The Rundown

By Allen David

Posted January 3, 2013 in News




Two men are arrested tonight at a McDonald’s restaurant in Hemet and charged with breaking whatever law is broken when somebody steals used cooking grease. Surprisingly, the suspects—Noel Portillo, 22, of Compton, and Ricardo Robles, 24, of Long Beach—weren’t especially slippery. The McDonald’s owner apparently had reason to expect he’d be hit that night and did his own stakeout, although he phoned police around midnight to alert them that he’d be inside his closed business waiting for cooking-grease thieves. Sure enough, just before 2 a.m. the cops got a call from the owner, who said two men were inside the McDonald’s stealing grease. The police rolled up and observed that a Dodge Ram dually pickup truck with a large metal tank mounted in the bed was sitting in the parking lot with its engine running. After surveillance tapes were reviewed, the men were arrested and the truck impounded.


It’s shocking, really, that a McDonald’s would be targeted by used-cooking grease thieves. I mean, didn’t you just assume it was all absorbed by the burgers and fries?


Henry Garcia looks like a prophet in today’s San Bernardino Sun story about the financial predicament facing the City of Rialto in 2013. Reporter Josh Dulaney points out that Garcia predicted in February of 2010—when he was Rialto’s city administrator—that the city had a “36-month window” before it faced a financial crisis brought on by a gasping economy and skyrocketing costs of public employee pay and benefits. Thirty-four months later, Rialto city officials have begun addressing those issues. The City Council will place an extension of the 8 percent utility-users tax on the March ballot; its accompanying resolution explains that “an emergency exists in the finances of the city.” The Finance Department warns voters that without approval the extension of the utility-users tax there will be massive cuts to public safety and other services in order to avoid bankruptcy. Rialto already faces a $7.6 million budget deficit and has been spending economic reserves to maintain services. City officials will likely try again to tax petroleum companies—an idea rejected by voters this year. As always, there is talk about the importance of development. But the real issue is the compensation of city employees—by far the biggest expense in the Rialto budget—and the opportunity to deal with that comes in June, when current contracts expire. But Henry Garcia, the guy who predicted that Rialto’s high payroll would be its undoing—isn’t around to help solve the problem. When that 36-month window closes in February, Garcia will be celebrating his first anniversary as City Manager of Moreno Valley. That city also has a huge budget deficit, struggles to provide residents with basic services and—as Dulaney’s story in the Sun also points out—is paying Garcia $400,000 a year. Guess being a prophet doesn’t preclude anybody from being a hypocrite.


Ah, how the questions linger: Cooking grease? Really? Modern thievery has really come to this? Restaurant owners used to pay people to take that gunk away, didn’t they? Or avoid the cost by flushing the stuff down their drains, often clogging sewer systems and incurring heavy fines? Isn’t that the way the world used to be? Isn’t that the way it ought to be? And now the answers: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. That last one refers to our better world of today, when used cooking grease can be recycled—refined into biodiesel fuel, which can power specially refitted automobiles while emitting lower levels of pollutants. That has created a skyrocketing market for used cooking grease—in the last two years the price has risen from 25 cents a pound to 40 cents a pound—which has created an incentive for restaurateurs to recycle the stuff. And as an extra-added benefit, automobiles powered by biodiesel leave a vapor trail that smells like French fries!


Amateur night.


I’d like to be the first to wish you a Happy New Year, but that was at least two days ago. Howzabout I be the first to guarantee you a Happy New Year? Yessirree, happiness awaits you in 2013. Of course, sadness does, too, along with anger and disappointment—and out-of-nowhere good moods and inexplicable hopelessness . . . sometimes during the very same day. But mostly? You will have frustration, at least if you have any expectation of consistency from yourself or anyone else. There will be a steady solving of problems and a steady emergence of new ones. Call it the Used Cooking Grease Syndrome. Nobody knew what to do with used cooking grease, until the day they did—the day they recycled it into biodiesel fuel. But that raised the value of previously worthless stuff, created a market—which was good news, too . . . until the opportunity to make a buck becomes the opportunity to steal one. Basically, every solution creates a new problem. Be happy about that. It keeps us busy.


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