A few weeks ago, a Ceres couple who are members of "Citizens for Ceres" attempted to rip me a new one for my coverage of their seemingly endless opposition of the Walmart over the past nine years. The group has been responsible for delaying the building of the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center. By hook or by crook the group has done everything in the legal realm to block the project. Once they lose the next and final fight, I wouldn't be surprised to see ring leader Sheri Jacobson lay down in front of bulldozers.
Follow the case long enough like I have and you have to arrive at the conclusion that it's not the shopping center in their scopes - it's Walmart they loathe. The telltale heart of Jacobson was revealed in a 2011 published letter to the editor in which she decried the project being "largely for the convenience of Wal-Mart stockholders - who benefit from Wal-Mart's strategy of abandoning its existing stores to build larger ones." In the same letter she suggested Wal-Mart "do an inbox conversion" because it "doesn't waste 26 more acres of land to make more room for aisles of Chinese-made goods." It's intellectual dishonesty on her part given that the Supercenter is only 185,668 square feet of the 26-acre site, which promises all sorts of other businesses including a possible Applebee's.
For years Ceres city officials have been convinced that the "Citizens" group has been bankrolled by a local grocery store chain - which will remain nameless - fearful of the Supermarket's entry into the Ceres market. "Citizens" (quotes used because it's a misnomer since it certainly does NOT reflect Ceres citizens as a whole) has never denied the allegation.
Since Tony and Carol Dutra wrote their letter condemning my coverage, I decided to give Jacobson an opportunity to once and for all tell about how her group is funded. I specifically posed this question: "Since your members insist this is a grassroots effort of local residents, can you enlighten us on how ‘Citizens' has been funded all these years and why so much time and money has been contributed by local residents to fight a project that seems to have drawn extraordinary interest on your part? Surely the legal fees must be exorbitant."
Tell me if Jacobson is dodging the question: "Regarding our group's finances, we simply do not believe this information is relevant as to whether or not the project will cause significant environmental impacts and negatively affect our community. This is like learning that a family was hospitalized following a horrific car crash and having the story focus on whether they would pay for their medical care. Despite the fact that both Walmart and the city would like to be privy to our private finances, we see no reason to help them misstate our status."
"Misstate our status?" Gobbledygook legalese. Never mind the city, the community is curious who is funding this expensive fight! If members are funding all the legal fees, come out and state "yes, our members are financing this opposition and we have spent X-amount of dollars"? Seems like an easy way to clear up things, given that Jacobson expressed to me that "Citizens for Ceres wishes these questions were asked years ago." Is there a need to protect possible business interests contributing to the cost of legal fees? Where is WikiLeaks when you need them?
Jacobson told me that "Citizens for Ceres" is "one of the largest community groups in Ceres, with everyone helping out in their own fashion. Over a number of years, Ceres residents have continued to contribute to the research, writing, and presentation of the case."
I'm astounded to hear there is such a talented pool of residents skilled at legal affairs. (Written in sarcasm).
She states that "Citizens" was formed "because there were a number of residents, groups of different individuals, and home and business owners who expressed their objections to the proposed project. When it came time to speak before the Planning Commission, ‘Citizens for Ceres' was fortunate to find an experienced attorney willing to represent our group at the city meeting."
Fortunate? Interesting since it wouldn't have been too difficult to find Brett Jolley, given his reputation for fighting just about every Walmart project in California. It just so happens that all the Walmart fights Jolley engages in crafted around groups with boilerplate sounding names, such as Antioch Citizens for Smart Growth, Anderson First Coalition, Bakersfield Citizens for Local Control, Crescent Heritage Coalition, Chico Advocates for Responsible Economy, Lodi First, the Friends of Madeira, American Canyon Community United for Responsible Growth, Citizens Against Poor Planning. If anything , admit Jolley is crafting the names. Tell me it's not my imagination. Citizens for Ceres isn't even original!
I'll give you that there are some legitimate folks who got caught in the net, such as the Don Pedro residents who fall into the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) category. They don't want to live next to a commercial development even though the vacant parcel is zoned for commercial. Go figure.
Without taking any blame herself, Jacobson notes that Mitchell Ranch "has divided the community in ways that are disheartening." Mayor Chris Vierra feels otherwise, saying " ‘Citizens'delaying of this has singlehandedly hurt the city more ways than they probably even know."
Jacobson offers this jaw-dropping claim: "Had Walmart simply agreed to change the orientation of the store and the truck traffic, many of the nearby residents who opposed the project would have been satisfied."
Poof! Just like magic they would have gone away! Who's kidding who?
What she is claiming here - about wanting Walmart to not back against Don Pedro Road - doesn't hold water.
