California Watch: California Lost en Cambodian youth confront ‘historical forgetting’ <p class="image-full-width" style="width: 600px;"> </p><p>LONG BEACH &ndash; Youthful rebellion can come in many guises, from being anti-Google to defending animal rights. But for an all-female group of Cambodian American teens in Long Beach, home to the country&rsquo;s largest Cambodian community, the target of their adolescent disaffection is their parents&rsquo; generational hopelessness.</p><p>&ldquo;We felt the word &lsquo;action&rsquo; was important,&rdquo; said Sophya Chum, an organizer for Khmer Girls in Action, an activist group whose members, young Cambodian American women, surveyed some 500 of their 1.5-generation (those who immigrated to the U.S. as children) and second-generation peers to better understand the issues affecting their lives. Their findings are the basis of Show Youth the Love, a health and wellness forum held last month.</p><p>The survey, completed two years ago, shed light on the ricochet effect of trauma on refugee families &ndash; families &ldquo;caught in the process of historical forgetting,&rdquo; in the words of Jonathan H.X. Lee, an assistant professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. Many of the girls&rsquo; parents arrived in Long Beach in the early 1980s after fleeing the &ldquo;killing fields&rdquo; of the Khmer Rouge regime, a genocide that resulted in an estimated 1.7 to 2 million deaths. Survivors of unimaginable horror, many have kept their stories untold, creating a generation of silence that has taken a profound toll on their children.</p><p>The peer survey revealed some sobering statistics. Nearly half of the respondents reported symptoms of depression, including loneliness, fear, insomnia, cutting and other self-harming acts. Most &ndash; especially young males &ndash; said they experienced discriminatory treatment at school, with 1 in 3 saying they were frequently stopped or pulled over by police. The survey also addressed cultural stigmas about safe sex and pregnancy prevention.</p><p>&ldquo;Stuff about our body is kind of taboo to talk about with your family,&rdquo; said 16-year-old Amanda Em. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re kind of reserved. It&rsquo;s awkward to bring up, so everyone ignores it.&rdquo;</p><p>Khmer girls face a particular set of challenges, frequently juggling multiple roles within the family. Young women often serve as translators for non-English-speaking parents, helping them navigate doctors&rsquo; appointments, Social Security and the like, and also are expected to take care of younger siblings. The pressure to maintain &ldquo;Khmerness&rdquo; &ndash; as well as do well in school &ndash; can cause intense stress.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re having to balance all these ways of having to be,&rdquo; said Sada Ang, a 16-year-old KGA member.</p><p>The group&rsquo;s boisterous headquarters is close to Anaheim Street, the main drag of Cambodian Long Beach, where sumptuous banquet halls serving sour catfish soup stand alongside with pawn shops, jewelry stores and centers for Cambodian dance and martial arts. Cambodia Town, officially recognized by the Long Beach City Council in 2007, is a hub for the approximately 44,000 Cambodians living in Los Angeles and Orange counties.</p><p>The city has been the unofficial Cambodian Capital of America since the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Long Beach State University, now CSU Long Beach, hosted more than 100 engineering students from Cambodia. As political instability grew at home, dozens moved permanently to Long Beach, establishing a familial toehold. By the mid-1980s, the city had at least 35,000 Cambodian residents, making it the largest Cambodian community outside Cambodia.</p><p>It has not been an easy road: A study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005, the first and only psychiatric survey of Cambodian refugees two decades after resettlement, reported that 62 percent of first-generation Cambodian refugees in Long Beach suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, 36 percent of Cambodians in Southern California live below the federal poverty line. They also have the highest rate of being uninsured of any Southeast Asian ethnic group.</p><p>The consequences for children have been profound: Cambodian American youth have had high rates of teen pregnancy, truancy and gang involvement. Linda Trinh Vo, an associate professor at UC Irvine, observes that PTSD and severe depression &ldquo;impacts both parents&rsquo; ability to make a living and engage in their children&rsquo;s lives.&rdquo; The result, she said, as the KGA study points out, can be depression that often goes untreated.</p><p>Like many parents, professor Lee&rsquo;s parents did not want to verbally relive the past. Lee said the couple never got a chance to properly grieve the death of his fourth sister, who died while the family was en route to refugee camps in Thailand and Hong Kong.</p><p>Although a small wave of Cambodians arrived from 1975 to 1978, the majority settled later in dilapidated public housing projects and were &ldquo;left to fend for themselves,&rdquo; Lee said. In the 1980s, racial tensions between young Cambodians and Latinos in Long Beach resulted in much-publicized gang violence. As a result, he said, &ldquo;many young people disassociated themselves from their own ethnic heritage and identity. They called themselves &lsquo;Asian American&rsquo; if they wanted to succeed.&rdquo;</p><p>Darith Ung, a Khmer language teacher at Wilson Classical High School, where about 300 of the 4,000 students are Cambodian American, talks to students about the &ldquo;killing fields,&rdquo; a subject that is off-limits in many families. He tells them about the murders of intellectuals and teachers, about children like himself torn away from their families and villages to work in child labor camps. At age 12, he was forced to work in the fields without food, hunting for grasshoppers and snails at night.</p><p>&ldquo;For four years, we were always hungry,&rdquo; he tells his students. &ldquo;The animals were our competition.&rdquo;</p><p>Many young people are surprised to hear these stories, which help explain what has been left unsaid at home.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re young,&rdquo; Em said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re supposed to be having fun. But when I see my parents or grandparents down in the dumps, it makes me cry at night.&rdquo;</p><p>Khmer Girls in Action was founded to provide a warm, safe space &ndash; with &ldquo;powerful sisterhood&rdquo; posters on the walls &ndash; for women to support each other and gain leadership skills. Its members are campaigning for on-site high school wellness centers and are planning a youth health fair this spring.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a huge need, particularly around mental health,&rdquo; said Justine May Calma, a staff member. Many young people do not have access to transportation, she noted, which makes it difficult to seek help.</p><p>&ldquo;There has been a lack of a sense of ownership of our community,&rdquo; said Lian Cheun, the group&rsquo;s executive director. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re tired of hopelessness.&rdquo;</p><p>Vichet Chhuon, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, who lived in Long Beach, said young activists like the members of KGA and EM3 (Educated Men with Meaningful Messages), an all-male group that successfully lobbied city officials to improve sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and traffic lights near schools, are radically redefining what it means to be a Cambodian American youth.</p><p>&ldquo;It used to mean being poor and being seen as a dropout or a gangster,&rdquo; Chhuon said. &ldquo;But to these young people, being Cambodian means being a survivor, an activist, coming from an incredibly resilient tradition of people.&rdquo;</p><p>Monique Ung, 18, a senior at Wilson High, considers KGA an anchoring presence. Her KGA sisters encouraged her to apply to college and helped with application and financial aid forms.</p><p>&ldquo;Without KGA, I can&rsquo;t even picture myself,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s helped me find out who I really am.&rdquo;</p><p><em>This story was edited by Robert Salladay and copy edited by Nikki Frick and Christine Lee.</em></p> Health and Welfare Daily Report California Lost community health refugees California Lost Thu, 28 Mar 2013 13:05:02 +0000 Patricia Leigh Brown 18848 at Richard Hartog/California Watch Community organizer Ashley Uyeda, second from left, listens during a group youth session at the Khmer Girls in Action offices in Long Beach with Christine Sam, 16, in yellow, Malin Ouk, 17, and Kunthea Sin, 18. Unincorporated neighborhood finally getting sewer service <p>The unincorporated neighborhood of Parklawn, one of hundreds of impoverished California communities that lack basic services, celebrated a breakthrough this month when Stanislaus County broke ground on a new sewer line connecting the district to the city of Modesto.</p><p>Parklawn, which has grappled with deficient septic tanks for about 60 years, is an unincorporated island of county territory nearly surrounded by Modesto. Around the state, such densely populated <a href="" target="_blank">unincorporated neighborhoods on county land</a> have long suffered from government neglect and lack some combination of sewer systems, clean drinking water, sidewalks, streetlights and storm drains.</p><p>&ldquo;After decades of struggling with failing septic systems, Parklawn will finally realize a dream that most of us take for granted &ndash; an adequate wastewater system,&rdquo; said Phoebe Seaton of California Rural Legal Assistance&rsquo;s Community Equity Initiative. &ldquo;Individual septic systems have proven grossly inadequate. Leaking and leaching wastewater threatens the groundwater and human health, damages homes and hurts property values.&rdquo;</p><p>The organization sued the Stanislaus County in 2004 on behalf of <a href="" target="_blank">Parklawn residents </a>and later worked with the county to find funds to upgrade the neighborhood&rsquo;s antiquated infrastructure.</p><p>Without access to a sewer system, wastewater in the neighborhood of 328 homes pools in yards and backs up into bathtubs, residents said.</p><p>Construction of the sewer line will cost $5.5 million. So far, the county has secured $1.2 million in federal funds. State redevelopment funds earmarked for the project were rescinded after the state&#39;s <a href="" target="_blank">redevelopment agencies were dissolved</a> last year. The county will seek additional funds from the state and is considering whether to create a local assessment district to complete the project.</p><p>Parklawn is the last unincorporated residential community in South Modesto to receive a connection to city sewer services, said Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who represents Parklawn.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m so relieved that it got started,&rdquo; he told California Watch. &ldquo;We are committed to getting this thing done.&rdquo;</p><p>DeMartini said the sewer connection will help improve the neighborhood&rsquo;s infrastructure so that it eventually can become a part of Modesto and receive all city services. &ldquo;Annexation is the goal,&rdquo; he said.</p> Health and Welfare Daily Report California Lost Parklawn sewer unincorporated unincorporated communities wastewater California Lost Wed, 27 Mar 2013 20:26:17 +0000 Bernice Yeung 18849 at Max Whittaker/Prime Arleen Hernandez frequently has to unclog her backed-up shower because of the aging septic tank at her Parklawn home. Mobile home park residents sue owner over sewage, electricity <p>Lilia Avila has lived for a decade in the Garcia Mobile Home Park in the Eastern Coachella Valley with her husband and three children. Ask her to describe the park, surrounded by farmland and empty lots in the unincorporated town of Thermal, and she doesn&rsquo;t mince words: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a pigsty,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>As California Watch has <a href="" target="_blank">previously reported</a>, the park &ndash; which residents call Rancho Garcia &shy;&ndash;&nbsp;has an antiquated wastewater system. Avila and her neighbors flush their sewage into overloaded septic tanks and cesspools. Raw sewage has regularly backed up into her shower drain, and effluent puddles on the park grounds.</p><p>Avila said faulty electricity causes blackouts, leaving residents sweltering in triple-digit summertime heat and food spoiling in refrigerators. There are no sidewalks or storm drains. And without streetlights, the park is pitch-black at night.</p><p>For the park&#39;s residents &ndash; who are all low-income and work on farms, in construction or at date orchards in the area &ndash; moving isn&rsquo;t an option. So now, the residents are fighting to keep the park open after the owners gave notice that they may close it.</p><p>Avila and her husband work in the fields, and with the end of the grape harvest, they are currently unemployed. &ldquo;We are here not because we want to be here, but out of necessity,&rdquo; she said in Spanish through an interpreter.</p><p>The residents say they&nbsp;pay $275 to $395 per month for their space and an additional $20 per month for trash,&nbsp;electricity&nbsp;and water services.</p><p>Although they would like to see improvements to the park,&nbsp;Avila and the 45 families living in the Garcia Mobile Home Park say they fear that they could be forced to move&nbsp;because its owners issued a one-year notice of park closure last fall. In an accompanying letter issued by members of the Garcia family &ndash;&nbsp;which includes the five&nbsp;adult children of the original park owners who had lived at the park as children &ndash; said&nbsp;they can&rsquo;t afford to make the infrastructure upgrades&nbsp;that would bring it up to current&nbsp;health and safety codes and allow them to register the park with the county.&nbsp;</p><p>According to George W. Williams, an attorney who handled the notice of termination for the park,&nbsp;the Garcias don&#39;t have<strong> </strong>immediate plans to close the park, but&nbsp;they also don&#39;t have the more than $2.75 million it would take to connect the park to city sewage and water lines and to improve the electrical system.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;The Garcia family members are responsible owners,&rdquo; Williams said in a 2011 letter he sent to local government officials that discusses the shuttering of the park. &ldquo;They did not wish to close the park which was their childhood home. They were forced to do so because the expense of meeting the county&rsquo;s requirements to register the park exceeded $2.75M (million), which is many times over the fair market value of the park.&rdquo;</p><p>There is a dearth of affordable housing in the Eastern Coachella Valley &shy;&ndash; a majority of the low-income housing stock is mobile homes, which&nbsp;can be costly to&nbsp;move. In some cases, older trailers might not survive a move.</p><p>Avila&rsquo;s husband and 29 other residents filed a lawsuit last month&nbsp;against the Garcias to&nbsp;prevent the park from going out of business. The suit asks the state&nbsp;to assign&nbsp;a&nbsp;receiver who would manage the park&rsquo;s finances and oversee infrastructure upgrades.</p><p>There are at least two other mobile home parks under receivership in the Eastern Coachella Valley.&nbsp;Attorneys for <a href="" target="_blank">California Rural Legal Assistance</a> represented residents in&nbsp;both cases.</p><p>The lawsuit against the Garcia Mobile Home Park claims that residents&rsquo; health and safety are at &ldquo;immediate risk&rdquo; because of the substandard electrical system and the &ldquo;woefully inadequate&rdquo; wastewater&nbsp;lines that drain &ldquo;untreated sewage into pits and ditches&quot; a few feet from residents&#39; homes.</p><p>There are &ldquo;laws on the books that protect the rights of tenants of mobile home parks who are renting space to live in decent, safe living conditions,&rdquo; said Laura Massie, an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance, who is representing the residents along with a UC Irvine law school clinic. &ldquo;The problem is that the laws have been flouted by the park owners for a long time.&rdquo;</p><p>The trustees&nbsp;of the park declined to comment through attorney Williams.</p><p>But in a letter Williams sent to California Rural Legal Assistance in response to the lawsuit, the lawyer states that the county has refused to issue permits for phased repairs, making it&nbsp;difficult for owners to bring their parks up to current codes.</p><p>Additionally, Williams wrote, he and a former California Rural Legal Assistance attorney, Arturo Rodriguez, had &quot;reached an agreement for the benefit of both the owner and the tenants&quot; in which the residents would form a nonprofit and buy the park from the Garcias. In turn, the Garcias would not close the park and the tenants would not file a lawsuit.&nbsp;</p><p>&quot;By filing this lawsuit you have, in bad faith, repudiated that agreement,&quot; the letter says. &nbsp;</p><p>Rodriguez told California Watch that such conversations had taken place, but Massie of California Rural Legal Assistance said that although the idea had been discussed in a preliminary fashion, she was &quot;not aware of any such agreement.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p>Williams also thinks that with its focus on mobile home parks, the county is focusing on the wrong health and safety problem.</p><p>&ldquo;Another reality in the East valley&nbsp;is that more people live in mobile homes that are dangerous, un-insulated, firetraps than live in unhealthy mobile home parks,&rdquo; he wrote in an email. &ldquo;My view is that money spent on removing and replacing these derelict mobile homes in place is a far louder bang for the buck than the current &lsquo;litigate against small landlords&rsquo;&nbsp;mode employed by CRLA (California Rural Legal Assistance).&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, who represents the Eastern Coachella Valley, said he thinks there are &ldquo;major shortcomings&rdquo; with the management of the Garcia Mobile Home Park and &ldquo;to say it&rsquo;s the county&rsquo;s fault after years of that is not an accurate statement.&rdquo;</p><p>He added that the county government necessarily has a limited role to play in what is a &ldquo;private property dispute between a landowner and tenants.&rdquo;</p><p>For residents living in substandard mobile home parks, the county can provide alternative housing, Benoit said, and it can step in to correct health and safety concerns related to things like wastewater treatment and electricity.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a situation we didn&rsquo;t create, and we are not in a situation where we can wave a magic wand and fix it,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>There are more than 400 unregistered mobile home parks in the Eastern Coachella Valley.</p><p>Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, D-Indio, who represents the region, said: &quot;Low-income residents who live in this valley&rsquo;s mobile home parks are primarily farm workers, whose incomes fluctuate depending on the season.&nbsp;&hellip; In essence, these mobile home parks fill a particular niche that meets the circumstances of our lowest-income workers.&rdquo;<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p><p>Pérez noted that while mobile home park owners face challenges in maintaining and upgrading the grounds and infrastructure, the &ldquo;conditions at Rancho Garcia pose a public health threat to its residents, farm workers and children.&rdquo;</p><p>Avila, for one, said these conditions have affected her children&rsquo;s health. Her eldest son, who is 10, has suffered from chronic and mysterious rashes on his face and legs. A pediatrician suspected the boy was exposed to a bacteria at the mobile home park. At one point, a social worker urged Avila to move.</p><p>If she and her husband had more money, they&rsquo;d relocate, Avila said. In the meantime, she hopes improvements will be made at the park, especially to the wastewater system.</p><p>&ldquo;More than anything is that it gets fixed for the children,&rdquo; she said of the raw sewage problems. &ldquo;If they would try to fix it, then we could live with pride.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="" target="_blank">California Lost</a>&nbsp;is an occasional series examining challenges facing neglected communities around the state.</em></p> Health and Welfare Daily Report California Lost Coachella Eastern Coachella Valley farmworker infrastructure lawsuit mobile home park Thermal unincorporated California Lost Tue, 02 Oct 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Bernice Yeung 18114 at Max Whittaker/Prime Neftalí Gutierrez, 7, plays near his home in the Garcia Mobile Home Park, where the wastewater system is a network of septic tanks and cesspools. Private wells outside Fresno test positive for contaminants <p>Locals like to say that Easton is closer to Fresno than parts of Fresno, but as an unincorporated community seven miles south of downtown, residents relish its small-town ways.</p><p>&ldquo;We don&rsquo;t have the same commodities and resources, but we can hear the crickets at night and it&rsquo;s peaceful and there are freedoms here,&quot; said Sue Ruiz, who serves as the president of the Easton Community Services District.</p><p>A 2-square-mile enclave of about 665 homes, Easton has more than a half-dozen well-attended churches and two wide-lawned schools set against a backdrop of vineyards, almond orchards and two-lane roads. Chitchat with neighbors is easy and cordial &ndash; until the conversation turns to water, an issue that has divided neighbors and families who continue to debate whether Easton needs to move away from its system of private wells.