Modesto near rock bottom in education rankings
Only four cities of similar size rank lower than Modesto in educational achievement, according to a new study published in WalletHub. The study ranked 150 cities throughout the United States. Two of the cities with lower rankings, Visalia and Bakersfield, are in the San Joaquin Valley. Two more San Joaquin Valley cities, Stockton and Fresno, are in or on the line of the bottom ten in ranking, with Stockton at #144 and Fresno #139. City and county leaders throughout the Valley should consider tactics to attract and retain better-educated residents. Especially with more and more Bay Area workers telecommuting, northern San Joaquin Valley cities like Stockton and Modesto should reconsider their antipathy toward providing homes for commuters; in general, Bay Area cities have far higher educational levels, with San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara ranked #2 in the nation and Oakland/San Francisco/Berkeley at #5. Improved public transportation between the north Valley and the Bay Area would also enable an inflow of better-educated residents. See the study here.
Allegations of affairs rock popular Assemblymember Flora
Republican Heath Flora is often considered one of the Valley’s most secure office holders. The Assemblyman from Ripon went unchallenged in this year’s primary election, and has been top-listed as the local Republican most likely to win a seat in the House of Representatives should he ever choose to run. Now, accusations of infidelity and multiple affairs threaten the political future of the popular firefighter. July 11, a former lobbyist for the California Medical Association claimed that she and Flora had an affair two years ago, and that she was only one of many of Flora’s extra-marital partners. Citing emails suggesting Flora had considered leaving his wife, the lobbyist said she had been duped into thinking Flora was considering marrying her. Read the full story here.
Mensinger to step down from MID Board
Long time Modesto Irrigation District Board Member John Mensinger will not run for another term. Citing a desire to turn over management of the company business to his son, Mensinger said in a public statement that he and his wife would like to spend more time in England and Europe. His wife was born in England. Mensinger’s departure had been rumored for a few months, but he didn’t announce until July 5. Former Modesto City Councilmember Janice Keating’s name has surfaced several times as a likely candidate for Mensinger’s seat, but as of July 7, she had not yet made an announcement. There have also been whispers that Frank Damrell might run. Whoever takes on the job will have to follow the contentious history of a board often at odds about out-of-district water sales, ratepayers’ dissatisfaction with water subsidies for farmers, and the difficulty of separating electricity costs from water costs.
Stanislaus County cities to receive larger tax share
Since 1996, Stanislaus County has received 70% of property tax revenue while cities within the county receive only 30%. That gross imbalance has been a major reason the county’s cities have had to reduce services and defer maintenance of infrastructure. Under a new agreement, cities and the county would split tax revenue equally. However, the equal split will be based on growth since 1996, when the current 70/30 split was negotiated. Future 50/50 splits will also be based on new growth. Read full story here.
Former Modesto Councilmember rips Stanislaus County Government
In a point by point review of Stanislaus County Government, Bruce Frohman offers convincing evidence that a dearth of leadership and action has left county residents with a huge shortfall of services, despite a budget surplus of over a quarter billion dollars. Frohman cites bad roads, inadequate services for the mentally ill, and a burgeoning population of homeless people with nowhere to go as among the many failings of a government flush with money but short on performance. Frohman concludes his review by writing, “If one thinks we are as good as we can be, then we have forgotten when we were better.” Most of us do remember better days, before supervisors became more enamored of bottom lines and less interested in the needs of the people. Read Mr. Frohman’s comments here.
Foster Farms put profits over people during Covid
According to a recently released Congressional Report, “Foster Farms worked with Trump administration officials to keep workers in unsafe conditions at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.” The report claims Foster Farms and other meatpacking firms used Trump administration officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help keep employees working under hazardous health conditions. When Merced County Public Health authorities recommended Foster Farms temporarily close its plant in Livingston, the company resisted by arguing that USDA had overriding jurisdiction and then refused to close. By August 2020, 400 employees at the Foster Farms Livingston Plant had fallen ill and nine had died. Read more here.
Lyin’ Kevin McCarthy put power over principle and country
No one should be surprised that Kevin McCarthy’s lust for power enables lies. His ambition to be Speaker of the House is well documented. What is surprising is the scope and magnitude of the lies. It now turns out that McCarthy was so angered by the January 6 Insurrection he was ready to support impeachment of Donald Trump on the grounds that Trump had incited a violent movement to overturn a presidential election. McCarthy has consistently denied that he favored impeachment and has never revealed the conversation he had with Trump during the violent uprising. Now, evidence in the form of taped conversations has emerged proving that McCarthy has been lying all the time and in fact did support impeachment based on his belief the president attempted to illegitimately overthrow the government by coup. Read more here.
