Friday, September 30, 2022

NYT Magazine feature on unhoused children and youth in rural America

It'll be in the print edition this Sunday under the headline, "Young and Homeless in Rural America."  An excerpt from the story by Samantha M. Shapiro, follows.  The focus here is on a family, with children and youth, becoming unhoused in southern Ohio.  One of the teens is named Blake: 

Families like Blake’s don’t fit easily into the “homeless industrial complex,” as some advocates for homeless youth and families have taken to calling the funding mechanisms, rules and priorities that determine the fates of millions of Americans who struggle with housing insecurity every year. The system is focused largely on adults experiencing homelessness in cities, and it is not well equipped to address the types of homelessness experienced by children and families, especially in rural areas. The limited data that exists suggests that rural students face homelessness in roughly the same proportion as their urban counterparts — and with far less in the way of a support system. In this vacuum of resources, schools sometimes offer the only form of help available to homeless families.
Over the course of reporting in rural Ohio, I spoke with school officials, homeless advocates, students and their families. I met young people living in trailers that stank of sewage, mothers sexually harassed by predatory landlords, families who could not take their children to the doctor because they could not afford gas for the long trip. For all of them, the stakes of precarious housing were high. Homeless students have the worst educational outcomes of any group, the lowest attendance, the lowest scores on standardized tests, the lowest graduation rates. They all face the same cruel paradox: Students who do not have a stable place to live are unable to attend school regularly, and failing to graduate from high school is the single greatest risk factor for future homelessness.

* * *  

[T]he reporting by McKinney-Vento liaisons [required by a federal law passed in 1987], aggregated by the Department of Education, represents a crucial and rare effort to quantify the problem of student homelessness, especially in rural areas. The D.O.E. definition of homelessness is broader than the one used by, for instance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and better able to capture what homelessness usually looks like for rural youth and families — Blake’s family living in a cramped camper on a hill or families doubled up sometimes in unsafe situations hidden from sight — as opposed to living on a street or in a shelter. In 2019, the last year of reporting before the pandemic, HUD’s annual “point in time” count on a single night found 53,692 parents and children experiencing homelessness. Over the course of the same school year, the D.O.E., using data from McKinney-Vento liaisons, counted 1.4 million school-age children as homeless.

When schools shut down during Covid, so did the primary way of identifying and assisting children experiencing homelessness.

* * *  

In rural areas, schools can be an island of resources. ... [Becky Handa of Athens County Children's Services] is able to offer a lot to families in the school — her office is crammed with food and supplies — but one problem has been especially frustrating. The sparse, often substandard housing in the county is falling apart, leaving families with few safe or affordable places to stay.
The story then writes of a phenomenon not uncommon when there is a complaint against a rural landlord due to lack of habitability:  instead of being repaired, the home is condemned and sealed, leaving one less housing unit available for a needy a family.  

The story explains that McKinney-Vento "requires public schools to ensure that children without homes have 'equal access to the same free, appropriate public education' as children with homes."

An April New York Times story on homeless youth in rural Texas is here.  A story about exurban homelessness in Maine, from the Portland Press-Herald, is here.  Prior posts on rural homelessness are here and here.  A policy brief on the rural housing crisis in California is here.  

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The country's "nicest" place? Tiny Coulterville, California

Readers Digest has declared Coulterville, in California's Sierra-Nevada, the "nicest" place in the nation.  It's a hokey designation, of course, and it plays on the stereotype of rural folks as community-minded.  Coulterville, population 115, is in Mariposa County, population 17,131. The story suggests that the threat of wildfires is a big reason people look out for each other:  

Fires and floods have always been a part of life for Coulterville.... Whenever there’s a blaze, “you’ll see the community running toward the fire, not away from it,” says Dawn Huston, co-owner of Main Street’s Coulter Cafe.

Here's an excerpt from the story by Bill Hangley, Jr, talking about the lived realities of two women in the community:  

Huston grew up nearby and returned in 2010 after years in San Francisco. She and her partner opened their cafe on Main Street and bought a 35-acre ranch. Huston knows it could all disappear.

“You have to come to terms with the fact that you can lose your property, your animals, everything,” she says. So what keeps Huston in Coulterville? It’s the people. “In San Francisco, there’s 50 plumbers within a mile of your house, but I wasn’t close with all my neighbors. Here I know all of them. You rely on them in a different way.”

The tradition goes way back, says one of those neighbors, Sue Garrett. “Any time I go to town, I call around and see who needs anything,” she says. Garrett is a fifth-­generation rancher, raising cattle on 1,000 acres first staked out by her great-great-great-­grandfather. The building itself has never burned, but the property is crisscrossed with firebreaks from past battles.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Whether to re-build rural towns destroyed by wildfire

That is the subject of two stories in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, one focused on the economics and sustainability of doing so, the other framed--at least by its headline--in terms of rural climate change skeptics.  Both are written by Anita Chabria and Erika Smith.  The dateline for both stories is Greenville, California, which was destroyed by the Dixie fire last summer, an event I wrote about here and here.  

The thesis of the first column is pretty clear from the headline, "California spends billions rebuilding burned towns. The case for calling it quits."  Here's an excerpt: 
Most days, Ken Donnell steals a moment to gaze at the forested valley that surrounds this remote grid of streets in the mountains.

Before the Dixie fire came barreling through the Sierra Nevada last year, leveling everything here but a few houses, businesses and a school, this was a charming — if dying — Gold Rush-era town that about 800 people called home. Now, much of the charm is gone along with most of the residents, replaced by the skeletal remains of conifer trees and the deathly silence of block after empty block.

But even as Donnell has mourned, his mop of gray hair a fixture at community meetings on how to bring the town and the surrounding Plumas County valley back to life, he has become grateful.

It’s good that Greenville burned down when it did, he believes. Sooner rather than later. Because one day, in a not-so-distant future ravaged by climate change, many of Northern California’s far-flung rural towns — founded in another time and for another economy — might not get rebuilt at all.

Gone could be the political and public will to spend hundreds of millions of dollars — with Southern California taxpayers footing a big chunk of the bill — to replace homes and businesses for a small number of people, knowing that it’s all likely to burn down again as extreme heat and drought keep decimating unmanaged forests.

* * * 

Something must change.

