Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Good Outcome

The Grand Junction City Council's decision to reject the two "emergency" solicitation and panhandling ordinances was well received by what looked and sounded like quite a throng at City Hall last night.

I'll have much more to say about this later, but I would be remiss in not thanking Council for allowing common sense to kick in on this one. I would also congratulate those who advocate and work with the homeless and transient populations, for speaking out and helping to assure that this segment of our citizenry was well represented in ample quantities.

In retrospect, what is escaping me is how certain City staff and/or departments thought they could try to pull a fast one like this and expect to succeed. Did they actually have the chutzpah to think that no one would care enough to advocate in person, and those who engage in this activity would somehow not know or care enough to show up? Did collective disdain and dismissal cloud their perception of the issue, and their vision of the human beings in our midst that live with poverty and homelessness every day?

I managed to watch some of the meeting last night; aside from the impassioned, at times colorful comments made by those in opposition, the body language displayed by of some of those City officials during these comments was downright riveting. Maybe I'll have some examples later on.

Now to bed. There will be plenty of reporting and analysis over the next few days, but the window of opportunity has been opened to get some good legislation out there that will truly address the real safety issues at hand, while protecting everyone's fundamental rights and enhancing the quality of the collective services provided to those in need.

Have a great day.

Monday, June 29, 2009

ACLU Weighs In on Ordinances

This afternoon Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the Colorado Chapter of the ACLU, sent the below letter to all Grand Junction City Council members regarding the proposed "emergency" ordinances prohibiting "aggressive solicitation" and panhandling.

The letter makes several good points, but one paragraph summarizes things rather well:
"The council should know that solicitation of funds is expression that is protected by the First Amendment and Article II, Section 10 of the Colorado Constitution. This is as true whether the solicitor is an employee of the American Cancer Society, a firefighter passing a boot, or an unemployed person asking for help to get through the next day. Regulations of solicitation in public places are subject to challenge as violations of the right of free expression. In such a challenge, the City bears the burden of proving that the regulations comply with the Constitution."
While the ACLU's concerns may or may not have the desired effect on Council, letters written by myself and others over the last two days will hopefully help Council to see the significant issues involved with the hasty adoption of laws that Mr. Silverstein assessed as containing "serious flaws in both conception and execution".

In the "unstated motives" department, one other sentence sticks out:
"The council should question whether this ordinance is truly meant as a safety measure or whether, as in other communities, the safety rationale is a pretext for the proponents’ true motivation: to push the homeless and unemployed out of sight".

The response against tonight's proposed action has come from varying ends of the political spectrum locally, and may promise a significant turnout at tonight's meeting. While I will be at work, I may be making use of the City's impressive and robust e-government capabilities to garner a view of the proceedings.

I did get a big e-mail "THANK YOU!" from my district Councilman, Tom Kenyon. Thanks for reading my e-mail, Tom, and may the right decisions be made tonight.

More later.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Least Of These and the Warrant-Go-Round

Modified from answers.com

Would you consider this person a criminal?

One of the best e-mail subscriptions I have is the Grand Junction City Council agendas for the upcoming week. These are usually sent out the Friday before the week of meetings. I usually scan them for new annexation information, and I was more than surprised to see the words declare an emergency included in the short title of two ordinances up for consideration on Monday night's Council docket.

It seems that the City has found it necessary to request Council declare a "special emergency", so that these ordinances, restricting aggressive solicitation and panhandling, can take effect immediately upon their approval by Council. This step is required by Article VI, Section 50 of the City Charter. The specific language in the charter allows for this step to be taken "for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety, and then only by the unanimous vote of all members of the council".

These ordinances have been a long time coming, and I believe they are to a large extent necessary. There is too much traffic in the places where this is occurring; the potential for injuries to panhandlers and motorists alike is too high.

What is questionable is the guerrilla tactic being employed by the City to get the ordinances read, debated, and approved in one meeting, after they appear for the first time in the agenda published three days before the meeting.
Holy PATRIOT Act, Batman...

Judging from the diverse nature of the comments attached to the Sentinel's online coverage (the main Page 1 print headline on Saturday), there's no shortage of differences of opinion on how to effectively deal with people soliciting passing motorists.

The ongoing nature of this problem, irrespective of the level, frequency, or perception of the problem, is not sufficient to attempt to limit public debate or input in this manner. This may be a chronic situation that needs to be dealt with (like storm drainage, especially this month), but it's no "special emergency". Council needs to take the necessary steps to move these ordinances toward passage, but with the multiple readings and ample opportunities for citizen comment that accompany any other ordinance of this type.

I'm on the side of restricting solicitors and panhandlers, but I'm not sure that the threat of a hefty fine or jail time will have the desired effect. Here's why:

There are numerous non-profit community service agencies that provide food, clothing, and shelter to the area's transient and homeless populations. Many of these agencies signed on with the City's attempt a few years back to encourage citizens not to give money to panhandlers.

I believe that the bulk of those who engage in soliciting/panhandling do not seek assistance from the ample established resources available. This segment of the homeless population consists mainly of Chronic Public Inebriates (drunks) and/or the chronic mentally ill.

