the wake of a separation and attempted to kill the new love interest in the hopes he’d be welcomed back with open arms. It didn’t work. A few months later, the ex was caught placing a GPS device on the woman’s car at her place of employment in Palo Alto.
One anecdote San Joaquin County residents might find interesting is that current county parks and recreation director Duncan Jones was Belmont’s public works director while I was with the Independent. I was surprised to find out he was working for the county when I moved out here, but I don’t think he remembers me.
From the Independent I moved on to the Milpitas Post, a small weekly running under the umbrella of Alameda Newspaper Group-turned-Bay Area News Group, which in turn is now under the umbrella of Media News Group.
There, I started out on the sports/education beat for a couple years before an assistant editor left for the California Teachers Association’s Santa Clara County branch press room. The Fremont city beat writer became assistant editor, covering Milpitas, and I moved into the Fremont beat for the sister paper, the Fremont Bulletin.
Some of the interesting stories I covered was the retrial of three men charged with the beating death of transgender teen Gwen Araujo, the closure of the New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. – or NUMMI – plant, the abrupt closure of Solyndra, and the Oakland Athletics’ plan to move build a new stadium in Fremont.
Another San Joaquin County –related anecdote (that would come up after my move to Lodi) to note is that Ryan Morales, the Lodi resident on trial for the death of five members the Morales family in 2014, made it into the Bulletin’s police blotter column I wrote. Morales apparently tried to flee Fremont police during an attempted traffic stop around 2010. He ended up bailing out of his car at a 7-11 in Fremont’s affluent Mission San Jose neighborhood – with a passenger in the car – and climbing up on the roof of the store.
Police ultimately brought him down and found he had been high on meth. When asked why he tried to hide on the roof, he allegedly told officers that he had watched a lot of “Cops” on TV and learned police will give up if you hide out on rooftops long enough.
I was with BANG for nine years, before I met my wife and was told prior to our marriage that I would be moving to San Joaquin County. I commuted for six hellish months over the Altamont Pass before my wife put her foot down and said that had to stop. I was getting up at 6 a.m. to leave at 7 a.m. so I could make it to Milpitas by 9 a.m. On an average day, I was leaving the office 6 p.m. and getting home at 7:30 p.m.
Soon, I came on board with the Lodi News-Sentinel, where I stayed for a year covering city hall, and in my last two months, the county. I think the most interesting things I covered in Lodi was the goose problem at the lake, a Hollywood actor looking to film a movie in town, and the Sacramento woman who was arrested after a pipe bomb was found in her vehicle during a shoplifting incident.
And now I’m here at the Record. When people ask me what it’s like to work at a somewhat major daily, I compare my professional journey to that of Steve McQueen.
He once said working on the TV show “Wanted: Dead or Alive” three ‘mother-grabbing’ years of hard work, but he learned his trade. I think that’s what 15 years of working at weeklies and the Sentinel was like for me.
Although, during those 15 years I was able to meet some pretty famous people, including Jerry Rice, Barry Bonds, Kristi Yamaguchi and her husband Bret Hedican, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Anna Eshoo, Sen. Jackie Speier, Gloria Allred, actor James Hong, Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. Pete Stark, Gavin Newsome, John Garamendi, A’s owner Lew Wolff and his son Keith, and American Idol season 5 contestant Elliott Yamin.
I did get to see President Obama’s limo drive by in Fremont, see Dennis Eckersley dedicate a Fremont high school baseball field, and was really close to meeting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, if only his press team had given us a better heads up he’d be visiting a solar company.
And, I saw the Stanley Cup at the Great Mall in Milpitas. Whew. That’s a lot of name dropping. Sorry.
I have little to brag about for my first four months here at the Record, although it’s been a great time so far. I hope I stick around for a long time.

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Bestolarides won’t comment on Mayoral bid

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, mostly because there hasn’t been a need to clarify anything or because I’ve felt my articles don’t need extra explanation or my opinion.
However, there’s been speculation in the air regarding Supervisor Steve Bestolarides’ intention to run for mayor, which I’ve learned from our city hall reporter Roger Phillips that he’s been planning this for two years.
On Tuesday, Bestolarides was interviewed for the county assessor’s job, bringing forth more speculation that he has decided to forego his shot at Stockton mayor.
Bestolarides told me today that he never said he would not run for mayor during the interview process Tuesday, but would also not confirm whether or not he would.
He repeated what he said Tuesday: “if I am to be a valuable asset to this county over the long term, I will need to run for office in 2018, which I plan to do.”
We’ll need to wait a while longer before a definite bid for mayor is ever announced.