Faithful Trump flunkey flounders in flailing fail at TRUTH Media
How long before Devin Nunes is out of work? The fake farmer left the House of Representatives last year to work for Donald Trump on the launch of Truth social, an internet platform that was touted as a serious rival to Twitter and Facebook, both of which banned Trump for harm caused by his serial lying about everything from Covid 19 to the January 6 Insurrection. The platform has never really gotten off the ground. After a bungled launch featuring almost nothing that functioned properly, there’s been even more bungling. None of this would surprise anyone familiar with Trump’s long history of failed ventures, including Trump University, Trump Steaks, and more. Like Trump, Nunes has made a career out of tail-wagging at the feet of corrupt power, carrying water for big money, and abasing himself in the service of any corrupt entity willing to stoke his ambition. Now, it looks as though he may find himself on the streets with nowhere to go, not an uncommon outcome for people who hook themselves to the Trump Train. Read more here.
Sierra snowpack just 38% of average
With the looming prospect of a torrid summer and low reservoir levels, recent measures of the Sierra snowpack offer yet another warning sign that climate change will bring about huge changes in the California economy, and especially in the San Joaquin Valley, where agriculture is the driving economic force. Exhausted groundwater basins and cutbacks on state water allocations have already resulted in fallowing tens of thousands of acres of Valley farmland and many experts believe that the final tally for lost agricultural lands will be well over 500,000 acres. Almost no one expects a reversal in the west’s current water woes. Based on the likelihood of more draconian conservation measures, Valley citizens should begin considering switching from lawns and water intensive gardens to water-saving alternatives before such measures are mandated. Read more here.
Hernandez vs Harder? Forget about it
Jose Hernandez, the former astronaut who took a beating from Jeff Denham last time he ran for congress is apparently considering a run against Josh Harder. Why Hernandez, a fellow Democrat, would choose a run against Harder is anyone’s guess. In addition to having been one of the few candidates on earth who could have taken out Denham, Harder has been a popular and very well-funded Democratic stalwart ever since his 2018 upset win over the Republican most thought invincible. Does Hernandez think he can win by running to Harder’s right? Is he counting on identity politics to push him over the line? In his 2012 run against Denham, Hernandez seemed unprepared and too dependent on his history as an astronaut to mount a serious challenge. The Democratic Party has already endorsed Harder, one of its brightest young stars. What is Hernandez thinking? Read more here.
Valley counties running dead last in boosted residents
Once again, San Joaquin Valley counties have the distinction of leading the state in vaccine resistance. The big three leaders — Stanislaus, Merced and Mariposa — where fewer than 26% of residents have received booster shots, are worse than San Joaquin County (27.35%) by only a few percentage points. California as a whole has a dismal record for boosters; despite crowded hospitals and rising infection and death rates from the Omicron variant, state residents seem to be suffering from vaccine and Covid fatigue. Nonetheless, the low number of boosted residents in Valley counties is yet another indicator of the poor leadership on Covid that has led to increased mortality and illness among Valley residents compared to the rest of the state. Stanislaus County, where Supervisor Terry Withrow proudly defies mask recommendations from his own public health officer, trails most every county in the state, with the exception of Merced, Mariposa and Colusa. Read more here.
Truth may mean the end for David Valadao
David Valadao was one of only ten Republican Congressmembers who voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection of 2020. Today, Republican voters in Valadao’s hometown of Hanford are still fuming about the vote and determined to see him out of office, despite his support for almost all of Trump’s policy positions. In a district where almost half the residents are unvaccinated and at least one local business requires customers to remove their masks before entering, Valadao’s vote is enough to doom his chances for reelection even if it means ceding the seat to a Democrat. “He’s related to me and I don’t give a damn,” said one voter, explaining why he’d never again support Valadao, “he turned coat.” Read more here.
Bee finally mentions the unmasked supervisor
After repeatedly ripping Turlock School Board Trustee Jeffrey Cortinas for his refusal to wear a mask during meetings, the Modesto Bee has finally mentioned that Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow appeared bare-faced at a recent board meeting. In fact, Withrow has defied mask orders and his own public health officer since the beginning of the pandemic. Until recently, Withrow’s immunity from criticism has been a subject of wonder for people following the political saga of masked versus unmasked politicians and leaders. Mask defiance has become a symbol of fealty to Donald Trump, and Withrow has made his allegiance to the orange demagogue known repeatedly. The Bee finally noted his dereliction of duty with a brief remark in a recent editorial. Read more here.
Waste to energy? Just another toxic pipedream
Touted as a marvel of sustainable energy production that would turn trash and garbage into clean electricity, Stanislaus County’s biomass incinerator sparked controversy from the very beginning, when plans to site a huge dump nearby sparked protests from concerned Valley residents, especially those in the City of Patterson who felt threatened by the massive project. Now, as the contract with the incinerator’s parent company is near expiration, environmentalists and concerned Valley citizens are mounting strong arguments against renewal. It turns out that the plant generates very little electricity while producing harmful toxic ash, a known carcinogen. There is strong evidence the plant has frequently gone past emission limits while receiving waste from as far away as the state of Maryland. Read more here.
