Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 5, 2010

Remembering a nameless decade

With 2009 behind us, we’ve completed what some are calling a “nameless” decade. Washington Post staff writer Michael Rosenwald wrote that 2000 to 2009 created “a semantic black hole in which the English language failed to produce a term for the outgoing decade… The language is stumped. The Zeroes? The Ohs? The Oh-Ohs? Help!”

As I thought about my life during this nameless decade, I realized that for me, it was in many ways the “local news” decade. I spent all but the first few months of the last decade working in one capacity or another for the local newspaper chain. I started as a reporter for the Morgan Hill Times in June of 2000 and 15 months later became the Gilroy Dispatch city editor. During my city editor tenure, I started writing my column. After I left the city editor position, I freelanced as a writer and editor for the papers and joined the Dispatch and Times editorial boards.

I considered which of last decade’s local stories made the strongest impressions on me. Here’s my end-of-decade list:

• Little Llagas Creek flood control project — If someone had told me when I worked at The Times, where I learned about this stalled project, dubbed PL566, that I’d still be writing and reading about the lack of significant progress nearly 10 years later, I wouldn’t have believed it. But here we are. PL566 began in the 1950s (six decades ago!); work progressed from the Pajaro River south of Gilroy to Buena Vista Avenue in north Gilroy, where it was abandoned due to lack of funds.

I suspect there’s plenty of blame to go around: South Bay House of Representatives members gerrymandered into ineffectiveness; water district officials, Army Corps of Engineers priorities; docile, uninterested voters who don’t protest this neglect. At this point, I wonder in which decade any serious progress might be made on this important project, let alone in which decade it might be completed.

• South Valley Hospital vs. Saint Louise Hospital — Although the beginnings of this battle predate my arrival in Morgan Hill (why were two hospitals built in this semi-rural area at roughly the same time?), I began work at The Times just after Morgan Hill’s Saint Louise Hospital closed and the city was grappling with that unfortunate reality. I covered the blue ribbon committee charged with making recommendations to city officials about how to restore medical services. I covered San Jose Christian College’s failed litigious attempt to force Morgan Hill to rezone the hospital site. I’ve often wondered why Catholic Healthcare West — owner, at the time, of both hospitals — chose the Gilroy facility over the Morgan Hill hospital.

Morgan Hill’s hospital is better situated to attract South County’s many northbound commuters, boasts easy freeway access, and, for whatever it’s worth, is much more aesthetically pleasing. Most Morgan Hill residents commute north for work; if CHW executives thought that most of those folks would head south — out of their way — for medical care, ignoring doctors and facilities along their commute routes, they were likely mistaken. I suspect that CHW executives were surprised by the anger in Morgan Hill that resulted from the local hospital’s closure and what many percieved as theft not only of their hospital, but, adding insult to injury, also of its name. A decade later, that anger has cooled, but has not disappeared.

• Florence Trimble — I first became aware of this Gilroyan with a passion for helping the homeless when she wrote a letter to the editor trying to calm parents’ fears about their children leaving elementary school friends as they moved to different middle schools. I quoted a line from that letter (“Public education … by its very nature provides wide contacts with children of other backgrounds and cultures, teaching respect for differences. It is a function that has served our democracy well.”) in one of my columns several months later and it still reminds me of the importance of public education to the survival of our democracy. I quoted another part of that letter several years later in a column about Christopher High School attendance boundary protests.

I never met Mrs. Trimble, who died at 92 as 2002 ended. Despite that, she still influenced me and countless others, whether they met her or not. Some were affected by her work as a teacher, some by her charitable activities, others by the wisdom she shared. It’s an admirable achievement.

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