Yes, this was a wa­ter­shed year for our re­gion

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - Issues & Ideas - Ac­cept­able Mike Dun­bar is Ed­i­tor of the Opin­ion Pages. Reach him at 209 578-2325.

Call 2018 a wa­ter­shed year. As in, we’re likely to be forced to shed some of the wa­ter we’ve re­lied upon for 140 years so that oth­ers in far-away places can use it.

Be­fore 2018 passes through Modesto’s fa­mous city arch and into his­tory, here’s a look at some of the year’s events through its prism of “Wa­ter Wealth Con­tent­ment Health.”


By de­cid­ing that half the wa­ter in the Stanis­laus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers must flow away from us and out to the Delta, the state wa­ter board could be al­ter­ing this re­gion’s way of life. If the board’s in­de­fen­si­ble, un­war­ranted de­ci­sion with­stands in­evitable court chal­lenges, it will mean fewer or­chards and more field crops (when drought doesn’t wilt them into dust).

Sorry if you’ve read this be­fore, but the state failed to live up to its man­date to use only the “best avail­able science” in reach­ing its de­ci­sions, choos­ing in­stead the “best avail­able ra­tio­nale” for a clas­sic Cal­i­for­nia wa­ter grab. In a 4-1 vote, the wa­ter board based its Dec. 12 de­ci­sion on an asi­nine eco­nomic anal­y­sis, a dis­cred­ited the­ory that more wa­ter equals more fish and a will­ing­ness to turn a blind eye to a Delta de­bauched through decades of rip-rap­ping and wet­land de­struc­tion.

They ig­nored some 1,500 peo­ple who ral­lied on the Capi­tol steps on Aug. 20.

Still, it’s im­por­tant not to de­mo­nize those with whom we dis­agree. Be­ing wrong doesn’t make any­one “bad” (thank good­ness).

The Tuolumne Trust, which runs classes for kids and helps in river cleanups along with its wrong­headed en­vi­ron­men­tal lob­by­ing, did some­thing truly re­mark­able this year. Den­nett Dam, a di­lap­i­dated relic from the 1940s that killed three peo­ple try­ing to walk across it over the years, was fi­nally re­moved. The cities of Modesto and Ceres and Stanis­laus County knew this eye­sore was deadly, but none could get rid of it. The Trust did.


Set aside the roller­coaster stock mar­ket, and think about this: Stanis­laus County’s un­em­ploy­ment rate was 5.7 per­cent in Novem­ber. That’s higher than Cal­i­for­nia’s 3.9 per­cent, but bet­ter than any­thing we’ve seen in Novem­ber for a decade. That’s great, but all great things wane – a warn­ing de­liv­ered by out­go­ing Gov. Jerry Brown. We’re con­cerned over the con­se­quences of Pres­i­dent Trump’s trade war – since nuts, wine­grapes and fresh food are all be­ing tar­geted. Brace for a shock.

Speak­ing of shocks, you might need some new ones. Our area’s roads have been rated the 20th worst in Amer­ica.

How’s this for a wealth killer? Pay­ing $225,000 for the city of Modesto’s au­di­tor to leave af­ter she made base­less ac­cu­sa­tions about an­other city of­fi­cial. Or how about the law­suit that cost us $1.4 mil­lion af­ter our out­go­ing sher­iff called some em­ploy­ees “limp, lazy and lame.”

For­tu­nately, jobs and money aren’t the only in­di­ca­tors of wealth. Good ed­u­ca­tion is price­less, and we’re im­pressed with Tur­lock eighth-grader Alisha Chakravarty. She made it to the fi­nals of the Na­tional Spelling Bee last year and could be headed back this year. We’re wor­ried, though, that she might be plan­ning to con­tinue her stud­ies at Modesto Ju­nior Col­lege where hun­dreds of in­struc­tors have been work­ing without a con­tract for nearly three years. Can we get that set­tled be­fore Alisha ar­rives?


How do you mea­sure con­tent­ment? How about by count­ing votes?

In a huge upset, Josh Harder surfed the “blue wave” into Congress by beat­ing four-time in­cum­bent Jeff Den­ham. The two first met in The Bee’s con­fer­ence room for an in­tense de­bate. Den­ham was louder, but couldn’t bowl Harder over.

For vot­ers, the big­gest is­sue was health­care. But Den­ham’s in­abil­ity to lead fel­low-Repub­li­cans to a deal to pro­tect Dream­ers – young peo­ple brought to Amer­ica as chil­dren and now jeop­ar­dized by


the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s heart­less im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies – didn’t help. Yes, he stood up for the Dream­ers; just not soon enough.

We were im­pressed by our re­gion’s high school stu­dents who solemnly walked out of their class­rooms on March 14, join­ing their voices to those across the na­tion protest­ing lax laws on guns. Some dis­tricts, in­clud­ing Modesto City Schools, is­sued vaguely dis­cour­ag­ing warn­ings. We’re glad those warn­ings were ig­nored, and even hap­pier to see hun­dreds more stu­dents – joined by par­ents – march in Modesto a few days later.

