Here’s how bad the sidewalks in Gilroy are: People in wheelchairs are using the streets to get around, threading through dangerous traffic and risking their lives.Some streets have sidewalks that start and stop with no logic and no ability for people to use them consistently. Businesses—including the towing company owned by City Councilman Dion Bracco—have no sidewalk in front of them. A developer shorted the width of a sidewalk it built and the city inspectors missed it. The same developer moved a soundwall, cutting six inches of space from the public which it gave it to its residents.These were some of the complaints the city’s bike and pedestrian commission brought up before the City Council last week in a stinging report that should be a wake up call for city residents. Sidewalks are like the canary in the coal mine. If a city doesn’t take care of something seemingly small, but so important to the quality of life, how can we depend on it to take care of our other needs?Leo Gonzalez, the vice chair of the commission, who has stepped up to head it, took a huge leap last week, outlining the problem and complaining about the city’s lack of response. The previous year the report was a whitewash, he says, talking about how much progress the city has made. Gonzalez is fine with the progress, but he wants residents to realize how much still needs to be done.He wants the city to be more active in requiring businesses and residents to pay for and maintain sidewalks and the city to be more strict in what it allows.For example, the city is allowing new developments without enough visitor or resident parking spaces, so that developers profit more. The result is four-bedroom homes with two spaces for cars, but more drivers. Cars end up double-parking in their driveways and blocking sidewalks or parking in cramped streets, which blocks access to bikers and endangers passengers when car doors are opened.Then there are older parts of the city, such as Ronan Avenue on the northside, which were unincorporated and brought into the city without sidewalks and are an obstacle course for people on foot, bike or wheelchair. The city never stepped in to build sidewalks there.The city is being sued by the developer of low-income housing on Monterey Street, who claims that because it is a nonprofit, it shouldn’t be required to pay for sidewalks. Gonzalez salutes the city for fighting it. How else are senior citizens in the project supposed to get around, he asks, crossing the “freeway of Monterey Street?”There aren’t even sidewalks leading up to the Monterey bus and train transit center, which is supposed to be a hub for those who want to give up their cars!“Sidewalks are very important, but they are one of the things you take for granted,” says Gonzalez, a sheriff’s deputy who lives in Gilroy.“The majority of people who use the sidewalks are younger kids, elderly people and people with disabilities,” he says. “It’s not until you are in a position like that when you can’t step over steps that you realize how important they are.”We agree with Gonzalez that a city which likes to bill itself as a white picket fence, residential area, needs to make sidewalks and bike paths a much bigger priority than it is doing.As Gonzalez says, you pay for it now, or you pay more later, when someone walking along a street with no safe area dies in an accident and the city is sued.To see the full commission report on sidewalks, go here: http://gilroy.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=16&clip_id=1466
It’s hard not to think that Gilroy and the state of California are in a different country than the one that swept in a strong Republican, anti-government agenda.Gilroyans took a hard liberal bent and chose to cut sprawling growth out of the city limits and focus on downtown development. It elected a slate of slow-growthers and tossed out those who tried to sneak by a 4,000-house project that would have increased traffic, raised public service expenses and made its developers $3 billion.County voters favored Hillary Clinton by 73 percent. They beat back the “no tax” trend by increasing fees on cigarettes to fund health programs and increased sales tax to improve transportation. They raised money for the homeless. They funded schools. They pushed back on the exorbitant prices charged by drug companies.Those are huge positives in a national election that seemed to rip the fiber of the country apart.California’s voting trend this time around suggests that if you want to return to a time when America was great, you can look to the 1950s to the 1970s, when people were proud to pay taxes to improve their country. Tax rates on the rich were as high as 90 percent. The rich were still incredibly rich, but they were willing to do their share. Then came the trickle-down theory, which never quite trickled down. This week local voters took bold steps back to the days when people were far more willing to take responsibility for their circumstances and were willing to pay to make thecounty and state great again.Americans may never again experience a campaign season like the one that ended Tuesday—or might they all be like this from now on?The historic nature of the election, the first one where Americans got to vote for a woman as the presidential nominee of a major party, was almost lost during 16 months of daily scandal and insults.News outlets on both ends of the political spectrum, from Fox to MSNBC and innumerable blogs in between, kept Americans hooked, transforming those who were never politically expressive into keyboard pundits, posting their thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.While Barack Obama’s presidential runs in 2008 and 2012 were touted for their use of data and technology, social media came into its own during election 2016, invigorating the electorate like never before.Sure, some Facebook friends were lost in the shuffle, but now as the dust settles, Americans should look to harness some of that energy and enthusiasm and continue to find ways to participate and engage with our nation’s brazen and brow-beaten democracy.Here’s one suggestion: start attending your local City Council and municipal commission meetings. Make it a habit. Usually, the only time people go is when they have a problem, a mission, or are on the agenda. A crowded council chambers says something to elected officials: We are here, we are watching, we care.Better yet, take some time and join local commissions. Become the solution. Get involved. Take control of your government.Both Trump and, during the primaries especially, Bernie Sanders decried our nation’s “rigged” system, basically saying that ordinary citizens have no hope whatsoever of changing the course of their own lives let alone the country’s.Don’t get fooled, get involved.