What California is doing is dangerous and unsustainable, yet it continues down a well-trodden path, never hesitating to rally around people who have lost their livelihoods to a disaster, whether it be a mudslide or an earthquake — but especially a wildfire.

We are #ParadiseStrong, #SantaRosaStrong, #GrizzlyFlatsStrong and now #GreenvilleStrong. And we’ve spent billions in taxpayer dollars to prove it, along with ensuring that Pacific Gas & Electric, responsible for sparking far too many of these destructive conflagrations, is on the hook to pay billions more and to help rebuild.

The framing for the other column is even more provocative and political.  It is titled, "Rural climate skeptics are costing us time and money. Do we keep indulging them?" An excerpt follows:  

This is the part of the state where climate change has become a full-fledged existential threat. Sure, Southern California is prone to its fair share of disasters, but it is in Northern California where catastrophic wildfires aren’t just likely but are certain to destroy remote small towns for decades to come.

Greenville, which burned down in last year’s Dixie fire, should serve as a potent reminder of this risk. But maddeningly, the people who love living in these rural wildlands don’t see it that way. Instead, they look at it as just one more challenge to overcome, like spotty cellphone service and far-off grocery stores and hospitals.

It’s a belief so widespread, so divorced from the terrifying reality of climate change, that the rest of us in California can’t keep ignoring it. Doing so is simply costing too many lives and too much money, and wasting too much time. Soon, living in rural Northern California won’t be as safe, as sustainable or even as beautiful as it once was. The Dixie fire was just the beginning.

* * *

Why the Dixie fire was able to enter Greenville at all, tucked away in the Indian Valley about 100 miles northeast of Lake Tahoe, has become the stuff of conspiracy theories. But what it left behind is undisputed fact.

Streets of empty lots where homes and businesses once stood. A non-functioning sewer system. Soil so contaminated that millions of dollars in environmental restoration will be needed. Stumps where trees once provided shade from the sun.

* * * 

[One] line of thinking veers into grievance politics, insisting that catastrophic conflagrations wouldn’t be happening if left-leaning, big-city environmentalists hadn’t killed the logging industry in their right-leaning rural small towns. From there, the victimhood can morph into extremism, isolationism and paranoia.

Of course, the truth is a lot more complicated, given that forest mismanagement started with industrial logging of big — more resilient — trees from our forests. But these residents do have a point.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated for prescribed burns and mechanical thinning projects. And yet the treatment work is still being done far too slowly — an average of three to five years from conception to implementation. In some cases, it can take as many as seven years.
* * *
Are taxpayers who live in lower-risk cities willing to subsidize people who live in higher-risk rural towns, even if those people don’t have the means to live somewhere safer? And which is the fairest, most equitable use of public resources?
* * *
At some point, Californians must decide: Are we willing to pay more to maintain the status quo and rebuild every small rural town that burns down? Or do we want those who live there to pay more or even retreat to safer places?
* * *
For all of the anti-government, Trumpian rhetoric in Northern California about residents breaking away to form a right-wing State of Jefferson, most of their towns wouldn’t exist without massive public investment from liberal cities. And yet, if these same residents are forced to take on more financial responsibility for the risk of rural living, there will almost certainly be pushback.

Obviously, both of these columns are well worth reading.  Other prior posts on Legal Ruralism that mention Greenville or Plumas County can be found here.  

Postscript:  In the wake of Hurricane Ian, don't miss this column asking the same question about rebuilding in coastal Florida, some of which is highly urban.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXXXIII): Pandemic helps rural school grow

Hailey Branson-Potts reports for the Los Angeles Times from Kneeland, California, a census designated place in Humboldt County.  The headline is "How the Pandemic Saved One of California's Smallest Schools."  

In Kneeland, which isn’t so much a town as a rural fire station and a smattering of homes in the forest, the school has long been the lifeblood of the community.

And it has long felt a little fragile.

Perched on a mountaintop in Humboldt County, amid coastal redwoods and Douglas firs, Kneeland Elementary is one of California’s smallest public schools.

Two years ago, the school, which was built in 1880, was on the verge of closing. It had an average daily attendance — for the entire school, transitional kindergarten through eighth grade — of 12 students.

Then, up the mountain came the pandemic kids, who had been withering away in front of Zoom screens. They found refuge in a school that, because it was so tiny, had quickly resumed in-person classes.

On the grassy, 2.5-acre campus, students did a biology unit on bugs (since there are a lot in the woods). When it got cold, they moved inside, where it was easy to socially distance, since there were so few of them.

Since 2020, enrollment has more than doubled, to 33 students. The school got more funding. It hired a teacher — there are now three — and built a new classroom.

Don't miss the rest of this charming, feel-good story. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

On the midterm race in Washington's (rural-ish) Third Congressional District

This is the feature, "The Midterm Race that Has it All," on the front page of yesterday's Sunday Review in the New York Times, written by Michelle Goldberg.  Here's an except focusing on the rural and working-class elements of the story: 

The question of how you win an election in Washington’s Third Congressional District — a stretch along the southwestern border with Oregon that’s been reliably Republican, voting for Trump by four points in 2020 but still considered fairly moderate — is not just a political debate for right-wing YouTube. The race, pitting [Joe] Kent, a burgeoning MAGA-world star, against Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a 34-year-old rural working-class Democrat who is emphasizing abortion rights, has national implications.

Her father, a Mexican immigrant, was an evangelical preacher; she told me she learned public speaking in his Texas church. She and her husband live, with their 13-month-old son, off an unpaved road in a house they built themselves “nail by nail,” as she likes to say on the stump. Like Kent, she is good-looking, resembling a taller, lankier Winona Ryder, which shouldn’t matter but probably does.
* * *

The shop Gluesenkamp Perez runs with her husband, Dean’s Car Care, employs eight people, and Gluesenkamp Perez speaks passionately about the struggles of both small-business owners and working parents. She often talks about putting infant noise-protecting headphones on her baby registry; because she couldn’t find a day care spot, her son spent a lot of time with her at the auto shop.

“If you think you can spend 15K a year on day care, per kid, and save for retirement, and save up for a mortgage, you’re living in a really different economy than me and most of the people that I know,” she said at one rally.

In high school, Gluesenkamp Perez told me, she was so obsessed with civics that she was active in both the Young Republicans and the Young Democrats. It was only when she was a freshman in college and her brother came out as gay that she decided the Republican Party wasn’t for her.

