As many, but probably not all, Tracyites are aware, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist wrote:
“A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: ‘Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 9-1-1 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 9-1-1 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead, they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.’”
As city officials are quick to point out, the report is not totally correct. The city would charge for 9-1-1 medical calls only if paramedic services are rendered by the fire department. If the firefighters are there only standing by or dealing only with fire or hazardous materials, there will be no charge.
But the whole issue has become something of interest around the country as an example of ways local governments are trying to generate revenue to close major budget gaps. And right here in the ol’ tank town, it is a topic of more than considerable discussion. The general consensus seems to be that police and fire services have always been and should continue to be covered by taxes, not fees for individual service calls.
I have a feeling it’s highly problematic that the city is going to generate much revenue from the venture and will wind up deep-sixing the pay-for-service program after its trial period expires. I suspect local firefighters will be more than happy to see that occur.
So how did Friedman, who normally writes about foreign affairs, focus in on Tracy? I don’t really know, but I do recall that Friedman has long known our town exists.
A decade or so ago, I heard Friedman talk at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco. After the presentation, I purchased a copy of his book, “The Lexis and the Olive Tree,” which focuses on the globalization of the economy, and asked him to autograph it.
While signing the book, he asked where I was from, and I said Tracy.
“Oh, I know where Tracy is,” he said. “That’s where the West Valley Mall is.”
He explained that his wife was at that time a member of the General Growth Properties board of directors, and they had discussed developing the mall in Tracy.
Friedman’s wife is a member of the Bucksbaum family, which started General Growth a number of years ago with a single shopping center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That small beginning has grown into the second-largest mall company in the country, with 200 regional shopping malls in 43 states.
The Buckbaums are now mostly out of the company, which has been under financial stress in recent years and filed for Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy last year.
Just this week, the company announced that Brookfield Asset Management had made a $2.5 billion investment to gain a 30 percent interest in General Growth. That investment and accompanying reorganization plan forestall an unsolicited $10 billion takeover offer from the Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest shopping center operator and General Growth’s archrival.
The General Growth reorganization plan calls for splitting the company, with the spun-off company taking several non-core (that is, non-shopping center) businesses with it.
Now, if the regenerated and refocused General Growth Properties can attract a major retailer to take over the anchor space at the West Valley Mall vacated last year by Gottschalks Department Store, then all this can have some real meaning for our town.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at email@example.com.