Let me refresh the collective memory of all of Jacobson's "everything but the kitchen sink" arguments crafted by outside anti-Walmart forces:
• After the city announced in July 2007 that the Walmart project was proposed, Jacobson and others began plotting the fight. The first battle was over the rights of the owner of the property (Regency Realty Group at the time) to clear the center site of two abandoned building and debris, saying the clean-up was a violation of environmental law. This claim has Jolley's fingerprint all over it. In a Nov. 7, 2007 letter to the editor, Jacobson expressed concern for the project and its impact on "our town's beauty, scarcity of our prime farmland, and the diminishing of our small-town values." Hello, the 26-acre site has been surrounded by city on all sides and would never ever again be used for farming. The city stood by the issuance of demolition permits of Oct. 31, 2007;
• Jacobson and her group had no protest at any other project since 2007. Oddly, no members of the group, which claims to be "interested in ensuring quality of life in the community "were to be found when the commission mulled approval of a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General for the corner of Malik Drive and Whitmore Avenue in 2013. Nor did members protest the traffic and noise impacts when Ralph Ogden sought approval in 2008 for his three-story, 162-room Hampton Inn & Suites and six commercial buildings totaling 25,955 square feet for restaurants, retailers and a gas mart. No, the only other proposal her group opposed was a stop sign outside her house designed to slow traffic down Fowler Road.
• In 2011 she laughed at Walmart's pledge to find a new tenant to occupy the present the Walmart building once abandoned;
• She poo-pooed the architectural design of the center. Most others felt it was very attractive;
• She said the center would bring in more crime and light pollution and noise - you name it;
• She suggested commercial blight would reign supreme, like a cityscape on the order of some zombie apocalypse;
• Among her group's last-straw reasons for opposing the shopping center was suggesting there is no landfill space in Stanislaus County. And if you believe that, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you.
I'm exhausted by the subject. "Citizens," you put up a good fight but you've failed. Congratulations, you managed to cost Walmart a lot of money and ticked off the majority in this community.
Now let's build the center.
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They say your best thoughts sometimes come when you're running. I was running my three-mile route on Wednesday morning when I came through a commercial area littered with trash, which seems to be the norm in this, the Valley of the Poor. I've seen garbage strewn literally 10 to 20 feet from a trash can. Do you think the litterer could have walked a few extra steps and saved up the blight of their trash? It must be a characteristic of this generation.
I have an idea to pitch to businesses. We all know managers tend to care about the appearance of the inside of the store. They make sure the aisles are free of trash and that the products look nice and neat on shelves. Well, maybe they can carry that concern to the outside. Have the employees go through the parking lots and area around the business to clean up the messes left by customers. Certainly their business would look more inviting. When I see a trashed-up business, my first thought is they probably don't care about their customer once he gets inside either. So, take a clue, merchants. Put those minimum-wagers to work outside on trash patrol.
The same concept works for neighborhoods. Think about it. If everybody took care of the trash in just their yard, or on the sidewalk in front of their house - and maybe in front of the next-door neighbors' houses - we'd automatically be litter-free in Ceres. Many hands make light work.
Maybe it's time cities follow the Caltrans "Adopt a Highway" program. I see plenty of Starbucks cups and Burger King and McDonald's debris on our thoroughfares. Maybe businesses who are selling products to litterers could lend a hand in cleaning up the cities they do business in. Hatch Road, for example, could be adopted by McDonalds or Starbucks since they both have two restaurants apiece on that street.
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If you're like me, you're wondering what in the world has happened to our young people. I'm talking about these cry baby college kids who are demonstrating the Trump election in the streets. Did anyone teach these kids that we elect our presidents by Electoral College and why we do so? I bet not. We elect presidents state by state, of course, not throw all of American votes in a hat and elect whoever gets the most wins. No, it's a contest whereby whoever gets the most votes in each state gets all or some of the apportioned electoral votes. The system is clever if you think about how it allows small states to have a stake in the outcome of a president rather than be run roughshod by bigger states.
Four times our presidents were elected without having the popular vote. They were in 1876 with Rutherford Hayes; in 1888 with Benjamin Harrison; and in 2000 with George W. Bush; and of course, Trump. However, Trump was second in getting the greater percentage of electoral votes.
I have a feeling the demonstrations against Trump would be going on even if he had won the popular vote. Our protestors have been conditioned to foot-stomping and whining as a way of getting what they want at home and on campus as the PC crowd always gives in. Honestly, though, they need to grow up. (Don't these people have jobs and responsibilities or do they live in Mommy and Daddy's basement?) We had a fair election and they lost. They cannot bully their way into blocking Trump from being our next president. So follow the lead and do what those of us on the right did in 2008 and 2012 - suck it up and mourn your loss privately.
