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Our local press and media dress themselves in costumes of "Fair&Balanced",
then tiptoe all around the one question that breaks open the debate on Measure L.

Is that a deliberate attempt to hide their own agenda, or are they just too dumb to know better?

Read The Unasked Question for yourself and you decide. 'The 'Z' Dares to Ask'

Z Debut!

Close watch on local and regional media long overdue...

Issue after issue, story after story -- you've just got to wonder, are they keeping us informed, or just trying to hammer reality into what they say it is?

Hello, and Welcome—to both of us!
The Sacramento Z Newspaper is online, prime-time
—and it's about time, too! Yaaaay.

No, we're not quite a "newspaper" (we are, but of a very different kind); not quite a "media watchdog". and not really one of those noxious gadflies. We won't be breaking news, gushing over King's center-court victories or celebrity hairdos. We won't be investigating juicy political scandals. We won't be going ballistic over ideological slants or column-inch-count biases in our local and regional press and media.

Nor will you find much in The Z by way of counter-press coverage and push-back from your favorite alternative sheets—Kos, Pro Publica, Democracy Now, Huff &the rest. They do a pretty good job on their own. The Z Newspaper also won't be using any paper or cut down any trees to feed the information appetites of our readers. Not much good for fish-wrap, either. But we wouldn't mind if our pages got used to fire up the imagination of our readers.

So, what the heck is The Sacramento Z and what's our hook? & Oh, we're so glad you asked...


July 10, 2014, SN&R

June 19, 2014, CAPRadio

June 19, 2014, McClatchyDC"

Oil Trains:

Why do we keep asking the wrong question?

While our public officials and our media jabber about "safety" and "risk", and prepare for emergency responses to the inevitable, maybe we should be asking why we are taking on any risk at all?

After a month of reading about plans to ship substantial daily cargoes of the most hazardous form of crude oil through Sacramento and other densely populated areas, I waited for some public official or some news report or commentator to ask the obvious question. It didn't happen. So, your editor took it upon himself to write a letter to the editor of the Bee.

Essentially the letter asked why our media and public officials weren't demanding state and federal legislation to keep these trains well away from population centers or environmentally sensitive areas, building new rail lines for them if they have to. Except for the final terminus (Benicia, in this case), a no-risk solution-set that removes nearly all the need to prepare for "emergencies" is entirely feasible. The Bee printed my Oil Train Letter on July 26th in their 'Letters to the Editor' column.

Weeks passed and still no one seemed to be asking the obvious question in the public conversation, Why are we even thinking of permitting these dangerous cargoes to pass through our neighborhoods? Why all this "risk calculus" when you don't even need to calculate risk if you keep them well away from our cities and towns? And, as a followup question, Why aren't we insisting they build new refineries and storage facilities well away from populated areas? read more...

Oil Deja Vu

Train wrecks are hardly unique when it comes to the oil industry putting their own profits ahead of public safety or even planetary survival.

Admiral Chad Allen (USCG, ret.), the person in charge of the Gulf spill clean-up, was perhaps the first person to propose an obvious solution-set to making deep-sea drilling at least 90% safer than it is at present.

The Admiral retired not long after he made his suggestion which seemed to have strangely disappeared from the public conversation on deep-sea drilling safety. After that, all talk about safety has pretty much been confined to vague promises, a little repackaging of old, bound-to-fail-again safety concepts and, of course, BP's slick little T.V. ads assuring us that they "put safety first" . Independently, your editor also proposed the same idea the Admiral had made a few months before (which only proves it isn't so complicated an idea that even a run-of-the-mill editor can't think of it.)

The Admiral retired from service. Your editor, put up a petition about the matter. You can find out what the solution-set was that we both proposed by reading the petition, "Demand Preemptive Safety".please, do take the time to sign the petition while you're there.

What's In A Name?

We at the Z will not be asking contributors or others to provide their "real names" when submitting articles or communicating with us. We happen to believe that what you write—i.e. what you think—is good enough name for anybody's purpose. If you want to provide a real name, fine. but unless someone is making you a proposal of marriage, wants access to your bank account, is offering a job, or is a federal agent requiring compliance, we don't think your name is anybody's business but your own.

And we don't think the whole net-kabosh about "real names" is anything but a bunch of junior nanny police thinking a "real name" means something. If anything, it can only mean a very persistant person might find you and bash in your door for something you wrote that they didn't like; or maybe slip an envelope full of money under it for something they really liked. So, if we happen to ask for a name, it's just so we can say, "Hi Name, glad to hear from you." End of Anonymity story. Let's move on...


Not in my District!:

Councilman Warren seems to think it isn't his lookout if constituents in his district get short-changed by another jurisdiction...