</p><p>Because of its agricultural roots and the houses built with septic tanks on small lots near water wells, Easton is prone to groundwater contamination, community health advocates said. Yet the overall water quality there is largely unknown because the majority of the community&rsquo;s 2,000 residents live in homes that rely on unregulated private wells.</p><p>Following requests from some residents and local businesses, the community services district &ndash; which primarily oversees streetlights, landscaping and recreational spaces on an&nbsp;annual<strong>&nbsp;</strong>budget of $65,000 &shy;&ndash; decided to hire a firm to test a portion of<b>&nbsp;</b>Easton wells last year.</p><p>&ldquo;There are concerns about water quality, but we didn&rsquo;t know for sure,&rdquo; Ruiz said.&nbsp;&quot;We decided to go beyond perception and find fact.&rdquo;</p><p>The testing of 28 wells in Easton&nbsp;found that 70 percent had at least one contaminant that exceeded safe drinking water limits. The pollutants ranged from nitrates to bacteria to DBCP,&nbsp;a pesticide&nbsp;that was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the late 1970s. Testing results will be released today at a community meeting.</p><p>Many residents aren&#39;t aware that they should be testing their wells to see if they are contaminated. Teresa Ruiz, who is not related to Sue Ruiz, lives at the edge of Easton and grew up drinking water straight from the garden hose. &ldquo;It tastes so good,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s natural.&rdquo;</p><p>Now she runs an accounting business on Elm Avenue, the community&rsquo;s main drag, and she said she just learned last year that as a property owner, she should be testing her well water, especially since there&rsquo;s a possibility it could be tainted.</p><p>&ldquo;I was shocked,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I have never had the well tested before because I wasn&rsquo;t aware of it.&rdquo;</p><p>Ruiz rents her childhood home to her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, and she has never tested those wells, either. &ldquo;I can&rsquo;t rent out a home without heated water, but there&rsquo;s nothing about water quality,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Ralph Montano, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, wrote in an email that although the agency &ldquo;does not regulate private wells, the department is aware of resident concerns about contaminated drinking water from private wells.&rdquo;</p><p>The State Water Resources Control Board maintains a <a href="" target="_blank">website</a>&nbsp;that offers guidance to domestic well users, Montano said.</p><p>The state estimates that 2 million Californians rely on private wells, and their water quality is largely unknown.</p><p>&ldquo;Many of these well owners are unaware of the quality of their well water, because the State does not require them to test their water quality,&rdquo; said a February State Water Resources Control Board&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">draft report</a> to the Legislature.</p><p>The state has tested a fraction of private wells in five regions as part of its groundwater research, and similar concerns about the water quality of private wells have emerged in other regions.&nbsp;</p><p>In 2006, the state <a href="" target="_blank">tested</a> 181 private wells in Tulare County and found that 41 percent exceeded safe drinking water limits&nbsp;for nitrates.&nbsp;Additional spot testing in&nbsp;the Central Valley&nbsp;by Self-Help Enterprises, an organization that helps rural communities with infrastructure improvements, has also found high rates of contaminants in private wells. In Yettem, near Visalia, 85 percent of the wells were contaminated; 90 percent of the wells tested in Raisin City,&nbsp;outside of Fresno, were tainted.</p><p>Self-Help Enterprises gave the Easton Community Services District a $5,000 forgivable loan to conduct the recent water quality testing.</p><p>&ldquo;There are places out there that aren&rsquo;t on the radar because they are not on a public water system that gets tested on a regular basis and because people are on private wells,&rdquo; said Paul Boyer of Self-Help Enterprises. &ldquo;We definitely want to see people at least know what they&rsquo;re drinking.&rdquo;</p><p>Maria Herrera of Visalia-based Community Water Center said that across the San Joaquin Valley residents on private wells are often not aware that they must monitor and resolve their own water quality problems.</p><p>&ldquo;There are people who haven&rsquo;t tested their water because they presume it&rsquo;s good water because it&rsquo;s well water,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;In most cases, the water comes out clear, and human nature is that if it looks and smells good, then you&rsquo;re not worried about it.&rdquo;</p><p>If the testing in Easton leads residents to seek communitywide solutions, then the community services district would seek the authority and funding to create a local public water system, Ruiz said.</p><p>When a water system was proposed a decade ago, though, the issue split the community. Longtime residents recall a community meeting that almost broke out in fisticuffs.</p><p>&ldquo;People were almost slugging it out,&rdquo; said Oscar Kendrick, a resident who opposes a centralized water system.</p><p>The resistance has not completely dissipated. Oscar and Carolyn Kendrick have lived in Easton since 1979 and in May, they had their well tested through the community services district for the second time since they moved there. They were surprised to discover that the bacteria levels in their well failed to meet drinking water standards, and they don&rsquo;t know how long this has been the case since they hadn&rsquo;t tested their well since 1997.</p><p>Oscar Kendrick blames a hole in a plastic seal cap&nbsp;for the bacteria contamination and has since followed the directions that came with his test results to bleach out the bacteria. &ldquo;I never thought the well would have anything in it,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m glad we did it because I thought we were in great shape.&rdquo;</p><p>But even the Hendricks are hesitant about installing a centralized water system for Easton. They tick off the reasons: the cost, the move to a metered system, and the possibility that it would lead to unwanted development.</p><p>&ldquo;We love our small town and if they put in water lines, the real estate man will buy up all the land and build houses,&rdquo; Carolyn Kendrick said.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t have the answer,&rdquo; Oscar Kendrick added. &ldquo;My position is just leave me alone.&rdquo;</p><p>Opinions even differ within families. Sue Ruiz discovered through the recent testing that her water quality is fine &ndash; and so are the two wells of her grown children who live in the community.</p><p>&ldquo;Why do I want to spend extra money each month on water when my water is fine, and I don&rsquo;t have a job?&rdquo; said Ruiz, an unemployed teacher. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know. My kids ask me, &lsquo;Why, Mom, are you breaking your neck over this?&rsquo; &rdquo;</p><p>Ruiz ran into Pop Warner football booster and coffee salesman Darren Van Vranken at the local donut shop recently and asked him how he felt about the water. He said he would personally support a central system. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m for it because for me, it would help the community grow,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>He noted that his brother-in-law, who just spent $14,000 on a new well, would probably feel differently.</p><p>But Nick Kazarian, an optometrist who grew up in Easton, has little ambivalence about the solution to the community&rsquo;s water concerns.</p><p>&ldquo;I feel really strongly that Easton needs a central water system,&rdquo;&nbsp;said Kazarian, who found what he described as &ldquo;deficiencies&rdquo; in the well that services his Easton office. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m concerned about the health and welfare of those who live here. There are good folks here, and they need access to the same healthful things as everyone else does.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(48, 140, 170); font-weight: bold; " target="_blank">California Lost</a>&nbsp;is an occasional series examining challenges facing neglected communities around the state.</em></p> Health and Welfare Daily Report California Lost contaminants domestic wells Fresno groundwater groundwater contamination polluted water private wells unincorporated water quality California Lost Mon, 23 Jul 2012 07:05:02 +0000 Bernice Yeung 17193 at Bernice Yeung/California Watch Video: Ghost tribe <p>At least half of California&rsquo;s 150,000 Native Americans lack official recognition by the federal government. The Winnemem Wintu tribe of Shasta County <a href="" target="_blank">struggles to continue practicing its traditions</a> without the legal rights and protections that federal recognition would grant members. Gathering materials for religious rituals, protecting ceremonial sites from development and preventing harassment at ceremonies on public land are all challenges the tribe faces.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="" width="640"></iframe></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>TRANSCRIPT:</strong></p><p><strong>Caleen Sisk: </strong>The Coming of Age ceremony for young girls coming into their womanhood is ancient. We&rsquo;re calling down the two sisters from the mountain to provide guidance; we&rsquo;re asking for this medicine rock to give her all of those skills that she&rsquo;ll need in her lifetime. The ceremony is a spiritual weaving of a belief system that holds a people together. You know, without that belief system, you really don&rsquo;t have a tribe.</p><p>And because of the situation that exists &ndash; no rights to hold our ceremonies, no rights on the river anymore &ndash; we have to fight for it all the time.</p><p>We have the medicine there. We&rsquo;re smudging them down, and the boat comes. And they&rsquo;re holding up their beer &ndash; you know, going by, yelling. It&rsquo;s a total disruption; it&rsquo;s like everything just goes blank. All of the prayers &ndash; it just like disappeared, like poof. You know, they were yelling obscenities to the people on the bank, and the woman flashed them twice. It&rsquo;s disgusting.</p><p>[<strong>Title card:</strong> Ghost Tribe, Shasta County, California]</p><p><strong>Sisk:</strong> The Winnemem are among thousands of California Indians that don&rsquo;t have recognition &ndash; meaning that our status is overlooked or not granted or invisible as a people for maintaining our traditions of accessing our cultural sites, of protecting our spiritual and sacred sites.</p><p>We&rsquo;re here, we&rsquo;ve always been here; we continue to want to be here into the future. We continue to teach our kids how to go to the sacred places and how to sing the songs to the water.</p><p>[<strong>On-screen text: </strong>In 1978, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act gave tribes special rights to protect ceremony sites and cultural traditions.]</p><p>[At that time, the Winnemem were eligible for benefits because government documents traced their heritage.]</p><p>[Then, in 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that tribes must be on a specific federal government list to receive benefits and tribal rights.]</p><p>[The Winnemem tribe wasn&#39;t on that list.]</p><p><strong>Sisk:</strong> Any of the laws &ndash; like the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Indian Child Welfare Act, Indian Arts and Crafts &ndash; all of these acts pertain to the rights that Indian people have. Like, you can&rsquo;t sell something and say it&rsquo;s handcrafted by an Indian unless you&rsquo;re an Indian. That&rsquo;s what that law refers to. So right now, when I make something or our people make something, we can&rsquo;t sell that as a Native American-made item or an authentic Indian-made item because, you know, we&rsquo;re not. That&rsquo;s what the law says.</p><p>Indian Child Welfare gives tribes the right to speak up for the placement of their kids, the treatment and programs that are available to their children and families, and it gives them the right to place, within adoptions, in their own tribal homes or in other Indian homes or in approved homes by the tribe &shy;&shy;&ndash; so that the continuation of the culture is at best for that child. We don&rsquo;t have that right.</p><p>The one that hurts us the most is the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. We were one of the first tribes to really utilize that act and have access on a more permanent basis on our cultural site that is in the national forest. Where as now, after the &rsquo;80s, we are not eligible to have those kinds of things anymore. It&rsquo;s like, we&rsquo;re still the same people, that&rsquo;s still the same sacred site, we&rsquo;re still doing the exact same thing there, but some terminology changed. So now, the definition of &ldquo;Indian&rdquo; has excluded us.</p><p>[<strong>On-screen text:</strong> Many of the Winnemem&rsquo;s sacred sites are now on government land or private property.]</p><p>[Without federal recognition, practicing cultural traditions often means trespassing or breaking the law.]</p><p>[When the Shasta Dam was completed in 1945, it flooded the Winnemem&rsquo;s village and many sacred sites.]</p><p>[Officials now plan to raise the dam 18.5 feet higher.]</p><p>[The water would cover or damage 40 more sacred sites.]</p><p><strong>Sisk:</strong> Raising the Shasta Dam will flood seven more miles of our river, will drown and make inaccessible the sacred sites that we use now. And that in itself hinders our ability to carry on our way of life, teach what it means to be Winnemem to our kids. One of our sites is a puberty site, which is a right of passage for a young woman. And that place will be flooded and never come out.</p><p><strong>Michael Preston:</strong> We are asking Randy Moore to close down the river for four days so we can have this ceremony in peace and dignity and help us continue our culture the best way that it can.</p><p>It&rsquo;s been voluntary closure, is the closest we&rsquo;ve got. But it&rsquo;s still not good enough for us to conduct the ceremony without worry.</p><p><strong>Sisk (to Randy Moore):</strong> OK, we went through the voluntary closure. It&rsquo;s like, &ldquo;OK, you think that&rsquo;s going to work, you can keep the boats out? We don&rsquo;t think so, but we&rsquo;ll go ahead and do it.&rdquo; And that&rsquo;s what happened.</p><p><strong>Randy Moore: </strong>Is the important thing to have the ceremony, or is the important thing to gain some kind of recognition to have it? I&rsquo;m not sure.</p><p><strong>Sisk:</strong> We have rights, federally recognized or not. We&rsquo;re the indigenous people of that river. We show that boat and that woman exposing herself because everybody can see how insulting that is. But for me, any boat coming up there that&rsquo;s not invited is insulting because they&rsquo;re breaking away a spiritual thing that&rsquo;s happening. It&rsquo;d be like, you know, somebody walking right through a blessing or a christening. It&rsquo;s like, &ldquo;Oh, excuse me, before you sprinkle that water on that baby, I need to walk through here.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>[<strong>On-screen text:</strong> The Forest Service ultimately agreed to close the McCloud River for the summer ceremony, but land access was kept open to the public. Without federal recognition, the tribe has no power to do more.]</p><p><strong>Sisk:</strong> I think the biggest challenge is trying to figure out the right maneuver to get recognized, to get acknowledged as indigenous peoples. Most of the tribes in California that have been actively seeking recognition through the process are finding that all of their hard work and all of their struggles is not paying off, and there never was really a way to achieve it.</p><p>How do they expect that the historic tribes will continue to be tribes if they keep limiting and excluding us from those things that are necessary to carry on as a tribe? That, in my mind, is cultural genocide.</p><p>[<strong>On-screen text:</strong> California currently has 120 federally recognized tribes; 75 tribes have petitioned for recognition and are under review.]</p><p>[Only one California tribe has successfully petitioned for recognition since 1978; many have been denied.]</p><p>[The Winnemem are weighing the lengthy petition process against asking Congress to grant them recognized status. They also are considering filing a complaint with the United Nations.]</p><p>[Learn more about the California Lost series at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>]</p><p>[Produced and edited by Carrie Ching]</p><p>[Ceremony and boaters video shot by Will Doolittle and Moving Image Productions]</p><p>[Reported by Marc Dadigan and Carrie Ching]</p><p>[Music by Guillermo Guareschi]</p> Health and Welfare Environment Bureau of Indian Affairs California Lost Native American Shasta Winnemem Wintu California Lost Mon, 16 Jul 2012 21:49:14 +0000 Carrie Ching 17125 at React & Act: Understanding ‘ghost tribes’ <p>In &ldquo;<a href="" target="_blank">Without federal recognition, tribe struggles to protect sacred sites</a>,&rdquo; reporter Marc Dadigan introduces readers to the Winnemem Wintu, a &ldquo;ghost tribe&rdquo; that has fought to preserve traditions and historical rights in the absence of federal recognition. Within this guide you find resources to help you understand Dadigan&rsquo;s article, as well as contact information for key players involved in the issue.</p><h4><strong>Frequently asked questions</strong></h4><p><strong>What are ghost tribes?</strong></p><p>Ghost tribes are American Indian tribes that lack official recognition from the federal <a href="">Bureau of Indian Affairs</a>. Members do not have benefits &ndash; including the right to possess eagle feathers or access to federal college scholarships &ndash; or authority over ancestral lands, two key protections federal recognition provides. There are currently about 75 tribes in California that are petitioning for recognition.</p><p><strong>Who are the Winnemem Wintu?</strong></p><p>Also known as the Middle Water People, this American Indian tribe is indigenous to Northern California, along the McCloud River near Mount Shasta. The <a href="">Winnemem Wintu</a> were not included in the Office of Federal Acknowledgment&rsquo;s initial list of federally recognized tribes, but members of the tribe continued to be eligible for various federal benefits through bureau-certified paperwork attesting to their heritage. That changed in 1986, when the Supreme Court ruled that American Indians must belong to a federally recognized tribe in order to be eligible. According to archeologists, the tribe once numbered up to 14,000; only 125 remain.</p><p><strong>How can you get involved? </strong></p><p>If you are interested in supporting the Winnemem Wintu, its <a href="">website</a> lists several ways that people can become involved, including links to postcards that can be downloaded and sent to the U.S. Forest Service and a petition.</p><p><strong>Who and where are the Tsnungwe?</strong></p><p>This <a href="">tribe</a> has ancestral grounds in Humboldt and Trinity counties in Northern California. It has been fighting to correct what its members see as an &ldquo;administrative error&rdquo; when the federal government failed to recognize them as the &ldquo;Trinity Tribe,&rdquo; recognized in census figures and other federal documents. Learn more <a href="">here</a>. Like the Winnemem, the Tsnungwe have found their legal standing no greater than any other member of the public as they have worked to oppose such projects as cellphone towers on their ancestral land.</p><p><strong>Has any ghost tribe earned federal recognition? </strong></p><p>The only California ghost tribe to win federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs process is Death Valley&rsquo;s Timbisha Shoshone Band. The tribe&rsquo;s homelands were subsumed when President Herbert Hoover created Death Valley National Park<strong>.</strong> It won recognition in the early &rsquo;80s, but did not receive a land base until November 2000, the first tribal land base inside a national park. Learn more <a href="">here</a>.</p><p><strong>Why was Tolowa Nation&rsquo;s recognition bid denied? </strong></p><p>A ghost tribe of Northern California and southern Oregon, the <a href="">Tolowa Nation</a> has been seeking bureau recognition since 1982. The petition was rejected in 2010 on the grounds that the tribe couldn&rsquo;t prove its existence as a community from 1903 to1930. You can read the bureau&#39;s rejection <a href="">here</a>.</p><p><strong>Why is there video of boaters interrupting the Coming of Age ceremony, and where can you find it? </strong></p><p>After repeated problems with disruptions during ceremonies, a Winnemem tribe member videotaped the 2006 ceremony and captured several crude interruptions, including a boater flashing her breasts at the tribe.View and download it <a href="">here</a>.</p><p><strong>What are the federal acts referenced in the article?</strong></p><p>The 1978 <a href="">Indian Child Welfare Act</a> aims to keep American Indian children with American Indian families. Congress passed the act in response to a growing number of American Indian children being removed from their homes by both private and public agencies. The act&rsquo;s federal guidelines apply only to federally recognized tribes.