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Editorial: State of the City finds Lodi doing well — but pensions, crime may mar future

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Posted: Saturday, November 2, 2013 12:00 am

Lodi is coming out of the Great Recession. That’s the big message we picked up at the State of City function on Thursday.

Mayor Alan Nakanishi focused on “city news” in his speech. That’s natural enough, and he’s rightly proud of the city’s many accomplishments this past year.

But when we put the whole presentation together — informal remarks by Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Craig Ledbetter, a crime-focused recap by Police Chief Mark Helms and City Manager Rad Bartlam’s take on the nuts and bolts of government — the message of success goes far beyond city government.

Bartlam noted that sales tax is up and property tax has stopped dropping. That means sales in the retail sector are recovering and our homes have stopped sucking out the wealth of Lodi families.

Bartlam broke the news that Cepheid, a company that develops genetic tests and which recently bought Quashnick Tool and Die in Lodi, is going to add 80 high-tech jobs to its payroll here. He also listed off a list of half a dozen names of new stores opening soon in Reynolds Ranch.

Ledbetter noted the boost Lodi will soon get from the Dodge Chrysler Jeep dealership being re-opened by local couple Brian Smith and Kimberly Mullen. And he added that General Mills, Cottage Bakery and CertainTeed Pipe have all recently announced or completed expansion plans. Even the Chamber of Commerce has hired three employees.

Chief Helms reported that serious offenses — known as “Part One Crimes” in his circle — declined steeply from 2003 to 2010. A recent, small increase can probably be chalked up to the state sending prisoners to county jails to cope with its budget problems. Nevertheless, gang-related crime has dropped in the last three years, Helms said.

Helms made the point that everyone benefits from lower crime rates, which contribute a sense of safety and desirability.

Lodi is a better place to work and settle down, and that’s boosts the economy.

Still, the future is not going to be all smooth sailing.

Nakanishi provided a note of realism when he said that, despite concessions from city employees, the cost of retirement benefits is expected to outstrip city revenues in the years ahead.

And Helms announced a campaign by the Lodi Police Foundation to raise money for a ballistic armored tactical transport vehicle — a sort of bulletproof paddy wagon. He cited mass shootings like recent ones in Colorado and Connecticut and the tragedy at Cleveland School in Stockton several decades ago. These things are more frequent and unpredictable.

Sure enough, the day after he spoke, a gunman opened first at Los Angeles International Airport and killed a Transportation Security Agency officer.

“Even in Lodi, it’s a case of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’” Helms said.

He is preparing his officers for that day.

And although it’s closing on a sad event, we were touched by the outpouring of grief and support by friends and strangers for the Miranda family, who were virtually wiped out by a wildly reckless driver on Oct. 22. The funeral was jammed, and so was a spontaneous memorial service on Oct. 25.

People we talked to were moved to tears when Capt. Martin Ross of the Salvation Army played “Amazing Grace” on his steel drum.

The only hopeful thing that may come of this is the continued improvement in the health of Eden Miranda, the only member of the Miranda family to survive the crash.

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