FOOD DESERTS: CAN WE AFFORD ANYTHING ELSE?

“I guess we can grandfather you in,” said Mike Pendergast. Occasionally I bump into Mike in the morning when we are walking our dogs. This particular morning he introduced me to his friend Barney. Barney asked if I was a Vallejoan. I told him about my grandparents coming here in the 40’s, yada, yada. So Mike, grandfathered me in  . . . literally. Mike is a good touchstone for me. He always share his thoughtful approach in our conversations about the challenges in Vallejo.

Mark Lampkin in another such friend to me. Of the many things I like about Mark, one is that he is unafraid to have an open discussion about the state of our politics, the South Vallejo Food Desert or the challenges faced by our melanin challenged friends. (A term I recently learned from Levar Burton on a podcast shared by Mark.) Mark stopped by for a quick socially distant visit just yesterday. Chatting with both he and Mike nudged me to write to you again today.

In a trifecta of conversations, Don Osborne and his husband Kevin dropped by for a quick garden tour. Kevin, a proper gardener, maintains a lush decorative garden and shared with me some narcissus bulbs. (What are you saying to me Kevin?) Both lovely men, I enjoy their company tremendously. The conversation leaned to the recertifying of Crown Hill Materials small concrete plant on Broadway. After Don shared his concerns I found myself pulled to the center of the argument once again.  You see, concrete is the most ubiquitous building material there is. It starts out as liquid and can conform to almost any shape we can form. It has a predictable strength, durability and cost. It’s cheap by comparison to most everything else. We actually need it, I said. Don raised his concerns about the health of the neighbors down wind. He is not wrong. But, just like the homeless challenges we have, better to deal with them here than outlaw it and send them to some other neighborhood. What we can do Don, I said, is require them to maintain a best practices training with their staff for managing the dusts a pollutants. Every industry has them. In fact, a quick search on Google returned dozens of documents.  I suppose we could ask the members of the Planning Commission to require Crown Hills to enact a Best Practices program.  But it will take a number of us to make this change, so why not send them a note?

Planning Commission Emails

This South Vallejo food desert thing has my head spinning though. The US Government has determined that South Vallejo is considered a food desert. (I will attach a link below.)  Last time I wrote I asked, has anyone spoken to Grocery Outlet? Taking my own advice, I reached out to them. I even sent them some demographic data showing that the South Vallejo location was as good, if not better, than the Admiral Callaghan location. They politely declined saying that the downtown Grocery Outlet is within 2 miles of the development so they could not put in a new store. Undetered, I reached out to Sprouts. Sent them even more detailed information. They responded politely in the vaguest manner I could imagine. What’s Up, I asked myself. Why are grocery stores not interested?  Must be the economics. Digging a little further I found a 2019 news article from NYU. “What Really Happens When a Grocery store Opens in a Food Desert.”  You tell me what you think.

South Vallejo Food Desert Demographics

Now I am not dissuaded. Looking closely at it, it seems like a One-and-Done deal. If we can get a developer to build a 15,000 to 20,000 square foot shell, we would not need have to deal with this ever again. Development can continue in South Vallejo with only the normal requirements. While I am thankful that you, my gentle readers, consider the thoughts I put down on this page influential, unfortunately I do not have that same ability to get a grocery chain to consider this great location.  Back to Mike. Mike shared with me the great coup Vallejo got when Marine World moved here from Redwood City. He said, it was Mayor Curtola who did some serious lobbying to get them up here.

While the economics of a grocery store in that particular location of South Vallejo are uncertain to me I call upon our Mayor Robert McConnell and Councilperson Arriola to reach out on our behalf and find out if the economics work or not. Can a grocery store make a profit in that location?  And here’s the thing, so what if they have to recuse themselves from an upcoming vote? If they truly dug in and got some answers there is no law that says that they could not report their findings to the remainder of the Council when considering the appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision.  