</p><p>Also passed by Congress in 1978, the <a href=";rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=2&amp;ved=0CFkQFjAB&amp;;ei=PpMAUO-yEYn02QXipdCABA&amp;usg=AFQjCNHQEdgojPl7nDF8XtCI8B0vgMslWg">American Indian Religious Freedom Act</a> [PDF] seeks to protect and preserve the religious rights of American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts, Native Hawaiians and other groups. These rights include access to sacred sites, the freedom to worship in ceremonial and traditional ways, and the use and possession of objects that are considered sacred, including otherwise federally illegal objects, like the hallucinogen peyote or protected species&rsquo; bones. Only federally recognized tribes are covered by this legislation. Part of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, <a href="">feather permits</a> allow members of federally recognized tribes to obtain and carry &ldquo;eagle feathers and eagle parts&rdquo; for religious purposes. These items, otherwise illegal under the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, may be possessed by recognized Indians as traditionally sacred items through a permit application process. Applications are submitted through the <a href="">U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service</a>, and permits allow access to the <a href="">National Eagle Repository</a>, where these sacred items may be obtained.</p><h4><strong>Key Players</strong></h4><p><strong>Winnemem Wintu</strong><br /> Phone: 530-275-2737<br /> Address: 14840 Bear Mountain Road,<br /> Redding, CA 96003<br /> Website: <a href="" target="_blank"></a><br /> Facebook: <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p><p><strong>California Native American Heritage Commission</strong><br /> Phone: 916-653-4082<br /> Address: 915 Capitol Mall, Room 364<br /> Sacramento, CA 95814<br /> Website: <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p><p><strong>Bureau of Indian Affairs</strong><br /> Phone: 202-208-5116<br /> Address: Bureau of Indian Affairs<br /> MS-4606-MIB<br /> 1849 C St., NW<br /> Washington, D.C. 20240<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> Facebook: <a href="" target="_blank"></a><br /> Twitter: <a href="!/USIndianAffairs">@USIndianAffairs</a></p><p><strong>U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Mid-Pacific Region)</strong><br /> Phone: 916-978-5000<br /> Address: Federal Office Building<br /> 2800 Cottage Way<br /> Sacramento, CA 95825-1898<br /> Website: <a href=""></a></p><p><strong>Jim Reed for Congress</strong><br /> Address: P.O. Box 990850<br /> Redding, CA 96099<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> Email: <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p> Health and Welfare Bureau of Indian Affairs Native American Shasta Winnemem Wintu California Lost Mon, 16 Jul 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Marie McIntosh Ashley Alvarado 17103 at Without federal recognition, tribe struggles to protect sacred sites <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="" width="640"></iframe><br /> </p><p>REDDING &ndash; Caleen Sisk, the chief and spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu tribe, wore a traditional basket hat &ndash; representing clear thinking &ndash; to her meeting with congressional candidate Jim Reed.&nbsp;</p><p>Amid the din of wheezy coffee grinders at Westside Java &amp; Caffe in Redding, Reed pleaded with Sisk: End her tribe&rsquo;s longstanding battle against the federal government&rsquo;s <a href="" target="_blank">proposal to raise the Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet</a>&nbsp;&ndash; a $1 billion retrofit that stands to flood or damage 40 sacred tribal sites used for ceremonies and healings. If elected, Reed told her, he would introduce legislation to grant federal recognition to the Winnemem.&nbsp;</p><p>The Winnemem Wintu is a ghost tribe, lacking official recognition from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe&rsquo;s members share their limbo status with at least half of this state&rsquo;s 150,000 California Indians, according to the <a href="" target="_blank">California Native American Heritage Commission</a>. As a result, their cultural identities and rights may be subject to political bargaining.&nbsp;</p><p>California Watch was present at the tribe&rsquo;s meeting with Reed last October, part of a contributor&rsquo;s research on challenges the Winnemem Wintu face in their quest to preserve their traditional religion and cultural rites.&nbsp;</p><p>For the 125 remaining tribe members, federal recognition would restore not just scholarships and monetary benefits, but also less tangible changes the tribe covets, including added legal clout to protect their sacred sites. Because only one California tribe has ever been recognized through the Bureau of Indian Affairs&rsquo; laborious petitioning process, Sisk had hoped Reed might offer a congressional shortcut.&nbsp;</p><p>In the coffee shop meeting, Reed &ndash; a Democrat and attorney &ndash; presented Sisk with a catch-22. With federal recognition, the tribe would have more legal power to stop the dam expansion. The catch: Reed wouldn&rsquo;t seek federal recognition unless the tribe ended its opposition to the project.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s shovel-ready; it&rsquo;ll bring jobs and new workers, which will benefit the local businesses,&rdquo; Reed said. &ldquo;And to get your approval, I thought, &lsquo;What do the Wintu want more than anything?&rsquo; Clearly, it&rsquo;s federal recognition.&rdquo;</p><p>A deliberate thinker, Sisk gripped her coffee cup and said nothing. Reed&rsquo;s campaign manager, Frank Treadway, stopped scribbling on a yellow notepad and broke the silence.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;The dam raise is going to happen whatever you do,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;You might as well get something out of it.&rdquo;</p><p>Luisa Navejas, a Winnemem tribe member, broke in.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not sure you realize what it means for us to lose those sacred sites,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s like you&rsquo;re asking us to kill our mother in order to save our father.&rdquo;</p><p>In the months that followed the meeting, a disappointed Sisk turned away from politics and back to her traditional ways, fasting to draw the attention of the BIA. That approach brought a surprising result in mid-July, reinvigorating the tribe&rsquo;s hopes for federal recognition.</p><p>The Winnemem have practiced their traditional ways for thousands of years in the <a href="" target="_blank">McCloud River watershed</a> in Northern California, where academic and tribal accounts indicate their ancestral territory extends from Mount Shasta to just south of Redding. Archeologists estimate the tribe once numbered as many as 14,000, one of several groups that spoke Wintu. Among the pine-quilted mountains and glacial rivers of their homeland, the Winnemem lived as hunter-gatherers, surviving on acorns and salmon, deer and other game.&nbsp;</p><p>The tribe lost most of its land during the bloody Gold Rush years and through the World War II construction of Shasta Dam, which flooded the lower 25 miles of the McCloud River. Today, the tribe&rsquo;s only land is an isolated 42-acre village outside of Redding, where a nucleus of about 33 members lives. The rest of the tribe is scattered across Northern California.&nbsp;</p><p>While the Winnemem have continued their traditions, they have done so without federal government acknowledgment that they are a tribe. This limits their standing to oppose the Shasta Dam project and curtails many other rights and benefits of indigenous people.&nbsp;</p><p>Members of unrecognized tribes <a href="" target="_blank">cannot legally possess eagle feathers</a>, for instance, which are vital to American Indian spiritual beliefs. Sisk&rsquo;s own 25-year-old feather permit was revoked in March 2011 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.</p><p>They can <a href="" target="_blank">no longer access federal college scholarships</a>, even as American Indian students struggle to afford college and earn degrees.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I went to school on a BIA scholarship,&rdquo; said Winnemem Wintu tribe member Jill Ward. &ldquo;Now they say my children aren&rsquo;t Indian and can&rsquo;t have those same scholarships.&rdquo;</p><p>Without recognition, tribes aren&rsquo;t covered by the <a href="" target="_blank">Indian Child Welfare Act</a>, designed to help keep Indian children with their tribes.&nbsp;</p><p>Recently, a child from the 180-member Tsnungwe tribe of Northern California was put up for adoption and, despite the tribe&rsquo;s opposition, ended up with a non-Indian family. The adopting family moved away with the child, tribal leaders say, leaving the small tribe one young member smaller.</p><p><strong>Challenges of the unrecognized</strong></p><p>Ghost tribes lack authority over land management decisions in ancestral territory because they do not have government-to-government relationships with most federal agencies.</p><p>&ldquo;Without recognition sometimes there&rsquo;s no difference between being a tribal member and a member of the public,&rdquo; said Bob Benson, a Tsnungwe elder, whose tribe has struggled to prevent cellphone towers from being installed on sacred <a href="" target="_blank">Ironside Mountain</a> in Trinity County. &ldquo;Even when it&rsquo;s our burial ground or an important sacred site, we&rsquo;ll get notified when everyone else gets notified.&rdquo;</p><p>For the Winnemem Wintu, this lack of government-to-government status is playing a role in the Shasta Dam negotiations, too.&nbsp;</p><p>U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero said the tribe will have an opportunity to express its concerns during the dam-raising project&rsquo;s public input period. Final environmental and feasibility reports are not expected until at least 2016.&nbsp;</p><p>But Lucero acknowledged the tribe&rsquo;s concerns will carry no more weight than those of any other public entity. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re constantly trying to do the correct thing for the entire public,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We get a lot of comments, and we respond to them all.&rdquo;</p><p>The number of tribes seeking official status as governments increased after the 1978 passage of the <a href=";statute=183" target="_blank">American Indian Religious Freedom Act</a>. The BIA sought to standardize the process, creating what is now known as the <a href="" target="_blank">Office of Federal Acknowledgment</a>.</p><p>Many California tribes left off the initial list of recognized tribes maintained their eligibility for various federal benefits through BIA-certified paperwork attesting to their heritage. Members of the Winnemem Wintu tribe were among those with such paperwork.&nbsp;</p><p>But in 1986, a Supreme Court case changed all that. By ruling that American Indians must belong to a federally recognized tribe to be eligible for benefits, the court relegated many California tribe members to a new class: &ldquo;the unrecognized&rdquo; &ndash; the ghost tribes.</p><p>Today, <a href="" target="_blank">about 120 California tribes are federally recognized</a>; about 75 ghost tribes are petitioning the BIA for recognition. The petition process is so arduous that some, like the Winnemem Wintu, are instead pursuing congressional legislation or complaints with the United Nations, claiming the recognition system itself violates the <a href=";mtdsg_no=IV-2&amp;chapter=4&amp;lang=en" target="_blank">International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination</a>.</p><p>Nedra Darling, who oversees public affairs for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was provided questions related to this story but failed to provide responses on behalf of the agency.</p><p>Lee Fleming, director of the BIA&rsquo;s Office of Federal Acknowledgment and a Cherokee Indian, said in a previous interview that he had worked to speed up the petition process. But Fleming emphasized that the government needs time to verify that claims to tribal rights are based on legitimate records and documents.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Long petition process</strong></p><p>In California and other states that grant Indian gaming licenses only to recognized tribes, the importance of verification has grown &ndash; as has a desire for federal recognition.</p><p>So far, only one California tribe has been recognized through the BIA process: Death Valley&rsquo;s Timbisha Shoshone Band, in 1983.&nbsp;</p><p>The Tolowa Nation, another now-small Northern California tribe, began its formal effort to become recognized in 1982. The Tolowa&rsquo;s traditional territory is the Smith River watershed in the northeastern corner of California.&nbsp;</p><p>The BIA petition process requires tribes to collect voluminous genealogical and historical proof that they have been a &ldquo;continuous distinct community&rdquo; since 1900. The Tolowa&rsquo;s petition was rejected in late 2010 on the grounds that it didn&rsquo;t include enough evidence that the tribe existed as a community from 1903 to 1930.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re not used to all these small bands and tribes and the way we lived in California, sticking to our small territories,&rdquo; said Martha Rice, a Tolowa Nation council member. &ldquo;They have a model for what a tribe should be, and it just doesn&rsquo;t fit in California.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Anthropologists and tribal members also argue that the requirement to show &ldquo;continuous and distinct community&rdquo; for more than a century is unrealistic, given the government&rsquo;s history of interfering with tribal development.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;These people went through massacres, dislocations and suffered all these horrible atrocities, and then the government demands, &lsquo;Show us your continuous community.&rsquo; It&rsquo;s absurd,&rdquo; said Les Field, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.</p><p>Questions about whether the recognition criteria adequately reflect reality in California went unanswered by the BIA. But in 2011, Fleming said criteria were developed in collaboration with many tribal representatives. Petitions are reviewed by teams that include genealogists and anthropologists, he said.</p><p>&ldquo;There was a need for a formal process, and so there was a total of 400 meetings, discussions and conversations with tribal representatives, as well as a national conference attended by 355 Indian tribes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That is basically how we got started, based on input from all these tribes.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Crude disruptions</strong></p><p>The Winnemem Wintu was among the first tribes to receive a permit to hold ceremonies on national forest land after the 1978 passage of the <a href="" target="_blank">American Indian Religious Freedoms Act</a>. Until it expired in 2011, the tribe also had a Memorandum of Understanding with the Shasta-Trinity National Forest offices, stating its members are indigenous to the McCloud River above the dam.</p><p>Neither of those documents could prevent what happened in July 2006.</p><p>For a Winnemem girl, crossing into womanhood begins along the banks of the McCloud River. Each teenage girl spends four days in a bark hut on one side of the river, learning from tribal women how to grind traditional medicines and receiving teachings from the spirit beings believed to inhabit nearby sacred sites. On the final day, the girl swims across the river to meet the tribe, which greets her with songs and dances around a sacred fire.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;This ceremony weaves the fabric of our tribe together,&rdquo; said Sisk, the chief. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just about teaching the women about their role as caretakers in the tribe, but also about establishing with the men how to have good relationships with the women.&rdquo;</p><p>This sacred land, now a Forest Service campground, is threatened long term by the dam-raising proposal. It would be flooded and lost.&nbsp;</p><p>But in the short term, the tribe&rsquo;s inability to close the area during ceremonies has led to crude interruptions. Boaters have ignored the Forest Service&rsquo;s &ldquo;voluntary closure&rdquo; sign and motored by, shouting insults such as &ldquo;Fat Indians!&rdquo; and &ldquo;It&rsquo;s our river, too, dude.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>On the last day of the 2006 ceremony, a tribe member captured one particularly egregious activity on video: A woman on a boat, apparently drunk, pulled down her bikini top and flashed her breasts at the tribe &ndash; twice.</p><p>&ldquo;Every time those boaters come through, I feel like the message that is being sent is that we should assimilate &ndash; like the government and the public doesn&rsquo;t want our religion here,&rdquo; said Michael Preston, 28, a Winnemem Wintu dancer.</p><p><strong>Rite of passage marred</strong></p><p>This quest to hold a private ceremony on public land took on added urgency this year. Marisa Sisk, the chief&rsquo;s niece who is being groomed as her future replacement, was set to pass into womanhood in early July. In April, the Winnemem took their plea for a river closure directly to the Forest Service&rsquo;s Vallejo office.&nbsp;</p><p>In the office lobby, about 30 tribe members sang traditional songs and carried placards, several emblazoned with images of the bare-breasted flasher. The protest brought Regional Forester Randy Moore out of his office but ended with no promises.</p><p>The tribe&rsquo;s campaign continued with phone calls, emails and a four-day war dance at the river ceremony site. Then, on June 21, Moore announced that the agency would enforce a mandatory river closure for the rite-of-passage ceremony, citing health and safety concerns.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make as I balanced both the tribe&rsquo;s interest with our legal authorities,&rdquo; Moore said in a statement. &ldquo;Due to past incidents of harassment &hellip; we believe it is necessary to close the river to enhance the safety of the ceremony.&rdquo;</p><p>But the tribe found itself once again in a catch-22: To obtain the closure order, the Winnemem had to sign a permit banning traditional activities central to the ceremony, such as gathering wood for the sacred fire. Caleen Sisk vowed to fast until the matter was resolved.</p><p>&ldquo;We are the indigenous people of this land, and our religion is from here,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Recognized or not, we&rsquo;re not compromising our religion. It&rsquo;s not like the Forest Service doesn&rsquo;t know who we are.&rdquo;</p><p>A series of hurried back-and-forth edits to the permit followed, enough so that the tribe opted to hold the ceremony. But the Winnemem were far from satisfied, noting that the closure permit covered only the water, not the land, which means people on foot still could interrupt the ceremony. Only full recognition would give the tribe the power to prevent that.</p><p>Even with the river closure, Marisa Sisk&rsquo;s Coming of Age ceremony was tense at times.&nbsp;</p><p>Because no motorized boats were supposed to enter the area, U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers and the tribe clashed over a motorized boat the Winnemem used to ferry older women involved in the ceremony across the river.</p><p>&ldquo;They need to understand this is a Winnemem ceremony in Winnemem territory,&rdquo; said Winnemem elder Betti Comas. &ldquo;Their job was to keep outsiders from interfering with us, not to tell us how to run our ceremony.&rdquo;</p><p>The morning after Marisa Sisk swam across the river to represent her transition to womanhood, three law enforcement officers entered the camp and wrote two citations against Caleen Sisk for using the motorized boat. Each carries a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in prison.</p><p>Frustrated by the ceremony closure restrictions, Caleen Sisk had begun fasting at the river on June 18, saying she wouldn&rsquo;t stop until the BIA granted her a meeting to discuss the tribe&rsquo;s status</p><p>&ldquo;You could say (the BIA is) telling the Forest Service this treatment we&rsquo;ve received is OK because we&rsquo;re not recognized,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We think it&rsquo;s time they fix their mistake.&rdquo;</p><p>Virgil Akins, superintendent of the Northern California BIA, agreed to meet with Sisk on July 11, the 23rd day of her fast. At the meeting, Akins accepted a packet of the Winnemem&rsquo;s historical records and promised to help them, sharing information that led in January to the Tejon Indian Tribe being restored to the list of recognized tribes.&nbsp;</p><p>Winnemem Wintu government liaison Gary Hayward Slaughter Mulcahy said that, at first glance, his tribe seems to have at least as much documentation as the Tejon tribe.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We used to think we didn&rsquo;t need federal acknowledgment because we&rsquo;ve always known who we are. We didn&rsquo;t need the government to tell us,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s become apparent &hellip; that to be able to protect our ceremonies and protect our sites, we need to be on their list.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p><em><a href="" target="_blank">California Lost</a>&nbsp;is an occasional series examining challenges facing neglected communities around the state.</em></p> Health and Welfare Environment Bureau of Indian Affairs California Lost Native American Shasta Winnemem Wintu California Lost Mon, 16 Jul 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Marc Dadigan 17078 at Drop in immigration clouds future of school for Spanish speakers <p>English and Spanish alternate seamlessly in the classrooms at the Mission Education Center in San Francisco. Decorative signs identify objects that in other schools would seem too basic to name: &ldquo;clock&rdquo; and &ldquo;door.&rdquo;</p><p>This public elementary school has for 40 years served children who have just arrived from Latin America and speak only Spanish, who beyond its walls are out of their element in almost every way.</p><p>Those students are dramatically fewer now. As the flow of immigrants from Mexico has dwindled in recent years, the school&rsquo;s enrollment has plummeted from a high of 264 students in the mid-2000s to 72 this past spring.