A side effect of district voting

The city of Visalia is switching from citywide voting to district voting, which may be in Stockton’s future, too. Last night, Visalia’s council approved the new districts.

An interesting side effect of the new districts: some sitting council people will find themselves ineligible to run in their old district. In essence, by approving revised district maps, they are terming themselves out.

That could happen here, too.

Of course, a council member could run in the new district, but would face an uphill battle of an incumbent retains office there.

So if and when Stockton voters approve district voting, council members may be temped to gerrymander the maps to retain office.

And voters may be voting out of office the people they voted in.

Just one of the side effects that’ll have to be thought through when Stockton debates district voting.

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San Berdoo: CalPERS skates again

Bankrupt San Bernardino’s council voted to approve a Plan of Adjustment yesterday that gives bondholders one penny on the dollar, but pays the pension Hogzilla in full.

"You are unsustainable, dude."

The council voted 6-1 to give bondholders $500,000 of the $50 million the city racked up in debt while overcompensating its public employees — a brutal scalping — but to honor its $14 million commitment to CalPERS.

So the lenders the city turned to to fund its unsustainable overcompensation get the shaft, while CalPERS, which encouraged cities to adopt budget-busting pensions — whose greed helped drive the city into the poorhouse — gets off scott free.

But there’s a catch.

The Plan of Adjustment outsources the fire department.

San Bernardino’s fire department ran the city in its own interests. We see what came of that. It was the biggest obstacle to reform. The council is ending its malign influence.

“Today is the day the City Council committed suicide for San Bernardino,” one person said.

But that is wrong. San Bernardino committed suicide when public employees hijacked it at the expense of its broader public mission. Ousting the hijackers is merely necessary reform.

As for CalPERS, its comeuppance is only a matter of time. California is on the economic upswing now. But when the next downturn occurs, the ballooning cost of pensions will drive more cites into bankruptcy. Thanks to the ruling in Stockton’s case, CalPERS is vulnerable to impairment like any other creditor. Sooner or later, cities will give Hogzilla a shearing, too. That’s not a prediction. It’s a mathematical certainty.

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A word about Spam

Reuven E. Epstein writes:

“I enjoyed your article today, but you missed something.  I have been trying to get stores to have displays of Spam on the 2nd of Feb. each year.  That is Groundhog Day, and after all, Spam is ground hog.  It seems to me that they should go together.

“I cannot understand how such a natural marketing event gets ignored.”

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“A secret jam job”

That’s one lawmaker’s description of the federal water bill, now being devised by Dianne Feinstein and south-Valley Republicans under a “cone of silence.”

“Delta, Rep. John Garamendi, allowed that Feinstein’s staff had asked him what he wanted in a California water bill,” this McLatchy story says. “But when Garamendi asked what else is in the bill, he said, he was shut out.”

“Same old story,” Garamendi said.  ”… Those of us that represent the Delta and San Francisco Bay are not included in the process.”

The next two grafs are classic.

“Advocates of Feinstein’s approach counter that it’s pointless to bring in the Northern California Democrats since they will never vote for the drought legislation anyway, as it could end up steering water from their region to San Joaquin Valley farms.

“It doesn’t do any good to say, ‘Let us see your language so we can rip it apart,’ ” Feinstein said.

Transparent, inclusive democracy “doesn’t do any good” because our region might obstruct the bill. That’s realpolitik. It’s also precisely what’s wrong with the water wars. They’re wars. One side plays to defeat the other by ignoring its interests. If a bill can pass only by kicking one region’s representative out of the room, it is bogus.

But many lawmakers are too locked into the old paradigm to fundamentally change the equation. That paradigm — that nothing can get done for powerful water exporters without jackrolling the Delta — needs to go away.

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Reader: missing ballots didn’t affect races

Rick Goucher writes:

“Great column in today’s Record.

“In today’s modern world these types of things should never happen but it should be pointed out that the 832 ballots more than likely made any difference in the three races you mentioned in your column.

