Valley cities are big, should think accordingly


Joe Mathews rethinks the Valley:

“… the Valley still thinks of itself as agricultural. That’s understandable, given the region’s rural history and the outsized influence agriculture retains over land use and politics. But that influence obscures the 21st-century reality – most people in the Central Valley live in cities, the true economic engines of the region.”

He also shares this insight:

“The city’s leadership class, heavy in real estate and government types, has a weakness for shiny projects that are supposed to attract outside visitors.”

Mathews means Sacramento. But he could be talking about Stockton. His point is that Valley cities should think like cities and not annexes to the Ag region or exurbs of Coastal cities.

Worth a read here.

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$100 billion, and not a penny for Stockton

Do you have a problem with us, governor?

You would think if California is to spend over $100 billion on infrastructure projects, at least a bit would find its way to Stockton.

Not a crumb.

As you can see from this letter from the Governor’s Office —  CA_Infrastructure_Letter_and_Projects_2.7.17  – that money will fund major infrastructure projects up and down the state. But theoutlays skip Stockton entirely.

The snub follows the January decision by Gov. Jerry Brown issue an emergency proclamation authorizing state relief funds for 50 of California’s 58 counties for flood damage. But not San Joaquin. Even though the damage threshold is $2.47 million and the county has suffered perhaps $16 million in damages.

Of course, the state just finished a major infrastructure project here, the I-5 widening project. And state funds have helped improve Hwy. 99 in recent years. But this latest exclusion will be grist for those who suspect Brown simply dislikes this region because it dealt him his biggest defeat on the first Peripheral Canal fight. And implacably opposes his Twin Tunnels project.

Ah yes, the Twin Tunnels: they are, after all, major infrastructure for San Joaquin, Brown might say.

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Speaking of water towers …

Which we were in this column, here’s what Tulare County did with its water tower, instead of demolishing it.

I like the straw.

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“The fiction of a drought”

Waters rise -- again -- over the waterfront promenade on Tuesday. Photo courtesy Timm Quinn.

“Rather than cling to emergency powers in order to reinforce the fiction of a drought, the state should work with local water agencies to improve resiliency to future droughts, such as developing more water supplies, constructing water recycling systems and groundwater banking. Oh, and provide relief to a weary public and businesses that have responded heroically to the past drought emergency.”

—Susan Rohan op-ed in the Sacramento Bee.

Thank you. I felt a bit lonley when first I said the state was ginning up the drought to advance its agenda. If you agreed, you are charter members of a club now gaining establishment members in droves.

The state has taken the position that it’s not only a drought but an emergency so far into a super-rainy winter that San Joaquin County had to add a declaration of flood emergency to the drought emergency! Surely that sets the bar for absurd governmental doublethink.

The state appears to cling to what Rohan calls “the fiction of drought” for two reasons. Officials want to keep people in conservation mode and store every drop of water possible. That may be good water policy, but lying about the weather is unnecessary to achieve it.

The other reason is to advance the twin tunnels. That is neither good water policy nor good governance. It’s what the Metropolitan Water district did for special interests in a classic of water skulduggery immortalized in the movie “Chinatown.” Only the Delta, not Owens Valley, is the new sacrificial lamb.

The state has gulled some into accepting that it’s a drought as long as every reservoir as well as the aquifer itself has any room left. That’s not a drought. It’s state-sponsored fearmongering. As far as the twin tunnels are concerned, it is a Big Lie to conceal the truth: the state has shed its democratic constraints again and gone over to the dark side of satisfying special interests, even if it kills the Delta and ruins this region’s economy.

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Letters on the deadly drop zone

Sheriff's deputies talk with Bill Dause on Aug. 6, 2016 after two skydivers plummeted to their deaths. One was 18 and jumping for the first time.

Whenever I write about Skydive Lodi Paracute Center, I get a raft of angry replies from skydivers. They denounce me as unprofessional and slanderous (they mean libelous, but I get the point). They rarely address or rebut any facts.

You can see the latest fullisade in the comment boxes below the column.

The comment by Kyle Tan takes the cake.

