To some people, attending City Council meetings would be akin to attending any sleep-inducing insurance seminar. Maybe the perception that meetings are boring (they can be) is what keeps people away. But I find that they are a great exercise in the study of people.
Human nature, complete with its propensity to serve only self, is on display at virtually every meeting. People with agendas - sometimes greatly exaggerated to get their way - show up. Others are low key and more soft spoken about real problems they face in the neighborhood.
I like to scan the faces of audience members occasionally to get a read on how things are being perceived when someone is at the podium. Sometimes I see a grin, a head shaken in disbelief or eyeballs rolling to the ceiling.
It amazed me to see how much drama played out over a pair of new stop signs on Fowler Road. Residents along Fowler have complained for years about speeding on the street as motorists abused the long interrupted strip through the residential area. The council decided to install stop signs as a way to control the speed, although they technically didn't establish the "warrants" to do so.
Recently the matter of the stop signs was revisited. At that meeting, Sherri Jacobson continued to exaggerate the effects of the stop signs on the tranquility of her neighborhood. She suggested that since people were doing "rolling stops" through them that conditions were more dangerous than before. What she had to say was in opposition to the myriad of residents who thanked the council for the stop signs as they increased safety.
Jacobson even rolled video that she shot of cars not coming to a complete stop. The whole thing backfired. Members said while "rolling" stops occur at virtually all intersections, Jacobson's video showed how traffic was being forced to curb speeding.
"This video was great to see," said Councilmember Linda Ryno, "because while people ... may not be coming to a complete stop ... at least they're slowing down which, if I lived in the neighborhood, I'd be much happier than having them fly down the street."
So much for the attempt of "Citizens for Ceres" in their crusade to make Ceres a better place. After all, they are fighting that evil, greedy Walmart that offers lower prices. Why not battle the injustice of stop signs designed to make things safer?
Then there is the continued verbal diatribe of Stanislaus County NAACP president Frank Johnson who can get a little carried away at the podium now and then as he blasts city officials. He did it again on Aug. 11. Johnson, you may remember, insinuated that City Attorney Mike Lyions was a salvia-spitting racist.
What was that all about? A brief history lesson. Years ago Police Chief Art deWerk allowed nurse practitioner Daniel Lucky to offer health screenings to low-income residents with the city as a "sponsor." Later things evolved to where Lucky established a regular clinic in Modesto, sponsored by Ceres Police and NAACP. Some happened to believe that the city had no business sanctioning an independent health organization. When Linda Ryno came aboard the council, she asked Lyions about city liability and was told the city could be liable in a malpractice suit. Lyions carried out the order of the council to disassociate the city with the clinic, despite the good intentions. Lyions' job is to protect the city from being sued and Johnson didn't like it.
That prompted Johnson to scream to the rafters. When deWerk left city employment, Johnson rattled the cages even louder at council meetings.
So on Aug. 11 we hear this from Johnson: "It's been a half a year that the relationships that took years to build hasn't done anything whatsoever with the NACP (sic) or the communities here in Ceres. This is a real bad, bad situation. Our involvement is basically non-existent anymore here in Ceres. The healthcare have stopped. The services for housing through NACP (sic), the educational program, the labor and industry. Eighteen different entities under the umbrella of the NACP (sic) has come to a complete halt with the city of Ceres. This is a very serious situation. It's a grave situation for a relationship that had been built over the years only took moments to dissolve. And the ones who suffer from it are the indigent, the minority, the underserved. They're the ones suffering from this lack of participation. Where do we go without a relationship? Without a partnership? Are we at a standstill all the way around? Yes. We're at a complete halt. I just want the council to understand where we stand. Elections is coming up for the position of the president of Stanislaus County. I don't know if I want to run anymore. But I do know whoever takes my position, I pray to God that they can see things the way I've seen them in the past year because I know the NACP (sic) and what it was years ago in the city of Ceres and I just hope we can continue building a bridge that no longer allows us to cross."
Sour grapes and total exaggeration? No wonder no one on the council bothered to comment in response.
Then we recently heard the retailer threatened to nuke his plans to open a shoe store in Ceres if he doesn't get his oversized sign to advertise his brands. WSS wants a sign nearly three times what the city sign ordinance allows. He dangled all kinds of carrots before the council - the tax base, filling an empty commercial space and the jobs - but the council wasn't biting. I say good. Why have standards if you don't expect to keep them and make exceptions for those who refuse to play by the rules?
Contrast all this foot stomping with the very civil and justified request of one Ceres resident - who was too afraid to give his name at a public meeting.
This gentleman complained about the excessive music levels being played in his neighborhood in southwest Ceres. The poor guy just wants to live in his house and yard without being assaulted by Banda music, which is played at decibels that no one should expect to endure.
It's sad, isn't it, that the City Council has to be asked to deal with something that shouldn't be a problem all if residents lived by a simple rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"?
Unfortunately, inconsiderate people abound everywhere, in cities large and small. Imagine what Ceres would be like if people didn't run stop signs, didn't speed, didn't drop trash everywhere, turned down their music, didn't scrawl graffiti on somebody's walls, kept their dogs quiet, painted their houses when needed, took down strands of Christmas lights after Jan. 1, put their garbage cans out only when allowed and acted like civilized neighbors in community. And I might add quit yelling racism every time somebody disagrees with your agenda.
Now that would be the dream, wouldn't it?
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org.