From the emails, voice mails and other trusted sources:
A DEEP SUBJECT With thousands of acres of grazing land being transformed into vineyards and orchards east of Oakdale, other landowners are concerned about the effect it will have on groundwater supplies.
I wrote in November about Trinitas LLC, which acquired roughly 7,200 acres east of Oakdale and has applied for annexation into the Oakdale Irrigation District. That annexation will be the last item on the OID board's agenda when it meets at 9 a.m. today. Assuming it passes, the annexation will go to the Local Agency Formation Commission for compliance review during the summer.
Tapping into the OID system will reduce the amount of water Trinitas will need to draw from its well systems. While the annexation offers sustainability for the new orchards, Trinitas will have to stand in line behind existing customers and probably will use its well water in June, July and August.
"We're not offering any guarantees," OID General Manager Steve Knell told me last winter. "(In the years) we run short of water, they get cut off."
HOW DO YOU SOLVE A problem like Jeffrey Maria? You keep him in prison. So said the parole board last week. Maria and three of his cronies were convicted in the 1979 murder of Phil and Kathy Ranzo. In recent years, I attended parole hearings for two of them Ron Anderson and Darren Lee.
All four took part in the heinous crime, with Marty Spears doing the actual killing of the Ranzos. Paroles for Spears and Anderson were denied in 2011, Lee in 2012.
While the others had prior hearings, this was Maria's first. It's pretty tough to convince the commissioners you're a ready-for-prime-time player again when your prison record includes using a chisel from the hobby commissary during an unsuccessful escape attempt more than three years (2003-06) in the making while at the state prison at Solano. He's no model prisoner and a lousier Clint Eastwood ("Escape From Alcatraz") impersonator: Maria managed to dig only 5 inches into the wall of his cell during that entire time.
NEVER MIND Last week, Gov. Brown announced 65 pardons, with seven going to men who committed their crimes locally involving drug-related convictions. Among them were Jeffrey James Higgins and Cecil Jimeson, both of whom received probation for drug-related convictions in the 1990s and have lived arrest-free ever since. Others from the area included Roger Dale Wheeler of Tuolumne County, Ronnie Lee Newman of Merced County and three from San Joaquin County.
Pardonees' records remain public, including the pardon itself. But they can possess firearms if they didn't use them in the crimes leading to a felony conviction. They can serve on a jury again and work as a county probation or state parole agent.
MAGIC SCHOOL BUS A century ago, Newman unveiled its first school bus a 1913 Model T converted by Frank Patchett into a kid carrier and the first of its kind in the nation. The restored bus is on display at First Student Inc., which is the district's bus service provider.
CHUGGING ALONG Over the past year or so, I've mentioned Modesto's Robert Zimmerman several times. He's a train enthusiast who builds model train layouts for needy children or to auction off during fund-raisers for Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown.
He and his sons built one for the kids at the Modesto Gospel Mission. But, he wrote, "the kids started breaking things on it and just were not that interested in it. So we brought it home, did repairs, got it looking new, and now have it at Railtown for another raffle for the park."
Railtown's season begins Saturday, and they'll raffle off the layout, with tickets selling for $5 each or five for $20.
"All the money goes to the park and (the layout) will go to a good home," he wrote.
A layout they created and auctioned off in 2012 generated $800 for Railtown.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.