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The Medal of Honor

Do you know a Medal of Honor recipient? Do you know someone who’s been honored with a stamp? I do now.
Stockton resident Richard Pittman has been honored with an inclusion on a sheet of stamps honoring Vietnam veterans who were awarded the military’s highest accord. Because he was unable to attend a Memorial Day ceremony in Washington, DC, that featured the stamp’s unveiling, the U.S. Post Office brought the ceremony to him on June 26.
I met Richard a couple years ago through my wife, an adjunct English teacher at San Joaquin Delta College.
Richard’s wife was one of my wife’s students many years ago, and they have remained close friends since that time.
We visited Richard and his wife Patricia one day, and my wife handed me a sheet of paper detailing the incident that earned Richard the Medal of Honor.
My wife had a broad smile on her face and asked “Doesn’t that remind you of something?”
I said “Yeah. Audie Murphy.”
“You don’t know who Audie Muprhy is? The actor?”
No. My wife had no idea what I was talking about. Audie Murphy was, at one time, the most decorated soldier in U.S. military history.He, like Richard, took it upon himself to take up arms against the enemy when they were cornered, and single-handedly stopped what would have become a massacre.
While Richard’s actions were performed during Vietnam, Audie Murphy’s happened in the Second World War, in Germany.
He wrote a book about his experiences in Europe, entitled “To Hell And Back.” I highly recommend it, as it is a great book that was turned into a movie starring — Audie Murphy.
Apparently, Hollywood couldn’t find one man to play Murphy right, so the only option was to get the man himself. But get this, Murphy read the script, which stayed true to his memoir, and actually had parts of it removed because he said that moviegoers wouldn’t believe one man was able to some of the stuff he had actually done.
After reading Richard’s accomplishments, my wife asked “Doesn’t that remind you of Forrest Gump?”
“I saw that movie once.”
Turns out, Richard’s accomplishments caught the attention of director Robert Zemeckis, Gary Sinise — a HUGE supporter of soldiers and veterans — and Tom Hanks. In the 1990s, they all came to Richard’s house to get the scoop on what he had done.
Richard’s platoon came under heavy fire from a well-concealed and superior enemy unit. Richard traded his rifle for a machine gun, grabbed some ammo and rushed into the fray. He took small-arms fire at point blank range. He destroyed two automatic weapons, braved mortar and continued onward, where he raked as many as 40 enemy soldiers with heavy machine gun fire.
When he exhausted his ammo, he picked up an enemy submachine gun and a pistol from a fallen comrade and continued firing until the enemy retreated. The he lobbed a grenade at them and rejoined his platoon.
I don’t remember Forrest Gump, but apparently, Sinise, Hanks and Zemeckis used Richard’s experience for Forrest’s tour of Duty in the movie.
That’s pretty awesome.
I covered today’s ceremony honoring Richard, and am always honored to cover events for veterans.
My maternal grandfather stormed the beach at Omaha with the Marines in World War II, and when they said he was too old, he joined the Army and fought in Korea. My father was a jetfighter mechanic for the Air Force, stationed in Germany and Libya during Vietnam. My mom’s youngest brother was Marine in the 90s. I always try to thank the vets I meet for their service, and I am truly honored to know Richard. I think his story should be more well-known, so people can know what soldiers do to not only protect their country, but protect themselves and their friends. Maybe one day they’ll make a movie out of Richard’s Tour of Duty.

Side note: Audie Murphy was cast to play the killer Scorpio in Dirty Harry. He died in a plane crash in 1971, just weeks prior to filming. He was 46.

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New voting methods will work

