On the mayor’s laptop confiscation

The story here.


What you may be experiencing is the difficulty of being fair to Mayor Anthony Silva. His predilection for missteps can prejudice one. But fairness means innocent until proven guilty.

Customs randomly confiscates about 20 laptops a day. The practice is so pervasive that some business travelers wipe their laptops and leave their data on the cloud.

The Washington Post did a story on these confiscations.

“Customs sometimes singles out passengers for extensive questioning and searches based on “information from various systems and specific techniques for selecting passengers,” including the Interagency Border Inspection System, according to a statement on the CBP Web site. CBP officers may, unfortunately, inconvenience law-abiding citizens in order to detect those involved in illicit activities,” the statement said.”

But of course a guy who can’t take a limo ride without getting embrangled in a fiasco makes one wonder: why, of all the mayors on that plane, was he picked out?

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Camanche casino comes closer to reality

One of the more alarming development prospects over the past decade has been a proposed Indian casino just over the county line in Amador. Alarming because, whatever you may think of casinos, they are a huge money suck. They impoverish people, and they open a Pandora’s box of social problems in their communities.

Unfortunately, a judge just removed the last obstacle stopping the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, a tiny tribe, and a New York tycoon, from building a 55,000-square-foot casino by Lake Camanche.

This casino is aimed at Stockton.

Now, you might think I’m being moralistic. I am not. I have no religious scruples against gambling, drinking or watching bad lounge acts. My opposition is based on irrefutable scientific research showing the hurt casinos put on cities. And Stockton is the closest big city.

I mean, come on. You think you can handle gambling, and maybe you can. But this is the city where the so-called ruling elite were so financially illiterate they bankrupted the city. Can you imagine how lesser educated citizens will fare?

I’m reproducing a column I wrote in 2005. Forewarned is forearmed.

The Record  Wednesday, October 26, 2005  B1
Section: Local / Column

Casino’s hose aimed at Stockton

By Michael Fitzgerald

There‘s a cloud hanging over San Joaquin County: the proposed Flying Cloud Gaming and Entertainment Complex.

The Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, a tiny tribe, and a New York tycoon propose to build a 55,000-square-foot casino just across the county line in Amador.

But make no mistake: The hose on this money vacuum is pointed squarely at Stockton.

Being roughly 35 miles away, Stockton is the only large city in the casino‘s “primary feeder market.” Fifty-four percent of its bucks are expected to come from here.

From the worldly, nonmoralistic, Playboy-philosophy kind of viewpoint, the first reaction to the news of a $200 million casino offering 2,000 slot machines, 80 gambling tables, restaurants, lounges and shows less than an hour‘s drive away may be: Goodie, a new adult playground.

But the damage casinos wreak far outweighs whatever tingle they send up your spine.

The casino will further clog county roads, further dirty county air, further worsen crime and drive a lot of people into the poorhouse.

Thank Rhonda Morningstar Pope. Great-granddaughter of a former leader, Pope entered the picture five years ago in a blaze of Indian righteousness.

The Sacramento bookkeeper sued to replace the tribal government. She was outraged over plans to desecrate sacred tribal lands, 67.5 acres on Coal Mine Road, with a — gasp — casino.

According to the Sacramento Bee, before the Bureau of Indian Affairs even ousted her rivals, Pope inked a casino deal with Tom Wilmot Sr., a New York developer of 20 regional malls.

Too bad for the area east of Camanche Reservoir. With its small roads and quiet, back-country character, it is miserably suited to host a 17-acre casino complex.

The casino will attract up to 11,604 new road trips on certain days, according to the tribal environmental-impact report.

Traffic will worsen on Eight Mile Road, Liberty Road, Peltier Road — the east-west roads leading to Highway 88, according to San Joaquin County‘s Public Works Department.

So there is no way to avoid worse air pollution, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District says, in a region already wheezing with some of the nation‘s worst air.