In September, one of the only two, local general hardware stores serving a very large area of Sacramento closed. -- the Orchard Supply Hardware near CVS and Safeway at Watt and Arden. Why are they closing?

Is it because they didn't do a good business? No. According to a number of employees and managers, the store was in the solid middle of the National chain in terms of sales. Not at the top, but a respectable bottom line. Is it because we don't really need them? Hardly. Their sales records refute that and any homeowner can tell you, when you need to repair or remodel something Orchard and Emigh are indispensible. If one doesn't have what you need, the other one will. No, it's not any of that. It's because they "lost their lease"

Knowing that closing the hardware can have a serious negative impact on residents and home owners in Warren's (& my) district, I sent the Councilman an email in late August asking if he'd look into the matter and see what might be done. I knew Orchard was out of his district. But I also knew that we elected him to look after our community, whether something impacts it from within, or without.

What I got back from the councilman's office was a brief, but definite, "Orchard's not in my district" dismissal. His staff suggested that I contact County Supervisor Susan Peters instead. Did I do that? Even if I'd had the time, citizens aren't really competent to negotiate the maze of political compartments, jurisdictions and endless referrals that would make Franz Kafka blush. That's what we have District Council members for.

No. instead I opted to send an open note (see adjacent insert) to a Bee editor along with a copy to Warren, explaining the situation and what I think of public officials who play the "jurisdiction card" to avoid dealing with matters that come from ordinary citizens without a lot of clout. The letter (adjacent) pretty well explains why all of us ought to be outraged at this kind of buck-passing and referring-out by our public officials.


Saturday, September 12, 2014, Sac Bee

Glass Half Empty?

Easy solutions for saving water missed

Is the glass half-full? Or, half-empty? If its drought you're talking it makes a big difference, as we shall see. Just now, the Bee and media attention is almost completely focused on the 'half-empty' side of things. The glass is losing water and will run dry if something isn't done.

In a crises, and no doubt we're in one, severe measures may need to be taken. water pricing, rationing and restrictions, water police and a whole bunch of "what you can do to save water" messages may be unavoidable. The governor thought so. Most of our public officials are coming around and cities and towns are beginning to respond. Still there are large Bee-axis gaps which media either doesn't see, or doesn't want to see for reasons hard to figure.


*Ps. Dept: Unlinking

In general, we will not be providing links to related Bee articles, though we'd like too. The reason being that the Sac Bee has now monetized its archives and articles (over 30 days old)can only be viewed for a fee. We think monetizing online newspaper archives constitutes an outrageous assault on our culture, and discourages or deprives citizens of the most important avenues for participating in our democracy. See article (page 2) BEE UNLINKED!

I was just about to grab a well-deserved beer when I remembered I was the designated writer for the night.

One simply cannot safely drink and scrive at the same time.*

(* any resemblance of my sobriety to the writing on this page is purely incidental)

Open Letter to District 2 Councilman Allen Warren and The Sacramento Bee, et. al. July 25, 2014

General hardware stores (the ones with many hard-to-find items) are in short supply in Sacramento. And Emigh, at El Camino & Watt, is the only other one besides the soon-to-close OSH hardware in the area, at Watt &Arden Way. Box stores like Home Depot do carry a lot of mid-quality building and home repair stuff, but I can't count the number of times I've gone there for some simple item and been told "we don't carry that." and had to go to Orchard or Emigh to find it.

Sears, at Arden Fair, is the only other place nearby, but that is mainly geared to Sears (Craftsman) tools and a few incidental items. Need a special window part? A hard to find fitting for a broken pipe? If they're not 'hot sellers' the box stores won't carry them. It's these two local hardware stores that have really anchored the repair, remodel and building needs of our community. They have employees who have the time and knowledge to serve their customers, and a respectable inventory. If they don't have something, they'll get it for you. So why is one of them closing?

According to OSH employees, "We lost our lease." That's it. They lost their lease. And who are the new tenants? Right, a box chain sporting goods store that will be less than fifty yards from, right again, another sporting goods store. You mean we need two of them in the same parking lot? What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong is that our City staff and Council members don't seem to even notice things like the subtraction of important supports and services for our community. Not at the people level. It's the usual "private businesses can do what they want" attitude.

But public officials do step in to mitigate all kinds of business exchanges, including placement, provided it is large enough or fills their campaign coffers. The mayor can get arenas built for downtown, use eminent domain to shift things from one private hand to another , and make deals that can't be refused. But this? They don't even notice. Remove one resource that's useful to our community and replace it with another that's already available close by. Um, "private business, not our concern".

