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‘Bridging the Gap’ should be retooled for next year

A word about the recent the “Bridging the Gap” event, which saw dismal turnout. The intent was to provide information to business owners or those wanting to start businesses. 

The event was just bizarre. Instead of playing some kind of mellow background music as a prelude, Mexican music was blasted in the room.

The mayor then conducted interviews on stage with Councilman Daniel Martinez, which had nothing to do with business. It was followed by a Q&A with a boxer named Nate Rodriguez, who would work fine as a motivational speaker at a youth camp – not a business conference. The Q&A with cannabis businessman Jason David, seemed more like a long commercial for his products.

To be fair, I didn’t stay for the afternoon session with real estate guru Arjun Dhingra so no comment there.

Some suggested on Facebook that the city did a poor job of advertising the event. Lack of communication is a common complaint we hear from Councilman James Casey.

The mayor might want to rethink his strategy if he plans to get more than 12 people at next year’s event – if there is a next year.

* * * * *

It remains to be seen if Mayor Javier Lopez has a challenger this November but as of right now, nobody appeared interested in what Lopez calls a “thankless job.” I suppose the job is ego gratifying though as he’s running for a second term.

Troy Arrollo dropped his candidacy last month and, to be honest, his chances were questionable, despite being the son of a well-respected former Ceres mayor. He seemed very ill-prepared.

At his announcement event in December, the 40 who showed up didn’t fill up a third of the large tent at the golf course. Arrollo came with zero civic affiliations and hasn’t been a presence in the community. I sensed there was trouble when I was handed a badly-botched campaign card measuring 2” by 3.5” which had to be redesigned. The second version of the business card fixed the error but offered a four-paragraph platform statement of 101 words which meant extremely small print; the other side had an appeal for campaign donations.

When Lopez ran in 2020 against Bret Durossette, nobody thought he had a chance. Bret was a council veteran of eight years and a Ceres Lions Club member. But Lopez ended up with 8,753 votes, surpassing the 6,924 votes of the vice mayor by 1,829. Some believe that Lopez won due to Latino voters voting for someone like them but lacking credentials, an idea that has merit since Ceres is over 61 percent Latino.

We all saw how disastrous the first years of the Lopez mayorship were with three new experienced councilmembers as voter tribalism trumped experience.

* * * * *

Words mean something so it’s really no surprise that the progressives are trying to alter traditionally held concepts through words. George Orwell had the same idea in 1984 when he suggested that you can limit thought by controlling vocabulary.

You and I grew up knowing there are bad people who do things that are against the law and good people who also break the law. No matter, they both earn the label of criminal or offender.

A legislator in Illinois doesn’t like the use of the term “offender,” probably because a lot of his constituents are criminals. He prefers to use the phrase “justice impacted person.”

The term suggests that a person has no control over their actions and is a victim of the judicial system. Nonsense.

House Bill 4409 would add Illinois Department of Corrections representation to the Adult Redeploy Illinois oversight board, but it also changes the word “offender” to “justice-impacted individuals.” Republicans argued against it, citing the cost to taxpayers and the obvious attempt to minimize lawbreakers.

I applaud the impassioned appeal of Illinois State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, who noted that Democrats forget the victims. McClure mentioned how the Prisoner Review Board released Crosetti Brand, a man who killed 11-year old Jayden Perkins a day after his release. McClure noted that Brand wasn’t a justice-impacted individual but a criminal.

McClure said: “There seems to be this rush to take away all accountability for people who commit crimes. If a person is going to get on the right path, they have to know they did something wrong. This apologizing for the criminal, the person who chooses to commit crimes to the detriment of our victims, the people who don’t choose to be victims of crimes, is absolutely incredible.”

He noted that crime in Illinois has spiked 38% year-to-date since 2019. 

Chicago, the murder capital of the country, is of course, in Illinois.

It would be a grand world if everybody who spends time behind bars reforms and becomes productive. But the reality is many don’t change and there is no redemption this side of heaven.

It’s time that Gavin Newsom types admit that reforming prisons like San Quentin will be an exercise in futility.

* * * * *

Rubio’s, the chain of Mexican restaurants, is closing 48 locations in California, the first major casualty of the Democrats’ $20 an hour minimum-wage hike. Rubio’s is not closing in any other state, mind you.

We told you paying $20 an hour to burger workers would kill jobs but it’s also killing business – and popular fish tacos.

Ralph Rubio brought the fish taco to the United States in 1983.

In-N-Out also closed its Oakland restaurant, citing crime and costs.

You can thank Newsom and his party for raising the cost of your Subway foot-long sandwich from $5 in 2019 to now $7.50 to $8.49.

