WISHING TOMORROW WAS YESTERDAY

We met online, as you do, and traded a few short emails before scheduling a face to face. The first meeting is always fraught, either you hit it off right away or you don’t. You see, for a while there I subscribed to one online dating site or another. First it was on Yahoo, which was 20 years ago and how I met my wife. Later I tried Match and had a few “dates.” It was on Plenty of Fish where I found Suzanne. Now I used to suggest meeting for coffee so that my soon to be new acquaintance would feel safe, until a female friend of mine asked, what my “conversion” rate was with coffee versus an adult beverage. Of course it was zero. So I asked Suzanne where we might meet for a drink and we did.

It is funny the things that you remember about a person. Suzanne was friendly, open, talkative and an amazing chef. She was very proud of this last fact and had all the chops to back it up. I, as you know, attended culinary school, managed large restaurants, and even catered in remote locations for motion picture crews. I too had chops.  At this time I had chosen not to include my culinary past in my profile because, well, I seemed to be getting a lot of attention from women who wanted to start their own catering business. My 40th birthday had come and gone and, while I did make some money working for Hollywood, there was not too much money to be had in restaurants and my body could no longer take the 12 to 14 hour days which movie sets require. By the time I met Suzanne I was well established as a contractor, working only 8 hours a day, and cooking only happened on holidays, or when I needed to lose weight.

As we sipped our drinks and began sharing the stories we like people to hear, Suzanne proudly told me about her career choice, the classes she taught and about her favorite recipes. While I came to love Suzanne, that woman could hold up her end of the conversation and then some. Finally she looked at me and asked what I did before becoming a contractor. The look on her face when I told her was priceless. She had her back to the bar, with both elbows resting on the edge looking out into the dining room. When I shared my previous career choice, slack jawed she turned to me and uttered only one word, “What?” We laughed about that for years. While at first she was intimidated to cook with me, it turned out she was much more talented in the kitchen than I ever was. Although, I did impress her with my Chicken Marsala. (In this case it was not coffee nor wine which sealed the deal. It was my moment as an impresario in the kitchen, which solidified our connection.)

One never knows how another person will effect one’s life. Suzanne’s cooking always made mine tastier. Her conversation always drove boredom from my house. Waking up beside her always gave me peace and yet one singular thing she did changed my life in a way that no one before, or after, has ever done. She told me about a book. A book so thick and dense and rich with so many mysteries of life that I became lost in it and chased every single, little reference it made down each and every rabbit hole that they offered. It taught me how to close read, to carry more than one thought in my head at a time, and how we humans make decisions. It cracked, a part of, the code of life for me. Jesus! What a gift.  The book is entitled, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow,’ and I owe my life to Suzanne for sharing it with me.

Her energy and inspiration prompted me to write my first blog tomfoolcookery.com. Here you will find my poor, initial attempts at writing. Again, Suzanne was a much better writer than I could ever hope to be. Still, she said that she loved my blogs and encouraged me to try new foods and recipes. And so, our relationship was born. We spent the next 4 years together, on and off. The off part was my fault. While her book suggestion started me down a path of travel in my life, I had not walked far enough along it to truly appreciate the gift which was Suzanne. Still, we remained friends over the years and in-and-around birthdays we made a point to spend time sharing a good meal.

That one book lead me to the next, and the next, and even still more.  That one book focused my thinking, gave me the confidence to try writing and opened the world for me. As some of you have noted, I tend toward non-fiction in my reading choices. Only when an author can catch me in the first two pages do I bothered to flip to the third. A part of me is jaded and views some non-fiction as, well, improbable.  The meat for me, in a good story, is that the idea the author is sharing just might happen . . . to me. While I did work at the Renaissance Faire, back in the 70’s, I did not develop a taste for pure fantasy. Reenactment sure, but fantasies, furries and cosplay do not page turners make for me. (I do not think I even made a good reference there, it is that far beyond me.)

Suzanne on the other hand was real. More real and alive than any two other people I have ever known. Not a mean bone in her body and always happy to see . . . everyone. Suzanne was in her mid-50’s when she passed away from cancer last weekend. For the last few months we texted almost every day. Sometimes a simple Hello or XO. Other times a “What’s up buttercup?” Or, when I was feeling that she needed to be distracted, I would send my personal favorite. “What’s up butthead?” We were close like that.  Her last few weeks in the hospital were focused on getting her home to her own bed. I did what I could and helped assemble the special things she needed to stay there comfortably. I had hoped to speak with her one more time to tell her how she had changed my life. She died the night before she was to leave.

I heard once on the radio show With a Perspective, a man telling of his father’s decline in health. In the middle somewhere, the author coined a phrase more poignant than any I had heard before, or since for that matter. He said, “My father now measures his life by losses as opposed to gains.” This last weekend I lost . . . no . . . the world lost more than it knows. Suzanne wrote a couple of blogs which I enjoyed, and yes, she is still a better writer than I ever hope to be. This is the link to her cooking blog cookingbythebay.com and then to the blog where she dedicated herself to helping others with their cancer sillystupidcancer.com.  This week, I measure my life with one more loss. The scales of living are tipping more than I want and still less than they will. My life would not be my life had I not met Suzanne.  She was a warrior, she was the storm. Perhaps, in her blogs, you might come to know her too, and maybe, just maybe, she might change your life too.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt (aka Butthead)

MONDAY, MONDAY

Can’t touch that day.