City officials might have stepped in, might have seen if they could have mitigated the problem and come up with a reasonable solution that would be good for us all and acceptable to the parties involved. It doesn't have to be something in your "jurisdiction" to do that.

If city officials can decide when, where and how pot stores (another "private business") can be located, then certainly they can look into a matter like this. or what can be pushed aside to make room for something else their friends and donors support. But when it comes to important local community serving enterprise, forget it. Maybe they could have resolved something. Maybe not. But not trying isn't good enough. That's the cowtown way, and that's what we've got for the moment.

So, did I call Supervisor Peters, as the councilman advised? No, what would be the point? If the elected officials who are supposed to look out for our interests don't have enough interest to make their own phone calls and see if maybe there's something they can do to preserve an important community resource, then why should I waste my time with a bunch of "out of my jurisdiction" phone calls? I haven't the time or skill-set for doing their job.

Those folks know how to approach matters like this, and I'd wager they talk to the County Supervisors several times a week. Telling us to do their job is about the same as telling me that I'm out of my own Representative's "jurisdiction". Councilman Warren might not be able to pass a law about something in Arden Arcade, but I'll bet he talks to a lot of folks who don't live in his district, and settles a lot of matters, informally, with people from all over the region.

If we could count them, would we find they were mostly the ones who contributed to his campaign, or had some other inside track to his attention? I hope not.

And they wonder why we're so cynical about politicians?

October 5,2014

Nuance or Seance?

In a related article The Z found much to question in Bee columnist Marcos Breton's newly found interest in the Strong Mayor proposal appearing soon on your November ballot. Let's take a few column-inches here to look at his specific arguments for why he favors Measure L and briefly respond:

Why 'Z'?

A parody on 'sac bee'? The last stop in the alphabet? The atomic 'Z' number of an element? The mark of Zorro on the outhouse door of corporate media?

Good guesses, but no. 'Z' (or 'Zee' if you prefer) has stood for any number of things over the years—a pretty good movie for one, a toilet paper brand for another...—but this round goes to your publisher's own coinage after a long time thinking about how we frame our social, economic and political commentary.

If you haven't noticed, we Americans pretty much buy into and fight over the either/or theory of how the world runs. And we invariably do that because that's how we've come to map the world onto our brains—two axis, each with its own extreme ends and a pretended middle.

Sometimes these axis are laid out as socio-economic dimensions, sometimes war & peace axis, sometimes gender, or 1%/99%... But whatever content they might be filled with in a given circumstance, they remain good old bi-polar, incompatible, inconsolable x,y'opic views of the universe, and we roam around on them like blind men feeling up the elephant.

And the really sad and wonderful part of living on that two-dimensional, Euclidean flatland of unimaginative contention, is that we so frequently pretend that we do not. That is, we are one of the most creative, surprising and often peculiar creatures precisely because, we are forever pretending we're not confined to narrow-corridors of abscissa/ordinate thinking



We'd love to see a local Z Newspaper published in every city and town in the nation. Contact the Z if you'd like to put out your own local version of a Z Newspaper in your community. Let us know ( using the contact form on the sidebar) and perhaps we can help one another? - omoiyari, Red Slider

Following the lead of Darrell Steinberg, Breton seems to agree with him that the 'strong mayor' play will somehow "increase...[the] identity" of the City Council and provide more "pushing and pushing" that the two of them seem to think the strong mayor system would bring with it.

Measure L's juicing on the "cheerleaders" argument ("everbody we'd better....") not only doesn't wash when you're thinking about your system of governance, it doesn't even gel with the facts. It's just Breton baton waving and ignores what the National League of Cities and others say about what Americans prefer in mayorial power and governing structures for their cities.

We think our City Council has a few other problems besides an "identity problem", but ok. If you think about it, the proposal does take power from the Council and delivers it to the mayor. So now, the Council members will have to line up at the mayor's door with everyone else, and woe to those districts the mayor doesn't care to accord access. So you not only have Council members trying to tailor themselves to fit through the KJ funnel neck, you have them vying with each other for the privilege. Hmmm, what's that like? What you really get is not more "pushing and pushing" you get everyone pushing against each other in the same direction— the Mayor's door. Sounds like a zero-sum game to me.

Breton insists the Mayor's favored policies ("public safety" and so on) are jeopardized by not having hiring/firing control over city executives (Police Chief, City Manager,...). There's some weight to that, and it does seem reasonable that the principle elected official might be in the best position to oversee the executive operations of a city.

But is that any reason to charter in a whole raft of powers to do that? For one, it suggests the City Council is not concerned with public safety, and wouldn't support reasonable proposals from the Mayor to improve it. Untrue, of course. He just has to convince six Council members that his ideas, or who he wants to fire or hire, are warranted. Tougher to do, yes, but not unreasonable. Johnson has been pretty good at convincing the Council of a whole lot of things, and without a lot of vaguely understood new powers.

