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.
Update on fundraising for Valley’s congressional candidates
Is TJ Cox in trouble in California’s Congressional District 21? Could be, as former incumbent David Valadao has taken the fundraising lead after a huge fourth quarter during which he brought in $632,051.17. Cox still leads Valadao in overall fundraising, but Valadao’s gaining rapidly. That race, along with Josh Harder’s campaign in District 10, will be watched closely as the Republican Party tries to reverse gains made by Democrats in what were once believed to be safe Republican districts. Fundraising totals for all the current congressional Valley races can be found here.
Lyin’ Ted does it again
Ted Howze, already on record for claiming he would produce evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 election and failing to do so, has been exposed for another lie. During his debate with Josh Harder and four other candidates for Harder’s seat in California Congressional District 10, Howze claimed veterans who needed government help had come to him after failing to get help from Harder. The Modesto Bee’s Kevin Valine, fulfilling the duties of a responsible press, investigated Howze’s claim and found the former Turlock City Councilman had once again fabricated a story to advance his campaign. Kudos to Valine and the Bee for good work. The full story is here.
Newsom sends millions to Fresno for homeless
After visiting some of Fresno’s facilities for the homeless and mentally ill, Governor Gavin Newsom is sending $11.5 million to California’s fifth largest city as he tries to stem the state’s rising tide of people experiencing homelessness. Newsom is among the first in California’s leadership positions to recognize the connection between homelessness and health care, especially the relationship between homelessness and mental illness. “We are promoting what we call a 1915(b) waiver for the federal government to completely reimagine our Medi-Cal system, our behavioral health system,” Newsom said last week. Read the full story here.
Ceres rejects help for homeless
In a move typical for those favoring punishment over help, the Ceres City Council has remained united against declaring a homeless emergency crisis. The council rejected the declaration a year ago, when the state offered funding to those who declared a local emergency. Reasoning that helping homeless people would serve as a magnet for more, the council decided against qualifying for money that would help provide shelter for its estimated 35+ homeless people. Ceres then participated in a suit to review and repeal a 9th Circuit Court decision that permits homeless people sleeping privileges on public property when no shelter beds are available. The Supreme Court refused to review the 9th Circuit ruling. Ceres currently does not have a homeless shelter. Full story here.
RIP Dave Lopez
Though he was only 53, it seemed like Dave Lopez had been around forever. He was a big man and bigger presence in Modesto and Stanislaus County. A two-term member of the Modesto City Council, Lopez could easily be caricatured as the kind of back-slapping, deal-making politician of days gone by. But given the rancor and bitterness of the politics of today, his style of compromise and good cheer seems both more desirable and farther out of reach than ever. As much as anyone, Dave Lopez represented the Modesto many would like to remember—optimistic, community-minded, and forward-looking. Very few members of any community become institutions. Dave Lopez was an institution. The Bee story is here.
Harder acquires money for homeless veterans
With homeless numbers rising to an all-time high and veterans especially vulnerable, Congressman Josh Harder was able to acquire almost $150,000 for 15 veteran families in Stanislaus County. Harder has made several visits to local homeless camps and has been especially focused on getting help for homeless veterans and their families. The current administration had eliminated funding for homeless veterans before Harder and others successfully worked to reinstate the money. Read more here.
Devin Nunes falls down the Trump hole
From the very beginning of the Trump administration, Devin Nunes made it clear that his loyalty to the Grifter in Chief was absolute. It now appears that Nunes may even have been, or at least attempted to have been, an accomplice in the Trump/Giuliani extortion scheme to fabricate dirt on Joe Biden. Lev Parnas, Giuliani’s connection to Ukraine, claims Nunes met former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin in Vienna late last year attempting to further the bogus Biden corruption story Trump is so eager to promote. Nunes, in typical Trump mode, won’t answer questions about Parnas’s allegations. Instead, he’s trying to shoot the media messengers. As things now stand, it looks like Nunes has been more than willing to join Donald Trump’s parade of liars and extortionists. Read more here.
