Saturday, December 20, 2008

Silence the Violence

I attended the “Silence the Violence” rally held in memory of Jonathon Brunson today in front of his barbershop. It was a beautiful day in downtown Vallejo. The sun was shining, cutting through the chill of the cold December morning. And the heart and soul of Vallejo was burning bright and strong.

The event was many things for me. It was sad. It was moving. It was uplifting. It was beautiful in its simplicity.

Mr. Brunson’s family organized the event in just a couple of weeks, and their passion and conviction was awe-inspiring. It was catching.

And that’s what I took home today. Catch the spirit. Pass it on. Take a stand. As one of the speakers said, don’t just take care of you and your own. Let’s start thinking about it from a broader perspective, from a community perspective. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes participation by everyone to build a healthy community.

If we want a vibrant community, those of us who live here have to make it that way ourselves. If we invest our time in our schools, in our kids, in our neighborhoods, we can make Vallejo what we all want it to be: safe, successful, healthy.

For those of you who have been working hard and donating your time, now is the time to take a deep breath and forge on. And for those of you who are new to community activity, welcome. It’s not easy, it’s sometimes exhausting. But it is life-changing – for many more lives than just your own.

As one of my favorite quotes from Gandhi says:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

RIP Mr. Brunson.

Postscript: next to the barbershop is a blank wall that many people have written on in pen and ink and paint in memory of Mr. Brunson. While the writing will eventually have to be removed, I couldn't help think what a shame it would be to lose the thoughts and intent behind them. So I've requested that the city ask the property owners if we can create a mural on that wall with a “Silence the Violence” or “Take a Stand” theme, using some of the funds we have from State Farm for the anti-graffiti mural program. What a perfect place and time for a community mural.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." ~Albert Schweitzer


I love that quote. This past year has been tumultuous to say the least, filled with many hills and just as many valleys. For me personally, this year tested my spirit and my passion, my beliefs and my direction like no other time before. There were days filled with joy and laughter, but there were also many days filled with deep sorrow.

The amazing thing is that when I was in one of those dark valleys, it seems that I'd get an e-mail or a phone call or a word in the grocery store that would remind me to keep going, keep working, keep trying. These people gave me the spark I needed to reignite the flame.

So as I give my thanks at Thanksgiving this year, I'm going to say a special thank you to all of the people, both friends and strangers, who were there when I was flagging. Some of you may not even know you did it, but I hope you do. For you, I am thankful, and for you, I will pass it on.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One Door Closes

This weekend I had to put my cat Oso to sleep. Oso was a magnificent blue-gray cat with big yellow eyes. Throughout his 14 years, many cats and dogs came into our house for temporary shelter, and Oso was always so calm and accepting of the new animals, who usually came to us sick and scared and confused. He knew his place in our house and in my heart, and never felt the need to push the newcomers around.

Over the past two years, I've had to put all three of my beloved senior pets to sleep. I adopted all of them when I was in my final years of college and just after graduation. They were my family as I grew up and started my career. All three of them moved with me across the country to Tennessee and Washington D.C. and Utah, and back to California. It was a wild adventure.

My memories of them are so intertwined with memories of my youth, it's difficult to separate them. Margaret started it all. She was this fuzzy, unkempt terrier sitting in the shelter, a week past her euthanasia date, with big sad eyes. She was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime, soulmate kind of dog. I was her sun and her moon, and she slept in the curve of my back for almost 17 years. The day I had to put her to sleep was one of the hardest of my life. I miss her still.

Cody was next. Cody was an Australian shepard/lab mix that was really all goofy lab. He and I struggled a bit throughout his 14 years, but ours grew into a mature, mellow friendship that I miss terribly. He was my self-appointed protector and lifeguard. I could never go swimming with Cody around, whether it was ocean, lake, or river. He would get this furrowed look between his eyes as he watched me swim away and suddenly leap into the water and bug me until I held onto his collar and he'd pull me to the bank or beach, happy and proud of himself for keeping me safe.

Just this weekend a young man stopped outside my house and asked if Cody was around. Cody was like that. Friends and neighbors would just come by and take him for long walks or car rides. Sometimes I'd be driving home from work and would see him happily walking on the waterfront with a friend, or hanging his head out of somebody else's car. Whenever I went with Cody, complete strangers would say hi to him by name ask what I was doing with him! Cody was everybody's friend.