Kent beat Jaime Herrera Beutler in the Republican primary a few months ago. She was one of ten Republicans to vote in favor of Trump's impeachment. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Shortage of sheriff's personnel in rural California

The Union-Democrat of Sonora, California reported last week on a severe shortage of personnel in the sheriff's office of Tuolumne County, population 55,000.  Alex MacLean writes:  
Tuolumne County Sheriff Bill Pooley revealed on Tuesday that he’s currently unable to use half of the beds at the county’s new $51 million jail because one-third of the positions in his office are vacant, forcing him to send inmates to Calaveras County at a cost of $28,000 per month.

If the staffing situation in the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t improve by spring, Pooley said he will also have to “seriously look at either closing down or modifying our boat patrol division, so no patrols on our lakes.”

The information was relayed by Pooley during public comment at the end of a roughly 10-hour county Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, just before the board went into closed session to privately discuss labor negotiations with county-employee unions.
* * *
Out of the 59 funded deputy, corporal and sergeant positions in its Sheriff’s Office patrol division, Pooley said eight are vacant, six are out injured and not expected to return, and three more will be leaving soon — for a projected vacancy rate of about 17%.

Pooley said there are 47 deputy, corporal and sergeant positions in the jail, 13 of which are currently vacant, three are out injured and not expected to return, and two are leaving, for a projected vacancy rate of 31.9%.

“If you include those who are in the academy or in training, we can now only deploy 66% of our uniformed personnel,” he said to the board.

The Sheriff’s Office has already disbanded its narcotics team in 2020, taken deputies away from the team that supervises high-risk released offenders who are most likely to commit crimes again, and pulled back its school resources officer, Pooley said.

Pooley said the county has also paid Calaveras County a total of about $80,000 so far this year to house inmates because of only having enough staffing to fill half of the 230 beds at the new jail, known as the Dambacher Detention Center, which opened last year after decades in development.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

On Fetterman's continuing commitment to show up in rural Pennsylvania

Julian Routh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on the recent visit of U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman (D) to Indiana, Pennsylvania, population 13,564 (but part of the Pittsburgh metro).  

For Democrats here at the intersection of several bright red counties, the running joke to political outsiders — according to the county party chair — is that the last Democratic presidential candidate to visit Indiana County was John F. Kennedy.

It’s not often that a big name comes to town, as Democrats, by and large, haven’t always seen value in places that won’t turn out in high numbers for them in statewide races. But that’s not John Fetterman, insiders said Tuesday, as the U.S. Senate candidate took to the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania to give a quick stump speech.

Mr. Fetterman — whose campaign slogan is “Every Vote, Every County” — has made it a point to try to trim the margins in rural Pennsylvania, hoping that it will pay off in a race that could be decided by a few percentage points or less.

He reaffirmed that commitment on Tuesday.
* * * 
Fetterman boasted that he got more votes in the May Democratic primary in Indiana County than Mr. Oz did in his GOP contest — and that’s true; Mr. Fetterman won 3,829 votes and Mr. Oz garnered 3,537. However, Mr. Oz was locked in a particularly brutal intraparty contest with Republican Dave McCormick, in which millions of dollars poured onto the airwaves.
* * *
Wearing a Fetterman shirt inside the event center, Will Latinette, a 70-year-old retired researcher who lives near Blairsville, said he comes from a town where residents have a pretty negative view of Democrats. He applauded Mr. Fetterman’s approach of coming to the reddest of counties.

“Republicans try to be populist, but their policies are not. His are,” Mr. Latinette said, “and they have been from the very beginning.”
* * *
Sam Bigham, president of the IUP College Democrats, said even if Mr. Fetterman doesn’t win Indiana County — which is likely — the votes will be well worth it.

“A lot of rural counties in this country are being forgotten. They’re being neglected. ... That’s why Democrats don’t win rural counties like they used to 80 years ago. That’s why they don’t win the working class like they used to 80 years ago,” Mr. Bigham said. “So I think it’s important for him to reconnect with the voters the Democrats have lost.”

My own thoughts on rural aspects of Fetterman's campaign are here and here.  

Thursday, September 22, 2022

On Chuck Schumer's rural exposure

A New Republic story published last week about Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader, was titled "How Chuck Schumer Finally Got His Big Breakthrough" and included this paragraph:  
Schumer’s actions as paterfamilias of Senate Democrats are often informed by his New York sensibilities. A lifelong Brooklyn resident with the accent to prove it, Schumer is pleased by any suggestion that some of his high-touch, extroverted style is at least partially attributable to his cultural ethos as a New Yorker. He visibly brightened when I mentioned his home state in our first interview, and claimed that he can recognize the exact location of any patch of New York just by looking out a plane window. Schumer was quick to note that New York’s large rural population had given him a lot of insight into how to find common ground for relationships with senators across the country.

I'd been told previously by a political consultant that, although Schumer has been known to say knuckle-headed things about rural America, he visits every New York county during each election cycle (presumably referring to the six-year Senate election cycle).  That said, for the record, this is one of the knuckle-headed things Schumer said, in 2016, about the rural vote (at least implicitly): 

For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia.

Ironic, huh, that he'd be dismissive of the rural vote in Pennsylvania--and presumably also nationally--but understand the need to cultivate it in his home state to secure his own staying power in the Senate.    

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

"Okie" meets Mexican, in the Los Angeles Times

The inimitable Gustavo Arellano writes in today's Los Angeles Times under the headline, "‘Okie’ was a California slur for white people. Why it still packs such an ugly punch."  Here's an excerpt from his column:  

They flooded into California fleeing poverty in their homeland. The public denigrated them as dirty and crime-prone — a threat to the good life.

Authorities harassed the newcomers out of city limits, forcing thousands of families to crowd in enclaves and take low-paying jobs. And when even that couldn’t drive them away, law enforcement set up blockades on the California border.

There are then, of course, the obligatory references to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee." Regarding the book, Arellano explains it was a favorite of his growing up:  

But what speaks to me more than anything about “The Grapes of Wrath” is how the saga of the Joads so closely mirrors that of my family.

