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Lawmakers talk policy over Chamber breakfast
• Officials address myriad of key issues
Duarte speaks in Ceres
Rep. John Duarte speaks at the annual Legislative Breakfast held Friday at the Ceres Community Center. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER /Courier photo

Whether it’s about getting more water storage, reducing crime, more housing built and more homeless off the streets, Ceres’ freshman congressman and two new state legislators told a Friday breakfast audience that getting goals accomplished for the Central Valley will require the public to speak up and get involved.

The breakfast, which catered mostly to the business community, was hosted by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce the Stanislaus Latino Chamber of Commerce and the city of Ceres at the Ceres Community Center.

Elected officials who spoke beginning at 9 a.m. included Congressman John Duarte (R-Hughson), California State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil (D-Jackson), California State Assemblyman Juan Alanis (R-Modesto), Stanislaus County Supervisor Channce Condit (District 5) and Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez.

Duarte said Stanislaus County has the best water rights in the state but noted “until California achieves water abundance, our water rights are threatened … home construction in California is constrained and working families over California are paying – I would estimate – a thousand dollars more in rent than they should be and we see that here in Stanislaus County.”

He noted that the $12 billion needed to invest in raising Shasta and Auburn dams and building new storage at Temperance Flats and Sites reservoirs, is equivalent to one third of one percent of California’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $3.6 trillion.

“I find it unacceptable that we don’t move forward and provide this abundance,” said Duarte. “We have a war right now with champions of abundance versus the lords of scarcity.”

He said the latter – the Democrats – “are running the show today” in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

“They’ll put solar panels on rich people’s homes, they’ll give them a check to go buy a Tesla, meanwhile in this area, if you’re not MID or TID you’re paying 24, 25 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity. I can’t tell you how many homes I knocked on doors of, 105 in the afternoon, the screen’s door closed and main doors open. And these working families, they get up and work and do the hardest jobs in the hottest environment, every day, are ventilating their house with natural air flow on a hot afternoon because they can’t afford to run the air conditioning. So that’s unacceptable.”

Duarte said he will fight for “rationalized spending,” better jobs, better affordability and better water and energy resources.

“We have to preserve the American dream here in this district for future generations.”

Councilwoman Rosalinda Vierra asked what citizens can do to increase water storage. Duarte said it comes down to the voters.

“When you elect people who demand water infrastructure now, when you elect people are going to take it to the mat, when you tell all of us at all levels that – you know a lot of these failed environmental single species efforts is what we call them, we’ve been flushing water (from dams) for the smelt for 40 years. The smelt turned off. We’ve been flushing water for salmon for 40 years. The salmon are not restoring any better. We need better methods. Just grabbing our water and flushing it out to the ocean is unacceptable and as a voter you’re not buying know … you know that the water scarcity policy that we have in California today is leading to less economic opportunity for you, you know it’s leading to higher inflation and it’s not achieving any environmental end. It is flat silly nonsense.”

He summed up by saying voters need to go to state leaders and “give ‘em hell.”

Duarte was asked his opinion of the American economy, prompting him to say “we are in a self-inflicted recession … because we printed too much money, encouraged people not to go to work, to stay home, we shut down small business.”

The Hughson nursery owner touted individual achievement and accountability, adding: “We’re not getting people on the ladder of success. We’re teaching kids that they’re either victims or oppressors and we’re not telling kids they have control over their own lives.”

After his expression for keeping the American dream alive and that progressivism is the “wrong step forward,” Duarte was asked to define the American dream when 65 percent of Stanislaus County is in poverty and what he is doing to support farm laborers and people of color.

Duarte said everyone who comes to America can work hard. He said the minimum wage and overtime rules for farm workers have “really hurt access to the American dream.” He explained that those laws erode the ability of anyone of any color to work long hours to get ahead. He advocates school accountability, parental choice, and supporting laws that are friendly to business.

After reviewing how businesses suffered through the pandemic and the state shutting down schools and businesses, District 4 state Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil explained that she introduced SB 375 which will extend tax credits to businesses affected by the pandemic and mandates from Sacramento.

“As the federal tax credit dwindles, I am looking to put them in place here in Sacramento to help bridge that gap,” said the senator. “These credits would be $100 per employee of small businesses and $50 for employees for larger businesses. This bill would help these businesses affected by COVID and Sacramento’s regulations to get back on track towards success by providing them with the resources to get employees back to work and allow them to keep their doors open longer.”