I have come to the stark realization that I am odd. (Many who know me just said,”Duh” in their heads.) The oddness I refer to today, Monday, well is . . . I like Mondays! In 1966 the Easy Beats, out of Australia, recorded a hit single, I’ve Got Friday On My Mind. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s the local radio stations would play this every Friday afternoon, right around closing time. Everyone where I worked would boisterously to sing along. Even my boss sometimes.

Later on, after the new millennium ushered in with a whisper, that Friday Friday song was replaced with the Bob Marley cover of the Sublime hit – Smoke Two Joints. Smoke Two Joints would be played precisely at 5 p.m. on either KSAN or KFOG, I can never remember. I do remember going to the pub right after work and singing along with every other glad-to-be-off-work-for-the-week pub crawler.

My father told me that the eagle flies on Friday. A few of my disgruntled coworkers would say the eagle takes a shit on Friday. I will assure you now that the attitude difference between my father and my coworkers is the exact reason why my father exalted Fridays and the others did not. I too have always welcomed, and will continue to welcome, Fridays; not only for the soar of the eagle, the foam on my suds, and the occasional chorus of Puff the Magic Dragon; but for the comradery of my friends and loved ones.  The deep relaxation of not having to perform at work, to be able to wear clean clothes (the workman’s woe), and then either race off, or sit back, to relax.

Yes Fridays are good, but to me . . . Mondays are better. Some of you have noticed that I like to enjoy a cup of coffee, wine, or whiskey with a book and a meal.  Some of those have noticed that my choice of reading material is a far stretch from bodice rippers and just shy of the Federalist Papers. (Some of which I have read.) It seems to me that my wiring may a bit different, some (I) might call it odd.  The thing that I like about the books I read is how they challenge the very basic premises of life. These authors with their books, if I allow them, throw bare my implicit biases. I mean totally rip off the fuzzy warm comforters which have protected my misjudgments lo these many decades. I will stop the boring here and just say, that I may have chosen the long route but have saved myself tens of thousands in therapy costs.  Conclusion: Better to smoke two joints on a Friday and just chill out. On Mondays? A pot of coffee and a shave, a crisp fresh shirt, and a world full of opportunity.

No real point to today’s story. I just wanted to say hello and good Monday to you.  The world awaits us. What shall we bring her today?

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

SOME CALL ME RUGGED

Lisa Lees gave me that name when I was helping Nicole Hodge getting ready to open Provisions. You see, at that time there were three Tom’s that came around: Nicole’s dad, a bright and funny man, Tom the Father; Tom Pezzuto, the landlord, another bright and kind man, Talking Tom; then there was me, the capable contractor, Rugged Tom. Even before Nicole and I started dating, I would be greeted daily with a text “GMR”, Good Morning Rugged. For almost three years, since right about the time I first started writing this blog, I was called Rugged on a daily basis. As Provisions grew and Nicole and I became more serious, I came to self-identify as . . . well . . . Rugged. Sometimes I would forget myself and tell people that was my name. Those times were quickly followed by a head tilt and a wry joke about my parents not liking me or some such thing.

While my time with Nicole was enjoyable, not all things are meant to last. Still, I enjoyed my new name and my GMR texts. Our friendship was fully cemented by then and even though we were no longer a couple, I still visited Provisions on a regular basis. I helped out when I could and often times enjoyed morning coffee with our lady proprietress.  Once again, the forever constant in the universe, change, came along and Nicole found a new close companion. I will admit, it took some time for me to come to grips with this eventuality. Determined not to have our friendship end badly, or at all, we two committed to talking through everything promising complete honesty. Now I do miss my morning coffees with my friend Nicole, but this was to be the way of the world. My life moved on and every stage of grief swept through me until something hit me not so long ago, and it hit me hard. I had not only lost my morning companion, I had lost something even more dear. I had lost my dream, and with it my identity. You see, while Nicole is absolutely to credit for the success of Provisions, I was there at the start, I helped along the way and after a fashion, it became my child too. The thought of it all, and the loss of it all, caught me up short. The last few years you have known me for my writing but also as a part of that lovely little downtown café. Hmm . . .

Paula McConnell wrote an interesting editorial the other day and it was printed in the Times Herald. I was not able to read the entire article as, for some reason, I am not always able to log in to my TH account and so articles, sometimes, quickly disappear. What I did read referred to the infamous piece by Herb Cain saying, Please Don’t Call It Frisco. Mrs. McConnell went on to make a very good point about feeling proud and just calling our town Vallejo. It may seem odd that I am agreeing with her since I entitled my blog the VTown Social Club. It seems that Paula finds the term VTown less respectful, less formal. While I miss being called Rugged, I do agree that there are times when the sound of my full name is appropriate in more formal circles. As I write this I remember how, in the 70’s and 80’s, my employers would ask that I call them by their first names and not their title and surname as my parents had instructed me.  I found this level of familiarity odd in an employment situation yet that is what the boss requested. Honestly, I feel now that the level of familiarity my employer was trying to impart may have been counterproductive. He was not one of the guys and some distance may have made it easier overall to do business.