Modesto among worst Valley cities for Covid death rate
Modesto and Stanislaus County continue to do worse than the national average for controlling Covid-19. The most recent statistics show Modesto’s Covid infection rate is 14% worse than the national average. California’s San Joaquin Valley has been a Covid hotspot since the outbreak first appeared in the United States, especially in comparison to more populated regions like the Bay Area. Valley cities in general have been especially hard hit, with Modesto logging more deaths from Covid per 100,000 residents than Visalia, Merced, Fresno, Stockton, and Bakersfield. It probably doesn’t help Modesto’s and Stanislaus County’s numbers when a county supervisor openly defies a mask mandate from the county’s public health officer. Read more here.
Valley groundwater: It’s worse than you think
Though we’ve long known that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) poisons groundwater, until recently we didn’t know the extent and severity of the damage. Recent research suggests storing wastewater from fracking in unlined ponds has had far worse effects than we could have imagined. It is bad enough that industrial agriculture has drained Valley aquifers so severely that many will never recover. Even worse, the few viable aquifers we have left may soon become contaminated beyond recovery due to seepage from stored fracking water. Though California is known for a strong environmental movement and strict laws regarding pollution, the San Joaquin Valley has long been relatively isolated from environmental awareness and legislation. Two of the most severe effects of this environmental neglect are depleted aquifers and poisoned groundwater. Grist magazine has the latest update here.
Three Pinocchios for lying Kevin McCarthy
Valley Congressman Kevin McCarthy will do almost anything to become Speaker of the House, as he’s demonstrated since groveling at the feet of Donald Trump even after the Trump-instigated insurrection of January 6. Knowing that President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” program is popular with an overwhelming majority of voters, McCarthy’s best hope to defeat it is through lies. His latest is a claim that Biden’s plan will raise taxes on families making over $50,000/yr. It’s not the most egregious of McCarthy’s lies, but it’s a lie bad enough to earn three Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker. McCarthy still has a way to go to reach Donald Trump’s history-making score of over 20,000 lies while in office, but he’s trying his best to maintain the former president’s dizzying dissemination of dissimulation. Read more here.
Covid stresses Valley hospitals and ICUs past capacity
Though more sparsely settled than major cities along its coast, California’s San Joaquin Valley is once again leading much of the rest of the state in Covid-related hospitalizations. On September 3, the Department of Public Health ordered “Surge Protocols” throughout the Valley, insuring that hospitals with more capacity than those in the Valley will accept patients from cities and counties where hospitals can no longer handle the influx of patients. The 12-county region includes San Joaquin County at its northernmost border and Kern County to the south. ICU capacity for most counties in the Valley has fallen below ten percent. Read more here.
The well digger’s hard truth about Valley groundwater
Almost no one who truly understands the truth about Valley water is willing to tell it. Mark Arax is a rare exception. The Valley’s greatest historian is still writing the hard truth about agriculture, more and more tolling a death knell for groundwater. In addition to his genius as a historian, Arax has the reporter’s rare gift of getting people on the ground to talk. The people who dig Valley wells are often silent about the hard facts they encounter on their way down to deeper and deeper realities, but Arax has found at least one man willing to tell the truth about what is happening to the aquifers beneath our fertile sandy loam soil. His latest essay into our diminishing world of water is a must read.
Stanislaus County educator shows rare courage and common sense
Since the very beginning of the pandemic, most Stanislaus County leaders have rejected science in favor Trumpian political posturing. They’ve consistently argued against mandatory mask requirements and in favor of keeping schools open. Like Trump, they’ve been anti-science. Their most common justification for defiance has been. “We’re different and should be allowed to set our own standards.” Yes, Stanislaus County is different. It’s been among the worst counties in California for infection rates, it’s number one in eviction rates, and its largest city, Modesto, is often at the bottom of ratings for quality of life. When the Modesto City Schools Board of Trustees decided to send a letter to California authorities seeking autonomy on decisions about masks and pandemic precautions in general, it seemed as though the region had hit bottom once again. Then another district leader chimed in with welcome support for science and learning. Waterford Unified School District Superintendent Don Davis said, “Let educators educate, legislatures legislate, and health and medical experts develop the public health guidelines.” Davis sounds like the kind of leader Stanislaus County needs on its Board of Supervisors. Read more here.
Frank Carson case an indelible stain on Stanislaus County
First there was the podcast. Now the series in the Los Angeles Times. As much as Stanislaus County authorities might wish it, the Frank Carson case isn’t going away. In fact, our bet is that Christopher Goffard’s deep dive into the framing of defense attorney Frank Carson for murder will end up as a book and could even become a best seller. Goffard’s meticulous research into the case has already resulted in an eight-segment podcast. Now, the first in a series of articles in the Times has seen the print edition of the paper. Goffard shared a Pulitzer Prize with other Times reporters for their investigation into corruption the small California town of Bell. Now, he’s aimed his magnifying glass at the Stanislaus County District Attorney and her stable of investigators. It is not a pretty picture. Read more here.
Homeless in Fresno? Follow the Money
In a recent article in Fresno’s Community Alliance, Bob McCloskey asks some reasonable questions about the routing of federal and state money for homelessness. He also cites numbers released by Fresno authorities that lead the reader to wonder whether those authorities have divorced themselves from reality. For example, civic leaders in Fresno claim that their 10 year plan to reduce homelessness (2006-16) reduced homeless numbers by almost 60%. Maybe there’s a way to read the rising numbers so that they seem to be falling, but the reality is that homeless numbers continue to increase throughout the Valley, with a few odd exceptions. For those following homelessness issues in the Valley, McCloskey’s story is a must read. See it here.
