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

THAT WAS AWKWARD

I feel that it is important for me to explain my actions and behavior to you, my neighbors in Vallejo.

What you are about to read are MY thoughts, feelings and opinions. The do not represent the City of Vallejo, the Vallejo Planning Commission nor any of my fellow Commissioners.  They are mine solely.

Recently I had the opportunity to tell our Mayor just how much I enjoyed sitting on the Planning Commission. I find it satisfying to know what is going on in our town, I feel privileged to be a part of the larger conversation and I am humbled to remember that I do it as your representative. Now I must share that the challenges are real. Take for example the development that just moved forward from the Planning Commission and is now headed to the City Council for final approval.  This process has taken years just to get to this point. As a citizen I am thrilled that this type of quality development has come to our town. I am appreciative of the fact that Costco could have chosen another city to relocate to but has decided to affirm their relationship with Vallejo.  This project will be good for all of us.  Well, almost all of us. There are real traffic concerns which I addressed in open meeting. (This means that I can talk about them now, since I have already voted.)

The traffic on Admiral Callaghan is predicted to be . . . well . . . awful. The EIR said nothing could be done about it. I did not agree, and worked with a very professional staff, over this challenging issue. To say that I pressed the limits of my professional relationship would be an accurate statement. I felt that the impacts on traffic was so significant, to coopt the exact phrase from the Environmental Impact Report, that for me to do my job, the one that you count on me to do, I needed to raise whatever awareness to this situation that I could. This included raising a motion to continue the EIR until we could decide on a higher traffic standard.  I was not successful but my voice was heard and I hope this is how you are asking me, your neighbor, to view this job.

What I could not have anticipated were the unfortunate events that have now made the news. Just so you know, each Commissioner is allowed to share their opinions and to ask questions that they feel are relevant to the project. All of us on the virtual dais asked and opined. In an unforgettable moment, something that is becoming more familiar with teleconferencing meetings, the sound of a pet wanting attention could be heard. (I have recently learned that the following is now news halfway around the world.) One of our Commissioners picked up his cat, introduced it to the meeting, and then tossed it out of frame.

Please let me stop here and tell you that in no way do I approve of this behavior. 

It is not my place to continue speaking about someone else’s behavior. What I would like to address are my own. The ones that followed as a response. In the video I can be seen covering my face with my hands. That clip is as surreal to me now as it was in that moment. In what was an instinctual reaction, as I felt for both the Commissioner and his cat, I placed my hands over my face. Another thing that I could not control was my nervous laughter. I assure you that I was not laughing because I found the situation at all amusing. The laughter too was a reflexive response that I could not control.  As I sat there watching all this unfold on my computer, the incredulity of the situation so overwhelmed me that all I could think to do was to shake my head and attempt to choke back my awkward outburst.

I apologize to anyone who felt offended by my response and understand how easily it would be to misinterpret my reactions.

I have been a long time pet owner and have written in the past how I start every day hoping that I will live up to my dog’s expectations of me. Feeling that I needed to do something positive in response to this situation, I have made a donation the Humane Society of the North Bay. These are good people, who do amazing work for animals that are lost or forgotten. I have included the link for you and ask that you do the same, for not all of us have someone to look after us.

I am not a seasoned politician, nor is that my goal in life. I willing serve you, my neighbors in Vallejo, because I believe in who we are and where we live. I am embarrassed with my awkward behavior of the 20th and ask for your understanding.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

Donate Here: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/hsnb?fbclid=IwAR3455E9bDpJTW7Vvx8lgTzRXbQSGd7yyE5-jaBXL3U3nENwTxTDG-MsG34

IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES

It was the worst of times.

I want to thank a Nextdoor reader for reaching out to me yesterday to see if I was alright. She had not seen a post from me in a while and was concerned. That was just plain kind.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens wrote that, and the first time I read it I thought that he was being melodramatic. Just goes to show me, I guess.

Lately I have been huddled away at home subjecting myself to being garden shamed. So many of my industrious friends are pruning their ivy or building fences. I have a quarter acre of lawn and a dozen planter boxes needing attention. A friend said to me, that my reading their posts merely inspired me. Nope, I feel the burn of shame. So this weekend I whacked the weeds, mowed the lawn, all-the-while kicking the ball for the dogs in between the passing of rows. I purchased a new garden hose as the old one had burst in multiple places and planted seeds for lettuce, giant sunflowers and sweet baby watermelons.

