With word that Lodi public schools could soon be emerging from their long COVID coma, we may have reached the cranky phase of this crisis. Teachers are voting on a recently-hammered-out memorandum of understanding between their union and the district, but approval won’t be unanimous.

Many teachers fear getting infected and will vote no on the proposal. District Trustee Ron Heberle has long been an advocate of reopening schools fully, so he’s rooting for approval by all parties. He says the district has been negotiating with labor groups non-stop, meeting weekly with them, trying to write a mutually acceptable game plan that also meets the state guidelines. However, there are reports that major disagreements exist within the teacher group.

Heberle says it has been a very difficult task getting all sides to agree, all while meeting the state “recommendations.” He says most people don’t know “just how messed up it is” with schools being closed and students suffering what he calls “collateral damage.” The plan calls for a phased-in approach, starting with two days a week at school. Special ed and elementary grades would return almost immediately. Grades 7-12 would return in early January, 2021. Heberle says reopening Lodi schools now is urgent,” a point he has stressed for months. … When they do reopen, will the schools be safe? If they aren’t, it won’t be for lack of trying. Lodi Unified has spent $30 million — that’s about $1,000 per student— of the fed’s money on face shields, masks, air filtration systems, hand sanitizers and other personal protection equipment, according to Heberle.

DÉJÀ VU?: Red. Blue. Recounts. Voter fraud. Hanging chads. Finger-pointing. Bickering. Bleach. The retching you hear is from people sick of politics. While you may be sick of it and doubt any election fraud took place, don’t tell Jack Sieglock that ballot irregularities can’t swing an election.

Like the kind of irregularities where surprise ballots appear out of nowhere. Such is the bitter memory for Sieglock. Besides being a former Lodi City Councilman and San Joaquin County Supervisor, he was also a state assembly candidate back in 2008. He lived the nightmare of being declared the winner, only to be told several weeks later that he lost the election. It’s true. Almost three weeks after the election was over and he was the apparent winner, some 4,000 additional ballots “were magically found” in Sacramento County. This was after the county registrar of voters had given an initial “hard count,” says Sieglock. He adds, “hard counts never change, but they did.” He says the ballots were supposedly discovered in the registrar’s office — and they swung the election, handing the victory to opponent Alyson Huber, who grew up in Lodi and graduated from Lodi High.

Sieglock held a 1,081-vote lead over Huber until the other ballots were discovered. Once the mystery ballots were counted, Sieglock’s lead vanished. He ended up losing by about 505 votes. "It's pretty shocking and disappointing — and virtually unprecedented," Sieglock said at the time.

GLAM TO THE MAX: The swank new senior (55+) apartments out near Costco are almost done. In fact, the leasing office and clubhouse for La Vida luxury apartments opened yesterday. The 152-unit complex is just south of the new Fairfield Inn. Developer Michael Carouba says he expects new residents to begin moving in by the end of this year.

Carouba says the new development has “amazing amenities” including a movie theater, rooftop lounge with a sunrise and sunset deck, wine bar and sitting room, saltwater pool and spa, fitness facility, outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, plus a dog park. There is also a café for morning and afternoon service and gatherings, plus a lounge for evening activities and drinks.

Rent in the new gated community will be about $2,000 a month, says Carouba. He says the place will, quoting now, “blow your socks off.” … Next to La Vida is the new Oakmont assisted living and memory care facility, currently under construction. The complex will include 130 luxury units, according to Carouba, who is managing developer of Reynolds Ranch but is not involved in the Oakmont project. He says the new facility will probably be open to residents by next fall. … The one-acre parcel immediately east of the Fairfield Inn is being reserved for a future sit-down type restaurant, says Carouba. There are no contracts in place yet, and Carouba readily admits that such a restaurant may never materialize. He says sit-down restaurants are tough to attract these days. None of the big chain outfits are really expanding right now, he says, at least in California. Casual dining businesses like Chipotle are all the rage now, he says.

STAY A WHILE: Speaking of the Fairfield Inn, business has been good, says Cody Diede, one of the owners in the property. The new 72-room hotel opened in July across from Costco, just about the time the pandemic was hitting its peak. He says current occupancy is between 50–65%, which is good in the current business climate. Diede says COVID-19 changed the hotel market overnight. “Considering the circumstances, we are doing very well,” he says. … Diede also says they have plans to build a new Marriott Residence Inn close to the Fairfield. It will be an “extended stay” hotel with bigger rooms, bedrooms and kitchens, he says. While the project is still in the planning stage, he thinks they could break ground by next June, with an opening date in January, 2023. Extended stay customers typically book rooms for about a week, and in some cases several months.

COMING DOWN: A block of old Sacramento Street could look much different very soon. We’re talking about the block between Pine and Elm, which is currently closed to traffic following a fire a few months ago that ravaged the old Rex Pool Hall. No cause of the fire was determined, according to Lodi Fire Chief Gene Stoddart.

The blaze essentially gutted the Rex along with a tattoo parlor next door. Except for buildings on either end of the block, all the other places have been vacant for years. The World of Wonders (WOW) Museum has plans to use much of that block for a massive $20 million museum expansion, which would undoubtedly require demolishing some of the 100-year old brick buildings. But, the fire may have accelerated those demo plans. Owners have reportedly hired engineers to determine how many of the brick buildings must come down immediately. The city has been pressuring property owners and their insurance companies to come up with a plan and a schedule for the work they need to do, according to Public Works Director John Della Monica. No one was hurt in the early morning blaze; however, it ruined the living quarters of a couple who lived above the tattoo business. A GoFundMe page was setup for them, which has raised $6,134 so far. You can go to www.gofundme.com/f/x9y9v-everything-lost-in-fire if you want to check it out.

REMEMBRANCE: We note the recent passing of Wayne West, a true gentleman. Wayne was a civil engineer, whose first job was with the city of Lodi. He went on to become CEO of Siegfried Engineering in Stockton. He was a man of faith and taught bible classes at Temple Baptist and First Baptist Churches. Wayne was known for his kindness, gentle spirit and steady leadership. He will be missed.

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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