With her father, her brother, her daughter, her husband, three grandchildren, three nephews, two sons-in-law, and three nephews in the military, either serving or retired, Esther LaPore is dedicated to honoring their service with her work at Hollister’s Veterans Auxiliary Post 9242 and the American Legion Auxiliary Post 69.
LaPore’s daughter, Air Force Tech Sergeant Elisa Eclarin Perada, remembers her sending care packages to the ship where her husband, Second Lieutenant Ezra Eclarin, was serving on a record-breaking deployment.
“He was so proud just to have all of these boxes come in and be able to deliver them to the sailors,” said Perada. “It is hard to explain unless you are there and see what service members go through. But I can see its importance and the impact it has on the people around us.”
LaPore, 65, was born and raised in Hollister. Her father, Corporal John Z. Hernandez, Sr., served four years in the Army, including two years of deployment to Korea.
“My dad was always bitter because they called it ‘the Korean Conflict’ when we all knew it was a war,” she said. “But he was a proud American citizen and a patriot. He was the first person in Hollister to be awarded the Veteran of the Year. They gave him a medal, and he was so proud of it that he never took it off.”
John Z. Hernandez Park on Central Avenue is named after her father, in honor of his advocacy for Hollister’s Hispanic community.
“He would advocate and fight for the Westside where we grew up,” she said. “He would go to City Council meetings and be a thorn in their sides. He helped a lot of migrants fill out their paperwork for housing, and he would also go to the courthouse as an interpreter.”
LaPore was introduced to her future husband, Marine Sergeant Brian LaPore, in 1987, when her brother, who served with Brian at Camp Pendleton, brought him to the family’s Thanksgiving. Brian served twice, from 1984-98 and 1990-93.
“They would go out on ship for six months,” she said, “and this time, they were back for a four-day weekend, so he brought him home with him. Then they went out on ship again until the next July.”
LaPore’s daughter, Elisa, now retired, currently works in a wound care clinic in Virginia after 20 years in the Air Force.
“I’m most proud of her because of what she accomplished and where she is now in life,” she said. “You wouldn’t have thought, back when she was going through high school and giving me problems, that the Air Force would have been the best thing for her. I miss her the best, the most.”
Following the death of her father, LaPore joined the American Legion Auxiliary in 2013 and the Veterans Auxiliary in 2015.
“I wish I would have joined while he was alive,” she said. “My dad never asked us to join, but after that, I got my mom, my daughters, and my granddaughters to all join up to help with all of the good things that we do.”
As part of her service, LaPore works with a spinal cord unit in Palo Alto, providing food and clothing for patients, as well as blankets and things to entertain them. The unit also offers services for visiting families.
“We provide supplies for Fisher’s house and the Defenders Lodge at the hospital,” she said. “It’s where if your husband was having an appointment in the morning, you could stay overnight in a room, and it doesn’t cost anything.”
She also works to support Blue Star Moms, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to families of service members, and G.I. Josie, which offers support for women in the service who suffer from PTSD.
“A motto we have says, ‘Remember your “Why?’”, she said. “‘Why are you doing all of these things?’ My why is my family, my kids and my grandkids who went into the service. Like my grandsons Lance and Ezra. We serve our veterans first and foremost and honor the sacrifices that veterans have made.”
Pointing out that 22 veterans nationally commit suicide every day, LaPore says there is a need for more volunteers at the auxiliaries and more attention paid to veterans’ issues.
“I just finished on June 30 being the district president of the American Legion auxiliary,” she said, “On July 1, I became the district president of the VFW, so I feel like I’m doing double duty because, in our small organization in Hollister, we need to step up and get new recruitment our small organizations in Hollister so that we can someone can follow me.”
LaPore said that she is concerned the organizations might be fading out, which would leave service members and veterans in need.
“If we die away, then who’s going to be there for our veterans when it comes time to take up for them?” she asked. We have to support our Legion Post and VFW Post in their endeavors. We’re right behind them and right with them doing what they do for veterans.”
Members of Esther LaPore’s military family
Parker Anderson, Sergeant, Marine Corps – son-in-law
Ezra Eclarin, Second Lieutenant, Marine Corps – grandson
Elisa Eclarin-Perada, Tech Sergeant, Air Force – daughter
Arthur Hernandez, Tech Sergeant, Air Force – nephew
Gabriel Hernandez, Lance Corporal, Marine Corps – grandson
John A. Hernandez, Sergeant, Marine Corps – nephew
John Z. Hernandez, Jr., Master Sergeant, Marine Corps -brother
John Z. Hernandez, Sr., Corporal, Army – father
Richard Hernandez, Staff Sergeant, Marine Corps – nephew
Derrick Jackson, Seaman, Navy – grandson
Brian LaPore, Sergeant, Marine Corps Airborne -husband
Jenner Pereda, Senior Chief, Navy – son-in-law
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Breaking: Voting Rights Advocates Ask California’s Secretary of State To Monitor Shasta County’s Upcoming Elections
Shasta County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen stands next to California’s Deputy Secretary of State, Susan Lapsley, as she speaks to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors on February 28, 2023.
Six nonprofit voting rights advocacy groups have formally requested California’s Secretary of State, Shirley Weber, to provide monitoring and support for Shasta County’s upcoming elections. Among other requests, they’re asking her to deploy in-person monitoring of the local elections process both during the November 2023 and March 2024 elections.
Intervention by Weber’s office, the advocates write, could have “tremendous benefits . . . not only for the citizens of Shasta County but for all of the people who are watching these events unfold.”
Logos for the six organizations who participated in contacting California’s Secretary of State.
The nonpartisan coalition includes the California Voter Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, California Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Verified Voting, Disability Rights California, and the California Voter Foundation. The same group of voting advocacy organizations worked together earlier this year both in February and in March to contact the Shasta County Board of Supervisors about concerns with changes to the county’s voting system after a contract with Dominion Voting Inc. for voting machines, was canceled.
