A Stockton sailor in the Arabian Gulf

The U.S. Navy sends a photo of a Stockton sailor serving aboard the mighty USS Nimitz in the Arabian Gulf:

“U.S. Navy Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Tanisha Stewart, from Stockton, Calif., prepares to work on ordnance aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), July 31, 2017, in the Arabian Gulf.

“Nimitz is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in this region, the ship and strike group are conducting maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce.”

The Nimitz is the largest aircraft carrier in the world. Operation Inherent Resolve is the coalition battle against ISIS.

I’m trying for an interview with Stewart. Ought to be interesting.


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On way to revive a waterfront

Mel Corren writes about New York’s River Cafe:

An empty lot along Stockton's waterfront west of Warehouse on west Weber Avenue.

“Our children gave us our 50th anniversary party in this restaurant many years ago. We’ve been there since and it is fantastic. How could we get a fine restaurateur to open one of these somewhere along the Waterfront?”

Going by this New York Times story, Stockton needs one visionary, persistent and deep-pocketed entrepreneur. In the River Cafe’s case, that guy; is “an Irish-American perfectionist named Michael O’Keeffe (better known as Buzzy).”

“The cafe holds a Michelin star, and has sustained a high quality of food and service the entire time. Many employees have been there for decades: Dom Salvador, its Brazilian pianist, serenaded the first customers; the wine director, Joseph Delissio, was on the job shortly after that.”

And with one first-rate eatery, a whole section of waterfront came back to life.

“The cafe’s early success also ignited a commercial revival in a nearly deserted neighborhood that is known today as Dumbo — a seductive flame to waves of entrepreneurial moths.

“After lunching at the cafe one afternoon in the late 1970s, David Walentas, one of the city’s most prominent developers, took a stroll around the area. “It was desolate but not dangerous,” he recalled. “I said to myself, what a great neighborhood!” He bought two million square feet of commercial and residential property, for $6 a square foot. Today, he said, he owns “several thousand” apartments in Dumbo.”

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Where free speech goes to die

For a change of pace, here’s an important National Review essay about the failure of American academe to protect free speech and to encourage debate on the widest possible range of ideas.

“The problem is not that conservatives have lost faith in the mission of the university, but that too many universities have discarded their sacred commitments to dialogue and truth in favor of ideological crusades,” a couple authors write in.

I’m center-left, but I’m with these guys 100 percent. Yes, the GOP has degenerated into calamitous intellectual dishonesty. But academe has transformed from a place where ideas can be tested against each other — with citizens who can think critically s the result — to, in come cases, a sanctimonious thought police.

“Indeed,” the authors write, “the mandarins of the academy now openly spout Orwellian arguments for speech suppression based entirely on feelings. Earlier this month, Northeastern University psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett penned a piece for the New York Times titled “When Is Speech Violence?” that claimed the mantle of “science” to argue for campus speech restrictions.

“Before that, an April Times op-ed by NYU’s vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech,” justified censorship on the grounds that subjective emotions should be privileged “over reason and argument,” and that “[freedom of speech] means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community.”

“Disappointingly, the author never quite got around to specifying just who will determine the criteria for this “balancing.”

Food for thought.

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San Francisco’s housing crisis made simple

A man walks his dog on a hilltop overlooking San Francisco and the bay.

There’s a big patch of bare land near SF on which a developer wants to build 4,400 “sorely needed” homes in a project called Baylands. But the land is inside the city of Brisbane.

“We’re a small town,” a City Councilman says, “and we’re a small town by choice.”

There you go. Cities in California have the last word on land use. All too often their last word is “no.” The Brisbanes of the Bay Area are a big reason why 60% of the applicants for a recent affordable housing project in Stockton were from Oakland.

Another reason is the tax system,says this instructive article in the L.A. Times.

“Last year, Brisbane hired a consultant who found that the city would net $1 million a year in tax revenue by approving the Baylands. But if the city instead approved a project with lots more commercial space, a larger hotel and no housing, Brisbane would gain $9 million annually — an amount equivalent to more than half the city’s current day-to-day operating budget.”

Gov. Jerry Brown recently pledged to tackle the housing crisis when the legislature reconvenes from its recess. Dems want to raise taxes and fees to subsidize affordable housing. Republican’s want to cut regulations, which are a big, big part of the problem.