What little I read of Mrs. McConnell’s piece made me think that she too was referring to a lost formality. That perhaps we in Vallejo are too familiar. I chose to use VTown in my title not to be disrespectful of past Vallejo. Rather I chose it in an effort to embrace the new Vallejo: VTown.  I had an enjoyable conversation with Justin Saroyan the other day. A longtime resident and former GVRD employee, Justin made a comment just as our time was coming to an end. I will paraphrase. He said, “With the Navy gone, Vallejo doesn’t know who it is.”  My draw visibly dropped. Justin had hit the nail on the head. Paula McConnell sees it too. Vallejo has lost its identity.  Mrs. McConnell fondly remembers the days when Vallejo had respect. When we were a Navy town. Those of us who embrace VTown as our moniker see Vallejo for what she could be: A town of artists, cafés, music and architecture. A place to be that has shaken of its rough and ready reputation.

As I feel that I have lost my identity, as Provisions and I are less a part of each other’s lives, I feel strongly that we Vallejoans have not reached the final stage of grief with our breakup from the Navy. We have not yet decided who we are as a community, or how we present ourselves to the world.  We gather, we drink, we eat good food and listen to amazing music while enjoying world class art and yet, to date, this has all just been a distraction. The time after a breakup when you go to bars, or friends set you up on blind dates. So it has been with us and developers. They come for a bit, try to make it work, and many get frustrated because . . . Vallejo still has baggage. We are not really ready to meet someone new because we have not fully accepted that our future does not wholly lie in the fate of Mare Island.  

Vallejo, VTown; we are no longer a Navy town. Neither are we Nimitz-ville or a suburb of Southern Land. What, and who, we are we must still decide. We point fingers at the police, the City Council and even the City Manager. Perhaps some of that is appropriate but in that thinking, a critical part of the equation is missing: Us. We the people. We gave the police the power they wield. We have given the City Council permission to give the City Manager the emergency powers he is using. We are responsible for not knowing who we are and no one else is going to help us figure it out. But they will take advantage of it.

Sometimes I am too rugged. You may not agree with everything I say here or feel that my interpretation is too . . . too. But whether you see me as Thomas, Tom, Tommy or Rugged; I still am trying to decide who I am after a life’s dream came to an end. Knowing that this is a truth for one man, how can we ignore the very possibility that for Vallejo a dream identity came to an end and that, perhaps, after almost 40 years, it is time to set aside our distractions and work together as proud Vallejoans who are a little VTown after hours.

Until the next time,

Tommy “I will always call myself Rugged” Judt

THE MAYOR OF WHO-VILLE

So for those of you who do not know, I have recently resigned my appointment to the Planning Commission. Now I believe that you are due an explanation since it was just last year I was asking for your support. For you to know my thinking I feel that I must set the stage a bit first.

Upon being appointed to the Planning Commission, I was sworn in and immediately took my seat on the dais. The minutes were read, the calendar approved, the agenda items listed and we were off to the races. There were a few conversations with the chair, who directed me to other city’s websites, to learn what it was to be a Planning Commissioner. I read, and took the test for, the Code of Ethics . . . twice. I sat through a Brown Act lecture, then reread the material again so that I really understood it. (Or thought that I did.) I even went onto the League of Cities website to read more about Planning Commissions in general. Here’s the thing, none of it helped me. You see, here in Vallejo we do things differently. So with no real training, and in my rugged way, I jumped in with both feet wanting to be a productive part of the process. To lend my experience with construction, as well as my studies in Decision Making. It turns out that being a true skeptic helps a lot. Fast forward a year later, the new Chair tells me in a private conversation that I am developing a reputation for being a trouble maker. Hmm . . . I want to be of service but arguing from the dais is not the reputation that I want. I choose to be of a more quiet service to our community and that is why I resigned. Also, I do not agree with how limited Commissioners, and Council Members, are right now.

Some of you may have heard of the Laws of Decorum that were passed with regards to some Commissioner’s bad behavior.  All in all this is not a bad sentiment. But as with all good laws a little something extra was thrown in . . . for good measure. Previous to the passage of this law any Council Member, or Commissioner, could add items to the public agenda for discussion. Seems about right. Elected officials, and their appointees, should be able to direct the public discussion in response to requests for their neighbors. Well, because we do things differently in Vallejo that is no longer the case. With the passage of this ordinance, the City Manager now controls the agenda, not only for the City Council but for all of the Commissions as well. Let this sink in. The next mayor you elect has no authority to direct the public conversation. And with it taking 4 votes to remove the City Manager, this is not going to change anytime soon.

A quick example of how this effected the Planning Commission is this:  On a discussion about when Commissioners receive answers to their written questions, (we oftentimes get them by email barely an hour before the meeting, not enough time to fully digest nor respond,) a majority of the Commissioners voted for a rule change to allow more time. Our request is then to be presented to the City Council for their consideration. Now this exact process is specifically written into this new ordinance. Here is the thing.  The City Manager refused to place it on the Council Agenda.  We Commissioners have no recourse so, even though we followed the law, the City Manager blocked our majority vote.

“What does this all have to do with the upcoming Mayoral and Council election?” you ask.

I know, like, and respect Hakeem Brown. We have had a few substantial conversations and I find him to have a bright and curious mind. Over the last two years he has shown himself a committed Council Member willing to serve our community. In this short time, he has sought out knowledge by attending multiple City Council conferences throughout the State and Country. His desire to learn about his job is admirable. Of the conversations he and I have had, we have agreed on somethings and disagreed on others. This is exactly how it is supposed to be. A healthy difference of opinion is what makes our form of government work. The thing is, I wish he had more experience. I want his voice on our City Council, but I feel hard pressed to consider him for Mayor with only 2 years of governing experience.

