A good, old-fashioned hatchet job

It’s been too long since an outsider did a good, old-fashioned hatchet job on the San Joaquin Valley. One that combines complete ignorance of this region, bad journalism and snot-nosed condescension.

Fortunately, a blogger for Harper’s magazine named  has filled the void. Gilbreath has peenned a classic rip-and-run blog essay, “Driving the San Joaquin Valley: An afternoon with Starbucks customers in the armpit of California.”

Here’s his first graf:

“The nearly three hundred flat miles of Interstate 5 running through California’s San Joaquin Valley are some of the most loathed in America. If travelers stop at all along this section of highway, it’s to visit the Petro stations, Starbucks, Del Tacos, and In-N-Out Burgers that dot the roadside. In the parking lots of these chain stores, drivers lean against their cars and smoke cigarettes, enjoying a moment of sunshine before quickly resuming their trip. Though the San Joaquin Valley, together with the Sacramento Valley, produces a quarter of America’s produce, many Californians refer to the area as “the armpit of California,” dismissing it as a roadside bathroom break, or joking about it being the haunt of rednecks and meth-heads.”

Gilbreath doesn’t base his “most loathed” ranking on any data; he just asserts it. He knocks the plebian highway businesses, but what’s roadisde along the highways where he lives? Palaces, or typical American roadside commerce?

That’s all just superiority. Where the bad journalism comes in is obvious. He didn’t talk to anyone from here. If you ask L.A. residents what they think of the rural areas of course they’re going to knock them as provincial. But when your sources tell you that they themselves know nothing about this region … oh, never mind.

That line about Valley meth heads is a good one, too — because, you know, of course no on in L.A. does drugs. Lindsay Lohan is addicted to Girl Scout cookies.

I could go on dismantling this egregious piece, which reflects as poorly on Gilbreath’s editors, who never should have let it through with its amateurish lack of good sources. I’ll just ring off by marveling at the piece’s conclusion. Gilbreath escapes the land of lowbrow In-N-Outs and reaches the Xanadu of sophisticated San Francisco where “a vegan restaurant …  served me organic ketchup sweetened with agave nectar.”

Where do you think the tomato in that ketchup came from, knucklehead? The most successful farming operation in the history of the world.


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House Republicans burn north-Valley vets

Republicans are strong on national security.  Some of them never met an intervention, or a war, they didn’t like.

Though they’re ideological budget hawks, and they yammer constantly about reducing the deficit, they never cut funds to the Pentagon.

But they’ll cut funding to the vets their policies manufacture.

How you can send young Americans to war then cut funding to build a hospital for the wounded in French Camp, one that would also give older vets medical care, takes a special kind of mindset.

“Corruption & mismanagement still plague the #VA,” tweeted House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

OK, so … punish vets.

At least McCarthy answered the question whether having a Bakersfield congressman as House Majority Leader would benefit the San Joaquin Valley.

“Moving water south to parched farms & communities would save jobs, protect food supplies & preserve groundwater.” http://usat.ly/1D61qKc he also tweeted.

So on the VA issue shaft the north Valley; on the water issue … shaft the north Valley. Kudos to McCarthy for consistency.

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Injury botches bocce baller

Stockton’s Drew Page, America’s national under-21 bocce champion — who gets bupkis from local media — broke his wrist at the world’s championship in Rome, and his outstanding performance has cratered, our correspondent reports.

“Possible stress fracture,” reports Elizabeth Wong, who understands bocce far better than I do.

Against Switzerland Page, who had been holding his own against the world’s best, uncharacteristically lost 0-15. Then he lost 2-15 to Italy. He plays France later today.

What a flippin’ tragedy. If he medalled I was going to see he got the recognition he deserves, and thumb my nose at other media , which ignore him.  I wish him a complete recovery and a speedy return to form.

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Teachers’ union goes after evaluations

It’s absurdly hard to fire teacher. We saw that in the Heidi Kaeslin case.

At least the law says student progress must be a part of teacher evaluations. If an incompetent teacher is screwing up kids’ education, that should come out, don’t you think?

The Stockton Teachers Association doesn’t think so. It has pressured Stockton Unified’s board to flout the law for 20 years. Statewide, the California Teachers Association doesn’t thinks so either. It’s backing a bill to water down teacher evaluations.

I’m sure by now union members think I have it in for them. I do not. I support unions’ right to organize, to bargain collectively and God forbid, to strike. I just support more the broad public mission of the institutions of which public employee unions are a part. The good of the general public often outweighs the wants of the unions, in other words.

Surely there must be a way to enable administrators to oust rotten teachers while maintaining reasonable job security for teachers. Why doesn’t the CTA propose such a policy? Why does it insist on going overboard?

Likely answer: because it can. Such excessive perquisites are the result of raw power politics by the state’s most powerful lobby. So lawmakers like Democratic state Senator Carol Liu carry water for them instead of protecting the interests of children.

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A song about Phil Spector

I did a column about famous record producer/convicted murderer Phil Spector, who is locked up in the big prison hospital east of Stockton.

Phil Spector's booking photo. One media outlet opined that Spector has turned into Gollum.