“… the author uses the colloquial moniker “Uncle Sam” when referring to the FAA several times throughout his slander. The conscious choice to use this informal name in a piece of professional writing, especially when referencing a specific organization within the federal government and not the government as a whole is an obvious and elementary use of rhetoric aimed at eliciting the feelings of frustration with the government held by some of the publication’s readers in hopes of turning them against the Lodi Parachute Center.”

Really? That’s my strategy, huh? I use “Uncle Sam” — I shouldn’t have to explain this — as an easily readable substitute for some dry, longer phrase such as “Federal Aviation Administration officials.”

It’s responses such as this that makes me wonder if I’m dealing with a bunch of thrill seekers whose adrenalin has boiled their cerebral cortexes to bacon bits.

But I also receive insightful letters. Here are a few.

Derek Hudson writes:

“I have been working in the skydiving industry for nearly a decade and a dozen different drop zone operators all over the US and I have to say Lodi has some of the best maintained aircraft and skydiving gear I have seen.

“The FAA isn’t very good at regulating things they don’t know well. Legally you’re required to maintain all multi engine turbine aircraft in accordance with an FAA approved company maintenance program or the factory maintenance program.

“When companies like Beechcraft designed their aircraft they anticipated corporate travelers taking off, flying for three hours and landing. Their maintenance program is designed to take care of the engines starting and shutting down once, the landing gear swing up and down once, the aircraft taking off and landing once, in three hours of flight time.

“That same aircraft used for skydiving will do approximately 12 times the landings in the same amount of flight time. Jump planes need more maintenance than the factory or the FAA understands.

“Places like Lodi know what matters when it comes to keeping people safe in skydiving. All the skydiving gear is bought new and rotated out as to never have aging equipment. the aircraft maintenance was the best I’ve seen. Per amount of jumps being made it has a safety record on par with most drop zones. All activities in life have their risk. The FAA’s safety rating with general aviation isn’t stellar and having them regulate could cause some problems as they know little of the activity.”

“To the extent Hudson is right, one wonders why Dause has not explained all this. Instead he has been hostile and evasive to the press from Day 1. He would not tell me, for instance, his age, his jump rate, and other basic and non-controversial facts. Half the time he slams the phone down on reporters. When you are agrumentative and unresponsive in court, they declare you a hostile witness and bear down on you. It is the same with the press.

Where I split with Hudson is where he goes from a good understanding of planes to saying the FAA should not regulate drop zones. If it should not, who should?

“Mr. Fitzgerald,

“Your article about Bill Dause and the Parachute center is absolutely RIGHT ON Target!

“You do not need to be discouraged by the “disciples of Lodi”. Bill Dause is the bane of our sport and the industry.

“And you only know a small portion of what he is and has been responsible for over the last 40 years. Airplane crashes due to lack of maintenance and or training, both in the US and Canada. And countless fatalities.

“The Lodi Parachute Center is a black hole, where some people get sucked in a can’t seem to find their way out. Some are good people whom seem to get lost. A number of us in the industry have been complaining for years, decades about Dause and his operation. It falls mostly on deaf ears.

“While I am all for exposing Bill Dause and the Parachute center for what it is, I fear legislation will have a detrimental effect on the Sport and industry. Most DZ’s in this country operate safely and responsibly. The real people that are complicit are the FAA and people that know better who choose to wear blinders and continue to support Dause. The FAA have the power to shut him down completely, if they would just do their job.

Ray Ferrell

Former DZO.

FAA DPRE, USPA S&TA, Tandem I & Course director, AFF I
Commercial Pilot & Check Airman.

John Kindseth writes:

“Has anyone from the airplane company or the FAA confirmed the pilot’s claim of mechanical failure ? I was talking with my son when the information came out about the crash and he was quite skeptical. He is a 14 year pilot for the Air Force [as well as now a part-time pilot for Southwest] and has flown hundreds of missions in STOL recovery and extraction. His log book shows around 2 thousand hours.

