A talk with the king of river rats


Bill Conner, out front of his barge-home, in 2013.

Bill Conner, the 86-year-old river rat who built Lost Isle into the Delta’s premier party place, returned my call from his unique barge/house on the Deep Water Channel too late for inclusion into today’s column.

But Conner was in good form, profane, funny, politically incorrect.

I told him how Lost Isle’s current owner (Conner ran the place from 1966-80) said remodeling and reopening has been delayed by Spring floods on Acker Island.

“(Bleep) him!” Conner retorted. “All you do is you take your shoes off and roll your pants up and stand at the bar.”

This answer is a perfect expression of the Delta lifestyle.

Conner went on about how he’d handle things. “I’d invite people over to have a hot dog and use the beach; slowly but surely get some beer, wine and hot dogs, start a business. But these clowns they don’t operate that way.”

Conner of course is a throwback to the DIY days when the Delta was far less regulated. “You could go down to the county and they’d give you a permit to do things,” he recalled. “But when Jerry Brown came in in the Seventies he literally (bleeped) all over California.”

Conner is a staunch Republican. He hates over-regulation and the ever-growing ranks of “dirty bastards” who enforce it. “But we’re going to get it back again,” he said of Trump. “My buddy, he’s going to get us back America again. Don’t come near because I have a Trump sign up!”

Conner is happy at the prospect that his baby may reopen next year. “That would be great. “Everybody asks me, ‘When are they going to open up? When are they going to open up?”

And he’ll visit, but not to knock back mai-tails. “I quit drinking in 1980,” he said. “After I taught everybody else how to drink, I quit. After looking them I said, ‘Oh OK, I must look like that,’ so I quit.”

The old Delta legend told me to call any time. “If you ever need information,I still can tell lies.”



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Redistricting (and the “Stockton finger”)

The notorious "Stockton finger," before independent redistricting undid gerrymandering a decade ago.

Redistricting, the re-drawing of political district maps after each decade’s census, is an obscure subject, but there was nothing obscure about the political corruption of old that gave Stockton the shaft.

Democratic cronies stacked the deck to keep certain seats Democratic by gerrymandering Stockton-area districts so badly that Stockton became the national poster child for gerrymandering. Literally. If you looked up gerrymandering on Wikipedia, Stockton maps came up.

More to the point, chopping Stockton up artificially into different districts castrated the city politically. No state or federal politician had to answer to all Stockton; just a few thousand or even just a few hundred Stocktonians were shunted into districts which other cites dominated. And often East Bay cities to boot, with whose residents Stocktonians have little in common.

Foremost among these artificial boundaries was the “Stockton finger,” a crazy, narrow finger of a district that ran up from Modesto, just to throw in a few more Democrat voters to safeguard the successor of ousted congressman Gary Condit.

Politicans ignored Stockton.

That changed a decade ago after an initiative took redistricting out of the hands of partisans and gave it to an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. Better still, a Stockton citizen sat on that commission. The district maps the drew weren’t perfect, but they were light years better. Stockton became the most populous city in its districts, meaning politicians have to make Stockton happy. That’s why you saw the likes of Congressman Jerry McNerney and State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani move here.

Redistricting is coming around again. Capitol Weekly is running a three-part series on it. If you want to feed you inner wonk, or if you believe that forewarned is forearmed, read part 2 here.

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Why do police radios cost $5,000 apiece?

Radiohead: Stockton Police Department spokesman Joseph Silva.

Wednesday’s story about passage of Stockton’s $626 million 2017-18 budget mentioned a hiccup: finding $400,000 for 80 police radios.

The Police Chief said its best to have a radio for each cop, and the city is adding police. OK … but $400,000 divided by 80 is $5,000. Why does a single radio cost as much as your kid’s first car? Is it because police require special features? Gold casings? Or does the radio company gouge government?

Stockton Police Officer Joseph Silva answered.

“We’ve used Motorola for 30 years.  The City and County use the same radio manufacturer and communication platform to ensure compatibility and communication between agencies during emergencies. Using the same manufacturer also ensures that older radios will work with newer models and allows for trade-ins.

“All radios are part of a larger system.  The purchase price ensures that radios are ready to use when we receive them, there are no additional hardware costs.  Using a variety of manufacturers would require additional hardware to make systems talk with one another.

“Changing platforms and vendors may appear to reduce per unit cost, but would introduce additional hardware costs to make multiple systems and vendor products work with one another, both within the City and between Police and Fire, and between the City, County and other public safety agencies.