My box of beets and red carrots have already started to push. The tomatoes, which I began from purchased starters, clock in at around 12 plants this year. A mix of orange, yellow and funkily shaped heirloom tomatoes will delight your BLT’s at Provisions later this summer. Oh! I did plant a Roma this year, so that I might make a little fresh sauce for my pasta or Chicken Parmesan. The dill weed I planted months ago is filling out but the spinach that I tried between the fruit trees was overcome by crabgrass.  Later this spring I am going to attempt to dig out as much of that incredulous little monster as is possible, without damaging my blood orange tree roots.

I am a little excited. A few years back I planted said blood orange tree with visions of a communal Sangria bowl in the future. The tree itself has always been healthy and green, but never flower nor fruit to be seen. I read somewhere, this past winter, that the soil was probably too rich in nitrogen and weak in other nutrients. Rachel Hoff of Grow a Pear Nursery, here in Vallejo, always recommends testing your soil. It is inexpensive and easy. Turns out the soil was low in potassium and now my little pretty is festooned with lovely, little white blossoms, so sweet to the smell. I look forward to that first blush of fruit in my glass.

My asparagus bed is about 4 years old now and is feeling its oats. I should back up and say that this last winter I headed up to American Canyon to pick up two truckloads of rich, ripe compost for which to feed my yard. I felt sorry for my neighbors because after I had spread both loads generously atop all of my boxes and planting beds there was this certain – pong – to the air. More than one neighbors popped their heads out of their houses and asked me if I smelled something. Sheepishly I replied, “It was me.” Fancying myself an Aqua Velva man, and not wishing to put off any potential partners in the following evening’s conversation,  I showered, twice as long, and reapplied said, branded aftershave before heading out that night. Only a faint wisp of musk followed me, or so I am told.

Truthfully, this last week has been a bit hard for me. I found myself faced, on multiple fronts, with the choice of addressing situations head on, as I am want, or deferring to a more political stance which will keep me quietly employed. Question: Do I save myself for another day, or at my age, and with the level of responsibility I bear, is today the day I have been saving myself for?  The thought of slipping into quiet retirement is a pleasant one. Best definition ever for being prepared for retirement. Having just enough to be snug with a bit left over for a pint.  This is my goal, to be snug.

My oldest friend, that is to say the friend with whom I have been acquainted with for the most number of years, and I had a pleasant conversation the other day. His is as bright a mind as I have ever had the pleasure of being challenged by and the topic of our collective present situation quickly rose to the forefront. We batted it back and forth a bit like the beleaguered little shuttle cock that it is, and somewhere betwixt the pummeling and ground this thought spun off:

Best thing to do in a pandemic: Shelter in place to avoid infection.

Worst thing to do in a pandemic: Shelter in place to avoid infection.  Cuz if you are never exposed, you cannot develop antibodies.

It was the best of times . . .

Yes, I miss you all too and promise to keep in touch,

Tommy Judt

UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES

I think that I have already mentioned, that I was recently hired into my dream job.  Yup, after 45 years of working, studying, winning and failing; I finally found my dream job, or as close to it as I can get. Let me count out some of the dreamy parts of working for the local parks department for you.

  1. I now have a key role in improving the quality of life for my neighbors and their families. (I have so many great memories of my local parks growing up.)
  2. I have a reasonable salary that is provided for by property tax that is less subject to economic swings. (I know that you all understand what having a real steady paycheck is like.)
  3. I work with amazing, committed people who are passionate about doing the best job that they can.  (Having great co-workers is such a key element to being happy at work that I cannot tell you.)
  4. I can walk to work in 30 minutes. (I used to drive up to an hour and a half each way before.)

It is the last one that keeps me thinking.  The backyard of my house backs right up to the sound wall for Highway 80. During regular times, when I am outside, I can hear the traffic whoosh passed. With the exception of the obnoxiously loud motorcycle, it all seems of white noise to me. Inside, after I replaced my windows with double panes, one can barely hear a thing.  Now with Shelter-In-Place, I can stand outside and barely hear a thing.  I am constantly enjoy how much fresher the outside smells and take every opportunity to open the windows to air out my house. (Two dogs you know.) It feels like living in the country only with closer neighbors.

