When COVID came to town earlier this year, city leaders agreed to stop utility disconnections for past-due accounts, a nod to the tough times customers were likely to have as businesses shut down and people got laid off. The moratorium later became a state mandate.

The city is still holding the line on disconnects, and the past due amounts are piling up. As of last week, there were 1,797 customers who were more than 30 days in arrears. That includes 162 commercial and three industrial customers. The rest are residential. Overall, the city is carrying $724,586 in delinquent accounts, according to Deputy City Manager Andrew Keys, who also says there is no timeline for starting turn-offs again. All told, the city is into this COVID thing by millions.

PROMOTION: Former Lodian Greg Seibly was recently named president and head of regional banking at Union Bank, which has 350 branches in California, Oregon and Washington. Greg was formerly president and chief executive officer of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and has a combined 30-plus years in the banking business. His parents are Tom and Betty Seibly. Tom, as you may remember, is a retired San Joaquin County superior court judge, and wife Betty sells real estate locally.

With Election Day just around the corner, Tom would likely tell you that every vote counts. He knows. First-hand. He was elected to the bench in 1976 at age 38. The election was so close that it literally came down to Superior Court Judge William Dozier examining ballot chads that were bent on the back, but whose front hadn’t been broken, and 33 voters being summoned to appear in court to state who they voted for. The final tally gave Seibly the victory by three votes.

END OF AN ERA: Rocha's Mortuary has closed its downtown Lodi facility at 215 S. School Street, but the offices have moved out to Lodi Memorial Cemetery on East Pine Street. Rocha’s has been a fixture in downtown for the past 40 years.

Bob Rocha bought the old Humphreys Funeral Home on East Pine Street in 1976, but the place caught fire in 1979 and burned to the ground. He took the insurance money and rebuilt the business in downtown, taking over a shuttered storefront. Rocha also used part of the insurance proceeds to buy Lodi Memorial Cemetery, plus two larger funeral homes in Southern California. He ran his mortuary empire for years before selling out to a conglomerate. Bob passed away in 2018 from complications stemming from the loss of a leg in the Vietnam war. He was laid to rest at the cemetery he used to own.

LIKING LODI: Retired Lodi police captain Chris Piombo wrote a column in the News-Sentinel recently that eloquently detailed the life of a homeless guy named Dave and his small dog Biscuit. The pair has been living in Dave’s truck, which has been parked at various places around town, most recently Salas Park.

Piombo is part of a homeless outreach team that offers homeless citizens assistance in getting off the streets and into housing. Some accept the help, but many don’t. Most of the homeless who remain sleeping in doorways and alleys refuse help because they would have to deal with their drug addictions, among other constraints. Dave’s story is a little different. He says he doesn’t use drugs and isn’t lazy. Dave says he’s homeless because of a recent accidental fall, which landed him in the hospital for days, costing him his job. Plus, his Social Security check doesn’t cover rent after paying for cigarettes and other expenses. So, he sits in his truck all day with his dog.

But there’s a potentially happy ending to this story, says Piombo. “A citizen stepped forward (offering) to transport Dave and his truck to Tennessee free of charge. Believe it or not, Dave’s still not on board with it,” Piombo says. And so it goes. … In other homeless news, the city recently banned overnight parking in the area around the DMV office, east of Highway 99. At one point there were reportedly 14 RVs and campers parked along the roadway, whose occupants called that area home.

CONTINUED: The city has extended until Nov. 8 the Great Plates Delivered program for seniors and others who are “at risk.” The program provides three free meals a day for those enrolled. The food is cooked up and delivered by four local restaurants. The city advances the money for the program, which so far totals $3.4 million. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state will reimburse the city for most of the cost. Several hundred Lodians are currently taking advantage of the program, which is being managed and coordinated by LOEL Center.

ECON DEV: Sunnyvale-based medical diagnostic equipment manufacturer Cepheid is looking to expand its Lodi operations on Guild Avenue. The company is proposing to add about 500 new employees to its current staff of 230 people. Interestingly, one of the reasons the company chose to expand in Lodi was the area’s low earthquake risk. Cepheid says it deals in molecular diagnostics, and its systems are used to test for diseases such as tuberculosis, socially transmitted diseases, certain types of cancer and influenza. The company’s expansion plans are scheduled to be heard by the planning commission soon.

ANSWERS: Who’s in favor of making Lodi a “sanctuary city?” That’s the question posed to city council candidates. Almost half indicated they would favor something like that, the other half, no so much. Joanne Mounce, Mike McKnight and Shakir Khan were against the idea. Hector Madrigal and Natalie Bowman would favor such a proposal. Ramon Yepez didn’t respond to the question and Mikey Hothi’s reply was inconclusive. … Council candidate Michael McKnight has been late filing his first financial disclosure form because of a snafu that had to be worked out with the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), he says. But McKnight says he has self-funded about $4,000 in expenditures so far, but has some $3,000 in promised donations waiting to be received. He also says the problem at the state has been resolved and his filing should be made shortly. … Is Mark Phelps the only one who’s noticed a shortage of “bone-in\split” chicken breasts in local grocery stores? No. We checked with a butcher at Save Mart and he says they order about five cases every week, but only receive one. Phelps also says the store told him that Foster Farms has closed plans because of COVID-19. There’s ample supply of every other part to the chicken, reports Phelps. “Where did all the breasts go?” he wonders. We’re on it. … Local photographer Keith Colgan has started a new website for local amateur photographers—lodi360.com. It includes selections from his 9-year photo archive.

LAST LAUGH: With daylight savings less than two weeks away, Claudia Shurtz quips, “I'm NOT turning my clock back an hour on Nov. 1st because, seriously, do any of us need an extra hour of 2020?”

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Steve 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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