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The value of oversight of local newspapers

We can breathe a little easier knowing John Osgood will not be taking the oath of office to join the Ceres City Council. The council came to its senses Monday night and did an about-face.

This was a great exercise in newspaper oversight. Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Your local newspapers shined a light on Osgood and the council did the right thing by reversing its decision. If anything it shows that the council needs to weigh such decisions more soberly than it has. The inexperience of this council has not been a benefit to the city.

Hopefully Mike Kline will be joining the council soon and giving it the most stability than it’s had since 2020.

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For eight years Steve Hallam has been plugging away in promoting Ceres to new businesses, trying to expand the retail and jobs base. His efforts have been part-time only.

As 2021 draws to a close, Steve is planning to retire – provided the city can successfully recruit a new economic development manager.

I had a conversation last week with Steve who amusingly said he hasn’t given up on trying to get Cracker Barrel to build a new restaurant in Ceres.

There has never been a better opportunity for the chain to locate in Ceres given that the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center has started and the Ceres Gateway Center project is expected to break ground soon.

If you’re not familiar, Cracker Barrel is a southern type dinner house with country store. When I discovered my first Cracker Barrel experience in Gallup, N.M. in the 1990s, I took an immediate liking. At the time the nearest one to us was in Kingman, Ariz. Since then I have visited Cracker Barrels in Colorado Springs, Denver, Branson, Joplin, Topeka, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Austin and probably other places I can’t remember.

There are now three Cracker Barrels in California – Rocklin, Sacramento, Camarillo, Santa Maria, Victorville and Rialto. Hallam said the demographics of the region of the Howe Avenue Sacramento and Victorville stores are similar to that in Ceres.

Hallam keeps sending informational packets to Cracker Barrel asking them to seriously consider Ceres. The good thing is that he hasn’t received the “Dear John” letter expressing thanks but no thanks.

I can’t think of a better location for Cracker Barrel than Ceres. This area is prime for the chain! With the new shopping centers going in close to Highway 99, Ceres is ready – and it has the billboards which Cracker Barrel notoriously uses to draw travelers into their store.

Hallam is working with a firm called The Retail Coach which has identified 25 businesses that Ceres is in good position to attract. Besides Cracker Barrel the businesses identified as good possibilities are: List of Retailers Identified as Best Fitting to be Recruited to Ceres: Anytime Fitness, Arby’s, Best Buy, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Buffalo Wild Wings, California Pizza Kitchen, Chick-Fil-A, Cinemark Theaters, Corner Bakery, Einstein Bros Bagels, Fry’s Electronics, Kohl’s, Marshall’s, Men’s Wearhouse,  Norstrom Rack, Old Navy, Pacific Cinemas, Panera Bread, Pet Supplies Plus, PetSense, Regal Cinemas, Sephora, Sprouts Farmers Market, Stein Mart, Studio Movie Grill, Target, TJ Maxx, TJX Companies Brands, Top Golf / Drive Shack, Trader Joe’s, Tuesday Morning, Ulta Beauty and WinCo Foods. I didn’t list Raising Cane’s because Ceres is getting one.

A 2019 study found the average household income of the Ceres profile area is $76,143, with a corresponding population of over 200,000. The study also revealed that Ceres suffers from a total retail leakage – in other words, shopping dollars from Ceres that are spent elsewhere – of $1.16 billion. While the loss is staggering, the firm suggests that it “means that there is a high level of opportunity for retailers in the community.”

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Well, it’s finally a reality. The Walmart Supercenter is finally open. It should have happened a decade ago.

I began writing about the project when it first came up over 14 years ago and I can tell you there was a well-funded opposition that went beyond the names of Sheri Jacobson, Rick Rushton and Florence Cardenas. “Citizens for Ceres” wanted everybody to think there was a community groundswell of Ceres folks in opposition to the project but everybody knows it was another chain in town with some pretty deep pockets. I would suspect that Jacobson won’t disclose how much in attorney fees were spent during the protracted legal fight precisely because she doesn’t know because she didn’t finance much, if any, of the fight.