I know that the Mayor and the Councilperson work long hours, read hundreds, if not thousands of pages each month in service to our City. I truly thank them for their efforts. But right now, we need someone other than staff, to find out the whole truth for us. I will send them this essay, will you send them your thoughts? Here are their emails.

Robert.McConnell@cityofvallejo.net

Tina.Arriola@cityofvallejo.net

Quick question: If their efforts are not enough. If what we need is a community commitment, a real showing of support. If all it took was 1000 people investing $500 each into a legal entity. A chance to make a real difference in Vallejo. Would you turn down the opportunity to make your city a better place?

I will not, I will invest. Because I am a Vallejoan.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

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.

WISHING TOMORROW WAS YESTERDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Tommy Judt (aka Butthead)

MONDAY, MONDAY

Can’t touch that day.

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

SOME CALL ME RUGGED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until the next time,

Tommy “I will always call myself Rugged” Judt

THE MAYOR OF WHO-VILLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until the next time,

Thomas Judt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

OH OH BAM-BI-NO’S

There came that one day when I just, no longer wanted to be an auto mechanic. My hands were constantly stained with grease and grime, I worked in an environment full of VOC’s and I have no doubt that smelling gasoline and solvents, all day, every day, did nothing to help my personality. Even though I had a union job, making good money, I quit. Wait for it. To become a bartender.  Little did I know, that one decision who forever change the course of my life and provide me opportunities to see the parts of the globe I honestly did not know existed.

I chose not to go to college straight out of high school. Being bullied in grade school, I opted for the rebellious teenage mantel during high school. I proudly graduated with a C average. Straight A’s in auto shop, D’s in every other course. (These were the years when one would not be failed out of high school.) Back then it was as acceptable to enter the Trades as it was to attend college. You could also pay for college, live, eat and have a few beers on minimum wage job back then too. (I’ll save the social commentary for the next election.)

I was fortunate enough that my father offered to pay for my tuition at a 9 month trade school in Phoenix Arizona, called Universal Technical Institute. Deciding to wait until September to start classes, missing the heat of summer turned out to be a wise idea, I packed up my belongings in an old steamer trunk and took the family car, now mine, through the desert into the Great State of Arizona.

“Living on the road my friends, was meant to keep me free and clean.”

All was well and good. I got a job, sharpening saw blades. Having always been handy, this seemed an appropriate manner in which to earn my living. I rented my first apartment and experienced my first roommate. Oddly enough, he and I shared the exact same birthdate. Same date, same year. Cheers to you Keith. Now to set the stage a tiny bit more. I had recently spent the last few seasons working at the Renaissance Faire. For those of you born later than I was, consider it the Burning Man of my time. Hippies, marijuana and communal showers. Everything a teenage boy needed to . . . well . . . be a teenage boy.

I made dear friends at the Ren Faire, many I still have today. All were my senior. So imagine coming from a smoke enhanced, communal hippie setting only to find yourself into an anxious group of turgid (Yes I know what turgid means and I mean it here.) 18 year old men. I felt, and was, most certainly out of place. What I needed was to find, my safe place. Enter Gina and the Statler Lounge. At that time in Arizona the drinking age was 19 and I was 18. While this was mildly problematic I thank Gina for never carding me. The Statler Lounge was the first place where I learned that you could lose money playing pool. That there were many kinds of mixed drinks, other than the Highballs and Gimlets that my parents enjoyed, and that some people could be very nice.

Gina was the bartender. She was old, 40 I think. Back in those days you could run a tab.  The very first night I drank more than I could afford. I was embarrassed and asked to pay it the following week. Which I did. I was shy at the bar but kept coming back every week on Friday night needing a safe place of my own. I never ran my tab that high again and only ever ordered 2 drinks even though I wanted more. Gina taught me about tipping and I started to feel like I fit in. Gina, it turns out, was from San Francisco. She recognized the Bay in me and took me under her wing. About 4 or 5 Fridays into our relationship Gina made me a deal. She promised to rip up my tab if I would do just one thing for her. Near the end of the night she needed help carrying out the beer from the back room to the bar to restock the refrigerators. The cart was too heavy for her to manage easily. My job on Friday nights became this: Drink for free; bring the beer from the back.  I had my safe place. When I finished my technical tenure, I was proud of what I had learned and was ready to return to the City by the Bay. Even before I left I missed Gina. I miss her and the Statler Lounge today where I had become a regular. And yes, I miss the free drinks. Yukon Jack and grapefruit juice, if you must know.

