Gov. Brown signs ‘California Promise’ bill

Originally published Sept. 27, 2016 by The State Hornet

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The California state capital building in Sacramento, Calif. Photo source: assembly.ca.gov.

Senate Bill 412 — the “California Promise” — was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 21, requiring the CSU system’s trustees to choose a minimum of 15 campuses to participate in the program by the 2017-18 academic year.

Of those 15 campuses, all will need to receive community college transfers into the program — which will require participants to commit to 30 semester or equivalent quarter units per year and in return grant priority registration and enhanced academic advising — and eight will need to commit freshmen to a four-year completion agreement.

“We all know a college degree is a critical rung on the ladder of economic success,” said the bill’s main sponsor and former CSU trustee Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, in a press release. “It is an especially proud day to know that we will now provide CSU students a better chance to do what most want to do, which is to graduate on time.”.

Originally called Senate Bill 1450, the “California Promise” was introduced in February and defeated in April. It was then combined with another bill to become Senate Bill 412, which was passed in both the Senate and the Assembly in late August.

Earlier on the day the bill was signed, the CSU Board of Trustees approved a new graduation initiative to raise four-year graduation rates to 40 percent by 2025, according to the release.

“Coupled with today’s action from the CSU trustees, [the California Promise legislation] creates conditions that allow students to timely graduate and avoid the burden of extra tuition,” said Gov. Brown at the time of the bill’s signing, according to the press release.

According to the legislation, in 2011, the last year for which nationally comparable data is available, the graduation rate for the CSU was 16 percent, which was 10 percent lower than the national rate.

The legislation states that it is intended to help students save money on their educations, as students who finish in two or four years can save thousands of dollars and can get out into the workforce sooner.

The California Promise legislation isn’t available to all freshmen, however, as it requires participants to be California residents and to qualify either for being a first-generation college student, low-income or a graduate of a high school underrepresented in college attendance. The legislation does, however, allow any community college transfer student to commit to finishing in two years.

Students in the program will receive academic advising that provides monitoring of their academic progress. Participants will also need to maintain a certain GPA level, which, along with other participation criteria, will be determined by individual colleges.

Susan Gubernat, an English professor at CSU East Bay and a member of the CSU Academic Senate, argued prior to the bill’s signing that it failed to target what she said was the real issue, the underfunding of the CSU.

Staff of the Sonoma State Star, the student-run newspaper at Sonoma State University, one of the 23 CSU campuses, expressed their concerns with the legislation in an editorial earlier this month.

“The California Promise bill limits the availability into the program by placing low-income, minority and first-generation [students] as priority for the program,” said the staff. “There are thousands of other students who do not fall into these categories, but share the same troubles when it comes to getting the proper classes.  Why limit who can excel and graduate in four years?”

By the 2018-19 academic year, a minimum of 20 campuses will be required to set up a California Promise program for transfer students.

Sac State president Robert Nelsen introduced a similar program this year that also requires participants to commit to completing 30 units per academic year in exchange for enhanced academic advising. But instead of offering priority registration to participants and limiting participation to certain groups, Nelsen aims to help a wider range of students graduate sooner by working to add more class sections, increase class sizes and offer incentives for continued participation.

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‘Coffee with Cops’ event promotes open dialogue

Originally published Sept. 19, 2016 by The State Hornet

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Campus police Lt. Christina Lofthouse chats with a Sac State student at the “Coffee with Cops” event in the Wellness Hub on Sept. 14. Photo by Marivel Guzman.

With a humorous nod to the dietary stereotypes of the people in blue, students, staff and campus police came together for donuts, coffee, and dialogue during the annual “Coffee with Cops” event in the Wellness Hub on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

“Coffee with Cops” is hosted by the Student Health and Counseling Services Department as part of Sacramento State’s Week of Welcome.

Approximately 40 students and six police officers packed into the tiny space, drank Starbucks Coffee and ate Marie’s Donuts while discussing police work, campus safety, careers in criminal justice, and any other questions the attendees had for police.

“It’s an [annual event] to sort of facilitate a dialogue between students, staff and the police department to create a culture of care — that we’re here for the students and that their safety is really important to us, and hopefully kind of break down any [misunderstandings] that we might have about police officers,” said Merril Lavezzo, a recently-hired health educator with the Student Health and Counseling Services Department, who was responsible for organizing the event this year.

Police Chief Mark Iwasa said an event like this is important because it helps make the police, who are often busy or unable to stop and speak with students, more approachable.