Walmart prevailed as it should have. It’s just too bad that the project was held hostage for a long, long time.

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Not to rain on Walmart’s parade but I found it interesting which groups Walmart doled out charity monies to during Friday’s grand opening event.

Walmart gave money to the Turlock Soroptimist club. Is Walmart aware that Ceres has a very active Soroptimist group? The Supercenter also gave $2,500 to a school in Waterford in addition to Lucas Elementary School.

The real puzzling things is that Walmart isn’t a member of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce, which is struggling as an organization. Come on, Walmart, you’re the biggest economic powerhouse in Ceres and you haven’t joined the Ceres Chamber of Commerce? What gives?

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It’s always nice to see a California state legislator who exhibits common sense.

Last week Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron of Escondido issued the following statement on the Legislative Analyst’s Office report projecting a $31 billion state budget surplus: 

“Last year, California’s population shrank by nearly 200,000 people thanks to the state’s sky-high cost of living. Meanwhile, the government is sitting on a $31 billion surplus. There’s something wrong when the state is flush with extra cash - $750 for every man, woman and child – while ordinary people have to choose between putting food on the table and filling their gas tank. If California won’t give this money back, let’s at least spend it in a way that brings down the cost of living and improves people’s quality of life.”

Let’s be honest, though. Isn’t California awash with cash because of all the free federal COVID money that Uncle Sam printed and handed to the states?

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A sense of melancholy hit me when I began thinking about how the Ceres Walmart building, a fixture in Ceres since 1993, is now closed. There are a lot of memories associated with that store. I covered a number of holiday “Shop with a Cop” events for the Courier in the Mitchell / Hatch store.

But sadness comes as I think that my late wife Karen used to go shopping there with the kids. I wish that I hadn’t expressed my disappointment when she’d come back and tell me how much she spent on my newspaper salary. You always have regrets after you lose somebody. Leukemia claimed my wife in July 2013. The sorrow is always present in one form or the other.

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Caltrans recently finished the nice new split-face block sound wall along northbound Highway 99 north of Hatch Road and now it’s marred already by graffiti vandals. Between the homeless and vandals nothing stays nice looking for long, does it?

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The Democrat Party is not good for California. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying they are an enemy of the people.

Recently the state Water Resources Control Board – comprised of Democrats and appointed by Democrat governors – decided their word is final when it comes to our irrigation districts being able to store water they legally built. 

Our first villain is Newsom appointee Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of CalEPA, a San Francisco climate change liberal who probably hasn’t spent any time on a Valley farm and obviously doesn’t understand where food is grown.

Another villain is Wade Crowfoot, secretary of California’s Natural Resources Agency, yep, another radical environmentalist appointed by Newsom.

The five remaining villains are all Democrat-appointed members of the State Water Resources Control Board. Few of their resumes include any experience with farming. They are:

• E. Joaquin Esquivel, a Jerry Brown appointee who seems to have forgotten his roots in the Coachella Valley;

•Dorene D’Adamo, a shameful product of the Valley who has stood by and allowed the theft of water to occur. The husband of this Jerry Brown appointee farms almonds but I guess she’s beholden to the environmental pressures.

• Sean Maguire, a Jerry Brown appointee who spent part of his career making sure cannabis cultivation is permitted.

• Laurel Firestone, a Newsom appointee who champions “increased diversity, equity, and inclusivity into water decision-making.”

• Nichole Morgan, another Newsom appointee.

None of these bureaucrats were appointed by Republican governors because, well, we haven’t elect Republicans to state office in California and that is the problem in itself.

The state thinks it can just do as it pleases and tell Don Pedro Reservoir operators, nope you can’t store the water you want to store and must flush it to the Delta. It’s really all about stealing Northern California water used for farming so that Southern California can go about using as much water as they please without conservation mandates.

