Mike Dunbar: A wish list for Santa

December 21, 2013 



It’s said that Santa always makes a list. We know there are quite a few people around here who are on it, and we’re guessing even a few who aren’t.

But what should Santa bring to the Northern San Joaquin Valley when he makes his rounds on Christmas Eve? Not a gift for anyone in particular, but something we all can share. Better weather, more good jobs, a year’s supply of handcuffs, quieter neighbors? The possibilities are endless.

We asked editorial board members to write a few words about what they believe the jolly old elf should bring to everyone this Christmas. The responses range from the serious (more transparency) to the tongue-in-cheek (potholes that won’t swallow cars). But this is just the beginning. We invite readers to chime in their ideas of the gifts that best suit our communities – wherever and however you define community.

Send a letter to the editor (letters@modbee.com) or comment beneath this editorial at modbee.com. The online comments will be shared immediately; others we’ll share soon.

Assuming you think we’re all deserving of something, what do you think Santa should bring this Christmas?

Enough confidence to soar

I would like to give the residents of our region a simple, albeit often difficult-to-attain gift: confidence. The confidence to question their elective leaders and their governments; the confidence to not only criticize the faults of our community, but to also step forth and find solutions; the confidence to support local businesses and – if it is their dream – to start their own; the confidence to be proud of where we live.

Confidence isn’t about being better than anyone else, nor is it about flaunting an arrogance that would suggest artificial supremacy. Rather, it is about being informed of topics, being sure of your own personal beliefs and having the courage of your convictions. Stand up and speak during the public comment section of a council meeting. Volunteer with an organization to clean up graffiti. Write a letter to the editor.

If we have that kind of confidence in ourselves, then perhaps it will spread to the rest of the community. Once we have that confidence, perhaps we can then be confident that our cities are not hiding important details from us, that no problem is insurmountable, that our economy will improve and that we will become the place in which we would all like to live.

– Eric Johnston, Publisher & President

Roads that don’t look like ruts

This Christmas, I’d like to give our county and city smooth road surfaces to replace the many “covered wagon tracks.” Precarious potholes are so plentiful that one of our neighbors has been missing for three days since going for groceries somewhere near Claus and Briggsmore. When there is no traffic, my husband plays “miss the pothole” when he drives home on Santa Fe Avenue. He might go missing soon, too.

Reverberations are such that we have experienced various bone fractures and hip replacements; our dentures have taken it in the teeth. Jerry Lee Lewis could do an encore by driving in Modesto.

My husband and I drive 16-year-old vehicles and have considered purchasing a new one. However, we would not dare drive it on the streets of Modesto or it would soon be reduced to scrap metal. We are literally in a rut when on a route.

– Pam Clemensen, visiting editor

An airport with good connections

My Christmas wish for the final holiday of 2013 is that Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties might finally settle on a regional airport and get air service worthy of a region with a population of 1.4 million.

Modesto’s airport is tucked away in the middle of what is now a residential glide path and would not welcome the sounds of 737 jets. We already complain about the train whistles. The airport itself is hidden from freeway view and access. The best service we can get is to San Francisco to connect to Los Angeles and the rest of the world. To make things worse, those flights are expensive and inconsistent and connections are often missed.

Stockton’s airport sits between Highway 99 and Interstate 5. It doesn’t have the residential noise issues and it can accommodate larger aircraft than Modesto. Yet it, too, has limited service. You can fly only to Las Vegas.

The airport authorities need to get together and settle whatever differences they have. They need to work together to attract real jet service to the Stockton Airport as a regional airport. We have enough people and businesses to support regular jet service to LA and other western hubs like Phoenix and Denver.

– Tim Glidwell, visiting editor

A reminder for city leaders

I have one wish for our community, and it’s pretty serious: I want the city of Modesto’s leaders to realize who they work for. City employees are accountable to the public. We pay their salaries through our taxes. Openness is not optional. Too often, I get the sense that they think they’re running a private business.

When a Bee reporter started asking tough questions about the taxpayer-funded Archway Commons apartment complex, no member of the city staff would talk about it. They insisted we put every question in writing. We did, and many of the responses were vague or off topic. What follow-up questions are they afraid we’ll ask? What are they hiding?

We recently asked the city to disclose details about the dismissal of a deputy public works director. The city attorney’s office conducted an investigation to find out what happened with this high-ranking administrator who was paid a six-figure salary. We wanted to know what was discovered. An initial conversation with the new city attorney was promising. He asked us to wait a week so he could discuss the issue with city leaders. Two weeks later, we learned that nothing would be disclosed, including public records like allegations or claims of misconduct. The investigation was handled by a city lawyer, and the city contends that means it’s under attorney-client privilege and isn’t public.

Interestingly, a separate investigation of the former city attorney was disclosed; attorney-client privilege can be waived.

Disclosure is important because it tells the public how city officials react when faced with allegations of misconduct. Does the city complete a thorough, unbiased investigation, or something less? The public can’t critique the job city bosses do because it has no information.

We’ve heard that city leaders believe that some of our stories are misleading or inaccurate. We don’t agree. But if they have concerns, then we welcome them to talk with us and provide specifics where they believe we were off base. This hasn’t happened.

We will continue to ask tough questions and fight for your right to know. That’s what a good newspaper does. City leaders should be more transparent. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

– Joe Kieta, Editor

A reflection of who we really are

A bright new mirror tops my Christmas wish list. For too long, we’ve seen ourselves as if looking through a dark, dirty, cracked looking glass. We see the grime and the dust and we believe that’s us – not just the mirror. We need a new way of seeing ourselves; a truer reflection of who we are.

We are the center of one of the most vibrant, export-driven, in-demand industries in America: food. Nobody can live without it, but we have trouble explaining it. Napa’s got great wine, but so do we. Monterey grows great veggies, but we grow all of it here and much, much more. Almonds, walnuts, cheese, peaches, apricots, cherries, cantaloupes? Best in America all come from right here. Recognize it, then celebrate it.

We have lots of smart young people, and they’re bursting at the seams with fresh ideas, enthusiasm and a love for this valley. Lets take a closer look at how to get them launched.

What’s the one resource all California is clamoring for? Water. We’ve got enough, but we need to see to it that we decide how it is used.

Too many believe that you must leave to find opportunity. Look closely into the new mirror, and it’s clear that we can make our own success.

What if this new mirror doesn’t work? Then we need hearing aids for everyone who hasn’t gotten the message – the northern San Joaquin Valley has what we’re looking for.

– Mike Dunbar, Opinions pages editor

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