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A huge case of community ID theft is allowed
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Although not a huge fan of Burger King, on Dec. 12 I checked out the new restaurant on Hatch Road for the first time. I was impressed with the new BK design of the "store" with its interior decor of back alley brick, a circular seating area that faces a big screen TV and large video screen menu boards. The south wall is branded with the name Ceres.

The receipt I was handed was branded differently: 1421 E. Hatch Road, Modesto CA. That's enough to confuse anyone. Which is it? Is BK - or even the Kmart or Home Depot or the IHOP, all north of Hatch Road - in Ceres or Modesto?

Yes to both. You might call it a case of identity theft.

It's confusing and forever will be until an act of Congress - literally - because apparently the people are too confused to do anything about remedying the confusion.

Most of what is located north of Hatch Road to the Tuolumne River is within the Ceres city limits. If you were to call 911 for police or first-responders at the Burger King - or on Merlot Drive, Magic Lane, Lucchessi Lane, Colombard Way, Holm Avenue or Canyon Drive for that matter - responding to your call will be Ceres Police or Ceres Fire. Want to build? You must obtain a building permit at Ceres City Hall. The residents of this area elect Ceres city officials, not Modesto city officials.

BUT their mail is addressed to Modesto CA 95351.

How did that happen? Let me explain.

Go back at least 50 years ago when Modesto was a speck on the map and Ceres was a no-show. In those days, Modesto was charged with delivering mail to outlying rural areas, if you will, the farm homes quite a ride from actual Modesto proper. If you lived on Albers Road, for example, your mailing address was Modesto. To this day you'll find rural homes that bear a Modesto mailing address located over 10 miles or farther from Modesto. Cases in point: the Fruit Yard restaurant, about 12 miles east of Modesto; or Westport Elementary School, which is like eight miles from Ceres. (You'd think Westport would have a Ceres address since it's a lot closer).

During the 1940s and 1950, everything north of Hatch Road was farms, orchards and pasture lands. Following the post-war boom of home building, a subdivision cropped up north of Hatch Road in Payne and Wallin avenues. Then in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Ceres eventually expanded its city limits to take in the unincorporated county areas north of Hatch Road, which has the infamous Modesto mailing address. Today "county islands" still pock the area despite LAFCO's desire to see Ceres annex it all.

There needs to be an automatic federal trigger that states if a city annexes land to its city limits, the city's name shall be applied to all new residents. Makes complete sense to me. Your new identity is your new city. But who said federal law is generally crafted with common sense?

Of course, there's federal bureaucracy involved as well as postal politics which involves - what else? - money. Did you know that a postmaster's salary is based on the number of his patrons? To prevent postmasters from arbitrarily taking patrons and losing salary, the system calls for requests for zip code changes to be first considered to see if the request makes sense and then letting the affected patrons have all the say.

The city of Ceres has, of course, realized that it's only proper to call Ceres jurisdiction "Ceres" - not Modesto - and petitioned for an election in September 1994. The measure failed. It seems there were the old-timers who had a fair amount of bad blood toward Ceres City Hall. They organized while under their breath saying "hell no we don't want to be called Ceres." Motivated by their disdain for Ceres, they spread loads of misinformation about alleged disruptions to life as they knew it. I heard flimsy excuses like it would cost residents to change stationery.

When a postal zip code change ballot fails, the USPS won't allow it to be taken up again for another decade. Thus, Ceres tried it again. In 2009 the city staged a half-hearted attempt to educate patrons. Failure again; of the 1,182 returned ballots, the result was 429 "yes" and 753 "no."

I watched part of the ballot counting and noted something interesting. Apparently some people were greatly confused about the simply worded question. Many were unclear about associated issues and some just were confused about what a yes and no vote meant. For example, one person wrote: "It's time for a change" but then marked "no." Another ballot was marked, "Thanks for doing this" and then checked "no."

One woman checked "no" and commented that she didn't want her utilities changed. Well, duh, the zip code change would have done none of that.

It was a supremely stupid decision on the part of those balloting. Since the ballot measure failed, those living north of Hatch Road will continue to have to drive the farther distance to the Paradise Road post office to pick up certified letters and packages. The change would have placed mail delivery with the Ceres post office - much closer to the area - and would have saved the Postal Service a bundle in fuel costs due to far less driving.

A similar situation occurred in Keller, Texas 76262 where residents were served by three post offices - Roanoke (76180) and North Richland Hills (76180). Keller city officials petitioned to have all its residents served by one mailing address of Keller. Patrons agreed to avoid the confusion and voted for the change, effective July 1, 2009.

Whenever these changes occur, the Postal Service continues to honor the delivery of the mail with either the old or new city name and zip code for one year to allow time for residents to notify correspondents of the new last line of information as well as exhaust stationery on hand.

The Ceres-Modesto matter cannot be voted on until 2019 - eight years from now and I'm dumbfounded as to why opposition has softened only slightly over the years. (Opposition was 72.1 percent in the 1994 balloting, but fell to 68.5 percent in 2009.)

I would imagine opposition will slack off more as the bad blood passes. However, consider that people tend to be more apathetic about voting as time goes on, and the anti-changers will always have the upper hand since many resist change as being uncomfortable. The 2008 balloting failed to excite many - only 37 percent returned ballots - and it can be inferred that those who didn't bother either had no passion about the matter or did actually support the zip changing but assumed the issue was a slam dunk common sense approval.

Why doesn't Congress - hello, Rep. Dennis Cardoza - rectify the situation by changing the law to this simple concept: If a city expands its boundaries, the zip code of that area automatically takes on the mailing address of the city. Duh. No balloting. Just do it. An administrative action. If somebody has a problem with their address being named after the city they're now in, I suppose they can move north of the river.

This area of Ceres will never be in the Modesto city limits. Get over it, people. But to continue labeling it Modesto 95351 and not Ceres 95307 has to be the most patently absurd example of community ID theft that should make the Ceres Chamber of Commerce doing back flips.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at