</p><p>&ldquo;We had low enrollment in 1994, when Prop. 187 passed,&rdquo; said fifth-grade teacher Lilly Chow, referring to the controversial ballot measure that sought to halt public services to unauthorized immigrants and was struck down in U.S. district court. &ldquo;But never like this.&rdquo;</p><p>The change has transformed the size and cultural makeup of the school&rsquo;s classes. It has sliced the number of teachers nearly in half. And it has the small, close-knit staff deeply worried about whether the school will survive and how its young, vulnerable students will fare if it doesn&rsquo;t.</p><p>Students normally stay for a year or two, learning English and catching up on academics before they plunge into a conventional school.</p><p>Many of those children arrive in the U.S. culturally overwhelmed and academically far below their grade level. In a classroom full of English speakers, without specially geared instruction and care, Chow fears, &ldquo;Eventually they&rsquo;re going to be dropouts.&rdquo;</p><p>At Mission Education Center, a yellow schoolhouse amid the Edwardian homes and quiet slopes of San Francisco&rsquo;s Noe Valley neighborhood, students learn academic subjects like math and science in Spanish and study English for an hour a day. Parents sign a waiver exempting their children from Proposition 227, the 1998 measure that required all public school instruction be done in English.</p><p>Classrooms that just a few years ago brimmed with children now host only 12 to 14 students per grade. Some rooms are entirely dark, used only for after-school programs.</p><p>On a recent Thursday, teaching coach Rosie Esparza gave five fifth-graders with intermediate English an intensive lesson based on the solar system.</p><p>&ldquo;What&rsquo;s another word they give for moons?&rdquo; she asked.</p><p>&ldquo;Satellites,&rdquo; the children echoed back. Only one in the group was Mexican. Others hailed from El Salvador and Nicaragua.</p><p>Since its founding, this little school has regularly seen the evidence of large international changes. A flood of children from El Salvador &ndash; among them Ricardo Cortez, now the school&rsquo;s fourth-grade teacher &ndash; arrived as civil war ripped the country in the 1980s. A wave of Hondurans appeared, then ebbed, after Hurricane Mitch in 1998.</p><p>Still, Mexican students predominated, delivered to San Francisco by what the Pew Hispanic Center has termed &ldquo;the largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States.&rdquo; Over the past four decades, the Mexican-born population in the U.S. has surged to about 12 million, many of them here illegally, Pew reports.</p><p>It&rsquo;s hard to identify how many of those are students, since Mission Education Center and other California public schools do not inquire about students&rsquo; immigration status. By law, all children present must be educated.</p><p>About five years ago, immigration from Mexico started to drop, and fast. Pew points to a number of explanations: The U.S. economy collapsed while Mexico&rsquo;s had been gradually strengthening. The dangers of rising drug-cartel violence in northern Mexico heightened. U.S. border enforcement and deportations intensified.</p><p>&ldquo;They have more opportunities in their country now, so they&rsquo;re staying,&rdquo; said the school&rsquo;s second-grade teacher, Annie Rodriguez, whose great-grandparents emigrated from Mexico and who learned Spanish only as an adult, in college. &ldquo;What is there here? They don&rsquo;t see that dream as they did before.&rdquo;</p><p>Christina Wong, special assistant to San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia, oversees the district&rsquo;s programs for students learning English as a second language. While it&rsquo;s possible that other factors &ndash; such as parents choosing different schools for their newcomer kids &ndash; could account for part of the enrollment shift, she said, &ldquo;The immigration pattern is real.&rdquo;</p><p>Pew <a href="">reported</a> in April that with fewer Mexicans coming to the U.S. and more leaving, net immigration from Mexico had &ldquo;come to a standstill.&rdquo;</p><p>The staff at Mission Education Center already knew that.</p><p>The school&rsquo;s enrollment from most Latin American countries has waned in the past few years, but the drop from Mexico is especially steep. Mexicans made up nearly half the students in spring 2009; now they are just 15 percent.</p><p>From 2009 to 2010 alone, the number of Mexican students plummeted from 89 to 25. Now there are 11.</p><p>In contrast, enrollment has held steady at about 150 at the Chinese Education Center, the San Francisco Unified School District&rsquo;s elementary school for Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking newcomers. At International High School, which also serves newcomers, Chinese students surpassed Latinos to become the majority in the 2010-11 school year.</p><p>Children at Mission Education Center come from various circumstances, but many lived in rural towns with limited schooling. Several have spent years separated from their parents who came to the U.S. ahead of them. Once in San Francisco, almost all are low income.</p><p>The students&rsquo; projects on display in the halls include dioramas of their gardens in Latin America, lush with avocado trees and rowdy with dogs and birds. Handwritten letters to their old homes read: &ldquo;Dear House, When I think of you I feel discouraged. &hellip; I remember when we ate delicious melon together, like brothers, and played hide-and-seek under our beds, lovely and soft.&rdquo;</p><p>Mission Education Center&rsquo;s instructors &ndash; most of them immigrants or grandchildren of immigrants &ndash; teach these children &ldquo;everything,&rdquo; said Chow, who emigrated from Nicaragua in her thirties on a Fulbright scholarship and has taught at the school for 23 years. &ldquo;How to dress for the weather. Hygiene. Nutrition. On top of that, we help them to cope with the emotional issues that most of them have.&rdquo;</p><p>In that sense, the school&rsquo;s shrinking class sizes help. One Nicaraguan girl in Chow&rsquo;s fifth-grade class was reading at a first-grade level when she arrived last August; by May, she tested at a sixth-grade level.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a paradise for me and my students,&rdquo; said Chow. &ldquo;Having these low numbers, they can really advance. But it&rsquo;s not good for our program.&rdquo;</p><p>Fearing that the school could be closed for low enrollment, Principal Deborah Molof has applied to add a dual-language immersion program teaching English and Spanish to native speakers of both languages. That way, she reasons, the native speakers of both tongues could be models for each other, and the newcomers would still get the support they need. The district is considering her application.</p><p>Meanwhile, a teaching staff that once numbered 11 is down to six, and still shrinking.</p><p>On a recent afternoon, Rodriguez was throwing out old papers and packing to move to a different school. Mission Education Center will need one less teacher next year, and with seven years of service at the school, Rodriguez has the least seniority.</p><p>&ldquo;It seems like every year another teacher has to leave,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s my turn.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(48, 140, 170); font-weight: bold; " target="_blank">California Lost</a>&nbsp;is an occasional series examining challenges facing neglected communities around the state.</em></p> K–12 Daily Report California Lost children dual-language enrollment immigration Mexican teachers California Lost Wed, 27 Jun 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Grace Rubenstein 16793 at Lianne Milton for The Bay Citizen Vianex Marquez, 9, and Wendy Maregque, 9, read a Spanish book together in a third-grade class. Lianne Milton for The Bay Citizen Vianex Marquez, 9, and Wendy Maregque, 9, read a Spanish book together in a third-grade class. Lianne Milton for The Bay Citizen Math instructor Ricardo Cortez, who was a former Mission Education student, gives a thumbs up to students. Rural towns devise unique plan to solve water problems <p>For a good part of its rich history, residents of unincorporated Allensworth, the first African American colony west of the Mississippi, have gone without a reliable supply of&nbsp;safe drinking water.</p><p>This is still the case today, where the Tulare County community&rsquo;s wells&nbsp;&ndash; which provide water to the neighboring <a href="" target="_blank">Colonel Allensworth State Historical Park</a> that commemorates the area&rsquo;s legacy &ndash; exceed federal levels for arsenic.&nbsp;</p><p>Arsenic is naturally occurring in the area, and consumption of the semi-metal can cause nausea and skin discoloration. It has also been associated with various cancers.</p><p>Residents of Allensworth and neighboring Alpaugh &ndash; both rural, unincorporated communities in Tulare County whose water has elevated&nbsp;arsenic levels &ndash; have advanced a novel proposal to resolve the water issues in their communities. Under the plan, the Allensworth and Alpaugh Community Services Districts would combine with the Angiola Water District, which sells water for irrigation, to deliver drinking water to residents.&nbsp;Late last week, Allensworth and Alpaugh&rsquo;s proposal received nearly $420,000<strong>&nbsp;</strong>in <a href="" target="_blank">state grants [PDF]</a> to research its feasibility.</p><p>Safe drinking water is a &quot;necessity&nbsp;for healthy living and economic growth and opportunity for the community,&rdquo; Denise Kadara, president of the Allensworth Progressive Association, said at a recent meeting of the Strategic Growth Council, a&nbsp;cabinet-level committee that&nbsp;coordinates activities&nbsp;related to issues such as water quality and public health among five state agencies. &ldquo;Rural communities like Allensworth face huge barriers to clean drinking water and we need innovative solutions to overcome these barriers.&rdquo;</p><p>Consolidation of water districts &ndash; there are more than 8,000 public systems in California &ndash;&nbsp;has become increasingly appealing to rural communities. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s become harder and harder for a very small water system to provide safe water and to keep the rates affordable,&rdquo; said Laurel Firestone, the co-executive director of the Community Water Center in Visalia. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s an overall trend of water systems looking for collaborative solutions to help cut costs.&rdquo;</p><p>The Allensworth-Alpaugh proposal is unique because it involves a consolidation between remote rural community water districts and an irrigation water district. The arrangement could serve as a model for other rural communities, water policy experts say.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of dispersed communities face similar challenges, and what is learned here could be pretty influential in the rural West,&rdquo; said Tony Rossmann, an attorney who has handled some of the state&rsquo;s most significant water cases.</p><p>The proposal had the support of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, which submitted the application to the state Strategic Growth Council. &ldquo;We know that in Tulare County, we have clean water issues in our unincorporated communities,&rdquo; said Allen Ishida, a county supervisor. &ldquo;We are not going to be able to solve these issues without consolidation because it&rsquo;s too expensive.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Ishida said the funding for the feasibility study is a step toward &ldquo;finally, after all these years, getting acceptable and potable clean water&rdquo; to unincorporated communities &ldquo;so that residents can enjoy the health benefits and lessen the financial burden of having to buy bottled water.&rdquo;</p><p>According to surveys conducted by advocacy organizations like California Rural Legal Assistance, residents of low-income, unincorporated communities spend up to 10 percent of their income on water.</p><p>California law states that residents have a &ldquo;right to pure and safe drinking water,&rdquo; but while the state&nbsp;Department of Public Health is charged with monitoring public water systems, there are few enforcement mechanisms, said Camille Pannu of the Center on Race, Poverty &amp; the Environment, who helped draft the Allensworth-Alpaugh proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;The gap between rights on the books and rights on the ground is particularly stark in the (Central) Valley,&rdquo; Pannu wrote in a <a href="" target="_blank">recent issue</a> of the California Law Review.</p><p>The Allensworth-Alpaugh proposal also included an additional $450,000 funds to study the extension of sewer service from the city of Tulare to the unincorporated community of Matheny Tract.</p><p>As California Watch has <a href="" target="_blank">previously reported</a>, Matheny Tract, on the outskirts of Tulare, is located just a few miles &ndash; and downwind &ndash;&nbsp;from the municipal wastewater treatment plant, but residents currently can&rsquo;t connect to it. Residents rely instead on aging septic tanks.</p><p>A memorandum of understanding is already in place between the city and county to explore a wastewater connection to Matheny Tract, but feasibility studies are a crucial step toward infrastructure improvements for low-income unincorporated communities, advocates said.</p><p>A common obstacle to construction is &quot;not getting through the planning phase,&rdquo; often because there&#39;s a lack of funding, said Phoebe Seaton of California Rural Legal Assistance.</p><p>Tulare County Supervisor Pete Vander Poel added that the studies for the Allensworth-Alpaugh and Matheny Tract projects &quot;can be used to leverage additional funds for construction.&quot; He said that state and federal funding sources typically require feasibility studies and preliminary engineering work to be completed before projects will be considered for future funding.</p><p>A separate $383,853 proposal to draft a planning document for unincorporated and disadvantaged communities in Tulare County along the Highway 99 corridor was also approved by the Strategic Growth Council.</p><p>Numerous Central Valley communities face similar conditions with water quality, access and delivery. A <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> by the environmental research organization Pacific Institute found that between 2005 and 2008, about 1.3 million San Joaquin Valley residents drank water with unhealthy levels of nitrates, which can lead to severe illness and even death among infants.</p><p>According to Oakland think tank PolicyLink, an estimated 1.8 million Californians live in low-income, unincorporated communities like Allensworth and Alpaugh, and many lack potable drinking water or other basic infrastructure. In the Tulare Lake Basin area, there are at least 370 of these communities.</p> Health and Welfare Daily Report California Lost drinking water nitrates Tulare County unincorporated communities California Lost Mon, 14 May 2012 07:05:02 +0000 Bernice Yeung 16180 at woodleywonderworks/Flickr Unincorporated South Dos Palos struggles with economic development <p>Once a thriving rural community with a nearly equal number of bars and churches, South Dos Palos, an unincorporated area in Merced County, has been in decline for decades.</p><p>But it&rsquo;s still possible to make out the contours of the community from a time when it was a growing place. On the edge of town, which borders the city of Dos Palos, there&rsquo;s an abandoned reddish-trimmed building that used to be a popular pool hall.</p><p>The railroad station a few blocks away is now dark and defunct, and it&#39;s not far from the skeleton of the produce packing shed where workers used to give melons to local kids. The textile mill is now an empty edifice, a disintegrating monument to a more prosperous past.</p><p>Technological advances in farming and manufacturing, coupled with the economic downturn, have created fewer jobs in the area, said Jerry O&rsquo;Banion, the county supervisor who represents South Dos Palos. &ldquo;Basically, it&rsquo;s gone the way of rural America,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Having the community out in a farming area is not a viable structure as far as being able to survive.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite ongoing efforts to revitalize South Dos Palos, as a poor and unincorporated community, development has been hampered by a dearth of precise information about the place and people who live there.</p><p>&ldquo;It is extremely difficult to gather discrete data for disadvantaged unincorporated communities,&rdquo; Veronica Garibay of California Rural Legal Assistance&rsquo;s <a href="" target="_blank">Community Equity Initiative</a> wrote in an e-mail.&nbsp;&ldquo;For example, in many cases, these communities are placed in large census tracts or block groups that encompass a broad geography that includes wealthier areas.&nbsp;When data is aggregated, the results are not representative.&rdquo;</p><p>According to a community survey released this week, an estimated 48 percent of South Dos Palos residents live below the poverty level, and the annual median household income ranges between $15,000 and $18,999. The U.S. Census Bureau, however, reports the annual median income in South Dos Palos at $28,931.&nbsp;</p><p>Surveys of other low-income unincorporated communities reflect a <a href="" target="_blank">similar phenomenon</a>. In Parklawn near Modesto, the U.S. Census Bureau says the median household income is $32,902, while a local survey puts that number at $18,999. In Lanare, outside of Fresno, the official federal tally for median income is $42,813, though a local survey reports a range of $22,000 to $25,999.</p><p>The community surveys have been conducted by the advocacy organizations California Rural Legal Assistance and PolicyLink with assistance from University of California researchers and students. These groups say they are trying to fill in data gaps for low-income and unincorporated communities because state and federal agencies rely on these numbers to dispense grants that could help pay for infrastructure improvements.</p><p>&ldquo;Many communities like South Dos Palos suffer from severe underinvestment in infrastructure,&rdquo; Garibay said.&nbsp;&ldquo;Because they are low-income communities, many qualify for state and federal grants for improved services,&rdquo; especially for drinking water and wastewater.</p><p>&ldquo;If the data is not representative of the community, the community can potentially be negatively impacted with high water and sewer rates,&rdquo; Garibay added.</p><p>According to the recent South Dos Palos survey, residents cited crime and safety, access to markets and services, and poor infrastructure as their top three concerns.</p><p>Howard Redding, president of the board of the community center in South Dos Palos, said infrastructure improvements are needed.</p><p>&ldquo;The main thing is to get the sidewalks in, beautify the place,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Things to make it look like a town again. Because frankly, people, when they talk about South Dos Palos, it&rsquo;s not in a good light, but it could be. It could be beautiful.&rdquo;</p><p>Robin Maria DeLugan, a UC Merced anthropologist who oversaw the South Dos Palos survey, said in an e-mail that the data demonstrates the tension between &ldquo;low-income household expenses and the costs of basic services.&rdquo;</p><p>For example, despite the high poverty rates in the neighborhood, 56 percent of the residents purchase bottled water each month because they are worried about the way the tap water smells and tastes. Additionally, half of the residents spend $200 or more&nbsp;each month on gas and don&rsquo;t use lower-cost public transportation because the routes are infrequent and don&rsquo;t stop near their jobs. Residents also reported feeling unsafe walking at night in the community because there are no sidewalks,&nbsp;few streetlights and dogs that run loose on streets.</p><p>O&rsquo;Banion, the county supervisor, said he is concerned about the poor infrastructure in South Dos Palos and plans to try&nbsp;to find federal funds to install sidewalks and upgrade aging water and sewer lines.</p><p>&ldquo;For safety&rsquo;s sake, that&rsquo;s the most important&nbsp;reason to put in sidewalks,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It also will improve the appearance of the community. There is old infrastructure that needs to be addressed in the future, the water and sewer lines. They are going on over 50 years old, and they are going to start breaking down.&rdquo;</p><p>The community&rsquo;s infrastructure is tied to its potential for growth, said Ismael Diaz Herrera, director of the San Joaquin Valley Rural Development Center, which is working in South Dos Palos.</p><p>&ldquo;Infrastructure is needed for housing and economic development; you can&rsquo;t have one without the other,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If you don&rsquo;t have infrastructure and transportation, then it&rsquo;s hard to recruit and retain businesses and encourage people to open businesses.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite the challenges, incremental improvements can be seen in the community, which started out as an Italian enclave in the late 1800s, became an increasingly African American neighborhood in the 1930s and is now home to a primarily Latino population. Although abandoned buildings litter the landscape, it also has its share of new houses interspersed between historic homes and tidy clusters of public housing and apartments.</p><p>The jewel of South Dos Palos is the recently refurbished <a href="" target="_blank">George Washington Carver Community Center</a>, the site of baby showers, quinceañeras and a monthly food bank. The county is also planning to open a kiosk at the center so that residents can sign up for social services without traveling 30 miles to Merced.