Bloggus interruptus

I will be on vacation from May 16-31. See you back here on Tuesday, May 31.

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A drop in business

Photo courtesy Robert Peterson

If 10 to 15 people had died at, say, a Stockton nightclub since 1985, authorities would have closed down that place long ago. Yet that many people have died at Lodi Parachute Center and nobody does a thing.

The parachute center is in the news yet again because one of its planes crash landed in a nearby vineyard. That none of the 17 passengers died or suffered major injury when the plane clipped a pickup and rolled in a vineyard landing seems astronomically improbable. The passengers were very, very lucky.

As far back as 2001, I made the case that the Lodi Parachute Center is far less safe the almost any drop zone in the United States. Death rate statistics prove it. Yet the Federal Aviation Administration remains a Republican’s dream: it never intervenes. Not even to safeguard the lives of the adrenaline junkies who trust Lodi Parachute Center with their lives.


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Carpool lane cheaters

The I-5 widening project has involved numerous "lane shifts."

So this is how those new carpool lanes on I-5 could work: people cheat like crazy.

The SF Chronicle reports, “On average, 24 percent of the drivers in carpool lanes during the morning commute are there without the required number of passengers, a study by regional transportation officials found. During the evening crush, 19 percent of the carpool lane occupants are thumbing their noses at the law — and the poor suckers stuck in the slow lanes.”

On the other hand, Bay Area cheating is so bad because the terrible traffic strikes some people as worse than risking a $380 ticket. It’s nothing like that here. So maybe drivers here will play it straight. Maybe.

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You messed with the wrong water districts

Water form the Mountain House development in Tracy is supplied with water from the Califonria Aqueduct via this Byron-Bethany Irrigation District canal.

Probably the lofty State Water Resources Control Board thought it had picked an easy mark when it singled out two obscure local irrigation districts for allegedly taking water illegally.

The state board menaced the Byron-Bethany and Westside water districts with a cease and desist order and, in Byron-Bethany’s case, a staggering seven-figure fine. The mighty board proclaimed the penalty a “test case” (read: making an example).

Well, the board made an example all right. Of how a mouse can roar.

The water district hired crack attorneys. Westside turned to the firm that wrangled a tolerable deal out of a roomful of hostile state attorneys hellbent on cramming three new prison facilities down Stockton’s throat.

By all accounts, the attorneys picked apart and disproved the state’s allegations. Suddenly the mighty state board decided hearing more from the feeble little water districts was not necessary. According to this op-ed piece, the state arbitrarily closed the hearing process before the lawyers could feast on the board’s errors. The board appears to have been laying low ever since.

Did I mention that the op-ed piece was co-authored by a bipartisan quartet of heavyweight representatives? Congressman Jeff Denham R-Turlock, state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani D-Stockton, Assemblyman Adam Gray and San Joaquin Supervisor Bob Elliott called the state board’s action “a misguided, ill-informed attempt to flex its regulatory muscle” and demanded the board dismiss its action.

So this may indeed be a test case: of how an ill-informed state bureaucracy can be routed and forced into their Sacramento bomb shelter by little guys defending their rights.


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Real waterfront memories


The U.S.S. Engage minesweeper rolls off the skids at Colberg's Boat Works of Stockton on June 18, 1953.

Colberg’s long-vacant shipyard has been in the news both because of some historic photos I dug up and discussions of waterfront revival.

Which brings a letter from Wendell V. Eggleston, 91. A letter so authentic you can smell the grease on the machinery of Stockton’s working waterfront.

“I got a call from the office manager of Colberg Boat Works some seven or eight years ago, he was the last employee, if I would come over to the boat works and see what would be necessary to get the old heavy equipment started and moved to an area on the 16 acres so they would not be in the way.

“The last day the Colberg Boat Works was in business was in 1990. And the employees were let go. They got off the heavy equipment and left them where they were working all in the wrong place and in the way of any clean-up of the yard.

“The reason I was called is Joe … knew I had helped people with their old vehicles in getting them running.

“I got the largest crane that was in the way running, it was powered by a V/12 Detroit Diesel, but could not get the crane to move because the brakes were locked. I asked Joe where the air compressor was as it was missing. He said the had tried to get it repaired but no one had the parts. So I said we could rent a regular 105# portable compressor and I hooked it up to the air system to releases the brakes, but it still would not move.

“I asked Joe if he knew one of the old employees that was alive that knew something about operating the crane, he said he would try. He did and everybody came the next Saturday, but nobody could get it to move so that was a lost cause on that one and (I) went to other cranes and whatnot, getting them running and and moved.

“The big crane would have to be taken apart to get it out of the way.

“Then Joe died and I did not wish to go any further without him. So I did my little part to get the yard cleaned up. It was one of the roughest jobs I ever spent me time on.”

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B.S. with great production values

The latest state video flogging the Delta tunnels is consummately professional — false, but hey, love those aerials. Watch it. Then scroll down to see low-tech but truthful comments from Restore the Delta.

Now — because we couldn’t get Rotten Tomatoes to review it — Delta expert Barbara Barrigan Parilla.

“1) Stating that replacing an unnatural pumping system with unnatural 35-mile long tunnels to move water from the Bay-Delta estuary, which by definition is a place where the inland freshwater rivers and sloughs gradually transition to a saltier bay, is not magically a more natural water export system. You can’t fix an unnatural engineering project by creating an even more unnatural solution.  Rivers being forced into pipes underground is not a natural solution.

