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Congressman, state reps sound positive at Chamber event
• Annual Legislative Breakfast held at Community Center
John Duarte  speaks in Ceres
Congressman John Duarte (R-Modesto) said he wants to see national and state lawmakers return to fiscally sane and sound policies, including using Green New Deal dollars for much needed highway projects like widening I-5. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Three freshmen lawmakers – all elected in 2022 – sounded an optimistic tone about restoring common sense to lawmaking and government funding at Friday’s Legislative Breakfast sponsored by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce.

Elected officials speaking at the 9 a.m. breakfast at the Ceres Community Center were Congressman John Duarte (R-Modesto), California State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil (D-Jackson), California State Assemblyman Juan Alanis (R-Modesto), and Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Channce Condit (District 5) was unable to attend the event but recorded a video message in which he touted his efforts to offer regular community clean-ups in his District 5.

Congressman Duarte said he’s been sitting down with local officials to see what their communities’ needs are, including speaking to Mayor Javier Lopez about getting federal dollars to Ceres. A pressing need for Ceres is obtaining funding for a planned new Highway 99 interchange at Service and Mitchell roads.

Duarte spoke about challenges in Washington, D.C. “that really don’t make sense for working families of the Central Valley.” He noted that the $1.7 trillion Transportation Infrastructure Jobs Act which “theoretically” was to improve roads and replace crumbling bridges. Duarte is trying to get the $3.1 billion reallocate from the high-speed rail project in the Central Valley to be used on freeway interchanges and widening I-5. He noted the state’s failure to keep up with road projects, citing massive traffic jams and “soul-crushing congestion” daily facing Valley folks driving to Bay Area jobs once they get past Tracy.

“We need some freeway fixes,” said Duarte. “We need these interchanges. We need this infrastructure in the Valley so that working families can access better paying jobs wherever they might be.”

He said if freeways aren’t widened, economic opportunities will be limited.

“Theoretically by the time the bullet train is built, we’ll pretty well outlaw gas cars in California. I don’t think that’ll happen because I think it’s completely impractical.”

He noted that the High Speed Rail Commission has admitted they don’t have electric engines to run the trains, meaning they will run on diesel. He said it doesn’t make sense to give up gas engines for a diesel powered train.

“We really want to use this money wisely,” said Duarte. 

“We’re trying to get back to a society that’s focused around the needs of the working family. We’re trying to drill American oil. We passed HR 1 which was a drill American oil, it’s developing natural gas. If you want to put up some solar panels … some windows, great, but in 2024 they’re still not economical, they still require enormous government subsidies and we’re talking $1.2 trillion in subsidies focused on the Green New Deal.”

“If solar panels can’t pay for themselves then why are we burdening ourselves focusing on energy sources that don’t make America competitive in the world?”

Such green energy policies only encourage businesses and manufacturers to stay clear of the United States.

Duarte advocates building more nuclear power and natural gas plants.

Switching to water, he complained that the state has taken water from Valley farms “and left our economy really stranded.”

Duarte said growing a healthy economy is the way to help families, saying they cannot be provided for through government dependency programs.

The congressman told the Ceres crowd that je feels his job in D.C. is to “call out” ridiculous policies, such as the state regulation that doesn’t permit a doctor’s office from being turned into a public health clinic that can operate more than 40 hours per week unless it is developed to costly “hospital standards.”

“This is the ridiculous policy that’s affecting your lives.”

When asked about Social Security he said Congress must develop solutions to preserve the program.

The Social Security Trust Fund, if everything remains the same, will go broke in eight years. Medicare is also in trouble. He said the issue is a political hot potato because it involves raising taxes or cutting benefits.

Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil, a mother of three who lives in Jackson, called for more bipartisanship solutions in Sacramento. She noted that she, Duarte and Alanis all came into office the same year as non-politicians who hail from the community who offers a “whole other outcome.”

Despite being from different parties, Alvarado-Gil said she and Alanis share common views on legislation affecting the Valley.

“That’s when we get things get done and that’s when we see our communities being uplifted and that’s when we see us coming together in love and respect rather than in antagonism.”

Alvarado-Gil said that California cannot remain strong unless farmers remain strong.

“I said yesterday in one of the water events – and I’m not trying to incite a civil war – but I do want civil awareness about the Central Valley,” explained the state senator. “Without the resources and the food and the water that we bring, California will cease to exist. The Bay Area will not get their Hetch Hetchy water. Los Angeles will not get their Owens Valley water. So I’m going to tell you that we have more power coming together and protecting our area and I see the possible in the impossible.”

Regarding the lack of affordable housing, Alvarado-Gil noted the median price of a home in California is $765,000 – far out of reach of many, especially young people.

“To build an affordable house here in California it costs more than a million dollars. The housing market here in California has completely collapsed to a place where we have not talked about this session, we have not said the words that we need to say to get out of this crisis and at the same time we’re seeing our utility rates go up, we’re seeing our insurance market collapse, we’re seeing the cost of our food and education rise. At what point will we step back and say enough is enough? I believe that the Central Valley, again the heart of Ceres, that we have the innovation, we have the creativity, we have the education, the intelligence and we have the passion to turn California around.”

Senator Mare Alvarado-Gil jackson
California State Senator Mare Alvarado-Gil (D-Jackson) said she’s happy to work on bipartisan solutions in Sacramento. - photo by Jeff Benziger

She added that she wants her district to attract more manufacturing jobs and investments in education to equip the future generations to stay and serve in the Valley.

Alvarado-Gil said a month ago she lived the experience of a homeless person for a day in Modesto, including eating at a shelter, riding on public transit, visiting encampments and riding along with CARE team members to understand why homelessness is so prevalent.

She said there is no simple answer to a complex problem.

