San Francisco: let the soul-searching begin

After jerking George Lucas around, and losing his museum, losing the America’s Cup races and losing 49er stadium, the light bulb has gone off in San Francisco.

“San Francisco is like the most beautiful girl in high school who finds herself without a date for the prom, spurned by the big men on campus who favor nice girls with great personalities,” the Chronicle wrote. 

It quotes a political consultant, “Sometimes in San Francisco we engage in rigorous analysis that leads to paralysis.” 

Yes, if by “rigorous analysis” is meant that every semi-socialist liberal leader piles so many spread-the-wealth requirements onto projects that many don’t pencil out. Or if the analysis is premised on the assumption that San Francisco is so wonderful that suitors simply cannot be deterred.

Well, San Francisco is wonderful. But the excessive liberal burdens placed on the builders and creators and the baying-for-perfection progressivism bogging down the municipal debate definitely need reconsideraton.

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Privatize the city workforce

That’s what Sandy Springs, Georgia did in 2005. The city kept a unionized police and fire — but outside of them, there are only eight other union employees. All the rest of the workforce is staffed by a private company.

They do the job the union workforce did with about half the number of employees. 

Instead of being arm-twisted into providing unsustainable pensions, the city offers a 401(k). The upshot: the city socks away at 25 percent surplus every year

It has spent $185 million on capital infrastructure: it “repaved “147 miles of streets, 874 storm water projects, and built 32 miles of new sidewalks. It has the money for improvements that keep things nice.

“The town is run very efficiently, with zero backlogs in permit requests. Call the city, and you’ll be surprised to find that you actually get a friendly person on the other line! The city has a 24/7 non-automated customer service hotline which fields about 6,000 calls per month. It also has a state of the art traffic system with cameras and a high tech command center,” says this story.

If there’s a downside, this story doesn’t mention it.

Given the way public employees helped burden Stockton into bankruptcy, and how unreconstructed they showed themselves to be during the city manager hiring process, it is tempting to advocate this model.

But remember, the city attempted to privatize the waterworks. That turned into a costly imbroglio that culminated in the return of MUD employees to the union fold.

And privatization may not be feasible in California for other reasons. Ventura County is trying right now. You’d think in the Land of the Free, citizens in a municipality could choose how best to compensate public employees. But no. It’s a court battle. In effect, CALPERS is like a lobster trap: cities wander in, they can’t get out and ultimately they get cooked.

And when a city even considers dropping out of the pension system, CalPERS makes things as rough as possible. Even federal bankruptcy law seems an inadeqate remedy. In Stockton’s case, should the city merely treating CalPERS like any other creditor and give it a haircut, CalPERS would immediately demand $1.6 billion in up-front pension costs.

Then there is the market consideration. If most or all cities in California offer generous pay and pensions, any city that privatized may have difficulty attracting the best employees.

Still, CalPERS’ behavior is the best argument for privatization. It has probably dissuaded other states from allowing public employees to unionize. They must look at the quagmire of eternally burdensome debt CalPERS brings in its train, and think it would be crazy to go there. And so it was.

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What farmers want from McCarthy

The Visalia Times-Delta has it:

“The short term answer to the water crisis, farmers say, is to loosen environmental regulations.

“… Allow water to flow from where it is to where it isn’t,” Everett said.

“In the long term, all farmers polled said that major investments must be made in the state’s water infrastructure. And McCarthy, they said, should do his best to secure federal dollars to help.”

All those south-Valley conservatives who hate big government want new House Majority Leader/Valley congressman Kevin McCarthy to grab water for them. High-speed rail – that’s eminent domain, big government at its worst! But to “loosen” state environmental regulations, or build reservoirs and canals — which also require eminent domain — go for it, Uncle Sam! Usurp away!

Actually, the party politics and ideology just fogs things up. This is about money seeking water. Money that will cross party lines and ignore the seperation of powers. Money seeking to excessively export this region’s water and put the hurt on the Delta despite laws, regulations and environmental sanity. How far McCarthy will go to abet the money remains to be seen.

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An app for pesky shopping carts

Council member Moses Zapien writes:

“I read your blog yesterday (see item, below) in response to a citizen complaint about shopping carts in the city (see below). I wanted to make you aware that the Legislation Committee met yesterday and one of the items on our agenda was to discuss the issue of abandoned/stolen shopping carts in our city.

