People are angrily pulling up stakes and leaving California in droves because of high taxes and political climate, or so it has been reported. They are heading to more “tax-friendly” states like Nevada, Montana and Idaho.

According to a census bureau report, about 38,000 more people left California than entered it in 2018. California’s population is still growing slightly, thanks to babies born here. But are people leaving Lodi? We checked and it appears to be true, even here. Local Realtor Larry Underhill (Keller-Williams) says, “This year I've helped nine of my clients move out of state. The main reasons for moving given by these folks are taxes, home prices and politics.”

Roxanne Rocha (Berkshire-Hathaway) reports the same thing. She says she assisted “a young family move out of state because they do not want to raise their two daughters in California; they disapprove of the liberal direction of elected [officials].” She also says the young couple’s parents “will be following soon.”

However, even with folks packing up and leaving, Lodi’s population continues to grow, according to the state. Indeed, Lodi’s population is estimated to grow to 68,272 this year.

“Despite the exodus, local home sales are still strong,” Underhill says.

ACE WAS THE PLACE: Ace Hardware in the Lakewood Mall has closed up. A sign in the store window says the place will be closed for the rest of 2019, but suggests it may reopen sometime in 2020.

FAKE FIELD: It was 10 years ago that the city took the controversial step of replacing the Grape Bowl’s real grass with artificial turf. At least one city council member was adamantly opposed to the idea. Some were concerned that the field would get too hot in the summer and the possibility of chemical fumes being radiated by the synthetic rubber. Ultimately, the project was approved and the grass was scraped off and artificial turf laid down in 2009. This was all part of a much larger, multi-million dollar mission to restore the Grape Bowl. The new field opened to the public in 2010 to rave reviews. Now, parks staff say the turf has two to three years of useful life left and it will cost up to $800,000 to replace.

HELP WANTED: Deputy Parks Director Cathi DeGroot is serving as interim parks director, stepping in for newly retired Jeff Hood. The city plans to conduct a full, formal recruitment, we’re told. Hood worked at the city for about 12 years, most of it managing the city’s parks, recreation and cultural services department. He was also the city’s official spokesman during his tenure, served as interim library director when Dean Gualco left, was the city’s webmaster, and ran the cameras during televised city council meetings. Did we leave anything out?

HOMELESS UPDATE: One of the managers at Save Mart grocery store on Lodi Avenue to someone trying to abscond with a shopping cart: “Hey, you can’t take that cart!” The person replied, exuding an air of entitlement: “Yes I can, I’m homeless.” … Well, we were going to report that campers had set up housekeeping again along the fence line of Highway 99 at the Lockeford Street overcrossing, but volunteers organized by “Take Back Lodi,” assisted by law enforcement and Waste Management, cleaned up the place over the weekend, hauling away tons of trash. Problem solved, for now. … Problems of theft and vagrancy have gotten so bad around the Village Coffee Shop at Victor and 99 that the restaurant has hired a private security firm to patrol the parking lot during business hours. Owner Raleigh Morrow says homeless types mosey through the parking lot, peering into car windows, trying the doors to see if there might be a larceny opportunity. … The environmental impact report for the proposed “tiny houses” homeless project should be available for review soon, according to city officials, with the matter scheduled to go before the city council in late December or early January. A decision about where to put the houses should be made then. Two locations are being considered: Maple Square at Lodi Avenue and Sacramento Street, and a few blocks away on Lodi Avenue at Washington. The plan calls for erecting about a half-dozen so-called “tiny houses” for selected homeless folks to live. The project is made possible by a $1.25 million grant from California’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program. Each house will cost about $80k and have about 500-600 square feet. “Residents will be individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. The Housing Authority will determine eligibility, collect rent, and be responsible for the on-going management and maintenance of the homes,” according to a document provided by the city.

TOUGH LOVE: Leah Suelter and two others were tired of seeing how the homeless were wrecking downtown Lodi, so they decided to do something about it, saying to themselves, “something’s got to change.” So they started the Arch Initiative. Their purpose “is focused on lifting the addicted and homeless in Lodi … off the streets by getting them street level case management and connecting them to area resources.” The group has grown to 15, including folks from law enforcement, clergy, attorneys, and business people, according to Suelter, who owns a business downtown. The group is largely working behind the scenes, using their own time and money. However, they have sought donations to buy such things as bus tickets to send people back home and for transportation to detox centers. “We are simply a group of locals working with families to do what we can. We offer help relentlessly and will also try to force the rock bottom if that is what it takes to help save someone’s life,” according to their Facebook page.

SIG ALERT: Gary Kapic wonders what all the road construction is on Highway 99 near Grant Line Road, south of Elk Grove. Turns out Caltrans is widening the bridge at that location to allow for future widening of 99. You’ll recall that a huge Indian casino will be built near that location on the west side of 99 at Grant Line Road. If you think traffic’s bad north of Galt right now, just wait. … And Kay Zeigler writes to ask about all the new construction at Reynold Ranch, the Costco shopping center. There are several large projects underway. One is a new Fairfield Inn and Suites. Another is the new La Vida senior living apartments, a “complex for active seniors over 55.” That project will include 152 units renting for about $2,000 a month. Next to it, another 80-unit assisted living senior apartment complex, called Oakmont Senior Living. Across the way, the new Revel senior apartment complex is almost finished. Those units will rent for about $3,000 per month and up, which includes meals. Both projects feature upscale apartments with amenities to match. Revel has already pre-leased about half of the units, with the first tenants moving in towards the end of December. That project has been delayed about a year because of a skilled labor shortage.

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Steve Mann is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears most Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at aboutlodi@gmail.com.

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