NEW SALES TAX? – LET’S CONNECT THE DOTS

The City of Vallejo is planning to place a measure on the ballot this November to increase the sales tax in Vallejo by .0875%.  There hope is to raise $18 million ostensibly for road repair. Now if this money was only for road repair, right here is where I would end sharing my opinion. I would tell you that I support it. The Mayor recently stated, if we want nice things we have to pay for them and I agree with him. Here is the thing, just like Measure G these monies are not just for road repair. The wording of the resolution puts the monies into the General Fund to be used . . . however.

One reason given for this language is a General Fund tax measure only needs 50.1% of the votes to pass. A specific tax spending measure needs 60%+ (I am not sure of the exact percentage.) So the argument is that the Measure will have a better chance of passing if it is a General Fund Tax.

Well, I do not trust them, even with oversight, to spend these monies just on road repair. They will just get mixed together with everything else and I predict we will still have potholes.

Help me connect the dots here:

  1. The City needs more money but turned down a $9 million cash offer for North Mare Island and took $3 million instead.
  2. Last year Sales Tax income locally grew by $4million+ due to overall economy growth coming out of the pandemic.
    • As a business person, if I need to raise revenue I have the choice of doing more business, depending on capacity, or raising prices. And we have more capacity in Vallejo. Our local businesses could easily do more business. Raising prices will inevitably influence some people to shop elsewhere reducing projected income. According to the last census, 75% of Vallejoans make $75,000 or less per year. By raising the Sales and Use Tax they make it more expensive to live in Vallejo.
    • The City Council every year states that Economic Development is a primary goal. It seems to me if Staff seriously focused on this Council goal that we might not need to raise the tax rate. If we could increase business in Vallejo by 20%, and this is not an unreasonable business goal since the General Lift in the economy gave us a 10% increase, then our tax income would increase by about $8 million. Not to mention the extra money available to be spent locally by these business owners.

Speaking of spending locally, here is the first area that the City could focus on. We all know that spending money locally benefits everyone in the City. Why does not the City have a year round Buy Local program operated in conjunction with our separate Chambers of Commerce?

It is up to you to decide. I agree, if we want nice things we have to pay for them. For me, it all comes down to a matter of trust. I think that staff should focus first on the Council’s Economic Development Goal rather than trying to raise prices. I know our local businesses would appreciate it.

With Gratitude,

Tommy Judt

SNIPS & SNAILS AND COFFEE SHOP TALES

It’s 3 a.m. and I am already drinking my second cup of coffee. For the last ten years at least I have dreamt of owning a little coffee shop. Someplace where I could chat with friends, stretch out my $18,000 culinary school education, and drink that 3rd cup of coffee assuring my doctor that it was in the interest of research. Well, I finally did it. After a year of searching, planning and putting it all together I opened THE LINE COFFEE on April Fool’s Day. And my, I think my place is cute.

With only 400 square feet and barely 10 feet wide, every square inch has been accounted for. With 2 different coffee makers, 3 different coffee grinders and a rather large espresso machine, I honestly believe that there is as much engineering, hardware and electronics in my little shop as was in the Apollo space capsules. Coffee making sure is different than the days of grounds in a pot of water that you strain with your teeth.

The drip coffee is a standard, high quality flat filter machine and it makes a fine cup of coffee.  The pour over, the Curtis Gold Cup which makes one golden cup at a time, employs the best of what we know about filtration, dwell time, water temperature and brew timing.  That there is one smooth cup of coffee.  The 3 group Conti espresso machine looks almost like a throwback from Buck Rogers’s era. That 30’s kind of machine where every switch, lever and button was designed with a specific purpose and style. You have got to love Italian design.

So far I have just been sort of kicking the tires and breaking in the engine slowly. I have had great help getting the day to day systems in place and have just hired my second employee.  While it was always my intent to focus on heavily on the coffee, I am pleasantly surprised to learn that my croissants and cinnamon rolls are becoming local favorites. I even worked out a vegan, gluten free brownie recipe. I am hoping that one will catch on too.

When in the neighborhood of Telegraph Ave and Ashby in Berkeley do stop in. Just tell you doctor it’s for research.

With Gratitude,

Tommy Judt

GVRD – GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN

Recently I heard that the Board of Directors for GVRD approved an appropriation for $1 million to remodel the kitchen in the Vallejo Community Center. Where do I start? First, do we need another kitchen for more crab feeds? No, an emphatic NO! What we need are diversionary recreation programs for our youth. What we need is a new sports center. In my many communications with the Mayor and Council members, the topic of more recreation programs keeps coming up, along with the question of a new sports center. These are things that we know exert a positive influence on our little town of Vallejo.