AG bill would protect farmers and farmworkers
Reliable estimates suggest almost a quarter million of California’s farm workers are undocumented immigrants. Congressmen Josh Harder and TJ Cox have sponsored a bill that would lead to citizenship for farmworkers with a history of steady employment. The bill is among a few current California proposals that enjoy bipartisan support. Given the Trump administration’s hostility toward immigrants in general, many farmers have found it harder to find the workers they need, especially during times of harvest. The new bill would protect farmers and farmworkers by providing legal status for undocumented workers until they achieve citizenship. Full story here.
Local districts proposing another water sale to San Francisco?
A credible report from a source described only as “a whistleblower” claims representatives from three local water districts met on October 29 to discuss a water sale to San Francisco. The meeting included Steve Knell, General Manager from Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) and Tom Orvis, Chairman of the OID Board of Directors. When the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) proposed a water sale to San Francisco a few years ago, the fallout resulted in the departure of MID’s General Manager and an almost clean sweep of MID’s Board of Directors. Read the whistleblower’s story here.
Hundreds of thousands of acres to be fallowed
While Valley farmers and water agencies have a twenty year window to achieve groundwater sustainability, restrictions on pumping will actually begin next year. Gary Serrato, former General Manager of the Fresno Irrigation District, said recently that he expects “between 800,000 and 1,000,000 acres” to come out of production throughout the Central Valley. Most of the lost acreage will be in the San Joaquin Valley, where groundwater pumping has caused severe subsidence and continues to pose serious problems for infrastructure stability. Farmers without access to surface water are likely to face the most severe restrictions. Read more here.
Denham, McCarthy, and Valadao received Ukraine money
Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao, two recipients of money from donors now accused of violating campaign finance laws, say they will divest themselves of the money they received from Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. McCarthy said he plans to return the money, an odd response, since it in may end up back in the hands of the accused donors. Even odder is Valadao’s promise to give the money to charity. Doesn’t this amount to using the money to benefit his revived campaign after a loss to TJ Cox? So far, no word from Jeff Denham, who lost his place in Congress to Josh Harder, about his plans for the tainted money. Read more here.
Democrats fail to endorse Costa
Valley delegates for the Democratic Party were split on whether to endorse incumbent Jim Costa or Esmeralda Soria, the Fresno City Councilmember who is challenging him from the left. Costa pulled 49.8% of the ballots on the first vote October 6, then had a two vote margin on the second round. In the end, neither candidate was able to achieve the 50% minimum required to be considered for official party endorsement. Soria’s supporters see her strong showing as a victory in the uphill battle to unseat the incumbent Costa. Read more here.
OtPR still the go-to on water and environment
Anyone mystified or wanting the most informed inside information on Governor Newsom’s veto of SB 1 and the multiple ramifications of the now-sanctified voluntary agreements from water districts in the San Joaquin Valley can check in on On the Public Record. Still our best source for cutting through the fog produced when political hot air gets mixed with water, OtPR has been especially keen of late, cutting through the bloated language of water barons and their government servants to reveal what’s really happening to the Public Trust. Read On the Public Record here.
Hallinan announces for Supervisor
Tom Hallinan, attorney for the City of Ceres and a Ceres resident, has announced he will run for Supervisor in Stanislaus County’s District 5, currently held by Jim DeMartini. Earlier this year, DeMartini announced he would be stepping down and moving out of the area. Hallinan enters the race a strong favorite, especially since Anthony Canella decided not to run. District 1 Supervisor Kristen Olsen is also stepping down, and at least four people will enter the race to replace her, including Modesto City Councilman Bill Zoslocki, Riverbank firefighter Buck Condit, Waterford Mayor Mike Van Winkle, and Oakdale School Board Member Diane Gilbert. Zoslocki should be the favorite in that race.