“Our department has a goal this year of really getting out and being more accessible to students on the campus so that they understand the one thing that we’re here for is to help them,” said Iwasa, who added that most students were asking questions about his career and criminal justice careers in general. “I think one of the problems in law enforcement today is not enough communities have confidence that their [police] departments are here to help them; there’s a little bit of a trust issue. So, we’re trying to make sure that those types of trust issues don’t happen at Sac State.”

Andy Corona, a criminal justice major, said he went to the event to network and learn more about the steps to a career in law enforcement. He added that he talked to Officer Scott Christian about S.W.A.T. teams because he’s interested in that area of law enforcement.

“These officers are really, really cool,” said Corona with a donut in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. “Overall, I think it gives us a really good opportunity to kind of get to know who’s on campus and who we can rely on when we need help here.”

“Coffee with Cops” began at 8:30 a.m. and was supposed to last until 10, but by 9:30, the pink donut boxes were empty and the cardboard coffee containers were depleted. Most of the crowd had also dispersed.

Lavezzo said she was surprised at the number of students in attendance, especially being that it was held early in the morning on a Wednesday, but was pleased that it was a success.

Though the event is usually only held during welcome week, she said she’d be interested in looking into the possibility of offering it more often.

“The most important [objective] was to get folks here and talking with police officers,” Lavezzo said. “I’ve think we’ve gotten that.”

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Legislature hopes to increase grad rates with ‘California Promise’

Sac State president launches similar plan ahead of bill signing

Originally published by the State Hornet online Sept. 13, 2016 and in print Sept. 15, 2016

sac_state_north_entranceNew legislation that passed through the state legislature last month would, if signed by Gov. Brown, require select California State University campuses to implement a program to help improve graduation rates.

Senate Bill 412, the “California Promise,” formerly SB1450, aims to help certain groups of first-year freshmen—including low-income students and underrepresented minorities—earn their degree in four years and community college transfers complete their baccalaureate program in two years.

“It would allow students who sign up to get priority registration and enhanced academic advising,” said Steven Harmon, spokesman for Sen. Steve Glazer of California, the main sponsor of the bill and a former CSU Trustee. “Now, the students would have to fulfill a commitment of their own and that is that they’d have to take 30 credits an academic year [or the equivalent in the quarter system] and also maintain a GPA, and that’s to be determined by the campuses.”

Though the bill does not have any funding attached to it, Harmon pointed out that the CSU is receiving $35 million from the state to set up programs to improve graduation rates and that portions of that could be used in the implementation of SB412.

“Everything from there has yet to be determined in terms of what [individual campus] criteria will be,” Harmon said. “There would be a minimum of 15 campuses that would have to receive community college transfers into [the] program by the fall of 2017 and eight of those campuses would have to take in freshmen who would do a full four year commitment in the program.”

A similar program has already been implemented at Sacramento State. The “Finish in Four” program, which began this semester, requires participants to take 30 units per academic year—this can be spread across fall, spring, summer and the winter intersession. The program can also be participated in by transfer students who want to finish in two years.

In addition to being offered incentives like discounts in the bookstore and lower costs for summer classes, participants must also maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA and meet with an adviser at least once in both the spring and fall, according to Executive Director of University Initiatives and Student Success Jim Dragna.

The Sac State program does not grant participants priority registration, but Dragna said the college opened up thousands of additional seats in many popular courses this year.

“What we’d like our outcome to be is that students finish in a timely manner and they leave here as distinguished and distinguishable as Sac State graduates,” Dragna said. “There’s a great tie-in, not only in terms of the time to graduate, but a well-documented understanding for the students about how they’ve learned here and of what they’ve learned that really sets them apart. It’s not just about the content of the courses, but it’s also about those global outcomes that we would like to see our students develop.”

Sixty-two percent of the approximate 4,000 incoming fall 2016 freshmen are participating in Sac State’s “Finish in Four” program. Though Sac State President Robert Nelsen says it will literally take four years to measure the program’s initial success, he says the college is already seeing indicators that suggest an increase in timely graduation.

“I have been impressed with the commitment from not only our students to do what is required of them, but our faculty and staff, as well, to provide the tools and support systems they need to succeed,” Nelsen said of the initial success of the program. “Sac State has the potential to be a model for the CSU and the nation for improving graduation rates.”

During President Nelsen’s Fall Address, he stated that his program’s goal is a 30 percent four-year graduation rate for freshmen—currently eight percent—and a 38 percent two-year graduation rate for transfer students—currently 26 percent. These rates are mandated by the CSU system to be met by 2025, according to information provided by Dragna.