In terms of their afflictions, these persons represent one of the failure points of Mesa County's health care and social service infrastructure, that being the care and treatment of the mentally ill and alcohol abusers, which like most communities number much more than those in power are ready to admit. This is a perfect talking point for Country Jam weekend...

Today's Sentinel includes a story about the continued efforts to right the severely listing ship of Colorado West Mental Health. While there appears to be promising movement toward stability at CWMH, their target population remains under-served so long as the facility is unable to expand its bed capacity, or medically clear patients independent of the local ER's. There will continue to be an unreasonable burden placed upon local public safety until this occurs.

Speaking of unreasonable burdens, with these new ordinances our public safety and criminal justice infrastructure will experience a heightened workload experience. It will begin from the system access points (I can just imagine the 9-1-1 calls) through the field responders, to the court administrators and judges, then to the Jail and back out again. Call it the "warrant-go-round", for lack of a better term.

So our panhandler goes through this process two or three times; with no permanent address it's difficult to track him down to account for his summonses and warrants, and every time he's contacted he goes through the same cycle, impacting the dispatcher, the street cop, the court clerk, the Jail, and back around again. Can't you hear The Hollies' "On a Carousel" right about now?

Eventually, one of the following is likely to happen. He will continue his behavior and cycle through the system, until he commits other crimes and has to be jailed; he will impact the health care system more and more until he dies a premature death, owing to his level of poverty, urban outdoor lifestyle, and/or self-medication.

He could try to obtain treatment for his afflictions, seek services from the established social service providers, and begin the process of becoming a more productive and socially acceptable citizen. Are we as a City and County prepared to help?

Or, he may leave town, thus no longer impacting the local criminal justice, health care, or social service systems. He's somebody else's problem. We can then exhale and congratulate ourselves on the great job we did in caring for what Christ called "the least of these".

This leads to yet another question. Is Mesa County considering enacting an ordinance with similar language, or can we expect those we see at 1st and Grand today to set up shop at 30 Road and the I-70 Business Loop? How is this addressing the problem from the standpoint of our entire community, irrespective of the imaginary lines we draw around ourselves?

It's no secret that our governments have their work cut out for them, but as several Sentinel readers pointed out, is targeting these people with more laws the best way to deal with this?
I don't think there is any other way to address the issue, but it needs to be codified with a good deal more attention paid to what the issues and needs truly are.

With that, here are my suggestions to City Council:
  • Defeat the "special emergency" designation. Luckily, it takes a unanimous vote of Council to pull something like this. It may just take one maverick to shut it down; are you up to it this time, Bill Pitts?
  • Establish a timetable for research, public comment, and the careful development of an ordinance that addresses the issue from a proactive standpoint, while taking care not to encroach on civil liberties. The ACLU pays close attention to these types of ordinances, and have challenged many across the country.
  • Include language in the final ordinance that earmarks all monies collected as fines to a fund, the proceeds to be distributed annually to non-profits that provide services and care to the area's transient and homeless populations.
  • Commit to continued joint efforts with Mesa County and others to optimize the level of care provided for the mentally ill, as well as substance and alcohol abusers.
I contribute annually to such groups as Catholic Outreach and Homeward Bound of the Grand Valley. I believe that our image as a community is directly reflected by how we treat those of us who are in the greatest need. Continuing to build upon what is a strong community of faith with a commitment as citizens to improve in those areas we are deficient will truly define us as a great place to live. Let's go about the great work ahead with determination and deliberation.

Have a good week ahead.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

At Random

I've been a bit busy this week, and haven't had a lot of time to post something in depth. I'm working on a couple of things, but in the meantime there is no shortage of stuff to randomly muse about, hopefully without being boring or repetitive..

Yesterday afternoon after a staff meeting at the hospital I went to get some blood drawn that requires a 12-hour fast. After the vampire-in-waiting, I mean phlebotomist, had extracted the necessary amount from my arm into those little tubes, she secured the little cotton ball over the puncture site with some stretchy lime green tape.

I joked that if we were in Tehran, going outside with that on could get me shot. I got a few laughs out of her; then while leaving, I realized that statement was really not funny at all.

Seriously, it's kind of sobering the more you think about it, and it leaves you grateful for what we have here.

Continuing in the so-funny-it makes-you-think department, I have thoroughly enjoyed Steve Beauregard's return to the local opinion pages, this time in the Sentinel. Steve's column on Country Jam yesterday was hilarious, while illustrating the truly sad manner in which people conduct themselves out there. I can personally bear witness to Steve's story about the couple in the porta-potty; unfortunately, there are probably several examples of this over the years.

Call me crazy (or just a porta-potty party pooper), but I've got a bad feeling about this year. Yesterday's collapse of the crane that they hung the US flag from may be a harbinger of more desperate fun to come. The natives have been restless across the Grand Valley this week; the local ER's seemed overrun with trauma, drunkards, and psych cases. And it was only Monday and Tuesday...

