FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD

So many years ago now, I removed the lawn in my front yard. At the time I was reading a lot about food insecurity, food deserts, and front yard gardens. Had I waited a year or so I could have gotten some money to take the lawn out and replace it with drought resistant plantings because of, well, the drought. “Excuse me, Mister Water Company, is it too late to apply for that money?”  In its place I built a number of planting beds which are now teaming with asparagus, blueberries, strawberries, my prized heirloom tomatoes and no less than 7 fruit trees.

Honestly, I built these boxes and planted food as a gesture of protest. At that time there were a number of articles of people all over the United States creating these architecturally designed, downright beautiful, front yard food gardens. I mean they were lush and green and a jewel of gardening. They were built from attractive, sustainable materials, sculpted over arches in a pleasing food topiary kind of way. Heck, I wish I had 1/10th that level of skill and motivation. Those front yards were beautiful.  Only one thing. Their Cities told them they could not have them. There was actually an ordinance forbidding the planting of food in the front yards. So much for a Fee Simple Title to your own land. 

I did a little research and it turns out that Vallejo has no written restriction. So planting boxes went in, plants grew up and every spring my neighbors stop and talk to me about how they love my garden. You know, I was actually spoiling for a fight with the City. I wanted someone to tell me that I could not plant food in my front yard. I wanted them to tell me that it drove down property values. That all of our front yards needed to be the same. “Go ahead, make me!” ran through my head in my imaginary argument with the Planning Commission. (Perhaps this is where I got the bug.)

Right around this time a couple of realities were starting to show themselves publicly. One was the conversation of food deserts and how our community planning process needed to change. The other was growing number of homeless encampments under freeway overpasses. For the last 20 odd years I have been in construction. I retired from catering on motion picture sets as it became harder and harder for me to put in 12, 14, 16 hour days; 6 days a week. Thankfully my union president signed my application for my contractor’s license and I immediately went about cleaning gutters, fixing broken pipes and replacing window panes until I built a business doing custom remodels, eventually restoring Craftsman and Victorian homes. Even though I had achieved a certain amount of success as a contractor I still considered myself a foodie at heart. Driving to one particular job in Berkeley I noticed a row of tents under the overpass at Gilman Avenue. Every day, a different person would sit in a chair next to the stop sign at the bottom of the exit, accepting any sort of handout. I had heard that giving money to people in rough conditions like this, most often went toward substances to be abused. So instead of handing over cash, I would make a double bag lunch, every day consisting of 2 sandwiches, 2 pieces of fruit, 2 packages of cookies and some bottles of water.  Just a few days into doing this, one of the stop sign attendees told me how much they liked my sandwiches. Especially the tuna! (FYI) I had money to give them but this way felt better.

Around that same time a man in Los Angeles, Ron Finley – The Gansta Gardener, started planting food in the strips of land between the sidewalk and the street all over his neighborhood.  The City told him to pay for a permit for each strip or stop. He refused. The debate about food deserts and bodegas was really flaring at this time. So much attention and pressure came to bear on the LA City council that they voted to allow food to be planted in those strips without permit, thanks, in part, to his efforts. NEWS ARTICLE  I remember reading a story he told where he came out in the evening to tend to one of his strip gardens and found a woman harvesting food. She was embarrassed and apologetic for stealing his food. He simply told her, “It is there for you to take.”

Recently a new development for South Vallejo came before our Planning Commission. 132 units Residential Only, no grocery store. Wow. Did you know that the search term “food” can be found no less than 58 times in our General Plan? 2040 GENERAL PLAN It is often found next to or nearby terms such as, healthy, organic, or food desert.  On page 3-3, of the General Plan, the first, the very first policy item POLICY CP-1.1 literally states:

Retail Food Sources. Strive to ensure that all households in Vallejo have easy access to retail sources of affordable healthy food, including organic options, such as fullservice grocery stores, ethnic food markets, produce markets, and convenience stores.

Just below that, on the next page, is:

Action CP-1.1B Update City regulations and explore incentives to attract a full service grocery store to South Vallejo and to any other identified “food deserts.”

In the arguments made that night at the PC, the developer and City staff were correct. The Business/Light Residential zoning for that area does allow for Residential Only based on a finding of compatibility. The PC voted 5 -1 that it was compatible. They were not wrong. It is what our laws allow and developers should have a reasonable expectation that we will abide by our own laws.  One thing though, caught my attention. The developer discussed the profitability of the project, and rightly so. He stated, “That if he had a grocery store that would sign a 30 year lease then he would build the commercial space for them.”  I was about to say to you, ”I wonder?” But I do not wonder. Since it was not required by our General Plan nor our Planning Code, he did not even bother to find a commercial partner. I cannot blame him. Our laws did not require that component.

