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Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2004 10:00 pm

Here are the latest tidbits gathered by News-Sentinel reporters from around town:

Seeing Starrs: Lodi winemaker David Lucas squeezed in some sightseeing during his recent trip to Washington, D.C., where his lawsuit against New York's ban on direct wine shipments went before the Supreme Court on Dec. 7. Most impressive was the court's chambers, he said, with 60-foot ceilings and pillars that rival the Roman empire.

"It's about as close as law gets to religion," Lucas said the day of the hearing. "It's quite an experience."

Lucas also found time to hobknob with a notorious figure from the White House's not-so-glorious past: Kenneth Starr, the prosecutor whose dogged pursuit of President Clinton's extramarital affairs led to an impeachment.

Starr was in town to coach the attorneys representing the wine industry as they prepared for their hearing before the court's justices. No word on whether wiretaps or garments were entered into evidence … .

Lights, camera, Atterberry: Lodi High School Principal Bill Atterberry exercised his flair for the dramatic at a recent Eastside Improvement Committee meeting when he opened a talk on school gang violence with obscure references to gangs throughout history.

The former Tokay Player's president said gang rivalry is romanticized in Romeo and Juliet. Add the allure of the Vikings and Babylonian King Hammurabi's flair for warfare, and you have an attractive picture of the thug lifestyle.

The principal asked how the community could help make gangs less attractive to kids, and was pleased with the feedback he got from the small group.

After the discussion, a hopeful Atterberry was heard in the back of the room singing, "The sun will come out tomorrow …" as the Eastside board members unceremoniously moved on to the next agenda item.

Perhaps that was their way of saying, "Don't quit your day job …"

A really informal meeting: The Liberty Rural Fire District is a low-profile operation serving most of Acampo east of Highway 99. A recent board of directors meeting, held in the fire station's large meeting room, didn't exactly produce a big crowd.

The three directors, Fire Chief Stan Seifert and secretary Kathy Kammerer were present. A News-Sentinel reporter showed up to the meeting to find a single chair for the audience.

It was enough.

Me and my mom: Speaking of meetings, new Lodi City Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce started her first full council meeting last Wednesday meeting and greeting constituents. Then suddenly she came to a familiar face.

"It's just my mom," Mounce giggled.

Just her mom? The woman accompanied Mounce to every candidates forum during her successful campaign, smiling in the back row and quietly snapping photographs.

Talk about having a built-in cheerleader.

No tea for you: Also at the meeting, Interim City Manager Janet Keeter had to make a tough decision: Should the city ask for federal funding for the animal shelter or a joint fire/police training center?

She went for the shelter, admitting she may never be invited back for tea with Fire Chief Michael Pretz and Police Chief Jerry Adams.

So what's 6,000 people? Is Lodi's population 55,000, 58,000 or 59,500? Depends where you get your information.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Lodi's population is 56,999 while travel books from the California State Automobile Association publish the number of residents somewhere around 60,000. And, the city's Web site posts it at 58,950, as of Jan. 1, 2001.

But the city limit signs, often located on main highways, tell yet a different story. One puts Lodi's population at a mere 54,000. Maybe 10 years ago.

Slow growth in a whole new light: With what we estimate at just over 60,000 residents, Lodi has sunk to become the fourth smallest city in San Joaquin County behind Lathrop, Escalon and Ripon -- and, the latter two have populations less than 12,500.

The state Department of Finance recently released figures that put Manteca's population a few hundred people higher than Lodi's.

Big-box shopping: Wal-Mart and Target are considered "big box" stores, and some might say that Costco, with its mass quantities of low-priced products, is the ultimate big box store.

So, just who shops at the Stockton box-like store with its warehouse feel? At least one Lodi City Council member does.

And so does Betsy Fiske, one of the driving forces behind the failed Measure R, which sought to limit the size of buildings in Lodi.

Then again, Costco is in Stockton, not Lodi.

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