Scanner junkies, radio hobbyists and media types, there's a change to the public safety radio system in use at the Jam this year. Instead of using rental radios, they'll be using some of the commonly used local frequencies with a temporary repeater on site. If you're headed out there, take your squawk box and you might get a good catch of some of the action. If you have FRS radios (those 14-channel thingies you can get almost anywhere), take those along too. Some of the banter among attendees can be hilarious.

And by all means stay safe, please...

I was scratching my head about the protest at the local Grand Junction ABC affiliate yesterday.
Their programming today notwithstanding (I didn't get to watch), I've found ABC News of late to be offering the most comprehensive variety of news products among the three major broadcast networks, along with some serious investigative work and an excellent source of technology-related news. And besides, Crystal Costa is about the best local TV news person we have. Now that I've said that, she'll pull a Vigliotti and leave town...

Those who would rather have the status quo can check this story out for some of the reasons that things have to change. If not by the government, then by a strictly non-profit system.

In the WTF (What the FRAC) department, my congratulations to Jim Spehar for intelligently exposing and deftly debunking the criticism leveled against him for espousing the merits of Rep. Diane DeGette's legislation to remove the Clean Water Act exemption for hydraulic fracturing chemicals, and force those using this process to come clean with what they're pumping underground.

All I really need to know about this debate comes from my life experience. I've written previously about growing up in a town dominated by an industrial economy, and the human costs of those endeavors.

Asking how much of an unknown chemical mixture we want near our groundwater is akin to asking how much soot we want on our porches.

I also know this; any spill of frac water, especially when water trucks roll over (as they have several times in our area), is usually treated like a HAZMAT incident, and the energy companies have tried to keep these occurrences quiet. That's all I need to know to support energy industry accountability to the people.

Finally, Ralph D'Andrea wrote one of his better blog posts yesterday, this time about hypocrisy.
He had some excellent observations, and one of the more salient quotes in recent months:

"There is no shortage of narcissistic hypocrisy in politics."
Time to get some rest, and continue to take stock of my own affairs. I'd rather have my own ducks in a row rather than try to line up anyone else's. There's a lot to do.

Have a good day and weekend ahead.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reflections on Father's Day

Working primarily evenings and nights as I am now that Evan is out of high school, I find it kind of futile to try to wind myself back around to the regular "day shift" routine, even when the weekend and the rest of your family and loved ones work or live on that clock.

So I was up until about 3:30 this morning, and then up again at 10 to go to church and try to make something of a sunny day in Western Colorado, which while normally in abundance have been a scarce commodity of late.

I got that little video of Save the Tomato done and posted, but also surfed the Sunday papers online. In today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette I ran across something that raised my hackles a bit.

Today's story is the beginning of a two-part exploration of the reasons that lung cancer, to quote the story, "
gets less research funding per death than any other major cancer". The story postulates that one of those subtle myths of society, like "social drinking isn't a problem" or "socialized medicine is a communist plot" has stymied the comparative search for a cure.
To wit:

Lung cancer "seems to be the focus of everyone's blame-the-victim mentality," says Dr. Jill Siegfried, a lung cancer scientist at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. "You can take another disease like heart disease that is equally caused by smoking, and nobody would say, 'Don't develop stents or bypasses.'

"For some reason, lung cancer seems to shoulder all the burden for our smoking-related guilt."

Dr. Joel Greenberger, another lung cancer researcher at the institute, believes the bias even extends to the National Institutes of Health, the primary federal funding agency for medical research.

"I think there's a kind of hidden agenda at the National Institutes of Health that because a majority of lung cancer is caused by smoking, that people kind of do this to themselves," he said. "There's a kind of punishment mentality -- and this could not be more wrong."

In case you're wondering how any of this ties into Father's Day, my role has a Father has been altered dramatically in the four years since my late wife's diagnosis, when it had been brushed off by at least one local physician as arthritis and had me insisting on an MRI at an out-of-town ER when she could barely walk, after the tumor in her lung had spread to and practically destroyed her first lumbar vertebra. In retrospect, the clinicians involved probably never considered the possibility of lung cancer because she didn't have a cough and never smoked.

Don't mistake this for anger - I've put all that aside in the two years since she left us, and am making strides to move on with my life now that our son is turning 18 soon and entering college. I'm just puzzled with the lack of emphasis on lung cancer research , especially on other, younger women who have been taken from their husbands and children. Jan became sick at about the time that Dana Reeve revealed her diagnosis. You'd think that we would start learning. Hopefully soon.

We in Grand Junction and Mesa County need to be extra diligent, given the presence of radioactive metals in our region, along with the reclamation of mill tailings from so many areas where they had been casually used as free fill dirt before the dangers of Radon gas became known.

Unfortunately, in the era of trying to make sure our children are protected from everything, that we anticipate every pitfall or problem that might befall them and try to mitigate it, the inevitable rebellious nature of our youth have driven them to the easiest ways to show us fathers and mothers that they'll do what they want. Cigarettes are a portion of the problem, but their insidious effects seem to be perpetuated within each generation. How do we effectively stem this tide?