Public CEO has an article about the philosophical divide:

“The Union-Tribune’s Dan McSwain compared the process to something out of a Kafka novel: “Raise the overall price of market units, thus ensuring that fewer get built, in order to subsidize a handful of poor families … who win a lottery administered by local government agencies, with staffs funded by housing fees that inflate prices.” McSwain blamed high costs partially on city-imposed fees that inflate housing prices by 20 percent or more.”

The Legislature isn’t about to tackle that broader problem,” the piece goes on. “Legislators have yet to reform the California Environmental Quality Act and other environmental rules that drag out the approval process for major new developments.”

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SJC’s state fair exhibit lays an egg

Wes Rhea, head of Visit Stockton,bemoans the mediocrity of San Joaquin County’s exhibit at the state fair:

No automatic alt text available.

“At rather sad display for San Joaquin County, and one of the very few counties without any visitor info,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Hopefully someday people will learn we have more than ag in our county.”

People agreed:

KarlaandJames DetmerandCounce ”I have to agree. We bought a home here seven years ago, the delta is less than a 15 minute drive to enjoy the water way , awesome restaurants, history, and so much more!”

Bob Melrose ”We are our worst enemy!”

Probably someone volunteered and sacrificed their time to create that exhibit. But that, the unprofessionalism, is the problem. Surely in a county of over 700,000 people we can find someone with better display skills.

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It’s Ephemerisle time again

Ephemerisle, the annual floating party in the Delta, is going on this week, with the usual flatulent blather about seasteading.

The floating city of Ephemerisle's main neighborhood of Elysium in 2016.

I went there last year. It’s original but hilariously pretentious. It was dreamed up by Patri Friedman, a Bay Area programmer, and grandson of famed economist Milton Friedman. Patri Friedman wants to live free in sovereign cities floating on the sea.

The fact that this has not happened in millennia of human civilization does not deter them. They’re Bay Area techies.They can do it.

“We are going to grow up and figure out how to do this on the ocean,” one Zoe Miller told the Sacramento Bee this year.

The dreamed-of “floating colonies free from existing governments” is a idealistic offshoot of Silicon Valley libertarianism. They haven’t gotten very var. A Seasteading Institute, which once sponsored Ephemerisle, has signed a tentative agreement with French Polynesia to create a “Floating Island Project” on “sustainable modular platforms” — if they can raise $10 million to $50 million.

As for the unconstrained freedom of seasteading, “The largest island, Elysium, asks guests to sign a waiver and an agreement to, among other things, get permission before taking someone’s picture,” the Bee reports.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Some Ephemerislers bristle at the notion that their weeklong convocation is just a party, but the waiver also obliges participants to “seek “enthusiastic consent” before touching.” That tells you some participants really want free love and not an option to farm the back 40 on a sustainable modular platform.

Still … “A” for originality. It’s going on out by Mandeville Point through Sunday if you’e interested.

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Revealing the back roads

Stark Road stretches peacefully towards Stockton.

Here’s some reaction to the Fitz’s Stockton about the back roads around the Altamont to Stockton.

Bruce Adams:

“You put a smile on my face today with your thoughts on the old country roads back from the Bay Area.

“I retired 3 years ago after 32+ years with IBM covering accounts from San Jose to San Mateo to San Francisco to Santa Rosa to Sacramento to Bakersfield and all points in between. … knowing those back roads made end of day driving home listening to news and ball games much more relaxing, avoiding freeways when I could.  You brought back memories and I thank you for it.”

Craig Younell:

“I do appreciate you exposing to your readers that there is another world of sites and experiences right under their noses here in SJC. All they need is $20 worth of gas and an afternoon off work.

“Busy Americans see roads as connecting one place to another. The faster they can get to their destination the better. A sport motorcyclist sees roads more as the road itself, the road is the destination, with the understanding of where the roads leads as an added experience. There are lot of great roads in the Delta, and riding loops, that offer great experiences like the ones you have outlined in your column today.”

Bernice P. Nichols:

“Yikes! You have given out the secret about the alternative to gridlock on the Altamont! Now are we going to have gridlock driving Old Altamont Pass? Will we get bogged down along the “serene” farms? Michael, what have you done? I Thought it was my secret route to the Bay Area!”

I have done the Bernices of Stockton a favor. When all motorists shift to the country roads, they can resume using the freeway and enjoy clear sailing.