Yesterday, October 24, the advocates sent a joint letter to Weber asking her to respond to what they refer to as “grave concerns” about Shasta County’s election system stability which, they said, “call for urgent, decisive, and sustained response.” As California’s Secretary of State, Weber is the state’s chief election officer. Her duties include ensuring “that elections are efficiently conducted and that state election laws are enforced.”
The coalition of voter rights advocates say Shasta County voters are being subject to a “torrent of misinformation and disinformation” which “can be seen at nearly every Board of Supervisors meeting (and) truly threatens the electorate’s ability to discern the truth about how their upcoming elections will be administered and their confidence that their votes will be counted accurately and in accordance with the law
Voting advocates are particularly concerned about Board Supervisor Patrick Jones’s public statements saying he does not plan to follow new state law, AB 969, which requires the county to use machine, not hand, counting to tally election ballots. They also expressed concern about ongoing misinformation about the election process that’s being shared in public meetings, including by officials themselves. In particular, the coalition of advocates expressed concern about Jones’ statement that the county’s new Hart voting machines are “unauthorized,” which, they emphasized, undermines confidence in the election process.
Voter rights advocates also pointed in their letter to Weber that the need to deal with these extraordinary pressures has diverted time and resources from Shasta County Elections Office staff as they work to deploy a new voting system for the first time. A situation, they wrote, that endangers “the smooth administration of the upcoming elections and thus the rights of voters, including voters with disabilities.”
Advocates have asked Weber to respond by monitoring elections in-person during the upcoming November 7 special election and again next spring for the March 5, 2024 election. They’d also like her to provide any assistance required by Shasta County’s Registrar of Voters, Cathy Darling Allen, to ensure she is able to fulfill her election duties without interference, including interference from the newly-formed county Citizen Elections Advisory Committee.
Advocates also say they hope the state will work to supplement and support voter education efforts in Shasta County, including providing more information to voters about the safety and security of the voting system, including the California certification process.
You can read the full letter sent to the Secretary of State embedded below, or by following this link.
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Mendocino County announces one year building permit amnesty starting Nov. 1
Thirty-Five Days Before an Election, Shasta Supervisors Seek Expanded Citizen And Board Authority Over Process
A photo inside the Shasta County Elections Office on November 8, 2022. Photo by Annelise Pierce.
On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to approve a new county ordinance that would bolster the role and power of their freshly formed Citizens Elections Advisory Committee (CEAC). The board approved the five person committee on September 12, and appointed the first committee members last Tuesday, September 26.
One committee member was appointed by each of the five supervisors. They include Dawn Duckett, Susanne Baremore, Lisa Michaud, Bev Gray, and Ronnean Lund. All have been vocal public speakers over recent months with Duckett and Baremore often opposing the board majority on elections changes and Machaud, Gray, and Lund all supporting changes and expressing concern about election fraud.
Less than a week after approving the committee members, the board is looking to modify and expand CEAC powers by codifying its role into law with a local ordinance that would allow it to “provide oversight . . . over all elections related activities in Shasta County.”
The ordinance appears to also remove the committee’s previously-stated end-date and give members the power to access records, make copies of public records, observe all election-related activities, and receive “timely” answers of members’ questions from all election officials. The new ordinance would also give the board’s chair, currently Supervisor Patrick Jones, authority to request and serve subpoenas. The committee’s powers seem to be limited to providing the board with information and asking the board’s permission to request subpoenas. It is unclear if the committee will need to agree in order to exercise those powers, or what the board will be able to do with the information gathered.
According to Tuesday’s agenda packet, the county’s newly-seated legal counsel has “reviewed the proposed ordinance” and “found it legally insufficient and unenforceable” but it has nevertheless been moved forward by Chair Jones for the board’s vote this week.
If passed, the ordinance would take effect immediately. It will be voted on just 35 days before the county’s next scheduled election on November 7 for a local school board and fire safety district board. It will also be voted on the same day that the board should respond to certified signatures by calling a special election for the potential recall of Supervisor Kevin Crye, which must occur some time between January and March of 2024 according to state law.
It’s unclear to what extent this ordinance is intended to give the Board a greater role in the upcoming certification of a recall election for Supervisor Kevin Crye. The ordinance does specifically mention the certification of attempted recalls and this recall attempt specifically, saying that, “the recall validation process is precursor and is part and parcel to the entire special election process.”
Signatures for Crye’s recall election were just certified to move forward by elected County Clerk and Registrar of Voters, Cathy Darling Allen, earlier this week and will be presented to the Board later in the same meeting this week. Speaking to Shasta Scout by phone today, Crye said he will meet with County Counsel Monday to determine whether or not he should recuse from the agenda item on the elections committee. He says he definitely plans to recuse from the second agenda item regarding the certification of his recall process.
Earlier this year, on January 24, Shasta County’s Board voted to cancel the county’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems for electronic voting equipment. While the board dumped Dominion machines in order to implement a manual count of election ballots, the action was taken without having a legally approved system to manually tally votes in place.
At the end of March, the board instructed the Elections Office to develop a plan for the upcoming November 7 special election, leaving Elections Clerk Darling Allen with 8 months to create and submit a new system to the California Secretary of State for approval, implement state suggestions, perform any needed testing, make necessary system changes, and conduct the election.
Darling Allen still does not have access to a state approved system to run elections, which will occur in just over a month. She did submit a hand tally plan, which the Secretary of State provided suggestions on. The Elections Office has also scheduled an October 5 open house for members of the public to observe a mock election using the hand tally process.
Meanwhile, AB 969, which would make hand counting ballots in elections where there are over 1,000 eligible, registered voters illegal, has been passed by the California house and senate and is sitting on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk to be signed into state law. He has until October 14 to sign, approve without signing, or veto all remaining bills.
“As an independently elected official, I’m going to continue to do the job that voters elected me to do.” Cathy Darling Allen, the elected County Clerk and Registrar of Voters told Shasta Scout on September 8 in response to questions about the original resolution. “The Shasta County Clerk’s office is a nonpartisan entity dedicated to making sure that every vote is counted and every voice in our community is heard,” she said.