The resilience of Ma Joad, the idealism of Tom, the tragedy of Pa, the personal growth of Rose of Sharon — they were my Mexican-born parents, my aunts and uncles, my native-born cousins, my siblings. The book has colored my idea of California ever since. Though it was fictional, Steinbeck based it on the real-life exodus of Dust Bowl refugees, especially those from Oklahoma. California can be cruel to desperate people — yet only in California could the persecuted transform their hard times into dreams they would’ve never found back home.

I especially connect to a slur that the Joads and their real-life contemporaries had to endure: “Okies.”

Californians turned the term — long used as shorthand for an Oklahoma native — into an insult. My family members and other immigrants from south of the border had similar insults thrown at them, including “Mexican” and “paisa,” or hillbilly.

But both groups took the invectives back from the haters and transformed them into markers of cultural pride.

Arellano continues with this revealing missive about the connotations of Okie, which suggest something akin to or synonymous with white trash:

It was in [a] spirit of respect that I used “Okie” in an Aug. 5 obituary for Salvador Avila, the co-founder of the Avila’s El Ranchito Mexican restaurant chain. He opened his first spot in Huntington Park in the 1960s, at a time when the city was “still an Okie” center instead of one of the most Latino cities in the United States, I wrote.

I thought nothing of that line, because it was true. Southeast L.A. County is where many Dust Bowlers settled and where they and their descendants held political power for decades. To merely say “white people” would have downplayed the history, because the Okie experience in Los Angeles was distinct from other white Americans in the region like, say, Midwesterners or Southerners.

Almost as soon as I published my piece, the critiques came in.

Teri O’Rourke of Palm Desert, whose grandparents left Oklahoma in the 1930s, said my use of “Okie” brought back memories of “the people in the ‘50s and ‘60s who thought Okies were stupid and lazy.”

Karen Hamstrom claimed “Okie” was “extremely offensive language” that was beneath me.

“While the Depression-era generation that endured those taunts may be mostly gone, those words are still used with scorn and derision to imply filth, stupidity, and a shallow gene pool,” she wrote. “Given how quickly you take offense to words and actions you deem discriminatory to your culture, I expect better from you.”
Danny Esparza viewed “Okie” as a “bitter descriptive” and claimed Huntington Park in its white heyday “was a beautiful [thriving] city with a financially thriving downtown area. People came from all around to shop there. To use your racist vehemence, it is now a Mex trash pit.”

Nothing like self-hating Latinos to brighten your day.

Of course, you don't want to miss the rest of this Arellano column

A prior blog post about Okies and the Dust Bowl era is here, and others touching on these topics are here, here, and here.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

An extraordinary tale of a rural doctor

Oliver Whang reports for the New York Times from Clay, West Virginia under the headline, "A Rural Doctor Gave Her All.  Then Her Heart Broke."  Don't miss a word of this profile of Dr. Kimberly Becher, about an extraordinary woman serving a poor rural community during extraordinary times. 

This feature appeared as the cover story on the Science Times section today.  

Monday, September 19, 2022

How the rural-urban split is putting the United States' democracy at risk

David Leonhardt's "Democracy Challenged:  Twin Threats to Governing Ideals Put America in Uncharted Territory" appeared on the front page of the New York Times over the weekend.  I'm highlighting here just the references Leonhardt makes to rural America, explicit or implicit.   

The economic frustrations and cultural fears have combined to create a chasm in American political life, between prosperous, diverse major metropolitan areas and more traditional, religious and economically struggling smaller cities and rural areas. The first category is increasingly liberal and Democratic, the second increasingly conservative and Republican.
* * *
The Senate today is split 50-50 between the two parties. But the 50 Democratic senators effectively represent 186 million Americans, while the 50 Republican senators effectively represent 145 million. 
* * * 

This similarity meant that the small-state bonus in the Senate and Electoral College had only a limited effect on national results. Both Democrats and Republicans benefited, and suffered, from the Constitution’s undemocratic features.

Democrats sometimes won small states like Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming in the mid-20th century. And California was long a swing state: Between the Great Depression and 2000, Democratic and Republican presidential candidates won it an equal number of times. That the Constitution conferred advantages on residents of small states and disadvantages on Californians did not reliably boost either party.

More than a decade ago, I published an article discussing some of these issues, in particular those observed in the first paragraph above.  It was titled The Geography of the Class Culture Wars.  

A Powell's "City of Books" in rural Oregon

The Oregonian reported last week out of Condon, in the north central part of the state, on the Washington state line about a Powell's Books location in this small Oregon town.  The headline is "How a Powell’s Books outpost ended up in Condon, population 760."  Here's an excerpt: 

The Powell’s outpost more than 150 miles from the famous City of Books can be found at the rear of the Condon Local, a retail store, coffee shop and cafe in the tiny downtown of Gilliam’s county seat.

But the name Condon Local is a recent change. For 34 years, the shop was known as Country Flowers and owned by Darla Seale.

Condon can thank her for the bookstore.

“The idea of being in Condon appealed to me,” Powell said, “but mainly it was Darla’s personality that made it happen.”

In 1988, Seal and her husband purchased the 1905-built Reisacher Building in downtown Condon for her growing floral business. They bought it for $10,000, then spent another $50,000 restoring the original wood floors, opening up the 16-foot ceilings and “uncovering all of the hidden treasures of the building.”

Country Flowers soon expanded to sell an assortment of knickknacks, kitchenware, clothing and greeting cards. Seale also added a soda fountain and deli counter. Hers was the first cafe in the county to get an espresso machine.

* * * 

Around the time of the first espresso machine, Powell discovered the store. He had purchased vacation property in the neighboring community of Spray and became one of Seale’s regular customers.

Between the two of them, the idea for a Powell’s Books location came up.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

More excellent reporting on rural and exurban California, from Joshua Tree to the State of Jefferson

I've written several blog posts here about the gentrification of Joshua Tree and surrounding environs in Southern California, in what we call the "Inland Empire."  I've written even more about the would-be State of Jefferson in the far northern part of the Golden State, with a focus on the region's metropolitan hub, Shasta County, where political turmoil has run (especially) rampant in recent months.  Now, two big features in the last few days echo those themes.  The first is in The Guardian, by Lois Beckett with photos by Alex Welsh.   The second is by Shawn Hubler for the New York Times, titled, "The California County Where MAGA Took Control."  Both stories are well worth a read in their entirety--especially by and for Californians.  