“2) River run to oceans on the West Coast of the Americas.  A state sponsored agency referring to Bay-Delta outflows, which are essential for the ecological health of the San Francisco Bay and Delta, as a waste is a talking point straight out of the San Joaquin Valley Republican Congressional playbook.  It sounds no different than Ted Cruz’s comments about Delta water management from his campaign stop last week.

“Removing fresh water from the Delta from a point further north in the Delta will increase salinity in the Delta.  It will not abate the salinity problem from over pumping.  This is basically hydrology. #BecauseScienceMatters.

“The makers of the California WaterFix video have clearly never taken a California geography class at their local community college.  They have deliberately turned science on its head and misused natural history to create a message that denigrates the Delta and the needs of Delta communities.  The State led proponents of the Delta tunnels have sunk to a new low in the water wars.”

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What the waterfront could be

Here’s an artist’s rendering of Southpointe. Grupe Commercial Co. spent a half million dollars in its run-up to building this housing development on Stockton’s waterfront.

Two things stopped the project. First was the foreclosure crisis.

There didn’t have to be a second reason, but there was. Grupe also wanted control of the north bank, to make the waterfront neighborhood complete and safe. But Grupe couldn’t come to terms with the property owners. A Mr. Swanson, of Sacramento’s Swanson’s Cleaners family, married to a Colberg heir, reportedly led negotiations. According to Grupe execs, Swanson thought the land was far more valuable than it is.

Swanson and the Colbergs may have their own opinion about that. But Swanson did not return calls.

The Southpoint site map.

“And that was pre-recession,” added Kevin Huber, who now runs Grupe Commercial Co. “Had somebody gone in at the value they thought that land was worth the adjustment the recession gave it would have been staggering to the owner.”

But you see how cool it could be. And how lucky Stockton is to have waterfront. If only it can overcome the obstacles to its development.

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Berdoo stays in the ‘roach motel’

The city of San Bernardino will not cut pensions in bankruptcy, Calpensions reports.

Pensions are Berdoo’s biggest debt, and wouldn’t you want to cut your biggest debt in bankruptcy? But Berdoo, like Stockton, concluded it just can’t.

“The departure of City employees upon rejection of the CalPERS Contract could be massive and sudden,” said the San Bernardino disclosure, which would “seriously jeopardize” public safety and other essential services.

Hauntingly familiar.

The judge in Stockton’s case ruled pensions can legally be cut; but Berdoo realized there is no practical alternative “no ready, feasible, and cost-effective alternative” to CalPERS.

The question then is: why not? Why in a country that prides itself on competition in the marketplace is CalPERS a ‘roach motel,’ which cities can check into but not check out? Wouldn’t it it be in the interest of every California municipality if there were a better-managed pension management system?

Of course it would be. If cities had a pension alternative, one without a legacy of mismanagement and constantly rising bills, government services would improve to millions of Californians.

You would think an ethical governor and legislature might feel a moral obligation to create such an alternative system. Nope. Instead CalPERS and California have achieved the unthinkable: it has changed municipal bankruptcy to a halfway measure that does not give cities a fresh start.

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Ned Ruhstaller, 1954-2016


Ned Ruhstaller with a batch of estate sale tchotchkes

Ned Ruhstaller, a nurse, estate salesman and member of a well-known Stockton family, has died. He was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Ned was a great guy. He was cut from the same cloth as his brother Tod, head of The Haggin Museum, and his brother Larry, the former San Joaquin County Supervisor (and perhaps his other brother, Donald, though we haven’t met).

To give you a sense of Ned, I’m reprinting the “10 Questions with Ned Rustaller” I did in 2012. He used the family’s trademark combination of endearing sincerity and laugh-out-loud humor to handle the quirky questions. The one about beer is especially funny. And the next-to-last question shows what a heart he had for Stockton.


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A “bike mayor” to get things rolling

Bike vs. pickup, 2014

The city of Amsterdam is appointing a “Bike Mayor” to make the city bike-friendlier.

The Cyclist-in-Chief will “promote and protect cycling in the city, acting as a go-between connecting city hall, cyclists, community groups, and anyone who might be affected by new measures designed to improve citizens’ cycling experience,” reports CityLab.

Creation of the position “suggests the birth of an interesting new category of city-fixer: a quasi-official who both lobbies for a particular group and manages this group’s relations with the city and public.”

Or another layer of bureaucracy. But the pro-bike group CycleSpace supports it.

Stockton is a poor (scratch “poor,” replace with “dangerous”) place to bike. Natural barriers such as sloughs block roads. Too few bridges allow crossings. Bike lanes are few, and many are striped on ultra-busy streets such as Pershing Avenue that don’t feel safe or pleasant to bike — the planners that created those lanes probably never bikes them because s/he doesn’t want to be so close to 2,000-pound boxes of hurtling metal.

Here and there you can bike into tree-lined neighborhoods and the going is good. But then you’re squeezed by a choke pit into heavy traffic again. And the roads are rough. The one slam-dunk path along the Calaveras River levee dips through bridges inhabited by homeless people.

Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants of Walnut Creek is expected to finish developing Stockton’s new plan by the fall of 2016.


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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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