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New park ‘never done correctly'

In July 2021 I found it odd how the new mayor called for a dedication ceremony for the Guillermo Ochoa Park even though it was far from being in presentable condition for public use.

It was a total rush job.

Normally the time to celebrate a new park is once it’s finished. This park is reminiscent of the parched cemeteries I’ve visited in the Nevada desert. Still, the new mayor felt the need to have a grand shindig, complete with mariachi bands and free tacos from a wagon.

For over 10 years the city planned this as Eastgate Park because, well, it’s located in the Eastgate master planned area of east Ceres. Out of left field, Channce Condit, the briefly serving councilman who was running for the Board of Supervisors pushed – without discussion or input from the community – for the name of the park to be changed to honor the late Guillermo Ochoa. Never mind the fact that the city already had paid for a new $12,786 concrete sign. To make a long story short, led by new Mayor Javier Lopez, on March 22, 2021 the city renamed the park for a man who served on the council for six years before he was defeated for re-election in 2007.

The renaming came after the city went through the motion of having other names submitted but gave greatest consideration to how many liked a particular name. Forty-eight citizens pushed for the name of Veterans Park but were outvoted by six more for Ochoa Park. If you don’t think there was an organized effort within the Latino community to put Ochoa’s name at the top, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you.

Dedicating the park a year ago was a mistake. Besides putting the cart before the horse, it created an unrealistic expectation – especially in the Latino community proud as punch that one of their own was being immortalized with the naming of a park – that a completed park was around the corner.

The truth is, if it wasn’t for federal COVID money – produced by Congress out of thin air and putting the U.S. taxpayers into debt by trillions more – the city wouldn’t have the funds to finish the park.

In our coverage of the dedication ceremony, we reported that ex-Mayor Anthony Cannella told the crowd that Mayor Lopez assured him that a grant would be obtained to finish the park. In a year’s time no grant was snagged; only ARPA funds became available.

Tom Westbrook, the city manager at the time, told me: “I don’t have a plan on when that grass is going to be planted. In hindsight, in the midst of this drought, I’m sure we would get folks saying, ‘Oh look, they built a new park with a bunch of sod and they’re watering it every day to keep it alive’ so in hindsight it’s probably better that there’s not grass there anyway.”

While the lack of grass has been a significant bother to those who see it daily, we are still in a drought.

Don’t get me wrong, I think a park should have grass. Who wants to hang it in a hot, uninviting place like Misfits Flat near Stagecoach, Nevada? But dedicating an unfinished park was like celebrating the first birthday of a fetus yet born. It was an act of immature leadership.

Last week we learned that Councilman James Casey wasn’t pleased at all to learn that city staff sought to divert the $600,000 in ARPA funds planned to be spent on the unfinished Lions Park on River Road and use it to complete Ochoa Park. He cast one of the two “no” votes, causing a deadlock 2-2 tie.

No wonder that Councilman Mike Kline last week declared: “This park, to me, was never done correctly.”

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Saw another great meme the other day. This is for gun control advocates who won’t get it unless they know some of the Bible: “A rock in bad hands killed Able. A rock in good hands killed Goliath. It’s definitely not about the rock, folks.”

The point, of course, is that guns can be used for good – and evil. And yes, I consider it a good thing that a skilled concealed weapons permit holder took out a mall shooter in Minneapolis. But the Left didn’t celebrate that solution to violence committed by a defective human wrongly using a gun to kill.

I certainly don’t gloat over the death of the sicko gunman, Jonathan Sapirman, 20, but I do celebrate the lives of others saved when Elisjsha Dicken, 22, dropped him with eight rounds before police could even get to him. I say bravo, Elisjsha! We need more good people with guns to cancel out the demented.

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Mike Rowe is one TV celebrity I respect immensely (there aren’t many, I must say). Mike is the TV personality from “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel. Rowe has been an advocate for people skipping college – and the debt load that comes with it – and getting down in the trenches to make a good living without a college education. The problem is that folks just don’t want to work hard – especially the ones coming up in the world who want the government to pay for everything.

Mike said: “We’re churning out a generation of poorly educated people with no skill, no ambition, no guidance and no realistic expectations of what it means to go to work.” Sad but true.

About four years ago I had a water manifold break in the wall of my garage. It’s a heavy-duty plastic piece that channels the main water line to different parts of my house through nylon tubes, not galvanized pipe. The repair who came out explained said the manifolds rarely fail but when they do it must be dealt with quickly for we all know that water can cause tremendous damage to a house.

The plumber said that he hadn’t had a day off in 12 days. He explained that his firm just couldn’t find plumbers because the folks don’t want to work hard. He also said that a person can make six figures as a plumber. Let that sink in: Six figures without a college degree! And certainly no college debt!

Our schools should prepare future generations for all kinds of work, not just the easy stuff. Ceres Unified has programs that do that but it’s limited.

Imagine a world where there are no workers to fix your A/C when it fails in 105-degree temperatures. Or somebody to fix your car when it breaks down. That’s where we are headed if we don’t start instilling a work ethic that explains there is value in hard work.

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the new plague in the workforce is people who apply for jobs, get hired and don’t even show up for the first day.

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I’ve said it before but our culture just continues to regress into a moral morass.