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Seen in Sonoma County, California: Dahle for Governor and "One Nation Under God" banner

I saw these signs this afternoon on Coleman Valley Road, between Bodega Bay and Occidental California, in Sonoma County, which is part of the North Bay.  It's only the third Dahle for Governor sign I can recall seeing since he declared his candidacy for California governor a number of months ago.  The other Dahle signs I saw a few weeks ago about 20 miles south of here, on the Petaluma-Tomales Road where Sonoma County meets Marin County.  Those were on the fences of what appeared to be working farms, whereas this was not.  
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2022
As interesting as the Dahle sign was the one next to it, which shows an image of Jesus pulling back an American flag with the words "One Nation Under God."  This part of Sonoma County is quite remote, but trends Bohemian and thus progressive.  The Dahle sign surprised me, but not nearly as much as the Jesus banner.  

This juxtaposition of Christianity next to politics also reminded me of this sign, which I photographed more than a decade ago in Searcy County, Arkansas, "Vote Jesus President." 

(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2012
P. S. On my way home from Sonoma County on Sept. 18, I saw a number of additional Dahle signs, all on properties that appeared to be agricultural.    

Friday, September 16, 2022

New York Times on falling child poverty rates, including in rural America

Jason DeParle reported earlier this week for the New York Times on recent drops in child poverty, due largely to the government safety net, in particular SNAP (formerly food stamps) and tax credits (including the Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC).  DeParle reports from three locales, depicting three racial groups. The first, which I'll focus on here because it is the most rural, is a white family in Marlinton, West Virginia, population 1405, in the eastern, Appalachian, coal-producing part of the state.  What follows gives the big picture on the drop in child poverty:
A comprehensive new analysis shows that child poverty has fallen 59 percent since 1993, with need receding on nearly every front. Child poverty has fallen in every state, and it has fallen by about the same degree among children who are white, Black, Hispanic and Asian, living with one parent or two, and in native or immigrant households. Deep poverty, a form of especially severe deprivation, has fallen nearly as much.

In 1993, nearly 28 percent of children were poor, meaning their households lacked the income the government deemed necessary to meet basic needs. By 2019, before temporary pandemic aid drove it even lower, child poverty had fallen to about 11 percent.

And here's part of the vignette out of Marlinton, WV:  

To see how the safety net protects children, consider the experience of Stacy Tallman, a mother of three in Marlinton, W.Va., who was working as a waitress last year when her teenage son, Jakob, suffered serious injuries in a car accident. Both Ms. Tallman and her partner, who has a maintenance job, missed work to care for him, and their income fell by about a quarter to $36,000.

After payroll taxes and other expenses the government takes into account when measuring poverty, their income was just below the poverty line. But the safety net delivered more than $16,000, not counting pandemic assistance. That included $8,000 in refundable tax credits and $6,500 from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

Instead of falling into poverty, the family survived the crisis about 50 percent above the poverty threshold.

“I don’t know where I’d be right now if I didn’t have that help,” Ms. Tallman said.

Medicaid paid for Jakob’s care and saved the family from bankrupting medical bills. SNAP, the food subsidy, eased Ms. Tallman’s anxiety about the children going hungry, as did free school meals. Tax credits helped her complete a longstanding plan to buy the family’s first house.
A year after the accident, Jakob became the first in the family to earn a high school degree.
In addition, DeParle wrote a few days later from Huntington, West Virginia, which is metropolitan but probably qualifies as rural in the national imaginary (as, indeed, does all of WV).  The story is about how recent safety net programs are chipping away at intergenerational poverty.  It is headlined, "How Poverty Programs Aided Children from One Generation to the Next," and the excerpt that follows speaks to place, as well as time/history: 
Cornbread, beans and potatoes.

When Ms. Jackson describes the challenges of growing up poor, she starts with location. “I grew up in a cemetery,” she said. Her father owned a trailer in rural Ohio with a graveyard on three sides. “I played beside the graves.”

Though money was short even when her father worked, his injury increased the hardship and left him angry and depressed. Her mother stretched food stamps with a bare-budget meal that remains in Ms. Jackson’s repertoire: cornbread, beans and potatoes.

The opioid epidemic that raced across the Ohio Valley wreaked havoc with some of her older siblings. As nieces and nephews took refuge in the trailer, Ms. Jackson spent much of her childhood helping to care for them.

By the time she reached high school, her family had moved across the Ohio River to Huntington, and Ms. Jackson was essentially raising a sister’s toddler. She already felt hopelessly behind in school when she discovered she was pregnant. She gave birth her senior year and dropped out, with more worries than plans and little help from the baby’s father.

As a poor single mother in 2012, Ms. Jackson turned to a welfare system that had undergone profound changes in her short lifetime. There was more help for parents who worked but less for those who did not, with time limits and work requirements on cash aid.

Both of these DeParle stories are well worth a read in their entirety.  He has long reported on poverty for the New York Times.

Here is NPR's coverage of this good news on the child poverty front.  

Thursday, September 15, 2022

More from a Mary Peltola fan girl (yep, that's me)

I continue to follow Mary Peltola's Twitter feed with rapt attention and appreciated this Tweet today, as well as the responses it engendered: 
And here are just the first three responses: 

These evince a perspective beyond the, shall we say, generic rural and move into something much more distinctive--even unique--that is the great 49th state.  

These also remind me of the rural bashing on display a dozen years ago when infrastructure investment to connect Ketchikan, Alaska and its airport were at stake. The operative phrase then was a "bridge to nowhere." I wrote about it here.  

Earlier Tweets about Peltola and her unexpected rise to this congressional seat are here.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

On what makes Mary Peltola and her campaign distinctive

This is from Katrina van den Heuvel's column in the Washington Post, after she notes how rural Alaska is by saying that Democrats' flipping Alaska's at large congressional seat "doubled the amount of land the [party] represent in the lower chamber of Congress":
First, Peltola’s success demonstrates the value of putting a genuine effort into regions where Democrats have historically not invested enough. Although Alaska hadn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. House since 1972 — and it’s one of the most rural states in the country — Peltola emerged victorious. To be sure, it can be difficult to predict which seemingly long-shot races are worth pursuing — but if Democrats put up a real fight in as many races as possible, they can sometimes find themselves electing a Mary Peltola in Alaska, a Jon Tester in Montana, a Laura Kelly in Kansas. (See also: former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy.) That isn’t possible when Democrats allow Republicans to run unopposed, or when they nominate candidates who serve as little more than decoration on the ballot.
* * *
 With little out-of-state money, Peltola focused on connecting with voters about in-state issues — including, most significantly, fish. An Alaska Yup’ik Native, Peltola can point to a lifetime of fishing on the Kuskokwim River and boasts such professional titles as “Salmon Fellow,” so she offered practical expertise about a resource that provides subsistence, sport and sales for her constituents.