“Most of those planes used the same or very similar engine turboprop as that center’s Caravan, which, new, is a 1.75 million dollar plane. He said those engines are virtually bulletproof–if they have fuel, they run. He said the main problem in situations like this drop center is that the pilot is under pressure to minimize the fuel carried to shorten the planes take-off and climb time hence you save money and flight time, and can re-cycle the jumpers faster and get in more paying jumps in a day. His belief [and the shop talk] is that the pilot cut that run too close and should have re-fueled, then ran out and had to ditch.

“We live on the north end of Lodi and have gone to Lodi airport a number of times either to let the grandkids watch the jumpers or to take a private flight. When the jump plane stops to pick up new passengers, it is a mad scramble for jumpers to get in and take off as fast as possible. Those are also the re-fueling stops where just enough fuel is taken on for another flight or two. [I do not know the policy or rules on that process, but it never involves filling up, since that is much too heavy as described above.]”

To the extent Dause’s supporters are right, one wonders why Dause has not explained to the press any of the points they raise. Instead he has been hostile and evasive from Day 1. He would not tell me, for instance, his age, his jump rate, and other basic and non-controversial facts. Half the time he slams the phone down on reporters.

When you are agrumentative and unresponsive in court, they declare you a hostile witness and bear down on you. It is the same with the press.

Anyway, when these incidents occur, I will continue to call Dause and offer him the chance to tell his side of the story. If all he wants to do is argue or hang up, then the full picture may never emerge in the press.

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The economic and social forces propelling Trump

A must-read NYT article on the backlash elevating Trump. Nothing new, exactly, but a great summation.

“In effect, postwar prosperity in America and in Western Europe allowed many voters to shift their political priorities from bread-and-butter issues to less materialistic concerns, “bringing greater emphasis on freedom of expression, environmental protection, gender equality, and tolerance of gays, handicapped people and foreigners.”

“Not everyone experienced this newfound economic security, however, and the number of those left behind has grown steadily. Those who do not experience the benefits of prosperity, Inglehart and Norris write, can see “others” — “an influx of foreigners,” for example, as the culprit causing their predicament:

“Insecurity encourages an authoritarian xenophobic reaction in which people close ranks behind strong leaders, with strong in-group solidarity, rejection of outsiders, and rigid conformity to group norms.”

I’m still processing Trump’s victory. So far my takeaway is that Dems must never take their eye off the ball of economic issues and support for the working person. If they become preoccpied by flying off to Davos to arrange globalism the failed economic policies at home create a backlash that moves the country to the right — and then further to the right — and then to a guy not merely corrosive to American political discourse but destructive to founding-father institutions.

I mean, calling out a “so-called judge” for halting a Muslim ban? Come on. That is called the rule of law.

San Joaquin Valley residents have had ample opportnity to see firsthand the neglect of top Dems such as Boxer, Pelosi and Feinstein. They rarely, if ever visit Stockton. They rarely speak up for the Delta region — Boxer’s last days were an exception —  or bring federal dollars to our region. One suspects they have lived at the top for so long they have nothing in common with working people. And now they are shocked and dismayed that those people have rejected them.

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Pension debt: $29,000 per household

Looking like Mr. Prudent: Gov. Jerry Brown has failed to rein in crushing pension debt.

“It’s actually much worse than that,” writes Dan Borenstein.

His lede is, “Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt at pension reform has failed.”

And it has. One of the weird aspects of Brown’s image, though, is that people see him as a fiscal moderate. On the annual state budget he is, at least compared to the far-left spendthrifts in the capitol.

But Brown and the public employees for whom he carries water have deeply compromised this state and its future.

“The shortfall for California’s three statewide retirement systems has increased about 36 percent. Add in local pension systems and the total debt has reached at least $374 billion. That works out to about $29,000 per household,” Borenstein writes.

And that’s if you believe the rosy investment return projections labor-friendly pension management people use to conceal the debt. I don’t, and you shouldn’t. So the debt is way bigger — up to a trillion dollars.

Brown has fooled the public to keep the gravy train going for public employees. The charade will close libraries, require cuts to police and fire, and hobble, well, everything goverments do. Kudos to Borenstein for calling Brown out.


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Take a smart growth survey

Traditional suburbs

Campaign for Common Ground, Stockton’s smart growth group, has created a public survey available online that they hope will inform Stockton city staff and electeds on curbing outward growth.