Last week I popped into our newest Italian restaurant in town: Bambino’s at 301 Georgia At. Does it remind me of the Statler Lounge? Not really. It more reminds me of a little bar and Italian restaurant that I worked for in Rodeo. That was my first job as a bartender after a few years working as an auto mechanic. That place had the Statler Lounge feel and great Italian food to boot in a family friendly environment. It was that job that sent me to my next where I ended up managing restaurants, then to culinary school, then abroad cooking on motion pictures.

Bambino’s is that kind of family friendly restaurant. The evening I went, I saw a few of my Vallejo friends enjoying dinner in there as well. The food was well prepared, their cooks obviously skilled at their craft.  I chose the Chicken Marsala. The chicken was tender covered in a light mushroom sauce. The dish was served with an expertly blanched bit of broccoli that served as the perfect foil to the rich chicken sauce. That and glass of Chianti had me saying ‘Per Piacere’ for more.

I am happy that we have another place in town.

May each meal bring you joy and every companion, happiness.

Tommy Judt

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE APPLEBEE’S

What a holiday season we had in downtown Vallejo. The parties that I went to and the people I saw. The Mad Hatter Parade, even though it was delayed, was amazing. The tree lighting always beautiful. The women on Marin Street held a holiday market where I found all my gifts for the season. Spruce with their ever changing selection is always a fun place to browse and shop. The Joint, next door, offers lovely pieces and fun classes. Whitney Smith Pottery had an open house to share her celebrated wares. Across the street, Vallejo’s new darling, Alibi Bookshop, opened up, giving Amazon the middle finger. It was tremendous. Vallejo is an amazing small town with an amazing small town feel.

Recently Bambino’s, an Italian restaurant, set up shop on Georgia Street and it will be nice to have another place to eat downtown. Not sure when they plan to open yet. Newsflash! For those that did not know Julie sold the China Wok and the new owners took possession just before Christmas. Mark Reed sold the Town House to his friend and bartender Jeff. It will be fun to see what Jeff and Andy make of the place. What else? Anything else? It seems like I am forgetting somebody. Am I forgetting somebody?

All this is less than 2 years. I remember when the downtown was dead quiet, when there was not much to do or get to eat. Of course we had our parades, and the Townhouse had, and still has, Don Bassey, Erin Bakke, and the Town House Ramblers. The Empress had a few gigs but their restaurant had long since shut down. Night time was quiet and the street corners had their usual residents. I mean, think about it. In just 2 short years it even feels like the Farmer’s Market is more exciting.  The Art Walk got a new infusion of support from the city and even opened up a gallery in the Cal Maritime building.  Still seems like I am forgetting someone.

And remember Salsa in the Street?! That was the best free party that I have ever been to in town. In Vallejo, we pride ourselves on being such a diverse city but rarely do we get the opportunity to just be together. I had so many people thank us for hosting the Salsa Nights. People from all over Vallejo AND from as far away as Sebastopol.  That means people are driving countless miles to our town and find a bright shiny downtown instead of the closed up storefronts that seem to litter Georgia Street. Shucks, I really feel like I have forgotten someone.

Well the weekend is here and being a shop local supporter my plan is to go out to dinner tonight. I could go downtown but I will probably just go to Applebee’s. I mean, we’ll always have Applebee’s. Right?

Until Next Time,

Tommy Judt

p.s. I’ll buy you a glass of wine if you can find me tonight.

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