I managed to shake my shift work schedule and morph into a Sunday-go-to-meetin' Dad, the first time in several weeks. I was eager to hear the message on Dad's day, and Pastor Paul Watson at the Downtown Vineyard didn't disappoint.

Paul's sermon challenged men to shake how society defines their success, and concentrate on how what they do reflects their relationship with God. This starts with something that I have been guilty of at times, that is finding self-esteem not in who I am, but what I do. This allows the avocation to become more important than a Godly vocation.

Paul also took time to recognize the increasing number of families touched by divorce and death, saying that "being a stepfather is an awesome opportunity to love and honor God".

He concluded with a simple but profound statement supported by Joshua 1:6-9:
"All men have challenges, but real men have courage."
I wondered after he had said this, the courage to do what? Eschew earthly pursuits for the direction that God is pointing you in? Listen and try to discern God's intent for your life, and put aside those fears and worries that are preventing you from proceeding in that direction?

This speaks a lot to the challenges I have before me this Father's Day. I am at a personal and professional crossroads, and feel the need to honor God by honoring my family, those I love, and the gifts that God has given me, with enough room for discernment and contemplation that the steps I am taking are the right ones.

With that in mind, there will likely be some changes in my personal life that will not please some people that care about me, and I them. I may embark on a path that complicates some lives and enhances others. All I can say at this point is I am bound to do what I've always done, which is to listen and learn, proceed cautiously, and move decisively.

I've always felt that God was mostly at the wheel of this particular ship of fate; if you had told me in the beginning of 1995 that two months later I would be living in Colorado before Father's Day, I'd have called you crazy. Save for the tribulations of illness and the pain of loss, things have worked out. I haven't always steered along the right path, but have been fortunate nonetheless to find the right road when it counted.

Before then and since, I've tried to be the best father, worker, and provider that I know how to be. Things fell into place, then fell apart. I'm getting better at keeping the pieces where they belong, and following the right set of directions for putting them back together again.

Have a great week ahead.

Saving The Tomato

It was great to see so many people at the Save the Tomato event at Fruita's Hot Tomato Cafe yesterday. The little video does the whole sense of community and creativity little justice, and I wish I had been able to spend more time there, or at least recorded some more of the ambiance.

As it was, the music was incredible, the food great as usual. Thanks Jen, Anne, and staff for your kind words, cold beer and terrific slice; I hope that both common sense and a sense of true community wins out in the end, and that you will continue to have a home in Downtown Fruita for many years to come.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Creative Comments License

Over the last couple of days I've noticed several stories in the Daily Sentinel that I thought merited some additional comments. On some of these stories, there is no capability to leave comments, while on others there is.

Instead of scratching my head and wondering why, I thought I would just comment here.
By the way, Denny, why is that? Never mind, here goes...

Gas group sponsors cattlemen's meeting in valley this week

Aside from the headline, which borders on something Jay Leno might have been interested in, I thought immediately about intense discussions to collect bovine flatulence, not to mention a lot of the hot air coming from the energy types inside Two Rivers this week.

Seriously, if ranchers and drillers are trying to work together then that's a good thing. Maybe these energy companies would like to use this example to work more amicably with the citizens of Battlement Mesa.

Opponents of B&B seek public hearings

In this story and previous reporting, those who have leveled complaints and/or retained counsel to voice them to the city have not been identified.

I'm wondering if this group of opponents includes Daily Sentinel retiree and historical columnist Kathy Jordan, who along with her husband owns the conspicuously well-maintained yellow house at the southeast corner of Seventh and Ouray. If so, then I believe that the paper has an obligation to disclose this to the readership if they choose to report on the controversy.

For me, there needs to be some practical trade-offs in the North Seventh Street Historic District if it is to remain an integrated and vital part of a changing Downtown Grand Junction.
Recognition of the fact that Seventh is a major north/south arterial through the city center would be a start. Providing for a long-overdue southbound left turn lane from Seventh onto Grand Avenue would be another. Recognizing that cobbled flagstone crosswalks don't necessarily lend themselves to use by disabled citizens is yet another.

With their opposition to some creative use of a very large space, the naysayers on "Historic" Seventh Street are basically trying to act like a government-sanctioned HOA. The final quote by their attorney was the last straw:
"Some neighbors view the bed-and-breakfast proposal as a lever “to justify a higher sale price,” Behrmann said."
Uh, if the owners of the proposed B&B meet the city's requirements to develop their business, then what business is it of yours how much they sell it for?

After helping in fundraising, Grand Junction couple makes personal donation

This story allowed for comments, and one particular comment drew my attention. It compared Ken Leis and Kathy Hall's philanthropy to that of Andrew Carnegie, "in more ways than one".

No one seemed to pick up on the meaning behind that comment. I think the writer may have intended to bring forth Carnegie's involvement in the bloody Homestead Strike of 1892, as well as his membership in the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club, whose neglect of the dam that created the club's lake resulted in the 1889 Johnstown Flood.