The group believes that Stockton’s sprawl has caused neglect of existing neighborhoods, which makes the city’s social problems worse. It further believes sprawl has worsened the city’s environmental problems. But its members doubt city planners are asking the right questions of citizens who participate in the General Plan workshops.

Here’s CCG’s revamped website, to give you a better idea of what they stand for.

Here’s the survey. I encourage you to take it.

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Garcia to planners: Don’t settle

David Garcia

Terrific essay by David Garcia in Stockton City Limits on a proposed downtown drive-thru bank.

The project itself is not as important as a couple themes that Garcia sounds. Like how some corporate applicants act as if they’re doing the city a favor with any poor design they propose.

“In this case, the applicant decided they didn’t need to adhere to the city’s guidelines or the ARC’s (Architectural Review Committee’s) recommendations. Instead, they tried to ram through their project “as is” over the objections of the staff, and in the past this might have worked. As a city, we’ve been trained to simply accept what is given to us. …

“I do not believe Stockton should ever settle. For too long, we’ve been told that we should just be happy that people are building anything here, and we should be content that we’re getting some new jobs and commerce. I reject these notions …”

Garcia articulates why the design is incompatible with downtown — it breaks the continuous fabric of the street wall conducive to vibrant pedestrianism — but the savvy urbanism is, to my mind, secondary in this case to his insights about how the city has long failed to stand up for such important urban design principles. Principles essential to a successful downtown.

The second theme is that a more engaged citizenry may be stiffening the resolve of city planners’ to insist on good design. When the Planning Commission okayed a dubious drive-thru coffee place on the Miracle Mile, citizens objected.

“According to city staff I’ve spoken to, the Dutch Bros Coffee outcry has created a “heightened awareness” within the Planning Department (and by extension the ARC) of the community’s sensitivity to design issues. This is great news, it means that community voices are being heard and considered when making planning decisions, whereas in the past this may not have been the case.”

Of course, the design rejected by the Planning Commission goes on appeal to the Council, which can reverse the decision. Still, I sense a smarter urbanism than in years past, which gives hope for better outcomes.

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Flying eight feet off the ground

Below is an updated version of a chart often shown on this blog: the city’s fiscal future. But this one, from a recent city staff report, is more worrisome.

Fiscal gurus, I should perhaps explain, had to string the city’s budget out this far because that’s how far out the city will be paying off its debts. So it has to have an idea of its revenues too.

In earlier projections, the General Fund, bolstered by prudent reserves, never droppped below the 5% line. Thanks to the additional costs of two staffers in the mayor’s office, the city now dips below 5% …

… and drops as low as 3% or so. That is an exceedingly thin wall between Stockton and insolvency.

In fact, it is too risky — if city staff and the Council do nothing to fix it.

So perhaps the addition of mayoral staff should be seen as the first step in a two-step process: compromising city reserves to gain policy capacity in the mayor’s office; cutting elsewhere (or factoring in new revenues) to restore the 5% margin and safeguard the city of Stockton’s fiscal future.

Of course, the state pension management system, CalPERS, may monkey-wrench the city’s long-range budget anyway by upping the bill for public employee pensions beyond all expectations. But that’s another issue.

While we’re at it, here’s an opinion on the mayoral hires from Dave Renison, head of the San Joaquin Taxpayer’s Association:

“On this issue, we have no option but to fund 2 additional positions.  The good news is that they were established by citywide voting and not just by a majority of Council.

“Our Long-Range Plan assumes ‘no new positions without new funding sources’.  But with the proper utilization of these new positions, there exists a potential for the additional revenues needed to pay for them; perhaps even more.

“The success of this resolution will be in establishing job descriptions; and hiring those who are qualified and with good character.  The City Manager has shown fiscal responsibility on other fronts and I think he will do the same here in establishing salaries.  Stockton is a big city.  We are at the crossroad of whether or not we will grow into the potential we have here.

“For this resolution to be successful, it’s imperative that we hire a PIO who will put a good face on Stockton, and that we hire a senior adviser to the Mayor who will counsel for the best interests of the City; independent of his whims when necessary – and free of politics.”


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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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