Robert McConnell, on the other hand, spent numerous years on the Planning Commission and another 8 years as a Council Member. He served in the military, studied law and is a practicing bankruptcy attorney. What does this mean for Vallejo though? It means that not only does he have the experience with the process of governing, and I assure you it is all about the process, he has an expert knowledge of how laws are written, read, interpreted and often misinterpreted. He also has an expert knowledge of financial management and is often the lone voice recommending greater conservatism in budgeting discussions. There is another bankruptcy looming for Vallejo, make no mistake about it, and with it our collective livelihoods. With this knowledge, I am just not comfortable giving the top elected job to someone with little experience and no real knowledge of how the system, the Law, works. No matter how much respect I have for him as a person.

Council Member Brown, your voice is needed now more than ever. I am glad you hold a seat on our Council and wish you to do so for at least another 4 years. Your commitment to learning the system will undoubtedly only add to your qualifications.

This being said, I endorse ROBERT McCONNELL for Mayor of Vallejo. His lifetime of legal experience, combined with his decades long commitment to the City of Vallejo, make him easily the best person to correct the mis-directions in the way our local ordinances have been written. His presence, on all the committees, that the Mayor sits on throughout the County, will bring reassurance to our municipal neighbors that Vallejo is headed in the right direction. His command of fiscal management techniques and law is arguably the most important skill set we could ask for in a candidate.

This election can change the way America, and Vallejo, are administered in the years to come. Please consider my words.

Until the next time,

Thomas Judt

G . . . WHAT AM I MISSING?LET’S MEASURE

This morning I read Measure G. Sounds good. More money for emergency services, police training, blah, blah, blah . . . Oh! And youth services. (Wait, did GVRD suddenly stop offering Youth Services?)

Only, that’s not what Measure G says. Measure G is a general tax not a special tax; which means, that these monies go directly into the General Fund and may be spent any way the City Council, I mean the City Manager, wants to spend them. That is it. These monies are NOT dedicated to more emergency services, not required to clean up public spaces, and while perhaps intended, are not mandated to help the homeless.  Now hoodwinked may be too strong a word; I think it is more like, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

The following is directly quoted from the Measure G Resolution passed by Council July 29, 2020:

WHEREAS, the tax provided for by the proposed Ordinance shall be enacted solely to raise revenue for general purposes, and shall be placed into the City’s General Fund, and is not intended for regulation;  . . .   (Author added emphasis.)

There are two things around this topic that I know to be true:

  1. I do not want to pay higher taxes. The reason I live in Vallejo is the same reason you do: I can afford a good life here.
  2. We need to raise our taxes. It’s the same, it’s the same, it’s the same. Ever since the Navy left we have not figured out how to raise money and now we are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Bankruptcy behind us, bankruptcy before us, into the valley of Receivership rode the City of Vallejo. We need to tax ourselves more.

“But Tom,” you ask, “if we need higher taxes why vote no on Measure G?”

This is a very fair question which I will attempt to briefly unpack for you. Those of you who have watched the West Wing have undoubtedly heard Toby Ziegler say how a Sales Tax is a regressive tax; it unfairly burdens those at the bottom of the income ladder. Newsflash: Most of Vallejo is at the bottom of the income ladder.  One councilperson, whose opinion I respect greatly, told me that, “Over 200,000 people travel through Vallejo every day. They should pay for their share of the services.” Now a couple of things about this statement is true:

  1. People who come from out of town to shop so indeed spend more money per capita than do local shoppers which does result in more sales tax collected. But only if we give them a reason to shop here. (Example: If I live down the street from the grocery, I may just pop down for a gallon of milk. If I choose to travel to Benicia and visit the Raley’s there, I will spend more money because each trip takes me so much more time and I do not wish to waste the trip.)
  2. 200,000 people do indeed travel through Vallejo every day; although, they do not so much all stop and shop here. (What we really need is to develop reasons for them to stop and shop here. We need to work on our place making like Mare Island Brewery and Nicole Hodge’s Provisions. If only I knew someone on the Planning Commission.)

FYI: Currently 27% of our budget comes from sales tax. When people are shopping here, things are booming for the City budget. If we add the $12M more, that this tax will supposedly raise, that would bring the adjusted percentage to 34%. If you do not believe that Vallejo is drowning, and we are; by adding this level of dependency on the health of the economy, without the monies specifically going the services you want, well it is like swimming in shark infested waters. Now swimming with sharks is fine, if you can afford to feed them. But what happens when the supply of fish is gone . . . With this type of Transaction and Use tax as an anchor around our feet even the joke of out swimming your buddy becomes impossible.

It was on 12 years ago when we entered the Great Recession (GR). Now there is a significant difference between that event and what is happening now. The GR was a failure of the mortgage banking industry. When adjustable rate loans started, well, adjusting; people could no longer afford housing. Credit scores were ruined and my house alone dropped to a quarter of its previous high in value.  Because of this Vallejo lost not only property tax but sales tax revenue too; and the economy, in total, nearly ground to a halt. That bit has now sorted itself out and mortgage rates are at an all-time low. Housing is in demand and home values are remaining strong. Why? Because this time the economy has slowed, not because people cannot afford to keep their homes but because we are not allowed to go out and spend money. Monies which return as sales tax to the City.