If I recall correctly, the kitchen remodel was the brainchild of Board Member Gary Salvadori. Now granted this idea was brought up when GVRD had a working sports center and before it was closed by Southern Lands and the Nimitz Group, before GVRD spent $2 million to upgrade Cunningham Pool, and before the pandemic. But the appropriation decision was made AFTER all of these happened.  How? Why? Has the GM and the Board forgotten what we hired them to do?

What am I asking of you? Turn up the heat and get GVRD out of the kitchen. Reach out to the Board members directly and ask them to halt any contract negotiations for this project, and to place it back on the agenda so that our Council members and the public can voice their concerns. We are not a resource rich community and spending a million dollars on anything, especially a kitchen remodel, is a big thing.

Oh! I almost forgot. Council member Mina Diaz, I heard that GVRD really appreciated the $17,000 in discretionary monies you gave to them. I am sure it went to something important . . . like stock pots.

ron_bowen@gvrd.org

adjoa_mcdonald@gvrd.org

rizal_aliga@gvrd.org

gary_salvadori@gvrd.org

robert_briseno@ gvrd.org

Until Next Time,

Tommy Judt

THE RULE OF 3

400 Mare Island Way may be the best place to put a police station . . . I just don’t know.

Simply put, The Rule of 3 is a writing rule: Use 3 adjectives to describe an object for a stronger impression. But if you take a minute to look around you will see the rule of 3 in many places.  We have 3 strikes and 3 outs in baseball. The punt in football is 3 points. Hockey has 3 periods. Even basketball has a 3 point shot. Isaac Newton developed the 3 Laws of Physics.  In math we use x, y and z to define 3 dimensions. So many sayings, that we are familiar with, employ the rule of 3.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Red, white and blue

Vini, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)

Snap, crackle, pop

Baseball, hot dogs and apple pie

Tall, dark and handsome (Okay, I had to throw that one in there)

You get the picture. You see our minds work in a very particular way. We are able to process some information quickly, while other information takes more time and concentration. Take driving for example. Do you remember when you first started driving how unsure and awkward you were? And your driving showed it? You were concentrating because there was so much information to process. But after a while you were able to assimilate all that information rather quickly. (Stop lights, pedestrians, other cars, etc.) Driving on the freeway, once scary became routine.  This is because your brain evolved to survive, by being able to process a certain amount of information at one time while still being able to have a conversation with the person next to you.

A similar thing happens with Decision Making. Our brains have developed an affinity for 3’s. To start, if you are given only one choice, it becomes a yes or no decision. It is binary and meant to capitalize on your fear of loss. (If you choose no, you fear that you could be losing out.) This is the technique of someone wanting to appear to give you control. It actually does the opposite. The odds are in the other person’s favor that you will choose yes out of this fear.  Better is when you are given a choice between two similar things. We all know this as compare and contrast; apples to apples, as it were. Here is a choice where we have relative information to compare giving us a better understanding of what is available and what may be at stake. (This holds the hidden 3rd choice of saying no to both.)

Having 3 choices is best. 3 because our minds can easily hold that many options in our thinking at one time without having to concentrate too much. Like driving and talking. In this decision making scenario we get 3 sets to Compare and Contrast. (1 vs. 2, 2 vs. 3, and 3 vs.1) Here is where apples to apples could prove to show: Apples vs. Apples vs. Oranges. From 3 choices we can begin to form decision groups. Option 1 is better for this but Option 2 is better for that. While Option 3 includes the best parts of 1 and the savings of 2. Think of it like this. Only some people can ride a unicycle. It takes a lot of experience to do it and even more to do it well. Many more people can ride a bicycle, Why? Because we now have 2 points to support us. We do not have to worry so much about falling backward or forwards, just side to side.  Most, if not all of us, can ride a tricycle for the same reason that milking stools have 3 legs, as it is still stable on an uneven surface.  Our minds, our bodies, our lives revolve around the rule of 3. Some people even call it the Golden Rule

What we have now is better that what we were first given. A relative choice between 2 locations for the new Vallejo Police Station.  What would be best is if the City Council would take a beat and authorize a feasibility study of a 3rd location. Granted it will cost another $100,000 plus but in my mind, in order to make the best decision, and more importantly, earn back our trust, we need to see three real apples to apples to apples choices. It is just due diligence.