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Delivering jobs by high-speed rail

An Amtrak conductor checks the time as passengers board in Hanford. The state's plan to build the first high-speed rail system in the nation is intended to alleviate gridlock, connect the Central Valley to better jobs, and ease pollution, but many residents oppose the $68 billion project.

“Will the 220-mph train become a Silicon Valley Express for droves of millennials and others who can barely afford to rent, let alone buy, a Bay Area home? Will high-tech companies begin moving some of their operations to a part of the state where a family can still buy a nice three-bedroom house for $300,000, triggering a monumental population shift in California?

“Why not build new communities, well-designed communities, sustainable communities in the Central Valley?” asked Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council,

The San Jose Mercury news is talking about the bullet train, and Fresno.

Former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin — notably, a Republican — “wants the train to bring new jobs, not just new housing, to her valley,” the story says.

“Already the Bay Area has the greatest concentration of economic wealth of arguably any place in the country, which is creating the challenges the Bay Area is now experiencing,” she said. “So we think the solution isn’t just to plop housing in the Central Valley. We actually want to see a good mix of jobs that are getting priced out of the Bay Area as well.”

Swearingen gets it.

Certain people smarter and more successful than I constantly chide me over the bullet train’s shortcomings. But so such people did with the Golden Gate Bridge. Least of their arguments, in my view, is that the train will require government subsidy despite the ballot language promising it will not. If it does, I see that as the progressive redistribution of tax dollars to the state’s underserved Valley. C’mon — other regions depend on our water. They can share tax dollars for economic development that could transform Valley economies. That’s called progressivism, something California is supposedly about.

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Containers: housing, but not affordable

Housing for Stockton?

On his Stockton City Limits blog, David Garcia once proposed a container park for a blank patch of Stockton’s waterfront.

“In other cities, containers are used to transform public spaces into eclectic, mixed-use areas offering affordable spaces for entrepreneurs looking to open restaurants or shops at low costs,” Garcia wrote. “Container parks are easily modified to accommodate different ventures, from outdoor bars to art galleries, serving as a kind of small business incubator. This kind of out-side-of-the-box development fosters vibrancy not seen in traditional retail or commercial spaces and could work well on Stockton’s waterfront.”

That may be. But as housing, containers, while “cool,” aren’t affordable, a new Politico article says.

“The easy availability, low cost and industrial strength of containers as building material have been their main selling points since a patent was filed for the concept in 1987 by inventor Phillip C. Clark. A new 40-foot-long container, about 320 square feet of space, sells for roughly $2,800 used and $5,600 new; insulation, depending on quality, can run from $100 to $1,000.

“But it’s the rest of the retrofit—plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, all the stuff that makes a home more than just a box—that can boost the final price well into the the hundreds of thousands of dollars, making the final product less of a solution to the affordable housing crisis than one might think at first.’

In other words … regulations. Building codes, which ossified during postwar suburbanism, squash housing innovation. Another example is tiny homes. As small as 100 square feet, they make perfect sense for some people. They’re super affordable. They have a baby footprint. The nibble energy. Yet Stockton’s building code requires at least one room in a house to be 120 square feet — meaning a room bigger than an entire tiny home.

If you want to live in a container, or a tiny home — or a treehouse — why shouldn’t you be able to? Sure there may be issues. But few insoluble. And would any be worse than California’s housing crisis?

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Two Stockton angles on the BOE scandal

Dad's on the warpath: Stockton Economic Development Director Michah Runner.

George Runner, a member of the ‘obscure but powerful’ state Board of Equalization, writes an Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee decrying Gov. Brown’s decision to strip the agency of its power.

“This is a setback for taxpayer rights,” Runner writes. “It’s also a dark day for transparency.”

The BOE administered tax programs, collected fees and adjudicated tax appeals. But after a government report called the BOE incompetent and possibly corrupt, the agency was blown up.

Runner, who is not accused of wrongdoing (though the agency is under investigation), writes, “Taxpayers and the public are the losers in this deal,” because the agency’s power now goes to unelected bureaucrats.

Runner is the father of Micah Runner, Stockton’s economic development director. Micah Runner has helped bring hundreds of jobs to Stockton.

In another Stockton twist — a bitter one for the elder Runner, I imagine — Gov. Brown appointed Maryland lawyer Nick Maduros to head one of the BOE’s successor agencies, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. Maduros is Stockton born and raised. He is the son of William Maduros, a member of The Geezers conversation club for 80somethings I recently wrote about.

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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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