Friends and family celebrated the life of one of Pleasanton’s true characters, Howard Neely, on Feb. 16 at the Veteran’s Hall.
Howard died at the age of 87 in December. Pleasanton was once known for its “characters” not as a community of character. Howard certainly was one of them. He had a firm opinion on almost anything and, once he decided he wanted to see something done, he was relentless in pushing it forward.
Retired Assistant City Manager Steven Bocien summed him up well when he discussed his advocacy for buying more land next to the city’s senior affordable housing project Kottinger Place. Steve politely resisted those suggestions until the time came when the land was available and the city moved ahead. Today, there’s a new senior housing project, Kottinger Gardens, located on both sides of Kottinger that Howard helped push forward. More than twice as many low-income seniors now have quality housing.
He served on both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the housing authority.
Howard also pushed hard for the Pioneer Cemetery—along with others—to be taken over by the city. Fittingly, he is buried there after living in the city for 53 years.
In April, Stockton will celebrate its annual Asparagus festival.
It would be more appropriate to hold a funeral for the crop that used to characterize agriculture in the fertile Delta soil around Stockton. For many years, the city was liked to call itself the “Asparagus Capital of the World.”
The Packer, an industry magazine, reported acerage growing the spring vegetable was dropping by 10 to 15 percent annually and that was before the Legislature passed the plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminate an overtime exemption for agricultural workers.
According to the San Joaquin County agricultural commissioner, there were 23,600 acres devoted to asparagus 20 years ago. Just 10 years later, it has dropped to just 6,600 and by 2018 it was just 1,030 acres valued at $11 million.
Imports from Peru and Mexico have replaced the labor-intensive crop in California. Farmers have increasingly turned to almonds. The acreage has doubled from 2000 to 2018 and the crop was valued at $516 million in 2018.