Many of you voted for Measure K which is a special parcel tax that funds Capital Improvements, part time help and some Recreation programs for GVRD. While GVRD is reeling from the loss of income it receives from the fees that it would normally charge for rentals or programs; Measure K monies are keeping their ship upright and sailing. Why? Because this type of tax is not dependent on the economy. This money is collected by the county every year and held for GVRD to use as it sees fit; within the restrictions of Measure K that you, and GVRD, agreed to when voting for it. Now a parcel tax would increase the rent of renters in Vallejo true, but, more importantly, it spreads the cost to not only residential parcels but non-residential ones as well. A much stronger, more dependable tax base.

Vallejo, the truth is, if we want nice things we have to pay for it. If we want more mental health services and programs like CAHOOTS, we have to pay for it. But not this way. What good is a sales tax when no one is out shopping and spending money? What sense can you make of a strategy that is entirely dependent on a proven weak leg of the economy; local consumerism?  Voting for Measure G only make Vallejo more vulnerable in the future. Let us instead write a new Special Parcel Tax that gives us the exact services that we want with a funding source infinitely more dependable.

Please, Vote NO on Measure G. With that I ask everyone who is willing, let us get together to write a new measure that will guarantee funding for public safety.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

I CAN NO LONGER HOLD MY BREATH

The words you are about to read, the very ones that are just now marking my thoughts upon this paper, will most probably end our relationship. I have been overly hesitant to write them, they are not what you want to hear but, and I hate to use the word but, but I do not hear anyone else saying them. I know many fine people in this town of ours. Women and men whom I respect more and more with each passing conversation. People who give of themselves to, and care more about, this town than many I have ever known. Our town. Many of you will unfriend me, as a number have done in the past when my writings unsettled their quiet state of single-mindedness.  Many nights I sit in quiet contemplation of the knowledge that I will lose people, many whom I wish to keep close, when I share the following which I know to be true.

Many years ago, when my business started to take off and passed the point when I needed a payroll service to help with managing my books, I met a man who represented the payroll company, a Republican, one whom I liked, yet we shared a passionate disagreement on almost all things political. He and I would agree to meet upon occasion, share a beer and discuss the ways we each viewed the world differently. On this one particular occasion, when “W” was the President and the wars in Iran and Afghanistan were still escalating, we met for a drink and ended up speaking about . . . The Surge. The Surge was the common moniker which described increasing the number of soldiers in the battlefield. The argument was that there were simply just not enough bodies in place to keep the peace.

I, not approving of W’s war, argued that it made no sense to send more troops to war. The basic objective was already achieved and that we should leave the area as quickly as possible and stop telling people around the world what to do. My bar side companion argued, what did it matter?  Let’s give him the troops and see what happens.  It turns out that my argument that day was wrong, but moreover, his was right.  The surge made a difference.  Within a matter of weeks the entire region was stabilized and the process of a quiet, orderly state building could take place.  In other words:

  1. Iraq was a violent and unsafe country.
  2. There were not enough soldiers to maintain peace.
  3. Violence was significantly reduced when more soldiers were deployed in Iraq.

For the record there are a couple of facts that I would like to state.  Understanding theses fact, reading them and truly knowing them is all of our responsibility. I imagine that they will unsettle you as they unsettle me:

  1. Vallejo has violent crime. Please let me repeat that. Vallejo has violent crime. 
  2. Vallejo does not have enough patrol officers.
  3. Violence in Vallejo will be significantly reduced with more patrol officers.

This next part will cause me to lose even more friends and followers. It speaks to the way that our police department chooses to respond to these violent crimes.  I will openly admit that I have not studied police science nor am I an expert on law enforcement. I need be neither to know that 2 bullets will stop a person and 64 are way too many. I am of course referring to the shooting of Willie McCoy.  The facts:

  1. Willie McCoy had a gun.
  2. He was asleep in his car.
  3. One or two officers could have easily covered him while the others set up the perimeter.

These facts are bare bones. They have been neither washed nor sanitized.  I do not need to be a law enforcement expert to know these 3 statements to be true.

The reason that multiple police officers stood pointing their guns at a sleeping Willie McCoy is because that was what they were trained to do.  If you see a weapon, draw yours. If the suspect moves toward the weapon, fire. Actually, as I write this, it seems a reasonable but, far too simplistic, response.  In my heart I know, it cannot just be this.  I have written the following before, and I still stand by the statement: We, the citizens of America, have asked our police departments to protect us and WE have given them the authority, and mission, to do so with this level of violence. It all began with the Patriot Act and every Use of Force decision handed down by the courts, both Superior and Supreme alike since then.  If the suspect refuses a police officer’s command, the police officer may put his hands on the suspect.  If the police officer is fearful for their life, they may use lethal force.  While I understand and admit that this is legal, it cannot be the end of the discussion.

When I attended a Use of Force seminar put on by the Vallejo Police Department, I came away with one vary clear thought: When confronted with a volatile situation, draw your weapon.  This is not the only way, but this is the way that our group was shown how the VPD is trained. Command and Control. Order the suspect to comply, if they don’t, restrain them or shoot them if necessary.  All the simulations I was shown that day focused on using our weapons to deal with the situation.  99% of police interactions with the public do not involve weapons. The challenge that we have in Vallejo is that the 1% that do involve weapons tend to end very badly here.  The two part solution to this is:

  1. Hire more patrol officers.
  2. Replace VPD’s existing training officer and their approach.

More officers in the field will allow more bodies to respond to a situation and provide the overwhelming force needed to control the situation and most likely not require weapons fire to be exchanged. It allows our police department to be more places in the City at the same time. An amended, and improved, approach to training will provide all of our officers with greater Tactical Negotiation skills that rely more on understanding human nature and less on lethal force as the final arbiter.

