Quote of the day

Motecuzoma Sanchez

“We are at war, not only with gangs in the community but with the ignorance that produces them.”

—activist Motecuzoma Sanchez, advocating the re-opening of the Fair Oaks library branch.

And the poverty that produces them. And the violence that produces them. And everything else that produces them.

I don’t believe there’s any data showing that gang activity was less when the Fair Oaks library branch was open. Yet intuitively I agree with Sanchez. I wandered into a library once as a young man and encountered ideas that changed my life for the better. Every young person — every person of any age — should have that opportunity.

But re-opening that branch cannot break Stockton’s budget. There’s surprisingly little wiggle room in the city’s post-bankruptcy budget. So the city either has to suck marrow out of programs already cut to the bone or find new money. The city a manager alluded to a “revenue stream” coming in 2017. He means redevelopment funds the state is expected to return. That is not a revenue stream. That is one-time money: revenue, but not a stream, a lump sum, not funding that will steadily flow into the budget and pay for the ongoing operational costs of a library branch.

I’m rooting for both the re-opening of the Fair Oaks library and fiscal discipline. If that’s possible.

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The library dilemma

 

The slogan of opponents of the Measure A tax was "Don't trust them."

Unless there’s a private poll showing otherwise, I’d rate the prospects for passage of a library tax poor.

Too bad. I personally love books. Books did more than broaden my horizons and help me understand how the world and humankind works; books set me free from the oppressively bad ideas prevalent in America throughout my young adulthood.

Professionally I’ve used the library as a resource 1,000 times. I love the staff over there. Until the Internet came along, I leaned so heavily on the reference librarians at the Chavez branch that I use to buy them a huge box of See’s Candy every year.

And if any city needs literacy, Stockton does.

The tea leaves, however, are not propitious.

As I noted in a post below, no sitting council member got over 50% in the primary election. None even finished first (except Michael Tubbs). All finished second: I read that as voters giving City Hall a blah review.

The reasons are crime, taxes and the institutional capacity of Stockton government. Voters swallowed their anger at City Hall for the bankruptcy and approved a 3/4 cent sales tax. They shouldered a huge debt that should never have been racked up. In return they were promised 120 more cops and a serious reduction in the appalling gun violence in this city. City Hall had a chance to show a new competence in its post-bankruptcy era.

Instead it has shown it is a distressed organization seemingly condemned to under-perform. There are reasons why their sincere efforts to keep their promise have been thwarted. But what does that matter when gangs are waging lethal gun battles in city parks?

I’m not saying I oppose the tax. But I will understand if opponents point to the Measure A tax and say no new taxes should be approved until the city shows it can responsibly steward the existing ones.

It’s also noteworthy that Measure A  squeaked by with 51.86% support. A restricted tax such as the library proposed requires a two-thirds vote.

And then there’s “mission critical” spending. Spending okayed by the language, if not the spirit, of Measure A on maintenance so long-deferred that supposedly it is so critical city government cannot function without it. Again, there’s an argument in defense of this spending. But there’s an argument against it, too, especially since some of the expenditures which have not been critical at all.

And if they all are truly critical, then that is an indictment of the mismanagement that for decades ignored responsible maintenance of city infrastructure and systems and allowed taxpayer investment to crumble. Sorry, but decades-long mismanagement is no argument for a tax increase.

Finally, this story reports that library tax measures initiatives passed in Santa Cruz, Sacramento and San Rafael. “The only one that failed in Northern California was in Kern County,” the story says. Right. The only place a library tax failed was Bakersfield, another city in the San Joaquin Valley. Bakersfield’s oil-based economy is suffering from the drop in oil prices. Coastal cities are off and running, but the Valley as a whole has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession.

So I wish the backers of this tax had waited. To go forward now is to put the library lover on the horns of a real dilemma. Yes, like many others, I love books and highly value them, and I recognize the importance of a library system to the city. But a clear-eyed assessment of City Hall — despite many good people in there — concludes that the system broken by bankruptcy and seemingly cursed by misfortune will always find a way to screw up a tax.

After all, City Hall’s fiscal incompetence is why the library took such a big cut, right? To okay a tax is to settle for that standard. It is to say perpetually poor government is OK.