It gets worse. According to John Warren Kindt, a University of Illinois professor and a national authority on gambling, 5 percent of gamblers become addicts. These self-fleecing sheep blow $15,000 to $42,000 a year and rack up $72,000 to $83,000 in debt.

As their bankruptcies rise, so do larceny, burglary, armed robbery, pimping, prostitution, drug sales and fencing your stolen stereo, according to Kindt.

Casinos boast they bring “economic development.” All they really bring are a few hundred low-paying jobs. They create no product, suck millions from local economies and cause costly economic and social problems.

Unfortunately, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a compact with the Me-Wuks OK‘ing the casino. The only thing holding it up is Amador County‘s government.

Amador filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleging the secretary of the interior wrongfully signed off on the compact. Amador contends the rancheria fits none of the categories of Indian land on which gambling is allowed. A judge is considering.

Amador residents get to vote yea or nay on the casino Nov. 8. But the vote is not binding.

This is a travesty. Gambling never should have been legalized outside Las Vegas. The California State Lottery made it seem respectable. It‘s a scourge.

Casinos need to expand to compete with each other. Ultimately they get so big — the money gets so big — it corrupts governments, Kindt reports.

Plus, the original intent of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act — self-support and empowerment for Indians — has been twisted. Who gets rich often are non-Indian investors and their chosen shills. Most tribes remain mired in poverty.

Weigh all that against your freedom to act like the Rat Pack for a night. What a sucker bet.

Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at 209 546-8270 or michaelf@recordnet.com

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Debunking the Westlands’ defense

Westlands President Don Peracchi defended the sweetheart deal Uncle Sam proposes to give the powerful water district (which I wrote about here).

And LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik tears that defense apart. 

The deal wasn’t done in secret, Peracchi says. Oh, really? At last one major provision came as a complete surprise to Congress and environmental orgainizations: the giveaway of hundred of millions of dolars of taxpayer-funded canals, pumps and other public infrastrucure to the Westlands.

Peracchi says, “Westlands is not immunized from cutbacks; the government may still impose environmental or drought restrictions as before.”

That is the sort of half-truth no honest person could bring themselves to utter.

Hiltzik: “”Nothing prevents the government from cutting back Westlands’ water supply when the water isn’t there, because of drought or other restrictions. The question is what will happen when there is water, but government planners decide there are better uses for it than watering the almond or pistachio trees of Westlands farmers.

“In that event, the planners have to stand down; under the deal’s terms, they can’t divert water from Westlands to some other, potentially more beneficial, use. That’s a hugely valuable benefit for Westlands and yes, an important “immunization.” And it’s almost never granted. For Westlands, it’s permanent,  lasting from now to the end of recorded time.”

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Wilson: critics “self-serving and disingenuous”

Stockton City Manager Kurt Wilson

Watchdogs, or gadflies, are saying the city of Stockton is breaking its Measure A promise (to use higher tax to hire more police and fund various programs). They say:

1. The city has failed to hire police fast enough.
2. It hasn’t staffed the Office of Violence Prevention fast enough. The city hired manager Jessica Glynn and fired her four months later with no explanation. She is suing.

City Manager Kurt Wilson spoke to the issue of the Office of Violence Prevention.

Here is his statement:

“There has been a lot of focus by a handful of vocal citizens criticizing the vacancy of the OVP manager position.  In some cases they have strongly advocated for an expedited hiring from the existing applicant pool and criticized some of the criteria established for the position.

“In some cases, this criticism is self-serving and disingenuous because it is coming from people who have applied for the position themselves.  For them to work toward a selection from a pool in which they are an applicant, and to steer qualifications to match their own is not in the best interest of the City.  Because they know I am not likely to divulge their names, it allows them a degree of anonymity as they launch their plan.

As an organization with nearly 1,400 full-time employees, we always have some level of staff vacancies throughout the organization.  Because we have some level of depth in most positions, the organization is not paralyzed by the absence of a single person and the work of the office or department continues.

“Like any city, we have had individual positions vacant for extended periods yet been able to make some internal adjustments while other people take on additional workloads.  In the case of OVP, the office has continued its core mission and is producing as much or more than it had when the manager position was filled.