400 Mare Island Way may turn out to be the best location for Vallejo, I just do not know. We are not a resource rich city which affords us very few choices. But we can still afford to consider 3 options. That much I do know. Giving Council, and the public, the opportunity to review 3 choices is the least we can do to preserve any sense of an open and transparent conversation.

Please email to our City staff and council with the subject line: We Want 3 Choices.  Then ask them to please consider a 3rd option because the least we can afford is proper due diligence.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

Robert.McConnell@cityofvallejo.net                                  Mike.Malone@cityofvallejo.net

Rozzana.Verder-Aliga@cityofvallejo.net                              Gillian.Hayes@cityofvallejo.net

Tina.Arriola@cityofvallejo.net                                             Terrance.Davis@cityofvallejo.net

Hakeem.Brown@cityofvallejo.net                                       Katy.Miessner@cityofvallejo.net

Pippin.Dew@cityofvallejo.net                                             Mina.Diaz@cityofvallejo.net

WHAT IS ON THE AGENDA?

We screwed up. We let this happen. We let control of the public conversation, the agenda, move from the Mayor and the Council to the city manager and their staff. In one simple little line of our Municipal Code, we signed over democratic representation. That line?

VM2 2.02.240 – PREPARATION AND POSTING

The city manager or designee shall prepare and furnish to each councilmember and to the city attorney, and to such other persons as the council may designate, a written agenda for the regular meetings.

The city manager, or designee, not the Mayor nor the Council we elected. Staff controls the public conversation. Have you noticed that since this was passed with the Laws of Decorum that our meeting have run longer and been more contentious? I suggest that because the Mayor, our elected representative, cannot even require a meeting with the city manager according to our code. Imagine that, staff is not required to take a meeting with our elected representatives. That gives them all the power. Like placing multi-million dollar appropriations on the Consent Calendar along with 32 other items.

My question to you is: Have you given up on our elected officials actually having the authority to make a change, any change? Because they do not now. AND, more to the point, what are you going to do about it?

Until Next Time,

Tommy Judt

AWASH IN HOLIDAY SPIRIT

 When I was young it rained in the winter. Oh boy did it rain. The kind of rain like we had a few weeks back. Rain that would awash the concrete gutters of our street. Rain that flooded manhole covers and overwhelmed the brand-new wipers Dad put on our car the day before. Torrential rain. Biblical Rain. Rain that seemed to come every Thanksgiving we went to visit my Grandmother in San Francisco. 

From the East Bay it was a relatively unprotected drive along the East bank of the San Francisco Bay. Crossing the spindly-feeling Bay Bridge the wind whipped without remorse shoving our 1960’s era Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser left, then right, then left again. Determined, we pressed fearlessly onward. “One day,“  I said to myself, “The Judt party shall be remembered for their bravery of this crossing.”  Most memorable was that creepy, high pitched, briney whine that whistled over the Bridge’s cables midspan. So loud it would drown out every other sound in the car sending chills down our collective spines. My father, the most patient man I ever knew, would calmly focus on the task at hand while my mother would carry on a conversation to keep us distracted. Although, I think she was the one who wished not to see what she was seeing from her front seat perch. 

The Vista Cruiser was a classic station wagon of the time. It got its name from the distinctive windows located in the roof directly above the middle seat where my three eldest siblings sat. An homage to a sports car’s moon roof I imagine.  The compromise that dad gets instead of the muscle car he fervently desired. “Look honey, it has a moon roof. One night we’ll get a baby sitter and make out in the back seat and look at the moon.”  Or so the conversation would go. I imagine.  My younger sister and I were relegated to the flip up back seat. Far from the radio speakers or Mom’s stories of driving to Reno in the 30’s, I would turn around to look out the back window to witness the Hellstrom for myself. Fancying myself a young scientist I would observe the other fathers purposely piloting their family crafts. Marking he movements behind I became lost in thought and would begin to hum a low, rather monotonous tone. Those of you who know me have heard this painful sound. Should I ever be around the corner in dire need and suffering, and all that is heard is this woeful sound I am assured a private demise as those close to me will only think me reading, writing or focusing on some other task at hand; only to check on me once silence filled the air. 

