My last good walk around town was on Thursday. Here’s a look at events:
* It was City Council day. I drove to City Hall from home in the morning, then headed to the newsroom at lunch in the car. The afternoon session looked light. I decided to walk to City Hall.
My mission: See if a good meal had brought a smile to Council Member Paul Caprioglio.
Nope. The council chamber clock hit 1:30, council members took their seats on the dais and there was the District 4 representative, still looking as if he were sitting on thumbtacks.
Bus Rapid Transit was to blame for Caprioglio’s sourpuss expression.
The council that morning had spent well over an hour on the planned $48 million system. It’s been in the news for two years. The city (thanks to state and federal funding) has spent tens of thousands of dollars on planning and design. The council seems to vote on something connected to BRT about every four months.
The two items before the council on Thursday appeared to be routine, turn-of-the-wheel issues. Any project in California bigger than mowing the front lawn needs to jump through state environmental hoops. Transportation Director Ken Hamm wanted the OK to jump through one of the hoops.
Since BRT is funded largely with federal money, Hamm also wanted a council OK to jump through a federal environmental hoop or two.
Let me emphasize again — the council has had tons of BRT lectures in open session. Granted, Caprioglio and Steve Brandau didn’t join the council until Jan. 10. Thursday’s BRT lecture was a first for them as council members. But the other five council members are no stranger to the concept. And I’m guessing Brandau in the past two years has read and heard a bunch of BRT reports in the news media.
But for some reason, most of the council on Thursday acted like they didn’t know the difference between BRT and a BLT sandwich. Chatter, chatter, chatter. Hamm looks like he’s a very fit man, but he was on his feet at the public microphone for so long that I thought he might collapse.
The only thing that collapsed was Caprioglio’s equanimity.
“To you, Council Member Caprioglio,” Council President Blong Xiong said.
“This is taking too long!” Caprioglio said. “If council members have all these questions, perhaps this should have been a workshop.”
I’m used to council members treating just about every issue as if it were the Missouri Compromise. Not “Cap,” even though he already had 11 months on the council back in 2008-09 as Larry Westerlund’s replacement when Westerlund was called to active duty with the Navy.
Caprioglio concluded his brief remarks with a pep talk to his colleagues.
“We need to step it up,” he said.
I didn’t understand what that advice had to do with unfocused questioning by politicians. But it sure sounded wise.
* The council meeting ended in mid-afternoon. I took a detour back to the newsroom. I walked west on Tulare Street to H Street, went south on H to Mono Street, then headed south along the Union Pacific railroad tracks.
Near as I could tell, I was the only guy taking that route who was carrying a briefcase.
I wanted to take a look at the site of what had been the notorious H Street homeless encampment, a block south of Ventura Avenue. The site, now an vacant parcel enclosed by a fence, sits on the east side of the railroad tracks. The site is about a hundred yards east of the Rescue Mission.
City Hall is supposed to build a three-million-gallon water tank there someday. It’s all part of the effort to rebuild downtown’s infrastructure.
I was walking along the tracks, south of Ventura, when two vehicles slowly passed me. One was a pickup belonging to the San Joaquin Valley railroad. There was just one man in the cab. The other was a good-sized SUV. There were no markings on the doors. Four men were inside. They paid no attention to me.
The vehicles (traveling parallel to the tracks, as was I) went past the Rescue Mission and under the Highway 41 overpasses.
Up ahead of me, standing by the Rescue Mission wall, were two men. They were nicely dressed and each wore a brightly-colored vest, the kind designed to say to observers: We have official authority to be here.
Both men had what looked like architectural drawings in their hands. They would look at the drawings, point toward the railroad tracks disappearing into the distance, then look back at their drawings.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m from The Bee. What are you doing?”
They looked at me. Pause.
“We’re doing environmental work,” one of them said. “High-speed rail.”
“Oh, wow, high-speed rail. What kind of environmental work?”
I got the hint.
“Oh, well, good luck.”
I headed back toward Ventura. The pickup truck and the SUV passed me going the same direction. Everyone waved at me.
* You should drop by the Beacon gas station on the northwest corner of Ventura and G Street. You’ll probably see Donald Fagan Jr.
I bumped into Donald on my walk back to the newsroom. He had a broom in one hand and a dust pan in the other. He was cleaning the gutter. It was spotless, as was the entire Beacon site.
“I take pride in how everything looks,” Donald said.
Donald is 52, over 6 feet tall and strong. He describes himself as “a recovering alcoholic/addict.” He said the station-owner pinched him one day when he was living wild and stupid: “She said, ‘Donald, get your act together.’ She never turned her back on me.”
Donald said he’s at the station seven days a week. It’s a rough neighborhood, what with all the homeless camps on the south side of Ventura.
“No one does anything here at the station as long as I’m here,” Donald said. “I use reason with them.”
The gutter along G was clean. But Donald gave it another sweep.
* My round-trip journey: An estimated four miles, two-and-a-half hours (including the council chamber), zero Caprioglio smiles.