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Dianne Feinstein dies, leaving a complicated legacy on climate issues
Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died on Thursday evening at the age of 90, leaves behind a long and complex legacy on climate and environmental issues. Feinstein represented California as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate for more than 30 years, becoming the longest-serving woman in Senate history, and during that time she brokered a number of significant deals to protect and restore the natural landscapes of the West. In recent years, as politics shifted, she found herself on the receiving end of criticism over her approach to tackling the climate crisis.
After taking office in 1992 following a decade as the mayor of San Francisco, Feinstein established herself as a champion for conservation. She worked to pass legislation that would protect millions of acres of California wilderness from development and extractive industry, using her deft skills as a negotiator to bridge disputes between competing interests. She succeeded in that conservation effort where her predecessors had failed, spearheading a 1994 bill that created the Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, which encompass millions of acres. She later passed bills to protect Lake Tahoe, the California redwoods, and the Mojave Desert.
Even so, as a compromise-oriented legislator from California, she often had to weigh the competing interests of farmers, ranchers, and environmentalists, and at times she angered all of them. This tendency toward centrism was evident in her legislative work on water in the state’s Central Valley. She brokered a monumental restoration agreement on the valley’s overstressed San Joaquin River in 2009, but then helped override species protections for fish on that same river in 2016.
“That is wrong, it is shocking,” her colleague Senator Barbara Boxer said at the time, according to E&E News.
Even so, as the pace of the climate crisis advanced, Feinstein attracted criticism from the left for not supporting more ambitious policies to tackle climate change, and her reputation as a broker of compromise came back to haunt her. In early 2019, a group of activists with the Sunrise Movement confronted Feinstein in the Capitol building, urging her to support progressive calls for Green New Deal legislation.
Feinstein rebuffed the protestors.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’ve been doing,” she said in a viral video. “You come in here and say it has to be my way or the highway.” Her office later released a statement on the incident that mistakenly referred to the protestors as part of the “Sunshine Movement.”
In the following years, following reports that Feinstein was experiencing a loss of her mental faculties, some politicians called for her to step down from the Senate. She resisted those calls and instead said she would retire at the end of her current term, which would have lasted through next year’s election.
The senator’s death will create even more turmoil in Washington, D.C., as lawmakers tangle over a looming government shutdown. The Senate has moved closer to passing a resolution to fund the federal government over the course of the week, but it’s unlikely to pass the House of Representatives thanks to a revolt from hardline Republicans.
Feinstein cast her final vote on Thursday morning on a procedural item relating to the Federal Aviation Administration, but she didn’t vote on an environmental bill later that afternoon. In the vote she missed, Republican lawmakers tried to override President Biden’s veto of a bill that would have rolled back endangered species protections for the prairie chicken. The final vote total was 47 Republicans to 46 Democrats, not enough to override the veto.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the outcome of a vote on endangered species protections.
Is groundwater trading the future of California water?
A summit in Fresno last week was upbeat on a dour topic: the megadrought of the American West.
If the recent blockbuster report about civilization exceeding nearly all of Earth’s natural limits was harsh, the summit – thrown at Fresno State’s newest building, the Resnick Center, named after Stuart Resnick, California’s wealthiest farmer – was the more relaxed counterpart to this fact.
Water district managers and policy makers talked about the future of the San Joaquin Valley’s groundwater aquifers – whose collapse has long been the poster child for an industry growing beyond the provisions of rivers and aquifers.
The cream of the state’s water policy experts said their expectation of drought and climate change was rosy.
At the meeting, a new vision of water in the valley emerged.
As climate change and regulations threaten to fallow farmland, early experiments show that a new water stockpile for the state’s most valuable farmland is possible, leaders at the meeting said.
This could happen by using the force of free markets to harness climate change’s wild swings of drought and flood into a multi-billion dollar bonanza.
Through an expanded groundwater trading market, more water could be shifted to the state’s lucrative nut orchards, and away from vegetables and field crops, according to a new report presented at Wednesday’s meeting by the Public Policy Institute of California, a think tank based in San Francisco.
By expanding the supply of water that can be bought and sold, the Valley’s agricultural economy could defy climate change and drought, and grow by $1 billion dollars by 2040, instead of the alternative – a $4 to 6 billion shrinkage over the same time span if water trading isn’t utilized.
To get more groundwater trading done between farms, and from agriculture to cities, the state needs a new water rights system, said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources.
California groundwater trading requires the state to “modernize our water rights system,” Nemeth told Fresnoland. “There’s got to be a new kind of trading partnership between urban and agricultural users.”
Water markets decide which fields go dry
Expanding groundwater trading in the future would primarily work by growers converting captured floodwater during wet years into groundwater credits that can be cashed during periods of drought – when people need the water most.
While good for economic growth, the groundwater trading would put small farmers at an increased risk for land fallowing, according to the PPIC report. This is because they would likely sell their water to bigger agribusiness corporations.
“It’s not a mystery: we have a market that is very dominated by bigger organizations that are more sophisticated,” Nemeth said about the state’s water trading markets.
DWR’s groundwater banks have been criticized in the past for unfairly helping the state’s wealthiest growers.
In the mid-1990s, DWR set up California’s largest water bank in a series of hidden meetings in Monterey. The bank became controlled by entities associated with Stewart Resnick, who used the bank’s water to help double his nut acreage.
According to Wednesday’s PPIC report, a larger water market in the valley would cause a similar outcome.
The Valley’s nut empire would be the primary beneficiary.
Overall, fewer pistachios and almonds orchards would be lost, and a greater portion of the 500,000 – 1 million acres of lost farmland over the coming years would be vegetable and field crops.
“One of the key things to take away is that trading is not affecting the total amount of fallowed land,” said Andrew Ayres, a research fellow at PPIC and one of the lead authors on the report.
Instead, the California groundwater trading market “allows you to move that water from crop applications that are less profitable to ones that are more profitable,” which prevents the richest agribusiness operations from going bust during drought, Ayres added.
These new water solutions could be a breakthrough, said Allison Febbo, the general manager at Westlands Water District – home to some of the biggest pistachio and almond orchards in the world.
“It’s important for our district that our land re-purposing is long-term, but temporary,” Febbo said. “We may be able to bring some of that land back into irrigation at some point.”