</p><p>Built in the early 1960s by residents, local growers and a church pastor, the building began to show some wear and tear in recent years. The roof leaked, and the heat and cooling system that had been suspended from the ceiling generated a loud roar. A small group &ndash; including&nbsp;Denard Davis, a retired&nbsp;assistant superintendent of Merced County schools and longtime South Dos Palos advocate&nbsp;&ndash; pushed for a new building. It was refurbished for about $300,000 with federal grants and county funds and reopened in late 2010.</p><p>The public presentation of the South Dos Palos community survey was made this week at the Carver Center. Angelica Rivera was one of only a handful of residents who attended the presentation.</p><p>She has lived in the community for 18 years, and she said she became interested in improving South Dos Palos because she has two daughters in college. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m thinking that when they graduate, they will not want to come back to the community because they will not find work here,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I want to make things better so they will come back.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="" target="_blank">California Lost</a> is an occasional series&nbsp;examining challenges facing neglected communities around the state.</em></p> Health and Welfare Daily Report California Lost Central Valley Dos Palos low-income poverty rural unincorporated unincorporated communities California Lost Fri, 27 Apr 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Bernice Yeung 15954 at Bernice Yeung/California Watch A former pool hall stands abandoned in South Dos Palos.  Map: Learn more about 4 unincorporated communities <link rel="stylesheet" href="" /> <script type="text/javascript" src=""></script> <script type="text/javascript">try{Typekit.load();}catch(e){}</script> <link rel="stylesheet" href="" /> <!--[if lte IE 8]> <link rel="stylesheet" href="" /> <![endif]--> <script src=""></script> <script src='' type='text/javascript'></script> <script src='' type='text/javascript'></script> <style> section { font-size : 16px ; line-height : 1.75 em ; display : block ; padding : 0 ; margin : 0.8em 0 2em 0 ; clear : both ; font-family: "adobe-caslon-pro-1","adobe-caslon-pro-2"; } { min-height : 25em ; } body .content section p { line-height : 1.75 em ; } #content section h1 { margin-top : 0 ; font-family: "adobe-caslon-pro-1","adobe-caslon-pro-2"; } #intro-text { margin-bottom : 1em ; } #intro-text p { margin-top : 0 ; } #locator { float : right ; margin-left : 1em ; } .map-canvas { float : left ; margin-right : 1em ; width : 36em ; height: 25em ; } #parklawn { margin-top : 1em ; } table.communitystats { font-size : 0.8em ; text-align : right ; font-family : Arial, sans-serif ; } table.communitystats td:first-child { text-align : left ; } table.communitystats th, table.communitystats td { padding : 0.5em ; vertical-align : middle ; line-height : 1.13em ; border-bottom : 1px solid #333 ; } table.communitystats th { text-align : center ; } .fine-print { font-size : 0.8em ; } #content section ul { list-style-position:inside; } .map-key { font-family : Arial, sans-serif ; font-size : 0.75em ; line-height : 0.75em ; margin-bottom : 0.5em ; } </style> <section id="intro-text"> <p>About 1.8 million Californians &ndash; primarily Latinos &ndash; <a href="">live in low-income, unincorporated communities</a> that lack sewers, clean drinking water, sidewalks, streetlights or gutters &ndash; infrastructure known to curb public health and safety risks. There are an estimated 438 of these communities in California, and they've been neglected and overlooked for decades in part because they can be hard to find. The U.S. Census Bureau only tracks some of them, and federal tallies of characteristics like income often diverge markedly from more localized surveys. Without hard numbers, advocates have found it difficult to argue effectively for change. State legislation that went into effect this year, however, requires local governments to identify and consider these communities in urban planning efforts.</p> <div class="map-key"> <strong>Color key</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Incorporated city or town&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;U.S. Census-designated unincorporated place </div> </section> <section id="parklawn" class="map"> <iframe class="map-canvas" src="" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe> <!--<div id="parklawn-map" style="width : 36em ; height: 25em ;"></div>--> <h1>Parklawn</h1> <p>Parklawn is an unincorporated island near the cities of Modesto and Ceres, and it's one of at least four disenfranchised islands in Modesto. Residents rely on failing septic tanks, and although a city sewer line runs adjacent to the community, residents can't access it. </p> <table class="communitystats" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0"> <tr> <th>&nbsp;</th> <th>Parklawn</th> <th>Stanislaus&nbsp;County</th> </tr> <tr> <td>Population</td> <td>1,337</td> <td>514,453</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Hispanic or&nbsp;Latino</td> <td>81.5%</td> <td>41.9%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Median household income</td> <td>$32,902 <div class="fine-print">(Local survey reports much lower: $18,999)</div></td> <td>$51,094</td> </tr> </table> <ul> <li><a href="">More information for Parklawn residents</a></li> </ul> </section> <div class="map-key"> <strong>Color key</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Incorporated city or town&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;U.S. Census-designated unincorporated place </div> <section id="lanare" class="map"> <iframe class="map-canvas" src="" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe> <!--<div id="lanare-map" style="width : 36em ; height: 25em ;"></div>--> <h1>Lanare</h1> <p>Lanare is an unincorporated rural community that's 30 miles outside of Fresno. Residents pay at least $54 a month for arsenic-contaminated tap water and spend an additional $25 on bottled water for drinking and cooking.</p> <table class="communitystats" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0"> <tr> <th>&nbsp;</th> <th>Lanare</th> <th>Fresno&nbsp;County</th> </tr> <tr> <td>Population</td> <td>589</td> <td>930,450</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Hispanic or&nbsp;Latino</td> <td>88.1%</td> <td>50.3%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Median household income</td> <td>$42,813 <div class="fine-print">(Local survey reports much lower: $22,000-$25,999)</div></td> <td>$46,430</td> </tr> </table> <ul> <li><a href="">More information for Lanare residents</a></li> </ul> </section> <div class="map-key"> <strong>Color key</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Incorporated city or town&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;U.S. Census-designated unincorporated place </div> <section id="matheny" class="map"> <iframe class="map-canvas" src="" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe> <!--<div id="matheny-map" style="width : 36em ; height: 25em ;"></div>--> <h1>Matheny Tract</h1> <p>Matheny Tract is a neighborhood of houses and mobile homes bordered by farmland and cheese processing plants three miles from Tulare's city center. Although residents can sometimes smell the city sewer plant that's about two miles away, residents can't yet connect to the system and instead use aging septic tanks.</p> <table class="communitystats" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0"> <tr> <th>&nbsp;</th> <th>Matheny Tract</th> <th>Tulare&nbsp;County</th> </tr> <tr> <td>Population</td> <td>1,212</td> <td>442,179</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Hispanic or Latino</td> <td>73.4%</td> <td>60.6%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Median household income</td> <td>$33,309</td> <td>$43,851</td> </tr> </table> <ul> <li><a href="">More information for Matheny Tract residents</a></li> </ul> </section> <div class="map-key"> <strong>Color key</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Incorporated city or town&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;U.S. Census-designated unincorporated place </div> <section id="thermal" class="map"> <iframe class="map-canvas" src="" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe> <!--<div id="thermal-map" style="width : 36em ; height: 25em ;"></div>--> <h1>Thermal</h1> <p>One among a cluster of unincorporated towns in the Eastern Coachella Valley, Thermal is a rural community dotted with a number of mobile home parks &ndash; dozens of which lack permits to operate. In the worst cases, residents depend on aging septic tanks and cesspools, or they don't have access to clean drinking water.</p> <table class="communitystats" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0"> <tr> <th>&nbsp;</th> <th>Thermal</th> <th>Riverside&nbsp;County</th> </tr> <tr> <td>Population</td> <td>2,865</td> <td>2,189,641</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Hispanic or Latino</td> <td>95.3%</td> <td>45.5%</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Median household income</td> <td>$33,988</div></td> <td>$57,768</td> </tr> </table> <ul> <li><a href="">More information for Thermal residents</a></li> </ul> </section> <section id="sources"> <p>Sources: 2010 U.S. Census, American Community Survey's five-year estimates (2006-2010), PolicyLink, Self-Help Enterprises and California Rural Legal Assistance</p> </section> Health and Welfare Lanare Matheny Tract Parklawn sewer Thermal unincorporated communities water California Lost Fri, 06 Apr 2012 07:05:06 +0000 15382 at React and Act: Contacts for unincorporated communities <p>Many residents in low-income, unincorporated neighborhoods across California are living in substandard conditions: These poor, dense communities lack some combination of safe drinking water, sidewalks, streetlights, functioning gutters and sewer systems. What&rsquo;s more, community members are left not knowing whom to hold responsible and how to effectively demand improvements. Here, we&rsquo;ve collected contact information for key players in each community featured in &ldquo;Neglected for decades, unincorporated communities lack basic public services,&rdquo; as well as officials, government agencies and organizations that serve the entire state. Within this React &amp; Act, you&rsquo;ll also find answers to frequently asked questions and more resources for the more than 1 million people living in California&rsquo;s unincorporated communities.</p><p><a href=""><strong>But first, do you live in an unincorporated community?</strong></a> Please share your insights with California Watch health and welfare reporter Bernice Yeung by clicking&nbsp;<a href="">here</a>.</p><p>The unincorporated communities profiled in &ldquo;Neglected for decades, unincorporated communities lack basic public services&rdquo; are facing uphill battles to improve their living conditions. Big questions loom and, as we explain here, the answers are often complicated.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong><span style="font-size:20px;">Frequently asked questions</span></strong></p><p><strong><strong>How do you create a voice for unincorporated communities?</strong></strong></p><p>Residents can ask their county supervisor (see key players contacts below) to create a municipal advisory council, which represents unincorporated communities and advises the county board of supervisors on issues like public health, land-use planning and sidewalks. The municipal advisory council collects comments and recommendations from community members and shares them with the county board and other relevant agencies. Before establishing the municipal advisory council, you must:</p><ul><li>Decide the council&rsquo;s name, responsibilities and represented area.</li><li>Determine how many members the council will include, as well as the selection process and qualifications. Members typically are appointed by the board of supervisors, but residents also can opt to elect them.</li><li>Draft bylaws.</li></ul><p><strong>How do you overcome language barriers?</strong></p><p>Public agencies that serve communities with large numbers of people who do not understand English are required to provide information in the language or languages they speak. (See the <a href="">Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act</a> and <a href="">California&rsquo;s Unruh Civil Rights Act</a>.) If you need interpretation at a meeting or translations of documents, the agency must supply it unless it would create extreme financial hardship. The same applies to public records.</p><p><strong>How do you achieve annexation?</strong></p><p>Annexation occurs when a city, county or state takes in more land. This newly incorporated community will then be provided with access to services including but not limited to water and sewer systems. In return, the newly incorporated community is subject to the land-use laws and policies of the city, county or state that annexed it.</p><p>To begin the process, community members can work together to petition, or ask for, annexation, or the process can be started by public agencies. Every county has an independent local agency formation commission, or LAFCO, which makes the final decision on annexations, as well as the provision of services and evolution of the presiding government. According to California Rural Legal Assistance, the purpose of LAFCOs is to &ldquo;prevent bad planning like creating new communities instead of improving existing ones, protect land used for agriculture and open space, to ensure that communities are receiving services like water, sewer, and law enforcement in an efficient manner, and encourage the development of local agencies based on the needs of communities.&rdquo; Scroll up to the key players section for contact information for each region&rsquo;s LAFCO. &nbsp;</p><p><strong>How can unincorporated communities get access to safe drinking water?</strong></p><p>The state Department of Public Health&rsquo;s <a href="">Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund</a> provides money to improve drinking water infrastructure and access to safe water. Funding extends to planning, design and construction of treatment plants, pipes, wells and storage.</p><p>Are you eligible? Communities with a water or utility district can push such agencies to apply for the funds. If your community does not have one of those agencies, then the county can apply on your community&rsquo;s behalf. The Department of Public Health determines which projects receive funding. Drinking water projects are on a priority list, and disadvantaged communities may receive up to 80 percent of the project&rsquo;s cost as a grant. According to California Rural League Assistance, projects with more community support and collaboration have a better chance of being funded.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>What can you do if you live in an unincorporated community and have sewage problems?</strong></p><p>Residents can petition the county board of supervisors to create a public utility district, which provides unincorporated communities with sewer, garbage, lighting, water and other services. The petition is then sent to the local agency formation commission for review and approval. Voters in the district then vote.</p><p>California law also allows for the creation of county service areas, which must be approved by the local agency formation commission and can provide sewer, water and trash services, police and fire protection, libraries, and more. You can petition the board of supervisors to create the community service area. The petition must include how the services would be financed, provided and named. Then you need to circulate the petition and gather signatures.</p><p>There is a petition process, which will require gathering signatures; thepetition must include how the services would be financed, provided and named. The <a href="">State Water Resources Control Board</a> also oversees the <a href="">Clean Water State Revolving Fund</a>, which is similar to the Department of Public Health&rsquo;s <a href="">Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund</a> but focuses on the planning, design and construction of wastewater improvement projects.</p><p><strong>How do you navigate the governmental process? </strong></p><p>Learning how to navigate the processes required to effectively demand changes in your community is not easy, but there are resources that break down issues like land use (the decisions, actions, policies and laws that determine how land is used), planning commissions and safe drinking water. California Rural Legal Assistance has informative publications available in English and Spanish, which can be ordered <a href="">online</a> or by phone at 415-777-2752.</p><p><strong><strong>What are your rights when it comes to participation in government meetings?</strong></strong></p><p>The Brown Act (download <a href=";rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=2&amp;ved=0CDoQFjAB&amp;;ei=R5h0T93PLuKqiQKv3q1T&amp;usg=AFQjCNFcKW6R12orKB-xL-yEQdd7KUsizQ">here</a>) protects community members&rsquo; participation and access to the decisions made by public agencies. All government boards must make almost all decisions in public meetings. They are required to inform the public when these meetings will be held and what information will be discussed.</p><p>According to the Brown Act, boards must post notices and agendas three days before a regular meeting, one day before a special meeting and one hour before an emergency meeting. They must provide the public with the same documents available to the board, hold meetings locally in a free and accessible space, allow the media, and allow for public comments during the meeting and public comment period.</p><p>Closed meetings are allowed when employees, legal cases and negotiations are to be discussed. If you think a board has violated the Brown Act, you can write to the agency and request it to correct the action. The agency has 30 days to do so. If it does not, you have 15 days to file a legal claim against it.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong><strong><span style="font-size:25px;">Key players</span></strong> </strong></p><p><strong><a href="" target="_self">Parklawn</a>&nbsp;|&nbsp;<a href="" target="_self">Lanare</a>&nbsp;|&nbsp;<a href="" target="_self">Matheny Tract</a>&nbsp;|&nbsp;<a href="" target="_self">Thermal</a></strong></p><p><strong><strong><u><a name="parklawn"></a>Parklawn (Modesto)</u></strong><br /> <strong>Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 1010 10th St., Suite 6500<br /> Modesto, CA 95354<br /> Call District 5 Supervisor Jim DeMartini: 209-525-4470<br /> E-mail DeMartini:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> Most board meetings are held at 9 a.m. Tuesdays. The complete schedule can be found&nbsp;<a href="">here</a>.<br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh</strong><br /> </strong>Write: P.O. Box 642<br /> Modesto, CA 95353<br /> Call: 209-571-5597<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Modesto City Council</strong><br /> </strong>Write: P.O. Box 642<br /> Modesto, CA 95353<br /> Call: 209-571-5169<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> Council meetings are held on the first, second and fourth Tuesdays of every month at 5:30 p.m. in the basement at 1010 10th St. The complete schedule can be found&nbsp;<a href="">here</a>.<br /> <strong> &nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong><strong>State Assemblyman Bill Berryhill</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 4557 Quail Lakes Drive, C-3<br /> Stockton, CA 95207<br /> Call: 209-473-6972<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> State Sen. Anthony Cannella<br /> Write: 918 15th St.<br /> Modesto, CA 95354<br /> Call: 209-577-6592<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 1010 10th St., 3rd Floor<br /> Modesto, CA 95354<br /> Call: 209-525-7660<br /> E-mail Executive Officer Marjorie Blom:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Stanislaus County Department of Environmental Resources</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 3800 Cornucopia Way, Suite C<br /> Modesto, CA 95358<br /> Call: 209-525-6700<br /> E-mail Director Sonya K. Harrigfeld:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Stanislaus County Health Services Agency</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 830 Scenic Drive<br /> P.O. Box 3271<br /> Modesto, CA 95353<br /> Call: 800-834-8171<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> &nbsp;</p><p>*Scroll down for statewide contacts.</p><p>**Tell us: <a href="">Which key players are we missing for Parklawn and Modesto?</a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong><u><a name="thermal"></a>Thermal/Rancho Garcia Mobile Home Park (Coachella)</u></strong><br /> <strong>Riverside County Board of Supervisors</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 4080 Lemon St.<br /> Riverside, CA 92501<br /> Call District 4 Supervisor John Benoit: 951-955-1040<br /> E-mail Benoit:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> Board meetings are held at 9 a.m. most Tuesdays. The complete schedule can be found <a href="">here</a>.<br /> &nbsp;</p><p><strong><strong>Coachella City Council</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 1515 6th St.<br /> Coachella, CA 92236<br /> Call: 760-398-3502<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. Information about the meetings is available at 760-398-3502.<br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Coachella Mayor Eduardo Garcia</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 1515 6th St.<br /> Coachella, CA 92236<br /> Call: 760-398-3502<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <strong> &nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong><strong>State Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 45-677 Oasis St.