More importantly, the assertion that a vacancy in the manager position somehow runs contrary to the promises of Measure A is equally flawed.  The title, position, and duties of the OVP manager as well as the current structure listing the number of youth outreach workers was all developed months after the passage of Measure A.  Since they did not even exist prior to the election, it is not logical that voters had a reliance on those positions.

“Instead, it is reasonable to assume that voters had a reliance on the work of the office, which was outlined in general terms at that time.  The work of the office has consistently met those general terms and works diligently to do even more.  All commitments have been met and will continue to be met.

“As for the uniqueness of the position, we are one of only a handful of organizations in the entire country who have taken this aggressive approach to long-term strategies of data driven intervention and prevention.  That does, in fact, make the position rather unique. Outreach Workers or Peacekeepers are also rare, but other cities do have them.  The more common model, Oakland as an example, is for those workers to be contracted rather than being city employees.  This happens for a variety of reasons.

“In our specific case, there are benefits to having them be city employees, but that also increases the difficulty level of bringing them on board.  Finding qualified applicants who have the familiarity and credibility to perform the duties at the street level, yet also have the professional background and personal strengths to be a public employee, is a difficult task.  The work they do is immeasurable, and they have a hidden impact on future opportunities for their clients and concurrent benefits for the community as a whole.”

Wilson scores points with his opener about the self-serving applicants. But not all people wanting the city to staff up are applicants. I’m not an applicant, and I’d like to see the process move faster.

But I accept Wilson’s contention that the manager’s position is unique and therefore hard to fill.

More skepticism is deserved towards Wilson’s carefully worded assertion that the OVP “has continued its core mission.” Yes, but only four of the eight budgeted gang-outreach worker positions have been filled. Sure, the four staffers can take on more work. But four cannot do the work of eight. If they can, then half the employees in City Hall should be laid off, and our taxes should be lowered. What is more likely is that the OVP is doing gang intervention at a reduced level. That intervention is desperately needed.

Wilson didn’t elaborate on the decision to make gang-outreach workers city employees. We can’t weigh whatever benefits are gained against the slower rollout. An explanation from him on that point would be helpful.



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Another viral video

Another unsettling video of a “forceful arrest” — replete with questions about better police procedures — another lame excuse by a citizen for not complying with police.

Click on the image to see the video.

“He kept saying, ‘What’s your name? What’s your name?’ ” Danielle Harris, the woman on the ground, says in this story. “I said I don’t have to identify myself because I didn’t do anything wrong.”

I’m researching the law on this point. But her line of thinking is solipsistic. If citizens can decide the authority of police doesn’t apply to them then police lose the power to maintain law and order. Imagine how that would play out around people who take no responsibility for their behavior.

Besides, she may well have done something wrong; police were responding to a complaint about her loud music. On the other hand, she says she turned it down. Oftentimes the problem with these videos is not that they show the truth, but that they show part of it and leave part out. Faced with the holes in the facts, viewers fall back on their ideological views. That’s polarizing.

The question hovering over incidents such as this one is whether certain communities in Stockton have delegitimized the police, or whether the police have delegitimized themselves by being unfair. We have to keep an open mind about that one.

And another issue. Police have long kept order by using force. That’s why they call it “law enforcement.” The middle class has looked away. Now phone video cameras and police body cams are going to confront the public with the reality that law and order is sometimes kept through muscle.

Some cops use too much muscle. Then again, some people are just scofflaws. Situations involving either tend to escalate.

We have crossed the threshold of a new era of technology in which these videos will stir things up again and again. Ultimately, that could be a good thing. I can’t imagine a Stockton police officer being complacent about excessive force after the latest videos went viral. But what a wrenching community debate.


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The moon from Weber Point

—Courtesy Bill Ries-Knight

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The capital of chutzpah

I believe I have identified the capital of chutzpah in California: Kern County.

There, a cheeky group called Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, a group of Kern County landowners, sued the city of Stockton for polluting the Delta.