“Unless we look at this as a human issue, not a political issue, we’re going to fail over and over and over again,” Alvarado-Gil said. “It’s not enough to rely on our churches and community non-profits to solve the issue. It’s not enough to throw $28 billion from the state budget towards the problem that we’re seeing to grow.”

She expressed optimism because of the partnerships developed “and because we are pushing out politicians in elected office and we’re bringing in real community people with real lived experiences.”

The senator was asked by an audience member how she plans to preserve funding for affordable housing and homelessness given the state’s massive budget deficit. She explained that traditionally the governor puts together his budget proposal and “shoves it down our throats” but she noted “we’re not accepting that.” The Senate has created its own budget proposal and taking it to the state Assembly and governor. While urban legislators wield great power in deciding where money is spent she said the needs of rural Californians are being understood by leaders, providing “a light on the horizon.”

Alvarado-Gil said she is working to preserve the Homekey funding.

Alanis speaks to public safety

Assemblyman Juan Alanis, who is a former Stanislaus County Sheriff’s deputy and vice chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, said his focus has been to educate fellow lawmakers on the need to hold criminals accountable.

He said he was able to get the governor to sign five of his bills, four related to public safety. Another bill helped preserve horse racing in Northern California.

Because he comes from a law enforcement background, Alanis has been able to educate fellow lawmakers against bad bills. He helped to put a stop to a bill that would prevent police from using canines to apprehend suspects. Lawmakers were acting on a statistic that showed over 6,000 unarmed men of color were being apprehended by canines.

“That sounds terrible,” admitted Alanis, “but for those who are not involved in law enforcement or not understand a canine program, their bread and butter is surrenders. I want to know how many once a canine came on scene.”

Because those surrender stats were not collected by the Department of Justice, he authored a bill which requires those surrender statistics to be collected.

Alanis believes the use of canines prevents lethal force in some cases. Canines also prevent officer injuries.

Another colleague attempted to introduce a bill that would have forbidden officers from asking citizens from doing consensual searches of cars during car stops.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking somebody. That’s where the consent part comes in. And so one of my colleagues felt that that was a bad idea for law enforcement to be able to ask that because his constituents unfortunately were saying ‘yes’ a lot and they were finding drugs and gun on them. Well, just tell them to stop carrying drugs and guns and they won’t have anything to worry about it.”

Alanis stood on the floor to debate against that bill.

“I’m very happy to bring my experience up there and that’s a big part of what I do in Sacramento.”

The Modesto Republican said something needs to be done to repeal Proposition 47 which was passed by the voters which allows a person to steal up to $950 in merchandise without it being a felony. The limit was previously $400.

“Our businesses have gone almost 10 years without help with people going in and being able to take whatever they want and it only be a misdemeanor. I had people on my own Public Safety Committee last year blaming law enforcement for not doing their jobs. So what I had to do was educate them and said ‘you took what used to be a felony and now it’s a misdemeanor.’ What that means now is these misdemeanors have to be committed in the presence of law enforcement officers. The felonies did not. And you have the Public Safety Committee who didn’t even know that!”

Alanis said he is encouraged by Los Angeles Democratic lawmaker Wendy Carrillo who has introduced a bill that allows police to arrest someone accused of shoplifting not seen by an officer.

“She’s taking a lot of heat for that,” said Alanis.

Juan Alanis Ceres April 2024
State Assemblyman Juan Alanis has been crusading in Sacramento for tougher laws against criminals and undoing laws that hamper police officers. - photo by Jeff Benziger

“There’s a different change going on in Sacramento right now for the good.”

He also noted that a proposition is proposed to fix the problems associated with Prop. 47. He said voters were lied to with a deceptive title, “Safe Schools, Safe Neighborhoods.”

Alanis also answered critics who say conservatives only want to put people in jail but he said that arrests often force people to realize they need to end their drug addictions.

Alanis said he’s heard from those in the trades industries that the workforce is depleting.

“A lot of it comes back to the high schools,” said Alanis. “You have a lot of the counselors there pushing them, ‘You need to go to college. You need to go to college – that’s how you’re successful.’ And some people do try it and then they find out they’re now in debt and it wasn’t for them.”

He said it’s desirable that high schools have career preparation for students to work in local industries, many of which will pay for training.

Condit’s video

Supervisor Condit explained in his video that he couldn’t make the event because he was going with his pregnant wife to a scheduled doctor’s appointment. He explained how he has scheduled county sponsored waste drop-off events.

Condit also said he is proud of $24.1 million being allocated for curbs, gutters, sidewalks and lighting in South Modesto neighborhoods.

“This is going to be transformational for those residents and for how they navigate their community.”

Condit also spoke how the county has snagged a Caltrans grant to make infrastructure improvements on Ninth Street.

Javier Lopez Legislative Breakfast
Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez delivered brief remarks at the Legislative Breakfast, detailing on the importance of communication with state and federal officials. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Mayor speaks

Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez spoke about how the city has been collaborating with federal and state officials to get monies for needs.

“The communication level that the city of Ceres, myself, has with all these elected officials is key,” said the mayor. “If we do not communicate, if we do not have a relationship, nothing will get done. It all goes downhill.”

Regarding homelessness, Lopez said that as Stanislaus County expects more money to combat the problem, “we have to make sure we focus on the mental health and drug addiction aspect of this.

“We will not be able to resolve this overnight but we cannot turn a blind eye. We cannot continue to allow the things that we see in our community to continue. I will not ignore it and neither should you.”

Gathering Legislative breakfast
Participants in Friday’s annual Legislative Breakfast hosted by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce were: (left to right), State Assemblyman Juan Alanis, state Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil, Russ Fowler who is a field representative to County Supervisor Channce Condit, Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez and Rep. John Duarte. - photo by Jeff Benziger