We’re count­ing on My­ron Cotta, who grew up on a dairy farm in Merced County, to bring some Val­ley com­mon sense to the Catholic Church. Cot- ta was named bishop of the Stock­ton Dio­cese this year and soon will join other bish­ops in seek­ing a way out of the dark­ness of sex­ual mis­con­duct by a few truly aw­ful priests.

Un­for­tu­nately, other churches are lan­guish­ing in the same dark­ness. Re­porter Garth Sta­p­ley’s re­port­ing on for­mer youth pas­tors at Modesto First Bap­tist Church (now Cross­point) made that clear. His story about a woman vic­tim­ized by Brad Teb­butt years ago spurred oth­ers to come for­ward. Soon, so did ac­cu­sa­tions against other min­is­ters.

It was Anita Garza’s Chris­tian faith that drove her to Beard Brook Park, where nearly 500 home­less were camped on Christ­mas Day. She brought food, in­clud­ing dessert. We’d like to see the city of Modesto bet­ter fol­low Garza’s ex­am­ple. At least three dif­fer­ent sites in the city were pro­posed for a low-bar­rier shel­ter last year, and each was shot down. The only

so­lu­tion was to put them un­der a high­way bridge – af­ter all, such bridges have served as “shel­ters” for the down­trod­den since the time of Dick­ens. Tur­lock, ap­par­ently, is fol­low­ing the same sorry ex­am­ple.

This has been a front­burner item for Su­per­vi­sor Terry Withrow, city coun­cil­woman Jenny Kenoyer and ac­tivist Brad Hawn for months, if not years. They’re will­ing to do this hard and thank­less work even as most of the rest of us are con­tent to ig­nore the prob­lem.

The least we can do is mourn the home­less woman killed when heavy equip­ment crushed the card­board box in which she was sleep­ing. But we shouldn’t do the least.


For a city, Modesto looked in­cred­i­bly un­healthy ear­lier this year. That’s why we asked that some­one – any­one – find a cure for city hall. It’s look­ing as if city man­ager Joe Lopez has a good pre­scrip­tion, though we still de­tect some coughs and wheezes. Lopez helped un­cover $16 mil­lion in over­spend­ing from city ac­counts and set up safe­guards against more. He has worked with a con­tentious city coun­cil to es­tab­lish rea­son­able rules for mon­i­tor­ing Mea­sure L road ex­pen­di­tures and the li­cens­ing of weed shops.

Speak­ing of smoke, wild­fires are in­creas­ing in num­ber and sever­ity. The smoke this year from fires burn­ing all around us made breath­ing down­right dan­ger­ous. Some peo­ple are de­mand­ing schools be can­celed on “smoke days,” but we don’t see the point. Many chil­dren, es­pe­cially from poorer homes, are bet­ter off breath­ing the fil­tered air in a class­room.

Sec­ond-hand smoke is deadly, but sec­ond chances are es­sen­tial. We hope that’s all Kristin Olsen will need. The County Su­per­vi­sor was ar­rested for driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence in Sacra­mento in Septem­ber. She’s been a good su­per­vi­sor, per­formed well in the As­sem­bly and on Modesto’s city coun­cil. A sin­gle mis­step shouldn’t de­rail a ca­reer of pub­lic ser­vice.

Colin Kaeper­nick de­serves a sec­ond chance, too, though he’s less likely to get it. The Pres­i­dent of the United States made Kaeper­nick’s re­spect­ful protest against po­lice shoot­ings (that be­gan in 2016) a tar­get this year. His foul lan­guage cowed NFL team own­ers; not one has had the guts to give Kaeper­nick a job. That hasn’t kept Kap from ful­fill­ing his vow to give away $1 mil­lion – far, far more than the fraud­u­lent Trump Foun­da­tion gave to any­one. Ex­cept Trump.

Speak­ing of good deeds, we’ll close by men­tion­ing Dr. Sil­via Diego. She got a sec­ond chance, too, start­ing her own prac­tice af­ter leav­ing Golden Val­ley Health Cen­ters in a dis­agree­ment. Half her pa­tients at Fam­ily First Med­i­cal Care have in­sur­ance, the other half re­lies on gov­ern­ment pro­grams. Dr. Diego was named the Stanis­laus Physi­cian of the Year in March and was rec­og­nized by the Cal­i­for­nia Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion in Oc­to­ber.

She is un­likely to get wealthy, but she’ll make many peo­ple more healthy. And, like the rest of us, she might have to be con­tent with less wa­ter.

Happy New Year.

TED BEN­SON Modesto Bee file

How did 2018 stack up for “Wa­ter Wealth Con­tent­ment Health”? We’re OK on health and wealth, but there are prob­lems on the other two.

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