Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 8, 2005

Back-to-column-writing round-up

After two weeks away from writing this column, thanks to Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Saturdays in 2004, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

I spent one of those weeks on a cruise off Mexico’s west coast. We selected the trip because it would span the abilities and interests of three generations, and it proved to be ideal in that regard.

The South Asia earthquake and tsunami, which struck the morning our cruise departed, certainly colored my perception of the trip. I felt guilty whenever I saw the vast quantities of food aboard the ship, knowing millions were suddenly without food, water and shelter. The devastation put into proper perspective the buffet’s failure to stock enough bagels one morning.

On a lighter note, the trip on a ship that holds more than 2,400 passengers from around the world confirmed my suspicions about one of those basic divisions of people. You know, there are Coke people and there are Pepsi people, liberals and conservatives, and there are people who get elevator etiquette and those who don’t.

With 11 decks on the ship, we used the elevators multiple times a day. My unscientific observation is that roughly half the populace understands that you let people exit the elevator before you try to board. Roughly half barge on the instant the doors part and are mystified by the jostling and toe crushing that ensues.

Wherever you fall in the great populace divides, I hope you’ll support tsunami relief in any way you can. Let’s show the world, especially the portion of Muslim world that so distrusts us, that Americans are big-hearted, generous, kind people.

I’m supporting AmeriCares. According to Charity Navigator, AmeriCares spends an astounding 99 percent of funds on program expenses, using only 1 percent on overhead. It’s no wonder that Charity Navigator gives AmeriCares its highest rating, four stars.

AmeriCares is a nonprofit disaster relief organization that has provided more than $4 billion in relief supplies around the world since its founding in 1982.

To learn more or to donate online, visit www.americaresfoundation.org.

***

The timing of two seemingly unrelated stories was ironic, at least to me. Ground was finally broken on the Morgan Hill Courthouse near Diana Avenue and Butterfield Boulevard; the same week, California’s long-awaited Megan’s Law database went live on the Internet.

What’s the connection? When I was a reporter covering the Morgan Hill City Council, irate neighbors of the proposed courthouse stormed meetings spewing dire warnings that the courthouse would bring child molesters and other criminals into their neighborhood.

As I took notes during those meetings, I remember thinking to myself, “They’re already there.”

The Megan’s Law database proves it. Look at the maps and you’ll see dots indicating child molester residences sprinkled throughout South Valley – and those dots are only for those sex offenders whose crimes are vile enough to warrant releasing their address. There are plenty of “less serious” offenders whose addresses are protected.

Don’t forget, these guys are in the database because they got caught. Lots of sex crime victims never report the crimes committed against them. How many more are out there that we don’t know about?

If anything, a courthouse with its cadre of sheriff’s deputies on staff and visiting police officers will repel the criminal element from the immediate area.

***

I’ll end this first column of 2005 with a couple of burning questions.

• Has Frank Dutra gotten his goats back? Dutra is the Morgan Hill man whose five goats, three horses and one mule had to be moved from his rented seven-acre ranch in September because he was in violation of a silly ordinance that limits the number of livestock animals on ranches within city limits, without taking into account the size of the ranch. After a big public uproar, City Council hurriedly held a hearing, but took no action, at least none that I’ve heard about.

Those animals should have been returned by now. It’s a new year, for crying out loud. Get Frank Dutra’s animals back home.

• How much will Morgan Hill taxpayers finally pay for the City Hall scandal that was sparked by two cups of hot chocolate? City Hall launched an investigation to find out who was following the City Manager and City Attorney after hot chocolate mysteriously appeared in a motel room on a business trip. From the secretly approved $50,000, taxpayers are now on the hook for a $269,000 tab, and the city is facing a $3.4 million lawsuit. Where will it end?

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