I would sometimes sit by our font picture window on rainy days and count the sheets of rain as they drove by our house. We lived in a 3 story atop a hill and it wasn’t until I ventured a block or two in either direction could I see the flood that would sweep the streets of our town. And yes, one year, when the storm drain was blocked, at the bottom of a very long, steep hill, the manhole cover popped off and from this circular void in the ground a 6-foot plume of water shot straight upward. It seemed to spout on forever, to the point where even Old Faithful would have been embarrassed to continue.  

It felt like it took a lifetime to reach the Sunset form our home in the East Bay hills. Always the last to disembark, the bitter, bitter cold had already begun to chew its way through my good clothes before I had a chance to even step on to the sidewalk. My entire family would reach the relative safety of my Grandmother’s porch before I even shut the car door. “Make sure you closed it tight.” my Dad would say, “We don’t want to come out to a dead battery after dinner.”  My head cowed to the rain, the short jacket I wore leaving the entire length of my pants legs exposed to the elements; I would run back to the car open the door, the close it again. Racing up the stairs I would be cautioned against running on the slick painted brick stairs. I am totally soaked by the time I cross dear mater’s threshold. 

Now here I must stop and refresh all of our memories. Rain, bitter cold, young child, soaked through and through, shivering as I would if I just popped out of a heated pool on a cool Spring day. Okay, back to Grandma’s. 

Walking into my Grandmother’s house was bitter sweet at best. I was so excited to see my cousins, hug my Grandfather and fill my plate with stuffing and gravy that I would charge through the portal only to be met with a palpable wall of super-heated air. It was a contrast filled with contradictions. On one hand I was happy to be free of the elements and on the other the heat felt corrosive as it stung my young skin. The aroma of turkey and bread rolls clashed as Titans with the underlying odor of mothballs and cleaning fluid. It took a few moments for my senses to adjust and the steam to clear the rain my pants had gathered in the short run from the car.  

Jacket hung on a hook, a minute in the bathroom to check my hair and dry my face, then off to the kitchen I would go. In this decade the kitchen was still the haven and territory of the women only. The men were relegated to the living room to watch ‘The Game.” Being young, cute, and terminally charming, I was afforded a few moments to hug, say hello and taste a bite of turkey before I was rushed off to play with the other children. 

I have told the following story before and still I am reminded of it each holiday season. Sitting at the table of my mother’s mother, waiting for dinner to be served, I once repeated a comment my mother made of how my father’s mother was such a good cook and could whip up a meal out of practically nothing. I went on to say how she, my father’s mother was such a good cook. It turns out my Grandmother, my mother’s mother, overheard this and asked, “What about your other grandmother?”  Beat, beat, beat. “Her food is great too!” My first lesson in diplomacy and comedic timing learned. 

Happy Thanksgiving, 

Until next time, 

Tommy Judt 

WATER WATER EVERYWHERE

It was the early 70’s. I was probably no more than 10 years old. It was December, I remember that, because I wanted to go down to Whitefront to finish my holiday shopping. It was a Saturday and the only way I had of traveling the 4 miles there and back was by bicycle. Back then it was not a problem. Kids were riding their bikes everywhere. The only thing different about this day was the rain, and by rain I mean downpour. Constant. Incessant. Over the top rain. The kind of rain where the manhole at the bottom of a steep hill blew off and the plume of water went 6 plus feet in the air, kind of rain. I waited until it lightened up but that was just a ploy. Old man Thunderstorm caught me just a few minutes later and laid into me like my parochial school teachers did when I tried out those new words Bobby taught me in class.  I can still see the rain, buckets of it running down the street. It was the most water I had ever seen in one place at any one time. Before or since.

I am writing about rain and water again because it is the most endangered resource we have in the West. Many of you have read about how dry the Colorado River is before it finishes its run to Mexico. Complex negotiations by competing water authorities from the headwaters in Northern Colorado on through to Lake Mead and Las Vegas; and beyond. Most of you have seen Chinatown, the movie, with Jack Nicholson, which tells a fictional tale about the water wars in the early 20th century that led to the construction of the Hoover Dam. (Actually, I think that I will re-watch that today.) The water you see, was needed so that Los Angeles could grow. Water for construction. Water for businesses. Water for new homes.

There is one conversation, here in Vallejo, where I think everyone will agree with me on the topic. The topic of growth. I say that most of us want it here. We want to see Vallejo flourish. We want new investment. We all want our condition to improve. Well, as we have seen with Los Angeles, we need water to grow. That idea may seem a little big to get our collective arms around it at first so let me share another old adage I picked up at Culinary School.

