Tracing Tracy Territory: Paramedic fee blunder makes the rounds
by Sam Matthews/ TP publisher emeritus
Feb 26, 2010 | 5048 views | 9 9 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Several e-mails from friends all over the country have arrived in my mailbox. All included a copy of Tom Friedman’s column in last Sunday’s New York Times.

As many, but probably not all, Tracyites are aware, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist wrote:

“A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: ‘Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 9-1-1 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 9-1-1 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead, they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.’”

As city officials are quick to point out, the report is not totally correct. The city would charge for 9-1-1 medical calls only if paramedic services are rendered by the fire department. If the firefighters are there only standing by or dealing only with fire or hazardous materials, there will be no charge.

But the whole issue has become something of interest around the country as an example of ways local governments are trying to generate revenue to close major budget gaps. And right here in the ol’ tank town, it is a topic of more than considerable discussion. The general consensus seems to be that police and fire services have always been and should continue to be covered by taxes, not fees for individual service calls.

I have a feeling it’s highly problematic that the city is going to generate much revenue from the venture and will wind up deep-sixing the pay-for-service program after its trial period expires. I suspect local firefighters will be more than happy to see that occur.

So how did Friedman, who normally writes about foreign affairs, focus in on Tracy? I don’t really know, but I do recall that Friedman has long known our town exists.

A decade or so ago, I heard Friedman talk at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco. After the presentation, I purchased a copy of his book, “The Lexis and the Olive Tree,” which focuses on the globalization of the economy, and asked him to autograph it.

While signing the book, he asked where I was from, and I said Tracy.

“Oh, I know where Tracy is,” he said. “That’s where the West Valley Mall is.”

He explained that his wife was at that time a member of the General Growth Properties board of directors, and they had discussed developing the mall in Tracy.

Friedman’s wife is a member of the Bucksbaum family, which started General Growth a number of years ago with a single shopping center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That small beginning has grown into the second-largest mall company in the country, with 200 regional shopping malls in 43 states.

The Buckbaums are now mostly out of the company, which has been under financial stress in recent years and filed for Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy last year.

Just this week, the company announced that Brookfield Asset Management had made a $2.5 billion investment to gain a 30 percent interest in General Growth. That investment and accompanying reorganization plan forestall an unsolicited $10 billion takeover offer from the Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest shopping center operator and General Growth’s archrival.

The General Growth reorganization plan calls for splitting the company, with the spun-off company taking several non-core (that is, non-shopping center) businesses with it.

Now, if the regenerated and refocused General Growth Properties can attract a major retailer to take over the anchor space at the West Valley Mall vacated last year by Gottschalks Department Store, then all this can have some real meaning for our town.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at
Comments-icon Post a Comment
March 03, 2010
What is the root cause of our cities financial woes? It's the contracts we pay city employes by. I have a novel idea, let's cancel all the city workers contracts and renegatiate based on performance, amount of work done and cost of living on similar cities in the Central Valley.

For instance, why are we paying the firefighters so much? There isn't anything the fire department can say that will justify paying these guys $100k a year. I would be that over 75% of their day is spent dormant, goofing off, watching TV or sleeping.

Cancel the city workers contracts and renegotiate a more reasonable wage/compensation package.
March 03, 2010
Does the writted of this story have ADD? I love how the story is about the fire departments incompentence butthe author strays off course and starts talking about our failure of a mall.

Par for the course with this rag of a paper.
March 01, 2010
Measure A hurt the mall. Look at the demographics in Tracy which don't support growth for business. The majority of businesses don't want to see a NO-GROWTH Law in place. That kind of thinking alone scares the BEGEEBERS out of a business plan writer. Businesses want to see SMART GROWTH.

Measure A was never "smart" growth. It was a bone-headed move that cost businesses and the taxpayer's money because the economy took care of growth itself while we were paying for all the Measure A lawsuits that only benefited the few.

Anybody who invests in the mall will face the challenge imposed upon them by special interest group's Measure A and the economy. They will have to attract customers from outside Tracy in order to make their investment profitible. New freeway signs before the mall on both sides. Advertising. And re-brand the mall to make it attractive to different demographics. Free Holiday movies near the eaterys.

Also consider life after Measure A and the economic turnaround and I think they would do well to invest in the mall.

1. Use what you have.

2. Demographics, demographics, demographics.

3. Reach a wider audience. Most people don't know the mall is there until after they pass it on the freeway.

An upper deck wouldn't hurt either.