So what’s stronger? Your love of books and libraries? Or your disapproval of City Hall? I am completely conflicted.

 

 

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More on the primary election

Campaign crater: Kathryn Nance

• What’s telling is that no council incumbent garnered over 50 percent — in fact, with the exception of Michael Tubbs, all incumbents came in second. They weren’t eliminated — all go on to the November runoff — but voters didn’t carry them around on their shoulders, either.

I interpret that as Stockton voters extending a tepid tolerance to the Council, and, by extension to City Hall, which achieved fiscal stability (for now) but has not kept its promise to staff up the police department and knock down crime.

It’s a C+ grade for an unsatisfactory status quo. The greater votes given to challengers suggests that Stocktonians wish City Hall was doing better.

• The best zinger of the race so far is from Mayoral candidate Michael Tubbs. When Mayor Anthony Silva came in second in the primary, then broke an agreement with Tubbs to stay positive, Tubbs said:

“It shows a little bit of desperation. After campaigning for 3½ years for re-election and losing in the primary, I can see how that could make someone a little discombobulated.”

That  phrase “campaigning for 3½ years for re-election” skewers Silva for his public forums which were ostensibly about civic affairs but really were just campaigning.

• The Epic Fail Award goes to the Kathryn Nance campaign. Nance, head of the Stockton police union, aspired to be the Republican challenger to Democratic Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton). But she was edged out of the top two by perennial Republican candidate/multiple race loser, Tony Amador.

Nance was part of the hardcore union leadership that bought the house next door to City manager Bob Deis in a transparent attempt to intimidate him during the labor negotiations during Stockton’s fiscal crisis. That move was neither popular nor legal (a judge ruled it was an unfair labor practice) and it certainly was not part of the solution.

“Do unions overreach at times? Yes,” Nance said during the campaign. “Does city government overreach at times? Yes. What we have to do … is to open those lines of communication.”

But, as I blogged at the time, voters and new city leaders ousted the executives that contributed to Stockton’s fiscal calamity. Nance wanted a promotion for her part in it.

So maybe buying the house next to the city manager wasn’t such a good idea after all.

But maybe that was not what mattered. If Nance spelled out her platform, I never heard it. Voters may not have known what flavor Republican she was. Or she may have lost simply because Tony Amador has run for office so many times his name recognition is greater.

 

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“Stockton is the place to be now.”

 

Stockton's new urbanist group, Third City. Left to right: Sarah Neely, Kandi Howe, Jasmine Leek, Lange Luntao. Photo courtesy Jasmine Leek

A new Stockton urbanist outfit, Third City Coalition, has released its first podcast. It’s full of interviews with young Stocktonans who believe Stockton is on the cusp of a better era.

“People already know our city, but now they’re going to know it for something else,” says one interviewee. “It’s exciting times to be here”

I guess I should mention that one of Third City’s driving forces, Jasmine Leek, who built up The Huddle before moving on, is my girlfriend’s daughter. I’m proud of her, as I am of all who have come to see Stockton in a new way, and all who have rolled up their sleeves to revive downtown. If Stockton is indeed on the cusp of a better era, it is largely due to them.

Check out the podcast here.

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The Muhammad Ali/Ralph Lee White t-shirt

To raise more money at the 1982 charity boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Ralph Lee White, the subject of this column, the promoter sold t-shirts. The tees bear likenesses of Ali and White.

 

The highly collectible Ali-White t-shirt.

Beneath Ali are the words, “I will float like a butterfly, sting like a bee … and run out of town Raging Ralph Lee!”

Under White’s image, “You may float like a butterfly, sting like a bee but with a left in your eye you can’t sting Ralph Lee.”

Only in Stockton.

There was a postscript to the match. Folks gathered for the ceremonial opening of the Fair Oaks Library branch were dazzled when a stretch limo pulled up and White stepped out with Ali.

“What a perfect addition to the otherwise rather mundane festivities!” said Pat Thomas, who was there that day.

 

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Why not to call a truce with the mayor

Councilman Michael Tubbs and Mayor Anthony Silva

Mayor Anthony Silva’s immaturity and Councilman Michael Tubbs’ keen mind are both on full display in this tasty article about Silva’s “truce” with Tubbs.