“Radios include the physical unit, microphones, batteries, charges, programming, etc.  They need to be very heavy duty and include all of the required “unique” public safety features (channel capacity, range, encryption, etc.); $5,000 is about 33% less than retail price.”

Inquiring minds probably want to know more, such as the trade-in value, with which the true cost of the radios can be established. But we thank Silva and the SPD for its answer.


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Vegas Vickie’s baby book

Here are some more photos of Vegas Vickie, the beloved neon sign.

Vickie as raw metal at Ad Art, 1980. Photo courtesy Chuck Barnard


In the paint shop. Photo Courtesy Chuck Barnard.


All dolled up for Vegas. Photo courtesy Chuck Barnard.


Road trip!

Vegas Vickie under the barrel canopy of the Fremont Street Experience, a 2002 pedestrian mall. Neon lovers objected that Vickie looked better against the night sky. Photo courtesy Stefanie Poteet.

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What a preposterous episode

Farm Sanctuary, the egg-on-the-face animal welfare group that just blew $30,000 “rescuing” Delta pigs, laid low when they first realized they had to return them. But now it has issued a statement.

The "starving," "terrified" pigs.

“Farm Sanctuary’s position is that we rescued the pigs only after we obtained clear legal title to them, and because they were in danger. We were surprised to learn that someone else was claiming ownership of the pigs, and even more surprised and disheartened to learn that the veterinary hospital decided to release them to him. We have the pigs’ best interests at heart and looked forward to providing them safe, loving homes for the rest of their lives. We are considering our options.”

The option I would recommend; never lose the heart to help animals. But lead with your brains.

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St. Mary gets makeover money

Laura Chavarria writes:

“Thanks so much for getting the Restoration Project article for Our Lady of Guadalupe. I wanted to update you that we successfully raised all the money needed!!”

Nichol Romo, one of the people raising money to restore the Virgen de Guadalupe mural on St. George's gym, also has the Virgen tattooed on her arm.

“The painter will start the project on July 1 and he anticipates to be done in August. If all is accomplished we are hoping to have a restoration project on Saturday August 26, but that’s just an anticipated date so far.”

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Superior Court chief: “There have been issues”

Today’s column touches on a side issue, how a new San Joaquin County Superior Court computer system is more problematic and difficult to use — a.k.a. a bollix –than its predecessor.

The new San Joaquin County Courthouse.

“In October 2015, the … Superior Court’s Executive Officer — ” (Rosa Junqueiro) ” — chose to change the court’s software program … without input from the District Attorney Police Chiefs, Sheriff or Chief Probation Officer,” the Civil Grand Jury reported this week.

This issue deserves a separate treatment. For now, however, here is the response from Rosa Junquiero to questions posed about the system.

Court’s Response to The Record re: Questions about the Grand Jury Report, San Joaquin County Property Rooms

The Grand Jury just reported: “In October 2015, the … Superior Court’s Executive Officer chose to change the courts software program … without input from the District Attorney Police Chiefs, Sheriff or Chief Probation Officer,” and the system didn’t work as well for some agencies as the previous one.


Is the Grand Jury correct that Superior Court’s Executive Officer chose to change the courts software program … without input from the District Attorney Police Chiefs, Sheriff or Chief Probation Officer?

The Superior Court chose to move onto a newer, modern, more efficient case management system in January 2014. The case management system is FullCourt Enterprise or FCE. The court had funding and a limited time to use it which forced the court to move sooner rather than later. The court provided the county with notice that it would no longer be using the county’s system, Criminal Justice Information System, CJIS.

The only entities that continued to use CJIS as a case management system, was the court and the Sheriff. All other partners used their own case management systems or only accessed CJIS for information. Part of the court’s deployment activities, included interfaces with justice partners. The County and the court’s vendor have worked on interfaces for the better part of two years and many are in place today.

If so, why did she not seek their input?

The court selected FCE because there was the ability to build interfaces with our justice partners. Because CJIS was built on old technology, program changes could not be made easily based on changes in the law. In many areas, the court had to complete reports manually. For example, statistical information was based on “hand tallies” that the clerks had to manually make when presented with a particular type of filing. Computer reprogramming could sometimes take up to 18 months to make.

What problems has the new system caused?

As with any new technology system deployment, there have been issues. The court and our justice partners have all worked continually to rectify any issues that come to light. Many new procedures have been implemented and many more may change as we all work more comfortably with FCE.