Marijuana and illegal drugs in Denham-owned building
Police found guns, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and butane hash oil in a building owned by a company in which former congressman Jeff Denham is a partner. Located in an industrial district in Turlock, the building is adjacent to a separate Denham-owned building used for Denham’s plastics business. There were at least 4,000 plants in the building which had apparently been up for sale to a group that planned to use it for a legal marijuana operation. Read the full story here.
Costa faces primary challengers
Conventional wisdom has always said the only way Valley Democrats can win is by leaning conservative. Thus, from Congressional District 9 on down to 23, either Republicans or “Blue Dog” (conservative) Democrats have held sway for years. But recent wins by Josh Harder in District 10 and TJ Cox in 21 may have presaged a transformation in the Valley’s long conservative tradition. Both Harder and Cox upset highly favored Republicans, and both ran as traditional Democrats, emphasizing kitchen-table issues like jobs, health care, education and equal opportunity. Now, in another sign that the times could be changing, Blue Dog Democrat Jim Costa is facing two Democratic challengers, Esmeralda Soria and Kim Williams, both of whom will run as mainstream Democrats in Costa’s 16th District. Soria in particular could present Costa’s most serious challenge in many years; she’s finishing her final term as a Fresno City Councilmember. Read more here.
Nunes sues Fresno Bee, McClatchy
Continuing a rampage of lawsuits, Congressman Devin Nunes has sued the Fresno Bee and its parent company, McClatchy. The suit alleges the Bee pursued a “scheme” to “defame” the congressman and “destroy his reputation.” Nunes has also sued the people who objected to him calling himself a farmer during his campaign for congress; he defeated Andrew Janz by a five percent margin. And just for good measure, he has sued Twitter. Ordinarily, the broad latitude of First Amendment rights protects media’s and private citizens’ rights to free speech, especially in matters of politics and government. But like Donald Trump, Congressman Nunes seems determined undermine those rights however he can. Read more here.
City of Modesto denies Straight Pride event permit
Citing the organization’s lack of liability insurance and safety concerns, the City of Modesto has denied the National Straight Pride Coalition permission to hold a parade and meeting in Modesto’s Graceada Park, site of famed Mancini Bowl and 100 years of summer concerts by the city’s volunteer-staffed MoBand. The application for a permit by the group dedicated to what it calls heterosexual Christian values ignited a firestorm of protests amid details that would strain credulity if featured in a daytime soap drama. Just for openers, one of the promoters’ son, who is gay, was given up for adoption by a member of the Modesto City Council, and, in an obvious rebuke to the Straight Pride Coalition’s attempts to demonize those who don’t fit the organizations strained definitions of “normal,” the famously reticent Gallo corporation issued a pointed announcement of its opposition to “divisiveness, hatred, or hostility.” Dozens of protestors were mobilized almost immediately upon learning of the coalition’s plans, and the city was faced with the problem of upholding First Amendment rights even for an organization that looks to many like a hate group. The City has offered an alternative venue, so the drama continues. Read more here.
Gallo takes the lead on community values
In a bold and unequivocal letter to employees at E&J Gallo, its leaders both repudiated the bogus pretenses of advocates of “Straight Pride,” and reaffirmed the values contained in the national motto, “E Pluribus Unum.” Gallo’s statement is yet one more indicator that no one is fooled by the thin garment of camouflage that supporters of Straight Pride hope will conceal the white supremacist values of an organization that isn’t just nativist and nationalist, but homophobic, bigoted, and hateful. Masterful in its controlled tone and due respect for First Amendment protections of speech, the letter is one of the strongest arguments yet for tolerance and inclusion, not just in the workplace, but in the broader community. The letter can be seen in full here, on the Gallo Facebook page.
Books, drugs, data and more
Sam Quinones’ Dreamland has been out since 2015. It’s still the best overview of the opioid epidemic anywhere—how it got started, how the pharmaceutical companies pushed it, and how gangsters capitalized on it with black tar heroin from Mexico. Now, the rest of the media world is catching up with Quinones and offering more specific detail about the mind-staggering extent of a marketing scheme that the drug pushers—aka Big Pharma—knew was resulting in financial ruin, addiction, and death. One of the more illuminating data sources is at The Washington Post. Readers and researchers can find out how many pills were pushed and by whom in their own states and counties. It’s fascinating stuff. Data for Stanislaus County are here. Other Valley counties and the nation’s entire data base are also available.
