VOICE OF DISSENSION

“You know the problem with you people . . .” the speaker, an appointed Vallejo official with whom I was having a spirited discussion concerning one of my published opinions, let his voice trail off. After a few seconds his tone changed and he admitted that the public sharing of this type of information was how problems in government were uncovered. My opinion piece was critical of an expensive decision made by his board and in truth it just plain felt like he did not like his decisions being questioned.

Sometime later I sent him this quote from James Baldwin:  “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.”

He responded: “It is interesting to me how different it sounds now, as I sit in a position of making policy, from how it sounded when I was solely effected by policy. It is an important lesson to remember.”

Our country was founded by debate. Our legal system is specifically designed to encourage debate. Our judicial system requires advocates to argue for both the Proponent and Opponent, of any action. These to be heard and decided by third parties. Whether they be judges or jury. We often, if not always, pair words like: Pro and Con, Back and Forth, Profit and Loss, the latter most often followed by . . . wait for it . . . the word: Analysis. Debate, honest debate, good debate requires research, critical thinking, logical reasoning, empathy and a certain quality of articulation.

The voice of dissension, plays a critical role in our democratic society. I can relate to being resistant to having my decisions questioned. As a business owner, I am the one who carries the legal and financial risk of the decisions made. There are times when those, whom I may feel do not have the same knowledge or experience that I do, make comments on my business practices and it, well, can ruffle my feathers. Quick story: A man wanted to start a new church in a neighborhood that he recently moved into. One Saturday he set about walking his neighborhood at large, knocking on doors and asking, “Do you go to church?” To those who said yes he merely thanked them and said goodbye. When he came across someone who said no, he asked one simple question, “What is the reason why you do not attend church?” He was openly looking for negative feedback, Ways that he could improve the church going experience for these people. Eventually his church became the largest in Southern California. The lesson: seek out opposition to your thinking.

Scott Page, professor at University of Michigan in complex studies, political science and economics makes a simple statement. I paraphrase: “Every decision is made better with more input/information.” Not some, every decision is made better, if only incrementally.

Our own form of City government only allows Council Members and appointed officials to ask questions, clarifying questions, of staff, not to direct them. By asking thoughtful, researched, clarifying questions a public official can either support the other side’s argument or expose its weaknesses.  The very nature of the questions should help guide the presenter, should they choose not to ignore them. (The challenge I had on the Planning Commission was that sometimes my questions would not be answered accurately or completely. This caused strife between the staff and myself. I too felt that sometimes they did not like their decisions being questioned by a citizen.)

The voice of dissension comes in many forms: A citizen standing nervously in front of Council sharing their thoughts; a council member asking questions that essentially asks the staff to explain their reasoning, like showing your work on a math test. What is the logic path you followed to make this decision? ; a public protest whether it be silent or vociferous; a vote at the ballot box, which is coming soon for us in Vallejo; or an Op/Ed piece written in the local media. Each has its place. Each is indispensable in our form of government.

While I can empathize with how uncomfortable it may be to have our decisions questioned, I suggest we, as a community, begin to adopt a feeling of gratitude when someone cares enough, sometimes at the risk of their reputation, to share contrary feedback. The decisions we make as a community will be better for the inclusion.

With Gratitude,

Tommy Judt

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

We have a problem here in Vallejo, and for all my time talking, conversing and pondering I have come to a considered realization: It is nobody’s fault.  That is right, it’s nobody’s fault. In this particular case we cannot even blame ourselves.  To steal a line from Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”  (Tell me, did you use the Southern accent like I did when you read that line to yourself?) I do not blame our elected officials for reducing the amount of time, or the number of people who may speak at public meetings. I do not blame them for attempting other methods like reading previously submitted comments. And I do not find fault with the additional measures designed to silence a public speaker whose comments a Council-member might find personally offensive.

I do not find fault with staff for the way they organize and manage the agenda. I do not find fault with their desire to present information fully and professionally leading to long presentations. And I do not blame them solely for meetings that run into the wee hours of the morning.

All that being written, each of these items I mentioned presents a real and nearly insurmountable barrier for Vallejo’s citizens in our Access to Justice. Let me explain my thinking. As Robert McConnell just wrote in his Op Ed piece, the City has business to do, and in his opinion, staff should not be cancelling Council meetings. Without public meetings we have no place nor time for the public to express their opinions.  All the while, decisions are still being made.  By limiting the time each speaker has to comment on an Agenda item, which are often very complex and cannot be fully addressed in just 3 minutes, our Access to Justice is reduced.  When the number of public speakers is limited, due to time constraints, the number of thoughtful and considered opinions is limited, our Access to Justice is reduced. By cancelling public meetings, our Access to Justice is reduced.

I asked the Mayor if he knew the reason why Council only has 2 meetings a month. He responded telling me of a decision made by the former City Manager Dan Keene, most likely in conjunction with the Mayor and Council, to reduce the number of meetings from almost every week to only twice a month. The reason given to me is that staff viewed the weekly meetings as excessive since they would need to wait, sometimes long hours, in chambers or in their offices until their item was called.

My study of Social Sciences, during the past 5 – 6 years, has lead me to understand that it is not staff’s fault for not wanting to wait long hours to speak in a meeting. Personally I do not go to Council meetings because they are so long that I cannot physically stay awake nor get enough sleep afterwards to work the next day. So by limiting the time and number of speakers, and having extremely long meetings, it seems to me that only the truly hardened will tough it out, get to the meeting early enough to sign up to speak, then wait all night to do so. And I do not blame the speakers for being frustrated and pointed with their comments after having to negotiate all of the barriers before them. I do not blame citizens who would like to make positive or centrist comments for not having the staying power, or will, to navigate this maze. And I certainly do not blame staff or Council for becoming inured to commentators who seem to constantly complain. Even the most open official, and I find that mostly all of our staff and Council-members will give me some time when I ask, is bound to be colored by apathy after only ever hearing negative feedback. We are all only human.

To close, I place blame on the way and manner we hold our public conversation. It is a system which has been handed down for hundreds of years and like most things and systems, could be made better by new, innovative and disruptive thinking.  Over the next few weeks I will attempt to share some of my ideas and approaches as to ways that we can legally adjust and change the manner and methods we employ to speak to each other, in a public way.

With Gratitude,

Tommy Judt

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