I will miss you when you unfriend me but I must repeat to you before you go that Vallejo needs BOTH of these things. We need more armed patrol officers. We need to replace our existing training officer and methodology.

Until next time, I hope,

Tommy Judt

CAN VALLEJO LEAD?

I once had an employer who was an excellent manager.  They had been with the company for many years, knew all the owner’s systems, took time to speak with every employee, never upset anyone, and pretty much mirrored what previous managers before them had done. It was one of the most stressful two years of my life. Change was unheard of. The same chicken dish that was placed on the menu 20 years before was still there. The menus were hard printed which, no doubt, reassured my boss as change was nearly impossible.  The only variable were the daily specials and that was left for the cooks to decide.  I remember watching that boss walk through the hot line, with tasting spoons, knowing full well they did not have any clue what the dishes should taste like. They were just going through the motions.  (It was at this point that I decided, if I were to continue in the restaurant business, that I would have to go to culinary school.) The thing missing though, that undefinable quality, that X factor of a true leader; was not present in this very good manager. That X factor, is the ability to take measured, thoughtful risks and it is what sets leaders apart.

I have found that I am attracted to the curious mind. The kind of mind that keeps asking questions. I especially like it when people look both forward and backwards and ask, how might things be better than they are right now?  A great thrill of mine is to stumble upon that random conversation which either breaks down, or gels, an opinion that has been rolling around inside my head trying to find its way out. I recently had just such a conversation the other day, sitting in Vallejo’s new parklet, with one of Vallejo’s thought leaders. Chatting about nothing and everything, our musings turned to Government versus Private sector management style. To me it comes down to the concept of Control versus Influence.  Let me provide an example: Here in Vallejo we recently passed an ordinance about the dumping of trash. Seems straightforward enough: You dump trash, we fine you and/or send you to jail. (Fear of loss is known to be 3 times the motivator than the possibility of gain.)   But here is where it falls apart for me.

  1. Vallejo spends 1 million dollars a year picking up trash.
  2. Recology gives each homeowner in Vallejo free bulk trash pickups. (Did you know this?)
  3. Recology will also give a limited number of bulk trash pickups to apartment dwellers. (I would bet that you did not know this.)
  4. My first lesson in Economics: Trash is an economic bad. One has to pay to take it away.
  5. Many of our neighbors do not have much money nor an access to a vehicle in order to take bulk items to the dumps.
  6. Vallejo’s free trash dump day on Mare Island has cars and trucks lined up for blocks.
  7. Logical Conclusion: Leave the trash on the street, the City workers (job security) will pick it up. (This option also removes the shame associated with not having enough money to take the trash to the dump.)
  8. Someone needs to witness this bad behavior and report it. No witness = an ineffective control.

What if? What if the City spent that million dollars working to influence good behavior rather than to control and punish bad behavior?  What if the City held free trash dumps on a monthly basis? What if they located these temporary dumpster sites in 4 to 6 places around town? What if it took some of that million dollars and offered jobs to whomever wanted to pick up trash throughout the City. I am not sure if you have noticed but the California Redemption Value (CRV) tax that each of us spends on bottles and cans is working. All of us have seen people collecting cans and bottles and turning them in for cash money. What if we did that for trash?  What if we used that million dollars to make it easier for people to do the right thing?  Dump the trash in appropriate places and pay them to go out and pick it up? 

Let’s compare styles:

The first: Write a law and punish, is an example of how Government seeks to control through the use of force.

The second: Reward good behavior, or at the least remove the shame of poverty, by making dumping free and accessible to those without the means to haul their own trash away and paying people to pick it up and bring it in. The CRV law influenced and rewarded good behavior; and helped clean up our streets too!

Follow up on this thought: If we are so keen on making laws, why don’t we require landlords to notify their tenants of their right to a free dumpster, and make them provide Recology’s information?  I personally have noticed that apartment dwellers seem to have more of a challenge managing the disposal of bulk items.

So here it is in a nutshell.  We have a City Manager’s office and the City Council.  The City Manager should be a good manager; the Council should lead.  Leading means taking risks. Thoughtful, measured risks. Leading relies on the ability to see problems where many perceive that none exist; and to make changes, no matter how uncomfortable that may be in the minute. Leading means taking the path less traveled and installing a parklet, solving a problem that no one else knew existed until the solution was present.

Dear City Council,

The budget before you mirrors budgets that you have seen before. There is no risk if you vote to keep it as it is presented. Neither is there growth. Nothing will change, if you choose not to change anything. We will never have the homeless services that our City, Police Department included, need unless you use the voice we gave you and change the budget. (By the way, new stimulus monies have been placed in the CDBG for homeless issues. These monies could fund the outreach and support services that both the Police Department and the Citizens of Vallejo want.)

In looking back and looking forward, I am reminded once again of what Winston Churchill said when asked to cut funding to the arts and social programs, “Then what are we fighting for?)

I ask each of you to be more than a good manager mirroring the motions of the leaders before. I ask you to use your voice to influence Vallejo’s future by creating an environment that reduces shame and influences good behavior rather than seeking to control. I ask you to fund for social services that support the mission of the police, but not for more police officers and equipment. I ask you to fund those things that keep Vallejo vibrant and unique.  I ask you to lead especially now that times are tough. I ask you to lead.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

When you can say nothing?