With record snowpack, a million acre-feet of water could have been stopped from reaching the Pacific Ocean, said Sarah Woolf, a farmer who owns roughly 30,000 acres of farmland in Fresno County.
She said that water could have been put underground in the Valley, to be pumped up later on.
“That is a big amount that…if it’s in the ground, we can use years later,” she said.
“We get a real sense of catastrophe during these dry periods and then we had 2023 to help remind us that there’s a lot we can do,” said Nemeth, California’s top water official.
“We’re not quite ready to make the best use of those moments like we need to be,” she added.
Eric Averett, CEO of Atlas Water LLC, said groundwater banks could use these floods as a bulwark for private equity firms in the San Joaquin Valley.
Wildland habitat restoration projects along the San Joaquin River are a potential opportunity to farm these newfound groundwater credits, he said.
“We go in, we’ll acquire the ground, and develop a groundwater banking project so that we can bring in additional [flood]water in, generate the credits, and monetize them.”
Once traded, water commodities will be central to the private sector’s revenues on the climate transition in the San Joaquin Valley.
For solar projects in the San Joaquin Valley, the primary money generator is selling off the water rights of the newly fallowed land, Averett added.
A new water supply
“That trading thing is a very fun, controversial idea. It’s got everything all bundled into one.” said Aaron Fukuda, general manager of the Tulare Irrigation District.
By certifying floodwater as recharged groundwater, Fukuda said an aquifer monitoring network from SGMA has helped farmers grow the amount of groundwater they can pump.
“We figured out that the same tool that was a detriment became an incentive, now that the [SGMA] water dashboard was giving credit to growers,” said Fukuda. “The market opens up these windows.”
Don Cameron, a manager of a 6,000-acre ranch 15 miles south of Fresno that relies entirely on groundwater, said groundwater trading is gaining more traction along the Tulare Lake Basin.
“In the Kings sub-basin, we’re starting to see more cooperation,” said Cameron, who is also president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture. “There’s a lot of potential to move water within the basin.”
The possibility of finding a new, one million acre-foot water supply fundamentally changes the conversation over the San Joaquin Valley’s climate transition, said Ann Hayden, vice president of climate resilient water systems at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“We can’t be talking about demand reduction…without also talking about the [water] supply augmentation that is possible,” she said.
Unknown risks of California groundwater trading
Last year’s Nobel Prize lecture, however, pours cold water over the idea of well-designed water markets anytime soon.
Stanford professor Paul Milgrom – a 2020 Nobel laureate who created key trading schemes in telecommunications – said water markets in California are one of the most daunting challenges he has encountered.
“Water is not like other commodities. It’s not like oil, for example,” Milgrom said. “The externalities that are inherent in water are different from anything else I have ever seen.”
Milgrom said that the unknown downstream effects of trading water – a key ecosystem resource – made water trades difficult to account for without a major overhaul of the state’s water regulations.
Political risks are also plentiful, according to a paper from 2020.
The researchers said that deciding the fate of farming communities — for example, sacrificing a small vegetable farm for a hedge fund’s almond speculation — could lead to backlash.
“[I]f water transferred out of a region results in impacts on local employment and income, such third-party effects can lead to transfers being politically unattractive (and lead to limits on transfers),” the paper said.
The lone person to push back on the water trading idea was also one of the only people of color who was invited to speak at the summit on Wednesday.
“Water markets are going to serve the purpose of profit,” said Sonia Sanchez, senior community development specialist at Self-Help Enterprises. Sanchez, however, stopped short of opposing groundwater trading entirely.
Instead, she said she hoped agribusiness would work with low-income communities to balance the industry’s groundwater contamination with their groundwater trading.
When small town’s local groundwater supplies become contaminated by agriculture run-off, Sanchez said, “we don’t want to have low-income communities buy their water on the market.”
Sanchez also said that putting all this floodwater underground, instead of into the ocean, could concentrate unknown types, and amounts, of toxic chemicals into local groundwater supplies.
At the summit, this risk was mentioned in passing as something to look into the future.
Klemeth said the department of water resources is looking into the problem.
“I do think when we’ve got these bigger recharge projects that are underway, getting constructed, getting ready for operations, it does have to come with a more complete water quality program, Klemeth said.
“The groundwater sustainability agencies are working on that, and that really has to be hand-in-glove.”
Central Valley communities of color lack flood control. Would representation on water boards help?
During three weeks in December and January, storms dumped 32 trillion gallons of rain and snow on California. With it came unwelcome floods for many communities of color.
The winter and spring storms were a rare chance for drought-stricken communities to collect rainwater, rather than have their farms, homes and more overwhelmed by water. Much of the rain that fell instead overflowed in lakes and streams, leading to disaster in low-income Central Valley towns like Allensworth and Planada.
“It’s a long history of disinvestment in disadvantaged communities and communities of color, in drinking infrastructure, water systems and flood control,” said Michael Claiborne, an attorney for the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, an environmental justice organization based in the San Joaquin and East Coachella Valleys.
In the aftermath of the damage, community leaders are reiterating a call to diversify water boards to give marginalized groups more power.
The California State Water Resources Control Board, which oversees the distribution of water in the state, has acknowledged that its workforce does not reflect California’s racial composition. Part of the State Water Board are nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards. These regional boards develop “basin plans” to manage water quality in their area, taking into account their region’s unique environmental factors.
In 2020, 69% of water board management was white, while 31% were Black, Indigenous or other people of color. By comparison, 37% of California’s population is white and 63% are Black, Indigenous or other people of color, according to the 2019 American Community Survey.
“More local representation would ensure that when decisions are made, the needs of the communities impacted aren’t ignored,” Claiborne said.
The communities that flooded don’t have proper infrastructure such as levees and canals, experts said, which divert water to floodplains or groundwater basins that wells can draw from for later use.
Members of the State Water Board were not available to comment on representation by the time of publishing.
The State Water Board adopted a plan this January to improve racial equity and better represent California’s diversity. This resolution also applied to the regional boards, which used the resolution as a guide to develop their own racial equity plans.