“The discussion at the Committee meeting focused on a proposal to use technology—specifically, the use of an IPhone app called CartSnap that citizens can utilize to report lost or abandoned shopping carts.

“Once downloaded, the app allows citizens to “snap” a photo of the shopping cart and send the photo, the GPS coordinates of the photo, the store name (if entered), the date and time you took the photo, and your name and email (if signed up for a CartSnap account), and automatically connects the reporting of it to several private cart retrieval businesses in the city.

“Through this approach, there are no direct costs to the city, it frees up public resources to focus on other priorities, promotes citizen engagement, and finds a private sector solution to deal with an issue of public concern.”

It works for me — if there are indeed private cart retreival businesses in the city. I’m sure Mr. Martin (see item, below) would burn up the app, reporting errant shopping carts.

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Teacher: Stockton Unified is harrowing

Responding to today’s column, Maria Sanchez writes:

“I worked in SUSD for three years and left to work in another district.  When stats show students are from a lower socio-economic level, it is not just about money.  While working in an SUSD school, I had a drunk parent wander into my classroom to disrupt the class and reminisce about his school days with mean teachers.  

“That day I lost those students. They no longer saw my classroom as a safe haven to learn. I had no phone in my classroom. Three of us teachers shared a walkie-talkie and that day I did not have it.  This parent left when he felt like it.  

“On Halloween, I had to confiscate brass knuckles and an iron hook in my classroom.  Students who wore these were belligerent about surrendering them and saw nothing wrong with it.  

“Another time I saw a switchblade  in a student’s purse and I had to report it immediately.  Security later came sheepishly to ask me about it.  The student was not disciplined because there was no room for her in the office.  

“Another time a parent came to the office insisting on bringing her fat, over-sized pitbull to her meeting with the counselor.  I was in the office and I was scared and left quietly.  The parent was obviously a drug user who saw nothing wrong with her insistence on bringing her pitbull to school.  I later talked to the office about the fact there were students in the hall whose safety was compromised.  

“There were daily fights in the cafeteria and fights in nearby streets.  

“Students disappeared for days.  

“Another time a student came into my classroom with a heroin baggie; he wanted to show his friends.  

“Another time I was talking to the counselor when he spotted something in a hedge and pulled out a bloody, ten-inch carving knife.

“ Also, at lunch time, gang members in bright red would pick up our students and take them to shoplift at a nearby K-Mart.  Then the kids would come in with 18 sunglasses, showing off to classmates.  

“One time a student that was suspended sneaked back into class and played hide and seek with the counselor whom I called about this right away.  That killed that class period.

“This is what people do not realize about SUSD:  they are dealing with more at-risk students than Lincoln Unified or Elk Grove Unified or Tracy Unified.  At-risk and low socio-economic group means students come from homes that carry different teaching challenges.  I left the district when my blood pressure went up and my doctor told me to get out.  I took a $300 pay cut but my health went back to normal.  I went to another district in which I had students that worked on their assignments; several were top athletes and were heading for universities; one was a geek and had been accepted to Harvard one year ahead of graduation.  

“SUSD teachers have special challenges; they even have alternative schools for fourth graders!  

“People who have not taught in SUSD do not get it.  My college ed teacher used to say, “SUSD is a tough district to teach in.”

I freely concede that Stockton Unified is burdened by extraordinary urban pathologies. But the writer makes no mention of the Stockton Unified kids “that worked on their assignments; … (are) top athletes and (are) heading for universities.” They deserve equal time from teachers.

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Just tryin’ to oblige, man

Don’t know if you noticed anything funny in the photo accompanying today’s story about the grow house bust

 

City officials adopted the motto “Celebrate!” but they bust people trying to cater the party. Is that working at cross-purposes, or what?

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“City of Shopping Carts”?

Reader Gary Martin writes:

“Is it just my imagination, or has Stockton become the “City of Shopping Carts”?  It seems I must only drive minutes before seeing an abandoned shopping cart.  Neighborhoods, city streets, freeway onramps, they are everywhere. 