“Even among the students who are considered nontraditional, the ones who have other responsibilities such as a job or raising a family, they have shown an eagerness to carry full loads so that they head toward a four-year degree,” Harmon said. “To me, that’s a lot of promise out there that has been shown by students in the CSU system that there’s a willingness and eagerness to get done in time, so it’s the system’s responsibility to provide the tools for those students to get through.”

For Susan Gubernat, an English professor at CSU East Bay and a member of the CSU Academic Senate, who wrote a recent editorial for the Sacramento Bee outlining her many concerns with SB412, the bill is avoiding the real problem, which she says is the underfunding of the CSU system.

“The [legislature] doesn’t want to spend more money right now on higher education,” Gubernat said. “It doesn’t like statistics that say it takes longer than four years to graduate, so it has to come up with these false solutions to real problems. We are in a system that continues to function at [a] shortage [in funds] with tens of thousands of more students, so the answer to the problem is to fund the CSU adequately so that enough classes can be given [and] enough advisers can be hired.”

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Multi-Cultural Center hosts forum on police-community relations

Originally published Sept. 8, 2016 by The State Hornet

scan_2-443x381The Multi-Cultural Center hosted its first “Let’s Talk About What’s Going On” forum on Wednesday, Aug. 31, with Police Chief Mark Iwasa discussing issues currently facing the African-American community with students and staff.

Six students and five staff members discussed topics ranging from improving communication between law enforcement and communities, the importance of voting in local elections, participating in activism in addition to protesting, what the police do on campus and conflicts between law and morality.

“I think the dialogue is good,” Iwasa said. “We always gain a little bit when we share questions about things that gives us an indication of how people view us.”

As the main facilitator of the first meeting, Iwasa discussed the campus police department and talked about the various goals he has for the department this semester, including encouraging his officers to get out of their vehicles more and communicate with students.

The open discussion was the first in a series of weekly events this semester focusing on respectful conversations about issues affecting the black community. The meetings will be led by at least one administrator, faculty or staff member.

Aisha Engle, the Women’s Resource Center program coordinator, explained that the goal of the forums is to give students a candid place to share their feelings. She asked for suggestions for a list of ground rules at the start of the meeting, writing them on a white board. The rules included not cutting people off while they’re talking and respecting the opinions of one another.

“We want to centralize the goal of the conversations and discussions around the greater forum of concerns of policing in relation to black lives and African-American students and how they are conceptualizing that when they are outside of campus, on campus [and] really being able to discern the dynamic of what policing looks like in their everyday lives,” Engle said.

The Black Student Union, which was unaware of the forum prior to the State Hornet’s inquiry, weighed in on the importance of these types of discussions.

“Whenever the dialogue opens is healthy, especially being black students on campus,” said Isaiah Alexander, vice president of the Black Student Union and a communications major. “There’s a lot of stuff going on with the police. None of that is new, but because the way technology is, everybody’s catching videos, so people who thought it didn’t exist finally get to see this really happens.”

Michael Merchant, a new member of the Black Student Union and also a communications major, said he would like to attend an upcoming meeting. Merchant said that he hopes conversations such as this one will help solve social problems.

“Obviously with everything going on in the nation right now, there needs to be positive, constructive dialogue,” Merchant said. “We know it’s going to take a long time. This has been a work in progress for hundreds of years to get not only African-Americans, but other minorities on the same plateau as, you know, let’s say, white America.”

“Let’s Talk About What’s Going On” takes place each Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Multi-Cultural Center across from the library entrance.

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July DigIn! Dinner draws large crowd despite high temperatures

Pangaea executive chef Brett Stockdale wows community members and leaders with locally sourced three course meal

Originally published in the August 24, 2016 print edition of the West Sacramento News-Ledger

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July 28 DigIn! Dinner featured chef Brett Stockdale and West Sacramento Mayor Pro Tem Beverly Sandeen. Photo by Daniel Wilson.

As the sun prepared to set on a day when temperatures reached upwards of 103 degrees, community members and leaders in West Sacramento gathered under the big tent on West Capitol Avenue in front of City Hall alongside the West Sacramento Farmers Market for the second of three 2016 DigIn! Dinners.

The dinner was held July 28 and featured West Sacramento native Brett Stockdale, who is the executive chef at Pangaea Bier Café in Sacramento. Stockdale prepared an original meal using ingredients that were available to purchase at the market or that came from local farms.

Before the dinner kicked off for the approximately 100 people in attendance–which included members of the community, Stockdale’s family and friends, city officials, members of the Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the event’s sponsors such as Raley’s and Burton Law Firm–a short introduction by outgoing CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce Denice Seals, Mary Kimble from the Center for Land-Based Learning and Jeb Burton of the Burton Law Firm, was followed by Stockdale presenting a demonstration, with the event’s host Mayor Pro Tem Beverly Sandeen acting as assistant chef, on how to make the dinner’s first dish Panzanella Salad.