Alvarado-Gil explained that her bill which was shot down in committee last week would have focused on bringing more protections to workers, expanding sick days from three to five days. She explained that a competing bill trumped her bill, increasing to seven days. Her SB 881 would have given protections to businesses regarding documentation for sick days.

Alvarado-Gil said she voted against Gov. Newsom’s proposal to create a new bureaucracy in SBX1 2 to regulate the oil and gas industry.

She called for the business owners in the room to mentor young entrepreneurs.

“As legislators, we must remind ourselves that our job is not to stand in the way of businesses or dictate how one should run their business.”

She said she was proud that her Senate Bill 268 made it through the Public Safety Committee, which would make rape of an unconscious person qualify as a “violent felony.” If it passes, SB 268 would “give victims more rights than criminals.”

Marie Alvarado Gill speaks Ceres
California State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gill, D-Jackson, addressed issues at the Ceres breakfast. - photo by Jeff Benziger

The Jackson Democrat and mother of three called for more bipartisanship in Sacramento and for elected officials to “listen more and talk less.”

In response to a question, Alvarado-Gil said she supports a pathway to citizenship as do many Valley officials “as we see the value of farmworkers” who are assisting in agriculture, the “bread and butter of our economy.”

Former Ceres Mayor Eric Ingwerson asked the senator what can be done to reduce crime and mentioned the fatal shooting of a loss prevention officer responding to a theft at the Pleasanton Home Depot store.

Alvarado-Gil responded that voters need to be reminded that state measures like passing Prop 47 and Prop 57 have consequences. She said business owners and Chambers of Commerce need to speak up and “not be silent.”

She said that when other legislators put forth bills that weaken the criminal justice system that businesses organize to write emails and call legislators even they don’t represent the district.

Assemblyman Juan Alanis, who is still technically a member of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, 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 expressed his incredulity when he heard fellow Public Safety Committee members say that domestic violence victims “should just go to more counseling opposed to the abuser spending more time in jail.”

“I tried explaining to them as I used to be a domestic violence detective that my victims felt safer when their abuser was in jail or in prison,” said Alanis. “They were terrified that that person was going to come out.”

“All we ever hear about is what the criminal is going through and that’s a small population of what we’re shutting down prisons for and stuff like that. I would rather spend more in taxes to make sure I have some prisons to make sure that domestic violence victim can feel safe at her house with her kids and not have to worry about being victimized again.”

One of his bills would help streamline police cadets going through the academy and getting on the streets.

Another bill gives priority registration for first-responders to get into college classes due to the fact that sworn officers under the age of 25 must have a bachelor’s degree or higher. He said while that “sounds great,” the waiting list to get into MJC or Stanislaus State is delaying officers serving the community.

A pair of Alanis bills would make Gold Star families –those who lost a loved one in military service – eligible for free fishing licenses and free access to state parks.

He spoke about his AB 1467 (The Nevaeh Youth Sports Safety Act) passing the  Assembly Floor vote which will require youth sports organizations to provide their athletes with access to an automated external defibrillator (AED) during official practices or matches. The bill was named for Neveah Johnson who died in Waterford during cheerleading practice. The bill is being considered in the Senate.

Juan Alanis April 2023
Newly seated state Assemblyman Juan Alanis has already established a get tough on crime reputation in a Democrat dominated Legislature. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER /Courier photo

Saying he’s a “cop and I know what’s going on and what needs to be fixed,” Alanis said he introduced a bill to give child abduction victims confidentiality under the terms of Penal Code 293 just as sexual assault victims and domestic violence victims.

His AB 1675 would benefit foster youth by maximizing state and federal funds specifically designated for the enrichment of those in the foster care system. Sponsored by the California Youth Connection (CYC) and Youth Law Center (YLC), this legislation designates a specific stream of funding for extracurricular activities while ensuring agency accountability and alignment with the law.

Alanis addressed the problem with Prop. 47 and how his AB 335 would repeal Proposition 47 in its entirety, with the exception of some cannabis-related language. It has been co-authored by Alvarado-Gil.

Proposition 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.

Alanis said criminals know they can get away with retail theft as a misdemeanor. In order for the misdemeanor to be prosecuted, a police officer has to see the theft take place or the store personnel must spend days in court and miss days at work so the thief just “gets a slap on the wrist.”