I have voted in every General Election for the last 20 years, and since that time I’ve been shocked at the number of people I’ve encountered who have said that heading to the polls has been a hassle for them on election day.
It’s been a lot of people.
I had coworkers at the Independent Newspaper group in Burlingame lament about how much time was taken out of their day to go to the polls, even though they lived less than two blocks from a polling place. Instead, they opted to be an absentee voter, mailing their ballots in by a certain date for their vote to count. To me, that would be more of a hassle, because you have to remember to get to the mailbox to cast your vote. Maybe I’m in a small minority, because I’ve let mail sit on the table for weeks before I remember that an important bill is due tomorrow. Given my habit — which I’ve lately been able to correct by putting notes on a calendar (even though sometimes I forget to do that!) — I’d be afraid my absentee ballot would never get mailed in.
In addition, if I recall, you had to apply to be an absentee voter and have a very good reason, such as being permanently disabled.
But that will all change in a few years, as the Secretary of State has announced legislation that would allow all voters to vote by mail if they choose. Your vote-by-mail ballot will be mailed to you, and all you have to do is send it in by Election Day. Sounds easy enough.
I, for one, love going to the polls to vote. It feels like I’m accomplishing something. It feels like I’m actually making a difference. Not that voting by mail isn’t accomplishing anything, because you are still making a difference when you send your ballot in by mail.
I understand the need to change the way Californians vote. Very few people vote anymore. they’re not heading to the polls, and many don’t want to fill out the application to vote by mail.
According to the Secretary of State, just 30.9 percent of Californians voted last November. However, the State of Colorado, which has employed a similar voting model since 2006, had 56.9 percent of its residents casting ballots last November. In 2008, 70.7 percent cast ballots, and in 2012, 70 percent cast ballots.
The new model seems to be working, and our county’s Registrar of Voters wholeheartedly supports the move.
Not only will we all get to vote by mail, we can go to any polling place in the county. I like that.
I’d always have to stop in at the polling place on my way to work when I lived in Pacifica, which wasn’t bad because it was a block away from my house. However, there was one year I forgot to stop in the morning and had to rush home from Milpitas — a good 60-minute drive — to vote before the polls closed. For times when residents won’t have time to stop in at the polling place on their way to or from work, this is great. There will now be one near your place of work, most likely, so you can head on over during the day to cast your ballot.
In addition, polling places will be open 10 days prior to election, and drop off boxes will be located in various places for you to place your ballots. These are great measures for those on the go with little to no time to head to the polls.
As for me, I’m still going to go, stand at my booth and mark my ballot before feeding it to the counting machine, which is always the best part!

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My past journalistic experiences with crash suspect

Monday was a rare occasion in which I was able to cover a court appearance for the Record.
I’ve covered court cases before, including the Gwen Araujo murder retrial in Alameda County, a few small-time bank robbery arraignments in the same county, as well as the arraignments for the pipe bomb suspect who was arrested in Lodi earlier this year.
On Monday though, I was covering a court appearance of Ryan Morales, the Lodi resident who is accused of plowing into a family at the corner of Ham Lane and Vine Street, killing six of them.
Judge Seth R. Hoyt denied the defense’s motion to drop the murder charges. Morales’ mother sobbed as she walked out of the courtroom. While she wouldn’t go on record and speak to me or reporters from KCRA and Fox40, she did express feeling that her son was “unconscious” at the time of the accident on Oct. 22, 2013. She felt that because her son has no recollection at all of the accident, he shouldn’t be charged.
This is not a case of a poor unfortunate man. Morales has had a history of displaying wanton disregard for other people.
He has a criminal record dating back several years, and he’s had several stints in various county and city jails.
When I covered the city of Fremont for Bay Area News Group’s weekly Fremont Bulletin, I wrote about one of Morales’ run-ins with law enforcement.
Here it is :
I remember speaking to Fremont PD’s PIO at the time about this case. When it was all said and done, Morales allegedly told Fremont officers that he drove recklessly because he knew from watching a lot of the television show “COPS” that police terminate pursuits when they become too dangerous.
If I recall, he also climbed up on the roof of a business — which turned out to be a 7-11 in this case — because police usually get tired of waiting a perp out when they get up on rooftops. He learned that on “COPS” too, according to Fremont PD.
Morales had been arrested in Fremont a few other times on suspicion of beating the mother of his child. He’s been arrested in Fremont and Union City on drug and burglary charges, battery and petty theft. I remember printing his name numerous times while at the Bulletin.
In the Fremont pursuit, he admitted to knowing there was a warrant for his arrest, which is why he tried to evade police. The warrant, according to court records, was for failing to appear in court.
He served the majority of 16 months in San Quentin for the pursuit, according to court records, and was released about a month prior to the collision.
Prior to the accident, he had allegedly downed an entire bottle of vodka with his father and then jumped in the vehicle that killed the Miranda family. Just minutes before the crash, he almost caused another collision at Ham Lane and Lodi Avenue.
As Morales was led from the courtroom to another department on Monday, he gave reporters a one-finger salute and smirked.
While I understand the grief his mother was going through Monday, to think he should be let off because he was 17 sheets to the wind and has no recollection makes me scratch my head.
Morales will appear in court again Aug. 31, when his murder trial begins.

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    Wes Bowers

    A native of Pacifica, he lives in Lodi with his wife Lorraine. He’s covered just about every journalism beat in the Bay Area since 2000, as well as in the Lodi-Stockton area since 2013. He has a large collection of Judge Dredd comics, Spaghetti ... Read Full
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