The city rides to Jerry’s rescue

71-year-old Jerry Ruff will be able to live inside his house, not in his driveway.

The Council on Tuesday voted to fund repairs to the home of Jerry Ruff, the cognitively impaired 70something who’s lived in his car for a year after code enforcers put him out of his home.

The city will funnel a $110,000 CalHome loan — state money — “provided as a 30- year, one percent (1%) interest loan, with payments deferred until the end of the loan term,” the staff report says. The money will ” correct deferred maintenance issues, water damage, and building code violations.”

That last proviso, payments deferred for 30 years, effectively means Ruff will never have to repay the loan. It’ll be repaid when the house changes hands.

In addition, “energy and water saving features will be installed in the home to reduce on-going costs,” the staff report adds.

Turns out the same code people who unhomed Jerry notified housing staff that he was a perfect candidate for the housing program. So there’s a slim chance for City of Stockton staffers to pass through the Pearly Gates after all.

The city’s solution is just. Boarding Ruff’s home because it was filthy and not up to code, forcing him to live in a car that was worse in every respect, was the pretzel logic of bureaucracy. But this action is both good news and good government, with a happy ending in prospect. City Hall deserves credit.

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Police get raise, want more


Stockton Police Officers Association head Kathryn Nance

Though Stockton is on a very tight budget, the City Council on Tuesday gave police an 11 percent raise. It’s necessary.

I support this raise. I called for it. Still … there are a couple worrisome elements.

When you couple a raise that’s 5 percent above the city’s Long-Range Financial Plan (its post-bankruptcy budget) with the statement by the police union head that the raise is not enough — implying more raises may be considered within several years — and add the funding of the Fair Oaks library branch against the recommendation of city staff — well, one worries City Hall’s fiscal discipline is unravelling.

But fiscal discipline is necessary to keep Stockton from going bankrupt again. Pension costs will increase hugely over the next 10 years. Pensions may bankrupt the city again whether it remains austere or not. But they certainly will if leaders cave to loud voices demanding restoration of unaffordable services.

I asked city spokesperson Connie Cochran how it all fits into the budget, if it does.

She said it does. “This has been compared to the Long-Range Financial Plan and it is affordable … ” Cochran said. “But you’re right, it was not originally anticipated.”

Because City Hall’s been sticking to the program, there is some “one-time savings” that can be used to fund this raise, Cochran said.

That’s a concern. One of City Hall’s hard-earned lessons is not to use one-time funds for ongoing expenses. The one-time money runs out, leaving the city on the hook for ongoing costs.

Cochran couldn’t speak to that one.

Another valid question is, if the city is budgeting correctly, and finding an ongoing revenue stream for police raises, what’s that money coming out of? Which city budget areas get whacked?

I’m being a worrywart. Once bankrupt, twice shy.

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Historic sunken vessel relocated in the Delta


The Phoenix of Hiroshima in 2007 before it sank.

A group of people who want to raise the Phoenix of Hiroshima, a historic boat sunk in the Delta, met in Isleton this weekend. The group included Jessica Renshaw, daughter of the famous pacifist who commissioned the boat and sailed it defiantly into the Bikini Atoll nuclear test zone. Renshaw came up from Long Beach.

After assembling, the group contacted a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office boat deputy and all headed out to the Mokelumne River, he in his boat, they in their car, to search for the spot where The Phoenix sank — “and found the boat!” said Renshaw in a brief message.

I called her at her Long Beach home.

“We’re excited . We’re very excited,” Renshaw said.

Jessica Renshaw reacts to the discovery of the sunken Phoenix. Photo courtesy Brian Cowden.

The boat deputy took the coordinates Renshaw had obtained from the last divers to inspect the boat six years ago. He searched the Mokelumne River with an ultrasound contraption until he saw its outline, sunk in 25 feet of water.

“It’s like getting a sonogram of your baby,” said Renshaw. “You bond with it instantly.”

The next step is to find divers to re-evaluate whether the boat is sound enough to raise. It it is, Renshaw has a Washington state boatyard lined up to restore it.

