Four Lodi residents are now local celebrities since being featured in some television commercials. Jim Murdaca and his son Pete have been spotted in front of the cameras giving happy testimonials about being Big Valley Ford customers. Perhaps you’ve seen them. Jim (along with wife Annette) is owner of Pietro’s Trattoria and Pete is the master chef. Then there’s Kathy Piazza and daughter Hannah making a cameo appearance in a TV spot for Adventist Health. Kathy recently opened The Village Adult Developmental and Community Center in Lodi, which serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

MEASURE L PAY DAY: The first delivery of Measure L cash arrives at the city in a few weeks. And as promised, the Measure L Oversight Committee that was created to peer over the shoulder of City Hall has been officially launched. Five community members were appointed by the city council last Wednesday evening to be overseers of city expenditures. There turned out to be a few more applicants than originally reported, owing to a postponement of the council’s decision date and extension of the application period.

Additional applicants include Chet Somera, Phil Penino, Jeremy McEntire, Robert Schroeder, and Manmit Hothi. Penino served on the city council and knows the ropes and most of the people. Two appointees are CPAs, as required by the ordinance. The appointment of Spencer Rhoads raised some eyebrows since he ran unsuccessfully for a council seat last year while campaigning against Measure L.

Measure L’s additional tax revenue goes into the general fund with no specific strings attached, just promises to spend the money in certain areas. The committee’s charge is to ensure the money is being spent as advertised, which could be a matter of interpretation. Observers tell this column they fear that with some past and future political aspirants on the committee, the public meetings could devolve into mere political theater. Let’s hope not, but pass the popcorn.

WELCOME HOME: Imagine being on a wonderful Hawaiian vacation, having the time of your life, sipping Mai Tais and contemplating your next meal — all while the house-sitter you hired has invited some gangster buddies over for a party. They ransack the place, stealing your prized gun, among other things. Then a homeless gent hears about it, breaks in and helps himself to what’s left. You come home from the best vacation of your life only to find your home in shambles and your beloved pets terrorized. It happened. Here in Lodi. In a nice neighborhood. Lodi PD is on it.

POLITICS UNUSUAL: Venerable political junkie Humble Hank is scratching his head raw over the recently announced petition drive that Rhoads has launched, proposing to change the way Lodi’s mayor is selected. Hank says, “I don’t get it. On any given day, most people can’t even tell you who’s on the city council, much less who the mayor is.” Good point.

ON THE MOVE: Fred Danielson noticed that the Cactus Restaurant in Woodbridge is moving from the old brick building they’ve occupied for years into the former Flight Lounge spot, just down the street on Lower Sacramento Road, across from the AM/PM minimart. The move is happening around April 1. It will still be a bar and restaurant serving food from the same menu, but in a much smaller footprint. According to the person who answered the phone there, the reason for the move is, basically, they are tired of dealing with an old building. Makes sense. Back in 2010 a team that studies “potential paranormal activity” conducted an “investigation” of the building and found that the former Odd Fellows hall could very well be haunted. Or not. When the lead investigator was asked if the place was inhabited by ghosts, he said, “My answer is a definite maybe.” The building does have an unfortunate history, however. Decades ago when the place was being extensively remodeled to become John Sherman’s bar and restaurant (prior to it becoming the Cactus), a construction worker was killed when a brick wall collapsed and fell on him. The truth about it being haunted may never be known, but the restaurant owners aren’t sticking around to find out.

BRACE FOR IMPACT: The environmental impact report concerning the proposed Lake House project on the corner of Turner and Lower Sacramento Road is out for public review and comment until March 21. You’ll recall the project calls for development of 150 residential apartment units, a 92-room hotel, 70-seat restaurant, a spa, 18,500 feet of retail, along with a 240-guest banquet room. The location is the 8.8-acre site once owned by General Mills, a parcel that’s never been developed, located next to the city’s power plant. It is a high-end project that could cost upwards of $50 million or so to develop, say people familiar with the proposal. Local architect John Vierra has drawn concept design documents for owner Sylvia Hung. He says that the intent is to “create another destination for Lodi” and that the project will include “lots of public amenities.” Lodi City Planner Craig Hoffman is almost giddy with enthusiasm about Vierra’s vision for the property, proclaiming it to be “an amazing project.” Vierra says the project could create additional momentum to develop the old General Mills plant into something that attracts high-tech companies. Everything about the Lake House project is upscale, say both Hoffman and Vierra, similar to that of Wine and Roses.

REMEMBRANCE: We remember Bliss “Barry” Richards, who died last week at the age of 77. Barry served the city for 33 years as both a police officer and later a firefighter. Following retirement, he opened Centurion Alarm Company. He was also a veteran. Barry was one of the good guys.


Steve is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at

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