California has lost 9,500 fast-food restaurant jobs since September. And the morons who don’t know the realities of doing business are blaming the businesses and not the politicians who ordered restaurants to pay more for labor.

Jot Condie, the president of the California Restaurant Association, said he thinks this is the “beginning of a trend in restaurant closures.”

* * * * *

Chantel Forest is upset at the types of businesses Ceres has attracted in recent years and has Riverbank envy.

On Thursday she posted this on Facebook: “Ceres needs to get with the program. We have no thriving retail or restaurants. Why is Ceres getting passed up? We have more population than Riverbank yet they are getting HomeGoods, T J Maxx and Costco. They also support Target, a movie theater and a whole complex of shops at Crossroads. Why is this not happening in Ceres? We have more population to support these businesses. I would love to be able to shop and enjoy a meal in my own community.”

As is usual on social media, some folks popped off without knowing what they are talking about. For example, John Morton said “It’s the city of Ceres stopping businesses from coming here.” His is an odd (and wildly untrue) statement, especially in light of all the new businesses in the Ceres Gateway Center. Do we need to list them again? Quick Quack Car Wash, Starbucks, Popeye’s, Ono Hawaiian BBQ, In-N-Out, Chipotle, Tractor Supply and coming soon a Nick the Greek restaurant in the Union 76 building and a Woodspring Hotel & Suites.

Another person who weighed in without a clue was Brianna Tejeda who said: “We all need to hop on our community meetings! Myself included, I’ve had the city guys tell me they have the same three people hop on and nothing ever gets done. Let’s start pushing for our community!”

Brianna, you can shake the roof at City Hall but that doesn’t produce new businesses you want to see in Ceres. It’s businesses who initiate an application to come here, not city leaders. I’ve not seen the city turn down one application for a business!

The other issue is the lack of availability of a large parcel to accommodate a Target, if Target would even think they could operate a profitable store with a massive Walmart Supercenter already in Ceres and two Target stores 10-15 minutes down the freeway, depending on if you go north to Modesto or south to Turlock. In a word, Ceres is “screwed” by its location.

As far as why Riverbank is getting more businesses, consider that Crossroads is drawing folks from northeast Modesto just a stone’s throw away.

* * * * *

If you’re like me, you want to go into a business without being told they decided to go Woke, such as your bank embracing anyone’s sexual proclivities or seeing a rainbow flag on the door of your favorite store. And I especially don’t like checking into a hotel to read somewhere that they are LGBTQ+ friendly. Just treat everyone like customers who want friendly service without proselytizing to me.

We constantly see companies hiring Woke white women to screw up their brands. Case in point: Alissa Heinerscheid, the Anheuser-Busch marketing director who tanked sales after thinking it would be a good idea to put effeminate trans Dylan Mulvaney on a can.

But you’ve gone too far when you start messing with Cracker Barrel. Last year the corporation hired a new CEO in Julie Felss Masino. She wants the chain to change to stay “relevant,” saying it needs “transformation” to keep up with the times. She wants to mess with pricing, the lighting, seating and décor.

Masino notes that Cracker Barrel sales are flattening. Would it have anything to do with backlash for the company in 2023 saying it was excited to ‘celebrate Pride Month with our employees and guests. Everyone is always welcome at our table (and our rocker). Happy Pride!”?

Well, duh; thanks for telling us you don’t deny lodging to gays and lesbians as was the case when the blacks were turned away from Florida hotels in the 1960s, but is it necessary to p--- off your primarily right-leaning customer base? Why was the “Pride” statement necessary? All it did was prompt a hashtag of #BoycottCrackerBarrel.

The appeal of Cracker Barrel, to me and millions, is the nostalgic experience of entering an old country store – after walking past the rockers lining the porch –  filled with lots of hard-to-find items like Moon Pies and candies from the 1950s, peanut brittle, apple butter, fabric checker boards and spinning toys. When you walk into the restaurant the dining room is on the dark side, with a massive fireplace, all kinds of eclectic antique implements hanging from the ceiling and the walls filled with nostalgic advertisement, signs and charcoal drawings of folks who lived in the 1800s. I love it.

I get that there are people who avoid Cracker Barrel – my brother Kevin calls it “Crapper Barrel” – but they can steer toward trendy places they like. Cracker Barrel is about as American apple pie as you can find so please don’t mess with it.

I’ve lost any hope that Cracker Barrel will ever build a store in Ceres given that the chain just closed its Sacramento store after a six-year run – all because Democrats have artificially inflated the cost of labor. The one in Santa Maria closed too.

Another casualty was the Pea Soup Anderson’s in Buellton.

Welcome to Newsom’s California.

This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.  How do you feel about this? Let Jeff know at