Marie Gallo: a champion of the arts and more
It may only be a coincidence that Modesto has such a vibrant arts culture, including poetry, music, painting and design, but it’s also more than probable that Marie Gallo’s lifelong support and patronage played a strong supporting role. There’s certainly no denying that that the city’s crown jewel, the Gallo Center for the Arts, is almost solely due to Mrs. Gallo’s endless drive and financial support. As a member of two of the region’s most prominent families, Marie Gallo managed to maintain a small-town authenticity while wielding big city influence. Her charitable generosity always stemmed from Damrell and Gallo roots that went back in time to small community values. Mrs. Gallo’s passing marks the end of a historic chapter in local history, but the monuments she established remain as a testimony to her realization that our time on this earth always has a higher purpose. She strove for and achieved that purpose with decades of public service. She lives on through countless acts of vision and compassion. More here.
TJ bows out, Nunes swimming in oceans of cash
TJ Cox has apparently decided against running for another chance at Congress in 2022. Cox defeated David Valadao in 2018, lost to Valadao in 2020, and was considering another run for California Congressional District 21 until a disappointing fundraising quarter this year. The latest quarterly report shows Valadao with almost four times the cash on hand as Cox, with $457,621.53 to Cox’s $116,101.79. Money is still the “mother’s milk” in politics, and anyone wondering how it is that Devin Nunes manages to wield so much influence in Washington DC need only look at the numbers: Nunes, representing Congressional District 22, is sitting on $11,317,489.68, even as the money keeps rolling in. More on Congressional cash in the Valley here.
City of Fresno fires Proud Boy cop
Last Friday, April 9, Fresno City Police Chief Paco Balderrama announced he had fired Rick Fitzgerald, an 18-year veteran of the Fresno police force. Fitzgerald had been placed on leave on March 14, after a video showed him participating in a Proud Boys demonstration. Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer voiced full support for Chief Balderrama’s action, saying, “As Mayor, I want to reiterate to the community that I will not tolerate any form of racism displayed by City of Fresno employees.” Fitzgerald claims he’s no longer a member of the Proud Boys, but does not “disparage their actions.” Full story here.
Harder among top House members who exceed expectations
Josh Harder, California’s Congressional Representative for the 10th District, has once again landed near the top of the list for his achievements in the House of Representatives. This time, Congressman Harder is ranked number four on a list of House members who have “exceeded expectations” while in office. Harder made the list for sponsoring, “two substantive bills that became law.” Harder, who has also earned recognition for accessibility, shows great potential for future legislative achievements, according to the Center for Effective Lawmaking.
RIP Carol Whiteside
Though she will most likely be best remembered as one of Modesto’s finest mayors ever, Carol Whiteside may have had the peak of her influence as Director of the Great Valley Center, a position she took on after serving both the City of Modesto and the State of California. Among Ms. Whiteside’s greatest passions, smart growth and sustainable land use were near the top. She developed the Great Valley Center into a magnificent research institution that both studied and promoted the vast resources of California’s great Central Valley. Gregarious, outgoing and civic-minded, Whiteside was one of the remaining local Republicans from the era before the party lost its way. Along with Peggy Mensinger, she will be remembered for being an early pioneer for women’s leadership and a staunch defender of the Valley she loved. More here.
Mark Arax on the history of racism in the San Joaquin Valley
Mark Arax whose The King of California and The Dreamt Land are two of the finest chronicles of Valley history anywhere, offers an insider’s look at racism in the San Joaquin Valley. Of Armenian ancestry, Arax grew up in Fresno, where he was taunted with the labels “Fresno Indian” and “Dirty Armenian.” In a recent article for the Fresno Bee, Arax argues that the racism Donald Trump legitimized and brought to the surface has always been an integral part of Valley history. Arax disagrees with the analysis offered by many that the economy has been a driving factor in the rise of racism in the Trump era. He writes, “No, what Trump was tapping into was racism pure and simple. He was both feeding the hate and feeding off it. He was like a Geiger counter the way he revealed the ugliness that had long been hiding just a few inches below the polite soil. He was playing on white America’s fear of being eclipsed, if not eaten, a deep psychological dread over its diminished status in a new country in gestation.” Read more here.
Stanislaus County still at extremely high Covid risk
According to the New York Times risk assessment tool, Stanislaus County remains in the highest category of risk for infection by Covid-19. Lifting of shelter at home restrictions may have led Valley residents to believe risk factors have diminished, but that’s not the case. As of January 21st, over 90% of Stanislaus County’s ICU capacity was occupied, and there’s a reasonable expectation that Covid symptoms from holiday gatherings will worsen soon. A county is viewed as at extremely high risk when there are more than 640 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period. Most Valley counties remain in the highest category of risk. Read more here.