I stumbled across an article this morning and just reading the title gave me pause.  Automobile insurance companies are planning to give refunds to drivers who are not commuting. That’s cool, I thought. Then it hit me. Fewer drivers commuting = fewer accidents. (Sorry Rose’s Collision.) I have been in a few accidents in my life, another reason for me wanting to walk to work, and I always imagine the claim’s person on the other end of the phone, with a list of fresh accidents before them, jammed into a room with a hundred other unfortunates just like them.  Now picture that same room after 90% of us stop jamming the roadways.  Quiet as a church this past Easter.  

Our economy is bound to be realigned after this. I am saddened that there are people who are not working and are seriously in need of assistance. What I hope is that we look to this whole time and take this ‘new normal’, cast aside the unwanted stuff yet keep the best in order to create a better “New Normal.” Let’s keep the baby and throw out the bath water. Together we can raise it to help create a better world for all of us to live in.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

A BIT OF BUTTER

When I was 16 years old my mother asked me what I wanted to do.  While I loved my mother immensely, I do not think that, over the entirety of my life, I was ever more annoyed with her for asking that question.  For goodness sake, I was 16 years old and barely more than a decade away from wetting my pants. What did I know of the world, and now I am supposed to decided what career I want for the rest of my life?  The best advice about earning a living that I was ever given, immediately followed that question: You can either go to college or go into the trades. Either one will allow you to buy a house and provide for your family. This was definitely true in the 60’ and 70’s when unions were at their peak.

There are two companion words which, for the life of me I cannot recall. I promise a bottle of wine to the first one who will leave me the answer in the comments below. These words I read only once in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath. I would look them up myself but my book bag was taken from my car just as I was on the last chapter. Here-in-follows my best description of them.

  • There is a word that defines when you study something that is easy or natural for you to learn.
  • The companion word defines when you study something that is hard for you to learn.

I have been fortunate to have studied things that were my natural predilection. Things that were easy for me to grasp. I became frustrated, and embarrassingly quit, when they were too challenging for me to learn.

An aside on commitment: I have learned this again from a very close friend who had a vice that they were constantly leaning on to escape. Recently they committed to giving up that vice and it has been a joy to watch their life bloom.  You see, we all think something like; I am going to quit this job and open a bar on the beach. Now this sound innocuous enough but the simple act of allowing yourself a mental escape truly prevents you from committing. By not allowing yourself any thoughts of quitting, the energy you would have spent imagining that seaside bar now goes into the task at hand.  Another personal embarrassing fact, it has taken me way too long to learn this lesson. To that point, I ended up studying those things that came easy to me and eschewed the things that were difficult to learn. Quitting for the greener grass. I became a walking poster boy for: Easy to learn, difficult to master.

Now my frustration as a younger man, at having to make such an important decision so early in my life, has yielded both reward and failure, although not in equal sums. I have traveled many parts of the world, speak small bits of several different languages, trained in more than a few professions, studied from renowned scholars and still manage to fall flat on my face. The joy, that this approach to life has given me, is measurable in every airplane lounge conversation I have ever gotten myself into. The sorrow can be found in my never really playing a long game. Now, off with this melancholy and onto the thrust of my point.

As a man of my years is want to do, I daydream a mindful of what ifs. What if I did this? What if I had done that? When I have these daydreams it means that it is time for me to pick up a new book. A lovely thing about reading in particular, and watching videos to some degree, is that as you imagine yourself in the situation that you are experiencing on your couch, you are stimulating the very same neural pathways that you would do if you were out actually doing that thing. It is crazy, I know. You can literally get an understanding, and mentally walk in another person’s shoes, just by reading about it.  Sometimes during the day I stop and think of what else I might have done as a young man. What other path could I have chosen? What experiences would I have to share now? Would my conversation be that much different? Today I watched a video of a company in France that still makes butter with 19th century techniques. Sitting back I wonder if I had just focused a little differently in culinary school, what my life would be like if I had gone to France to learn how to make butter. Or, if I had perhaps become a dive master and surfer and travelled the world’s beaches. Or, if I had joined the merchant marines, lived my life at sea and become a ship’s captain.

After graduating from culinary school I would often say, I would like to own a restaurant that does this. Or I would like to own a restaurant that does that. In truth, after opening and closing my own place, I learned to say, I would like to go to a place that does this, or that and not actually own it. Thankfully I still enjoy reading, and with each new read I can do both. I can both go to that new thing and do it at the very same time.

I wish you many happy reads.

Until tomorrow,

Tommy Judt