And now Oso is gone.

Not quite intentionally, I've been slowly filling the empty spaces with a new rescued menagerie: Sophia, a one-eyed poodle/Jack Russell mix; Papi, a crazy Chihuahua/terrier mix with this hilarious under bite that makes it look like he's smiling all the time; Sunny Peeps, a sweet-singing canary I "won" at a political auction; and two cats, BBK, a Vallejo native from the streets with one blue eye and one green eye, and Mr. Tennessee Mittens, a six-toed kitten rescued from a gutter on Tennessee Street after he'd been hit by a car (thanks to Jane for taking the time to investigate the bit of fluff in the street, and Bayside Veterinary Hospital for taking such great care of him!).

So while the door on my youth has closed with finality, I now move on into the next phase of my life with my new companions to make new memories. And I can still pull out and cherish my memories of Margaret, Cody, and Oso and our crazy, fun adventures. Maybe they haven't completely left me after all.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Touro & the North End of Mare Island

Last night Touro gave a presentation of their proposed cancer treatment center and associated research and education facilities, student housing and hotel and retail center. The project is beautifully designed, and the uses were grouped into different areas of the project site in a way that really made sense. This project stands to be one of the best opportunities Vallejo has had in a long time. The cancer treatment center will be a catalyst for other commercial, medical, and retail opportunities (like a bookstore and healthy foods market) that will be a great long-term revenue source for the city.

One aspect of the plan that I'd like to look into (other than the financial feasibility) is the purpose and size of the retail area along the Highway 37 corridor. The specific plan only allowed for a small amount of square feet of retail. Because of this restriction, this large parcel of land was over-dominated by surface parking and an underwhelming amount of retail space. I'd like to increase the amount of allowable retail space. The Touro team said that the intent of the retail area was to serve the island and Vallejo residents. As this area lies along Highway 37, we should try and capture some of the many travelers along that corridor. So hopefully we can increase the amount of retail space and gear it towards both Mare Island and Vallejo residents, as well as Highway 37 travelers.

I was surprised to hear that Siemens was no longer Touro's partner on the cancer treatment facility. They were originally providing the heavy-ion accelerator system technology. (According to Touro, the accelerators produce a beam that destroys the ability of cancer cells to replicate. It's similar to X-ray radiation therapy but more powerful and more precise.) Touro officials explained that the new technology they are pursuing is better and even more cutting edge than Siemens'

I asked a question about the Alco Iron & Metal company that is in operation on the north end of the island. They want to expand their operation, and some members of the public have asked me if they would be willing to move their operation to the industrial section of the island, freeing the north end area for additional commercial/retail opportunities. From a land use perspective, this makes sense – you want to group land uses that are compatible with one another.

I spoke to Alco's general manager today to ask if they've talked about that possibility. I was told that they had already invested several million dollars into their infrastructure on the north end of the island, and it didn't make financial sense for them to move. That's completely understandable. Alco is an established business that provides good jobs and revenue to the city. They've made their investment already, and we'll make Touro's project work with the existing use.

Overall, I have to say that this is an exciting project. While the general economy is definitely not well right now, according to Touro the health care and education fields are somewhat immune. So if all goes well, they could break ground early next year. Forward progress is happening.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Multiple Realities

I walked Vallejo neighborhoods this weekend with a friend of mine, handing out flyers about a free vaccination shot fair for pit bulls and pit bull mixes coming up next weekend. It was a warm fall day, with clouds chasing each other across the sky. The streets were fairly quiet, people were just hanging out at home, sitting in front yards chatting with friends or working in their yards. That slow Sunday hush hung over the neighborhoods, the one I used to lament as a kid because there were no other kids outside playing.

As I walked door to door and chatted with people, I was reminded why Vallejo is so special – our people and our neighborhoods. We hear so much negative talk about Vallejo's crime and financial problems. And while I know that is a reality, it's not our only reality.

The reality I saw on Sunday was what Vallejo is all about: working class people who work hard and were enjoying a day of rest; neighbors feeding watermelon to neighborhood kids; the man stopping his car because we were looking at a map, and offering to lead us to our destination; the genuine smile from the man who didn't speak English, when I spoke to him in my broken Spanish; the taxicab driver who went out of his way to help us find Wilson Park.