I believe that this comment was intended to disparage Mr. Leis and Ms. Hall because of their involvement in local politics and the energy industry. Other comments were less subtle in their criticism. That's bad form; we should appreciate their generosity, and let God sort out the rest.

Have a great day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Culture and Causes

Now that the giddiness of a third Stanley Cup for the Penguins has started to fade away, this week offers some good opportunities to take in some culture and rally behind some good causes.

The Barry Tuckwell Institute returns this week to the Mesa State campus, as well as other venues around town. I wrote last year about this unique gathering of professional and amateur French Horn players, under the tutelage of one of the recognized masters of the instrument. A press release and performance schedule is available here. See you on Friday night.

The Reeltime Series at the KAFM Radio Room presents a very unique and engrossing film this coming Thursday night. Sita Sings the Blues is an animated telling of the Indian epic poem Ramayana, interspersed with a modern-day story and peppered with the 20's and 30's-era jazz vocal stylings of Annette Hanshaw.

What is unique about the film is that it was created by one woman on her laptop over the course of 5 years. Nina Paley has also made the film available for download under a Creative Commons license, albeit with some disruptive activity from the more greed-based segments of the entertainment industry.

The film has not only achieved critical acclaim, but is achieving a sort of cult status as one of the centerpieces of the Copyleft and Free Content initiatives. In this context, the film has the potential to contribute significantly to the noble cause of allowing flexibility and openness to be an integral part of the distribution and fair use of creative works.

You can download the film, or watch it via YouTube and other streaming services. I watched a little bit online, and enjoyed what I saw, so I'm going for more on the big screen. Hope to see you there.

The local music scene will be focused on the Hot Tomato Cafe this Saturday, as the Save the Tomato benefit runs from 11 til 9. Come out and support the Cafe's effort to move to a more hospitable location. I heard that about 25 people were outside the Tomato last night to greet the members of the Masonic Lodge as they gathered for their monthly meeting. Good for them...

Perhaps the biggest event to support the fight against the biggest cause is this weekend's Relay For Life at Canyon View Park. I would like to (and probably should) participate more in this; I feel that I missed out on perhaps a fun opportunity this year, as the theme for the various
teams that will be participating is movies.

I was envisioning myself and an unknown group of characters as the cast of The Fisher King, itself a rather unique tale of healing and redemption. I had quite a few laughs to myself seeing this group break out in song, like Robin Williams and his cohorts did: "I like New York in June, how about you?"...

I'll be out there to purchase some of the Relay's signature luminaria, and cheer on the participants, before I go to work in the middle of the night. Late last month I got to see Leslie's daughter Michaela participate in her second survivor's walk at a Relay in the Pittsburgh area. It will be good to honor those who have also survived, as well as those who we will always remember. Be strong, be courageous, be giving..

See you around.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Pens Have the Cup

This was a gift from Jeff Driehorst, Operations Assistant at KAFM. He gave it to me a couple of weeks ago, before my trip to Pittsburgh and Boston.

It has been a good luck charm, and a harbinger of good will, as tonight the real Pens are hoisting the Stanley Cup in Detroit after an improbable, gutsy, skilled comeback from being down 2 games to none and after a thorough shellacking in Detroit in Game 5.

They regrouped, sucked it up, and displayed incredible discipline and skill through the last two games to claim what is arguably the most difficult championship in professional sports.

Jeff, thanks for the good thoughts and the payment forward. And to the Penguins, thanks for making us proud, and showing the courage, strength, and conviction to weather the storm and ascend to one of the finest moments in your history.

Time to exhale, time to celebrate.....

- Getty Images, www.pittsburghpenguins.com

Facing the Red Menace

"..and I'll meet you in the schoolyard, baby, for ALL the marbles...on Friday night in Detroit."

- Mike Lange, Voice of the Pens, after Tuesday night's Game 6 victory

I would have liked to have partaken of some Kiwanis pancakes today, but I slept too late to get down there. Working til 3:00 AM will sometimes do that to you , I guess.

I've been a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins for over 35 years. Tonight is arguably the biggest night in the history of the franchise, as they have reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final for the first time ever.

I got a lot of nice notes on Facebook and other places after the Pens' gutsy win on Tuesday night. I think this may have a lot to do with Avalanche fans' intense disdain for the Red Wings. I also think that a lot of people genuinely love an underdog.

So David takes on Goliath on Goliath's home ice. Strike up Darth Vader's theme. Step into the crucible for one shot at earthly glory. All the best to you, Pens, and thanks for a great season.

Someone posted this to YouTube this morning, and it is not at all inappropriate. My apologies to those of you who are firewalled from it.

Have a great day.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Fried Green Pizza at the Hot Tomato Cafe'

The Hot Tomato Cafe in Fruita is one place that I don't get out to hardly enough. What was before a couple of pretty good pizza shops has, in recent years, become a place to have some great food (and have a beer or wine if you want), listen to good music, and hang out with people who like to do the same.
I've been out there for fundraisers, to listen to good local bands, and drop in for the occasional lunch along with a good chunk of Fruita Monument High School. The proprietors and staff are always friendly, the food is always good, and the atmosphere is cordial and animated.