Peltola's campaign theme was "Freedom, Family and Fish."  Other posts about Peltola are here.  

Postscript:  Here's part of Peltola's interview with Joy Reid, which was excerpted in some of Liz Ruskin's reporting for Alaska Public Media:

LIZ RUSKIN, BYLINE: Peltola joins a freshman House class that includes brash partisans. She's a different sort. She lowers her voice for media interviews.

MARY PELTOLA: My hope is to take the values of collaboration and peacemaking and those kind of qualities. I hope that I can reflect those.

RUSKIN: As a Yup'ik from rural western Alaska, Peltola says she's been taught to consider community harmony and being part of something larger. She says she's proud of her ethnicities, all of them. She often points out that her dad is a white guy from Nebraska. On the eve of her swearing in, Peltola went on MSNBC and pushed back at a question from host Joy Reid that invoked identity politics.

PELTOLA: You talk about one group having suffered more than another group, and I think that it's important in America that we're not trying to one-up each other on our level of suffering.

RUSKIN: Peltola likes to say that no American is her enemy. Her radical moderation hasn't dampened enthusiasm for her among Alaskans.  

Monday, September 12, 2022

Cultivating the rural vote in Georgia

Sam Gringlas reports from Georgia for NPR, "Georgia's rural Black voters helped propel Democrats before. Will they do it again?"  Some salient excerpts are below:  
Until recently, a statewide candidate spending significant time in this thinly-populated, substantially Black, southwest corner of Georgia was virtually unheard of.

For years, Democrats failed to win statewide in Georgia. The ground began to shift about four years ago when Stacey Abrams made her first bid for governor.

"Atlanta cannot live without Albany, and Albany cannot live without the investments that come from Atlanta," Abrams said in 2017, launching her campaign, not in Atlanta, but in Albany. "We need to talk to those forgotten voters, the ones who are rarely talked about. I am running for governor because we need a governor who comes from a town like Albany. Where we begin does not dictate what we become."

Instead of bending over backward to court more conservative voters, Abrams focused on activating non-voters and irregular voters, especially people of color in overlooked parts of the state. 
* * *
More than 50,000 people have registered in Southwest Georgia since 2018. The majority are non-white, the New Georgia Project says.
"Look, for the most part, the rural characterization is true," says Dante Chinni, a researcher with the American Communities Project who has studied rural African American counties in the South. "Rural America tends to vote for Trump, tends to be Republican. But when you divide the vote further, you see these subtleties and nuances."

Nearly a quarter of rural Americans were people of color in 2020, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution. And while the country's rural population is shrinking overall, its diversity is growing.

Still, the biggest shifts from red to blue in 2020 were in the suburbs of metro Atlanta, where newcomers have poured in from out of state and where then-President Donald Trump repelled many moderate voters.

And even while Democrats in racially diverse rural communities in the South turned out more voters in the 2020 presidential election than in 2016, turnout for Trump soared even more in these same counties, driven by white, rural voters.

Gringlas quotes Professor Andra Gillespie, who teaches political science at Emory University in Atlanta.  

This is a both/and strategy. I think some people want to use it as an either/or.  

Even though Democrats expect to lose in rural parts of the state, they can't underperform there. Because if they underperform there, they end up losing the election.

The next part of the story focuses on some recent rural challenges, in particular the closure of a nearby hospital in Cuthbert, which is more truly rural than Albany, which is a regional center. 

Prior posts about Albany, Georgia are here and here; both are pandemic focused.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

New Mexico court bans county commissioner from holding office based on his participation in January 6 insurrection

Many sources reported this week on the decision by a New Mexico judge to ban Otero County commissioner Couy Griffin because of his participation in the insurrection in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021.  This was the first such decision in U.S. history to invoke this provision of the U.S. Constitution, which is part of the 14th Amendment, one of the so-called Civil War Amendments.  Coverage by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, which represented some New Mexicans who brought the case, included this: 

A New Mexico judge ordered Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin be removed from office, effective immediately, ruling that the attack on the Capitol was an insurrection and that Griffin’s participation in it disqualified him under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. This decision marks the first time since 1869 that a court has disqualified a public official under Section 3, and the first time that any court has ruled the events of January 6, 2021 an insurrection.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, also known as the Disqualification Clause, bars any person from holding federal or state office who took an “oath…to support the Constitution of the United States” as an “officer of any State” and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or gave “aid or comfort” to insurrectionists. Griffin, as an Otero County Commissioner since January 2019, took an oath to “support and uphold the Constitution and laws of the State of New Mexico, and the Constitution of the United States.”

“This is a historic win for accountability for the January 6th insurrection and the efforts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in the United States. Protecting American democracy means ensuring those who violate their oaths to the Constitution are held responsible,” said CREW President Noah Bookbinder. “This decision makes clear that any current or former public officials who took an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution and then participated in the January 6th insurrection can and will be removed and barred from government service for their actions.”

Under New Mexico law, any private citizen of the state may file a lawsuit to remove a disqualified county official from office.

Here's an excerpt from NPR's coverage of the ruling

According to the judge's ruling, Griffin's group, called Cowboys for Trump, "played a key role in Stop the Steal mobilization efforts" ahead of Jan. 6, 2021. Video from that day shows Griffin "working up" supporters of Trump against then-Vice President Mike Pence, the court says. And there is also footage of Griffin illegally breaching multiple security barriers and egging on violence by rallying rioters with a bullhorn.

Griffin says he was not violent while at the Capitol that day and wasn't aware that he was trespassing at the time. A criminal court convicted Griffin of misdemeanor trespassing on Jan. 6, which he plans to appeal.

"I do regret the actions of many on that day that fought with police officers and destroyed government property," he says. "I regret their actions but I don't regret my actions. My own actions were lawful."