I’d say the five causes are:

• The breakdown of the family, particularly AWOL fathers who leave a huge void in the upbringing of their children;

• A widespread rejection of religious convictions and the distancing from church and people of faith;

• The growing acceptance and abuse of alcohol, drugs and recreational marijuana;

• A government culture that instills the belief that everything should be gifted to people who feel entitled without working for it, by taking from others;

• The influences of social media – yes, even mainstream media – which encourages inappropriate behavior in public.

The tweakers are literally allowed to tear things up. Residents of Ceres were outraged at the sight they saw at the Food-4-Less shopping center at Hatch and Mitchell roads on Thursday and saw a horrendous mess in front of the taqueria. Someone reported that “the homeless heroin addicts have taken over the dumpster next to Starbucks and they’re living in there!”

State lawmakers have failed at taking care of the crime problem and have enabled this kind of behavior with lack of serious consequences.

Allowing drugged-out-of-their-mind people to roam the streets cursing at others, stealing shopping carts, trashing up shopping centers, sleeping in front of businesses or in flower beds, shoplifting and breaking things must end. The state continues to apply band-aids to the problem that hasn’t worked. (Read the opinion piece at upper left).

Then there is the matter of the goons who rode their dirt bikes into the Vintage Faire Mall on July 26.

Initially reports of shots being fired were called in but apparently it was the sound of the motors. Modesto Police asked the public for help in identifying the two childish men whose images were captured by surveillance cameras. Thankfully, the two were identified as David Hickman, 23, of Modesto, and Derion Chavis, 20, of Manteca. 

Hickman was arrested on charges of felony evading from a prior incident. Chavis was still outstanding. 

Who feel entitled to ride a loud, gas-powered motorcycle into an enclosed shopping area to frighten and disturb the peace of pedestrians? And more confounding is why there were a lot of folks rushing to defend them of their trespass? Dylan Fischer opined: “Why don’t you waste your time on chasing down meth heads and figuring out homeless issues instead of dealing with kids hardly harmless!”

For the record, Mr. Fischer, it’s not up to the police to figure out the homeless problem. That’s up to state legislators who are sitting on a $100 billion budget surplus and remain opposed to secure the borders from where the drugs are pouring over that exacerbate the homeless crisis.

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When I see how crazy people drive and realize these are the same people who vote, no wonder we get the brilliant lawmakers that we do.

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A young lady by the name of Mellissa Kay Phillips (presumably from Modesto) wrote a piece on Facebook that I feel is worthy of sharing. Like all of us, she lives a hurried life. But she was touched by an unexpected encounter.

Here is her story if you have a minute:

“I know people come into our paths for a reason but my heart is feeling heavy right now.

“DoorDash sent me on an order to go to Crumbl Cookies on Pelandale. As I was waiting at a the stoplight, the song ‘I Will Be Missing You’ by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans comes on and I instantly think of my papa and how I miss him every day.

“I was coming out of Crumbl with someone’s order when an elderly lady asked me to get her wheelchair out of her trunk for her. I told her to let me put the stuff in the car and I would. I got it out and she ended up handing me money to go get her a cookie and a milk. She had one leg and seemed tired. 

“She said I could keep a dollar for helping her but I didn’t because I wanted to help her, not take from her. I got another order at the same place, told the employee I was there again to pick up and to place an order for a lady outside. While I know we get in trouble from DoorDash for being late, I still felt bad and didn’t care about what I had going on and I clearly didn’t want to be rude so I decided to listen and help her (sorry helping a disabled person comes first).

“She ended up venting to me about how she’s a retired Modesto City Schools teacher and how she lives on her own (her choice she said). She’s living in a mobile home on Standiford with black mold in her bathroom and the contractor that was supposed to do didn’t do it right or didn’t completely get it done.

“She vented to me for about 25 minutes. She has to take out loans to get by and she also goes to Stanford to see doctors for her diabetes. She said she knew she wasn’t supposed to have the cookie because of her diabetes but she was overwhelmed and needed comfort food. She says she can’t get anyone to help her with the black mold, not even family. She makes too much for Medi-Cal because she was a teacher, and started crying.

“I asked her if I could give her a hug and I did. She said she didn’t want to go into a retirement home because she knows how it is there and wants to be independent. When I left I felt so bad for her. I didn’t get her name but I hope she finds help soon because black mold is very bad to live with.

“I have so many health issues and other things going on right now but knowing there are people out there who have it so much worse hurts. I wish I was able to help her. She goes to Stanford for her diabetes and my papa got a heart transplant from Stanford. Small world.

“We get so wrapped up in what we have going on that we forget about other people… please be kind and stop to help someone in need even if your busy or running late.”


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These Democrats don’t skip a beat, do they? Seriously, timing the next round of “inflation relief” payments to come out in late October? Hmm, right before the Nov. 8 election. No coincidence, folks.

The Republicans in Sacramento have been proposing for months – since right after gas prices spiked out of control – to pass a gas tax holiday. The Democrats have stopped them every step of the way.

It’s not a gift that Democrats are giving. It is your money and they took too much of it from you! They should have issued refunds months ago, not weeks before we have an election.

I don’t feel the government should be helping anyone out with inflation they are causing. They took it from you and now they are giving a little of it back – and I mean a little of it. If they truly wanted to help families they would lower the tax rates in the state and quit putting so much regulation and expense on private business to drive jobs out of state. 

Talk about a boneheaded political move, but I’m sure there will be lots of folks who fall for this political stunt.


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