A working man, after putting in extra effort on at work, received a well-deserved bonus. He and his wife were saving for a house so he put the bulk of it towards a down payment but kept a little for a treat. He had never before been able to take his wife out to a fancy restaurant so they made plans for the coming Saturday night. After seating, the man looked over the menu for the most expensive item he could find. It was a 32 ounce steak with all the trimmings. His wife, knowing that her husband traditionally did not overstuff himself asked, “Honey, how are you going to eat such a large steak?”

“One bite at a time.”

We have a water problem here in the West that we need to take a bite out of. We have designed laws that reflect the kind of thunderstorms I experienced as a youth. In a recent conversation with a water engineer at The Solano County Water Agency (SCWA), my conversational compatriot shared this thought. “It is like we consider water a bad thing. All we do is make plans to get rid of it.”  Consider the phrase, ‘100 Year Flood.’  It is an important concept in planning and building in managing heavy water runoff from 100 year storm events.  We have all seen the damage that flooding can do on TV. Mudslides, standing water, molding drywall, and the occasional member of the livestock family stuck in a tree.

That can still happen in California, when we have a monstrous rain event; and we should still consider the effects it will have. But instead of treating water like a bad thing, I say we treat it like our working man’s bonus, with a slight adaption of the adage. Put some in savings and order up a big steak. You may also be aware of is how our farmers have been pumping more and more ground water to irrigate crops. This, surprisingly, has caused the Central Valley to sink by measurable inches over the past decade.  We have been spending our savings. UC Davis has been studying how to recharge these underground aquifers. Putting water back into our savings account. This is one of the trimmings on the big steak that I am talking about.

Where is all this going Tom? In Vallejo we own our water. We own a number of lakes outright with water rights to Lake Berryessa and, I think, the Delta. We also have our own waste water treatment plant. The place where we send all of our bad water.  This unique situation of controlling our own water was put in place when the Navy was in town. They, the Navy, new how vital a resource water is to their operations. So they helped establish water security for Vallejo. Our own Chinatown story, kinda, well, maybe not so dramatic. But they did put us in a position to manage our growth. Today’s drought, along with the current pandemic, has put us in a unique position. One where we have money to spend on water infrastructure improvement. Sexy right? I mean I got goosebumps just writing that sentence. NOT!

It may not be interesting and it is certainly not sexy; but at least it is expensive! Vallejo has received a grant from the Federal Government through the American Rescue Plan Act. Thanks to efforts from our Congressman Mike Thompson, Vallejo received about $26 million dollars in a onetime grant.  The first round of staff recommendations are going to council soon representing half, or about $13 million.  City staff member Felicia Flores has been in charge of community outreach on ways to spend this money, and has done a tremendous job. She has been both responsive and kind with the few questions and suggestions that I have sent to her.

In addition, the State Government is providing matching grant funding for use in Regional Water Security Issues. The drought has prompted our legislature to draft a grant bill to fund water infrastructure improvements on a regional level. More information can be found here if you are interested: Regional Water Management Grant.

My suggestion here is to get COV Water, Flood and Waste Water, both GVRD and the School District (both who consume extremely large amounts of water for irrigation,) and the SCWA to form either a Joint Powers Authority or a 2 x 2 Commission to meet and move forward on supplying funding, developing policy and enacting improvements to:

  • Provide clean recycled water for irrigation of our parks and public lands. (Reducing demand on fresh water.)
  • Considering well water for irrigating public lands. (Here in Vallejo we are so close to the bay that our water table usually stays pretty high. And since we do not have major farming here in town, using this water would not produce the same effects as the Central Valley.)
  • Consider permaculture practices on public lands that promote groundwater recharge instead of forcing water into our overtaxed storm water system.
  • Promote rain water retention practices in our residential neighborhoods to also lessen the storm water runoff.

I have placed my idea here on the City of Vallejo website. Please, please, let us take the first bite of this big steak together. Please take a minute and vote for greater water security. REGIONAL WATER SECURITY

Until Next time,

Tommy Judt

GVRD ASKS: WHAT’S THE PLAN?

I overheard a conversation last week where one person advocated shipping all of the homeless people to the middle of the desert and letting them die.

Homelessness is a crisis of humanity. It is not my opinion, it is the truth. It is also a topic that GVRD is humanely and delicately trying to address in their new 10 Year Master Plan (YMP.) Our challenge of homelessness has literally spilled out into the streets, alleys, freeway underpasses and off ramps. There are also campers in the park. At my time with GVRD, our out-of-door neighbors were always met with kindness. Camping is a thing in our parks and some people report that they are not comfortable bringing their families to these facilities. I do not disagree. I also do not know the answer. But I have some thoughts, and I bet you do as well.  And this is the point. GVRD is asking for us to weigh in on their monumental undertaking of drafting a plan to cover their operation and growth for the next 10 years.