Sacramento Bee calls Valley Congressmen “fascists”
Like many around the nation, the editors of the Sacramento Bee believe that elected leaders who supported claims that Joe Biden was put in office by a fraudulent election are de facto fascists. They called out Valley Congressmen and Tom McClintock for encouraging the domestic terrorism that occurred on January 6, and added that, “it’s not clear whether the GOP is a political party or a terrorist group.” They ripped McCarthy for calling for “unity” after rioters invaded the nation’s Capitol in part because McCarthy and others helped spread lies and sow doubt about the integrity of the election. McCarthy’s hypocrisy has been echoed around the Valley, including by at least two Stanislaus County Supervisors. Full story here.
Valley Congressman Kevin McCarthy ascends new heights of hypocrisy
Valley Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Republican leader of the House of Representatives, is calling for unity after endorsing false election fraud claims over the last month, including voting for an investigation on January 6, even after armed insurrectionists invaded the halls of Congress. Like most other Valley Republicans who hold office, McCarthy refuse to acknowledge his own part in stoking a seditious uprising that cost lives, damaged the nation’s democratic electoral integrity, and continues as we get closer to Inauguration Day. Every Valley voter needs to remember Trump’s enablers and, as George Will has written, brand them with the Scarlet Letter “S,” for sedition. Full story here.
Judge orders Foster Farms to implement Covid protection
Foster Farms’ Livingston plant has been issued a temporary restraining order and closure after a farmworkers’ union protested the lack of safety precautions for the Covid-19 virus. Nine people died and hundreds got sick at the plant as they worked without proper PPE and sanitation measures. Meat-packing plants around the nation have been hot spots for virus infections, and California’s San Joaquin Valley is among the most afflicted regions nationwide. Foster Farms claims it has administered over 25,000 tests at the Livingston plant and that the positivity rate is less than that of Merced County as a whole. Full story here.
TJ Cox ousted in CA-21
David Valadao has made a successful comeback and defeated popular Democrat TJ Cox in their battle for California Congressional District 21. As was the case in 2018, the winner’s margin is thin — Cox won by under a thousand votes, and when the last ballot is tallied, Valadao’s margin may be just as close. Nonetheless, the loss is bitter for California Democrats, who were expecting a blue wave even bigger than in 2018. Turnout for Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s strong showing in House races has sent Democrats into a frenzy of second-guessing and could augur a split among party regulars who support current leaders and those who want change. Meanwhile, TJ has already showed signs of another run in 2022. Full story here.
Newsom blunders in Grewal appointment
Gavin Newsom has compounded a week of ugly optics resulting from his bare-faced visit to the French Laundry Restaurant by appointing Mani Grewal to replace Supervisor Tom Berryhill in Stanislaus County’s Fourth District. Grewal was recently eliminated in a race for a California Senate seat won by Susan Eggman. Calling himself, “a different kind of Democrat,” Grewal consistently runs to the right of Democrats everywhere. Now, Newsom has ignored the over 15,000 votes Frank Damrell received when he ran against Berryhill in 2018, and insulted the local Democratic Party and labor unions who supported Damrell. He has received huge donations from developers, realtors, and oil and fracking interests in the southern part of the Valley.
Modesto’s Mayor raises the ante on dumb, opts for more spreading events
Modesto Mayor Ted Brandvold decided to push for reopening businesses and schools almost on the same day Donald Trump was hospitalized with Covid-19. What better way to show the abject failure of Trumpism everywhere? Brandvold, a proud supporter of both Trump and Candidate for Congress Ted Howze, has been emblematic of everything that’s wrong with today’s PoT (Party of Trump) heads. A toxic mix of anti-vaxxers, birthers, science-deniers and conspiracy mongers, PoT heads have managed to bring down a growing economy, aid and abet illness and death, and give new meaning to memes like “dumb and dumber.” Brandvold released a campaign video just a few days ago urging we ignore advice from public health experts and plunge back into spreading events. Bravo Mr. Mayor! Election Day can’t come soon enough.
Trump order tried to force Foster Farms to stay open
According to Merced County public health officials, U.S. Government authorities attempted to force Foster Farms’ Livingston Plant to stay open after a severe outbreak of Covid-19 forced closures. Merced County Health Services ordered the plant shut down in August, but were told they weren’t permitted to close the plant because the Trump Administration had invoked the Defense Production Act to keep meatpacking plants open. Merced County Public Health Director Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp said that the government had tried to intimidate the county, but, “We refused to be intimidated.” The plant was shut down after 392 employees tested positive for Covid-19. It has since reopened. Full story here.
Covid Statistics shine a bright light on Stanislaus County failures
San Joaquin Valley conservatives love to bash the Bay Area for any number of sins, not least of which is that it’s the home of Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi, both of whom are at or near the top of the Republican Party’s hate list. But when it comes to leadership in controlling the devastating effects of Covid-19, the Bay Area has a clear edge. Just consider that Santa Clara County, with a population of 1,945,940, has 297 deaths from Covid-19 as of September 22. San Francisco County, with a population of 891,583, has 99 deaths. Stanislaus County, with a population of 558,911, has 335 deaths. That’s an “F” for Stanislaus County.