The salad was then served to each table by a volunteer staff that included members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Land-Based Learning and the farmers market.

According to the menu and Stockdale, the salad was made using ingredients from Chavez Farms, Fiery Ginger’s Farm, Root Cause Farms and Toledo Farms and included a mix of grilled bread, gold tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, red onions, Sherry vinaigrette, Cotija cheese and basil.

After the starter course, attendees spent time drinking beer and water and other beverages provided by Bike Dog Brewing Co. and Raley’s, respectively, chatting, and mingling. Most were fanning themselves with the provided “I’m a Fan of West Sacramento” paper fans and the small electronic fans that lined the green and white cloth-covered tables.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce, including Cindy Tuttle, were shooting squirt guns at one another and Tuttle sprayed water on guests with a water misting device. As the sun began to set and the lighting under the big tent grew a  bit darker, the beloved Delta breeze helped cool down the crowd.

Incoming president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Verna Sulpizio said a few words about the event before introducing Stockdale to talk about the main course.

“I am West Sac proud like nobody’s business,” Sulpizio said to the dinner guests. “And you guys are, too, because you’re out here in 100 degree heat and I really, really appreciate that.”

The main course consisted of ingredients sourced from Fiery Ginger’s Farm and Toledo Farms. Attendees enjoyed a dish of smoked and braised chicken with roasted red potatoes, peppers, squash, crispy shallots and natural jus.

A lengthy break after the main course allowed guests to continue drinking and getting to know each other. Sandeen shared her thoughts on the event and talked up how proud she is of the success of the farmers market and the DigIn! Dinner series.

“It brings the community together and it helps showcase all the farmers we have at the market as well as gives chefs a chance to show what they can do with in the farm-to-fork movement,” said Sandeen. “Adding in the non-profit organization as the beneficiary is another way to give back and have non-profits become known to folks who are attending. It’s a wonderful partnership across many boundaries.”

Sandeen spoke highly of Stockdale and said she hopes he’ll inspire more people from the city to gain interest in the culinary field.

“We’re really proud that he’s a [chef from West Sac],” said Sandeen. “I hope that he inspires more folks to want to go into being a chef.”

Dessert was served just before 8 p.m. following an explanation from Stockdale of what to expect from the dish. The dessert course included ingredients from Sola Bee Farms and Ahmad Farms and consisted of biscuits, sliced pluots, toasted almonds, whipped cream and honey.

Stockdale said he was grateful for the opportunity to be able to showcase his cooking for his friends, family and the West Sacramento community.

“The turnout is great and I’m happy to see all these familiar faces,” said Stockdale. “My grandparents are out here, mom, dad, old friends [I haven’t] seen for a while. Everyone is supporting. It’s amazing. I’m super happy with the turnout and I’m happy that everyone likes the food. I haven’t been able to make my food for West Sac yet, so I’m happy that a menu that I’ve created has finally gotten to West Sac.”

Stockdale’s dad Mark Stockdale expressed how proud he was of his son.

“We’ve been a part of this community for a long time,” said Mark. “It’s nice to see [Bret] come back and get a chance to show what he’s learned and to bring that back to the [West] Sacramento area. This gives a chance for people to see what the local restaurants and folks with the local produce can do here.”

The owner of Pangaea Rob Archie spoke about what the event meant for both Stockdale and the restaurant.

“[Brett] loves his hometown, so this dinner is special because of that,” said Archie. “Pangea is known for beer and because we’re No. 7 in the world for best hamburger, that’s kind of overshadowed a lot of great stuff that comes out of that kitchen, and I can put our kitchen up against any kitchen in Sacramento and this event gives us a chance to show that.”

Archie also shared his thoughts on the meal.

“One thing is Brett doesn’t cook a lot of the same dishes twice, you know, he’s always innovative,” said Archie. “This was the first time I’ve had this stuff, so it was great.”

The next and final DigIn! Dinner for this year will be held August 25 and will feature The Patriot restaurant chef Allyson Harvie. Mayor Cabaldon will host the event. Tickets are once again $65 each with a portion benefiting the non-profit Assemble Sacramento. Attendees will also get $5 in vouchers to spend at the Farmers Market.

More information is available on the West Sacramento Chamber of Commerce website under the Chamber news and events section.

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Yolo County Fair kicks off with 10th annual tasting event

Originally published in the August 3, 2016 print edition of the West Sacramento News-Ledger

The 10th annual Yolo County Fair Opening Night Gala on Wednesday, Aug. 17 will kick off the 2016 Yolo County Fair and celebrate agriculture products and produce inside the Ag Building at the Yolo County Fairgrounds in Woodland.

