If you were at last week's council meeting, you missed a load of complaining about the behavior of Ceres folks in general.
Sheila Brandt spoke about the deplorable visual sight of the water tower. She asked the council to paint the water tower, which is seen by tens of thousands of Highway 99 travelers a day. Brandt said it would be a nice improvement as the city celebrates its centennial in 2018. Later City Manager Toby Wells said a simple paint job is not possible, suggesting it would cost a half million dollars to refurbish the whole tower. I was here as editor the last time it was painted and it only cost $5,000 and lasted about a decade. I doubt the condition of the tower is much different than today.
Leonard Shepherd agreed about the water tower being unsightly but went on to complain about the "idiots who are going to make a warzone ... with their fireworks and burning things and blowing people's hands off."
Jameo Walker wondered why he doesn't see officers patrolling Darrah Street like he once did. He stated how ridiculous it is to have four officers on the street for a city of nearly 50,000 residents. Chief Brent Smith said he has several officers out on injuries and at time the city is at its minimum of three officers per shaft. What he didn't explain was nine officer jobs have not been filled after the vacancies were created.
Walker's sister complained there are not enough street lights on Darrah which contributes to people creeping around with nefarious intent. Wells suggested that lights could be installed if the residents want to pay for it.
Walker also noted that the city once offered a drop-off area for large bulky items on Darrah to combat illegal dumping. But once code enforcement Sgt. Joe Wren left the city, the program was eliminated but Walker said the sign wasn't taken down and people are still dumping off items across from his home.
"They're constantly dumping couches there," said Walker.
Wells said the city can easily put up signs but asked when that has ever stopped people from illegal dumping.
Then there was Councilwoman Linda Ryno's discussion about how shabby the city parks look. It was explained that the city can't afford to hire more parks staff but Public Works Director Jeremy Damas explained how kids are kicking sprinkler heads off and damaging them. When sprinkler heads don't work, plants don't get irrigated properly. Staff time is also consumed by picking up trash from weekend users.
Shepherd then took the podium and noted that the city's slogan of "Together We Achieve" should read more like "Together We Ignore."
"People don't care anymore," he said. He noted that the attitude of many is: "It's my neighborhood. What the heck, I'll throw the garbage down on the street." He noted that it takes work to keep a yard looking nice, singling out the rare way that Councilman Ken Lane cares for his Moffett Road yard.
Shephered said "Nobody cares. Nobody gives a damn" and compared Ceres to the rat experiment. He noted how adding more rats to a cage makes them more edgy and fighting. People are the same way, he said, saying, "We've got too many rats for what we can afford to give them. We can't add more people."
Don Donaldson had his say about how Smyrna Park is abused by the careless. He said the park looks pitiful on Monday mornings when he walks his dog in the park, as he sees BBQ briquette ash scattered against trees, the gutter on the shelter has been yanked down, the name plaque on the Obama presidential tree has been stripped and there's graffiti on buildings. He is grossed out when his dog, Gunner, finds dirty diapers. "I mean, we just put a $400,000 bathroom up there. Hey people ... use it." He said the city needs to fine people who are trashing the parks, which he said happens all the time.
A common theme to all of this is the conduct of a class of people and a lack of money.
It's also about liberal Sacramento policy that is creating havoc on cities. Cities are suffering from the escalating costs of retirement, worker's compensation and health and liability insurance costs. Some cities have been pushed to the edge of bankruptcy because of retirement costs. Union-backed Democrats like Kamala Harris played games with attempts to thwart ballot measures to correct the so-called "California Rule," which prohibits cuts in pension benefits already granted or promised. Under the rule, pensions are considered binding contracts protected by the state Constitution.
And if you remember it was state lawmakers who drove state budgets into the ground and went to rob redevelopment agency funds from cities. Now cities who had money to make their communities nicer no longer have the money.
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It stands for "shaking my head" in social media.
I cannot wrap my mind around this California attorney general we have. He continues to defy logic.
Most people won't even recognize the name of Xavier Becerra, our state attorney general who was appointed by Gov. Brown once Kamala Harris bailed office to take the U.S. Senate seat. He is less concerned about doing his job and more about advancing his radical leftist agenda. Last week he joined a friend-of-the-court brief supporting transgender "rights" for veterans in the case Fulcher v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs before the U.S. Court of Appeals. Get this: The brief defends a veteran's demand for healthcare coverage from Veteran's Affairs (VA) for what Becerra calls "medically necessary care such as sex reassignment surgery."
Catch that? Becerra believes a sex change operation is medical necessity! When I think of medical necessity I think of my late wife who battled an aggressive form of leukemia for 15 months before it took her life four years ago today. I don't think of a confused individual who decides they want to have their breasts cut off or the man who wants his male genitalia removed as being "medical necessity." I see that as their desire, not medical necessity. And if one feels compelled to do it, they should pay for the surgery yourself, not have the taxpayers foot the bill.
You have to wonder why Becerra has become this gladiator for a very small minority of individuals and ramrods public policy change. The Williams Institute estimated in 2011 that 1.7 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian, 1.8 percent are bisexual and 0.3 percent as transgender. The vast majority of Californians and Americans are heterosexual, so why is the majority expected to change societal habits, such as public restroom use? Why should the taxpayers pay for somebody's extreme request to alter the body God gave them at birth?