I am at a loss today. I know that I must write, must share my thinking, my grief and my outrage. I know that because I am a white man and will be heard, that I must make sure that I am heard. But where do I begin? What can I say that would even come close to easing the pain of over a half millennia of subjugation? Whatever could I, ever say?

A pithy story about how I was pulled over by the police for speeding and had to go to traffic court, pay a small fine and go home as if nothing happened at all; if anything, shows my life to be as fully removed from this reality as it could be. The hard truth I swallow is that I will never know what it feels like to be a person of color in this country. I will never experience real existential fear, not even when Time comes calling for me. I can never know the humiliation and basic disrespect of life that is shown to the people of color whom I call friends and colleagues. I live in the very same world, the very same town; yet the two, mine . . . and theirs, exist separately together, without any apparent incongruence; yet totally divided.

I like to think of myself as a good person. I work hard at treating my dogs well and I am proud that I recycle regularly. Saving the earth and all that. But in writing these words, I picture myself a tall, white ostrich with his head fully buried in the sand. “If I do not know about it, I am not responsible for it,” or so my inner mantra chants. “This one is too big for me,” my body aches in sentiment. “What could I possibly say that would ever make a difference?”  I will share with you what I know. My fear is that it will be a pitiful palliative for this massive world of hurt that we are living in.

Bias. Intrinsic bias. Tribal and confirmation biases. Here is one place where we can look together. Evolution is a bitch. She rewards fear and not trust. Early humans who were not afraid of predators were easily killed. Those who survived, our fore-parents, did so because of their fear. That fear was handed down over a thousand generations, to us. Imagine our luck. We speak of it with great regularity. We call it our fight or flight response. Those more enlightened have added a third term for us to consider. They say fight, flight or make friends. Unfortunately making friends comes with risk, pain and potential death. So say the genes of our ancestors.

This fear evolved in what is now commonly known as Tribal Bias. Our evolution has taught us to be wary of those who do not look like us. This is a base instinct and can be over written, yet it exists in all of us. I imagine, and I have not studied this part so I speak with minimal authority here, because I have seen children of different colors playing easily together that the pain of prejudice finds nourishment in the anxiety of puberty. The time in life when testosterone and fear are palpable in their bitterness. It is this time that the desire to be accepted by one group almost always requires that we disparage another.

Confirmation bias. Here is one of my favorites. Not because I like it so, but because it is, and always will be, the most insidious of them all. Confirmation bias is hard to spot in oneself. Take this inane example. My mother always chastised me for never picking up my toys. I, on the other hand, said that I did indeed pick them up with regularity. Now never means that not once did I pick them up. This of course was not true. I believe that most times I did and sometimes I did not. Now here is confirmation bias. My mother believed that I never did. Here opinion was reinforced every time she found a toy not put away. On the times she did not see toys left out, her mind paid no attention to it at all. There was no confirmation of her opinion. My experience was the opposite. I knew that I put the toys away. There were times when I was not finished playing, when I did not put them away. My confirmation bias remembered only the times I did put them away. The things we focus on are the things we recall and hold emotions, memories and opinions about.

The painful real life example would be: If I believed that people of color were responsible for all crime, then every time I saw it reported as such on the news, or heard someone speak about it this way, my bias for this belief would be confirmed. If I heard or saw anything different, my mind would not register it. This is what is happening in our society today. We have let our tribal fear, coupled with confirmation bias, direct and dictate our policing behaviors. I believe it to be that simple. The question begging to be answered: How do you change a specieal lifetime of evolution? (I am going with the make friends part knowing just exactly how risky it is.)

I would like to say just one thing about the violence we are now experiencing. It is a symptom, not the cause.  Like the inflammation and pain that comes with a raging infection, the violence we are living through may either be treated or let run its course. I am not wise enough to address this question, for it is left to better women and men than me.  What I do know is that we need to work on digging out the source of the infection. The cause of this unrest. We need to collectively remove our heads from the sand and see exactly what is happening in the bright light of day and remove those individuals who seek to create and feed this festering national illness simply out of pubescent fear.

I do not know the answer. This is one that we must all seek together. I hope that knowing some of the why may help to lead us in the best direction.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

THE WHY OF IT ALL

A recurrent meme on Face Book asks if we would turn our lights on during an air raid as stark comparison to going out in public without a mask. It makes me laugh for two reasons. First, and I hope that more people read this one sentence than any other that I have, or will write:

Wearing a mask is to protect other people from you.

It is to prevent your spittle from being distributed in the world. Unless you are a health care professional working in a contagious environment, wearing the appropriate safety gear, the mask does very little in protecting you, the wearer. Sorry, that is just how it is. When you wear a mask it is because you care about the people around you. When you do not wear a mask in public, well . . .  (F#@k you)

So why is it that so many people seem to disregard such basic information? What is it about human nature that that seems to bridge this obvious cognitive dissonance?