<br /> Indio, CA 92201<br /> Call: 760-342-8047<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a></p><p><strong><strong>State Sen. Juan Vargas</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 45-149 Smurr St., Suite B<br /> Indio, CA 92201<br /> Call: 760-398-6442<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 3850 Vine St., Suite 110<br /> Riverside, CA 92507<br /> Call: 951-369-0631<br /> E-mail Executive Officer George Spiliotis:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a></p><p><br /> <strong><strong>Riverside County Department of Environmental Health</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 47-950 Arabia St., Suite A<br /> Indio, CA 92201<br /> Call: 760-863-8287<br /> E-mail Indio Area Supervisor Tyler Skrove: <a href=""></a><br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Riverside County Department of Public Health</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 4065 County Circle Drive<br /> Riverside, CA 92503<br /> Call: 951-358-5000<br /> E-mail Director Susan D. Harrington:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> *Scroll down for statewide contacts.<br /> **Tell us: <a href="">Which key players are we missing for Thermal and Rancho Garcia?</a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong><u><a name="matheny"></a>Matheny Tract (Tulare)</u></strong><br /> </strong>Tulare County Board of Supervisors<br /> Write: 2800 W. Burrel Ave.<br /> Visalia, CA 93291<br /> Call District 2 Supervisor Pete Vander Poel: 559-636-5000<br /> E-mail Vander Poel:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> Board meetings are held at 9 a.m. every Tuesday.<br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Tulare City Council</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 411 E. Kern Ave.<br /> Tulare, CA 93274<br /> Call: 559-685-2300<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> Council meetings are held at 7 p.m. the first and third Tuesdays of every month at 491 N. M St. Information about the meetings is available at 559-685-5656, ext. 194.<br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Tulare Mayor Wayne Ross</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 411 E. Kern Ave.<br /> Tulare, CA 93274<br /> Call: 559-685-2300<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Self-Help Enterprises</strong><br /> </strong>Write: P.O. Box 6520<br /> Visalia, CA 93290<br /> Call: 559-651-1000<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <strong> &nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong><strong>State Assemblywoman Connie Conway</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 113 N. Church St., Suite 505<br /> Visalia, CA 93291<br /> Call: 559-636-3440<br /> E-mail: <a href=""></a><br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <strong> &nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong><strong>State Sen. Jean Fuller</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 5701 Truxtun Ave., Suite 150<br /> Bakersfield, CA 93309<br /> Call: 661-323-0443<br /> E-mail: <a href=""></a><br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Tulare County Local Agency Formation Commission</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 210 N. Church St., Suite B<br /> Visalia, CA 93291<br /> Call: 559-624-7274<br /> E-mail Executive Officer Ben Giuliani:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Tulare County Health &amp; Human Services Agency</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 5957 S. Mooney Blvd.<br /> Visalia, CA 93277<br /> Call: 559-624-8480<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> *Scroll down for statewide contacts.<br /> **Tell us: <a href="">Which key players are we missing for Matheny Tract and Tulare?</a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong><u><a name="lanare"></a>Lanare (Fresno County)</u></strong><br /> Fresno County Board of Supervisors</strong><br /> Write: 2281 Tulare St., Room 300<br /> Fresno, CA 93721<br /> Call District 4 Supervisor Judy Case: 559-600-4000<br /> E-mail Case:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> Board meetings are held at 9 a.m. most Tuesdays. The complete schedule can be found <a href="">here</a>.<br /> <strong> &nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong><strong>State Assemblyman David Valadao</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 1489 W. Lacey Blvd., Suite 103<br /> Hanford, CA 93230<br /> Call: 559-585-7170<br /> E-mail: <a href=""></a><br /> Website: <a href=""></a></p><p><strong><strong>State Sen. Michael J. Rubio</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 2550 Mariposa Mall, Suite 2016<br /> Fresno, CA 93721<br /> Call: 559-264-3070 &nbsp;<br /> E-mail: <a href=""></a><br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Fresno Local Agency Formation Commission</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 2607 Fresno St., Suite B<br /> Fresno, CA 93721<br /> Call: 559-600-0604<br /> E-mail Executive Officer Jeff Witte:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Fresno County Department of Public Health</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 1221 Fulton Mall<br /> Fresno, CA 93721<br /> Call: 559-600-3200<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Fresno County Division of Environmental Health</strong><br /> </strong>Write: P.O. Box 11867<br /> Fresno, CA 93775-1867<br /> Call: 559-600-3357<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> *Scroll down for statewide contacts.<br /> **Tell us: <a href="">Which key players are we missing for Lanare and Fresno County?</a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong><u>State</u></strong><br /> </strong>Gov. Jerry Brown<br /> Write: State Capitol, Suite 1173<br /> Sacramento, CA 95814<br /> Call: 916-445-2841<br /> E-mail: <a href=""></a><br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>California Department of Public Health</strong><br /> </strong>Call: 916-558-1784<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>California State Water Resources Control Board</strong><br /> </strong>(Financial assistance for infrastructure projects)<br /> Write: P.O. Box 100<br /> Sacramento, CA 95812-0100<br /> Call: 916-341-5700<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <strong> &nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong><strong>State Assembly Committee on Local Government</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 1020 N St., Room 157<br /> Sacramento, CA 95814<br /> Call: 916-319-3958<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>California Rural Legal Assistance</strong><br /> </strong>Write: 631 Howard St., Suite 300<br /> San Francisco, CA 94105-3907<br /> Call: 415-777-2752<br /> E-mail:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a><br /> <br /> <strong> <strong>Rural Community Assistance Corporation</strong><br /> </strong>Call: 916-447-2854<br /> E-mail Loan Fund Director Michael Carroll:<br /> Website: <a href=""></a></p> Health and Welfare Lanare Matheny Tract Parklawn sewer Thermal unincorporated communities water California Lost Fri, 06 Apr 2012 07:05:06 +0000 Ashley Alvarado 15402 at Video: Unincorporated California <p>Roughly 1.8 million people <a href="">live in low-income unincorporated communities</a> in California. These communities are outside of recognized city boundaries and therefore lack many public services, including sewer systems and clean water. California Watch reporter Bernice Yeung visited several of these communities across the state and spoke to residents about the challenges they face.</p> <iframe width="640" height="390" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> Health and Welfare Lanare Matheny Tract Parklawn sewer Thermal unincorporated communities water California Lost Fri, 06 Apr 2012 07:05:05 +0000 Bernice Yeung Carrie Ching 15614 at Neglected for decades, unincorporated communities lack basic public services <p>Nearly every day, Modesto Junior College student Arleen Hernandez battles an aging septic tank that backs up into her toilet and shower, bringing with it &ldquo;bits of paper and chunks of mold.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Hernandez has learned to take quick showers and work swiftly with a mop. She has also tried to fix a leaking toilet herself, but her home repair skills have been no match for an outdated system with clogged piping.&nbsp;</p><p>When Hernandez&rsquo;s parents moved to Parklawn in 1986, they didn&rsquo;t realize the extent to which their new neighborhood, an island of county land within the city of Modesto, lacks basic public services.&nbsp;</p><p>Parklawn is not connected to nearby city sewer lines, so Hernandez and her neighbors flush their sewage into overloaded septic tanks. There is only one short strip of sidewalk along the southern edge of the community and not enough storm drains. During heavy rains, children dodge traffic in flooded streets on their way to school in the neighborhood that locals call &ldquo;No Man&rsquo;s Land.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve lived here my whole life, and when you&rsquo;re a child, you don&rsquo;t think it&rsquo;s something big,&rdquo; said Hernandez, a member of the South Modesto Municipal Advisory Council, which advises the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on issues regarding unincorporated communities. &ldquo;But as you grow older, you start realizing that it doesn&rsquo;t seem fair that people have basic needs met and you skip one community.&rdquo;</p><p>Not all unincorporated communities are as bereft. Some, such as Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego County, are among the wealthiest in the state.</p><p>But across California, there are hundreds of neighborhoods like Parklawn. These poor, dense and unincorporated communities on county land &ndash; which uniformly lack some combination of sewer systems, clean drinking water, sidewalks, streetlights and storm drains &ndash; have been the victim of years of government neglect.&nbsp;</p><p>In the Eastern Coachella Valley, residents in mobile home parks pipe sewage into aging septic tanks and cesspools. On the outskirts of the city of Tulare, Matheny Tract residents can&rsquo;t tap into the city sewer treatment plant, and arsenic contaminates their well. Arsenic also taints the tap water in Lanare, a community near Fresno.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s like people are living in colonies of the United States,&rdquo; said Miguel Donoso, a longtime Latino community advocate in Stanislaus County. &ldquo;Living in a Third World country, that&rsquo;s close to what you see here today.&rdquo;</p><p>In Modesto alone, there are at least four disenfranchised islands on county land &ndash; all just a quick drive from the city&rsquo;s busy downtown and $55 million Gallo Center for the Arts.&nbsp;</p><p>Statewide,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">PolicyLink</a>, an Oakland-based public policy research and advocacy institute,&nbsp;estimates that&nbsp;1.8 million low-income and often Spanish-speaking Californians live in unincorporated communities,&nbsp;many without the infrastructure that would curb gastrointestinal illnesses, respiratory disease symptoms, and other public health and safety risks.</p><p>In Parklawn and similar unincorporated communities, language barriers, legal status and a lack of political know-how have made it difficult for residents to navigate the governmental process.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re looking at very small communities that are impoverished, and in many cases, (residents are) undocumented, and that puts them at a severe disadvantage,&rdquo; said Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno. &ldquo;There are very few people who want to take on these communities as a priority for a variety of reasons.&rdquo;</p><p><b>No sewer connections</b></p><p>Money and jurisdiction often stand in the way of progress. Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who represents Parklawn, said that in Modesto, city residents must first approve a ballot measure to provide sewer service to an unincorporated community, and then the county would have to forge a service agreement with the city. But the biggest challenge is &ldquo;the cost of doing it &ndash; having to go in and completely retrofit these 50-year-old subdivisions to modern standards,&rdquo; DeMartini said.</p><p>DeMartini said the county has been &ldquo;working for quite a few years to upgrade and get Parklawn annexed to the city.&rdquo; Since 1996, the county has spent $23.7 million on improvements to six unincorporated areas in Modesto, including $296,830 for Parklawn, according to <a href="" target="_blank">county records</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>But when it comes to septic tanks, county officials say those are a homeowner&rsquo;s responsibility, and they step in only when they get reports that residents could be exposed to raw sewage. Last year, there were three complaints of surfacing sewage in Parklawn and 33 in all unincorporated county areas, said Sonya Harrigfeld, the county&rsquo;s director of environmental resources. In the last five years, there were 205 sewage complaints in unincorporated parts of the county.</p><p>Septic tanks typically are pumped every few years. But because Parklawn lots are small and many sit on claylike soil that doesn&rsquo;t drain, homeowners have to empty their tanks two to three times a year. At up to $300 a pump, that&rsquo;s not an option in a community where the median household income, according to a community survey, is $19,000.&nbsp;</p><p>To ease the load on their tanks, some residents, like Francisco González, divert water from their sinks and washing machines into their yards. The water pools in open pits in the rear corners of González&rsquo;s yard. To battle back rat, mosquito and cockroach infestations, he pours a liberal amount of bleach into the pits each week.&nbsp;</p><p>In rural areas or tony enclaves where there&rsquo;s enough space and soil for wastewater to drain properly, septic tanks work well. But for public health reasons, sewer lines are the modern standard in dense developments like Parklawn. The community would not be constructed today without them.&nbsp;</p><p>Built on the cheap for migrant farm workers from the Deep South, the Dust Bowl, Mexico and Central America, communities like Parklawn proliferated in the 1940s and &rsquo;50s, and now they dot the entire California landscape. Some are tracked by the U.S. Census Bureau, but some are so small or remote that data is scarce. Census data isn&rsquo;t always an accurate reflection of these communities, either.</p><p>&ldquo;We don&rsquo;t have the kinds of hard numbers that are really useful for presenting the residents&rsquo; reality or trying to secure resources, or even establishing that there is a problem to get resources to solve it,&rdquo; said Robin Maria DeLugan, an assistant professor of anthropology at UC Merced, who is surveying two of these communities to gauge the need for services.&nbsp;</p><p><b>Lacking official recognition</b></p><p>Until recently, there was little official recognition of these neighborhoods. <a href="" target="_blank">Legislation</a> signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October requires government officials to consider neighboring low-income unincorporated areas in city general plans, annexation decisions and other urban planning, and it finally gives them a name: &ldquo;disadvantaged unincorporated communities.&rdquo; Another <a href="" target="_blank">bill</a>, introduced this year, would allow cities and service districts to extend services to distant unincorporated communities.&nbsp;</p><p>PolicyLink estimates there are about <a href="" target="_blank">525 of these communities</a> in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley. They can also be found across the entire state, and they take many forms: neighborhoods surrounded by cities, tracts of housing on the fringe of urban areas or a cluster of housing on rural land.&nbsp;</p><p>Among California&rsquo;s forgotten unincorporated communities, some of the starkest conditions can be found in the Eastern&nbsp;Coachella Valley, not far from the resort towns of Indian Wells and La Quinta. Each spring, as many as 15,000 migrant farm workers flock there for the grape harvest.&nbsp;</p><p>The Garcia Mobile Home Park &ndash; home to Mexican-American landscapers, farm hands and construction workers &ndash; is a collection of dilapidated trailers and a building divided into three ramshackle and recently shuttered apartments in Thermal, just outside the city of Coachella. In the warmer months, as the searing heat abates in the evening, squealing children race through the streets, kicking up dust. Stereos blast ranchero music as dinners are prepared al fresco on grills and hotplates.&nbsp;</p><p>Until they moved in February, retired date palm worker Manuel Duarte and his wife, Alicia, had lived in the park for 12 years. As they sat at their usual perch outside their home on a late afternoon last spring, they watched a stream of sewage spurt in their yard where a shallow pipe had burst. The stench slowly seeped into the Duartes&rsquo; kitchen.&nbsp;</p><p>In their bathroom, effluent gurgled into the shower nearly every time they bathed. Alicia Duarte suspected that&rsquo;s why a large, purplish skin infection near her ankle didn&rsquo;t heal for more than a year.</p><p>The park, which residents refer to as Rancho Garcia, is one of dozens of mobile home parks in the area without a permit. Wastewater disposal at the park is a mystery &ndash; reportedly a makeshift network of septic tanks and cesspools. One resident pointed to a 7-foot-deep hole he dug behind his rusting trailer. That&rsquo;s where he pipes the sewage from his home.</p><p>Riverside County officials say the owners of the park are responsible for maintaining septic tanks, and like in Stanislaus County, they step in when they receive complaints that residents are being exposed to sewage. According to county records, there were three complaints of surfacing sewage at the park last year.</p><p>John Benoit of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, who represents the Eastern Coachella Valley, said the county spends a &ldquo;disproportionate amount of time trying to meet the needs of disenfranchised communities.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We have come in after multiple decades of neglect,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s frustrating. But you have to deal in reality, which is that some of these communities may be 15 miles from a water source, and it costs a million dollars a mile to connect.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>While the sewage fountain flowed at the Duartes&rsquo; home, Hermenegildo Cabrera and his family across the street finished a dinner of tamales and soda at a table outside their trailer. With his foot, Cabrera tapped a patch of soil &ndash; about a dozen paces from where his family had just dined and a few feet from his children&rsquo;s tree swing &ndash; that was soggy with wastewater from a neighbor&rsquo;s mobile home.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I feel bad about it,&rdquo; Cabrera said in Spanish through an interpreter. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s an economic situation, and I don&rsquo;t know where to go.&rdquo;</p><p>Residents said the owners have been dismissive of their concerns. But Carlos Garcia, whose family owns the park, said the septic tanks work &ldquo;the way they are supposed to.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>When problems are reported, they are fixed &ldquo;usually within that day,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Every once in a while there&rsquo;s a leaky toilet or the water is left open and that&rsquo;s when we have a little problem.&quot;</p><p>The mobile home park originally was a settlement for a family of laborers in the 1950s. It grew when relatives and friends &ndash; and eventually, tenants &ndash; moved trailers onto the property, Garcia said. The upgrades to obtain a county permit will cost about $2.5 million.</p><p>&ldquo;It is our responsibility, and I&rsquo;m not saying it&rsquo;s not, but we would like to have time and some kind of help,&rdquo; Garcia said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t have that kind of money.&rdquo;</p><p>The Garcias plan to shutter the park, and unless they contest the closure, the 40-plus tenants will need to move by October.</p><p><b>Residents fight for change</b></p><p>While some officials have been supportive, for the most part, residents have led the push for change. They have lobbied, filed lawsuits and organized their neighbors &ndash; with limited success.</p><p>While motivated, residents lack resources and access. Policy experts agree that California&rsquo;s lost communities have persisted for decades for two reasons: money and politics.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;As with all questions related to development in California, this is at the intersection of dirt, dollars and duties,&rdquo; said Peter Detwiler, retired staff director for the state <a href="" target="_blank">Senate Governance and Finance Committee</a>, formerly the Local Government Committee. &ldquo;What appears as a land use problem is also a question of political power and governance and a question of public finance.&rdquo;</p><p>Just outside the city of Tulare, Matheny Tract is a pocket of about 300 homes that&rsquo;s bordered by cotton fields, orchards, and cheese processing factories. The median household income is about $33,000 and residents&rsquo; tap water flows from a single well with arsenic levels that exceed federal limits.&nbsp;</p><p>The community is vying for $6 million in state grants and bond money for clean water projects, which would allow Matheny Tract to connect to the city&rsquo;s water system by 2013.&nbsp;</p><p>The city and Tulare County also have signed a <a href="" target="_blank">memorandum of understanding</a> to explore connecting Matheny Tract to the sewer system, which could cost about $5.5 million. Residents hope the money arrives soon. They resent the irony that they can smell the nearby city sewer system but can&rsquo;t connect to it.</p><p>The Matheny Tract upgrades are slowly becoming a reality because residents, with the help of advocacy organizations like <a href="" target="_blank">California Rural Legal Assistance</a>, which provides free legal services in poor communities, banded together. They began meeting in January 2010, when they learned that the city was planning to annex a swath of county land surrounding Matheny Tract. There are no public spaces in the neighborhood, so Reinelda Palma&rsquo;s home became the meeting hub. