One: Since I drop into that grocery store en route home from work, which can be all hours of the day and/or evening, I wonder if I am included as an “unsavory character” seen to frequent the area (“Second Thoughts: Tracy looks toward downtown addition”). “Unsavory character” at 80-plus-years-old holds a certain fascination for me, I have to admit.
Two: The persons I see frequenting this corner grocery, which is well-kept with friendly and efficient employees, are primarily people from the neighborhood. I stand in line behind mothers with babies bouncing on their hips, older sisters with a gaggle of younger family members carefully allotting each his or her share of the candy money for the trip to get treats, men juggling hurriedly-looked-for items to bring home, old ladies like myself walking in to pick up their daily rations (weekly rations seems optimistic at our age).
Three: The city of Tracy has hired a plethora of experts to solve the ills of downtown Tracy with changing administrations since I arrived in 1953 to work as a reporter on the Tracy Press. The latest experts prescribed downtown renewal based on encouraging retail businesses only along the streetscape. OK, here we are following the prescription, we have an active retail grocery on a corner in an historic old neighborhood. West Side Market has been a retail grocery since Gus Margaros and Jim Vlahos held forth in that area, serving their neighborhood with the original West Side Market way back when. Sure, its products being sold have changed to reflect neighborhood needs, but it is busy.
It is prescribed “retail.”
Four: The city oversaw renewal of the southern half of that block by eminent domain, taking property off tax rolls to renew the Grand Theatre and adjacent buildings, admittedly a very attractive complex that periodically generates traffic. The project doesn’t exactly match the active retail requirement listed by the latest “study.” Not following the study prescription is not a surprise. The precedent for ignoring all or parts of prior studies happens. Those studies now gather dust somewhere in the bowels of some city storage facility. Let’s have a party and review them, see how much we spent for the same advice and how much was spent ignoring the advice over the past 60 years.
Five: Conventional wisdom has it that the city would like to become a landlord again, taking a taxable property into the non-taxable domain, and would prefer to open a restaurant. The city fathers like being in business on taxpayer largess. Why is it vogue for government of the people, by the people, for the people to become government of the government, by the government, for the government? Maybe they just like to see their names on plaques.
Six: I don’t loiter, but I
recognize some of the loiterers
on that corner. We give each other hugs and hellos as I traverse their “territory.” This sidewalk corner, it seems, is the lower Central gathering
spot for persons living on less-than-average income, who welcome a spot to visit outside their less-than-average living accommodations. They are of the neighborhood. Are some nefarious? I couldn’t tell. They are all polite, unless they are terribly tipsy, and then they tend to repeat themselves.
A footnote: I have a friend in a major American city who headed restoration of a historic district. The way this person avoided vandalism was to give the vagrants blankets and keep them comfortably supplied with vittles and wine in exchange for watching over the city’s six blocks of restoration. Nary a scratch on any building.
Both the very good and the very bad in our society are not comfortable with vagrants. I am not suggesting this aforementioned program as a panacea, just to note that loiterers and vagrants may not be loved, but they are not necessarily unkind or useless.
Want to clear up the problem? Install better lighting, and hand out loitering tickets for starters. However, that is a city problem. Loitering is not the responsibility of a downtown merchant. Giving the city fathers another excuse to play merchants without the private headache of coming up with their own money is unfair to the little neighborhood this market has served for eons, and importantly, not fair to a hardworking business family.
City, do your job! Let the merchant do his.
• Nancy Matthews is a Tracy resident and has worked at the Tracy Press for nearly 60 years.