These weren't the gated community neighborhoods we were walking. Yes, we saw some drug dealing. There were empty houses that had been repossessed. There was poverty and there were signs of hard times. But everyone we approached was helpful and friendly. Once we told them what we were doing, their faces opened up, they smiled, and they took flyers for themselves or to give to their friends who had pit bulls.

It was good to be reminded of Vallejo's other reality, the good reality, the reality that will ultimately help us recover from the tough times we're in right now.

The vaccination shot fair is geared towards helping lower income residents – and their pitties – and is being hosted by Bad Rap, Greater Vallejo Recreation District and the Benicia-Vallejo Humane Society.

When: Sunday, October 12
Time: 12:00 to 2:00 p.m.
Where: Wilson Park (Solano Avenue at Wilson Street)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"You can't shake hands with a clenched fist." ~Indira Gandhi


I grew up playing sports – swimming, soccer and basketball. I was a fierce competitor who played with passion and gave it everything I had. Fortunately, that fierce competitiveness was tempered by the wisdom of my coaches, which I still call upon today. They taught me to play hard and play to win – but win with dignity and lose with grace. And always offer your hand to your opponent, whichever side you end up on at the end of the match.

I am in no way saying that our City's slide into bankruptcy was a game. But it was a challenge, unfortunately, that forced people to take sides and fight. I was fighting for the future of our city. The Public Safety Unions were fighting for the welfare of their members. It has been a time fraught with emotion and anger and betrayal. Of course it was – we're talking about issues that mean something to all of us.

A lot has happened. A lot was said. A lot was misrepresented. A lot was done. But it's time to put that aside, unclench our fists, and offer our hands to each other. Because in the end, we can't get out of this alone.

I'll start. I never intended nor wanted to break any union. I wanted to negotiate new collective bargaining agreements, though, because I knew we simply couldn't afford what we have in place. Was it fair that previous Councils agreed to these contracts and we're now saying we can't afford them? No. But unfortunately, that's one of our new realities. Those contracts should never have been agreed to in the first place because it was obvious that eventually the City would be unable to afford them.

I know that the work our employees do for me as a citizen, and for our City as a Council member, is not always easy. Some of the work is dangerous. And stressful. And many employees have had to do more with less for way too long now.

I also know that our citizens have been shouldering the burden of living with fewer services and a degrading infrastructure while continuing to pay the same or more in taxes and fees. Is this fair to our taxpayers? No. But unfortunately, that's one of the realities we've been living with for quite a few years now.

My goal for the next phase of the bankruptcy process is to negotiate new collective bargaining agreements that are not overly convoluted and complicated, that are sustainable in the long-term and still provide for growth as the city grows. I want every one of our employees to be well compensated for the work they do. I want a simple, fair agreement that provides market-rate salaries and benefits that lie somewhere in the middle – not 10 percent above, and not 10 percent below. I want contracts that are ultimately fair to both the employees and to the taxpayers of Vallejo.

We can do that. We have to do that. And it shouldn't be so hard to achieve if we approach each other with outstretched hands. I know it will take time to heal as a community and as a City. But there's only one way to go from here, and we should take that path together. The choice is ours.

Choose
The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open hand held out and waiting.
Choose:
For we meet by one or the other.
~Carl Sandburg

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Rest in Peace, Councilmember Garcia

I was at an awards ceremony two weeks ago where Fairfield City Councilmember Matt Garcia gave the keynote speech. He impressed me with his young leadership, his energy and his dedication.

I just can't believe that he's no longer alive -- killed so quickly and so brutally. For me and many others, Councilmember Garcia represented hope for the future. He was the antithisis of apathy, the epitome of personal responsibility and the living proof that while we have to take the hand that is dealt to us, we ultimately get to choose our own paths.

Councilmember Garcia chose to focus on the positive and work to improve his community. And now an important young voice is silenced, and many years of future leadership has been denied to the Fairfield community...and most likely the country.

My condolences to his family and friends, and to the community of Fairfield. Rest in peace, Councilmember Garcia.