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Unity is where strength is,&rdquo; said Palma, the neighborhood matriarch who serves spiced homemade horchata while lap dogs and roosters mingle in her yard. &ldquo;Some people don&rsquo;t get involved because of work or they have children, and others get used to how it is, but it&rsquo;s important to get mobilized to improve where we live.&rdquo;</p><p>The residents started showing up in force at local government meetings to make their demands. After several months, they were able to persuade local officials to make the annexation of the surrounding land contingent on connecting Matheny Tract to city water and sewer services.&nbsp;</p><p>It&rsquo;s been a crash course in civics.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;My advice to them is: Keep it up,&rdquo; said Tulare City Councilman Skip Barwick. &ldquo;Because the squeaky wheel gets the grease.&rdquo;</p><p><b>Politics play role in struggle</b></p><p>For communities seeking annexation, like Matheny Tract, the hurdles aren&rsquo;t just financial. In some cases, residents say they prefer to maintain their country lifestyle by remaining unincorporated. In other instances, they have to battle perceptions that they aren&rsquo;t willing to abide by city rules and regulations.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We up here, we keep our yards watered and mowed, we try to keep our house exteriors looking nice, and a lot of Hispanic people, those are not their priorities, whereas it is ours, because of where we come from and how we&rsquo;re raised,&rdquo; Barwick said. &ldquo;And sometimes we think, &lsquo;Why would you want to live like that?&rsquo; &hellip; They don&rsquo;t want a nice, clean home and no animals in their yard. They want to park their cars in the grass and do what they want to do. They don&rsquo;t have the same values, and trying to impose those values on them is very difficult. That&rsquo;s one problem when you have a diverse community.&rdquo;</p><p>But Barwick isn&rsquo;t unsympathetic to residents in unincorporated areas.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re concerned about making it through the day and putting food on the table,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;The last thing they care about is whether their septic tank is far enough from the well. &hellip; It&rsquo;s hard to pass judgment on them.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Matheny Tract residents are making progress, but they remain impatient. Those who grew up there reminisce about their childhoods, about the friendships that developed from playing football in the dusty streets or hanging out as teenagers on summer nights under the neighborhood&rsquo;s lone streetlight. But 40 years later, they are still fighting for the same basic services their parents did.</p><p>&ldquo;We are working people, and for them to ignore us bothers me,&rdquo; said Vance McKinney, a truck driver who lives in a royal-blue house with a well-tended lawn. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s crazy how they overlooked us. We&rsquo;re not asking for nothing that we don&rsquo;t deserve.&rdquo;</p><p>Progress has been slower in Modesto, where a dozen residents living in the unincorporated islands filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city and Stanislaus County in 2004. In their <a href="" target="_blank">complaint</a>, residents claimed the city selectively annexed primarily white communities while ignoring Latino enclaves like Parklawn, which is about 80 percent Latino. The suit also contended that the city and county failed to provide the same level of infrastructure and services to Latino neighborhoods as they had to predominantly white ones.&nbsp;</p><p>County and city officials denied that race had been a factor. County Supervisor DeMartini said the $2 million the county spent to defend itself was &ldquo;money thrown away on attorneys for no benefit at all because the county is committed, especially to the sewer system, because a subdivision on septic tanks is unacceptable in today&rsquo;s world. There are health concerns, and some are failing.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>After a seven-year court battle, the case was settled last year. As part of the deal, projects that affect public health will become a priority, so Parklawn&rsquo;s sewage connection moved to the top of the list.&nbsp;</p><p>Two months after the settlement was inked, the county secured state funding to plan for a sewer connection from Parklawn to Modesto. But it&rsquo;s unclear whether an additional <a href="" target="_blank">$8.5 million</a> in county funds earmarked for construction will still be available now that the local redevelopment agency is being dissolved. For now, Parklawn&rsquo;s overloaded septic systems remain.&nbsp;</p><p><b>Community&rsquo;s solution backfires</b></p><p>Similar conditions exist in Lanare, which lacks sewer service, sidewalks and adequate storm drains. But residents&rsquo; foremost concern is their tap water, which is contaminated with high levels of arsenic and, at times, E. coli.&nbsp;</p><p>Residents of the community, about 30 miles from Fresno, pay at least $54 a month for non-potable water. They also spend $25 each month on bottled water, which everyone in the neighborhood relies on, at least &ldquo;until the money runs out,&rdquo; said Ethel Myles, 74, who has lived in Lanare since 1954.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We need clean water,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We stay in America, and there&rsquo;s supposed to be clean water. Because we&rsquo;re a little place, they don&rsquo;t care about us. It makes me feel left out and without.&rdquo;</p><p>Aware of the potential cancer risk and other health threats from arsenic, the community built its own water treatment facility. Their effort serves as a cautionary tale.</p><p>Lanare received $1.3 million in federal funds and installed the plant next to the community center in 2007. But the 600 residents who live there couldn&rsquo;t afford to operate it over the long term.</p><p>Costs ran up when some customers abused the unmetered system, and some farmers used treated water for irrigation and livestock. After six months, the plant was shut down and the state eventually took it into receivership in 2010.</p><p>The $140,000 debt incurred from the plant&rsquo;s short run was transferred to the local community services district and the receiver. To help pay the debt the receiver raised rates for residents, the majority of whom live in households with an average of four people and a combined income of $41,000 a year.&nbsp;</p><p>A lawsuit eliminated some of the debt, but the district remains on the hook for about $96,000.&nbsp;</p><p>Residents formed a group, which they call Community United in Lanare, and asked local officials for help. In July, the Board of Supervisors voted to relieve $2,400 of the residents&rsquo; debt related to a community services district election.</p><p>Underlying the decades of inertia is an unresolved debate about who is responsible for upgrading infrastructure that threatens public health.</p><p>&ldquo;Should California just pay out of its general fund to bring these communities to standard?&rdquo; said Richard G. Little, director of the <a href="" target="_blank">Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy</a> at the University of Southern California. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a valid question that can be argued strongly both ways. Ultimately, it&rsquo;s going to be a political decision. All of these questions need to be worked out first and foremost at a community level: What are people able and willing to pay?&rdquo;</p><p><b>Public health suffers</b></p><p>With little historical attention paid to these neighborhoods, government data, including public health data, doesn&rsquo;t always accurately reflect the conditions of these communities. Although it&rsquo;s difficult to link ailments to specific environmental causes, physicians believe there is a connection.</p><p>Dr. Raul Ruiz, an emergency room physician and founder of the <a href="" target="_blank">Coachella Valley Healthcare Initiative</a>, said patients from communities like Thermal experience high rates of stroke, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and other chronic diseases that tend to be more common in low-income communities.</p><p>Poor infrastructure exacerbates bad health, he added. Cars and trucks on dusty, unpaved roads kick up sand and dirt, which can aggravate asthma or emphysema, Ruiz said. Improperly treated wastewater can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, and drinking water tainted with arsenic can lead to learning disabilities in children.&nbsp;</p><p>In the Eastern Coachella Valley communities where Ruiz practices, his organization found there is <a href="" target="_blank">one doctor for every 8,407 residents</a>. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers an area where there is one doctor for every 3,500 patients to be medically underserved.</p><p>Ruiz said his patients, many of whom pick grapes in unforgiving triple-digit temperatures, confront health risks on a daily basis. &ldquo;We are dealing with the bottom of the barrel in terms of potential health outcomes,&rdquo; Ruiz said.</p><p>California Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, a Democrat who represents the Eastern Coachella Valley, said he&rsquo;s aware of public health problems in his district, but he&rsquo;s hamstrung.</p><p>&ldquo;We have Third World conditions, not only in this area, but in other areas of rural California,&rdquo; Pérez said. &ldquo;Some of it has to do with political will &ndash; perhaps in the past, they never had politicians willing to ensure that infrastructure goes to areas that really need it.&rdquo;</p><p><em><strong>Correction:</strong> A previous version of this article misidentified the town of Woodside&#39;s incorporation status.</em></p> Health and Welfare California Lost Lanare Matheny Tract Parklawn sewer Thermal unincorporated communities water California Lost Fri, 06 Apr 2012 07:03:43 +0000 Bernice Yeung 15635 at Video: 'Valley of Shadows and Dreams' <p>Ken and Melanie Light embarked on a five-year photographic journey of a region known for its agricultural plenty &ndash; and the marginalization of its people. In their book, &ldquo;Valley of Shadows and Dreams,&rdquo; the Lights dig deep into the harsh truths of farm workers&rsquo; daily experiences in California&rsquo;s Central Valley and take a hard look at the legacies of politics, bureaucracy and control in the region. California Watch interviewed the Lights about their experiences reporting in the Valley.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="" width="640"></iframe></p><p>Photographs &copy; 2011 by Ken Light</p> Health and Welfare Environment agriculture Farming immigration video California Lost Sat, 17 Mar 2012 01:15:55 +0000 Carrie Ching 15340 at In Marin County, poverty exists alongside wealth <p>Those wanting to check the socioeconomic pulse of the Canal area of San Rafael need only peruse the bulletin board at The Canal Alliance, a nonprofit center serving the neighborhood&rsquo;s largely low-income Spanish-speaking population.</p><p>&ldquo;<i>Diabetes y Su Salud</i>,&rdquo; reads one flier about diabetes and health. &ldquo;<i>Cuartos de Renta,</i>&rdquo; says an advertisement for rooms for rent. Many Canal-area residents live in crowded apartments shared by multiple families, in which living rooms equipped with microwaves often are rented as a separate space.</p><p>In &ldquo;A Portrait of Marin,&rdquo; a <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> released last month by the Marin Community Foundation, which measures education, health and income disparities in the county&rsquo;s 51 census tracts, the Canal area ranked lowest in community well-being. Wedged between Highway 101 and the bay, the neighborhood is a densely populated triangle of land that is predominantly Latino. &nbsp;</p><p>The area&rsquo;s low-lying 2&frac12; square miles are home to about 12,000 people, as well as auto body shops and other light industries. The MS-13 street gang, dominated by Central American immigrants, has a criminal presence here, as does the 18th Street gang from Los Angeles. The typical Canal-area worker earns just a little more than $21,000 a year, roughly the same as the average earnings in the 1960s. Pickup trucks laden with ladders, rolls of carpet, paint tarps and other stuff of labor are a common neighborhood sight.</p><p>Ten minutes away, Christopher Martin, a council member for the Town of Ross, contemplated why his town ranked higher in well-being than any other community in Marin County.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;People here are very active,&rdquo; he mused, referring to the town&rsquo;s five parks, lake system and miles of walking paths astride Mount Tamalpais. &ldquo;Because there is no mail delivery, people walk to the post office.&rdquo;</p><p>In Ross, population 2,100, the police know most children in town by name. Martin estimates that more than half of the town&rsquo;s residents, including many investment bankers, grow their own organic vegetables. They have the space: The typical residential lot in Ross is an acre or more.</p><p>That Marin County is a 1 percenters&rsquo; paradise is hardly breaking news. But the report, written and researched by the American Human Development Project, part of the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Social Science Research Council, explores Marin&rsquo;s more subtle disparities, painting a nuanced portrait of poverty as well as wealth.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We wanted to strike up a conversation,&rdquo; said Thomas Peters, the community foundation&rsquo;s president and CEO. &ldquo;Marin stereotypes are held by many outside the county, but, insidiously, inside Marin as well.&rdquo;</p><p>While civic boosters tout biotech and software as a way to stimulate economic recovery, the majority of the county&rsquo;s job growth lies in low-wage service industries &ndash; laundry and dry cleaning, gardening, hair and beauty salons, pet care, and parking services. These are jobs for which the median pay is $23,500, &ldquo;earnings that are roughly equal to the federal poverty line for a family of four,&rdquo; according to the report.</p><p>In the Canal area, heavy on service workers, more than half the adults have not earned a high school diploma. Residents can expect to live 80&frac12; years, 7&frac12; years fewer than a resident of Ross, where 4 out of 5 adults have a bachelor&rsquo;s degree or higher level of education. Those opportunities are reflected in the town&rsquo;s median individual earnings &ndash; $64,378, more than double the national average.</p><p>The report also found that although Marin has a higher preschool enrollment rate than any California county, the rate varies by race and ethnicity. Eighty-eight percent of white children attend preschool, compared with 47 percent of Latino children. A quality preschool education is widely considered a key factor in helping disadvantaged children enter elementary school on an equal footing with their peers.</p><p>Subsidized child care is another issue that seriously affects working families. Cheryl Paddack, executive director of the Novato Youth Center, which offers subsidized child care and other services, said state budget cuts are forcing difficult conversations with parents.</p><p>&ldquo;For many families, especially parents working two or three jobs, subsidized child care is an essential service,&rdquo; she said. With 58 percent of clients receiving the subsidies, &ldquo;we&rsquo;re now looking to have to release children,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;These children are very vulnerable.&rdquo;</p><p>To Michael Watenpaugh, superintendent of San Rafael City Schools, the Marin report is&ldquo; reflective of what we live every single day.&rdquo; The majority of children in his district are poor students of color, half of them English learners.</p><p>That is why, beginning in elementary school, the district implements &ldquo;No Excuses University,&rdquo; a national college readiness network in which elementary school classes are &ldquo;adopted&rdquo; by a major college or university. Teacher diplomas are prominently displayed in the classroom, and students develop school loyalties, down to the fight songs. It is about raising expectations, he said.</p><p>&ldquo;The first impression is that Marin is a wealthy community,&rdquo; Watenpaugh said. &ldquo;But if you dig in, you find a significant population of poor families here. And there is a very big need to address them.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="" target="_blank">California Lost</a> is an occasional series&nbsp;examining challenges facing neglected communities around the state.</em></p> Health and Welfare Daily Report California Lost disparities Latinos Marin California Lost Thu, 16 Feb 2012 08:05:07 +0000 Patricia Leigh Brown 14915 at Patricia Leigh Brown/California Watch An ice cream vendor sells treats after school at in San Rafael's Canal area in Marin County. Mexican cultural festival thrives in Marin County <p>On a cool, bright day last month, a party tent set up at a working ranch in west Marin County was transformed into a Mexican basilica, the scent of dozens of roses brought as an offering to the Virgin of Guadalupe infusing the air.</p><p>They came from as far as 40 miles away &ndash; dairy hands, waiters, maids, nannies, welders, busboys and hundreds of other Mexican and Mexican-American laborers who make up the working backbone of Marin County, one of the most affluent counties in the United States.</p><p>Each year on Dec. 12, the faithful make a pilgrimage to Lafranchi Ranch, rolling pastureland founded by Swiss-Italian immigrants. They come to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Roman Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary considered the Empress of Mexico and the Americas. The Virgin is the most popular cultural and religious symbol in Mexico, and her celebration, including a Mass and feast, is one of the most important dates on the Mexican calendar.</p><p>&ldquo;It is a joy,&rdquo; said Maria de la Cruz, wearing a ubiquitous ruffled Mexican apron as she stood watch over huge pots of posole, a traditional pork and hominy stew.</p><p>The liveliness of the event &ndash; in which posole was accompanied by a wedge of lime and&nbsp;live mariachi music &ndash; stands in stark relief to many of the participants&rsquo; grueling lives. Many ranch hands rise at 2:30 in the morning to milk or feed cows &ndash; the unseen force behind Marin County&rsquo;s famously pastoral landscape.</p><p>In a place synonymous with the good life, where the median home price is roughly $740,000, the Latino community &ldquo;tends to be invisible,&rdquo; said Dr. Michael Witte, founder and medical director of the nonprofit <a href="" target="_blank">Coastal Health Alliance</a>, which operates three clinics serving low-income patients in Marin, one-third of them Latino. Many suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of it is generated by circumstance &ndash; isolation, poverty, eating an American diet,&rdquo; Witte said. &ldquo;In Mexico, they gardened and walked everywhere. Here, they can&rsquo;t walk to a neighbor&rsquo;s house or over to the next village.&rdquo;</p><p>Many develop ulcers and other stress-related problems, including insomnia. Severe arthritis and back pain are common.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s really a high-stress group of folks,&rdquo; Witte said. &ldquo;Their lives are centered around constant work with little breaks. So celebrations are an important release for them.&rdquo;</p><p>The Lafranchi Ranch, which also operates the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, is now in its third generation. Only six employees live on the property full time, said Randy Lafranchi, who runs the ranch.</p><p>For those working in Marin County, finding an affordable place to live is a major challenge: Two-thirds of employees earn less than $55,000 a year, the minimum necessary to afford a median-priced one-bedroom apartment. Sixty percent in the Marin workforce commute, driving farther than others in the Bay Area to live in more affordable housing, according to a <a href="" target="_blank">report [PDF]</a> by Live Local Marin, published by the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and the Greenbelt Alliance.</p><p>Although many celebrants live far away, the homegrown festival, now more than 30 years old, draws more than 300 people to Nicasio, a village perhaps best known as the home of George Lucas&rsquo; Skywalker Ranch. Eugenio Martinez, produce manager for the nearby Point Reyes Farmers Market, always brings his troupe of Aztec dancers, who convert the parking lot into a makeshift dressing room as they change into elaborate feathered headdresses, seed-pod leg rattles and other costumes.&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>What began as a tiny procession by ranch hands at the local church has turned into a greatly anticipated fiesta, for which funds are raised months in advance. Most participants are originally from Jalisco, including 70-year-old Esther Vidrio Tejeda Martinez, who works as a house cleaner and is the event&rsquo;s only living founder. Today, her long braided hair cascades down nearly half of her 5-foot frame, echoing a photograph of her younger self at the fiesta in a flowing red velvet dress. The festivities were inspired by her grandfather, Santiago Vidrio Castro, who would pray the rosary every day.</p><p>&ldquo;We were a very small community but didn&rsquo;t want to lose our traditions,&rdquo; she explained.</p><p>For those of Mexican origin, public celebrations like this one, announced by the blowing of a conch shell, represent &ldquo;the participatory culture of everyday life,&rdquo; said Eugene Rodriguez, a founder and executive director of <a href="" target="_blank">Los Cenzontles</a>, a nonprofit educational organization in San Pablo dedicated to authentic Mexican art forms.