The tasting event, which usually attracts approximately 600 attendees from all over the region, will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. and feature approximately 37 vendors, live music, leaders from the local community, previous guests and presenters from past fairs and more, according to a statement by the Gala’s event coordinator Samantha Novan.

“It’s a wonderful event and a great opportunity to experience all of the local produce and wine and beer and olive oil that’s produced here in Yolo County that you might not experience anywhere else under the same roof,” said Novan.

Tickets run $20 in advance and $25 at the door, but the event’s organizers urge attendees to buy their tickets early as they tend to sell out before the event. Novan said tickets are available online for the first time this year and can be purchased at yolocountyfair.net under “The Fair” section by clicking on “Yolo County Fair’s Opening Night Gala.” Note that a $3 processing fee is added to online ticket purchases.

Event organizers like Yolo County Fair Board President Katie Villegas are especially excited about community members being able to get a taste of local products.

“It’s the best event in Yolo County!” said Villegas. “Showcasing all of our locally-grown produce and locally-made craft beers, wines, cheeses and olive oils – it’s a delicious experience for the whole family!”

Two local bands, Chicken & Dumpling and Clarence Van Hook & Friends, are back this year to perform live blues music while attendees enjoy the tastes of local wine, beer, olive oils, honey, nuts, jams, meats, produce and restaurant fare.

New additions to this year’s gala include three additional breweries for a total of five and two bakeries—Let Them Eat Cake and The Upper Crust Baking Company. One of the five breweries at the event will be Yolo Brewing Company.

“Yolo Brewing Company is honored to present the freshest local craft beers in the region to guests of the Yolo County Fair Gala,” said Michael Costello of the Yolo Brewing Company. “We’re proud of our region, and our home-county, especially. The diversity of ag, food and beverage production and processing in Yolo County creates a foundation for good living in the heart of California. We are excited that YOLOBREW is becoming part of our regional excellence.”

The Fair’s theme this year is “80 Years of Fair Fun.” The Yolo County Fair, which runs Aug. 17 through 21, remains the largest and oldest free gate fair in California thanks to the continued dedication of the volunteers who support the county and community with partnerships and sponsorships, according to Novan’s press release.

For more information, please contact the Fair Office by phone at (530) 402.2222 or by email at yolocountyfairgala@gmail.com. You may also search for the event on Facebook or visit its official website to receive updates, program information and more. 

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Homegrown chef to prepare meal for West Sac residents at July 28 DigIn! Dinner

Pangaea executive chef Brett Stockdale will cook a meal using locally sourced ingredients

Originally published in the July 20, 2016 print edition of the West Sacramento News-Ledger

This month’s DigIn! Dinner will be held July 28 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. as part of the weekly summer Farmers Market and will feature chef Brett Stockdale, who grew up in and currently lives in West Sacramento.

According to the West Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, the dinner series is held on the fourth Thursday of each summer month and takes place under the big tent at the Farmers
Market on West Capitol Avenue just outside City Hall.

Each dinner features a local chef who creates a family style three-course meal using local produce and ingredients, most of which are sourced from products available to buy at the Farmers Market.

Tickets run $65 apiece and include the meal, beer from Bike Dog Brewing Co., wine and $5 to spend at the market. As space is limited, there are only 100 tickets available in total,
so interested parties should register early.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit a local non-profit or charity. This month’s beneficiary is the Center for Land-Based Learning, an organization based out of Winters that, according to its official website, is “dedicated to creating the next generation of farmers and teaching California’s youth about the importance of agriculture and natural resource conservation.”

Mary Kimble, executive director for the Center for Land-Based Learning—which is partnering with the Chamber of Commerce this year to help manage the Farmers Market—said the organization works with four urban farms in the city and that three of those farms sell their products at the Farmers Market.

“The funding that we get from the dinner is very helpful for the programs that we run and to keep those programs running in West Sacramento,” said Kimble.

Stockdale is the executive chef at Pangaea Bier Café on Franklin Boulevard in Sacramento and was chosen, in part, because of his connection with West Sacramento. He attended Kitchen Academy, which is now owned by Le Cordon Bleu, and after an internship at Mulvaney’s B & L in downtown Sacramento led to a two-year position as sous-chef for the restaurant, Stockdale spent some time working at Range Restaurant in San Francisco, but ultimately decided he’d rather work closer to home.

“It just wasn’t my place,” said Stockdale. “I really like West Sac and I like the Sacramento area and with the amount of produce and everything that we have, it’s just the same as San Francisco. You know, we have access to all the same products so why not cook here?”