For that matter, if that was the wrinkle—just hiring and firing—we could turn it around and give the Mayor more power council-side by simply drawing a much narrower provision that says, in effect, in matters of hiring and firing city staff (perhaps a few other internal matters about running city departments), the mayor will have three votes to everone else's one vote on the issue -- that is, the two or three least reluctant on the Council will agree to go along with the mayor barring some truely horrendous reason they can't. It can even be an informal thing (no law against that) and we can try it out for a year or two and see how it works. Perhaps, instead of more "pushing and pushing" we might try a little "cooperation and accord" and see where that gets us? Ok, a little more mayorial authority, a little less 'counce-orial' authority, but without needing to change the city structure.

Breton assures us, after glowing assurances, if we happen to have "buyers remorse" over the deal, we can always change it back, in six years? Ah, that's the way a city should run, like a private business, and we're just customers. If you don't like what you bought (into), why in six years the "Returns Dept." will be open and you can take your purchase back to the store, yes? That is what Breton's saying, isn't it? Of course there will be a restocking fee, a city processing surcharge, clerical support and custodial service charges, and the usual spate of legal fees, staff time, consultant bills and some other add-ons for the damage your broken toy government did in the interim,... Let's see, that comes to, oh yes, just about what you figured you lost on your "buyers remorse" package in the first place. Don't complain, you broke even. Except, it is still unlikely we will be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

There are some folks who think that's all ok. At least judging by the way private business is buying up every public asset and core municipal function it can get it's hands on. They seem to forget cities are not private businesses, nor should they ever be. They certainly can learn how to be more efficient in working for the public interest. But six years, some thug working the mayor's position (oh no, never happen) can do one helluva lot of damage if one is clever enough in wielding that power. A future mayor could wind up mortgaging the city -- or bankrupting in that amount of time, and for the next 50 or 100 years rather than the normal 15 to 30. In election cycle time, 6 years isn't very long. But, in messes and clean-up terms, it can be a whole lot longer than you'd want your children or grandchildren to have to deal with.

Breton attempts to punch in his "private model of public process" theory with the promotional sound-bite that "Most major cities..." have switched to the executive mayor system. Hmm, new bandwagon?

Actually, no. According to the The National League of Cities , reporting on the 2006 IMAC survey that found more than 50% of the cities responding voted "to decrease the power of the mayor." From 1996 to 2006, the number of cities using a 'council-manager' form of government (which is even a step less "mayorial" than our form) went from 48% to 55%. Come to think of it, Detroit has had a strong-mayor form of municipal government for a very long (and very hard) time. Still does.

The only remaining matter is his notion, "none of this would be contraversial if you removed mayor KJ from the equation."

Oh really? That equation is about like the equation that says the Kings arena wouldn't be risky undertaking if it weren't for having a basketball-player for a mayor. Sheer nonesense. Even if KJ were a saint, the matter would be steeped in contraversy. Changing your system of government isn't about Kevin Johnson or the next mayor or the next. It's about the ramifications such changes bode, and whether the solution-set one chooses happens to fit the kinds of problems they might be facing. In the 21st century, all of the types of municipal governments we know about may be up for serious reappraisal. And which hand of govenment carries the biggest stick may be more symptomatic of the problem than the solution.

It's not even a question of "contraversy". Those are just little asides in something that create arguments, while the main points keep right on asserting themselves. This is about things that don't need to be rushed through in the next ballot cycle, or tied to some individual in the for and against arguments. It's not about KJ. And its only the proponents of Measure L who have attempted to use that to whip up the troops, i.e. "a vote against Measure L is a vote against Mayor Johnson." If that passes for the result of overcoming one's "skepticism", then I'll pass on skepticism, thank you.

Finally, it comes down to the last paragraph, doesn't it? Marcos, you always seem to pull it off in the last paragraph. And this time is no exception (it reminds me of the the good-old 49'er days, from Tittle to Brodie to Montana. It didn't matter what the score was; hell, you didn't even think about the possibility of losing a game till the last 2 minutes. The question is, are we in the last 2 minutes of the game or just barely approaching half-time?

"But," he writes, "this is bigger than KJ. Its about the future of Sacramento as it evolves. It's about trying to make things better rather than being afraid to try."

Touchdown! Oh, you got that so right, Marcos. Oh so very right.

(see also, "BRETON", page 4)




"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

-- fr. "The Magnificent Seven"; Charles Bronson relating what the fellow said when asked why he took his clothes off and jumped in a mess of cactus.