Yesterday's media coverage detailing the dispute between the Hot Tomato and their landlord over new lease terms really isn't big news in and of itself. This scenario is repeated numerous times across the country every day, for all kinds of reasons. Most of these reasons are shrugged off as the way of the world, or "just business".

What makes this different is the grassroots community support that the business has solicited and received thus far. There are a few interesting snippets from the reporting that has been done that may help bring out the rest of this story...

The proprietors of the Cafe' claim, according to the Sentinel's account, that their rent is being more than doubled by the landlord, the Fruita Masonic Lodge Association. Hot Tomato co-owner Jen Zeuner was quoted as saying that this rent does not include maintenance costs and property taxes, which she pays.

Masonic lodge mouthpiece John Groves was quoted as saying that the lodge is "not interested in making improvements on the building". This includes improvements that the business had requested, and that the lodge felt were the responsibility of the business owner.

KKCO also reported that the entire Masonic building - which includes two storefronts and the lodge - is on sale for "over $500,000". This is over twice the most recent assessed value of the property according to the Mesa County Assessor's database.

So to summarize, the Fruita Masonic Lodge wants to double the Hot Tomato's rent with very little apparent justification to do so, other than they're the big bad landlord and they can. Additionally, they appear to be interested in unloading the building for a big lump of cash, well above the building's assessed valuation and seemingly beyond the reach of the Hot Tomato's ownership, and/or community sympathizers.

Yeah, it's just business...and it stinks.

I think in terms of movie analogies sometimes. The most comfortable and accessible comparison is It's a Wonderful Life, with our heroines Jen and Anne as loan-officer-with-a-heart George Bailey, and the Masons playing money-grubbing Mr. Potter.

I don't think this is all about money, though. A reader comment on the Sentinel's site got me thinking. The first sentences jumped out:

"The business is a definate (sic) staple of the Fruita culture. We as a family of 4 loved the owners and their, can do, hard working friendly business ethics."

The post continued to elaborate upon the philanthropic goals of Freemasonry worldwide, and how they don't seem to jibe with the Fruita lodge's actions. However, the Hot Tomato isn't a charity, even if the community is lining up behind it like Bedford Falls did with George Bailey.

The Hot Tomato is indeed a staple of a growing and changing Fruita community. It is representative of a diverse, open-minded, athletic, casual, and creative group of people with roots in the community's mountain biking and outdoor recreation industry, among other things.

Is it possible that the more conservative segments of the Fruita community, as manifested in the membership of the Masonic lodge, are trying to oust the Hot Tomato and their clientele as part of some convoluted battlefield in an ill-conceived culture war?

From reading other comments, combined with my own observations, the Hot Tomato saga is also reminiscent of Fried Green Tomatoes. In Jen and Anne we have our very own Idgie and Ruth, doing good deeds for the locals while trying to circumvent the racist police force and Ruth's abusive ex-husband. Speak softly and carry a big skillet...

Seriously, it's looking like the community is going to rally 'round the Hot Tomato. There's a benefit concert on June 20 to raise funds to move the Cafe' somewhere. From the sound of Jen's blog post yesterday, it sounds like the move really needs to happen, too.

Hopefully they'll find a place within the hub of Downtown Fruita, with a property owner that displays a little more knowledge than the Masons, who seem to have a firm grasp on the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

In doing some additional research, I was thinking about other ways that the community can express its' support for the Cafe'.

One way could be to show up a week from today, June 16, at around 6:30 PM, when the membership of the Masonic lodge should be arriving for its' monthly meeting at 7:00.

Another could be to try to ascertain the membership of the lodge, and whether or not any of those members own businesses in Fruita or elsewhere. Then perhaps they could learn, in a small, incremental way, the power of the wallet...

I hope to be exercising the power of my wallet several times before June 20, and especially on that date. Keep that Granny's Pesto coming, girls...

Have a good night.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Mandarin Melamine Menace, MSM MIA

Melamine dinnerware is cool, or at least it was until Thursday.

I've always been drawn to all the pretty colors it comes in, with that shiny finish and a non-porous smoothness that beckons you to run your fingers over it. It's one of the few things that shines at garage sales. I still use a couple of Winnie-The-Pooh bowls that my son used when he was a baby. They still look like new.

It's a habit of mine to cruise the consumer discount stores when I'm on Cape Cod, and while looking around one on Tuesday I noticed a big pile of melamine plates and bowls stacked up and on sale.

Thanks to one of the more diligent investigative reporters around, there may be a reason for that, and one that seems to be escaping the fickle grasp of the American mainstream media.

Andrew Schneider, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter most recently with the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, posted an entry to his blog on Thursday that reports some disturbing findings in the testing of melamine resin products produced in China. To quote his post:

"This week, health officials in Indonesia ran tests of 62 samples of melamine plates, bowls, spoons and forks. The head of the country’s Food and Drug Monitoring Agency said that “30 of them released formaldehyde when used for anything hot, watery or acidic,” the Jakarta Globe reported.

In Korea, food scientists tested eight different brands of Chinese-made melamine dinnerware in January and February and found that 88 percent of the plates and bowls released formaldehyde when heated in a microwave.

And last week in Hong Kong, officials with the Consumer Council told the Hong Kong Standard that it had checked 300 melamine products from 20 household goods and chain stores, and only 5 percent of samples were properly labeled to warn customers not to use them in microwaves."

This isn't the first time that melamine has made it into the news in some fashion. In 2007, thousands of dogs and cats were sickened by pet food made with wheat gluten imported from China that contained traces of melamine. In a related story also this week, an American food products supplier will plead guilty to charges they sold the tainted gluten to pet food manufacturers.

Last year, over 300,000 Chinese were sickened, and several infants killed, by milk tainted with melamine in an attempt to give it the appearance of a higher protein content, and thus bring a higher price. The World Health Organization termed the effects of this one of the most significant food safety events it had ever encountered.

In the wake of this latest revelation about plates, bowls, and utensils made with melamine resin, I can only find six articles as of today on a Google News search, all of them coming from Asian news agencies. It would appear thus far that outside of Mr. Schneider's reporting no American media outlet has seen fit to report these problems, even when it is likely that many of these products may be in the storerooms and on the shelves of American businesses, and being used by American families.

One wonders that even if the MSM is not following this, if the appropriate government oversight agency is watching. I certainly hope so.

I'm by no means an expert on the subject matter; Mr. Schneider, who I became acquainted with while he was at the Pittsburgh Press, has made food safety (and especially products from China) a big part of his investigative milieu. In a related set of stories for the P-I last year, he also reported on the importation of tainted honey from China into the U.S., and in some cases its packaging and marketing as being produced in this country. I feature Andy's blog regularly in the sidebar.

Educated consumers need to exercise due diligence when purchasing items that may have been produced in China. As this story shows, this diligence needs to extend to so-called durable goods as well as food items.

There appear to be considerable quality control issues across the entire Chinese manufacturing sector that may threaten the health and safety of all consumers. We need to make sure that our government is dealing with these issues effectively, without regard to political or financial considerations.

Thanks, Andy, for your diligence and expertise in continuing to bring these issues to the forefront of the blogosphere, if not the American corporate media. It will be interesting to see the time frame from this initial report to a more generalized consumer health advisory or mainstream reporting.

Have a good weekend. Go Pens.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Distressed Passenger Lovin' the Pens

Denver - The pilot's announcement in Boston that our plane would be delayed 1 1/2 to 2 hours due to mechanical issues was an unwelcome harbinger that my trip would be extended by more than just the time it took to replace two brake assemblies on a Boeing 757.

As a result, I missed the last plane to Grand Junction. I'm too tired to rent a car and drive back, so I'm in another strange hotel bed until my flight leaves in the morning.

I used the meal voucher that United gave me to have dinner at the airport, and while there I was buoyed by the news that the Penguins have tied the Stanley Cup Finals at 2-2 with a decisive win over the Dead Wings tonight.

The Pens did not look all that great in the first two games in Detroit, but since then they've been hustling more, putting the body to an older Red Wings squad when necessary, and generally looking like the slick playmakers that they are. Here's a great example:

I was worried that the series would look like last year's, when the Wings showed their superiority and the Pens came back with too little heart too late in the series. This feels different now. The Red Wings look tired (they're one of the oldest teams in the NHL by average age), but their home ice seems to be a genuine advantage (octopus on the ice or not). Because of that, the next game on Saturday night is crucial for the Pens.

If they can get through and win Game 5, they'll be poised to win the Cup at home for the first time, and it would be great to see that happen in Mellon Arena.

Hopefully back in GJ tomorrow morning.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Cleanup Followup

Boston - I'm at Logan Airport, waiting on my flight to Denver to begin boarding.

Before I leave, I wanted to share the reply from Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver to my e-mail inquiry from yesterday. Like most of the work of Mr. Shaver and his staff, the response is meticulous, accessible and complete.

It is good to hear from you. Thank you for your questions and concern for that segment of our population that is traditionally not well represented in the affairs of government. I am well aware of the concerns that you state in your correspondence and can assure you that I have advised that the City take steps to ensure that the 4th and 5th Amendment rights of the persons affected are reasonably protected.

In addition to the posting of notices at the location often there is personal contact advising that the continued presence on public property is unlawful and/or that property will be seized if not removed. Printed notices are placed at each apparent "camp" or other inhabited location and at common locations of ingress and egress. For yesterday's effort the notices were personally, hand delivered 30 days in advance. I am told that during yesterday's effort two persons that may have lived at the location participated in the cleanup.

It has been my advice and I believe that it is standard practice of the City consistent with that advice, to retain and make available to any person the property that is removed that has a reasonable value. We hold property for a minimum of 30 days.