Stanislaus County voters know what a rat Newsom is and his appointees. Voters of this county wanted Newsom gone in the recent recall but big city voters far removed from the effects of his disastrous policies, saved his skin.

The lawsuits will drag on for years. We, in the Valley, get screwed as a result.

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Congressman Josh Harder could hardly contain his excitement when he got to watch President Joe Biden sign the $1 trillion infrastructure bill on the lawn of the White House.

Trump called it “a terrible Democrat Socialist Infrastructure Plan.” Most experts agree that the investment is long overdue but won’t fix everything.

I’ll be the first to apologize to Harder if any of that $1.15 billion actually results in the building of any new dams in the People’s Republic of California. He boasts that he got the Secretary of the Interior to include $15 million for the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir in Patterson. What is the big deal? That’s a far cry from the estimated $500 million needed for the project, if it ever makes it past the enviro-Nazis in control of California state government. And once it’s built, will Newsom try to divert that water to fill swimming pools in Beverly Hills where his supporters live?

Of course Harder is telling the huge whopper when he suggests the spending plan won’t increase taxes. Nope, totally free money that won’t cause inflation to worsen either. Do they really think we’re that stupid?

Much of that federal money will be doled out to the states which then determine how to spend the money.

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Rep. Lauren Boebart has become of my favorite people in Congress. She owns Shooters Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, where staff members are encouraged to openly carry firearms. She ran as a Republican for Colorado’s 3rd congressional district in 2020 and has been staunchly pro-American.

Boebert introduced the “We’re Not Paying You to Break Our Laws Act” to prohibit Biden from issuing $450,000 settlement payments to illegal aliens as part of litigation filed by criminals suing the federal government. She, like me, believes proposed payments are insanity.

Rep. Lauren Boebert introduced the “We’re Not Paying You to Break Our Laws Act” to prohibit settlement payments to illegal aliens of any amount as part of litigation filed by criminals suing the federal government.

Rep. Lauren Boebert stated: “In Biden’s America, it is better to be a criminal than a law enforcement officer. Over half of Border Patrol agents may be fired because of Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees, but illegal aliens get a free pass into our country and could receive a $450,000 check. For contrast, the highest-paid Border Patrol agents make less than half that in yearly salary after 20 years of service. I’ve had enough of the Biden regime’s madness, so I introduced the We’re Not Paying You to Break Our Laws Act to restore sanity and the rule of law. We should be putting Americans first, not criminals!”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden White House is planning to pay criminal illegal aliens $450,000 as a reward for breaking the law and being separated from family members at the border by the previous administration.The Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that the final payments could amount to $1 million per family.

The disgraced ACLU is involved in litigation suing the federal government on behalf of criminals apprehended during the Trump Administration.

Rep. Boebert’s act stops Biden’s plans to settle this ridiculous lawsuit and bans payments from going to criminals frivolously suing the federal government.

When asked about his administration’s plans to pay criminals $450,000, Biden dismissed the reporting by saying that the payments won’t happen. Shockingly, Biden’s Deputy Press Secretary overruled him and said that the Biden regime is hoping to give payments to illegal aliens.

The “We’re Not Paying You to Break Our Laws Act” provides clarity to the White House’s convoluted cover-up. While the White House won’t give a clear answer about settlement payments, Rep. Boebert’s legislation leaves no room for doubt: illegal aliens will not be getting taxpayer money.

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The community of Hughson is mourning the loss of retired Hughson Volunteer Firefighter/Engineer Ron Callahan. Ron volunteered with Hughson Fire Department for over 13 years before retiring as an engineer. Ron served on many committees and held several leadership roles during his time at Hughson Fire. He was a president for the Hughson Firefighters Association, and was instrumental in putting on the annual Chicken BBQ Dinner and putting on the department’s “Operation Santa” event.

He will be missed by many.

 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