“A lot of these board seats go uncontested,” said Allison Harvey Turner, CEO of the Water Foundation. “The same people have been in these decision-making positions for decades.”
Inequality still remains a concern when it comes to California’s water infrastructure, the first defense against floods.
Allensworth, a small farming community of mostly Latinos in the San Joaquin Valley, was ordered evacuated because of flooding from this year’s storms. The town sits at the edge of the Tulare Lake basin, which was the source of much of the flooding. Drained and cultivated decades ago, Tulare Lake was revived by the storms in less than three weeks. But its resurrection submerged miles of valuable Allensworth farmland.
Other cities near Tulare Lake, including Corcoran and Alpaugh, also suffered devastating flood damage. What were once roads, homes and farmland ended up at the bottom of almost 170 square miles of water.
While many agencies manage water, Claiborne said those bodies are dominated by wealthier, “bigger water users.”
“Disadvantaged communities have very little ability to influence local decision-making,” Claiborne said.
The central coast town of Pajaro and Merced County’s Planada are two other low-income, farming communities of color destroyed by floods. In both towns, county officials were blamed for not properly maintaining the levees that failed.
“In places that have gotten a fair amount of tension like Pajaro, levees needed work, but the investments made to shore them up failed and communities flooded,” said Harvey Turner, of the Water Foundation.
Efforts are underway to improve representation on water boards, which would give small landowners and communities of color an avenue to advocate for better water infrastructure. The Water Foundation provides grants to support organizations such as the Leadership Counsel, which helps local advocates learn about their regional water boards and run for those positions.
One current Tulare County Supervisor, Eddie Valero, is an outcome of those programs.
“That can be super powerful – if we are able to shift the faces and communities that are reflected in these water positions,” Harvey Turner said.
Bella Kim is a reporter with JCal, a collaboration between The Asian American Journalists Association and CalMatters to immerse high school students in California’s news industry.
Supervisors approve changes to affordable housing rules
The San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 12 unanimously approved changes to the Affordable Housing Regulations proposed by the county’s Planning Commission. The changes included setting an affordable housing threshold and terminating the Housing Advisory Committee.
The county’s Planning Commission had previously approved the changes to the Affordable Housing Regulations, also known as the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, in a public hearing on July 19.
The housing ordinance establishes requirements for future housing developments, aims to set the minimum amount of affordable housing that will be built, and sees that county land is used for housing in accordance with state and local housing needs.
Three amendment changes were approved by the supervisors:
Terminating the Housing Advisory Committee
A requirement to build affordable units within 10 miles of an incorporated city
Updating the 20% requirement for off-site rental units among very low, low and moderate income designations
Stephanie Reck, an associate planner for San Benito County, said the 10-mile requirement would allow residents of new housing developments to effortlessly access city resources and amenities including shopping centers, grocery stores and public transportation.
For example, if an applicant proposes a development project more than 10 miles from an incorporated city in the county, affordable housing must be built outside of the project area, within the 10-mile radius, Reck said. The requirement applies to both housing for sale and for rent, Reck said in an email.
The Planning Commission clarified that the 10-mile radius begins at the city limits and not at the center of the cities.
According to the report by Reck, the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance applies to projects of more than six units.
Projects of six to 10 units are required to pay an in-lieu fee of $30 per square foot for for sale units rather than building affordable housing, according to the county’s inclusionary requirements, Reck said.
The ordinance requires that 20% of all off-site rental units be reserved for very low income, low income and medium income housing.
Affordable housing is based on an area’s median income (AMI), which in San Benito County is $101,923. The income categories vary depending on the size of a household, but the formula for affordability provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is as follows:
Acutely low income: 0%-15% of AMI
Extremely low income: 15%-30% of AMI
Very low income: 30% to 50% of AMI
Lower income: 50% to 80% of AMI; this designation may also be used to mean 0% to 80% of AMI
Moderate income: 80% to 120% of AMI
Given this formula, a household in the county making $122,307 is considered moderate income.
With the changes, very low income and low income units would both comprise 7.5% and moderate income units would comprise 5% of all future approved units.
The 20% requirement meets the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation, and calls for 246 very low income and 198 low income units in the county’s next eight-year plan, Reck said.
The affordable housing plans were previously reviewed by the Housing Advisory Committee, the Planning Commission, then the Board of Supervisors, which was “redundant,” Reck, the told the meeting.
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Election Deniers Focus Recruitment in ‘Out of the Way Places’
When people ask how Cathy Darling Allen is doing, she no longer responds with the socially-appropriate “fine” people expect to hear, because she’s not fine.
For more than two years, Allen, who runs the elections office in northern California’s Shasta County, has spent much of her time fending off accusations that her office falsifies election results.
“I’ve actually heard people say, ‘Well, you’re cheating to get where you want so that your people will win,’” Allen said in a Daily Yonder interview. “Oh, Lord, if I only had the time for that.”
In January 2023, the Shasta County board of supervisors decided in a 3-2 vote to cancel their electronic voting system contract after mounting pressure from election deniers. The county is the center of a small metropolitan area and has a mix of rural and urban communities. It comes in at more than 112,000 registered voters and now plans to use a hand-count system.
The decision adds to the growing number of counties – rural, suburban, and urban – where election deniers have successfully urged local governments to recount election results or throw out electronic voting machines altogether.
While the movement has targeted communities of every size, civics experts say rural communities have the most to lose from the pressures of the election denial movement.
“We’re at this period that I think should be being celebrated as a sort of high point of participation in American democracy,” said Justin Grimmer, a political science professor at Stanford University who studies election denialism, in a Daily Yonder interview. But the election denial movement threatens this progress, he said.
Voter turnout in the last three federal elections broke records. The 2020 presidential election saw the highest turnout in the 21st century with 66.8% of citizens age 18 or older casting a vote, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A series of reforms have also been passed to make election infrastructure – how votes are cast, counted, and reported – safer and more efficient.
Former President Donald Trump’s unfounded attacks on the U.S. election system and the resulting election-denial movement put these gains in jeopardy. Rural areas could be among the first to suffer from the attacks.