A Memorial Fund has been established at First Bank in Fairfield, located at 2407 Waterman Blvd. Donations can be made out the "Matt Garcia Memorial Fund." The funds will used to help with the final arrangements as well as begin the Matt Garcia, Keep the Dream Alive Foundation.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stay Above the Fray

I've gotten a few emails lately from people encouraging me to keep going in the midst of a very difficult time. One woman noted that with my being so outspoken about the issues related to public safety union contracts, it can't be very comfortable for me right now. That's putting it mildly!

But it's not very comfortable for anybody in Vallejo right now. It's a difficult time for all of us, but profound change is always difficult and messy and uncomfortable. If it wasn't, we'd all make changes more often!

And the changes that Vallejo is making right now are incredibly profound. We are changing our city government, we are taking our city's future back into our own hands, we are creating a city that provides opportunities to all of our residents and not just a select few.

I recently read a book that highlighted people who had effected both small and large changes in their communities. They shared one quality -- they all faced difficult opposition, but they kept their eyes on their goals and didn't get sidetracked by the critics and hurtful words being flung about.

"History is littered with anonymous characters whose job it is to discourage, dissuade and disdain anyone from doing much of anything new or different, anything that might upset the status quo…Don't Listen…Because committing to something or someplace or someone is not easy. Hardly ever. Almost never."


So, Vallejo, keep your heads up. We're making great change here. Stay above the fray. Don't lower yourselves to the nasty name-calling and hate-fill rants on the Times-Herald blogs. Remember that we're all going though a difficult time, but when we come out on the other side, our city will be on the right path towards reaching that potential we all hope for and talk about.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Revised Bankruptcy Hearing Schedule

Because Mr. Mialocq, Mr. Glosteron and Kurt Henke will be on vacation next week, the hearings scheduled for August 12 and 13 have been cancelled. (The City agreed to the Unions' request for a continuance, and Judge McManus accepted the request.)

The next hearings will be:
  • August 19, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

  • August 21 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

  • August 22 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Friday, August 08, 2008

New Bankruptcy Hearing Dates

The bankruptcy hearing dates are changing, as are the lineup of witnesses. Here is the most current schedule:

* August 12 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30
* August 13 from 9:00 a.m. to noon
* August 19, 21 and 22 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Swiftboating of Joe Tanner…and Vallejo

Swiftboating. We all know the term by now. It is synonymous with character assassination or smear campaigns. It is dirty and ugly and based on just enough fact, mixed in with lots of lies and innuendo, that it creates confusion and sometimes panic.

One of my favorite swiftboat descriptions is from a June 12, 2008 article in Time magazine by Michael Kinsley:

"Swift-boating's essence is a particular kind of dishonesty, or rather a particular combination of shadowy dishonesties. It usually involves a complex web of facts, many of which may even be true. It exploits its own complexity and the reluctance of the media to adjudicate factual disputes. No matter how thoroughly a charge may be discredited, enough taint remains to support an argument. The fundamental dishonesty is the suggestion that the issue, whatever it is, really matters."

Character assassinations are often conducted by an opposition that has no real standing in fact or truth or ethics. It is usually used to confront a critic who challenges people who are used to being in power. People who want to remain in power. People who fear they are losing their control on power. It is an act of desperation.

Vallejo has experienced swiftboating long before Joe Tanner. The public safety unions have perfected the art of swiftboating in our fair city, aided by the willing editors and publisher of the Vallejo Times Herald. Think about it: Ed Wohlenberg, Penny Barclay, Pete Rey, Foster Hicks, Joanne Schively, Otto Guiliani, Donna Landeros, Rob Stout, Gary Cloutier, Tony Pearsall, myself (Stephanie Gomes), Joe Tanner...

So when are we, citizens of Vallejo, going to stop believing in these swiftboat maneuvers? When are we going to put a period at the end of that long list of names of good, honest, courageous people who risked their personal and/or professional reputations to say "NO" to the public safety unions' stranglehold on our city? Hasn't bankruptcy taught us that the time is now?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Love & Marriage

I don't usually cry at weddings. But last weekend I cried at the wedding of Wendell and Manny, two very fun, intelligent, warm, loving people who are very active in the Vallejo community. Wendell and Manny have been together for 19 years, and on Saturday they were married on Mare Island.

I've been to many weddings where the couples were as giddy and loving as Wendell and Manny. I've seen exchanges of rings where the couples' hands shake and they laugh nervously as they say their vows. I've heard many variations of the wedding march as couples walk down the isle and stare adoringly at each other.