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The bizarre events of December 2015 will be long etched in Gilroy’s political history. Mayor Don Gage stunned the city by resigning without warning a year before his term ended, effectively handing the reins to his political ally, Perry Woodward. The handoff allowed Woodward to run as an incumbent—but not before the duo pushed through approval of a massive farmland annexation that would have, along with other planned developments, made Gilroy one of the Bay Area’s biggest cities—a sprawling urban mass of 120,000 residents, more than double the city’s population today.
It’s a question that has been taken up, sometimes quite offensively, on social media sites recently. We’ve watched some attacks against Mark Turner, president of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, because he is against Measure H, which would put voters in charge of limits on growth rather than leaving it to elected officials.They condemn him for being from Morgan Hill, as if suddenly, a man who has put his life into Gilroy for 14 years doesn’t qualify to have an opinion.In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find someone more involved in the community than Turner. Try going to any city event, weekday or weekend and not seeing him. It’s almost impossible.He was a pastor at South Valley Community Church starting in 2002 and took over the Chamber in 2013. He’s been a fundraiser and auctioneer who has raised $250,000 for Gilroy nonprofits.He started the Bread of Life program to distribute food from local grocery stores to needy locals. He received a Community Hero award in 2007 from a Glenview neighborhood group and the Community Leadership Award in 2016 from the local American Legion Post. He’s the head of the Gilroy Police Foundation. He eats most of his meals in Gilroy and does most of his shopping here.The online attacks on Turner beg a question: with 80 percent of residents here commuting to work in Silicon Valley and spending 40, 60 or 80 hours a week there and others, like Turner, spending most of their time here, who qualifies as a real Gilroyan?We asked Turner for his opinion and we’ll be asking others. We’d like to hear from you as well on this issue.Here’s Turner’s answer:“One’s community is not necessarily confined to where one lives, but it has a lot to do with where one invests their time and effort. Every day 15,000 people commute out of town headed north for work in order to support their families and enjoy their lifestyle in Gilroy.“At the same time, there are those who don’t live in Gilroy but choose to work here, invest their time and resources here and do all they can to make Gilroy a better place. Are those who work here but don’t live here any less committed to Gilroy than those who live here and vice versa? “Of course not. All contributions to improve Gilroy and making it a better place for future generations should be welcomed.“The exchange of ideas, thoughts and opinions only advance the opportunities for a better community. Gilroy is fortunate to have dedicated community leaders who support local charities, serve on boards of local nonprofits, contribute financially to local causes, assist the underprivileged, patronize local businesses and invest their time right here in Gilroy. Many of those individuals don’t live here but have adopted this town as their own.“In the current debate about what’s best for Gilroy’s future, let the discourse occur in the public square or on whatever social media platform one chooses. But let that discourse be civilized. When those on either side of an issue choose the lowest form of expression by name-calling, belittling, intimidating and indicating one has no credibility because ‘one doesn’t live here,’ they simply discredit themselves and the cause they represent.“As Rick Warren once said, ‘We’re better together.’ When the dust of Measure H finally settles, we still have to work together for a better Gilroy. It will be much easier if we haven’t offended one another with vicious attacks and attempts to disgrace and dishonor each other.“I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve Gilroy, its people and its businesses and will continue to do so in the community I love and call my own.”
What a difference a mile makes.
“This has been the best year yet,” said Christine Vatuone, CEO/executive director of pregnancy resource center Informed Choices, one of 25 community-based organizations distributing information at Party in the Park at San Ysidro Park on Aug. 12.Featuring a climbing wall, jump house, live DJ music, dance performances and an assortment of games and prizes for the kids, the final installment of the fourth annual event series aimed to beat its previous attendance record set last month, when 650 people strolled, cycled or drove to the eastside 9-acre park.“Two hundred and fifty was our largest attendance before,” said Brian Hames, coordinator of the event, which aims to create safe, community spaces in neighborhoods with a history of gang activity.“We want to raise awareness and provide information on the many resources that are available to people,” said Hames, adding the event was modeled after Los Angeles’ Parks After Dark and is similar to Viva Parks! in San Jose, a series of free public events that focus on health and wellness resources, physical activities, and community engagement.In a half-circle of tables around the handball courts were representatives from agencies including CalWorks, Planned Parenthood, Santa Clara County Re-Entry Resource Center and clinics providing free health screenings.Getting a jump on Attendance Awareness Month in September, employees of Gilroy Unified School District were also on hand, reminding parents to get their children back to school on the first day of classes and promoting “Challenge Five”—encouraging students to have less than five days of absence per year.Jennifer DelBono, GUSD program administrator for school climate and student attendance said the district is looking at ways of partnering with local businesses to incentivize student attendance and hopes to launch a program soon.“We have such incredible partnerships in Gilroy,” she said.Gilroy resident Michael Martinez said he’d been going to Fifth Street Live downtown on Friday nights this summer but decided to come to the park with his seven-year-old son, Brayden, now smiling widely with his new balloon hat and pirate sword, after seeing a flyer at soccer signups.Over at the face-painting booth, Hollister residents Emma Torres and husband, Gabriel, with their three kids, Emily, Andrew and Bianca, looked through their goodie bags.“There is a lot of good information about the local nonprofits,” said Emma, who saw the event notice in Out and About magazine and decided to check it out. “We all run into people that could use this type of help and if we have these resources, we can pass it on to them.”
We can’t help thinking of Gertrude Stein’s sentiment about trying to find her old Oakland home, “There’s no there there,” as we drive into Gilroy.
Have you ever wondered if a doctor was prescribing you an expensive drug rather than a cheaper alternative because of payoffs he or she has gotten from the drug companies?