“Let’s take District 3 first, Motecuzoma Sanchez would have had to have received the vote on a minimum of 726 of the 832 ballots which is 87.3% of those ballots.  In that scenario the other two candidates would have had to split the remaining votes to make work.  If they don’t split the remaining votes then Sanchez would need even more votes.

“The District 5 race would be closer as Mark Stebbins would only need 560 of the uncounted votes or 67.3% but only if the other candidates spilt the remaining votes evenly.

“In the Supervisor’s race Paul Canepa would have needed 689 votes or 82.8% of the uncounted ballots to be elected; though possible it is highly unlikely that one candidate would receive almost 83%.

“It would be interesting to know how those votes would have gone but if my math is correct (and it usually is) I don’t believe the results would have changed.”

I agree. In terms of probability, the missing ballots were unlikely to swing any races.

But that’s not the whole point. Frequently SJ races are “squeakers” decided by a handful of votes. Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva was voted off the school board by one single vote, to cite a recent example. In such tight races, +800 votes quite likely could change the outcome.

Beyond specific races, there’s the general confidence voters must have in the system. The column spurred county officials to investigate, and that’s what needs to happen.

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The Atlantic’s James Fallows on Fresno’s pedestrian mall

Recently I did a piece on Stockton’s Main Street mall. A failed attempt to inject life into a dying downtown replicated by Uncle Sam in many cities across the land.

Including Fresno. That city is now restoring its Fulton Street Mall to a street for cars. It’ll be interesting to see how that works. If it works there, it would seem likely to work here.

James Fallows of The Atlantic took an interest in Fresno. He’s got a piece on the project. It includes a 50-year old video about the doomed project, narrated with the American confidence and builder-hero optimism of the time.

Writes Fallows, “The improbable-drama part of this video is that what it is presenting as the mid-1960s solution to sprawl, an elegant art-filled pedestrian mall, is precisely what is now identified as yet another aggravating and sprawl-intensifying factor. ”

In other worlds, downtown pedestrian malls made dying downtowns worse. Of course, it’s not that simple, and Fallows gives space to a dissenter who says sprawl is the real culprit. That is certainly true here as it is there. So it’s unclear if reopening the mall to vehicle traffic will countervail decades of bad land-use planning. We shall see.

If it works in Fresno, Stockton should consider doing it.

As a bonus, Fallows links to his other Fresno pieces, including one about how Fresno is shedding its sad-sack self-conception and turning itself into an artistic Bohemia. I urge you to read these pieces, which are so relevant to Stockton.

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“We need to do more” — OK, what?

For the second year running, Mayor Anthony Silva spent the night outside to draw attention to the wretched conditions of Stockton’s homeless.

Kudos to him for that.

… And? Silva’s action would be the perfect moment to introduce a policy plan, as then-mayor Gavin Newsom did in San Francisco when he introduced his “Care, Not Cash” plan. A plan to “do more,” as the mayor said.

From Silva … nothing.

Jon Mendelson, associate director of Central Valley Low Income Housing, nailed it when he said, “What I would like to see after this is follow-through on a concrete policy level. Attention and publicity is the first step, but there has to be a step after that.”

One on interpretation of that comment: It’s the mayor who needs to do more.

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It’s nuts to grow nuts in the south

Superb column by the L.A. Times’ George Skelton today saying waterwise it makes no sense to grow nuts in the south Valley.

“… it takes 4 acre-feet of irrigation water to grow an acre of almonds or pistachios in the Tulare Basin, where nut orchards have expanded the most in the last decade.

“In the rest of the San Joaquin Valley, it requires 3.4 acre-feet. But in the Sacramento Valley, these nuts need only 2.4 acre-feet. That’s a difference of roughly one acre-foot, or nearly 326,000 gallons, enough to supply two households for a year.