Rural America already has lower voter turnout rates, which some researchers argue is due to inadequate election infrastructure. One 2022 study found that voting-by-mail restrictions hurt rural voters the most because there are fewer rural polling locations than urban ones, increasing the distance a person must travel to cast a vote. Along with skepticism about electronic voting machines, election deniers have also questioned the use of mail-in ballots, even though voting by mail has been used in some form in the United States since the 1860s.
Reversing the progress that has been made to improve election infrastructure – the use of equipment that more accurately counts votes and ensuring better access to voting through absentee and mail-in ballots, for example – could set back civic participation, Grimmer said.
“If localities start acting in a reactionary way because of these election integrity groups and they decide that they’re gonna peel back some of these reforms…you could actually end up eliminating some of the transparency that has been implemented,” Grimmer said. “It may be harder to track your ballot, which could ironically make people more skeptical about the election than they were before.”
The current election denial movement began in the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. Trump said in a speech to supporters in August of that year that “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” He voiced similar comments on Twitter.
In the weeks following the election, organized efforts began in several states to overturn the election results, claiming the elections were stolen. (In mid-August 2023, Trump was indicted in Georgia on charges that he and others illegally tried to overturn the election in the state.)
Then came January 6, 2021, when more than 2,000 people broke into the Capitol in an effort to block certification of the Electoral College results. (In early August 2023, Trump was indicted on federal charges related to those events.)
Related Story: A Daily Yonder analysis of arrests in the year following the January 6 insurrection shows that arrestees are no more likely to be rural than the population at large.
After Trump left office, the election denial movement shifted to a core group of “influencers,” including MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, former business-law professor David Clements, former math and science teacher Douglas Frank, and former U.S. Army Captain Seth Keshel. Over the past two-and-a-half years, these influencers have made it a full-time job traveling the country to spread the election denial movement’s primary message: elections are being stolen, and it’s the government’s fault.
In some places, this messaging has worked. According to data compiled by the Daily Yonder as of August 24, 2023, seven U.S. counties have successfully held a hand-count or plan to in future elections.
Along with Shasta County, California; Spalding County, Georgia, and Cleburne County, Arkansas, recently approved hand-counts for future elections. Nye and Esmeralda counties, Nevada, both held hand-counts for their 2022 elections, as did Tripp County, South Dakota. Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, recounted by hand the results of the 2020 presidential election in January of 2023.
Four out of the seven counties that held a hand-count or completely eliminated their electronic voting systems are nonmetropolitan, or rural.
Some voting districts within counties in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wisconsin plan to hand-count ballots in 2024, according to the nonpartisan organization Verified Voting.
But many pushes to pass hand-count policies have failed. In June of 2023, Governor Katie Hobbs of Arizona – the only state to try mandating hand-counts statewide – vetoed a bill that would have allowed any county in the state to hand-count ballots. Similar efforts at county and municipal levels have also failed.
Although the movement’s success may be waning at the moment, some civics experts warn that election denial “is down…not out.”
Election deniers are now putting energy into grassroots organizing, a quieter version of the loud-and-proud campaigning led by Trump that occurred in the movement’s nascent days.
“They’re kind of spreading the [erroneous] word about how voting machines particularly are stealing elections, and they’re encouraging people to put in Freedom of Information Act-types of requests and at the extreme, encouraging let’s just say impolite behavior toward election officials,” said Charles H. Stewart, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a Daily Yonder interview. Stewart published research in early 2023 exploring the characteristics that lead people to the election denial movement.
“The thing that we’re seeing in 2020 that we didn’t see in 2016, or in 2012 or other times when these sorts of [election integrity] questions arose, is that we now have about a half-dozen of these traveling road shows,” Stewart said. Few of these “road shows” are held in major cities, according to Stewart.
An NPR analysis of grassroots election denial events between January 6, 2021, and June 30, 2022, showed that the gatherings occurred in nearly every state. The events hit major cities like Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. But they tended to steer toward the suburbs, smaller metropolitan areas, and in some cases, rural counties.
In Pennsylvania, for example, the NPR database shows there were no events in the city of Pittsburgh, but four counties within the Pittsburgh metropolitan area did have events. Philadelphia had one event, and there were two in the city’s surrounding counties. Only one Pennsylvania event on the NPR list was in a nonmetropolitan, or rural, county.
These in-person events distinguish the election denial movement from other far-right conspiracies that have existed primarily online.
“The election integrity movement is distinct from something like QAnon, which was by and large an online phenomenon,” said Stanford University’s Grimmer. “Here, I think it’s reversed.”
While people are getting some of their information about election denialism online, Grimmer said, the real force of the movement comes from the in-person meetings. “Individuals are coming together, discussing the things that they think are surprising or suspicious in their local elections and then actually going out in their community and doing something,” Grimmer said.
This played out in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, a small metropolitan area with about 114,000 residents. In January 2023 a local election denial group successfully petitioned for a recount of the 2020 presidential election. Most of the group’s organizing has been conducted in-person at various community centers around Williamsport, Pennsylvania (population 28,000), the Lycoming County seat.
Poll workers recounted nearly 60,000 ballots by hand; the difference between the electronic and manually-counted ballots came in at just a handful of votes. Election officials attributed the difference to poorly-circled ovals on the ballot that the machine could not detect.
Lycoming County’s elections director says the election denial group represents a loud minority in the community. “I think it’s easy to walk up to somebody and get them to sign almost anything,” said elections director Forrest Lehman. “In doing this hand-count, probably 4,900 out of those 5,000 people [who signed the petition] are gonna say, OK, well fine. I guess the results were correct.”
But it’s the other 100 people who are driving the movement in rural areas like Lycoming County, Lehman told the Daily Yonder.
Even after the hand-count results showed no proof of fraud in the electronically-counted ballots, the local election denial group has doubled down on their accusations, inviting election denier Sam Faddis, a retired CIA officer, to speak at their meetings. Like the election deniers touring nationally (such as Mike Lindell and Seth Keshel), Faddis has toured Pennsylvania to speak with other election denial groups.
