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How we respond to senseless acts, helps define us

    Some stories hit on a visceral level.
    A vandal’s wanton rampage through a hallowed and historic Sonora cemetery or the unconscionable neglect that left a Copperopolis couple’s horses filthy, malnourished and sick, both in the headlines this week, are among them.
    We don’t step back and objectively appraise stories like these, slowly forming opinions.
    Instead, our reactions are immediate, emotional and powerful: disbelief, revulsion, outrage. Our stomachs turn and blood rushes to our heads as we struggle — and fail — to make sense of what we just read.

City of Sonora faces deficits and budget cuts

     The all-pervasive nature of the ongoing recession and ever-worsening state budget crisis is evidenced by Sonora’s fate.
 Historically, the city has been like Switzerland, a fiscal rock seemingly immune to the financial winds that have buffeted the counties, schools and special districts around it. City government has been responsible, conservative and solvent. Look at a graph mapping past municipal income and expenditures, and there’s either no gap or there’s daylight in the form of annual surpluses.
 Constituents, in fact, have so trusted the Sonora City Council and staff that they in 2004 voted in a sales tax hike to bolster police and fire protection. And last year, they approved an increase in the city’s hotel-motel tax.

Student cell phone use needs strict enforcement

    Ninety-eight percent.
 That was the most startling statistic to emerge from last week’s Sonora High School Board discussion on student cell phone use.
    That, said junior Luke Houghton, is the percentage of students who violate a school rule against texting or otherwise using a cell phone in class. In other words, he said, everybody flouts the rule.
    Houghton should know: He’s the student representative on the school board.
    “It may be an enforcement issue,” Houghton understated.
    It also shows that Trustee Ed Clinite’s concern that using cell phones might be “distracting” to students is more than justified.

Housing renewal should be Jamestown’s next project

    The contrast is stark, even haunting.
    Jamestown’s Main Street, target of more than a half million dollars in beautification funds over the past decade, is a showplace. New sidewalks, planter boxes, improved building facades and brick-trimmed intersections are all part of an attractive downtown package.
    Locomotive No. 3, gleaming after a million-dollar overhaul, awaits visitors at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. At Jamestown’s old jail, reclaimed from a Lodi-area theme park and refurbished with funds raised in a communitywide campaign, is a Rocca Park highlight.

County leads region in reducing retirement costs

    Tuolumne County and its employees have taken a very important step in reducing mushrooming retirement costs.
    Last week county supervisors approved a pension-reduction agreement with the Deputy Sheriffs Association. This means the county in less than a year has reached such agreements with all its employee bargaining groups.
    In fact, Tuolumne is the first valley or foothill county in the Central California area to come to such an understanding with its workers.
    “That’s a real accomplishment,” said Supervisor Dick Pland, who joined the unanimous vote approving the DSA agreement. “We may be small compared to valley counties, but our staff came up to the plate and hit a home run.”
    The crux of the agreements is creation of a second tier of new employees will not enjoy the high, and costly level of benefits current workers do.

Caltrans should adopt J59 into state highway system

You’ve heard of Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere? Well, California has a highway to nowhere. 

It’s State Route 59, which begins amid the orchards and alfalfa fields west of Chowchilla, heads north to Merced, then jogs east to Snelling, where it abruptly and unceremoniously, after 34 miles, ends. 

State Senate election a sneaky one this year

     The holidays are over and suddenly it’s … election season.
    At least it is in Calaveras County, where voters will go to the polls tomorrow to help pick a new state senator. Republican Ted Gaines, a Roseville Republican, is squaring off against Democrat Ken Cooley, a Rancho Cordova city councilman and former mayor, for the District 1 seat.
    The post opened up with the death of incumbent Dave Cox in July.
    The First District ranges from the Oregon border through all or parts of 12 Northern California counties to its southern terminus at the Mono-Inyo county line. It includes more than 482,000 registered voters, but it is a safe bet that a good percentage of them have no idea that an election is on the menu Tuesday.

Mixed blessings for Mother Lode’s holiday season

    In an era of limits brought by our long-running recession, there is one thing that, at least to date, seems limitless.
 Rain and snow.
 They’ve been falling in near-record amounts on the Mother Lode and Sierra since before Thanksgiving, and threaten to break the back of a drought which had gripped California for the past three years.
 Although thousands of Arnold- and Twain Harte-area residents left without power by November’s storms may disagree, the epic precipitation is a good thing. The Sierra snowpack is already at nearly 60 percent of its seasonal average, and January, February and March still lie ahead.
 Come summer, however, all of us will appreciate the benefits of the year’s storms: Reservoir storage will be up, more water will be available for irrigation, the spectre of rationing will evaporate and forest fire danger will drop.
 So look back on the soggy Christmas of 2010 as a blessing. And wish for more rain and snow — with far fewer power outages — for the new year.
    A few more blessings, mixed and otherwise, for the holiday season:

Editors from our past share Christmas sentiments

    From one December to the next, it runs through our history like a luminous thread joining us in the best and worst of circumstances.
    Even in the grip of the Great Depression or amid  World War II, when scores of Tuolumne and Calaveras county youths risked their lives in Europe or the Pacific, Christmas brought a sense of cheer and connection to the Mother Lode.
    Through boom and bust and war and peace, the season has brought wonder to our children and, at least for a while, charity and goodwill to their parents.
    Although reducing the Christmas spirit to words is a daunting, perhaps impossible task, The Union Democrat’s editors and writers have again and again taken up the challenge. And collectively their efforts help define the special connection between this magical, revered holiday and the place we call home.
    So, on Christmas Eve, a look at a few of our own Christmases Past:

Homeowners dues bring foreclosures, controversy

    ‘Tis the season to be...
    Well, for a few folks in Crystal Falls, Pine Mountain Lake and likely a few more Mother Lode subdivisions, “jolly” would not be the word.
    Angry and outraged might fit better. So might indignant and disbelieving. “It’s ridiculous” is the way Nadell Everhart put it.
    Her problem? Because she’s $264 in arrears on her Crystal Falls Homeowners Association dues, Everhart is now facing foreclosure and a raft of collection and legal fees that have ballooned her once-modest debt to $1,300.
    Merry Christmas.

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