Otero County is a nonmetro county in the southern part of New Mexico, and it was in the news earlier this year when county officials refused to certify the primary election.  Those officials ultimately did certify the election results after the New Mexico Supreme Court instructed them to do so, but with Griffin voting no.  

Can't help think folks like those in Otero County, where the county seat is Alamagordo, have been influenced by David Clements.  Clements has been traveling around New Mexico and other states promulgating lies about election security.  Annie Gowen's feature on him was published in the Washington Post a few days ago, and his efforts were also covered in this NPR feature in July.  Here's an excerpt from Gowen's story, which is dateline Neligh, Nebraska:

For two hours, Clements — who has the rumpled look of an academic, though he lost his business school professor’s job last fall for refusing to wear a mask in class — spoke of breached voting machines, voter roll manipulation and ballot stuffing that he falsely claims cost former president Donald Trump victory in 2020. The audience, which included a local minister, a bank teller and farmers in their overalls, gasped in horror or whispered “wow” with each new claim.

“We’ve never experienced a national coup,” he told the crowd, standing before red, white and blue signs strung up alongside a bingo board. “And that’s what we had.”

Now, Clements has taken his message nationwide, traveling to small towns in more than a dozen states, with a focus, he said, on places that are “forgotten and abandoned and overlooked.” His crusade to prove that voting systems can’t be trusted has deepened fears among election experts, who say his meritless claims could give Trump allies more fodder to try to disrupt elections in November and beyond.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

The quest for rural votes: from Nevada to Georgia

I want to highlight two recent stories here about efforts by Democrats to win the rural vote.  The first is a story in the Nevada Independent about Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto's links to rural Nevada and her efforts to cultivate the vote there. Here are some excerpts from Jacob Solis' deeply reported story, which highlight her outreach to rural Republicans--and her service to rural residents:
Cortez Masto had decamped for the afternoon inside the Prospector Hotel and Gambling Hall, holding court in a side room of Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant [in Ely, Nevada]. There, she set upon her task, floating from table to table, hearing the room out — and making her case.

“We are all in this together,” she told a crowd of roughly two dozen Republicans. “And that's my priority and whether you voted for me or not and showing up I'm talking to you and I'm gonna fight for you.”

It was a retail politics staple — the blue jeans senator, back from far-away Washington to parlay directly with her voters not on the tentpole issues of the day, but on the specifics, the nitty-gritty issues that tie people to the places they live.

But it was also notable in large part for its rarity, with rural politics long the purview of the GOP. Just after Cortez Masto finished her rural tour, the whole of the statewide Republican ticket took to the road for a tour of its own, including marching through a series of rural Labor Day parades.

The handful of votes Cortez Masto might secure out of the trip will likely exist on the margins of the margins — more likely than anything to be overshadowed by turnout trends in Las Vegas and Clark County, where a supermajority of Nevadans live.

But those margins could still prove pivotal in an election that remains within the polling margin of error, with a strong — or weak — rural performance changing the dynamics in urban Clark or Washoe counties.

* * *
[D]espite a 7 percentage point net favorability statewide, Cortez Masto remains underwater in the rurals, where her favorability is a net negative 43 points. In the inverse, though Suffolk found Laxalt at a negative 7 points net favorability statewide, his rural numbers sat at a net positive 41 points.

Still, Cortez Masto remains marginally more popular than President Joe Biden per Suffolk’s numbers, which had the president sitting at a negative 49 point net favorability in counties outside Clark and Washoe.

Among some in the GOP, a public show of support for the Democrat

First elected to replace the retiring Sen. Harry Reid in 2016, Cortez Masto has spent 2022 locked in one of the tightest Senate contests in the country against Laxalt. Alongside similarly competitive races in Arizona and Georgia, Nevada could decide the critical battle for control of the Senate through the remainder of Biden’s first term in office.

Stopping first in Ely, Cortez Masto spent the better part of a week winding around Nevada highways, meeting with Republicans (and some Democrats) in Elko and Winnemucca and Fallon. The events were as friendly a crowd as Cortez Masto would likely get outside Nevada’s two major metros — often small, invite-only and tightly controlled.

Still, the trip occurred in the midst of Republicans, especially rural Republicans, throwing their endorsement behind the Democrat from Las Vegas. Since July, six Republicans have published op-eds backing Cortez Masto, including three ex-rural county commissioners, a high profile lobbyist and Reno’s chief of police.

First among them, and the only elected Republican to endorse while still in office, was Ely Mayor Nathan Robertson. A fifth-generation Nevadan in a family which “has been Republican since before Lincoln,” Robertson said he was supporting Cortez Masto because she took the time to “show up” for his community, even if “we won’t make or break her in the election.”

Solis further quotes Robertson: 

The proof has just gotta be in the pudding.  And these last six years, she's proven where her motivation lies and what she's willing to do, and that she's not willing to let party politics and bigger interests get in the way of making sure that all people in her state are taken care of.

Republicans who spoke to The Nevada Independent or backed the incumbent through newspaper op-eds have most often pointed to hyper-specific policy decisions that pushed them toward supporting Cortez Masto.

Writing in the Nevada Appeal, former Lyon County Commissioner Bob Hastings, a Republican, cited Cortez Masto’s push first to block an initial expansion of Naval Air Station Fallon because “it didn’t represent all stakeholders fairly” and praised a push to loop rural communities into talks with the Navy.

And in an op-ed published in the Elko Daily Free Press, former Winnemucca Mayor Di An Putnam lauded the senator for blocking a federal mining tax backed by Democrats — a move that drew sharp criticism from environmentalists and her fellow Democrats. Putnam wrote that it was “clear she puts Nevada and our country over her party.”

Putnam continued:  

When Democrats wanted to impose new mining taxes, Catherine single-handedly prevented them from passing to protect this industry that is so critical to our communities.  There are countless jobs, families, and businesses that are supported by our mining industry. She stuck her neck out for them, even when Democrats were attacking her for it.”

Robertson, similarly, pointed to the pandemic, when he was able to get on the phone with Cortez Masto “when I had trouble getting through to anybody in Carson City,” and praised her for securing millions in federal aid dollars for Ely.