Silva broke the truce — of course — and instead of attacking policy he gets personal.

“… Silva labeled Tubbs “the establishment candidate;” said Tubbs can be “very arrogant” at City Council meetings and “rolls his eyes at the residents of Stockton;” and (Silva) raised the issue of Tubbs’ 2014 DUI arrest and subsequent plea of no contest,” the story says.

“If I had gotten a DUI, the establishment would have written my resignation for me,” said Silva.

Going full-on Brainiac, the mayor added, “He needs to spend more time and get his hands dirty and put more time into the community, maybe hire a few people, pay a few more bills, go through a few more struggles and then he’ll be ready.”

The “establishment candidate” knock is not personal. It’s just false. Silva formed a dubious alliance with Developer Matt Arnaiz right off the bat, championing Arnaiz’ flawed Stockton Safe Streets plan. All that achieved was to make Arnaiz look bad.

If a developer isn’t the establishment, nobody is.

Mr. Anti-Establishment then returned to his policy vacuum until developers wanted a cut in building fees. So Silva championed that, too. The Council approved a toned-down version. It hasn’t worked.

The truth is that Silva is a political lapdog. It’s just that very few of the powers that be care to have him sit on their lap. He’s inept and toxic, a political pariah in every quarter but the districts with the lowest educational attainment. His drive to gain strong mayor powers is his attempt to undo the ostracism which he brought on himself through his political incompetence and general creepiness. Much of the business community shuns him. City staff shuns him. Several on the council shun him. What does that tell you?

Saying Tubbs is “arrogant” and “rolls his eyes at the residents of Stockton” probably stems from Tubbs’ reaction to Silva’s supporters and the sad spectacle of fulminating civic illiteracy that ensues when they appear before the Council. I roll my eyes, too.

Claiming there’s a double standard for DUIs is just Silva’s well-known victim complex. Poor, poor me. But the cases would indeed be different. Tubbs’ DUI was a DUI. A Silva DUI would be the capper in a long, dismaying series of gaffes, small scandals and ongoing investigations that have repeatedly embarrassed the city.

And the topper: “He needs to … put more time into the community … go through a few more struggles …”

Sure, Tubbs, whose Reinvent Stockton efforts have brought so many disenfranchised people into the process, needs to do more community work — like Silva did when he used a homeless man as a prop in his State of the City address then left him to rot under a bridge.

And yes, Tubbs was burn lucky, a young black man with a father in prison and a mother living below the poverty line. Tubbs needs a few more struggles to get that silver spoon out of his mouth. Maybe Tubbs’ mom needs to go to prison, too.

I know why Silva proposed the truce. He tried the same thing with me once, asking me not to criticize him for six months (!) just to give him a chance. The reason is that Silva’s sub-mediocre record in office is a turkey shoot for observers and and political foes. Breaking the truce with Tubbs — giving whip-smart Tubbs the green light to attack the mayor’s poor character and failed tenure — was just another one of Silva’s dumb moves.

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Is the SJ River salmon restoration realistic?

A Chinook salmon smolt.

It’s a (depressingly) valid question because of climate change.

“Everybody wants a live river, but it’s going to be maybe for bass,” a farmer who signed off on the settlement tells KVPR. “Not going to be salmon. It’s just too hot.”

Restoration of the once-abundant salmon runs on the  San Joaquin River were part of a court-approved settlement to a historic lawsuit. Enviros prevailed in their claim that the government illegally destroyed the salmon when it built Friant Dam. So a salmon restoration program, including higher river flows, was agreed upon.

“The ambitious salmon-river restoration project sounds like a noble idea, restore habitat so an extinct fish can come back to life,” KVPR says. “But changes in climate – like warmer winters and less rain and snow – have some questioning whether it’s still feasible to restore this salmon run.”

“Some” being primarily farmers who bristle that a part of the river flows have been taken for salmon restoration. They call for new studies to see if it’s truly feasible.

My personal view is that the restoration should go forward with no second-guessing. Humans should do their best to keep to the agreement and fix what they destroyed. If Mother Nature (or human-induced climate change) drives the salmon extinct again, so be it. But we owe the salmon a chance.