But this wedding wasn't about the cake, the flowers, or the bridesmaids' dresses. It was about true love and commitment.

This couple has already been together for more years than most marriages last, yet they didn't have the fundamental right to marry each other until last month. It made their wedding ceremony poignant for me in a way that most weddings are not.

A good friend of mine reminds me all the time that life isn't fair. I have to be reminded because I can't shake this belief that life should be fair. People should rightfully be treated with equal dignity and respect. Animals should be shown compassion and kindness by all humans. Bad deeds should be punished and good deeds rewarded.

And all people should have the right to marry each other, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc.

I sat in my chair on the lawn of a stately Mare Island mansion on a gorgeous warm July day, and I felt history stirring. I was honored to be a witness to this marriage, and a witness to positive change. Sometimes, life is fair.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bankruptcy & the Public Trust

As most people know by now, the Vallejo City Council unanimously approved the filing of a petition under Chapter 9 of the U.S. bankruptcy code. It took many years for Vallejo to get to this point, but ultimately there was a long-term abuse of the public trust. Some of it was unintentional. Some of it was unintentional but based on greed and/or self-interest. And some of it was definitely intentional.

As we go through the bankruptcy process, I'll talk more of what happened and how we got here. But right now, it's most important to acknowledge the basic root of our problem -- Vallejo had made contractual commitments that far outpaced our General Fund revenues. Our annual operating deficit is currently $16 million, and it will grow almost exponentially without serious changes to our financial structure.

One of my biggest frustrations after getting elected in 2005 was the realization that the City Council had no room to make tough financial decisions to save the city from what was obviously impending insolvency. Previous City management had made too many service cuts and temporary fixes that ultimately cost more than they saved. They may have solved the financial crisis facing them at the time, but in doing so they promised future raises and benefits that the City would never be able to afford. They bargained their way out of their crisis du jour, but they also gave away future Councils' control over the City checkbook.

When I came into office, approximately 70 percent of our General Fund was bound up in contractual agreements with our public safety unions. That left only 30 percent for all other services like road maintenance, tree trimming, community organizations, libraries, code enforcement, vehicle and equipment maintenance, transportation, etc. (Two years later, that 30 percent figure is now 20-25 percent. )

We needed an agreement to modify the public safety contracts and make our public safety salaries fair and affordable. I've worked with two city managers now who tried to reach new agreements with the public safety unions, to no avail. They never opened up their contracts for renegotiation. The City tried to negotiate a solution in good faith. But we didn't get the same in return, and in the end, there was no agreement offered that helped us solve our problem for the long-term. We were offered the same short-term fixes, wage and benefit deferrals and contract extensions that previous city management had grabbed onto like a lifeline. They were unacceptable to me and ultimately to a majority of the Council because they didn't help us avoid insolvency or even touch the root of our structural deficit -- which is still unsustainable salaries and benefit packages.

So with growing deficits, spiralling public safety costs, no reserve, a worsening economy and a miserable housing market, this current City Council had no choice but to unanimously approve the filing of a bankruptcy petition. That's where we are right now. (In one of my next blogs perhaps I'll talk about some of the items in the public safety contracts that don't appear on the surface to have a cost to the City, but which ultimately cost the taxpayers dearly in both money and trust.)

Please note that the bankruptcy hearings are open to the public. That's one of the benefits of bankruptcy -- finally, the sunshine is bright and the information cannot be hidden behind the secrecy of "negotiations" or "closed sessions."

The hearing on the City's qualification to be a debtor will be heard as follows (this schedule may change):


  • July 23 and 24, starting at 1 p.m.

  • July 25, beginning at 9 a.m. (half day)

  • August 5, starting at 9 a.m. (all day)

  • The Court also reserved all day of August 19, 21, and 22 for the conclusion of the hearing, if necessary. Otherwise these days will be used for the hearing on the City's Motion to Reject the Collective Bargaining Agreements.


The U.S. Courthouse in Sacramento is located at 501 I Street, on the corner of 5th and I Streets (across the street from the Amtrak station). Judge McManus' courtroom is on the 7th floor.