What to do . . ?  Enact ACTION CP-1.1B and update our City regulations. WE, the citizens, need to remove or more closely define:  The Business/Limited Residential zoning definition, and ensure that the new Planning Code requires developments of a certain density to prove that they made a Good Faith Effort to find a commercial partner. I mean, did any one even talk to Grocery Outlet?

Until the next time,

Tommy Judt

p.s. Driving by those people on Gilman street everyday had a real impact on my life. So much so I had a tattoo placed on my right forearm because I knew, I was just one ladder fall away from joining them.  “but for the grace of God”  I, like you, believe that I am my brother’s keeper. Feel free to reach out to me to help organize a General Plan Amendment.

OOGA CHUKA

Hello again. I missed you. This morning you came to mind so with my third cup of coffee I wanted to reach out and catch up, if that is okay. I wanted to tell you about a time in my teenage years, a bit about the Renaissance Faire and my dear estranged friend DV. Trust me, this is all about food and absolutely nothing at all to do with the communal showers at the Faire. Unfortunately I am afraid you are not old enough to hear those stories. Actually, neither am I.

To begin, I was raised in the 60’s and 70’s. Undoubtedly an era for some of the best music ever. Do not believe me? Just listen to the Guardians of the Galaxy station on Pandora. In fact I have got a little “Ooga Chuka” playing right now.  For those of you who remember, and those who were not there then, these were the days of rock and roll at the beach or by the lake. A time when crochet bikinis and short, short cut of blue jeans, LEVIS, were all the rage.  A place were Dancing in the Moonlight was taken literally. When keggers were the scene and the popo did not show up sometime after midnight because . . . well . . . kids will be kids.

Back then it was the height of cool to have a Holly carburetor, Hooker headers and a Pioneer car stereo blasting your favorite mix tape. To have your own car as a teenager was not merely a symbol of freedom but one of social status. Most of us drove mom’s car, when our grades were good enough. Some had a clunker (a hoopty the kids call it now-a-days.) But a few, a chosen few, had Mustangs, Camaros, 442s, the occasional Road Runner or the ever elusive Corvette.  (My mind took a mini vacation just now, thinking what it might be like to own a ’57 Vette. Route 66 for all you old timers.)

Back then parties were held almost every weekend at someone’s house. The ubiquitous songs to be played were always: You’re Still a Young Man – Tower of Power and 25 or 6 to 4 – Chicago. Slow dancing was all we could think of and you could tell just how much a girl liked you by how close she would dance with you. Ah, those were simpler times for sure.  With Marvin Gaye playing in the background a few of us would huddle around the table filled with veggie sticks, Ruffles potato chips and the ever popular Lipton Onion Soup sour cream dip. Yes, I was a foodie back then too. The difference being, my teenage body could handle all that sugar and cholesterol at a rate undefinable by modern calculus. Unlike today, where it can be easily charted on a graph, handwritten on the back of an envelope. Basically an arrow pointing straight up.

Norman Greenbaum – Spirit in the Sky is just now playing.

High school seems to be the place where you find your group. For me it was the theater geeks who were closely aligned with the music nerds. Funny, unafraid, filled with talent and potential. Painfully awkward were our daylight encounters. It was not until the lights were turned off that we dared be close, let alone kiss. But I stray. I promised talk of the Ren Faire and my old pal DV. Stagecraft was the class I took, and it was there I met Pamela June, teacher and head of the theater department. One day Pam and I were sitting on the edge of the stage and she began chatting about performing in the Ren Faire and shared a few pictures. I knew in an instant that this was for me. Being a kind and sharing person, she organized a group of us hyperly (Shakespeare made up his own words, so can I) energized students and introduced us at Court. This formidable gaggle of giggling goof-offs soon became the servant caste to the actors who portrayed the Lords and Ladies of the Faire. Here is where I met DV. DV was larger than life and sang with a group of men, all of whom happen to be my dearest of friends to this day. Now I have never developed a singing voice and therefore was never really in the In Crowd, but DV and I developed a friendship and passion around and for food.

DV lived in Oakland, and driving mom’s car I would pop over to his house where we would drink Pabst before Pabst was a thing, and whip up a meal on his old Wedgewood stove. DV was a big fan of the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child and therefore was the first experimental cook I had chance to meet. Throughout the term of our friendship we consumed many, many volumes of alcohol and whipped up a plethora of treats for ourselves and friends who would happen to drop by. Back then, that’s what you did. You just dropped by. One favorite dish, we made, of mine was Hush Puppies, deep fried, with a garlic clove finger pushed into each one. Trust me on this, you want to try it yourself. The other was a constant attempt to make the best Firehouse Chili we could. Burnt tongues and many cans of beer later, we mutually decide to forgo that experiment. Come on ice cream.

