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Trains, misplaced priorities, and water

A recent meeting of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors seems to illustrate what I believe are misplaced priorities. Allow me to explain.

I don’t typically attend these meetings because there’s nothing there that requires my attendance for this publication. Unless, of course, it’s the county Ag commissioner’s annual announcement and report of crop values from the previous year; then I’m all ears.

I made it a point this year to report on the three top Ag counties in the United States – Kern, Tulare and Fresno – because of the size and scope of their agricultural output. I believe my attendance at these meetings benefits readers as I’m able to record and reflect not just the data these reports provide, but the comments and attitudes of those elected to represent local farmers.

It is standard practice for California Ag commissioners to present their reports to elected supervisors during a formal public meeting.

Fresno Ag Commissioner Les Wright’s report was listed on the board’s agenda for July 15. Just ahead of it was a lengthy public hearing on the merits of California’s proposed high speed rail (HSR) system. Fresno County supervisors were being asked to formally decide whether they would continue to support the HSR proposal that many say is wrought with problems and will cost exponentially more than first proposed.

Here’s the rub, and I’m not alone in this: I spoke with a local Ag leader who validated my thoughts on the subject.

Supervisors could have easily moved the Ag commissioner’s 10-minute presentation ahead of the three-hour public session on HSR. I say that not because Wright’s report was the only reason I attended the meeting, but it was.

The big picture

Agriculture generates over $6 billion a year in direct sales and billions more in economic activity for Fresno County; it is also responsible for much of the property taxes collected each year in Fresno County.

Even if only very subtly, taking the Ag commissioner’s report ahead of the HSR debate could have signaled that supervisors value the contributions of agriculture and the time required for their Ag commissioner to make his presentation before continuing with his busy schedule.

As for whether supervisors will continue to lend their political support to HSR remains to be seen; their decision on the matter will be taken up at a future board meeting. Meanwhile, the Ag commissioner was forced to miss an industry meeting and luncheon representing one of Fresno County’s top commodities because his report to supervisors was not graciously moved ahead of other matters.

It’s about priorities in my opinion. Californians are being told that bullet trains are more important than water storage and conveyance.

California’s agriculture industry is currently drying on the vine because of these misplaced priorities. These Ag counties need to wake up and realize that if it weren’t for the property and business taxes paid by farmers and the processing facilities located within those counties, their own coffers would be just as dry as a fallow Fresno County farm field.

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Nobody wins when farmers go bankrupt, banks foreclose and counties are no longer able to collect property taxes, all because California farmers were denied sufficient supplies of irrigation water.


Follow me on twitter @ToddFitchette or reach me at [email protected]

TAGS: Legislative
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