For more information, please go to the City's website.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"The truth is "hate speech" only to those who have something to hide."
~Michael Rivero


According to my friends who read our local newspaper's blogs (I tell them to stay away from them -- the nastiness can't be good for them), anyone who opposes unsustainably high public safety salaries and benefits in Vallejo is called a "hater." We are called "haters" because apparently the, "if you're not with us, you're against us" mentailty reigns. The alleged "haters" are accused of hating all police officers and firefighters.

We don't hate police officers and firefighters. We hate the tactics their unions are using against our city and our community. We hate the fact that nearly nearly 80 percent of our general fund goes to public safety and unsustainably high salaries and benefits, leaving only approximately 20 percent for other necessary city services. We hate the fact that our streets are riddled with potholes, our trees are overgrown, our libraries are closing and our senior centers are reducing programs and services to seniors in need. We hate the fact that we want our city back, and we can’t do that until we regain control of our own city checkbook again.

We are not haters. We are Vallejo citizens who have a right to demand services for the taxes we are paying. We have a right to decide if our taxes are being spent wisely and if not, to demand a change that will do so. We have a right to complain about gross inequities. And we have a right to complain about any abuse of the public trust.

I’m copying a letter here from a resident of another city in California. I won’t name the city or the woman because she is apparently already facing retribution from speaking the truth in her community. My heart went out to her when I read her e-mail as she's apparently enduring a lot of what we Vallejoans have been enduring these past few years. Is she a "hater" too? Or maybe she is a heroine for having the courage to stand up and be counted in the face of a powerful opposition. It’s amazing how many definitions for “hero” there can be – and it doesn’t just have to be one.

Hi Ms. Gomes,

I have been watching your city's situation since my 85 year old cousin, a life-long Vallejo resident, told me what was going on about a year and a half ago. About a year ago, our city manager announced we were in the same situation. We have the same problem with salaries – in a city where the average family lives on about $40,000, we have 84 city staffers who make over $100,000 a year, about half of those make over $150,000. Plenty of those salaries are in our development services dept, but the police dept takes almost half our budget, and of course their biggest expenditure is salaries. The chief makes a base salary of over $160,000.

They achieved these salaries through a Memo of Understanding that tied their salaries to city revenues. I often wonder if that's how Vallejo ended up in trouble - our staffers were getting raises as high as 22 percent per year because they were permitting every subdivision that came along. Now our housing market is completely bust, and prices and prop tax revunues are headed down, but they are kicking and fighting to keep their crazy salaries.

They continue to justify these salaries not with a survey of cities nearby of similar size, but of faraway cities that are much bigger and have a much bigger tax base. Sound familiar? I wonder if this is going on in the same fashion all over the U.S.

When our local tv news ran a story about Vallejo's financial problems, a lot of other people here started watching. People like me and my husband are saying "Go Get 'Em Stephanie!" You're tough, and you say it like it is. Thank you.

The discussion has gotten ugly here - I am sorry to say, we have found out our public safety workers are not very classy people, that's too bad. Anybody who stands up to say we need to cut salaries gets a lot of nasty flak - they posted my photo on a website, and you should see the comments they make about me. They're trying to smear me, because I am vocal in my demands that salaries get cut and the public be let in on the salary discussions in future. I have one city counselor on my side - he's one of only two members who is not a union employee himself, go figure. Five of our seven council members are public employees themselves. Our mayor has said he will refuse to vote for bankruptcy.

I am surely hoping the judge will decide in your favor. I think that will change the tune here. It will sure be a good topic for our up-coming election.

Thank you again Ms. Gomes.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Do what you feel in your heart to be right -- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't."
~Eleanor Roosevelt



Friday, June 20, 2008

I was on the waterfront the other evening and noticed this lone goose sitting on the grass in front of the ferry building. It seemed very out of place, sitting on the grass tucking his head into his back feathers and trying to snooze in the heat. The waterfront was busy, and people were walking by him, leading their small children up to the goose to check him out, letting their dogs get too close. The goose would get up and get a bit cranky, then settle down again when left alone.

I love geese. They have this cocky attitude and bold, expressive eyes that are part challenger, part comic, and part inquisitor. They make me laugh. But while amusing in their attitude, I also know that geese can be aggressive, and they will snap at people if pushed too far.