Turlock considering allowing homeless tent camp
Turlock city officials are considering allowing a homeless camp for a portion of the city’s estimated 250 homeless people. Though no one thinks allowing homeless people to camp in tents at designated sites is an ideal solution, it’s proving to be an effective interim solution for people who would otherwise be in downtown streets, neighborhood parks, and along our rivers, canals, and freeways. Like most other cities, Turlock is struggling with an order by the 9th Circuit Court, which ordered that people with nowhere else to go can’t be cited for sleeping in public places. Homeless encampments remain controversial, and the Turlock proposal is no exception. Read more here.
Bad as it is, Valley air is getting better
Even though air quality in the San Joaquin Valley ranks among the worst in the nation, it’s better than it used to be. In fact, a recent study argues that the reason the notorious Valley Tule Fog has almost disappeared in the northern part of the Valley is due to improved air quality. UC Berkeley scientists say the correspondence between air quality and fog explains why the fog is worse in the southern San Joaquin than farther north. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District says air quality has improved most noticeably over the last 15 years. Though it’s still a hazard to human health, the air does seem to be getting better. Read the Berkeley study here.
Fresno Grizzlies losing sponsors
The Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team has lost at least two major sponsors because of an ad featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a group photo with Fidel Castro and Kim Jong Un. The group is described as “enemies of freedom.” Sun Maid, Tecate and Dos Equis have all disavowed the ad and severed ties with the Grizzlies. Tecate and Dos Equis are owned by Heineken. Spokespersons for the Grizzlies have said the ad was aired because of an employee error. Read the full story here.
Bad air costs Valley $6 billion
The southern San Joaquin Valley has the worst winter air particulate levels (PM2.5) and summer ozone levels in the United States. The northern part of the Valley is better, but still hazardous to health. The pollution has punishing effects on Valley residents in the form of high incidences of childhood asthma, heart and lung disease, and a host of other maladies. Over the last ten years, most regions in the U.S. have surpassed the Valley in measures of air quality improvement. Nonetheless, Republican Congressmen in the southern Valley have been trying to weaken Federal Clean Air standards since 2017. For a keen analysis, read Tom Frantz of the Fresno Community Alliance here.
Denham takes lobbying job
Turns out those rumors Jeff Denham would run again for congress in California’s District 10 were ill-founded. Denham has joined the hordes of other “retired” politicians and taken on a job as a lobbyist—the job description won’t be much different than his role as a congressman. Insiders think Denham will continue to work to bring water to wealthy political influencers in the southern San Joaquin Valley and offer advice on how to weaken or eliminate laws protecting wildlife and nature, most especially the Endangered Species Act. Denham will be working for K&L Gates, a global law firm as a “government affairs counselor.” Read more here.
Newsom administration bans popular pesticide
A pesticide used widely throughout the San Joaquin Valley has been banned by the Newsom administration. Chlorpyrifos, used on a range of crops including almonds, is believed to harm brain development in babies. Recently, the Trump administration has sought to lift restrictions on the popular pesticide imposed during the Obama administration, but California will phase it out over the next two years and disallow aerial spraying in the interim. Read more here.
Homeless count keeps growing
Stanislaus County’s “Focus on Prevention” program is five years old now. The program was initiated to prevent and reduce homelessness. The latest “point in time” count, conducted in January, showed 1923 homeless people, a record since the count began. The previous high was 1800. That was in 2009, during the Great Recession. Even though this year’s count has more volunteers and better methodology, insiders are saying it is still too low. Despite what is being touted as an economic boon, homeless numbers keep increasing, despite attempts to reduce them. Read the full story here.
