Road to somewhere — The National Park Service, the Federal Highway Administration and the contractors who did the work deserve a hearty well-done for making speedy repairs to a huge gash that closed Big Oak Flat Road for three months. Initially, the word was that the road — the only one with a direct route to Yosemite Valley from Tuolumne County — would be closed until fall. Groveland merchants were distraught. The economic collapse from hardly any tourists coming through their town had already been felt. Many more months of closure could mean trouble, both to Groveland and to Tuolumne County as a whole. How many times have you heard people speaking German or some other foreign language on the streets of Sonora? Chances are they made a day trip here while visiting Yosemite. Fully 90 percent of visitors to the park go to the valley, which means visitors will go the long way around to get there, lessening the livelihoods of our friends in Groveland.
Eye on the future — Count Dalton Hansten among this year's group of high school graduates who knows what's important. The Sonora High senior, a standout swimmer and polo player, has earned a college scholarship for his athletic prowess, but his choice of school was made more with an eye toward a career. He was accepted to quite a few California schools, but instead chose Iona in New Rochelle, New York. His reason? It's a New York City suburb — in fact a simple train and subway ride from Wall Street. And he wants to be a financial analyst. He'll still be playing polo, but he told Bill Rozak, “I think everybody recognizes this is a big opportunity, bigger than water polo.”
History — It's always interesting to find history hiding in plain sight. Columbia as the first site of a Cinco de Mayo celebration, is one such tale. As Alex MacLean reported this week, David E. Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the University of California, Los Angeles, discovered that in 1862 miners here celebrated the Mexican Army’s victory over French occupational forces in the Battle of Puebla. Their celebration took place about three weeks after the battle was won and by the next year Cinco de Mayo celebrations were being held throughout California. Columbia State Historic Park doesn't commemorate this history, they say, because of other events around the same time, such as the Fireman’s Muster, which is today. It seems important, though, to honor this history in some way. A reader offered a good suggestion: more docents there with an education of Mexican history.
Responsibility — Pacific Gas and Electric has been in the news of late — both for an $8.3 million fine imposed for starting the Butte Fire in 2015 and for halting tree cutting in the aftermath of the death of a young man in an accident while working for one of its contractors. Electric utilities make easy targets. They are forever accused of hiking rates while their private business and top employees earn millions. It is a mega-company with about 16 million customers in Northern and Central California, $17.6 billion in revenue. Dividends last year amounted to nearly $1 billion to shareholders.
The fine, if it stands, imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission will be the largest imposed under a safety program initiated by the state three years ago. The company has until May 25 to contest. It is clear the company was negligent in not realizing cutting down two trees would make a third susceptible to falling on a power line. In addition, the company did not report the possible cause of the fire in a timely manner.
Two people died, hundreds lost homes, 70,868 acres burned. People are still suffering as is the family of 21-year-old Jorge Garcia Moctezuma who was working for Action Tree Service, a subcontractor for PG&E removing dead trees near power lines. He died on April 15 when a 100-foot-tall ponderosa pine he was working in snapped below him. Moctezuma had come to the U.S. two years ago to earn enough money to build a house in Guerrero, a state on the southern Pacific coast of Mexico. Acapulco is its largest city. He wanted to marry and start a family, his family told Alex MacLean last month.
Many questions remain about the accident, which is being investigated by Cal-OSHA, the most important of which are was he properly trained and should crews have been working that day. Tree falling is one of the most dangerous professions.
A conglomerate like PG&E bears the responsibility to closely oversee the actions of its contractors.
Financial concerns — Sonora Administrator Tim Miller was wise to alert the City Council that the increases sought by the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority were unsustainable. The authority's proposed budget for next year is $460,000. The city funds 23 percent or $117,500, Tuolumne County 77 percent or $344,292. But this agency's budget has increased by 77 percent since it was formed in 2009.
Many have praised executive director Larry Cope's tenure, and we do not discount that. One county leader considers the investment in the authority the best the county makes every year.
Cope lists as achievements $10 million in investment and hundreds of new jobs at businesses such as Kohl's, Big Lots, Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, Petsmart, Panda Express and T-Mobile — many of them in buildings left vacant by others — and helping the Sierra Pacific Industries mill in Standard reopen in 2011 after being shut down for two years.
Businessman Doug Kennedy, who is developing the entertainment complex Sonora Armory downtown, is so convinced of the importance of the development authority he offered to give the city the $15,000 increase sought by the agency.
Both the city and county have financial concerns of their own. They are looking at shortfalls and working hard to figure out how to meet their own expenses. In fact, the city had to tap into the Proverbial rob Peter to pay Paul to come up with the money to give to the development authority.
Sonora Mayor Connie Williams put the development authority on notice when she suggested the agency put together a finance committee to thoroughly look at its expenses.