Political Fix (5 December, 2019)

Tulare County or Bust

As I enjoyed my fresh hot coffee, toast with Elberta peach jam, and read my online edition of the New York Times in late October, I was only peripherally aware that the rest of the state had come to almost a complete halt.  Out of the 58 counties in California, portions of 38 were experiencing Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) put in force by PG&E as a fire prevention measure during extreme winds.

That means schools were closed, people had to stay home from work, traffic signals were down, no one went shopping, or saw a movie, or went out to coffee, or went out for dinner. No errands were done and no bills were paid. The Valley Voice would not have even gone to print if we were in one of the PSPS zones.

Joseph’s parents live in tony Moraga in the Bay Area and sat in the dark for three days. He called to ask how they were doing and they predictably said “horrible,” then their cell phone battery died.

That’s when it dawned on me that Tulare County was the place to be. How often does that happen?

Lounging on my couch listening to my dog snore I realized that I was actually living in the most desirable location in California. I don’t mean to gloat at the expense of others’ misfortune, but how many times have we residents of the Central Valley had to read headlines saying  the county has the worst air, highest unemployment, lowest per capita income, highest teen pregnancy rates, yada, yada, yada?

So here is my headline: Tulare County is the best place to live in California.

After sitting in the mandatory half hour of gridlock when visiting Joseph’s parents a few years ago, it took us 20 minutes to find a parking spot just to go to Pete’s Coffee–on a Sunday. Visalians who complain about traffic, road conditions, or parking need a little perspective. Seen a parking meter lately? My point exactly.

Firestorms are not the only natural disaster that does not threaten Tulare County. We have felt earthquakes but not a one has originated in our county. We do not have hurricanes, city-wide floods, tornadoes, tsunamis or blizzards. To be honest, I’d have a hard time sleeping at night in Three Rivers because of the fire danger, but besides that location we are a disaster-free zone.

One could say the region suffers drought, but considering the seven billion dollar ag industry and all the produce that entails, it’s a hard sell to say Tulare County has a shortage of water. Even former Tulare County Ag Commissioner Marilyn Wright was shaking her head at the large amount of permanent crops such as pistachios and almonds being planted, and that have since thrived, during the height of the “Great Drought.” Tulare County has a lot of water.

Always considered the fly-over zone, or the empty space along I-5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles and ignored in Sacramento, Tulare County was probably enjoying a higher standard of living than the Bay Area full of its multimillion-dollar homes and big city amenities.

Having a pied-a-terre in San Francisco was always a fun fantasy while living in Lemon Cove with our grade school children. But after I was advised to never walk barefoot outside in San Francisco because the homeless defecate on the sidewalk, that fantasy pretty much evaporated.

During a week of house sitting in San Francisco the Starbucks closed at 5:30, there were no newspapers, there was no book store, or Broadway plays passing through. I did get a lot of writing done, went on long walks, saw some movies, and lingered over the Sunday New York Times when I finally found one.

Hmmmm, exactly what I do at my house in Visalia except with quadruple the living space and no human excrement outside my front door.

When I was a young adult living in Berkeley I thought I would never move. Cities are still in many ways a preferable place to live if you are not going to raise a family.

In fact San Francisco has a dearth of children with only 18 percent of households under 19. Nationwide the average is 29.4. The only other city where fewer than 20 percent of households have kids is Seattle. San Francisco has more dogs than children and in Seattle they have more cats.

My idea of a desirable city is not where most of my fellow residents feel more comfortable raising an animal rather than a child.

Besides a Vespa Scooter and multiple bags of groceries just don’t mix.

Because of technological advances cities no longer hold the allure they used to. When I was growing up we had three TV channels–ABC, CBS and NBC. PBS showed up when I was about 11 years old. But in the coastal cities there were about 12 channels and they stayed on air until 2am. (Remember those days of channels signing off for the night with the Star Spangled Banner?) There were more movies, better shopping and more cultural outlets.

Now, small towns and cities get the same movies, internet, and television but without big city rents and mortgages. We even have a Barnes and Noble 45 minutes away in Fresno. And who doesn’t love the Visalia Mall? While malls are dying all over the state ours is fully tenanted and packed with shoppers.

There are disadvantages to living here. The education is subpar, there is a severe shortage of doctors and mental health is nonexistent. When I asked Tammie Weikert, with Tulare County Health and Human Services, for advice on where to find mental health resources or rehab facilities for our son she said she didn’t know of any.

What Joseph and I enjoy most is the political diversity in Tulare County. In terms of Republican voter registration the county is almost a unicorn in California. For my investigative articles I work mostly with Republicans and Tulare Hospital Board member Xavier Avila was miffed when I said I was a Democrat.

He said, “Your husband told me you were a Republican.”

“No, I come from a Republican family,” I said

Satisfied he replied, “Well then you have a solid foundation.”

A conversation like that does not happen in Berkeley without someone feeling insulted. Also, my husband has called me a lot of things but he has never called me a Republican.

So while the conservatives watch Fox News, and the liberals watch MSNBC, everyone reads the Valley Voice, and the Valley Voice could only exist here.

At home.

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