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Census data and a new blueprint for growth

Tuolumne County residents, Realtors and business owners have weathered some tough economic storms over the past three years. Some of the hardship is reflected in the latest release of 2010 census data.

While California grew by 10 percent — and the entire U.S. by 9.7 percent — Tuolumne County grew by just 1.6 percent over the last 10 years. After growing by 4 percent in 2000-2007, the loss of jobs in logging, timber mills, construction, government and retail and the accompanying relocation of young families — coupled with less “in-migration” of retirees from other California communities — all contributed to population declines over the past three years.

Columbia Elementary needs to stop stonewalling

    For years now, The Union Democrat’s coverage of Columbia Elementary School has been much like that of other local schools.
    We strive to report and recognize the talent, creativity and academic achievements of the students; the dedication and excellence of the teachers; and the on-going operational and budget challenges facing administrators and trustees.
    At Columbia, we’ve written about students’ academic achievements in math and algebra; the talent of the local school band; the skills students acquired in a recent stock market simulation class. A few weeks ago, we wrote about Columbia’s John Russel who was honored with Tuolumne County’s Career Achievement Award for Teachers. He has taught at Columbia for the past 32 years.

Two Supes over-react at Calaveras County Board meeting

    “We didn’t think it would be controversial to say Calaveras County likes nature.”   
    So said Calaveras High School senior Kati Giblin, who with fellow Earth Club member Cierra Allen came before the Board of Supervisors last week for approval of a seemingly innocent resolution designating April 15 through 23 as “Earth Week” in the county.
    Earth Club members will mark the week with a variety of environmental activities, including recycling batteries, bottles, cans, compost and used electronic gear, giving away reusable grocery bags and sponsoring documentary films.

Bravos to broadband; Barbs to elderberry bureaucrats

    It’s time for a special spring edition of Bravos & Barbs, The Union Democrat’s occasional compendium of the good, the bad and, once in a while, the ugly, here in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
    Because our April list is only four items long, we’ll get right to it.

State funding should allow flexibility, local input

    In our culture of deficits, cutbacks and layoffs, few government expenditures escape careful scrutiny.
    The days when boards would casually approve six-figure purchases with little or no discussion are long gone — as they should be. Even state largesse, once accepted without question by grateful counties and cities, can raise eyebrows.

Area will reap the benefits of mountain snowpack

    It was an announcement that surprised no one.
 Gov. Jerry Brown last week proclaimed California’s three-year drought officially over.
 Knocked on its heels by last season’s above average storms, the drought was buried by an avalanche of Sierra snow this year. Brown made his announcement Wednesday, after a state crew measured the mountain snowpack at 165 percent of normal.
    The drought’s demise is hardly news here in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
    Those living at 3,000 feet or above have spent much of the winter chaining up or digging out. At higher elevations, snow totals have been truly spectacular:
    Dodge Ridge has accumulated more than 600 inches — that’s 50 feet — since the season began, the most in three decades. Bear Valley, with 544 inches, is not far behind.
    Lower elevations have been hammered by floods and slides.

Courthouse site-selection process flawed, inefficient

    A new $70 million dollar courthouse will ideally be the centerpiece of Tuolumne County’s planned law and justice center, off Old Wards Ferry Road near Sonora.
 So it may come as a surprise to many that the state Administrative Office of the Courts, which determines the building’s location, has not yet agreed to the county-owned site. Although the Board of Supervisors voted to buy the 50-acre center property in November of 2009, the state shortly thereafter began an exhaustive and time-consuming courthouse site selection process of its own.
    Even now, the AOC “has a number of issues” with the Old Wards Ferry site and will likely not make a final decision until the end of this year. In December 2010, the county-owned site was recommended over two others — one on Sanguinetti Road and the other on Hess Avenue — in an evaluation completed by a local Project Advisory Committee.  

Cooperstown Quarry project deserves approval

    To say the least, the proposed Cooperstown Quarry is an unusual project.
    It’s big: The 135-acre west county open-pit operation would by the end of the century turn out 56 million tons of rock in a 24/7 operation that will include blasting, heavy equipment and Sierra Railroad trains to haul out the aggregate.
    Yet Jack and Tricia Gardella’s project enjoys almost universal support in Tuolumne County. It has been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Authority, the County Business Council, the Me-Wuk Tribe, the Building Industry Association and the County Planning Commission.

Rise in county’s opiate drug use is alarming

    When the older among us were growing up, the mere mention of heroin would have our blood running cold.
    It was the most addictive and most dangerous of the wide spectrum of drugs that began permeating our culture in the 1960s.
    But it wasn’t the province of hippies, college students or those searching for spiritual enligtenment. Heroin addicts were instead inner-city derelicts whose minds and bodies were being eaten alive by a drug pushed in the darkest corners of society.
    On the other hand, we didn’t worry much about heroin. It wasn’t in better parts of cities, it wasn’t in suburbs and it certainly wasn’t in the Mother Lode.
    Until now.

Distracted driving a matter of life and death

    Cell phones have become such an integral part of our culture that we react without thinking.
 The phone rings and, even though you’re going 50 mph on a curvy, back road, you begin searching for the phone. You rifle through the cluttered console or reach into your jeans pocket while negotiating a left-hand curve, somehow convinced there is some urgency to the incoming call.
    Two things usually happen: You answer the bleating cell phone without incident, and the call is not at all urgent. In fact, it is never urgent enough that the 30 seconds it might take to pull off the road and return the call legally makes the difference between life and death.

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