Upon returning home, Stockdale landed a position at Pangaea as the sous-chef and eventually worked his way up the executive chef position. After working a DigIn! Dinner a couple years ago while employed at Mulvaney’s and then attending another one last year with a friend, Stockdale said that led to him being nominated to be the featured chef for a dinner.

“People from West Sac come over to Pangaea, but not as many as you would think because you’ve got to come over the river and everything, so I’m really excited for people from West Sac to see what I can make,” said Stockdale.

Stockdale said he doesn’t yet know what will be on the menu, though he’s been trying to plan based on what’s in season, but he says you really have to wait until just before the dinner to make sure products will be available.

“I like to leave it a little bit closer to time because, you never know, pears are here now and then all of a sudden the farmer is like, ‘they’re not there’ and then sometimes things are in season and you’re like, ‘that’s here now? I would have done something [with that],” Stockdale explained. “I’ll definitely check out the whole market before I really decide where the menu goes.”

The DigIn! Dinner series is presented by Raley’s and this month’s dinner will be hosted by West Sacramento Mayor Pro Tem Beverly Sandeen.

“Both the Farmers Market, as well as DigIn! Dinners, are really an opportunity to bring the community out and continue to give that local exposure,” said Director of Public Relations & Public Affairs for Raley’s Chelsea Minor. “We know, as a food business, that it’s really about creating those relationships and memories around good food and good drinks.”

Minor explained that the dinners are served in an intimate setting, which she says provides a great way to get to know the other people in attendance.

“The DigIn! Dinners are a fantastic opportunity for us to both serve the community with a new opportunity to get exposure to great food from the Sacramento region, but also to connect with some of our local West Sac residents.”

For Stockdale, being chosen to cook the meal at the DigIn! Dinner is a huge honor, especially since he is from West Sacramento.

“I’m super proud of West Sac and what West Sac does and the community that we have [here],” said Stockdale. “I think West Sac people tend to stick together and we want to support the groups that have supported us. All these people that are going to be at this dinner probably supported me in one way or another throughout my life. So, I think it’s a great chance for me to showcase what West Sac has produced in me and then something I can do for them in thanks and to help support a local cause. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”

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Joseph “Joey” Lopes Park made official at ribbon-cutting ceremony

Originally published in the July 6, 2016 print edition of the West Sacramento News-Ledger

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Photo by Daniel Wilson.

West Sacramento has a brand new park, and on Friday, June 24, it was made official at a ribbon-cutting ceremony where the family of the park’s namesake Joseph “Joey” Lopes shared stories about the famous boxer who called the area home during his life.

The park, which is the 35th park in the city, is located next to the Parkside Apartments along Sycamore Avenue off of West Capitol and features a newly-installed piece of artwork, which was created by Denver, Colorado artist Michael Clapper.

The $70,000 art structure— which Clapper says represents “fighting for community”—was approved by the City Council on Jan. 13 with Clapper’s piece being chosen over 75 other submissions after the City of West Sacramento’s Arts, Culture & Historic Preservation Commission, the Yolo Arts Council, city staff and others gave input.

The park cost $8.2 million to install and features a garden, benches, picnic tables, water fountains, two playgrounds, — one each for younger and older children — a basketball court and plenty of walking paths and green grass. The park has several trees as well, but it’ll be a while before they provide any shade. In the meantime, there are two shade shelters located at each end of the park.

Superintendent of West Sacramento Parks & Ground Sam Cooney explained that the project has been in the works for six years.

“It’s been a long time in the making,” said Cooney. “The state awarded the city $4.1 million and then we put in matching funds.”

Schmidt Design Group Principal J.T. Barr added that the park’s design incorporated a lot of feedback from the residents of West Sacramento.

“The design really started with the inspiration of the community,” said Barr. “All of the forms and structures, the walkways [were] really inspired by West Sacramento and the agricultural heritage that is here, so we really wanted to embrace the community and express that in the park, so the park really becomes a reflection of the community.”

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Photo by Daniel Wilson.

The ceremony began at 10 a.m. with a few words from West Sacramento City Manager Martin Tuttle, who thanked the landscapers, city inspector and project manager among others who worked on the park.

“What we do in West Sacramento is we take local money and we go out and find other money to match with it,” said Tuttle. “That’s how we’re able to do great things for the city.”

Tuttle then introduced City Council Member Chris Ledesma, who spoke about the park and the collaborative effort it took to complete.

“As many of you know, this site, for a long time, was an eyesore,” said Ledesma as children played with bubbles and ran around in the grass area just behind where the audience of approximately 100 West Sacramento citizens, Lopes family members and city leaders was seated. “And now look at this 4 acres we’re sitting on today. Congratulations to everybody who had a hand in this.”