The second laughable thing Becerra did last week was file a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. District Court in support of the Santa Clara County and the cities of San Francisco and Richmond in their challenge to the Trump Administration's executive order targeting "sanctuary jurisdictions." Trump's executive order, of course, seeks to pressure local jurisdictions into enforcing federal immigration law.
Trump wants them to enforce an existing law. What a novel concept, eh, asking law enforcement to enforce the law.
"The Trump Administration does not have the right to coerce states, counties or municipalities to do the federal government's job," writes Becerra. "California's state and local law enforcement officials are in the business of public safety, not of deportation."
Becerra is being intellectually dishonest. There is a huge difference between enforcing federal law and obstructing federal agents from doing their job. Local police are supposed to cooperate with federal authorities when an arrested individual is here illegally.
But get this. The very next day, our esteemed attorney general - the same guy who said the feds don't have any right to get local cops to enforce federal law - turns around and sues the federal EPA for failure to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas operations. On one hand he wants to tell Trump what to do but he doesn't want Trump telling him what to do.
What an amazing hypocrite, that political hack Xavier Becerra.
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A few confused individuals - dare I say lefties - read my column last week, suggesting I am against Latino representation because I am opposed to district elections. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I vote I look not at gender or skin color but at political views. I voted for Meg Whitman for governor and Ashley Swearengin for state controller, so I'm obviously not a sexist. I would've supported Ben Carson for president had he made it to the California primary. And I would gladly vote for a Latino candidate who held my political views. That's been a rarity (most of the Latino candidates have been prone to run in the party I oppose). As such, I was unable to support Cruz Bustamante for lieutenant governor, and would never vote for Xavier Becerra for any state office. I opposed astronaut Jose Hernandez for Congress because of his liberal views. Likewise, I refuse to support white candidates such as Gavin Newsom, Gray Davis, and Jerry Brown, because of their leftist politics.
The problem that I have with district elections is that Ceres is not a big enough town for them. Theoretically now it's possible to elect a council member of a city of 47,000 with just 40o to 600 votes. District elections are fine in large jurisdictions as a way of allowing a representative to represent a more manageable population of constituents. But just to create council district elections on the premise that minority candidates are disadvantaged is pure hogwash.
To suggest that a Latino candidate cannot win an at-large election is a racist assertion in two ways.
First, it suggests that all white people are racist against minority candidates. That is pure bunk as evidenced by the fact that white America helped elect a black president.
Secondly, it suggests that Latinos - by virtue of their race - are handicapped and incapable of conducting successful campaigns, i.e., cannot raise the money, cannot organize an effective campaign or unable to articulate message.
Any candidate, regardless of skin color or gender, can mount a successful campaign by successfully appealing to the electorate.
I have never seen the city of Ceres disregard a candidate on the basis of skin color. In the 1980s Louis Arrollo was elected as a popular candidate for City Council. The voters of Ceres also elected Lisa Mantarro Moore, a female of partial Latino heritage, and Guillermo Ochoa was appointed to City Council. He lost the election in 2011 because, ironically, another Latino candidate in Daniel Padilla, diluted the Latino vote. After his loss, Ochoa told me: "Unfortunately he (Padilla) was going around telling the Hispanic voters that I was a Republican and he was a Democrat and unfortunately Latinos are very gullible."
Hugo Molina was the last Latino candidate for Ceres City Council. There's different reasons why candidates lose races. I'd analyze his 2013 loss as having nothing to do with his ethnicity. Molina is a fine gentleman and great family man but frankly he didn't run much of a campaign and chose not to spend the money his opponents did. Molina was also relatively green in politics, new to town and spends most of his day out of town with his insurance agency. Likewise, white candidate Gene Yeakley lost his campaign because he spent nothing, came across as abrasive and somewhat gruff and ill-prepared. Yeakley also has no real community affiliations.
To say that a candidate of minority ethnic background is disadvantaged based solely on color is an affront to a successful system of elected government.
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Has incivility reached its zenith or will it continue to get worse? Probably worse.
Let me share with you some comments made by various people who reacted to my column last week:
Martino Chiprez told me to "F off," and called me a "douche." That's real debate now.
Former Ceres resident Cruz Leon, now living in Glendale said: "Please resign Jeff Benziger or change the name of the Ceres Courier to the Ceres Republican."
Matthew Wilburn said: "Sad to see that a white, heterosexual male is discounting the discrimination experiences of minorities."
Chris Ricci posted: "Latinos make up a large percentage of valley communities. Why wouldn't you want them to have representatives? Doesn't sound very American."
Latinos do have representation on the City Council. Their names are Chris Vierra, Mike Kline, Bret Durossette, Linda Ryno and Ken Lane. They ran and conducted successful campaigns. This notion that people won't have representation unless someone shares their skin color seems unreasonable and racist in itself. Latinos have the same problems with city government than does any other people of the city. We all use the same parks, drink from same water system, flush toilets into the same sewer system, drive the same streets and are victimized by the same crimes. And we should be using the same language to communicate with our elected officials. If there is a language barrier between populace and elected officials, that's the fault of those who have yet to assimilate to the culture.
We are a nation of immigrants, for sure, but the problem today is that we have those who have set up camp here for their own economic advantage, not because they love the country and support its laws.
Do you have any feedback about this column? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will read it, promise.