There are 916,000 acres of almond and pistachio trees in the semi-arid San Joaquin … but only 162,000 acres in the wetter Sacramento Valley.

“The Sacramento used to be the main producer of these nuts, but when the federal and state water projects brought irrigation to the San Joaquin, the increasingly profitable and exported crops took off there.”

Gov. Jerry Brown allows farmers to plant what they want where they want. That’s great capitalism. But it’s bad water policy. We could manage with a modestly restricted ag market. We can’t do with much less water.

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Public scrutiny is not in “poor taste”

Republican congressional candidate Kathryn Nance, firing back at the police union officer who aired concerns about her union leadership, says Sgt. Bill Hutto chose the wrong forum.

Hutto’s letter to union members, sent to me anonymously by John Quepublic, says Nance is doing her job poorly. She’s distracted by her congressional campaign. There may be ethical issues with her dual role, such as whether the union is subsidizing her campaign appearances. The union may be overcharging members as much as $10,000 a month. And on Nance’s watch someone may be misappropriating union dues for things like trips to Disneyland and Las Vegas.

All allegations. But ones to which Nance should publicly respond.

But in today’s story, Nance seems as focused on the proper forum for criticism as on the criticism’s merits.

“There is a time and a place for things to be handled,” bristled Nance.  And the place to raise issues about her leadership, she said,  is “in meetings with the membership present and in board meetings … ”

Circulating the letter “is in poor taste,” Nance said. “It’s not the level of decorum we should have when discussing these things.”

This dignified call for propriety sounds high-minded. But if Hutto had circulated a letter containing glowing review of Nance, would she be perorating about Robert’s Rules of Order? If you answered no, then decorum and proper channels and tea precisely at 4 o’clock may not be the real issue.

The real issue may be that Hutto’s letter, leaked, has hurt Nance’s campaign.

But these issues do in fact belong before the public. Nance’s congressional run makes the issue germane beyond the bounds of an SPOA meeting. Nance’s tenure as SPOA chief casts light on her suitability for higher office.

Here’s John Quepublic’s letter.

Nance should give a full response to every point raised in this letter. She should do so not only to SPOA members but to voters in Congressional District 9.

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Environmentalism: worse than racism?!

I ought to create an award for overheated rhetoric. For people who just can’t call a spade a spade without saying it’s a threat to Western Civilization. Or comparing someone to the Nazis.

Problem is, there is currently no one around Stockton who practices such foam-flecked rhetoric (I’m omitting some of the feverish online comment posters, of course).

I’ve noticed, however, one place that abounds in over-the-top rhetoric: Visalia.

There, the Visalia Times-Delta routinely gives space to farmers and others with such a keening animosity towards environmentalists — or anybody who denies them somebody else’s water — that one can only assume the editors share their rural, 1930s mentality.

Here’s a gem from Don Curlee, “a freelance writer who specializes in agricultural issues.”

Writes the fossiliferous Curlee: “hatred and enmity at the base of true ‘environmentalism.’”

“The chilling disappointment of the “piling on” by environmentalists and their fringe supporters is that it exposes a deep-seated hatred by this element of our society toward farming …” Curlee writes perceptively.

This is pretty bad, Curlee writes. “This societal rupture has the potential for outpacing even racial prejudice as a flaw and potential cancer.”

“Most farmers, those who consider themselves the original environmentalists, enjoying, protecting and improving the world around them long before the environmentalist movement took its current aggressive shape, are disappointed in and disgusted by the radical nature of the “enviros.”

R-i-i-ight. South-Valley farmers improved the world so much they made the San Joaquin River the most distressed river in the nation. The most important estuary in the Western Americas is dying not only because of their blinkered consumption but because provincial media such as the Times-Delta fail to be more than echo chambers for the same viewpoint. Which, sheltered from other perspectives, inevitably soars over the top and achieves bathos.

“Hatred by one group of society toward another group is a sociological tragedy,” Curlee concludes.


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    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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