Ledesma went on to say that just as it took the entire community to design and implement the park, it’ll take the entire community to keep it clean, safe and welcoming in the years to come. He then announced a new park watch program, designed to cut down on vandalism and crime, which will be headed up by West Sacramento PD Officer Warren Estrada.

“It’s up to all of us to keep an eye on this park and it’s up to all of us to work with the police department to make sure we maintain this park and keep the spirit of Joey Lopes going,” said Ledesma.

Ledesma then introduced Silvestre Gilmete Jr., the nephew of Joey Lopes, who called up several other family members before beginning his speech about his uncle’s impact. A hometown hero who lived near Sycamore all of his life, Joey Lopes was a boxer in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.

DSC_0589-768x512

Photo courtesy City of West Sacramento.

Lopes always wore his name and the words “West Sacramento” on the robes he wore to the ring and made sure that everyone knew he was from West Sacramento, not Sacramento. He competed at the Memorial Auditorium and the world-famous Madison Square Garden among many other venues.

In 1948, Lopes was selected for the U.S. Olympic boxing team and he went on to fight in two championship matches, one with the Lightweight Championship up for grabs (1957) and the other for the Super Featherweight Championship (1961) . Following his retirement, Lopes was a community leader, working for the West Sacramento Sanitary District, the West Sacramento Optimist Club and the West Sacramento Babe Ruth Baseball League.

The park’s art features a silhouette of Lopes with his arm reaching out in a boxing punch and will light up at night as the sun sets behind it. On the flipside of the structure is a map of the West Sacramento area.

After Gilmete Jr. thanked the city and everyone involved on behalf of the family, shared some history of his uncle and introduced longtime friend Raul Deanda, who told some stories about his friend’s illustrious career and life’s journey, the ceremony ended with the cutting of the ribbon and loud cheers and applause from everyone in attendance.

As children filled the playgrounds, shot hoops at the basketball court and continued to run around the grassy areas, adults snapped photos of the artwork and the park while others enjoyed snacks and conversation.

Gilmete Jr. expressed the gratitude of his family for the city naming the park after his uncle.

“This is a tremendous honor,” said Gilmete Jr. who explained that the
family petitioned to have the park’s name changed from Sycamore Park to Joey Lopes Park after learning it was being installed, a motion that was met with a unanimous
decision from the city. “My uncle was about his community and it being so close to where he lived as a kid and as an adult and to see that this park incorporates a playground
for children to be able to enjoy, half-court basketball for any age to enjoy and the community garden with my grandparents [having had farmland nearby], it’s just incredible.”

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WTA representatives say the district’s funding has increased more than enough to afford more competitive pay raises

Originally published in the June 8, 2016 print edition of the West Sacramento News-Ledger

At a recent school board meeting, several attendees were disallowed to speak about concerns over a current contract dispute between the Washington Unified School District and the Washington Teachers Association union, according to President of the WTA Don Stauffer.

Stauffer explained that the focus of the dispute is that, despite the district receiving a more than 14 percent increase in funding this year, the teachers are being offered a 2 percent increase, which would set the teachers in this district behind comparable districts in the area in terms of average yearly salary.

“It’s our contention that that raise is too small, given the increase in funding that the schools are getting,” Stauffer said.

While Stauffer couldn’t give an exact amount for the increase the WTA is seeking because of a confidentiality agreement, he stated the union is seeking an increase that is more on the level of surrounding districts.

“Because of the recession, we went a number of years without any salary increase at all,” said Stauffer. “We’ve done well the last couple of years, but the school district has done even better. The context is that if we were the only district around, maybe that would be OK, but what’s happening is that we’re falling behind the pay that’s offered by districts in the neighboring area, including Sacramento County and related areas.”

Stauffer added that good teachers are being lost by WUSD to surrounding districts because of higher pay.

“A lot of teachers have young kids,” said Stauffer. “With the cost of childcare, even if you’ve got a nice place to work, they may be thinking about, “Well, I could use that extra money.’ ”

The district website’s negotiation update FAQ disputes this, stating a statewide teacher shortage and saying, any “open positions are due to a combination of retirements, resignations, and leaves of absence. To date, no resigning teachers have reported that they are leaving due to more competitive compensation packages offered in other districts.”

Administrator of Communication and Community Outreach for the Washington Unified School District Giorgos Kazanis said that because mediation—which began May 20, according to the district website—is currently ongoing, the law, “prohibits both sides from discussing the details of negotiations with any parties outside the negotiating teams.”

