Deflategate perp confesses!

You read it here first — if, that is, you can read the “confession” on a football left for me in the newspaper’s lobby.

“To Mike,” it says. “It was Me! I confess I let the air & the dog out!!

“HaHa LOL Andy.”

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Sacramento sinks into the red

Having quaffed the bitter vetch of bankruptcy, some Stocktonians, like me, take a morbid interest in other cities sinking deeper into debt. Today’s poster child: Sacramento.

The largest unfunded liability sending Stockton into Chapter 9, retiree healthy care, was $545 million. As the Sacramento Bee editorializes here, Sacramento’s unfunded liabilities are $2.3 billion.

Naturally, “More than half of City Hall’s unfunded liability total is from pensions, retiree health costs and other post-employment benefits.”

Plus, a half-cent sales tax expires in March 2019. “The city could face a general fund deficit approaching $50 million by 2019-20.”

So what does the council do? Gives firefighters a big, fat raise. That, in turn, increases the city’s pension debt.

It all sounds so familiar: capital construction debt, employee overcompensation, unfunded liabilities, the doomed politics of pleasing public employees.

Sacramento is not looking at bankruptcy. It is looking at continued high taxes yet dwindling services to citizens. If it continues down this path too far, though — well, it’s a short drive to federal bankruptcy court on I Street.

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The “B.O. Stage”

When deciphering the notes on John Muir’s journal #50, one that took some guesswork was a reference to the “B.O. Stage Wed Fri & Sunday.”

I guessed — and a couple historians agreed — “the B.O. Stage” was the Big Oak Flat stage.

Here’s a Yardley drawing of it.

This Yardley drawing shows the Big Oak Flat Stage, which used to run between Stockton and Yosemite.

Of course, “The B.O. Stage” could refer to the ripeness of the hiker by the third day or so. But I think not.

Seriously, if you ever want to read an excellent local history book, the best of the lot is “The Big Oak Flat Road to Yosemite.” It brings alive Gold Rush Stockton and every mile of the Big Oak Flat Road.

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The “bleeding edge”

This weekend story perfectly captures downtown Stockton circa early 2015 — and the fate of urban pioneers.

An attorney who moved his offices downtown has suffered thieves, burglars, taggers, substance-abusing street gamblers and urinators.

“It’s never easy for the earliest pioneers,”  Cindi Fargo, the head of the Downtown Alliance, is quoted saying. “They’re beyond the cutting edge. They’re the bleeding edge.”

The shabby street culture is summed up by a guy who dropped trash on the street: “Well, you don’t have a garbage can out in front of your building so, of course, I’m going to throw it on the ground.”

Of course, I’m going to throw it on the ground. What a ghetto mentality. It’s almost wrong to fault the litterbug,  though. If a city shamefully lets the whole district go to pot, what’s to be expected of residents?

But the equation has changed. This time a business owner challenged the litterbug. That is the thin end of the wedge of downtown’s comeback. Our hope is that within the coming few years enough residents and businesses will move downtown to scold the lowlifes into a semblance of propriety and restore downtown as a good place.

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The joys of transcribing Muir

Bill Wadsworth writes:

“My cousin Neil Lark, a retired UOP professor in Stockton, forwarded me your column about transcribing a page of Muir’s journal. It describes perfectly the fun of doing this. I’ve transcribed all of journal 58 which was the first of three for his trip with many famous scientists, naturalists, and others on the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899.

“I’m just completing the transcription of third one (the second was already transcribed by William Bade, Muir’s literary executor). In the third journal of the trip there are some really fun details about the celebrations aboard ship at the end of the voyage and a couple of comical poems he wrote about his friend John Burroughs, a naturalist from New York, who was also on the trip.

My wife Ginger and I recently visited Stockton to spend the day with Neil and his wife Liz and we were treated to a tour of the archives with Mike Wurtz. I got to hold “my” journal…a real thrill. We topped off the day with wine tasting in Lodi.

I’m so glad Neil forwarded your column to me as you put words to the experience I’ve had living in Muir’s journal world. As you noted, the detective work involved as you’re trying to decipher a word is challenging but pretty exhilarating.  I’ve learned a lot in the process about botany and it certainly gives me a closer perspective of Muir’s personality.”


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A mixed review for body cams

Stockton Police are adopting body cameras. But it is not clear that body cameras are a good thing, this NPR story says.

“The people who like body cameras always point to a study done in Rialto, Calif., in 2012,” the story says. “Researchers found that officers who wore cameras used force less often — incidents dropped by more than 50 percent. That settles it, right?”

Sure enough, a reader supportive of body cameras cited the Rialto study to City Hall reporter Roger Phillips. Phillips posted the reader’s note on his blog.

“But one of the researchers who ran the study, Alex Sutherland of the University of Cambridge, says Rialto was not a definitive answer on the effectiveness of cameras,” the NPR story continues.

“The Rialto study is one study. And it could be a fluke,” Sutherland says.

There are many unanswered questions about body cams, says the story, which quotes one cop saying they’re bad for officer morale.

“If public money is being spent on this technology, the onus is certain to make sure that it’s being evaluated as it’s being rolled out, rather than deciding that it works and then that’s that,” Sutherland says.

Despite the uncertainties, the Stockton Police are probably right to adopt body cams. Perhaps because poverty here is higher, distrust of institutions, including of police, is higher. And there is a hardcore nucleus of police haters who toxify the public debate.

But the best technology is a Chief like Eric Jones. Jones is helping roll out the wise Marshall Plan. He has been open about police actions. He is seeking dialogue with the community, though he knows the relatives of people slain by police will show up and try to monkey-wrench the proceedings. Even the best technology is subordinate to such leadership, leadership that is good medicine for the body politic.