Covid scandal at Livingston Foster Farms’ plant
A vigil last Thursday in Livingston featured speakers who offered support and mourning for workers at the Livingston Foster Farms plant who had died or been infected during one of the largest outbreaks of Covid-19 in the San Joaquin Valley. According to Merced County health officials, more than 400 people have been infected and eight have died as the plant resisted measures to control the virus. County officials ordered the facility shut down August 27 after threats of a boycott from the United Farmworkers Union. Read the full story here.
How to deal away your water rights and come out very liquid
Water sales are nothing new in California, especially in the San Joaquin Valley. Euphemistically known as “transfers,” water sales have gotten more controversial as drought, groundwater depletion, and population growth have put greater demands on a diminishing resource. During times of surplus water, usually after winters featuring heavy rainfall, there’s far less controversy about water sales than during drought years. But what about sales of water rights? Most people don’t even know such things happen, but they do. Read about how water baron John Vidovich liquidated his water rights to the tune of $73 million and raised a multitude of questions. Full story here.
Reedley school opens, defies public health orders
Immanuel Schools in Reedley has defied state and county public health orders by reopening. The private Christian high school was still open August 14, despite orders to close because Fresno County’s Covid-19 infection rate remains above state and county standards for reopening. After the school opened for in-person instruction on Thursday, August 13, Fresno County issued a public health order demanding the school close immediately. County officials are seeking a Superior Court injunction forbidding the school from opening; failure to comply could result in a fine of $1000 per day. Full story here.
Local nurse delivers hard truth about Covid-19 in Stanislaus County
The virus that just a few months ago was called a “hoax” by the President and many of his supporters is ravaging Stanislaus County. While local leaders dragged their feet, routinely disdained masks and social distancing and pushed the governor to reopen, the Corona virus was fulfilling the expectations of health professionals and digging deep into the respiratory systems of people throughout the Valley. Though some are still insisting Covid-19 is no more serious than the flu, local nurses are sounding the alarm everywhere. Ken Carlson’s story in the August 9 edition of The Modesto Bee should convince even the most resolute skeptics of the severity of our outbreak. Read the full story here and let’s hope local leaders are listening.
Suit alleges Valley meat company forced infected people to keep working
A class action lawsuit against the seventh largest meat company in the United States claims that Central Valley Meat Company withheld information about infected workers and forced other sick workers to keep working. Maria Pilar Ornelas claims she was told to come in to work while severely ill with the Corona virus last April. She further alleges she was punished when she stayed home and later infected her boyfriend, who became so sick he was hospitalized. According to an article in the Fresno Bee, the meat company had 183 cases of Covid-19. Litigants are waiting for a judge to approve the class action status of the suit. Full story here.
Merced County gives up, stops tracing efforts
Public health experts agree that tracing contacts of infected people is one of the best tactics for reducing the spread of the Corona virus. As cases burgeon, it’s becoming more and more difficult to continue tracing. In the case of Merced County, the degree of difficulty has risen to the point that the county officials just gave up. Merced County hasn’t been tracing since sometime in late June, and a county spokesperson has said, “The spread is too wide for contact tracing to be effective.” Most epidemiologists disagree that tracing should be discontinued under any circumstances, and urge authorities to continue tracing everywhere. Full story here.
Bublak still under pressure to rescind Howze endorsement
Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak probably thought the controversy over racist posts on Ted Howze’s Facebook page would have died down by now, but it hasn’t. Bublak is still under pressure to withdraw her endorsement of Howze and she still refuses to do it. Howze and his supporters say Congressman Josh Harder is behind efforts to pressure Bublak, but even the Republican Party and its leaders, including Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy, have pulled their endorsements of Howze. It’s very unlikely they were influenced by Congressman Harder. Read more here.
Ah You runs for Mayor of Modesto
Modesto City Councilmember Kristi Ah You has announced she’s running for Mayor of Modesto. Only recently, Ah You announced she wouldn’t run for a second term on the Modesto City Council because of family and business concerns. During her term in office, she consistently sided with incumbent Mayor Ted Brandvold in a contentious split with other councilmembers. Her announcement comes as a surprise and has sparked speculation that she was urged to run in hopes of forcing a runoff when no candidate reaches a 50% majority vote. Crowded fields are a favored tactic of George Petrulakis and friends, who often back several candidates in hopes of placing one in an expensive runoff. More here.
Harder still hoping for help on giant invasive rat
Josh Harder, Representative for California’s Congressional District 10, made history when he brought a stuffed nutria to the House of Representatives last February. The nutria, also known as a “swamp rat,” has caused tremendous damage to farms, canals, and the San Joaquin Delta. Harder has proposed legislation that would provide millions of dollars for an eradication program for the highly destructive non-native animal. Though he’s pressed continuously for help with a species that can produce up to 200 young per year and poses a severe threat to agriculture and the region’s ecology, Harder’s proposal is still bottled-up in Congress. Most recent update here.