Of course, Stockton does pollute the Delta. All Delta cities do. But nothing Stockton does has a scintilla of the impact of Kern County landowners — farmers — who have drained the Delta to the point of collapse.

Their suit strongly suggests that Kern County farmers believe their own baloney when they say their excessive water exports are not what ails the Delta; that darned minnow is; and other “stressors” such as Stockton.

And Congress created the drought. In other words, the ideological filters of south-Valley conservatives are so blinkering that they live on another planet where they’re not responsible for anything.

“Coalition for a Sustainable Delta” — give me a break.

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New law will help downtown’s comeback

Stockton — with its blighted downtown so badly in need of redevelopment — lost one of its best tools in 2012 when Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies (RDAs) statewide.

But now Brown has signed AB2 (by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville), reviving RDAs in economically depressed areas.

Stockton is back in business. It can now legally set up an authority that can fund infrastructure upgrades, build low and moderate income housing, clean up toxics form the ground, do seismic retrofits, buy and transfer property, and issue bonds.

Most of those abilities are necessary for redevelopment: aggregation of land, cleaning it up, and improving the insfrastructure, for instance, levels the cost playing field for developers working downtown. Which, for instance, is to say it enables them to build homes that cost no more than homes in the greenfields.

Of course, the law permits a lesser RDA, with with fewer powers. The law doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1. And the city must go through a setup process.

But when the new authority is up and running, bond revenue could help along projects like Ten Space’s Open Window project to revive 15 downtown blocks, said Michah Runner, Stockton’s economic development director.

“It’s still relatively new,” said Runner. “We need to look at where the opportunities are and make sure we’re utilizing this for our greater redevelopment strategy.”


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Dissent of the Day

Stuart Henderson writes:

“I was disappointed by the lack of understanding and nuance you showed in your recent article about the viral video showing police officers taking a 16 year old boy into custody.

“You write at the end of your article:  “Still, Mayfield probably could have stopped the conflict at any time. Kid, next time do what the cop says. Just give it a try.”

“In your Insight interview (this morning–MF), after prompting by Beth Ruyak, you admit that people look at the world through different prisms of culture, race (we can also add age, social economic status, etc). And you somewhat acknowledge that your prism is shaped by your time as a beat writer for police. That certainly helped me understand why you described the whole incident through the eyes of a police officer.

“Your article contains very little reflection on what it might have been like for the “punk.” What it was like to have your legs pressed into your body making you squirm and having a police officer, who you probably don’t trust, telling you to stop moving and stop resisting as he continues pressing the baton into your shins. For a 16 year old there may also be tensions with authority figures or just defiance that comes with lack of maturity. You disparagingly call him “kid,” yet you expect him to be the adult in the situation–to stop the conflict.

“Here’s an idea and another ending to your article: “Still the officer probably could have de-escalated (or not started) the conflict at any time. Officer, next time think about ways to address the situation without violence. Just give it a try.”

An excellent, thoughtful letter, and a model for casting more light than heat on a controversial topic. I accept the criticism. I just disagree on one point: being a police beat reporter does not make one a mindless supporter of police. I take incidents on a  case-by-case basis. I called police on it when they mishandled the fatal bank heist; I stand with them when they deserve it. And all in all, it takes as much fortitude to stand with the police these days as against them.

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The new Ferguson? Not.

The “9 against one” viral video has now been reported in the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times. Its reach is impossible to overestimate. Possibly a Mongolian is clucking over the video in his yurt outside Ulan Bator.

Response to the column on it has been overwhelmingly supportive. But then in my line when people like what you do they call you or e-mail you. When they don’t like what you do, the write a  letter to the editor, post snarky comments in the comment boxes online, or fuss and fume on Facebook. So the full range of response has yet to play out.

This case is one of those multicultural house of mirrors. One can strive to grasp the truth. But equally one should listen to the truth as others perceive it. Those who insist on a certain interpretation and demonize those who disagree are actually part of the problem — the problem being things that divide us in our diverse city.

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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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