“Ultimately we have a plan,” Renshaw said. “It’s called Crossroads 2020.” If the Phoenix is restored by 2020 The Golden Rule, the boat the inspired us … we hope to have the Phoenix and Golden Rule sail again—this time sail together—to the Marhsall Islands, and from there to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2020. And have it represent all people all over the wold who have been exposed to ionizing radiation.”

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The Miller house back when

Patricia Miller, a descendent of the man who built the Miller House, Milton Miller, is in town from Arizona. She shared a picture of the house she took in 1979.

What a difference from the house as it stands today, a ramshackle remnant of the forgotten community of Atlanta.

Miller also sent a photo of Milton Miller’s and his sons, who lived in the house.

Left to right: Laurence Lee Miller, James Miller, Milton Miller, Charles Miller, William Miller, Jesse Miller.

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More cemetery entertainment


The latest entertainment venue?

I thought Sunday’s piece about the Lodi cemetery showing movies was a one-off.

But a press release says The Rusty Rockers will play 6 p.m. Wednesday at West Side Memorial Park in Tuolumne. Admission is free. For more information, call (209) 928-1214.

Death metal?

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Marian Jacobs, 1927-2016

Marian Jacobs accepting the 1989 Athena Award for being Stockton's businesswoman of the year.

Alicia Hugg, a former record community columnist, asked me to republish a passage she wrote about the late Marion Jacobs.

“It was during this period that I met another woman who strongly influenced my life. Marion Jacobs was a frequent visitor to the nursing office. The ads she designed for nursing journals were instrumental in the county hospitals far-reaching recruiting efforts.

“But it was her smile and optimistic manner that I remember most — and her willingness in those days of blatant discrimination, to rent to a young African-American mother with four small children (in a neighborhood that shunned minorities) that will endear her to me forever.”

To which I would add: Marian Jacobs would somehow evade security and materialize in the newsroom to lobby reporters to write this or that. She could be pushy. But she was pushing for a vision of things that should have been but weren’t in the Stockton of that day. As noted in her obituary, Jacobs founded the Stockton Arts Commission, she brought top-notch authors to town, she was in on the ground floor of the Stockton Opera Association, she created a program that brings music to seniors. There was no stopping her, and Stockton is the better for it.


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Jerry’s helper goes on strike

In one of the videos about the county workers’ strike, a CPS worker named Cassandra Burdick is asked about sensitive county services not being offered because of the strike.

“I do know that I read in the paper the just other day about one of our fantastic workers trying really hard to meet that gentleman’s needs — he was living in the car? — He can’t help him today. He’s not there,” Burdick says.

That “gentleman” is Jerry Lee Ruff, the poor cognitively impaired senior living in his car after code officials boarded up his house. A truly dedicated county worker form Adult Protective Services was coaxing him out of his distrust of officialdom, trying to help him through the obstacles and back into his house.

City code enforces boarded up his home, so 71-year-old Jerry Ruff has lived in his car for over a year.

It’d be easy to criticize that worker’s decision to suspend his help. He’s turned away from Ruff to strike in refusal of a 6 percent raise. But Burdick’s goes on to say the county has not filled many positions in her department; workers are working tons of overtime and suffering burnout; kids and families are not being helped. Presumably the understaffing and retention issues are the same in Adult Protective Services.

I have to face that I was deeply jaundiced by the egregious conduct of Stockton unions — primarily police and fire — in the run-up to Stockton’s bankruptcy. They epitomized the selfish special interests that long hobbled City Hall’s broader public mission. It’s on me now to remind myself that each union and each strike is unique.

To the extent this is about people fed up that the county is not supporting their efforts to help the young, elderly and disabled, I completely sympathize.


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Mixed feelings about the county strike

Photo: Michael McCollum

I support the right of workers to organize, to bargain collectively and, God forbid, to strike.

I hate strikes, though. You would too if you were a journalist. The moment employees walk, truth shoots straight out the window. Everybody becomes shifty and strangely perturbed.

There’s more not to like. The poverty rate in Stockton is 25.8 percent — one in four.  The per capita income is $19,927 — 88% of the county rate and a mere 68.7% of the U.S. earnings figure.

