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Progressive News Briefs

Video Surveillance Increases with no Accountability

By: Mike Rhodes

Who is watching the people who are watching you? Answer: Nobody.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin announced on April 14 that the city has placed an additional 10 video surveillance cameras in downtown Fresno.  That increases the number of cameras in this community to 100, with 97 of them south of Shaw Avenue.  She says more cameras are on the way.

This spying of residents in the poorer sections of the city is being done in violation of the policy manual approved by the Fresno City Council and agreed to by the police.  The policy manual called for the monitoring of the project by an independent auditor who would write an annual report.  The video surveillance project, which has been in operation for several years now, has never been reviewed by an independent auditor.

The reason civilian oversight of the video surveillance project is important is because it will give residents the information they need to determine if they want to continue the project.  Are residents civil liberties being violated?  Are cadets using the equipment to follow attractive women around town?  Have the millions of dollars spent on the project prevented or solved any crimes?  Without a report on what is being done, we have no way of knowing.

Farmworker Community Joins the Green Economy Movement!

The San Joaquin Valley is the most polluted region in the nation and was recently identified as the least healthy, least educated, and most economically challenged area in the nation.  One of the poorest communities in the state, standing distant but proud on the western part of Fresno County, is taking up the challenge, amidst many factors, to stimulate the local economy and pitch in to clean the regional air by supporting clean energy alternatives that will save the air from thousands of tons of pollution per year.

Over 40% Unemployment rate and 39.4% of residents living below poverty level in this mostly farmworker community are strong indicators of the need to diversify the industry and workforce market.  The $50 million, 40 acre, 5-megawatt solar farm, on City property, marks the initiation of a new future.  It also speaks to the ability to advance the economy while cleaning the air, supporting a sustainable and healthy living, as well as providing students with the exposure and knowledge of the opportunities the Green Economy holds.

For the building of the solar farm, SolarGen USA will work to hire from the community and work with various groups to support and promote green jobs and educational opportunities for locals. This will generate blue collar employment, but our hope is that the youth can see this project and work towards being the white collar leaders in a New Green World.  It has always been the custom of, Huron, “the Heart of the Valley” to harvest food for the rest of the planet, and it is appropriate that they will now begin to harvest the sun.

Another Major Marsden Endorsement

The California Teachers Association has endorsed Les Marsden for Congress in the 19th District, in both the June 8 primary and November 2 general elections.  The coveted and highly prestigious CTA endorsement was based upon Marsden’s detailed dissertations upon educational issues as well as in-person interviewing between Marsden and regional educational leaders.

The April 5 notification letter from David A. Sanchez, President of the California Teachers Association reads in part:

“Dear Mr. Marsden:

You will be pleased to know that the California Teachers Association has recommended your candidacy for Congressional District 19 in the 2010 Primary and General elections.   This recommendation was based upon your stated educational positions.  On March 27, 2010, the CTA State Council of Education, comprised of nearly 800 teacher leaders, overwhelmingly concurred in your candidacy recommendation to the National Education Association.   We in CTA look forward to working closely with you during the coming election campaign…”

Marsden issued the following personal response: “I’m proud to be a product of the California public school system and a graduate of CSUFresno.  My experience as an educator first began in the Monterey County Unified School District in 1981 when I was just barely 24 years old and taught first grade.  Over the ensuing years, while engaged in my successful mainstream career, I also taught virtually all levels from first grade through university instruction, most recently at the University of California – Merced, as well as specialized private education.  I’ve always considered quality education and the passage of knowledge to be one of the critical responsibilities of a society.  The CTA endorsement is therefore incredibly humbling; an endorsement for which I am profoundly, hugely grateful.  Education is truly the most important tool for our nation’s success and how we best educate our young will determine America’s future.”

The CTA was founded in 1863 and its membership includes teachers, counselors, school librarians, social workers, psychologists and nurses in the K-12 school system.  CTA membership also includes community college faculty, California State University faculty and education support professionals.  The CTA is considered to be the most powerful voice of educators in the state.

Marsden has also won the pre-endorsement of the California Democratic Party and that CDP endorsement will be officially ratified on April 18th in Los Angeles during the Sunday plenary session of the CDP’s statewide convention.  Marsden adds the California Teachers Association endorsement to his already-announced support from the Central Labor Council of Fresno/Madera/Tulare/Kings Counties, the Central Labor Council of Merced/Mariposa Counties, the Central Labor Council of Stanislaus/Tuolumne Counties and the North Valley Labor Federation, among others.

San Joaquin Valley Residents Sue California Dept. of Public Health for Safe Drinking Water Plan

Water quality is so bad in some rural communities that residents can’t drink the water from their faucets.

In April, California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. filed an appeal on behalf of the AGUA coalition and other residents of unincorporated communities with contaminated drinking water to request that the California Department of Public Health develop and submit to the legislature a Safe Drinking Water Plan, as required under the state Safe Drinking Water Act.

Frustrated by the lack of action to solve the region’s growing drinking water crisis, residents from communities that have been without safe water for over a decade hoped that the plan would help highlight the persistent lack of safe water in many small communities and force the state to invest in solving it. On behalf of these residents, California Rural Legal Assistance filed a writ of mandate against the California Department of Public Health to prepare the state mandated Safe Drinking Water Plan. However, citing budgetary limitations, a state court in Fresno County ruled on February 5th that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) does not have to prepare the plan. Plaintiffs are appealing this decision.

“Our water is still contaminated, we are in debt, and now we are facing yet another rate increase,couple  of” said Juventino Gonzalez, a petitioner in the case and a current resident of Lanare, California in Fresno County. Lanare’s drinking water is contaminated with high levels of arsenic and residents currently pay $46 a month for water they cannot drink. The community received over 1.3 million dollars in Federal funding to construct an arsenic treatment plant between 2002 and 2007. However, due to the high costs of arsenic treatment, the community incurred extreme debt and was forced to turn the plant off 6 months after it started operating.

The Beat Within: National Writing Program Reaches Out To Incarcerated Youth In Fresno

During the past three years, The Beat Within has emerged into a  popular, unique program at the Fresno County Juvenile Justice Campus (JJC) where volunteer facilitators conduct writing and expression workshops for over 120 incarcerated youth each week.

This local effort is part of a national program that strives to give incarcerated youth a chance to tell their side of the story and use writing and poetry as a way to navigate their losses and lessons learned. The program operates weekly in cities across the country, such as San Francisco, Washington DC, Miami, Phoenix, Santa Cruz, and Fresno, among others. The writings are then compiled into a weekly publication distributed to detention facilities throughout the country.

From the Fresno JJC, one young woman writes: “I got a couple of days ago from my dad. He’s been down for like 10 or 11 years now.  He has like almost 20 more to go. So I kinda do really listen to him when he asks me to do right. I come from a family of prison sentence
after prison sentence. Right at this moment my mom and dad and brother are all in prison. At one point my mom and grandma were walking the yard together in Chowchilla…but I’ve gotten to the point where I want to ‘break the cycle.’ Since November of last year I decided to break the cycle not because everyone tells me I should, but because I want a better life for myself.”

Workshops are operated locally by The Know Youth Media, a local organization whose mission is to engage teens in media creation as a vehicle for creating wider public awareness around youth issues.

To learn more, visit www.theknowfresno.org or www.thebeatwithin.org.

  • Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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