Stapley scorches Modesto Irrigation District
Some of us lamented Garth Stapley’s promotion to Editor of the Modesto Bee’s Editorial page, not because we thought Stapley didn’t deserve the job but because we lamented the loss of the Bee’s best reporter. Turns out Stapley is still on task as a superb investigative reporter. Stapley’s long investigation of the Modesto Irrigation District’s favoritism in billing has another chapter, this time on the Editorial Page. As usual, it’s a fact-filled look at the very questionable billing practices of an agency that should be serving the public interest, but isn’t. Read Garth Stapley’s fine report here.
Harder slams DeVos for hypocrisy
Newly elected Representative for California’s Congressional District 10 Josh Harder hasn’t wasted any time getting to work. He’s already made more high profile visits to his district than former rep Jeff Denham did over a year’s time, and Harder has also been promoting legislation that would help Valley citizens. He’s fighting hard for the issues he said he would, including education. And in a recent video, he slams Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for her hypocrisy while cutting literacy programs. Read more here.
Selling out to Westlands Water District
Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of the Interior is David Bernhardt, former lobbyist for Westlands Water District and dedicated foe of sustainable fishing and farming. The Trump administration’s plan for the San Joaquin Delta and San Joaquin Valley rivers is to ruin them so Westlands corporate farmers can continue growing nuts for export. The plan isn’t just a threat to endangered species, it puts sensitive salmon populations on the fast track to extinction and treats our rivers as little more than irrigation ditches. Read more here.
Harder hits the right note (again)
Most anyone who followed Josh Harder’s brilliant campaign last year knew he would apply tremendous energy and focus once in congress—he’s one of those people whose cruising speed is several levels above the recommended maximum. But Josh Harder also has a special gift for zeroing in on problems that need fixing and doing his best to fix them. His latest project is an effort to expose the pernicious effects of lobbying on government funding. In a recent OP/ED, Harder vows to make government funding more open and more directed to actually helping people rather than a few narrow interest groups. Read Harder’s note from inside Congress here.
Harder stands firm
Despite what many believe is a risky position, Josh Harder is standing tall on his campaign promise to support Medicare for All. So-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, including Fresno’s Jim Costa, are still claiming the costs outweigh the benefits. But if Josh Harder understands anything, he understands economics. He’s got a degree from Stanford and an MBA from Harvard. What Harder knows and the Blue Dogs won’t admit is we already pay more for health care than any other industrialized nation. Medicare for All will actually save us money. Read more here.
Time to lose half a million acres of farmland?
While insiders have been saying for years that the realities of water supplies should dictate how much land we farm, public discussion rarely ensued. Now, realistic proposals for fallowing farmland are finally out in the open. The Public Policy Institute of California has released a study arguing that we should fallow 500,000 acres of farmland if we wish to manage water supplies fairly and efficiently. While the proposal to fallow that many acres is certain to be controversial and even inflammatory, it’s long past time to face water realities and address them with sustainable policies. Read more here.
Despite decades of talk and proposals to do something about it, air pollution is still a major threat to public health in the San Joaquin Valley, even in the northern portion, where Modesto and Merced routinely rank in the top ten cities in concentrations of particulate matter. One of the major polluters, Chevron Incorporated, continues to do business with little restraint from penalties and only occasional bad publicity. Severe asthma, high incidences of lung cancer, and shortened life spans apparently aren’t reasons enough to clean up our bad air. Read more here.
Harder forwards bi-partisan bill for vets
Despite lip service to veterans, both political parties have failed to provide them adequate compensation for the harm many suffer in service to their country. Mental illness is especially rampant among vets, and too seldom acknowledged as a factor in divorce, bankruptcy and homelessness. Now, in the very first weeks of his term, Congressman Josh Harder has pushed and passed a bill that would provide significant help for mentally ill vets and their families. “The Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act allows veterans and their families to access free childcare when they use VA Medical Centers and Clinics.” Harder’s bill makes it easier for vets to access care and provides timely support for their children as well. Read more here.