Alarming rise in cases of Covid-19 in Fresno
Fresno hospitals recorded a 61% rise in cases of Covid-19 over the last week, a surge that threatens local hospital capacity. “It’s a concern. It means we don’t have any room to absorb a very much larger number of (coronavirus) patients,” said Dr. Rais Vohra on June 26. Dr. Vohra is Fresno County’s interim health officer. The surge in cases in Arizona, Texas, and Florida has alarmed health care experts throughout most of the nation, as many were expecting numbers to recede during the summer months. Cases are also mounting throughout much of the San Joaquin Valley. Full story here.
Nunes loses to the Twitter Cow
Devin Nunes, the Trump lackey who tries to outdo Donald in conspiracy theories, has lost his lawsuit with the Twitter Cow. Nunes made the cow famous after employing the Trump “sue everyone” tactic against a fictitious persona that attacked him for being a fake farmer, among other things. Best know for promulgating conspiracy theories from his seat on the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes’ presence there has made more than one observer remember the occasionally very apt application of the word, “oxymoron.” Read the latest update here.
$11, 579, 704 for homeless in Stanislaus and San Joaquin says Harder
California Congressman Josh Harder (CA-10) has announced that over $11 million in federal funding will be sent to Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties to help address homelessness during the Corona pandemic. $3,360,962 of the total funds are targeted for the City of Modesto. The funding will be distributed through the Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the Homeless Emergency Solutions Grant Program. “These investments will go a long way to protecting the homeless population, social services staff, and the wider community,” said Representative Harder. Full story here.
Congressman Harder receives Lincoln Award for free enterprise
California’s Congressman for District 10, Josh Harder, has been awarded the Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America award by the United States Chamber of Commerce. He’s one of only twenty members of Congress to receive the honor, which is awarded for support of pro-business policies in government. “The Central Valley needs more jobs,” said Harder after receiving the award, “and I’m proud to be working hand and hand with our local businesses to make that a reality.” Harder has also received recognition from the Town Hall Project for making himself accessible to constituents. Read more here.
Militia? “No thank you,” say local authorities
Alarm spread fast via social media when a group of camouflaged “militia” members appeared in Oakdale Sunday, June 7. Rumors were that the militia had been called in to provide security for a Black Lives Matter demonstration, but no one could discover who had made the call. It was difficult to imagine local law enforcement would want amateur help during situations that call for high levels of training and coordination. Turns out that a local business person had asked the militia to provide security. Oakdale Police soon made it clear that they needed no extra help providing security for their town, and Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse and Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll both issued statements to the effect that they needed no distractions and extra problems dealing with safety and security in their jurisdictions. Full story here.
Thank you David Boring
Among the major casualties of common sense in our politically polarized environment, one of the most absurd is the controversy about wearing a mask as a way of inhibiting the spread of Covid-19. President Trump, with his refusal to don a mask, is an instigator and perpetrator of an ongoing war on science. Resistance to wearing a mask is seen by some as an act against tyranny; again, nothing could be more absurd than to tie disease prevention to our rights to liberty. Modesto businessman David Boring gets the mask controversy exactly right in his Modesto Bee column on May 31. The point, as Mr. Boring makes so eloquently, is to show respect for others while limiting the spread of a deadly disease. Read Mr. Boring’s column here.
Memo to Ted Howze: your party beat you up, not the Bee
Ted Howze is determined to out-Trump Trump. His latest foray into the “fake news” fever swamp has the Modesto Bee and an unnamed “insider online news blog” (most likely Politico) responsible for some of his supporters withdrawing public support. Hey Ted, the surge that broke the dam came from your own party. It was the rebuke from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that swept away your endorsements, not Politico or the Modesto Bee. And here’s another problem for you, Ted. If, as you say, the hate-filled and racist posts on your social media accounts were so atypical of your views, why did they stay up for so long a time? You mean you never noticed them and none of your many friends and followers warned you about them? Maybe you should just follow the Trump playbook and say, “I take no responsibility.” Oh, that’s right. You already have. Full story here.
Merced County Sheriff’s rebellion receives rebukes from UC Profs
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke, who favors a western black hat and bandana neck tie, has joined the City of Atwater in defiance of Governor Gavin Newsome’s restrictions on business openings and public gatherings. Joining the ranks of conspiracy theorists, amateur interpreters of Constitutional law, and self-styled defenders of the right to endanger others, the sheriff has earned a strong rebuke and lecture from a group of UC Merced professors, who let him know in and open letter that his misinterpretations of Constitutional rights and misapprehension of science are violations of his sworn duty to protect the local citizenry. Read the full story here.
Atwater to reopen all businesses as “sanctuary city”
Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton and Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said Friday, May 15, that they won’t be enforcing Governor Gavin Newsom’s “shelter-in-place” orders for Atwater businesses that want to reopen now. Under the city’s “sanctuary for business” policy, hair and nail salons, churches and any other entities that wish to reopen will be permitted to do so without penalties. The city is arguing that shelter-in-place orders are a violation of Constitutional rights. Under the city’s new decree, businesses would have the right or obligation to impose standards like social distancing and mandatory masks. Full story here.