Did you know that the number of school age children as decreased in Vallejo since the last 10 YMP was drafted? At the same time the population has slightly increased. Who makes up this changing demographic? How can GVRD best serve them? These too are questions that our beloved parks department is asking us to weigh in on.

I recently had lunch with non-other than Vallejo’s own Mark Lampkin. Mark has given his time over the years to referee youth sports. In this conversation he shared with me his approach toward guiding young people with the decisions they make on the court and connecting them to real life when possible. Mark is actively using sports, the idea of a team and sportsman-like-behavior, as we all hope they are being employed. Sports and recreation can be beneficial by filling a young person’s extracurricular time. I am impressed and overwhelmed with parents and kids that maintain multiple after school activities. Good for them. But I am exhausted just writing about it. Far different than the foot loose childhood I lead as a young man. In ending our conversation Mark said something to me that, well, just stuck. He said, “Sports is just an extension of school.”  The conversation finished with the agreement that school cannot be responsible for all of a child’s education. It takes a village to raise a child and Mark’s point is a valid one.  GVRD has been successful with providing some after school programs. I would like to see them do more.

We have a sentimental history of being a working class community. Our roots, developed in the rich soil of Mare Island’s heyday, are those of skilled labor. Welders, carpenters, machinists, et al. While those jobs have left us a new type of industrial manufacturing has taken hold in Vallejo: Industrial Arts. What if GVRD expanded its after school programs to cover Industrial Arts? How might that provide basic knowledge, training and experience to young welders, carpenters or burgeoning artists?   I plan on telling them my opinion on the what-and-how of it.

Even more pragmatically, how does this change in demographic, combined with the City’s plans for growth, change how we plan for parks going forward? The State legislates no less than 3, nor more than 5, acres of new parklands, per 1000 new residents, are to be required of a developer under the Quimby Act. (Cal. Govt Code 66477)  Counting just the acres under GVRD stewardship, Vallejo currently possess 7 acres per 1000 residents. This is far above the minimum and does not include the open space or parks managed by the City.  While I am very much in favor of open space and parkland and am thrilled to have been associated with this fine organization, we must also consider that funding for GVRD is tight. Maintenance costs are high and ever increasing. In order to preserve the sustainability of GVRD and acknowledging the demand for new development, would it be such a bad idea to openly and critically evaluate all of these properties to ensure that they are providing real value to the community?  Would not this information then be useful to the Planning Commission so that they may evaluate this requirement with each new development?

As mentioned, sustainability must be considered, but not just fiscal sustainability. GVRD is entrusted with some of our most prized resources when it comes to doing our part counter the effects of climate change. Trees are the foremost of hot topics when discussing the mitigation of current climate trends. Vallejo is blessed with many trees and could always use more. In their agreement with the City, Vallejo provided GVRD at no charge, with over 700,000 gallons of water last year. Some of this water goes to facilities like Dan Foley Cultural Center, to the Vallejo Community Center, or even to fill those lovely new pools we have at Castlewood Park. The remainder, the bulk of this super clean drinking water goes to water the lawns. And we have lots of public lawns. Now please do not pick on GVRD. We have asked them to give us green spaces. But green means water, gallons of it. Think about it a moment, that does not mean that we have to use fresh drinking water. The lawns at Dan Foley are currently irrigated with waters from Lake Chabot. Blue Rock Springs Park is watered from, well, Blue Rock Springs.  The governor has recently signed a bill into law which will provide grant money for regional solutions to water conservation and management. Question: What would happen if Vallejo Flood and Wastewater provided tertiary cleaning of water coming through their facility and made it available for irrigation? A logistics challenge for sure but that is what the regional grant is all about. Or, could GVRD, and the school district for that matter, install wells on their properties in order to keep the grass green and growing? I tell you, we have a very high water table here in Vallejo. It is already September and the low spot in my backyard still has standing water.  This is a real untapped resource. (Pun intended.)

The comment period is open into October and GVRD would really like to hear your thoughts. Please take time to look it over and share your thoughts. Our parks depend on it.