“This past year I began calling stores to request they retrieve their respective carts from our neighborhood.  I feel badly for the store owners, and I regret the countless thieves who abscond with these.  But when I call the stores, most of them don’t seem too excited about getting them back.  Most require multiple calls before apparent action is taken. 

“We have had a Target shopping cart proudly welcoming all guests to the Lincoln Village West neighborhood for two weeks now.  I have called and spoken to a Target manager five of the last eight days, begging them to come reclaim it.  The ardent promises continue to go unfulfilled. 

“It is amazing that we see shopping carts come into our neighborhood from the complete opposite corners of the county.  It is hard to imagine their journeys.  If every store had possession of their every shopping cart, would there be any room left for merchandise?  But seriously, there must be something we could do to diminish this problem that uglifies our community.”

To which I reply:

What is going on is straightforward: Stockton is bankrupt. There is a 2002 shopping cart ordinance on the books, but no police resources to enforce it. The police, understaffed and nearly overwhelmed by gun violence, have prioritized gang intervention and multi-agency missions to take down the worst actors. As well they should. There is no second battalion to deploy to fight property crimes.

Meanwhile, thanks for Measure A, they plan to hire 40 cops a year until they add 120 officers. When they reach that staff level, they will have the manpower to address issues such as this.

I don’t know for certain why a store manager would not want to retrieve valuable property. I can only guess that managers reckon that the ceaseless dispatch of staff to round up carts is as expensive as letting some carts go. If that’s the calculation, it is poor community citizenship.

Don’t get me wrong. I abhor the general Calcutta crumminess around Stockton. But there is a sort of reverse Broken Window Theory in play. As the PD staffs up, it handles only the dire emergencies, then develops its capacity to sweat the small stuff.

If anyone has any ideas how to address this problem under the conditions known as the New Normal, I’m all ears.

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San Francisco’s epic fail

The announcement by filmmaker George Lucas that he has chosen Chicago over San Francisco for his $700 million museum of Hollywood memorabilia and art might be expected to chasten San Francisco. There, hubristic officials swarmed over his proposal to locate in the Presidio and picked it apart so insufferably they managed to blow a tremendous home field advantage.

But no.

“This decision is the city’s loss. But it is also a loss for Lucas, and the potential of his vision,” wrote the Chronicle board, one of the naysaying culprits.

The ed board insightfully adds, “There will be a temptation to write this off as yet another example of San Francisco’s haughtiness toward wealth and aversion to change as chasing away a cultural facility that would be prized anywhere else.”

Oh, nonsense! You did nothing wrong, guys. You were impeccable, as usual.

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Glad tidings from Fremont Park

The Tables at Fremont Park had to be removed to deter shady characters from loitering. But then a Leadership Stockton class raised money to restore the park.

An uplifting e-mail is circulating from from Michael Mark, a member of the Leadership Stockton class that transformed Fremont Park, drivng  riffraff out and allowing children back in.

Here it is:

“I just wanted to share a bit of information that I found out last night from Parks and Recreation commissioner Aaron Edwards.

“I guess earlier this week some kids were trying to graffiti the equipment we installed at Fremont Park.  

“The kids were chased off by some ex-gang members who live in the neighborhood and told them to stay away from the park.  They stated, “The city and Leadership Stockton did something nice for our community. Don’t ruin a good thing for the kids”

“This is the community buy-in that we wanted!!!”  

Mark adds:

“Also, the Parks and Rec commission is trying to implement a program in which they will model what our class accomplished.  The commission is planning on getting local business, churches, community and schools surrounding the troubled parks to implement a “park watch”  Basically trying to put the adapt a park program on steroids.”

There’s definitely some good things about the New Normal.

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21 (-1) good things about Stockton

Movoto, an online real estate brokerage based in San Mateo, has released  “20 Things You Need to Know about Stockton Before You Move There.”

It was “21 Things” before numerous Stocktonians pointed out the Asparagus Festival is no longer.

The writer did a good job. S/he’s dead right about gems such as the Miracle Mile, the Haggin and Tepa Taqueria. And s/he beat me to  Sakura Japanese Market, which I now want to explore.

Significantly, the piece accurately perceives Stockton as “a city on the rise.” “Stockton was hit pretty hard by the financial crisis but now the city that can’t be kept down is getting back on its feet,” it says.

If they get that in the Bay Area, so much the better.

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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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