</p><p>&ldquo;When the community of Marin talks about culture and the arts, they&rsquo;re not talking about this,&rdquo; he added, speaking of the festival. &ldquo;But they should be.&rdquo;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Despite the local reputation for tolerance and open-mindedness, the Mexican community is &ldquo;little understood by non-Mexicans,&rdquo; Rodriguez said. His organization is working with the Marin Community Foundation to document cultural practices, including the Virgin of Guadalupe festival, and collaborate with local Latino artists.</p><p>&ldquo;<em>Americanos, sí</em>!&rdquo; said Martinez, asked by a visitor if anyone could learn Aztec dancing.</p><p>And with that, he disappeared into the swirl of celebrants in the tent, lit like a beacon in the night.&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> Health and Welfare Daily Report California Lost Marin County Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe California Lost Mon, 23 Jan 2012 08:05:03 +0000 Patricia Leigh Brown 14526 at Courtesy of Lourdes Figueroa Eugenio Martinez and Maria Guadalupe Martinez, members of Danza Azteca Tonantzin, dance at the Virgin of Guadalupe celebration in Marin County. Courtesy of Lourdes Figueroa Francisco Fletes, a member of Mariachi mi Tierra Linda from Oakland, serenades the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. UC Davis study links traditional arts to health <p>Before she died last month at age 70, the respected Pomo basket weaver and activist Luwana Quitiquit was asked by a researcher for her personal definition of wellness.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Storytelling is wellness,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And the reason it is wellness for my family is because it puts my kids back in touch with my grandmother, of people they never get to see. It inspires them to carry on their culture. That&rsquo;s wellness.&rdquo;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p>The link between traditional artistic practices and mental and physical health is explored in &ldquo;Weaving Traditional Arts Into the Fabric of Community Health,&rdquo; a <a href="" target="_blank">study [PDF]</a> by the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities. The report was commissioned by the <a href="" target="_blank">Alliance for California Traditional Arts</a>, a nonprofit in Fresno that provides support for folk and traditional artists, the majority of whom are immigrants and Native Americans. In these often-overlooked minority communities, the arts tend to be passed down from one generation to another as collective wisdom, rather than as a personal statement.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Part of what makes a healthy community is having a vibrant cultural life,&rdquo; said Amy Kitchener, executive director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. &ldquo;Native Americans have always made a strong connection between cultural practices and health. Unlike the western idea of art in a gallery, for traditional artists, it is embedded in everyday life, in ceremonies and family rites of passage. But objectively evaluating the impact of the arts on health is challenging.&rdquo;</p><p>The study, published in October, was based on a non-scientific hunch: that immigrants and others who maintain and cultivate their traditional cultural practices reap positive health benefits. The alliance, founded in 1997, provides grants and apprenticeships to &ldquo;tradition-bearers&rdquo; &ndash; the state&rsquo;s living cultural treasures, many of them elderly, as well as organizations that help foster traditional arts. Among their eclectic ranks are Yurok dugout canoe makers, Persian drummers, Laotian textile embroiderers, Spanish flamenco dancers and an annual Polynesian fire knife <a href="" target="_blank">dance competition</a> in Anaheim sponsored by Fire Knife of Samoa, a group founded to preserve and perpetuate Pacific Island culture.</p><p>Not surprisingly, perhaps, interviews by UC Davis researchers revealed that the practice of traditional arts has manifold positive effects: contributing to spiritual and emotional growth; physical vigor; strengthening of personal and community identity; and mitigation of historical trauma, especially for Native Americans and refugees. The arts also provide a welcome distraction from illness and an enhanced respect for elders.</p><p>The preliminary findings echo those of a 1996 UC Davis mental health study of the Mexican population in Fresno, said Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the university&rsquo;s Center for Reducing Health Disparities. That study found a strong correlation between acculturation and mental health, with second-generation children of Mexican origin born in the U.S.&nbsp;having higher rates of mental disorders and alcohol and drug dependency than their Mexican-born parents.</p><p>&ldquo;People who were more assimilated into the mainstream, in terms of language, the types of television and radio they listen to and so forth, tended to have worse mental health patterns,&rdquo; Aguilar-Gaxiola said. &ldquo;Those born in Mexico who remained identified with their language and traditions tended to have better mental health.&rdquo;</p><p>Hugo Morales, founder of <a href="" target="_blank">Radio Bilingüe</a>, the country&rsquo;s only public, non-commercial Spanish-language radio network, has called this phenomenon the &ldquo;culture cure.&rdquo; The California study is part of a broader national research effort to further examine the social determinants of health.</p><p>In Washington, D.C., for instance, the National Endowment for the Arts recently announced the formation of a federal <a href="" target="_blank">interagency task force</a> to investigate the effect of the arts on quality of life throughout a person&rsquo;s lifespan. The initiative, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health &amp; Human Services, focuses on the arts as &ldquo;part of the portfolio for a community,&rdquo; said Sunil Iyengar, the endowment&rsquo;s director of research and analysis.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re moving away from a narrow, rabbit-hole definition of the arts toward the human development side,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re looking at the impact on well-being and social cohesion &ndash; values that resonate.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Aguilar-Gaxiola of UC Davis called the preliminary study of California traditional artists &ldquo;heartening.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;It taps into what we identify as protective factors, especially in terms of intergenerational relationships, &ldquo; he said. If the lessons of the study &ldquo;could be replicated and disseminated,&rdquo; he added, &ldquo;it could potentially reverse a lot of strains.&rdquo;</p><p>Above all, dance, song, storytelling and other traditional art forms bring people together, fostering resilience, Kitchener notes. &rdquo;When you identify with community, you&rsquo;re not alone,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a basic human need.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="" target="_blank">California Lost</a> is an occasional series&nbsp;examining challenges facing neglected communities around the state.</em></p> Health and Welfare Daily Report California Lost health research traditional arts UC Davis California Lost Tue, 17 Jan 2012 08:05:03 +0000 Patricia Leigh Brown 14477 at L. Kharrazi/Alliance for California Traditional Arts Women and girls teach and learn traditional Triqui backstrap weaving techniques in Greenfield, Calif. Language limits jobs, health care for new Burmese refugees <p>Htoo Mlar&rsquo;s son was born in a Thai refugee camp, and inexplicably, he never learned to walk. There weren&rsquo;t any Western-trained doctors at the camp, so it wasn&rsquo;t until Mlar&rsquo;s family &ndash; refugees from rural Myanmar, formerly known as Burma &ndash; came to Oakland in 2009 that they visited a doctor and learned the boy has&nbsp;cerebral palsy.</p><p>Doctors are hopeful that with spinal surgery and physical therapy, Mlar&rsquo;s now 10-year-old son will&nbsp;one day learn to walk. But because Mlar is Karen, an ethnic minority that does not speak Burmese, he and his family often have difficulty communicating with American doctors&#39; offices and social service agencies.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s hard because they call a Burmese interpreter, but I don&rsquo;t speak Burmese,&rdquo; Mlar, whose village was raided by Myanmar&#39;s military in the mid-1990s, said through an interpreter. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t understand thoroughly.&rdquo;</p><p>According to a <a href="" target="_blank">new study</a> issued last week, Mlar and his son are among the dozens of recent refugees from Myanmar &ndash; many of them ethnic minorities who don&#39;t speak Burmese &ndash; who have limited access to English classes and interpreters in Oakland. That has repercussions on employment prospects and health care, the report said, and the situation is most dire for ethnic minorities like the Karenni, who come from primarily rural settings, often have little formal education and began arriving in the U.S. only within the past four years.</p><p>&ldquo;This is a community that is small in numbers, but the need is high,&rdquo; said Dr. Joan Jeung, a pediatrician with Asian Health Services in Oakland, who worked on the refugee study. &ldquo;One thing that stands out is the degree of linguistic isolation, and their access in a health care setting is a challenge because they speak multiple languages.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s an issue affecting other California communities where Burmese refugees have recently been resettled.</p><p>&ldquo;Language would be the biggest thing,&rdquo; Lejla Voloder, resettlement program manager at Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego, said of challenges that newer refugees from Myanmar face.</p><p>California receives the most refugees in the country, and a total of 3,204 migrants from Myanmar have been resettled in the state since 1990, largely in San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area. Burmese refugees came to the U.S. in the <a href=";tabid=300&amp;mid=793&amp;language=en-US" target="_blank">second-highest numbers</a> last year, behind only those from Iraq.&nbsp;These later waves of immigrants tend to be ethnic minorities from south and east Myanmar.</p><p>The recent report on Burmese refugees in Oakland found that language barriers posed the biggest challenges for recent arrivals, creating serious impediments as they seek&nbsp;jobs and health care.</p><p>The study was conducted by San Francisco State University, Asian Health Services and the Burma Refugee Family Network. It found that 60 percent of the 194 refugees surveyed lived in extreme poverty, with household incomes of about $1,000 per month. The survey found 63 percent of refugees were unemployed, and 32 percent said language barriers prevented them from accessing health care. Although two nonprofits offer English classes to Burmese refugees in Oakland, most adult English language classes were cut in Oakland in 2010 due to state&nbsp;budget cuts.</p><p>&ldquo;The report paints a whole picture of all the issues that are going on in the Burmese community,&rdquo; said David Sein-Lwin, chairman of the newcomers assistance committee at the Oakland Burmese Mission Baptist Church. &ldquo;In my experience, health is one of the biggest issues because of language limitations. The Karenni have even less interpreters. I have helped several times with social services, and it&rsquo;s pretty tough to do that translation to Karenni. It takes two translators, it takes more time, and it can be frustrating.&rdquo;</p><p>In these scenarios, one interpreter translates from Karenni to Burmese, and the second from Burmese to English.</p><p>The report cites examples of the health consequences for refugees who have limited or no access to translation services. Lia Tluang, for example, arrived in Oakland at age 16 with an eye injury that he&rsquo;d sustained while working in Malaysia. Although he needed surgery to save the sight in his left eye, his Medi-Cal benefits were terminated after eight months. Tluang, who is of the Chin ethnic minority group, initially didn&#39;t have the language skills to reapply on his own. He was able to get an operation at age 18, after he figured out how to sign up for Medi-Cal, but now, the vision in his left eye is limited to a distance of 1 foot.</p><p>Because of translation problems with a Burmese interpreter, a pregnant Karen woman living in Oakland who wanted to keep her baby was mistakenly referred for an abortion. A translator and doctor at Asian Health Services was able to intervene before the woman went in for the procedure.</p><p>The availability of Karen and Karenni interpreters is also a concern in San Diego, where the most Burmese refugees have been resettled in California.</p><p>&ldquo;When Burmese refugees walk through the door, my mindset changes,&rdquo; says Dr. Timothy Rodwell, an assistant professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine who screens recently arrived refugees. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m more concerned that they are less well-adapted to function well in our medical society. Health literacy is a concern straightaway. They seem really overwhelmed, and part of the problem is translation.&rdquo;</p><p>Asian Health Services&rsquo; Jeung agrees that in addition to interpretation, newer refugees from more rural areas need help navigating the American medical system.</p><p>&ldquo;Our system is so fragmented, and it&rsquo;s difficult to access care if you are English-speaking and insured,&rdquo; Jeung said. &ldquo;So if you are low-income, non-insured and non-English-speaking, this system makes no sense to you, especially if insurance didn&rsquo;t exist where you came from. They need help in making appointments. If we refer them elsewhere, interpretation in a specialty setting is a challenge, and even physically getting to the clinic and affording bus fare &ndash; these are all the barriers that my patients encounter along the way.&rdquo;</p><p>In Oakland, the burden of translation falls on a handful of people like Kwee Say, an interpreter at Asian Health Services who worked on the refugee report and who is seemingly always on call. She has rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night as a volunteer translator when no one else was available. She is also literally putting out fires &ndash; once, a family called her when their apartment was burning down because they didn&rsquo;t know who else to contact.</p><p>Zar Ni Maung, a co-founder of the Burma Refugee Family Network in Oakland, also volunteers his translation skills six hours a week. On Wednesdays, local refugees can visit him at the Vietnamese Community Center so he can help them read their mail.</p><p>&ldquo;They are mostly on public benefits, and they receive letters from the county a lot,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;They get water bills and sometimes credit card offers, and they think it&rsquo;s free money. I show them that letters from the county have certain designs, and they know it&rsquo;s important and they shouldn&rsquo;t throw it away.&rdquo;</p><p>Mlar, the recent Karen refugee, said he has a hard time learning English because classes are usually held when he&rsquo;s working at a pizza manufacturer. He doesn&rsquo;t have a car, so he walks 50 minutes each way to work each day; his manager will take him home if he finishes his shift after 11 p.m.</p><p>Others, like Groto Ni, 52, said he&rsquo;s tried for two years to master English, but he&rsquo;s still having problems. Ni spent 30 years in the Karenni army, and he held a job at a Richmond&nbsp;bakery for three months before he got laid off.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;d love to work, but to get a job, you need to know basic English, and I can&rsquo;t because of my age,&rdquo; Ni, who has eight years of schooling, said through an interpreter.&nbsp;</p><p>Mlar, 58, considers himself lucky because he has a job, and he&#39;d love to see his friends find work, too. &ldquo;We are farmers,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We would love to work with crops. If someone could provide land, that would be great. Then we wouldn&rsquo;t have to worry about language. All of the refugees could get together and work.&rdquo;</p><p>Mlar said that in Myanmar, he &quot;lived in constant fear.&rdquo; &quot;We were always running around in the jungle (to get away from the military),&quot; he said. &quot;In the refugee camp, you can&rsquo;t leave the camp. Here, it is better.&rdquo;</p><p>But living in Oakland comes with its own set of challenges. Foremost on Mlar&#39;s mind is earning enough money to pay rent and electricity bills, which is something he never conceived of in Myanmar.</p><p>&ldquo;If you want to build a house, you go to the jungle and cut some wood,&quot; he said. &quot;You plant some vegetables and potatoes, and you don&rsquo;t have any need to worry. If you want fish, you go fishing. Before the military damaged our village, it was nice; we didn&rsquo;t have to worry.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="" target="_blank">California Lost</a> is an occasional series&nbsp;examining challenges facing neglected communities around the state.</em></p> Health and Welfare Daily Report Burmese California Lost demographics language access Myanmar refugees Southeast Asia California Lost Mon, 05 Dec 2011 08:05:03 +0000 Bernice Yeung 13885 at Courtesy of Johnny Hu San Francisco State University researcher Kwee Say (right) interviews Tha Mee (center) and Mu Doe (left), Karen refugees from Myanmar, at a health fair. Maywood residents facing pollution outline community goals <p>The invite was a pleasant surprise.&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Janet Wilson</a>&rsquo;s excellent&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">report</a>&nbsp;on the severe health struggles of one Maywood family and the polluted conditions that envelop them had run recently, and I was doing research for &ldquo;<a href="" target="_blank">A Field Guide to Maywood Pollution Issues</a>,&rdquo; a downloadable directory of key players. I reached out to Héctor Alvarado (no relation), an activist with Padres Unidos de Maywood. And he invited to me to one of the weekly Comité Cívico del Agua meetings.&nbsp;</p><p>That I was the guest of honor came as a complete shock. One night this week, I walked into the Unión de Vecinos office space on East Slauson Avenue a few minutes before 6:30. I was early, and yet 20 people sat in a circle, waiting for me. Handwritten posters outlined goals for the community; two bookshelves stood crammed with bottles of polluted water. Héctor introduced me, and then, one by one, Maywood residents stood to introduce themselves.</p><p>Over the next hour and a half, I listened as people shared their Maywood stories. Some, like Cristóforo Castro, have lived in Maywood for more than four decades. All have been affected by its polluted water. They pay for water three times, they said: at the meter (with prices that rise and that residents are unable to monitor), large decanters for everyday water use and the bottles they drink. That does not include what they pay for all the health issues: &ldquo;There is illness all over Maywood,&rdquo; Cristóforo said in Spanish.</p><p>The group was appreciative of California Watch&rsquo;s reporting on Maywood and <a href="" target="_blank">Eastern Group Publication</a>&rsquo;s translation of that reporting. At one recent weekly meeting, they had screened California Watch&rsquo;s <a href="" target="_blank">video</a> about the Martin family&rsquo;s health issues.</p><p>&ldquo;We watched that video, and we said there are three things that we can do,&rdquo; Héctor said in Spanish. &ldquo;We can go home, pack and move. We can just accept this as God&rsquo;s punishment. Or we can fight.&rdquo; In Maywood, they&rsquo;ve decided to fight.</p><p>During the course of the meeting, Gloria Alvarez, Eastern&rsquo;s managing editor, and staff writer Gloria Angelina Castillo joined us. They came in time to hear community members outline their goals for Maywood.</p><p>In accordance with the City of Maywood Safe Drinking Water Act, the residents want to consolidate the three water companies that serve Maywood and have this be a public agency, accountable to the people. They&rsquo;ve started a petition to do so, and in three weeks&rsquo; time, they collected more than twice the required&nbsp;number of signatures. Their goals are timed to the November 2012 election.</p><p>In the meantime, &ldquo;we have to be<strong>&nbsp;</strong>patient and present. We can&rsquo;t be desperate,&rdquo; Héctor said.</p><p>I hadn&rsquo;t come to talk; I came to listen. But I did want to know what role they thought California Watch and the media should have in Maywood. We talked about some great ideas, and I&rsquo;ll be excited to share them with you as they develop. The collective response to my question depressed and inspired me: They just want the media to pay attention. Maywood is small, a little bigger than 1 square mile. Their issues are not sexy. And they say it&rsquo;s hard to get people to take them or their concerns seriously.</p><p>Now, though, they said, they could hold Janet&#39;s story in their hands and demand to be heard and respected.&nbsp;On nights like this, I love my job.</p><p><em>If you live in Maywood or near sources of pollution, California Watch wants to hear your stories. Please click <a href="" target="_blank">here</a> to share your insights.&nbsp;</em></p> Newsroom California Lost Thu, 01 Dec 2011 21:41:32 +0000 Ashley Alvarado 13856 at Ashley Alvarado/California Watch Bottles hold water samples taken from Maywood residents' faucets. Ashley Alvarado/California Watch Cristóforo Castro of Maywood holds a bottle of purchased, clean water (on the left) and a bottle of contaminated tap water.