“Right now California does not want to overpopulate any of our prisons, any of our jails and at the state level basically we don’t want to have any more consequences is the theme right now,” Alanis noted.

Alanis addressed fentanyl bills which have been shut down by Democrats. A big turnout at a press conference held last week caused the matter to be reviewed at a special session. He said that an average of 125 Californians die each week from fentanyl overdoses yet state lawmakers have been unwilling to hold dealers accountable with greater prison sentences.

“We got our message across,” Alanis added about the press conference getting results. “Whether or not they’ll pass through or not, I don’t know but at least we’re going to have our day in court on that.”

He asked the audience to come forward with ideas about bills that would improve life in California.

Alanis was asked about his feelings on the Death Penalty, which has been eliminated despite public support. He said lack of consequences has fostered the increase in violent crime, such as the killings of police officers, which was once an automatic trip to the gas chamber.

“I don’t think everybody (criminals) should have to be killed but I think we should still have consequences.”

Supervisor Channce Condit of Ceres gave a brief update in his District 5 after saying Ceres is poised to become a “city on the rise.”

He touted how he pushed for a “historic agreement” to change the tax sharing agreement to give cities 50 percent of property taxes instead of 30 percent. The agreement made sense, Condit noted, given that the cities make up 80 percent of Stanislaus County’s population while bearing the brunt of providing most of the services. The new agreement has resulted in the city of Ceres collecting $215,000 annually in property taxes.

Channce Condit April 2023
At Friday’s Legislative Breakfast, District 5 Stanislaus County Supervisor Channce Condit voiced his feeling that Ceres is on the verge of great things. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER /Courier photo

Condit mentioned how he hosted a county-sponsored clean-up effort at Central Valley High School in February that resulted in the filling of 21 large garbage containers. He wants to see another event in the fall so that residents can bring discarded items such as mattresses, wood and tires.

“I’m also currently working with the council on trying to get our county islands in the city up to city standard with curbs, gutter and sidewalk as a precursor to annexing them to the city limits.

Condit said another priority in his district is to invest in infrastructure in south Modesto, specifically the Bret Harte and Parklawn areas with the use of ARPA funds. He also is working toward getting after-hours urgent care facilities on the west side which is a half-hour to the closest hospital.

One in the audience asked Condit about his view of Ceres of the future.

“I think Ceres has it going on,” said Condit. “I think if you look at the trend and if you look at the last 10 years, Turlock has kind of dominated this conversation as far as everyone wanted to be in Turlock. Businesses wanted to be in Turlock. Turlock kind of rode that wave and I’m not being down on Turlock … but I think Ceres is coming into its own. We know this from living in Ceres. We kind of got lost in the fray between Turlock and Modesto. We’re essentially the red-headed stepchild of the east side of the county and we all know that. That’s the truth. I really believe people are starting to talk about eating in Ceres, shopping in Ceres. We’re gonna have a hotel here. We’re gonna have people staying in Ceres and I think that’s going to be wonderful. I think Ceres has finally entered the conversation of being a desirable city to not only live in but shop in.”

When asked about what the county is doing about homelessness, Condit said it is a complex and multi-faceted problem “that’s not going to be solved with one single solution.”

“We can’t arrest our way out of it. We can’t build our way out of it.”

He said the answer will involve rehabilitation, housing, vocational training and accountability. Condit also feels the CARES Corps will be a great resource to get some folks into a conservatorship.

By the time Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez spoke, much of the audience had slipped away but he briefly spoke about the collaboration among business owners and government, and answered questions.

Lopez said the city is committed to investing in Ceres’ roads and bridges and sidewalks.

“Public safety and crime prevention are also top priorities of the city.”

He said the city is also staying ahead of the Information Technology curve.

Mayor Lopez also said the city continues to encourage new businesses to come to Ceres as well as housing development.

Javier Lopez April 2023
By the time Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez got around to speaking at Friday's Legislative Breakfast at the Ceres Community Center, much of the crowd had slipped away.
2023 Ceres City Council
Members of the Ceres City Council attending Friday's Legislative Breakfast are (left to right), Councilman Daniel Martinez, Vice Mayor Bret Silveira, Mayor Javier Lopez, Councilwoman Rosalinda Vierra and Councilman James Casey. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER /Courier photo