Let me explain the second reason for my meme laughter. It was thought that the bombing of London would so completely demoralize the English that the war would be as good as won, once the bombing started. Honestly, I can imagine the fear I would possess if I knew that bombers where on their way to Vallejo. I, like the British before me, would hunker down in a bunker. (Ha! Hunker in a bunker.) When the All Clear would sound, I would then reemerge and literally pick up the pieces. Or I would not.  I would either be alive, or I would not know the difference. This point may seem very direct and almost harsh, but it is reality, its core truth cannot be denied. If you are dead, you no longer have fear or dread. If you live through a bombing, you may be traumatized if; the bombing was very nearby, you witnessed someone dying, or if you were injured; but, and this is a big but, but you would have survived. Your personal experience of the bombing was that you lived. If you were further out from where the bombing occurred there would be even less, or perhaps no, trauma at all.  As it turned out, the routine of gathering in the bomb shelter, this forced common experience, galvanized the British spirit which in and of itself was a stunning defeat for their attackers. We all know that that war ended.

So let me just break this concept down in super simple terms:

  • If the bombing killed you, the thought of future bombings has no effect on you.
  • If you were affected by the bombing, your behaviors would change, but you are in a very small cohort since the experience was localized.
  • If you were not affected by the bombing, (the bombs were not dropped on or near you) the experience of living, of not really having your life threatened, is the thing that you most remember and the one that affects your future behavior.

Sheltering at home has protected most of us.  The bombs are dropping on someone else’s house. There is no loud noise that can shock us. There is no demolition whose pieces we must pick up. The greatest number of us do not even know someone who has gone into the hospital let alone someone who has died from all of this.  This is the why. This is the reason why we so easily disregard the truth. Our personal experiences tell us that it is safe. That it has been over 2 months and nothing bad has happened . . . to us. Our gut instincts tell us the danger is not real and wearing the mask is, well, uncomfortable.

This is the why, and only the why.

Please wear a mask in public.

Wearing is Caring!

Until the next time,

Tommy Judt

NOT IF, WHEN

It has been a tough couple of weeks for me. First an august body, to which I am appointed, suffered worldwide embarrassment. Second I am heart sore resulting from my own behavior. Thirdly, I am burdened with the knowledge of an ethical dilemma which, while it does not involve my actions, could be yet another blow to the city I love so.  The only thing that I am thankful for is that because I am forced to keep my distance, I have not bent everyone’s ears about my first world problems. On top of all that, a few more pieces of a puzzle have slipped into place for me, concerning our shared condition.  Normally I try to share the positive experiences in my life. Sometimes logic and timing shade my thinking. Below is something that came to me this week.

I read something in the news that actually made sense. I know, it was probably a one off but never-the-less. First though, let us put the pieces together.

  1. A vaccine is 12 – 18 months away.
  2. The threat will not pass until we achieve herd immunity.
  3. Herd immunity is 2/3’s of the population.
  4. You cannot get immunity until you have been exposed.
  5. You cannot be exposed if you isolate and wear a mask.
  6. So in order for this all to pass, we must all get infected.

Jump in any time and correct me if I have gotten anything wrong . . . please!

Let me take you back to yet another dinner table conversation that I remember from my youth.  My father was a pharmacist and worked for the old Payless Store in San Pablo. As the chief pharmacist it was his job to order the inventory and manage stock levels. I remember him coming home one day shaking his head about something that happened at work. At dinner he went on to explain that his boss was directing him to order products in a certain way. His boss wanted him to order small quantities from the store’s main distributor. My father could order from the manufacturer in a slightly larger bulk for a much better price and turn a better profit for his store. Which he did. And this is what frustrated him. Even though he showed a higher dollar profit, his boss was directing him to use a version of just-in-time delivery. 

Just-in-time delivery is a concept that I believe was developed for the auto industry. Let us say that Auto Maker 1 planned to manufacture 100 autos per day or in other words, 500 per week. So rather than get a weekly shipment of the various parts for 500 cars once a week, they would get the parts for 100 cars once a day. Or maybe 50 cars twice a day. Just-in-time. This process reduces not only the amount of inventory a company must keep on hand, this reduces the amount of cash locked up in that inventory and the amount of space necessary to them. Suppliers could then streamline their production output to just meet the demand by Auto Maker 1. They in turn could reduce their raw material inventory and so on and so on. The benefit of this system is that while it required capital to get started, and capital can be easily borrowed, all this systems really needs is a steady flow of business and cash. Business to consume the product and cash to pay back the loan. A cost savings for businesses and a boon for banks lending money. The problem with this system is simple. Should one part fail, the entire system fails.

That brings us up to today. Follow me on this if you will.

  1. Shelter in place has effected many industries.
  2. We do not need as many new cars nor gasoline since we are not driving.
  3. We do not go out to movies or to restaurants so no need for them to be open.
  4. We are not going out as much so no need to purchase as many clothes.
  5. However, we still need to eat.
  6. Just recently there was news about the meat packing plants closing down.
  7. Question: What happens if we cannot supply the just-in-time food deliveries to retailers?

So here we are left with one more question to answer:

Why is the government so ready to start opening up and declaring meat packing plants as essential knowing that more people will get infected and die?

Could it be that we do not have enough food in the supply chain to last very much longer? At least not without having people go back to work at food processing facilities.  So it seems that we are not through this at all, and in order for us to survive as a whole we need to eat. And since the food we eat comes just-in-time, when the system is functioning normally, it almost becomes a mathematical equation.  How many will die from the virus, versus what will happen to our society if we run out of food? (Think Bread and Games.)

Infections will continue, they have told us that already. A few different treatments are being touted in the press to help ease our fears. Even with that it seems that we will not see the other side of this for some time and not without a significant loss of life. The truth? It no longer is a matter of if, only a question of when you catch this flu.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt