Reader interaction the key to smarter communities

One of the best parts of writing a column is hearing from readers. Everything in this week’s column comes from readers.

First, a conscientious reader sent along a link to a story in the Placer Herald. The story details the opening of the Rocklin police’s new station. If you want to read it, go to 02police.txt.

Rocklin, a city of approximately 43,000 residents, recently dedicated a new station situated on 5.1 acres. It features a 40,000-square-foot main building, a 3,700-square-foot outbuilding, and 158 parking spaces. The building, according to the story, “was designed, at the department’s request, to utilize natural methods of heating and lighting,” thus costing less to operate and creating a healthier environment. The price tag? About $13 million.

Compare that to Gilroy, a city of, gee, almost precisely the same population, which is building a police station at almost precisely the same time. Gilroy’s getting a 49,000-square-foot new police station on a lot that requires an expensive underground parking garage to make it suitable for use as a police station. The price tag? $27.7 million.

Police brass and elected officials didn’t like it when I compared the proposed Gilroy facility with Morgan Hill’s 43,000-square-foot, $9.5-million new station. I’m sure they won’t like the comparisons to Rocklin’s easier-on-the-budget new digs.

But I think that not only is it fair, but wise to look at what other cities are doing and how much it’s costing them. (In fact, Rocklin’s police chief studied “many recently constructed law enforcement buildings throughout the state,” according to the Placer Herald article). Even though Gilroy is committed to the $27.7-million plan now, voters need to be aware of how their elected officials are spending scarce tax dollars (police impact fees are tax dollars, whether city council members and police officials want to admit it or not). Gilroy’s City Council elections are just around the corner.

Second, thanks to Gavilan Community College Instructor Dennie Van Tassel, who sent me detailed information on the school’s new Computational Preparation for Bioinformatics certificate. According to Van Tassel, the certificate provides students with the computer skills needed to succeed in biotechnology. The program offers courses in the C++, Perl, PHP, UNIX, and Java programming languages, as well as database management and XML authoring.

Van Tassel says that some folks enrolled in the program are planning to transfer to four-year schools to pursue degrees in biology, chemistry or computer science. Other folks already have those degrees, even advanced degrees, but need to improve their computer skills to succeed in biotechnology.

It looks like fellow columnist Marty Cheek and I aren’t the only ones who believe that biotech is set to boom, and I’m impressed that Gavilan officials are offering this program, which awarded its first certificate to a student at this spring’s commencement ceremony.

Now maybe Gavilan College President Steve Kinsella can talk to Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy about using the college’s Small Business Development Center to get his biotech incubator established someplace besides the former Saint Louise Hospital site, which has a built-in disadvantage due to its ties to the Catholic Church, which opposes some of the most promising avenues of biotech research, like embryonic stem cell research.

I’m glad to hear about Gavilan’s forays into the promising field of biotechnology and hope that even more are on the way in the very near future.

Finally, another reader who responded to a column was Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dan Ehrler. He contacted me after reading my column detailing a week of bad customer service from locally owned businesses. He invited me to brainstorm ideas for how the Chamber could improve the situation. I asked fellow columnist Dina Campeau, who wrote a letter to the editor expressing her failed attempt to spend a few hundred dollars in downtown Morgan Hill one weekend afternoon, to tag along.

We had a great meeting tossing around ideas (the Gavilan Small Business Development Center was mentioned a few times) for creative ways to help local businesses carve their niches by offering superior customer service. We also talked about what it will take to make Morgan Hill a destination shopping district like downtown Los Gatos.

I don’t know how many of our ideas will come to fruition, but it was encouraging to get such an open-minded, enthusiastic response from someone like Ehrler who is in a position to improve the situation.

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