The draft document can be found at: https://www.gvrd.org/about-us/10-year-master-plan/

GVRD has asked to please send your thoughts to: publicforum@gvrd.org

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

OMBUDSMAN

I live along the freeway, on the west side of town. My house was built in ’42 and my great aunt purchased it in ’46. She passed in 2002. That is when I got the place. Two bedrooms, 1 bath, fireplace and hardwood floors. Basic war era Vallejo. I have a few fond memories of visiting my aunt here. Once I asked if we could light a fire in the fireplace. We did not have one at home. Or I would come see the garden that my grandfather put in. My aunt has a huge backyard. Oh, I guess it is mine now. Still I enjoyed coming by over the years to help her prune and pick the fig tree that I write so much about. Afterwards we would sit in the kitchen eating a baloney sandwich with cup of coffee. In retrospect, I did not visit her as much as I could have, should have, would have if I knew then . . .

Along the backside of my property is a sound wall separating I-80 and my yard. In some dark corner of my mind, I imagined cars or big trucks plunging through and knocking the wall down. The wall was actually built in my Aunt’s time. Prior to the 1970’s the freeway was lined with Eucalyptus trees and cyclone fencing. A more attractive alternative but not nearly as manageable nor sound protecting as the solid block wall. Well, roughly 2 years ago someone did come off the freeway and hit the wall. Only moved one small block. Nothing to worry about. A few months later, another. Put a decent sized hole. Big enough for my head.  Shortly thereafter, an entire car came rushing through. Big hole. But like a set of Ginsu knives, this story keeps on giving. A week or so after that . . . you guessed it. Another set of holes side by side. 4 hits within a matter of months.

Well, just like Humpty Dumpty, the King’s Men (CalTrans), came in to put the wall right again. All I needed to do was to negotiate access for their work crews to enter my property and make repairs from my side of the wall.  Much safer and presumably less expensive as they did not have to work at night nor shut down the adjacent off ramp while they completed the repairs.  Quick FYI: There is an abandoned easement on my property in favor of CalTrans. Old drainage stuff from before the sound wall was built which literally stopped any water from flowing on to my property. A little backstory. The last time I tried to talk with CalTrans about this easement they wanted to sell it to me for $120,000. Yup, an easement that they do not need. One that they abandoned the minute the sound wall was built. So, in this negotiation, I offered them a ten foot wide swath along the property line as free, permanent access. Which is super fine with me since PG&E, cable and the phone company already have the same access rights. Let me say this again: FREE. No charge to the State. No taxpayer money spent.

My job went into a dark hole the moment I presented this offer and would not allow access until they agreed.

Then came the pandemic and the attorney in charge of this negotiation told me that a majority of his staff got pulled away and retrained for Covid monitoring. My job would have to wait.  Now for the most part I consider myself a good citizen. I keep my front yard tidy, I pick up trash on my street, I have cut back on my water usage in this time of drought, and I endeavor to respectfully engage with my elected and hired City officials. So I waited. I would call or email every month or so. Still on hold I would hear. Finally early this summer I sent documentation that I had received over a decade ago from the State, stating that they no longer needed the easement. My negotiating counterpart said he would start the process of verifying this document. But that I needed an actual job number before he could officially move it farther forward. (He could have told me this a year before.)  I asked repeatedly for him to please help connect me with the proper department since once a Service Request is made, there is no direct way to follow up with the Maintenance Department. 6 months and 6 requests later I came to the realization that the stonewall at CalTrans was much stronger than the block wall laying in my backyard. I needed help.

I was loathe to write these emails, since I hate asking for personal favors, but in the end it turned out to be the only way to get the process going. I wrote to the Mayor, the head of Public Works, and my County Supervisor. Asking for them to please, just find out what is going on. The initial feedback they got was basically more stonewall but, my email did get forwarded to our State Representative and Senator’s offices. Within a week an engineering crew was onsite surveying the damage. I will keep you informed of the progress.

All of this is to share the idea of considering an Office of Ombudsman for the City of Vallejo. Last time I wrote about how the City Council is basically a volunteer council and that their time is stretched between their regular full time jobs and their full time council duties. When asked, almost every Councilperson has found at least a few minutes to speak with me, or to reply to my emails, even when . . . actually, especially when we disagree. It is this one thing that prompted me to publicly thank them.

This last week there was a lot of commentary on a new ruling by City Council to end commentary from any individual that a Councilmember found to be personally offensive.  My first reaction is to try and understand why the Council would feel that this is a necessary tool. Honestly, I too would become disheartened if the majority of the comments I heard where harsh critiques of my work and a number of those became personal attacks. Do not get me wrong, I am 100% for accountability but only through civil discourse. These are our neighbors.