Another thing: Quit cutting class to do this. You can't afford to skip school and protest. You are so behind the rest of the world academically and you obviously need a greater understanding of how our system of government works.
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Many of you recall that I lost my wife of nearly 32 years to acute lymphoblastic leukemia after a long illness diagnosed in October 2011. After a year-and-a-half of hospitalizations and treatment in Modesto, San Francisco and Sacramento, sorrow, hardship and emotional stress, her fight ended in July 2013 at age 51. My hair was visibly grayer, but how I survived witnessing her demise I can only credit to internal strength, the strength of God and help of others.
A year ago in November my 96-year-old grandmother fell at home and went to Emanuel Medical Center. She never returned home. My last living grandparent and the glue of my mom's family, Nana died in mid-December. Her worn-out body just gave up.
The deaths have left huge holes in my life.
Since mid-August I have been dealing with my mother, who at 76 is arguably in worse shape physically than my grandmother was at 96. Mom has had a series of illnesses and rapid series of setbacks. On Sunday, Nov. 6 I urgently left church to call on her because she wasn't answering her phone or knocks at the door. I found her face-down on the floor, unable to get up after being there for probably seven or eight hours. Unfortunately it's come down to the decision that is hard for any adult child: She can no longer live alone and I must find a facility she can spend her last days, months or years.
Having to deal with my mom's situation has thrown me into a huge learning curve about long-term care facilities. As I an anticipate what's coming, I fight the undercurrent of sadness that keeps trying to sweep away my joy. As Robert Frost said, "The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected."
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Healthcare truly is a hot topic in America today. The problem isn't our best healthcare is the world; it's how to wrap our hands around the expense of it all and the failed Obamacare experiment.
Imagine, for just a moment, how much cheaper healthcare would be if each of us just went above and beyond in caring for ourselves. Bear with me. If we all got enough sleep, ate as healthy as we can, cut out sugars, cigarettes, excessive alcohol, all exercised for 20 minutes a day, do less TV watching and more moving around, wouldn't we be less obese, have healthier hearts, less diabetes, less cancer and spend far less on medications and healthcare? Follow me: If we took greater care of our souls and our minds, turned to God and positive influences instead of chemicals, how many fewer people would be strung out in drug rehabs or breaking into cars and homes to steal stuff to support a meth habit?
The results would be mindboggling. The reason our insurance costs are so high is because so many people are not taking care of themselves and preventing doctor appointments and hospital stays.
Mom and Dad, who were separated in 1977, are a case in point. They were born six months apart in 1940. Dad remarried and has happily stayed married since. Four years shy of 80, he's fairly active, goes to church, runs a mile every morning, and does the necessary repairs around the house. Since the divorce, Mom has been through two failed marriages (two hasty and unwise picks.) Prone to falling, she has resisted physical activity for years and will tell you that she is in constant pain because of a shoulder injury. She hasn't been interested in much of anything. I took the day off last year and took her to San Francisco but she couldn't wait to get back home. I've suggested low-impact aerobics and walking. She has done little but watch TV and the human body withers and atrophies. I can tell you the cost of healthcare for Mom has been enormous compared to Dad's.
It's our choice how we live. Sometimes circumstances are obstacles for our own care. But usually it's a mental thing. We don't want to work out because it is effort and can be painful. Or we find excuses not to run or walk because it's cold outside or I'd rather spend that time in bed. It's our choice. But so are the consequences for not.
Nick Cave said it best: "If you look around, complacency is the great disease of your autumn years, and I work hard to prevent that."
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I didn't make a big deal about it this time but I want to clue you into the fact that on Nov. 2 I was back in Las Vegas to shoot another episode of "Pawn Stars." You may remember that I appeared in a 2013 episode in which I tried to sell Rick Harrison a rare letter signed by President Kennedy. He lowballed me and I walked. Holding onto it and selling it in another venue netted me $2,150 more than Harrison offered.
Three weeks ago I took another autographic gem to the shop and sometime in the near future you'll see me on the History Channel, again in the world famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.
I saw no sign of Chumlee, who was arrested this year and made a plea deal to get out of jail time for drug and illegal gun possession.
Ironically Vern Vierra saw me last week and said, "I was gonna go on ‘Pawn Stars.' I wondered if you wanted to go with me?" He was joking, of course, but I informed him that I just went, to which he was stunned.
I have no idea when the show will air but was told some episodes have been sitting around for a year without being aired.
It could be a long wait.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.