What steps have you taken to rectify them?

The Court meets monthly with our justice partners and continues to work on finding solutions to the issues that are raised. Nearly all of our justice partners have changed their case management systems and no longer use CJIS (except for accessing court information). One of our other partners is also in the beginning stages of changing case management systems and will no longer be using CJIS. When this transition is complete, we will continue to work with our partners as we have all along.


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Frank Gayaldo goes ballistic

Frank Gayaldo in 2015

Frank Gayaldo, one of the whistleblowers behind the allegations of Gungate and Evidencegate, predicted that 2017 would be the year San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore goes down for corruption.

Gayaldo was livid — spitting mad — that the San Joaquin County Grand Jury this week found no proof that the Sheriff had lost evidence. The Grand Jury found sloppiness, but little more.

To say Gayaldo rejects this finding is understatement. “(Bleep) them,” he snarled in a profane rant. “They’re full of (bleep). For the Grand Jury to come out and say,’Oh, there’s problems with this and that—I’m sorry. I know for a fact that there are guns, money and drugs missing.”

This is the second reverse for Gayaldo. District Attorney Toni Verber-Salazar investigated allegations that the Sheriff bought and sold evidence guns for profit. She expressed disapproval of the practice but said it was not illegal.

“She’s not only dumb but she’s corrupt,” Gayaldo said. “That’s why she graduated form the worst law school.”

He added that Patrick Piggott, the Dean of Humpreys Law College, who disagreed with Gayaldo’s interpretation of the law, is “wrong.”

To recap: the Sherriff is corrupt; the District Attorney is corrupt; the Grand Jury is full of it; the Dean of the law college doesn’t know the law.

“This county is so (bleep)ing corrupt,” Gayaldo said.

I asked Gayaldo — given numerous agencies investigated his allegations but found no criminal violations — if he might be wrong.

“I don’t give a (bleep),” Gayaldo said. “Everybody can say what’s right and wrong: I know what the truth is. I don’t need anybody to validate me. It doesn’t change what the truth is.”

Gayaldo said he’d had it with is attempts to bring county corruption to light. “I can’t change the world,” he said. “I’m done trying. Stockton can go (bleep) themselves.”

He later posted a sign on his Facebook page, “Stockton is a bowl of misery.”

And another sign calling the Grand Jury “human garbage.”


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The moment of truth for the tunnels

The tunnel "muck" dug up during the tunnels project would be enough to build 15 giant Egyptian pyramids.

After 10 years of an epic battle between science and special interests, and the politicians who serve special interests, California’s biggest water players will decide by September whether to pay for the Twin Tunnels project.

The project ignores science and would suck the lifeblood out of the Delta and its economy. Otherwise, it’s a great project.

“The timetables for a decision firmed up after Brown’s chief of staff, Nancy McFadden, recently told representatives of the water agencies that they need to decide soon whether they’re willing to pay for the tunnels,” reports the Sacramento Bee. “Brown leaves office next year.”

Crucially, the feds release biological opinions next week: more science to ignore, or to spur revision of the project, or to reveal its destructive, special-interest-driven obsolescence.

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Ashley Drain’s made-up narrative

Ashley Drain

People say things, curious things.

Take this statement by convicted vote fraudster Ashley Drain, who wants a retrial.

Drain was responding to a prosecutor who said she lied on the stand.

“People make up their own narratives. It doesn’t mean it’s accurate. And everyone is entitled to make up his own narratives. People say and do what works for them and their narrative.”


Passing over the grammar, pretty bad for a woman who sat on a school board, the statement is a revealing look at Drain’s belief that there is no objective, verifiable truth. Only different “narratives.” And people are “entitled” to these narratives. They get to have their own truths irrespective of the facts or evidence. That’s their right.

Drain’s narrative – that she’s innocent — suffered a setback at her trial. The truth that emerged, if I may use that outmoded word, appears to be that Drain conspired to perpetrate voter fraud by falsifying her address and running for a school board seat for which she was not legally, to use her word, entitled.

It further appears, to take Drain’s statement at face value, that Drain’s moral compass has parts from a cuckoo clock. She appears to be participating in a DIY documentary, presumably about her oppression. And she said she may wear a t-shirt to her old school board’s meeting bearing the worlds “Righteous Felon.” The “Righteous” being her narrative, the “Felon” being the fact.


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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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