We understand that value is relative and is in the eye of the beholder but obvious things like operable bicycles, tools, camping gear and clothing are things that we have located and segregated for the owners to reclaim. I do not yet know the specifics of what if any property was recovered with yesterday's effort but in general our experience is that within a few days of the posting most if not all of the property that has value is removed. In one instance we were made aware that a fellow was not going to be able to remove his belongings prior to a cleanup because he was incarcerated. In order to afford him notice and an opportunity to claim any of his belongings we served him personally with a notice at the jail. He did not make either a pre or post cleanup claim.

We have had few post deprivation claims and in most instances we have returned property or compensated persons for their claims when there has been a question. Because we do afford clear notice most of what is removed during the City's cleanup efforts is unquestionably trash, junk and rubbish.

Hopefully this information is helpful to you. If you have other questions or if I may otherwise be of assistance on this or any other matter, please let me know.

I'm hopeful that Mr. Shaver's sage advice to the City is well heeded, and followed in a manner as meticulous as his response to me was. The City has a very good lawyer, who anticipates problems and prepares a strategy to address them. If the City heeds his advice, in most cases this proactive approach prevents a reactive response to problems later.

Agree or not with the efforts the City is making to clean up transient camp areas, it appears that they are conducting these efforts within the letter of applicable law, or at least have been advised to do so.

Back later tonight.

Humanity for Homeless Habitat

Boston - Coming back to GJ tomorrow. Tired but not able to sleep, which is typical when I'm out and about, in a different hotel bed every night.

I got just about everything accomplished that I set out to do, and I'll detail that (with some photos) after I get back.

In the meantime, a story in today's paper got me thinking, and led me to compose and send the below as an e-mail to the addressees indicated:

John Shaver
City Attorney
City of Grand Junction

Hello, John:

I read with interest the story in today's Sentinel regarding the process of removing the personal property of homeless persons from lands that appear to be both public and privately owned.

In recent months, there have been concerns expressed and complaints raised regarding this type of activity in other parts of the state, specifically in Colorado Springs. In a letter to the Chief of the Colorado Springs Police Department (link here), the Colorado Chapter of the ACLU reported specific concerns and complaints about this practice, and included the below legal references as part of the letter:
Private property located in public spaces, including property belonging to persons who are homeless, is unambiguously protected from unreasonable search and seizure by the Fourth Amendment and Article II Section 7 of the Colorado constitution. E.g. People v. Schafer, 946 P.2d 938, 844-45 (Colo. 1997) (holding that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in a tent on public land); State v. Mooney, 588 A.2d 145, 153-154 (Conn. 1991) (holding homeless defendant had reasonable expectation of privacy in property left under a bridge). In other words, the government cannot search or seize the private property of homeless persons without complying with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment and Article II Section 7. E.g. Kincaid v. Fresno, 2006 WL 354273, *41-42 (E.D. Cal. 2006) (holding that practice of indiscriminately seizing and destroying homeless residents’ property violated their Fourth Amendment rights); Pottinger v. Miami, 810 F.Supp. 1551, 1585 (S.D. Fla. 1992) (Holding that City’s unannounced and unjustified seizure and destruction of property left by homeless in public places was unconstitutional).
Furthermore, in cases where the government removes property from public places under the justification that the property is “abandoned” or “trash,” it must provide persons with adequate procedural due process protections. For example, the government must notice of the impending seizure reasonably certain to inform those affected; provide an opportunity for the owners of the private property to object to the impending deprivation; and give notice and the opportunity for persons to reclaim their property. E.g. Kincaid, 2006 WL 354273 at *42 (enjoining City from seizing any property belonging to homeless unless it was evidence of a crime, contraband or posed an immediate threat to public health or safety, and requiring notice and opportunity to be heard before seizure, and adequate pre- or post-deprivation remedy to recover property); Pottinger, 810 F.Supp. at 1585 (enjoining City from destroying homeless’ property, and requiring establishment of a “safe zone” for homeless residents, five days advance notice before any “cleaning,” and other due process protections).
It was reported by the Sentinel that notices are posted at known transient camps in advance of any cleanup efforts. I'm wondering how much of what appears to be applicable law is taken into consideration when developing processes for notifying those residing in transient camps of the City's intent to clean them up, as well as the inventory, storage, and/or disposal of personal property.

Knowing personally the very thorough and comprehensive nature of your office's operations, I'm sure that this has been addressed in some fashion. I'd like to know what specific contingencies are in place to assure that the applicable rights of transient residents are being satisfactorily addressed during this cleanup activity.

I can be reached at the phone numbers or email below. Thanks very much for your time and consideration in this matter.


John L. Linko

cc: Laurie Kadrich, City Manager
Mike Wiggins, The Daily Sentinel
Cathy Hazouri, Executive Director, ACLU of Colorado

The issues regarding public health and safety are likely very valid ones when it comes to dealing with this segment of Grand Junction's transient population. Nevertheless, the cleanup needs to be done in a way that respects the well-established rights of those citizens. I'll share whatever reply I receive from the City or the ACLU in response to my e-mail.

I hope that the past week has been good for you. It was for me, but it's time to come back.
More to share soon.