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The naked man of the Delta, and other comments

Dave Parker writes a letter as bizarre as the subject of today’s column:

It starts with a lyric from Randy Newman’s “Naked Man:”

Pull down the shades cause he’s a comin
Turn out the lights cause he’s here
Runnin hard down the street through the snow and the sleet
On the coldest night of the year

“Enjoyed your story about the naked man. I too had the same experience several times at my property near Windmill Cove Marina.

This naked man wrecks a United Rental truck in an irrigation ditch and steals my friend’s excavator to try to lift the truck out of the ditch. He was so stoned he could not run the excavator and left his phone and identification papers and clothes in the vandalized machine.

“So rather than call a tow truck he strips his clothes off … sets the truck on fire and uses a pay phone to call the police and report the truck stolen and say he lost his manhood at the hands of the truck arson.

I don’t understand that last line. But, onward.

“This would have been hilarious,” Parker continues, “if not for the fact that the naked man was constantly in someone’s back yard … including mine … converting DMV titles to his and his partner’s name … and I discovered he had pulled the same naked man scenario while converting titles to old ladies’ houses in LA … the naked man is no longer pitiful and funny.”

I don’t understand that part, either. Something about a naked Delta grifter. Normally I wouldn’t publish a partly incomprehensible letter. But given today’s column, it seems appropriate.

A Sheriff’s Office employee called to recommend I plant cactus along the inside of my fence.

“Nobody would jump your fence line,” said Maria. “Guaranteed.”

If they did, the stickers that pierce the skin fish-hook in a way that requires surgical removal, Maria said.

She may be on to something there.

Finally, this from former Supervisor Leroy Ornellas:

“Mike, Could you share your address? We often have dull weekends and nothing to do. We would love to park near your home and watch the action. We will bring our own snacks and promise not to throw the wrappers on the street. If you serve refreshments that would be great. A Port-a-Potty would be appreciated.”

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Boxer calls out secret, unilateral water talks

Senator Barbara Boxer just moved up a notch in my esteem. Boxer called out House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield for holding secret water talks, locking Northern California out of the room, then blaming her for sabotaging any deals.


Boxer with Senate colleagues in 2014

The S.F. Chron has it.

“Boxer said she would not be party to secret negotiations and insisted any legislation have the approval of all parts of the state.

“McCarthy will get a water bill only “if he’s not afraid to sit in a room with people from Southern California and Northern California and me,” Boxer said. “He chooses not to do it, and then he says I’m to blame. People in my state don’t like secret negotiations. Let me be clear. I will not be part of it, ever. Never. Never.”

“Boxer said McCarthy called her personally to accuse her of killing last year’s deal. Describing the finger-pointing as “high school,” Boxer said she told him, “You are dreaming. Why didn’t you allow me to invite members from Northern California and Southern California who were concerned about your bill and have a briefing?’ He wouldn’t do it. He still won’t do it.”

McCarthy is known as a nice guy personally. But he’s soaked in the south-Valley way of vying for water: it’s a zero sum game, one that is not to be played fairly, and if it creates losers elsewhere — like here — too bad. Anything goes when contriving and conniving to get more Delta water.

“I am not going to partake in water wars,” Boxer said, arguing that any agreement that favors only one part of the state is pointless because it would only wind up in court.”

It’s the second half of that sentence that should be in quotes. That’s wisdom: the unilateral machinations of astute south-Valley Republicans often backfire. Why not bring everybody to the table?

As long as McCarthy refuses, his rhetoric about struggling family farms and onerous environmental restrictions should be dismissed as propaganda.

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“Where the San Joaquin River died in the 1960s”

A Fresno Bee reporter went there.

It’s a fork in the river in Merced County called the Sand Slough Control Structure.

One channel is the river bed. The other is a bypass. Both are dry. Both are testaments to the Owens Valley of San Joaquin — the illegal and greedy destruction of the river and its fisheries by a society that prized economic development over a balanced relationship with nature and power over equitable economic development.

The story reports that officials have not decided whether the restored river will flow down its historic course or the bypass. One obstacle in the old river bed:  someone built their house in it.

What a world.

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Franklin, get a clue

“We intend to continue to fight for a fair and equitable recovery for our fund investors.”

—A statement from Franklin Templeton Investments, the lone creditor dissenting from Stockton’s Plan of Adjustment.

Give me a break.

Though negotiations between the city of Stockton and its creditors were confidential, it has become clear over time that Franklin refused to negotiate.

“My ultimate rationale … was everybody with the exception of Franklin had come to the table and given up quite a bit,” federal bankruptcy judge Christopher Klein said in today’s story. “They elected not to come to the table and deal, and they chose instead to challenge confirmation and to appeal.”

Translation: You blew it, hardheads.

Klein seemed to be trying to save Franklin from further futile litigation.

“The public interest is served by actually being able to implement a plan upon which people can rely,” he said. “When I add up those aspects in the analysis, I’m seeing little likelihood of success on appeal.”

But Franklin won’t listen. Perhaps its strategy of hardball litigation served Franklin well in other cases. But it seems clear it has failed in Stockton — clear to everybody else, that is, that Franklin should cut its losses and move on. An appeal looks to achieve the opposite of the desired result. It merely will cost the company more in astronomical attorney’s fees without increasing the company’s recovery one red cent.

And so the city of Stockton moves on, with one absurdly dogged creditor continuing to fight its lost cause. A certain Monty Python sketch comes to mind.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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