Kazanis addressed the concerns of the teacher’s union with a statement.

“The Washington Unified School District is deeply committed to recruiting and retaining a high-quality workforce focused on student success,” said the statement. “We believe that our employees deserve the very best compensation for their tireless efforts in the classroom and on our school campuses—it is also our fiduciary responsibility to ensure that we are able to sustain and maintain district-wide programs while providing the financial stability needed to support future pay increases, benefits and pensions for our employees.”

Aside from the salary dispute, class sizes are also a concern for the WTA, but Stauffer said if the salary issue is resolved, the union will quickly wrap up negotiations regarding any other issues.

Whether or not this dispute would lead to a strike is something Stauffer said is always on the table, following a series of other steps that would have to take place beforehand, but that the teachers are mostly interested in coming to an agreement so that they can get back to educating the city’s youth.

“As the representative for teachers in West Sacramento, we just want to get this thing done and move on,” said Stauffer. “If things don’t get resolved, [a strike] is where it could go. Trust me, I do not want to see that. Our primary interest is our students and we’d like to be focusing our attention on our students.”

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Thoughts on the City College shooting from a former Express editor

Originally published Sept. 4, 2015 by SacCityExpress.com

Photo courtesy Sac City Express.

Photo courtesy Sac City Express.

As I walked across campus today on my way from the parking garage to the cafeteria to get a bite to eat before my math class, something happened that I had never experienced in all the times I’d walked that very same path. I was stricken with the sadness of the major change that occurred less than 24 hours ago.

When the person who shot and killed a City College student took it into his own hands to get revenge or to prove a point or to do whatever it was he wished to accomplish, he probably didn’t realize the multitude of people he would affect in the coming minutes, hours, days, months and years.

As I walked around campus, there was a somber calmness in the air. Something just felt different. It didn’t help that today is Friday and very few people are on campus on Fridays, especially preceding a three-day weekend. I couldn’t tell if it was all in my head or if the people around me felt as down and depressed as I did about this situation.

I had trouble glancing in the direction of the area of campus where the altercation took place. I had trouble focusing in class. It’s going to be a long time before the wounds heal for those of us in my situation, but I mourn for the people close to the victims. They are faced with a lifetime of grief and sorrow, and all because of a senseless act of anger that happened to involve a weapon. My wounds will heal in the next couple of weeks, but for some people affected by this, theirs may never heal.

I’m going to avoid getting political because I want to focus my attention on the victims and their families. I also want to focus my attention on the friends, professors and acquaintances of the young man who lost his life as well as the other man who is lying in a hospital bed right now. However, I will say this: the gun violence has to stop. It is far too easy for people who don’t know how to be responsible with a weapon to get a hold of these things and this type of behavior happens far too often.

That’s all I’m going to say on that front, but I urge everyone reading this to do whatever they can to help change the gun laws in this country.

When I left campus, I walked out of the back door of the business building. This is only a few hundred feet from the crime scene. I shouldn’t even have to call it that.

As I turned in the direction of the parking structure, my back to the area where the shooting took place, it was as if a dark cloud hovered directly over the college grounds. Sacramento City College is a place of learning. It’s a place where people take refuge from the world outside and work to better themselves in hopes of one day securing a long-lasting and fulfilling career.

But on Thursday, it became another site where an argument among four people turned into something much worse. Even though this seems to be an isolated situation and not a random act of violence, it’s tough to walk the halls of the campus without feeling a sense of fear.

I have every confidence that the men and women of the Sacramento Police Department and/or the men and women of the Los Rios Police Department will apprehend the suspect and bring justice for the victims.

I applaud the efforts of my former colleagues on the Sac City Express, of which I was recently in charge, and I commend them for being fearless as they took to the campus and covered a difficult situation in the most sensitive and thorough way possible. If I were still on the paper, I would have been right there with them. It’s comforting to know that the newspaper is in good hands.

I also thank the student-journalists of American River College who worked diligently to cover the story as well. And of course, I thank the professional publications for their efforts in covering the story. Lastly, I thank the men and women on the police force, medical team and the men and women of City College who all worked quickly and efficiently in making sure no one else was harmed.

In closing, I’d just like to say that my thoughts and condolences go out to the family and friends of the victims of yesterday’s tragic incident. I hope we can use this experience to make the campus safer, find even better ways to respond if this type of thing ever occurs again (let’s hope it doesn’t) and, perhaps most importantly, I hope this continues to encourage folks to fight for change when it comes to gun control.

I always like to try and find the best in situations, and if nothing more comes out of this tragedy, I hope more Sacramentans will feel inspired to push for a better America.

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