Someone evidently posted that column on Phil Spector’s website. The column’s headline, “The ‘Mad Genius of Rock ‘n’ Roll confined in Stockton,” brought a call from Craig Taylor of Harrisburg, Penn.

Taylor said by coincidence he just finished a song called “The Mad Genius of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a tribute to Spector.

“When I came across your article I chuckled a little bit because I have been working on the song for a year,” Taylor says.

He sent a snippet of the song, which you can buy on cdbaby.com. Here it is:




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The thought for the day

“I think the tragedy is that people think I’m singular,” Councilman Michael Tubbs said in the interview behind today’s column.

“Like, oh, Michael Tubbs is just an extraordinary person. Actually, no. There’s a whole bunch of other Michael Tubbses in this city, who just need a little but of investment, a little bit of opportunity.”

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The invisible champ advances!

Stockton’s Drew Page, the national under-21 bocce champion, won three of three yesterday in the bocce world championships in Rome, Italy.

Page “advances as the 2nd seed into the single-elimination phase against the top seed of another division,” reports Elizabeth Wong, though, as with much of bocce, I don’t know what she means.

You can figure it out here — if you read Italian.

Wong shared one score: Page beat Hungary 15-10.

“He will be playing against the best in the world: Switzerland or Italy or Argentina,” Wong reports. “Hopefully, he pulls Italy which if Italy wins it would pull up his ranking in the world from #8 to #5.  If he pulls Argentina which is the lighter of the 3 heavy-weights & wins his ranking will go into the top 4.”

And still no local media coverage. But the guy’s accomplishment is already most impressive. He’s beating aces from countries that live and breathe bocce. The council should consider a proclamation honoring this unsung sports hero. Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame? Hello?


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About that $8.5 million …

First thought upon learning the city has $8.5 million in unspent bond money: re-open the Fair Oaks library branch.

To which city spokesperson Connie Cochran responded with a (preliminary) wet blanket.

The money’s use must be consistent with the original bond language, she said: resurfacing streets traffic calming, community centers, affordable housing.

It’s not clear the library branch is within the project area, either, Cochran said.

And, “The challenge would be the operational costs,” she added.

Reopening the would be cheap. The cost of paying staff costs from here on out cannot be covered by the bond money.

However, Cochran said she’d at least further research the subject. That branch is sorely missed by its community. On the other hand, perhaps it’s good that the money is restricted. I can just hear them licking their chops over at Franklin Templeton Investments.

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The sad saga of Shadowbird

Wouldn’t a new 50-acre nature park on the Delta be nice?

One was in the pipeline, but the pipeline may have just blown up.

The land belonged to Shadowbird, a nonprofit offshoot of the Land Utilization Alliance, a slow-growth group that sued developers over sprawl in the 1980s. The developers gave LUA a ton of money and a 50-acre parcel as mitigation. Both were to be used in the public interest.

LUA frittered away the money. The land it gave — questionably — to Shadowbird, which was formed by one of LUA’s members. “Questionably” because of the nepotism, and because for all Shadowbird’s good intentions, the group never had it together.

Board infighting led to schisms, litigation, and the expulsion of Alex Roessler, the founding member who worked so hard to prepare the land as a public place where schoolkids could learn about the Delta environment and ordinary folks could grab some nature.

Now, though LUA pledged to find a perpetual steward and Shadowbird pledged perpetual stewardship, the remaining board members are selling off the land. Evidently the money looks better than that cumbersome public trust thing.

LUA had some good people. It also had people who were superior in their liberal values and condescending towards developers. But Kevin Huber, head of the Grupe Co., saw this fiisco coming a decade off: he said as much to me in a 2007 column.

In that column, he said he was suing to get the land back not to develop it but put it in the capable hands of a substantial organization, something like the Nature Conservancy.

“I don‘t want to be doing this when I‘m 70 years old, negotiating what happens to the property,” Huber said.

This sad outcome vindicates his judgment.

I was amazed when Shadowbird beat Grupe in court. But the group — out-of-towners who refuse to speak to the press — has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The public loses 50 acres of open space that could have been a sterling civic asset.

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Our man in the Bocce world championship

Stockton’s Drew Page, the under-21 National Bocce champion — Stockton’s invisible champion — is competing in the world championships in Rome.

And getting no local coverage.

America's Bocce team includes Stockton's Drew Page (2nd frojm l) and his coach, Stockotn's David Canclini (2nd from r).

To rectify this omission, here’s Elizabeth Wong, herself an award winning bocce player.

Reports wong:

“Drew Page played his first match at 10:30 a.m. against Austria’s Under-21 champion Wolfgang Joel,” she reports.

The match went to the wire, “close to the allotted time limit of 90 minutes. … One could deduce that it was a struggle to get the first 15 points for the win, but our boy Drew did it 15-13.”


“His next match was against Brazil, which is a country that is known for their talented throwing capabilities.  He put up a good fight but managed to make only 10 points against this heavy-weight.”


“Tomorrow he has to hope that Austria will lose to Brazil, and that he wins his other matches against light-weights Sudan & Tunisia.  Hungary could trip him up but the Hungarian only made 2 points against Austria today. If all goes well, he may end up 2nd seed in his division, and on Friday facing the top seed of another division for the semifinal.”

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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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