The city’s budget may not be on life support, after all. Sales tax receipts — mother’s milk for local government — turned out to be much better than expected for the second quarter of this year. Sales tax revenue only dipped 1.7% in that period.

“We were quite shocked,” says Deputy City Manager Andrew Keys. The city was expecting a 30% decline. “It’s almost too good to be true,” he says. “We’re really quite pleased.”

A report received by the city said declines in restaurant, fuel and general consumer goods were offset by “a solid quarter” for autos, grocers and home improvement goods. Measure L sales tax revenue totaled $6.8 million for a full year. It was clearly the budget-saver. Sales tax money represents a whopping 31.5% of the city’s general fund. “(But) we’re not out of the woods yet,” cautions Keys.

BEFORE THE STORM: It’s like being between hurricanes — the quiet period between storms. “A new normal” is how Dr. Patricia Iris, M.D., Adventist Health Lodi Memorial Hospital’s medical officer, describes it.

The hospital’s COVID numbers have shrunk significantly. In fact, LHM only has a “very small” number of COVID-positive patients in-house. The place is only about half full right now, says Dr. Iris, and virus patients currently make up a small percentage of the census. Now that businesses are beginning to reopen and return to semi-normal operations, hospital staff are on high alert. They fear a “second surge” of the virus combined with flu season.

Iris says the hospital was overwhelmed a couple months ago as they battled a rush in virus cases. “The numbers were staggering for us,” she says. Iris urges people to observe the protocols everyone knows so well they don’t need repeating. On the other hand, hospital publicist Lauren Nelson emphasizes that Lodi Memorial is open for anyone who needs care. “We’re not just a COVID hospital,” she says.

IN THE MONEY: Tis the season for the political cash to flow, and it’s definitely gushing for a few city council candidates. Mikey Hothi in District 5 is the leader in the clubhouse for donations, overall, having raked in almost $18K — most of it from Sacramento area donors — during the latest filing period. Natalie Bowman follows with $3,550. Bringing up the rear in that district is Ramon Yepez with $1,461. In District 4, Shakir Khan leads the pack with a $25,000 jumbo loan he made to himself. Following him is Joanne Mounce, with a cash haul of $10,284 collected from donors. Hector Madrigal reports raising a little over $7,000. Michael McKnight is on the naughty list because he hadn’t filed his required report by the deadline.

MAKING HISTORY: This November will mark the first time in Lodi’s history that there will be a city council election with only 40% of the electorate able to vote. With the city now divided into five districts, the only voters participating will be those who live in a district where a council seat is up for grabs —districts 4 and 5. Voters in the other districts will sit this one out. Two years ago, three of the districts were up for election, but only one incumbent was being challenged. The other two got a pass. … This election year there will only be four voting centers in Lodi for those who want to vote in person, instead of by mail: Hutchins Street Square, Lodi Grape Festival, Woodlake Plaza, and One.Lodi (2248 Tienda Dr.).

VANISHED: Now you see them, now you don’t. That’s the way it is with political yard signs. They disappear. Not by magic — they get stolen. No news there. But in this election cycle sign theft seems to be rampant over in District 4. Incumbent Joanne Mounce fumes that her signs have disappeared from some locations, replaced by those of her opponents. Shakir Khan has the same complaint. He says he’s lost signs from several locations, declaring, “This is ridiculous.” Ramon Yepez and Natalie Bowman say their signs have also been swiped. Things are a little quieter over in District 5. Only Hector Madrigal reports any sign theft. “I've had two yard signs stolen from supporters’ houses, and two large signs disappeared from Woodbridge, and near the 99 freeway,” he says. They usually get stashed in some vineyard or someone’s backyard.

ALONG FOR THE RIDE: Next time you’re in L.A. check out the new seven-story elevator towers at Dodger Stadium. They’re only the second of their kind to be installed anywhere in the U.S. — the first in California. Construction of the towers was overseen by 24-year old Lodi native Nick Somera. A graduate of Cal Poly, this is the first big project Nick’s headed up. He was in charge of day-to-day construction operations and worked with the Dodgers’ planning and development group. “The main push for these upgrades was that Dodgers Stadium was slated to host the 2020 All-Star Game,” says Nick. “It (is) the largest renovation the stadium (has seen) since it opened in 1962,” he says. Not a bad way to begin a career. Proud parents are Chet Somera and Tami Dillon of Lodi.

A SECRET PLACE: When’s the last time you took a walk on the “wild” side? We’re talking wandering in the wilderness — the wilderness area of Lodi Lake, that is. It’s a way to get back to nature without leaving town. There are grey squirrels scampering around, stashing nuts for the approaching winter. And there are deer that call the forested area home. You can see them grazing leisurely among the trees and on the upper banks where nature meets people’s backyards. A large doe quickly runs down the embankment to guard her young family from a passing visitor. Others allow people to get within feet of them as they graze unafraid.

There are several walking trails that wend their way through the woods, along Pigs Lake and the Mokelumne River. Ducks paddle their way across Pigs Lake and in the portions of the river, pecking occasionally at floating debris or something good to eat. Hawks and other creatures of the air circle the area, keeping an eagle eye open for their next meal. The nature area has become much more popular for walkers, runners and strollers since the COVID-19 lockdown forced people to improvise their exercise routines. Lodi Lake was created when the Woodbridge Dam was built. The lake was also known as Smith’s Lake and Loma Lake before the city bought the property from Louis Mason in 1934 for $7,924.39, thus becoming Lodi Lake.

In 1955 the Lodi City Council voted to turn the park over to the state. Those plans changed when the state said it was no longer interested in developing the lake into a state recreation area. Lodi Lake has been used for flood control on occasions when the Mokelumne River would overflow its banks, inundating nearby streets. However, the flooding stopped when Camanche Dam was built. Over time the lake has become a popular recreation destination, playing host to sun bathers, boaters, fishermen and the annual Fourth of July fireworks display. For some, the Lodi Lake wilderness area is a new discovery. For others, it’s been a well-kept secret.

LAST LAUGH: Someone wrote, “I tested positive for being sick of this election cycle.”

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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