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The smelt may be over the brink

Reader Dean Plassaras and I have been going back and forth by e-mail for days over the California Water Fix, the plan to move the pumps to Freeport and pipe Delta water through two colossal tunnels.

The end of abundance.

Plassaras has faith in new engineering solutions.

“The entire irrigation system of Central Valley is man made and therefore engineered,” he writes. “Some components of such engineering are 19th century based and some early 20th century. In other words the engineering is too old and executed at a time when environmental considerations were at the bottom of much higher priorities.

“So now we have a chance to do some brilliant 21st century engineering and cure past deficiencies in the process.

“(…With) the old design of the Delta pumps, the question is not if you are going to have a disaster but when. You can’t just rely on systems built 50+ years ago because by definition they can’t do the job and are unsafe. Progress means innovation. Innovation means replacement of old with the new.

“It seems to me that the only strategy that you can’t afford is embracing the old Delta design that we all know does not work and it was the wrong solution/engineering to begin with.”

Not just the engineering is amiss. Original plans for the state’s plumbing system envisioned tapping into five north-state rivers. The Delta was never intended to bear the brunt of the state’s water needs. I’ve seen studies as far back as the Forties warning that the Delta would collapse if it bore that burden.

But as the system was built, 4.5 of the five rivers were declared “Scenic,” and put off limits. So they put the hurt on the Delta in disregard of their own science. It’s what they do.

My latest salvo at Plassaras’ Panglossian belief in modern engineering is today’s Sacramento Bee story that the Delta smelt are all but extinct. What is notable in the story is not the imminent extinction, though that is a dreadful ecological calamity and a stain on California. What is notable is that even as this ultimate failure occurs water exporters continue to deny the science and politicians such as Dianne Feinstein continue to press for these powerful special interests to get more Delta water.

I’m sure better plumbing can be devised. But the problem is not merely obsolete technology. The problem is also an obsolete paradigm, one that puts human interests over balance with nature and a system that quarrels with immutable natural limits. Technology, no matter how new and improved, is irrelevant when misused this way.

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The Devil returns to Stockton

While I was gone on vacation, something weird and perplexing happened: over 6,000 people unexpectedly viewed a 1995 column I wrote about the Devil dancing in Stockton.

"I'm a bad person. But I'm a good dancer."

The column’s 6,192 page views meant 21-year-old column elbowed aside most of the new news to become the no. 11 story for Recordnet in May.

What? Huh?

I certainly remember the column. It remains one of my favorites. One Monday in 1995, numerous frightened callers burned up the phone lines at the newsroom (and police station) to ask if a widespread rumor was true: had the devil visited the Flamingo Club over the weekend? Was it true he killed a women and vanished?

I looked into it — you can read the column below — and the jitters of all the spooked folks certainly made great column fodder. But I did not get to the bottom of the rumors until after the column was published. Then, Latino readers called to say that the story of the handsome man/devil dancing with a woman before killing her is a folk tale from northern Mexico.

I always marveled at that. So the rumor was folklore; not alligators-in-the-sewer urban folklore, but real folklore, from rural Mexico, and it migrated to Stockton with Mexicans.

What a fascinating place Stockton is. A tad unwitting, then, as now. But fascinating.

Turns out someone posted the column on Facebook. Over 4,000 Facebookers viewed the column, 768 Twitter users, and 118 folks read it by searching Recordnet.

Dance with the devil here. Warning: the archived version of the story is missing some punctuation — the boldfacing on two subheads and some quotation marks.

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Au revoir, French 25

As the end nears for French 25, the classy Cajun restaurant in the Hotel Stockton set to close on Saturday, jazz singer Wendi Maxwell did a Wednesday evening gig on the terrace.

Good times. Photo courtesy Lou Sobredo.

There were tables, food and beverage service, and way too much heat. But an hour or so into the evening the sinking sun mellowed. It all came together: the warm California evening, the striking view up the Deep Water Channel, the music and the good conversation.

A shame that the restaurateur and the landlords could not agree on a new lease. What’ll be next in that space? Whatever it is, I hope they use that terrace. It’s a gem.

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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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