“They allege that our vote totals were off by thousands based on these questionable statistical analyses that are being peddled not only in this state, but in a lot of places by a couple big names that keep coming up,” Lehman said.
Nearly 2,000 miles to the west of Lycoming County, a county clerk is experiencing similar accusations fueled by the election denial movement’s main talking points.
In La Plata County, Colorado, an influx of open records requests have poured in since 2020 challenging the election tools the county uses, which include Dominion Voting Systems – an electronic voting hardware and software company – and mail-in ballots. The county has relied on mail-in ballots since 1992.
“What’s happened to us is people from the outside and different organizations that don’t have anything to do with our local communities are attacking us because ‘Oh my gosh, you have Dominion or you use mail ballots and we don’t trust you,’ ” said La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee in a Daily Yonder interview. “That’s been really hard on us.”
Most of the open records requests use the same language provided by state and national election denial groups, Lee said.
Lee has not experienced the violent threats other election officials have received (a Maricopa County, Arizona election official received death threats through voicemail in 2021, for example), but her office is on high alert, especially as they move into the 2024 presidential election year.
And they have good reason to be.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice established the Election Threats Task Force to investigate threats to election workers, which they identified as on the rise post-2020.
In the task force’s first year, more than 1,000 threats were reported, and approximately 11% of them met the requirements for federal criminal investigation, according to a press release. Of the potentially criminal threats, 58% of them were in states with post-election lawsuits, audits, and recounts.
In May 2023, the Department of Homeland Security released a national terrorism advisory bulletin that warns of a heightened domestic violence threat moving into the 2024 election year. The causes for this violence include individuals’ “perceptions of the 2024 general election cycle and legislative or judicial decisions pertaining to sociopolitical issues.” The advisory expires November 23, 2023.
The psychological toll these threats take on election workers is severe: In Colorado, 23 of the state’s 64 county clerks were new to the office last year, according to Lee. This high turnover poses another risk to the elections process.
“If we chase off election workers with this insanity, we’re going to make elections run more poorly,” said Grimmer from Stanford University. “We’ll be hemorrhaging so much experience and expertise for no reason other than the sort of falsehoods that are in people’s brains.”
As election officials gear up for local and state elections this November and a presidential election next year, county clerks are preparing to head off even more fraud accusations.
Rural county clerks hope their communities will trust them through the process.
“We’re just here to do our jobs,” Lee said. “Just like your county treasurer, your county assessor, your coroner, your surveyor; your county clerks are the same. We’re just administrators of the law.
“And I hope that rural communities across the United States understand that, that we’re just human beings doing good work for the people’s voices to be heard.”
Want a degree without classes and lectures? California community colleges test a new approach
A revolution is in the making at California’s community colleges: No more grades, no more sitting through lectures or seminars, no more deadlines. In a pilot program taking shape across eight of the state’s community colleges, the only requirement for some associate degrees will be “competency.”
Students who can prove that they have the relevant skills can earn that degree.
In theory, this model, known as “competency-based education,” could provide students with more flexibility and the potential to attain degrees faster in key job sectors. The pilot is geared toward working adults, many of whom left community colleges at record rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the state’s population of K-12 students continues to shrink, leaving colleges with fewer students right out of high school, the pilot aims to attract adults who are already in the workforce by “valuing their lived and work experience,” said Madera Community College President Ángel Reyna.
If successful, these community colleges will set themselves apart from every other two-year institution in the country. The pilot, which launched in 2021, provides eight California community colleges with up to $515,000 over the course of four years to each design a single associate degree program using this new model.
The goal is for students to be able to enroll at some point in the 2024-25 academic year, said Aisha Lowe, an executive vice chancellor at the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. In practice, colleges must overcome bureaucratic and logistical hurdles to make the new system work. At least one community college says it is struggling to hit the state’s deadline.
The challenge is to create something that works “but isn’t so different that colleges can still wrap their heads around it and engage,” Lowe said. “It’s definitely unprecedented.”
A new way to measure learning
The new model restructures the requirements of a degree to reflect what students have learned, rather than the amount of time they spend in class.
Currently, all college degrees require a certain number of hours spent in a classroom, either in-person or virtually. An associate degree, which California’s community colleges offer, requires roughly 3,000 hours spent in a classroom or on homework in a traditional academic year. That’s why some refer to it as a “two-year degree.”
Teachers get paid in part based on the number of hours they teach. Because of the high number of part-time students, the state funds colleges and universities based largely on the number of hours that a student spends in class, not the number of students themselves.
In this current system, students may be required to sit through classes to get college credit even if they can demonstrate they already have some of the requisite skills. Students who may have less time for school because of work or family obligations lose out too, said Charla Long, the president of the Competency-Based Education Network, a consultant for California’s pilot program.
“We’ve created an inequitable system because it’s so time bound,” she said.
In the new system, students seeking an associate degree in early childhood education at Shasta College in Redding will take 60 different exams, each one testing a specific skill, said Buffy Tanner, the college’s director of innovation and special projects. Students in the program will have materials to teach themselves, teachers will be available to answer questions and counselors will be able to provide wraparound support.
Currently, a student is required to take 20 semester-long classes for that same degree. Students in the new program will be able to take an exam up to three times and can move as quickly or as slowly as they want, Tanner said. In-state students in the new program who do not qualify for financial aid will pay the same total tuition, just shy of $2,800 for an associate degree, not including the cost of books, classroom supplies, or other miscellaneous fees. Shasta College, like the other colleges in the pilot, is still trying to figure out how much to pay faculty in the new system.
Not every student can succeed in this self-paced format. Tanner said the plan is to vet students for the program through questions about their lives and study habits: “Do you need external deadlines? What kind of self-discipline do you have?”
“We have to make sure students fully understand what they’re getting into,” she said.
A growing phenomenon
Such alternative education systems have existed for decades. Since the 1970s, some colleges and universities have experimented with new models of teaching and learning that offer more flexibility and try to evaluate students based on what they know, not on how much time they spent in class, Long said.
Other large for-profit and non-profit university systems have experimented with the same model, including Capella University, an online college, and Southern New Hampshire University. California followed. In 2018, at the behest of former Gov. Jerry Brown, the state created a new community college, known as Calbright, which is free, entirely online, and exclusively “competency-based.”