Countywide, unemployment in May was 7.1% — and remember, that average includes the healthier sub-economy of the south county. Stockton unemployment is higher.

So, all in all, given this bleak picture, San Joaquin County government employees are lucky to have a job.

They are luckier still to get raises (the county has offered 6% over three years). Most workers in this county have not had a raise in years. The middle class is refinancing mortgages, working longer past retirement (no retiring after 30 years for them!), and making many small cuts, such as consolidating insurance for the discount, cutting cable, cancelling magazine subscriptions, shopping at Winco, sacrifices large and small.

But county public employee unions don’t judge by any of that. They see greater revenues in the county’s general fund and they want a bigger slice of it. They have every right.

But there’s two ways to look at this quest for more of our tax dollars. 1. We want fair compensation. 2 We want more of your money, struggling taxpayer.

Take your pick.

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More about the Miller House

The Miller House on South French Camp Road.

Karen Ramos adds to the Fitz’s Stockton about the Miller House:

“Forgive me, but I can’t resist the challenge to find an answer when one seems so promising. It’s a compulsion.

“Bob Miller’s grandfather, Leslie F Miller, was the son of Jesse Miller, who was, in turn, son of Milton Miller, who settled on French Camp Road in 1863.

“Jesse Miller and his wife, Louella, are buried in Parkview Cemetery, and you can see their tombstone at [Find A Grave Memorial# 110443540]

“Milton Miller, his wife Sarah, and some of their children are buried in the Atlanta Methodist Cemetery at Five Corners and Jack Tone Road. Again, you can see the Miller Tombstone at [Find A Grave Memorial# 15022375]

“Below is the biography of Milton Miller that appears in the early count history cites below the text.

“MILTON MILLER, a farmer of Castoria Township, San Joaquin County, was born in Missouri, May 18, 1826. He was reared and educated on a farm. March 29, 1849, he started for California, crossing the plains with ox teams and entering Sacramento Valley October 10. He worked at the mines during 1849 and ‘50 and was quite successful. In the latter part of 1850 he returned to Missouri, but soon crossed the plains once more to California, making the best time that had yet been made, ninety-three days. In 1863 he purchased the ranch on which he now resides. It contains 1,232 acres, situated on the French Camp road about eight miles from French Camp. He is one of our most successful and extensive grain raisers.

“Mr. Miller was married in Stockton to Miss Sarah M. Maxwell. They have eight children, namely: Ida M., James H., Mary Etta, Milton E., Jesse F., Charles A., William T. and Laurence L.”

Sad that the Miller heir cited in this story doesn’t know any of this. I’ve also been contacted by a Miller cousin in Arizona. She says she’ll forward more information and photos of the house in better days.

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SF mulls obvious solution to street people


Enforcing vagrancy laws.

“… Policy experts say — and city history confirms — that law enforcement can accomplish only so much when it comes to the people who live on the streets, given the stew of poverty, drug addiction and mental illness,” the Chronicle writes. “Issuing tickets and locking people up doesn’t get at the causes of homelessness, much less find people homes.

“This does not mean, however, that there’s no role for policing.

“Law enforcement and city officials, as well as advocates for the homeless, are nearly unanimous in arguing that the justice system works best when it’s used to steer homeless people to get the help they need to stabilize their lives — financial and housing assistance, drug rehab and counseling.”

The difference between San Francisco and Stockton here is that in San Francisco the problem has been excessive tolerance. In Stockton the problem is the capacity of a police force. Cops are almost wholly absorbed by gangs and gun violence.

However, despite all the well-publicized obstacles, the Stockton Police Department, fueled by Measure A tax money, has beefed up to 409 officers. That’s approaching the pre-crash levels. The force should soon have the staff power to enforce vagrancy laws — not to punish the poorest, but to get them into a system that can help them. They are human beings. They deserve compassion.

And yes, if a needle-littering, trash strewing homeless person stubbornly refuses to accept help and come off the street, police can force them to break camp. There are good people and bad people among the homeless and police are the right prescription for the bad ones.

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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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