To close, what if there was an Office of Ombudsman which say had a staff of three? What if they reported only to the Council and were available to field all of the thoughts, comments or suggestions that we the citizens made? How might it work if they then divided those comments by voting district and directed the comments to the specific councilperson? Or could connect to our State or regional representatives to help with a specific problem?

Please comment and add your thoughts. Until Next Time,

Tommy Judt

SOMETIMES I FORGET

I am far from perfect. I would suggest the joke about asking my ex-wife but . . . 

It dawned on me this morning that I take this privilege of writing to you about my experiences with the City for granted. We, you and I, do share a common experience as citizens but I also realize that I have been afforded a greater level of access due only to the generosity of the members of the City Council.

We have a bit of a messed up system here in Vallejo. By my estimation, our form of government works great, for a city half our size. Our City Council, although paid a small sum, is by all means a volunteer body. The amount of money that each council person makes is merely a token and in no way comes close to minimum wage for the number of hours they put in.  There is a joke that makes the rounds every now and then that members of the US Congress should make minimum wage then they would understand our troubles as workers. Well, our Council does just that. And I know firsthand that they do understand.

Each and every one needs to work, outside of their Council duties, to earn a living just to afford to stay in Vallejo. A friend reminded me a short while ago that most, if not all, of us came to Vallejo because it is more affordable. So what does it tell you about our Councilmembers who are willing to work their regular jobs then, work full time at trying to make our City a better place? And yes, I know for a fact that each and every one of them works hard for us, very hard. They come together, each with different experience, knowledge base and passion. Each wanting to move Vallejo forward. Each representing a different approach to problem solving. Each working professionally on our behalf.

I write to each of them with some frequency, privately sharing my thoughts. In those emails I try to remember to sincerely thank them for taking the time to read my email and consider my thoughts. I also try, each time, to thank them for their service. Reading back on my last few posts I seem to have forgotten to thank them publicly. I apologize. We have real challenges in Vallejo but we also have our successes. Ones unheralded, or quieted, under the din of complaining or self-indulgent essays like my own.

Our council deserves our thanks and support. I may not always agree with their opinions or approach but that is how it is supposed to be. We are meant to disagree, then publicly debate items. I write these essays hoping to provoke conversation knowing that I am most certainly not 100% right about anything. I look forward to reading comments that disagree with me or prove me wrong. At the same time, if all I heard was how wrong I was, or what a terrible job I was doing, I too would become disheartened.

Lately I have been commenting on how City staff is just doing the job that is being asked of them. What I have forgotten is to mention that the City Council is just doing the job they believe we ask of them. In one email to the Council I mentioned that the way our former City Manager changed the way that the Planning Commission did business, did two things:

  1. It moved development projects ahead more completely and is ultimately less frustrating for developers. This equals a faster project development. Arguably this is what all of us in Vallejo want: Growth.
  2. It removes opportunity for community and commissioner input. Our system is designed to hear from the community, and citizens were allowed to share their thoughts even though making changes, to projects, from the dais was not often done.

I also shared an old saying which goes like this:

              If you want to go fast, go alone.  (Less community involvement)

If you want to go far, go together. (More community involvement)

I will be perfectly honest with you. I do not know which approach is best for Vallejo. I do not truly understand all the complexities that we face as a community. I try to share my truth each time I write but I have the luxury of doing so with a cup of Fabrice’s coffee to keep me warm, sitting in my lovely little house which is kept safe by the efforts of our Council and staff. Our City Council gives so much of their time and effort in order to make Vallejo a better and safer place to live. We have asked them to do  many things which oftentimes require them to consider extremely opposite positions.  I believe that we should have a say in the development of our town. Together we drafted the General Plan as a guideline. But, and this is a big but, we do not own the property. The developers do. We can say that we want a grocery store but would putting a grocery store in be profitable?  Developers are like us, they need to make a profit to live. In the end, the way we move forward as a City, big “C” City, is up to Council.  We may not always agree with their decisions but I do know that they do not make them capriciously.

I apologize again to the City Council if I have ever offended you with my remarks, or seemed to have taken lightly your commitment to our community. I am truly grateful that you serve on our behalf and are willing to listen to our comments, however harsh they may sound.

I will try to take my own advice moving forward and offer only constructive, well researched information for your consideration. (As succinctly as possible.)

Until Next Time,

Tommy Judt