“This is radically different, and an incredibly powerful way to support our students,” Calbright’s blog says about its model.
A 2020 survey of nearly 500 colleges and universities across the country found that 13% were already offering at least one degree or certificate through competency-based education and roughly half of those surveyed were in the process of adopting one, though the report noted that there’s “considerable variation” about how they define the model.
Homework after 10 p.m. makes progress slow
For Calbright student Jeremy Cox, the appeal was less about the instructional method and more about the convenience of online education. He started taking online classes in 2016 through for-profit companies such as Udemy and Coursera.
“To be able to just pull out a phone and bust out a couple of lessons from Udemy or Coursera, that’s very helpful,” he said.
One day while at a park near Long Beach with his children, Cox ran into a woman who told him about Calbright College. While Udemy and Coursera do not focus on a particular instructional method, Cox said his experience at Calbright College has been pretty similar, with two key differences. Unlike Udemy or Coursera, he said, Calbright provides teachers who are more available and respond quickly to questions via Slack, a messaging app. The other difference is social interaction. He has become involved in building community among his classmates and serves as the college’s first student body president.
Calbright has had consistent enrollment growth each academic year since it began, despite a scathing report from the state auditor’s office. State legislators have repeatedly tried to defund the school, pointing to poor academic outcomes.
Even though the college advertises that students can finish certificate programs in less than a year, CalMatters found that fewer than 10% of Calbright students actually do. The data only runs through the spring of 2022, and Calbright was unable to provide updated figures.
Cox said he had intended to complete an IT certification at Calbright in three to six months with a goal of one day getting a job that involves user design, artificial intelligence or blockchain. Now, he expects it to take about a year and a half.
“My study time is when the kids go to bed. I only have after 10 p.m.,” he said. “And then with student body responsibilities, my time is split between the two. Half of it is with the student body and half is my studies.”
Creating an ‘unprecedented’ new system
With this new pilot, these eight community colleges in California aim to go one step further than Calbright College, using a similar concept but creating new curricula and setting up new systems to provide even more flexibility for students. Calbright is not in the pilot, but Lowe said the college has provided advice, such as strategies to support students outside the classroom.
By the 2024-25 school year, these eight colleges plan to change part of their state funding formula, faculty pay, and financial aid regulations. They’re also adapting the licenses that allow them to operate, a process known as accreditation. These are changes that take years of work and include getting approval from district boards, state officials and federal agencies. Adapting financial aid policies is particularly cumbersome, but Long, president of the Competency-Based Education Network, said if the eight colleges can succeed, they’ll be the first two-year institutions in the country to do it.
If the state’s community colleges can’t adapt to the competency-model of no lectures or grades, other schools will beat them to it, said Lowe, an executive vice chancellor with the community college system. She pointed to “for-profits” as the primary competitor.
At Shasta College, Tanner said the pilot program offered an opportunity to train students as the state ramps up its plans to offer free transitional kindergarten, which is a year of school offered to any 4-year old before kindergarten. California will need as many as 15,600 new early childhood educators by 2025-26 to teach transitional kindergarten.
State law sets requirements for transitional kindergarten teachers, such as taking 24 units of early education college classes or having comparable professional experience. For those who already have some background in early childhood education, but not enough to meet the requirements, the new course model could allow them to “quickly demonstrate that they know their stuff,” Tanner said.
Unions, faculty leaders voice concern
The success of the pilot depends on the support of the faculty.
“Take a look at teacher load, teacher contracts — that’s all connected to time in the classroom, lecture hours. This whole framework is going to have to break or change and nobody really knows how to go about doing that,” said Elizabeth Waterbury, a music instructor and the faculty association president at Shasta College.
While she supports the idea, she’s concerned about what the new system could do to faculty pay.
“I’m afraid we may be the ones who could make it more difficult for California to transition to competency-based education,” she said.
Tanner and her colleagues haven’t yet tried to sell the faculty union on the pilot. Instead, they plan to ask faculty involved in the pilot program to track their time so that the college first understands the workload.
Last fall, faculty leaders from the Madera Community College Academic Senate expressed concerns about the ways this new model might impact their pay and intellectual property, college president Reyna said. The development of the new program has been on “pause” ever since, he said.
On Aug. 25, the Madera Community College Academic Senate issued a resolution saying it was “deeply concerned” about the direction of the pilot program and asked the college to “reconsider” participating. However, the former president of the academic senate, Brad Millar, already signed off on the formation of the program on March 7, 2021, when the college submitted its application to join the pilot.
But in its resolution, the academic senate said anyone who signed the application on behalf of the group never sought approval from its members. When the members of the academic senate did discuss the program on Nov. 18, 2022, it “failed to garner support,” according to the resolution.
“In concept, there are many benefits,” Bill Turini, president of the Madera Community College Academic Senate, told CalMatters. One potential concern is that the model could lead to less qualified teachers in some instances, he said. He said the program is “still an abstraction” but pointed to other, simpler changes that he said yield similar results, such as more online instruction and flexible start dates.
Madera Community College is the newest community college in the state, officially recognized in 2020. It is part of a large district that includes Fresno City College, Clovis Community College, and Reedley College. None of the other schools in the district are participating in the pilot.
“Any policy that we want to change at Madera Community College to accommodate competency-based education, it impacts the three other colleges,” Reyna said.
East Los Angeles College is the only college participating in the pilot among a nine-college district. It’s the largest community college district in the nation. It’s been slow to implement some of the changes required by the pilot program, but success there could make it easier for other colleges in the district to follow.
“When you talk to faculty who’ve been here longer than 10 years and their picture of an East Los Angeles College student, they envision a 20-year-old student taking 15 units (full-time) at the Monterey Park campus. We’ve now grown to an older student population,” said Leticia Barajas, a faculty member and president of the college’s academic senate. “This is about institutional transformative change.”
This story was produced with support from the Education Writers Association’s Reporting Fellowship program. Adam Echelman covers California’s community colleges in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit newsroom focused on higher education.