Fresno City Councilman cited for battery in reopen protest
Miguel Arias, Fresno’s President of the City Council, was cited for assault Tuesday, May 12, after protestors came to his home demanding to speak with him about the city’s shelter-in-place orders. Two of the protestors, many of whom were wearing “MAGA” emblazoned clothing, attempted to climb the stairway to Arias’s second story apartment when Arias shoved them backward. The protestors then backed off and called police. They charged Arias with assault and attempted murder. Arias was cited and released at the site of the altercation. One of the protestors captured a video of the incident. Full story here.
Harder proposes Coronavirus Service Corps
Congressman Josh Harder of California Congressional District 10 has proposed a Coronavirus Service Corps modeled after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. As the nation faces unemployment figures similar to those during the Great Depression, Harder is proposing employment for people who will help fight the biggest disease threat in the last 100 years. Epidemiologists agree that the most effective way to fight Covid-19 and restore the economy is via testing, tracing, and protecting the most vulnerable members of society. Harder’s plan would boost the economy and help subdue the virus. Full story here.
Health experts rip Bakersfield doctors on Corona
The research of two Bakersfield doctors whose You Tube claims that Covid-19 is no more dangerous than the flu has been condemned by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “These reckless and untested musings do not speak for medical societies and are inconsistent with current science and epidemiology regarding COVID-19,” read a statement from ACEP and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. In a rare rebuke of fellow professionals, the official statements also accused the doctors of, “seeking to advance their personal financial interests without regard for the public health.” The full story is here.
City of Fresno and County to coordinate homeless effort
With an agreement that should expedite and improve efforts to help homeless people during the Covid-19 crisis, Fresno’s city and county leaders have agreed to work together. While it’s not uncommon for cities and counties to go their own ways on any number of issues and programs, Fresno’s leaders have realized the multiple benefits of focusing funding and services with a joint effort. The agreement has enabled all agencies involved to fast track problems with liabilities and logistics in favor of immediate action to get homeless people isolated when appropriate and sheltered and housed as soon as possible. Full story here.
Corona infects 10 Los Banos health workers
The San Joaquin Valley in general has escaped the major harm done by Covid-19 in many other parts of the nation. Most likely thanks to quick action by Governor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, many residents practiced social distancing and avoided crowds early in March. Nonetheless, vigilance and care are still required, especially as evidenced by the cases of 10 health workers at the Sutter Health Rural Clinic in Los Banos who tested positive for the virus. All 10 have been quarantined. Read more here.
Gallo and Enviro Tech step up in this time of the virus
Will and commitment are too often lacking any time, but especially in times of crisis. That’s why E&J Gallo and Enviro Tech are standing tall for their recent contributions to the fight against the Novel Coronavirus. Both companies saw the dire need for hand sanitizer and mobilized their capacities for production to fill that need. Gallo changed production from spirits to hand sanitizer almost overnight, then donated 45 cases of its custom sanitizer to the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services. Enviro Tech donated another 36 cases. Both companies offer sterling examples of true community service in a time of crisis. Read the full story here.
Nunes to Trump: “See your deranged and raise two crazies”
Devin Nunes, who has established new standards for fawning and bootlicking during the Trump administration, now seems determined to outdo even the master as he’s been suing everyone he can and urging people to go out during the pandemic. Suing McClatchy’s Fresno Bee and Twitter apparently weren’t enough for the congressman from the southern San Joaquin Valley as he’s now gone after CNN, The Washington Post, The Campaign for Accountability and several more. And not to be outdone by his President’s shrugging off the potential dangers of Corvid 19, Nunes just recommended people ignore health officials’ advice to self-isolate and instead go out for dinner or drinks. Our best guess is he’s decided to honor Donald Trump with imitation, long recognized as the sincerest form of flattery. Here’s the “go out and eat” story.
Lyons exits Newsom administration
Modesto rancher and developer Bill Lyons has left his position as Agricultural Liaison in the Newsom administration. His abrupt resignation was announced on February 25 and sparked speculation that he’d left because of the growing discord between Governor Newsom and President Trump, who has promised more water to farmers in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Newsom has found himself in a difficult position on Valley water issues. Environmentalists expected him to enforce tougher restrictions on water deliveries to the southern Valley even as the economic consequences for that region weighed heavily both morally and politically. Lyons and Newsom had favored voluntary agreements among the various parties affected by the state’s ongoing water wars, but Trump has jeopardized the consensus approach by unilaterally insisting on more water for farmers in the traditionally conservative south Valley. Read more here.
Grewal tied to Big Oil
According to the Modesto Bee, candidate for California Senate District 5 Mani Grewal has been the beneficiary of over $500,000, “in spending to promote Grewal’s senate campaign.” The money’s been provided by The Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class Research Committee, a group funded by oil and natural gas companies. The bulk of the money has been spent on radio and television advertising. Grewal has also received direct contributions from several oil and energy companies, including Chevron, Valero, and Marathon Petroleum. Read the full story here.