DV, to close this story, is solely responsible for my trying Thai, Burmese, good Chinese, real French food and of course Middle Eastern cooking. The latter is the whole point of this exercise. For my long absent friends, I have found the next wonderfully amazing little Middle Eastern food joint in Vallejo. Newly open, never a line (so far.)  A food truck in the parking lot at the corner of Broadway and Nebraska, just down the street from the old Plunge and across from the tire store. It is a smartly appointed food truck. Easy to find I promise you, as the header banner above reaches out to you with the words: KABOB – GYRO-FALAFEL- HAMBURGER. The name of the place is: RUMI KABAB Halel. The owner Serdar Besir, is a kind man whose who goes by the name of ‘Joe.’  A true chef in every sense of the word, his preparations are sweet, savory and mouthwatering all at the same time. I have tried both the lamb and falafel gyros and I swear that I will be back for more.  Do drop in and please tell him that Tommy Judt sent you. You will not regret it. Oh! Ask him about his baklava – to die for.

Until Next Time,

Tommy Judt

MONDAY, MONDAY

Can’t touch that day.

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

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

IF – A NEW YEAR’S THOUGHT

AUDIO VERSION – Click and read along.

I learned a new word this week: Precept. By definition it means: a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought.  Example: The legal precept of being innocent until proven guilty. We all have precepts that guide our lives, many we learned while teething. Look both ways before you cross. (Good) Don’t talk to strangers. (Bor-ing)  Early to bed and early to rise. (Boring too, but I still do this one.) Others we learn as we grow older. Like, always wear your seatbelt. (Safe) Think before you speak. (Wise) And never chug Bacardi 151 straight from the bottle. (Well, let’s save that’s a story for another time.)

This past year I came upon a poem by Rudyard Kipling that hit me smack dab in the back of the head, just like my grade school gym teacher used to do. No, it was not Jungle Book, although the original story is exciting. No, it is the poem IF. I happened across it, one day, in my You Tube feed. Now I cannot tell you how the You Tube algorithm works, or why it picked the Michael Caine reading of this poem to queue up in, well, my queue. All I know is it just did.

Anyways, the poem IF has made an impression me, and not only because I enjoy hearing the sound of Michael Caine’s voice. No, I like it because it is smack dab full of precepts. Ones that I look to aspire to on a daily basis. Ones that are easily understood and attainable and, unfortunately, easily forgotten if not repeated regularly. Each New Year it is the conceit of all around us to make resolutions. To better ourselves. To commit to precepts that will alter our behavior in the coming months. My annual resolution, the one I have subscribed to for many decades now is this: I promise to not drink any more this year. . . This doesn’t mean that I will drink any less, I just won’t drink any more.  Haha, get it? Not drink any more.

Here is a funny one for you. Try saying Michael Caine with a bad British accent and a stuffy nose at the same time. If done right you’ll sound like a drug user from the 80’s. “Where is My Co-caine”

This year for me it is different. I resolve to read this poem to myself, or others, every day this year. To remind myself how simple it is to try and be a better person. It goes as follows:

If— 

BY RUDYARD KIPLING

(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

May you and yours have a very, happy new year.

Tommy Judt

FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST-MAS

It is said that Casanova was the world’s greatest lover. That he knew the secret to seducing women. That he had mastered the Language of Love. I will share with you that as I plod my way through life I wish that I knew half of what he knew. Or then again, maybe not. Dear Mr. C. was well known for his conquests but not so much for staying power.  His language of love was effective if not fleeting. READ MORE

BISCUITS & GRAVY

I have a relationship with food and I hate how some people characterize these types of things as: Healthy or Un-healthy. I have a relationship. One that is rich, complicated and long in history. I am proud of the fact that we do not go very long without seeing each other. Sometimes it is just a brief hello, other times we engage in a multi-course conversation that can last for days. The very best thing about this relationship is that it is extremely sensitive to my mood, whatever it may be, AND I have found . . . READ MORE

A MAN & HIS HAT

The first thing you notice about Clifford Dawson is his smile . . . and his hat, of course. Clifford Dawson is, A Man & His Hat. We first met at a Black Chamber of Commerce meeting where he was presented an award for Business Man of the Year. We spoke for only a few minutes but I immediately found him to be a kind and generous man. The second time we met – READ MORE

I AM CONFLICTED

I am conflicted and I almost do not know where to begin.

 

I came to Vallejo in 2002 and moved into the house that had been owned by my great aunt since 1946. It is a modest home and I am a man of modest means.  I left the East Bay because I could afford to own a home here. Living here allowed me the legacy of a blue collar existence. I love Vallejo. At first I did not. At first I mocked her and blamed her for who I am. Now I do not, either mock or blame. Continue reading “I AM CONFLICTED”