March 01, 2010
What is this article about? General Growth Properties, or the $300 ambulance bill. I got lost somewhere along the way. Does anyone really care about the Bucksbaum family? I don't.
February 28, 2010

Why on earth would you expect them to move into the new location? Who will shop there?
February 27, 2010
slow growth killed the west valley mall huh?


I was here when it opened. There was nothing around it. Now there is an auto mall, several restaurants, more shopping and even more shopping.

So how did slow growth kill the mall?

Gottschalks went under, nothing about our demographics contributed to that. Old Navy decided to shutter it's store here in favor of a larger store in Manteca.

What Tracy METROPOLITAN area are you speaking about? Let's see there is Tracy, Mountain House, Banta, and the rural farmland surrounding us. Some METROPOLITAN area. People from Lathrop, Manteca, Brentwood aren't going to come here to shop when they have all the same stores in their towns. I think since alot of people who moved to Tracy are Bay Area transplants they go back to their old familiar shopping malls and centers which have more inventory and floor space than our stores do. Many times when my kids need clothes I have to go to out of town malls like Stoneridge or Vintage Faire because there isn't sufficient selection at our tiny JCPenney store.

Now that there is a larger JCPenney store in Manteca what will be the ultimate fate of our store? I'd like to see them move into the larger Gottschalk's space but with the new store in Manteca that probably won't happen.

The West Valley Mall needs to lure some more well known retailers to fill the voids in the mall.

Spending money on a larger play area which has already been remodeled 2 or 3 times or more tables for restaurants is secondary to finding more tenants. Tracy has become mostly a bedroom community for Bay Area commuters. That won't change anytime soon. If there were 100,000 more people living here then eveyone would be complaining about how much traffic there is and how crowded all our stores are and why did we let them build so many houses.
February 27, 2010
To me it doesn't really matter if the fees are deposited into the general fund. I don't think people would stop their grumbling about the program. I think the real issue is that the fees will not make a difference to the general fund anyway so it is a moot point about the general fund. It's just fodder for the opponents.

The real issue is safety. The City of Tracy has decided to take a stance. That stance is not to cut the fire or the police services. To accomplish that feat when people are paying less taxes is incredible. As I look around to other outlying areas. Lathrop and Mountain House are getting their police forces cut.

Tracites only have to pay an additional $48 dollars to keep the existing services. And here's the real clincher, for me. If you own a home you are already paying several hundred dollars less in property taxes. Those living in Mountain House are paying the same in property taxes while risk getting their police services cut because they are in the county.

Either way, this is costing Tracyites less then Mountain House homeowners.

Personally, I'm just glad we don't have a cut to the bone mentality in our city. If we had I'd suspect we would have slashed services without considering something like a small $48 dollar fee to keep these services.

Personally, I'm just glad Tracy, CA is one of the top twenty, safest cities in California.


About the mall. NoGrowth ruined the mall. The demographics in Tracy didn't support the mall. And special interest groups tried to put a cap on growth so they could say NEENER NEENER NEENER to the voters.

When that backfired and the economy went sour they all went running for the hills.

What we need in Tracy is a Mall that will support NOT JUST TRACY, CA; but the TRACY METROPOLITIAN area.

Let's not forget Measure A caused sprawl as far out into the San Joaquin County. More than your eye can see.

And I think you miss that one. Every time.

If you want a shopping mall. We need more than just OLD NAVY. As a parent I would just as soon purchase my children's clothes at Target and WalMart.

And Gotschalks "as seen on tv" merchandise can go too.

The Tracy Mall needs an investor who can spend some money. We need a bigger play area. And tables outside a nearby eating area.

The mall is friendly for only one age group. It's the cellphone generation.

Change. Bring it.
February 27, 2010

These funds will be deposited in the City's General Fund. That fund supports all City operations EXCEPT those that are revenue generating -- Water, Wastewater and Solid Waste. I've read nothing (and I've read every report, press release, Council Agenda item that exist) that says the City intends to designate these funds specifically for EMT's or any other portion of the Fire Dept.'s expenditures. This is one of the reasons I am so against this EMS fee.

I envision the $800K (from Council Report, NOT the latest figures from the City Manager) going into the General Fund to pay for "pet projects" for the Council and City staff and when the Fire Dept. needs new equipment or personnel they'll be told "sorry, it's not in the budget". I'm not a pessimist, just know after 18 years working in city government how things really work.
February 27, 2010
this is just so wrong, why do we pay taxs for?

who gets the money will it pay for more emt,s

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