I knew the goose didn’t belong there, and felt that it was very vulnerable – humans and dogs being their primary predators. I was getting ready to call Animal Control when a young man and woman walked up to the goose. They were obviously high on something, and the man went up to the goose and tried to grab it. The woman was laughing and egging him on. The goose snapped at him, and the man jumped back, then advanced towards the goose again.

I asked the man to leave the goose alone, and said very calmly that it was wildlife and should not be messed with. I was dialing Animal Care & Control at the time, and the man started yelling at me. It wasn’t the yelling that bothered me as much as the chilling effect of his words. Something to the effect (I won’t repeat the cuss words, which were liberally laced throughout his speech), “Who are you going to call? The police? The police aren’t going to help you. This city is bankrupt. The police said they’re not going to answer any calls that aren’t violent. I know the law here. They’re not going to help you. They’re not going to protect you. They’re not going to come out here and save you. This city is bankrupt. The police aren’t going to do nothing.”

Animal Care & Control came and we caught the goose (Thanks to Justine and David, he’s at a sanctuary now). But the encounter has been repeating itself in my mind for two days now. The obvious realization is that the scare tactics had obviously gotten to the streets, emboldening people who heard that they can do whatever they want in Vallejo as long as it wasn’t a violent crime. (The young man was wrong, as Chief Nichelini told the Council Tuesday night. The VPD will continue to protect the life and property of the citizens of Vallejo, as they have sworn to do).

Setting aside the couple’s bad behavior, I felt my encounter with that lone goose happened for a reason. And after a bit of research, I found some perfect inspirational tidbits that were just waiting to be shared with Vallejo*:

  1. Geese fly in a V formation, and as each goose flaps its wings it creates an "uplift" for the birds that follows. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. People who share a common direction and sense a community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.
  2. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front of it. If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.
  3. Geese shift the leadership positions frequently during the flight. It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities, and unique arrangements of gifts, talents, or resources.
  4. Migrating geese make loud, honking noises, called contact calls, to help them stay together. We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater.

Yes, the police may not be able to be everywhere for everyone in Vallejo. But their intentions are good and they are sworn to protect us, and I believe they will do their best to continue doing so. But as residents, we can help pick up some slack. We can join together, keep an eye out for each other and help and volunteer when we can. I feel very strongly that we can work our way through the pain of bankruptcy, that we’ll solve our financial problems and our structural imbalance. And when we come out on the other side, we’ll be a strong community that will take pride in our resolve and our tenacity and our newfound health and vigor. So please, as we go through these trying times, watch out for those more vulnerable than yourself – bad behavior should never be tolerated, and inhumanity never witnessed without protest.


*The information from Lessons from the Geese came from http://suewidemark.com/lessonsgeese.htm, and is based on a written piece in 1972 by Dr Robert McNeish.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I've been meaning to start a blog for awhile now, but it seems that time is always a factor. But with a newspaper that has a certain political bent, I realized that I had to show that there are different perspectives to most issues. And contrary to our less than venerable local newspaper, all news in Vallejo isn't bad news, and all sides to an issue aren't "right" or "wrong." They're just different. This blog will focus on sharing my points of view, my reasonings behind some of the more controversial votes, and things I'm doing in our community.

So here it goes. But a disclaimer is needed, I think. This blog will be similar to an editorial in a newspaper. The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone and come from my personal point of view -- they are not the opinions of any other city councilmembers, the city manager or staff. The issues I discuss on this blog will center around the public realm, city politics, and issues related to Vallejo and city government. Once I get things up and running, I will allow people to post moderated questions to me on the blog. But for now, I'll just be posting as regularly as possible, sometimes more often than others, so keep checking back!
"It does not take a majority to prevail. Just an irate, tireless minority, setting brushfires in peoples minds." ~Judy Cohen Hotchkiss

The Vallejo Sunshine Ordinance says, "A government’s duty is to serve the public and in reaching its decisions to accommodate those who wish to obtain information about or participate in the process."

You have a right to access many types of information that staff, employees and the City Council produce when making decisions about your city. Find out more about exercising your rights to information created by your city government:
  1. Vallejo's Sunshine Ordinance: http://www.cfac.org/content/sunshine/vallejo.php
  2. The California Public Records Act: http://www.thefirstamendment.org/publicrecordsact.pdf
  3. The Brown Act: http://www.brownact.org/