Later, Robertson is quoted again about Nevada's distinctiveness: 

Nevada is not your regular midwestern state, this isn’t Iowa. We’re a unique place with a unique culture with unique communities and having someone who knows how to navigate that is worth a lot.
Then Solis' story continues:
Cortez Masto’s institutional knowledge of the state’s sprawling rural interior has long been a feature of her political career. In a 2019 interview, she told The Nevada Independent that she had urged her staff at the attorney general’s office to hop in the van and travel out to Elko and Winnemucca and beyond.

“We’re going to go to them,” she said at the time, referring to conversations with her staff. “I want you to see Nevada.”

One Republican woman who lives in "unspecified Lander County" (population 5700) said 

A lot of us that live out here feel like our voices really aren't heard very much. And, I mean, part of me understands that because we're not the big voting base. But, you know, we're Nevadans, too and we have a stake in things.

The Nevada Independent is a statewide non-profit website.   You'll have to read the rest of the story to learn more about her father's history of fishing in rural Nevada, including the Elko area.  

And this is from a Georgia radio station WABE on the fight for the rural and suburban vote. Sadly, no transcript is available so I can't cut and paste an excerpt, but please give it a listen.  

Friday, September 9, 2022

Small city in far northern California loses legal battle to keep its prison

Hailey Branson-Potts reports for the Los Angeles Times on a decision by the Lassen County Superior Court to permit the State of California to follow through with its plan to close a prison in Susanville.  Here's an excerpt from the story: 
The state was supposed to close the California Correctional Center in Susanville by this June.

But it has remained open because the town — where local officials say they face economic devastation if they lose more than 1,000 prison jobs — sued the state last year, and a Lassen County judge issued a preliminary injunction halting the closure while the case moved through the court.

In a ruling issued Wednesday in Lassen County Superior Court, Visiting Judge Robert F. Moody dissolved the injunction.

Judge Moody wrote: 

The legislature and the CDCR both have had and have expressed policy reasons for closing prisons: there is a paucity of inmates, and the population of inmates is in continuous decline and the resultant reductions in required staff and physical plant make it fiscally imprudent to continue to maintain all or our expensive prisons.

The wisdom of such legislative or political policies are not and have never been the province of the courts.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Big LA Times story on legal (and illegal) weed in California reveals impacts on rural communities

Paige St. John reports under the headline, "The reality of legal weed in California: Huge illegal grows, violence, worker exploitation and deaths."  

Proposition 64, California’s 2016 landmark cannabis initiative, sold voters on the promise a legal market would cripple the drug’s outlaw trade, with its associated violence and environmental wreckage.

Instead, a Los Angeles Times investigation finds, the law triggered a surge in illegal cannabis on a scale California has never before witnessed.

Rogue cultivation centers like Mount Shasta Vista now engulf rural communities scattered across the state, as far afield as the Mojave Desert, the steep mountains on the North Coast, and the high desert and timberlands of the Sierra Nevada.

Residents in these places describe living in fear next to heavily armed camps. Criminal enterprises operate with near impunity, leasing private land and rapidly building out complexes of as many as 100 greenhouses. Police are overwhelmed, able to raid only a fraction of the farms, and even those are often back in business in days.

The raids rip out plants and snare low-wage laborers while those responsible, some operating with money from overseas, remain untouched by the law, hidden behind straw buyers and fake names on leases.

Labor exploitation is common, and conditions are sometimes lethal. The Times documented more than a dozen deaths of growers and workers poisoned by carbon monoxide.

The scale of the crisis is immense. A Times analysis of satellite imagery covering thousands of square miles of the state showed dramatic expansion in cannabis cultivation where land is cheap and law enforcement spread thin, regardless of whether those communities permitted commercial cultivation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Celebrating an unusual event: re-opening a rural hospital

Blake Farmer reports from Brownsville, Tennessee, population 10,000, where a rural hospital has reopened nearly a decade after it closed. The headline is, "After a decadelong spate of closures, one rural Tennessee hospital reopens," and here's the lede: 

When a rural hospital closes, it usually closes for good. A lot of smaller cities and towns in this country have lost their local hospital care, which is why a hospital reopening in Brownsville, Tenn., is a big deal. Here's Blake Farmer of our member station WPLN.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: The sun is rising over the Haywood County Community Hospital, and Michael Banks stands out front in a seersucker suit, welcoming back employees in the dim light.

JEANINE ING: There's no backing out now.

MICHAEL BANKS: All right. Go get your stuff set up. Let's get ready to rock and roll.

FARMER: Banks is a local attorney who was chair of the hospital board. Now he's CEO.

BANKS: So I remember getting called into that office right there by the CEO at the time and him telling me that they were closing. And that was in 2014.

FARMER: This hospital was part of a wave of closures that hit states that have refused to expand Medicaid to cover the working poor. In all, 16 rural hospitals closed in Tennessee - more than anywhere but Texas.

BARRY DUNAGAN: This building has sat here for six or seven years with no air circulation, no water in the lines. Everything just deteriorates.

FARMER: Barry Dunagan is back as head of maintenance after eight years. The mothballed hospital was handed to the local government, and Dunagan assumed it would be bulldozed.

DUNAGAN: It takes a world of work to ever get it back.

FARMER: But it's really happening. They're down to installing the doorstops for the first phase of renovations. A new company out of Florida called Braden Health acquired this and three other hospitals between Nashville and Memphis. It's one of a handful of companies trying to resuscitate closed rural hospitals now that communities are practically giving them away. But it takes millions of dollars to get them going, even if everything goes right. Braden Health's Terry Stewart says the Haywood hospital was supposed to open in January.

Don't miss the entire story, a rare hopeful one when it comes to rural healthcare infrastructure.   

Monday, September 5, 2022

My rural travelogue (Part XXXII): West Marin County, California

Tomales General Store and Post Office
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2022
I've spent this very hot Labor Day weekend between Marshall and Tomales, California, on Tomales Bay, a narrow 15-mile long inlet from the Pacific, separating the Point Reyes Peninsula from mainland Marin County.  It's given us a welcome respite from the heat and also an opportunity to visit the annual Tomales Festival, which begins at high noon on Labor Day Sunday.  It drew quite a crowd.  

The festival was in the Tomales Community Park, 
between the Catholic Church and the William Tell House
Here are a smattering of photos.  

Marin County Library booth

Cheese and beer, two products associated with 
this part of California (especially cheese, as
Cowgirl Creamery is based down the road in Point Reyes Station). 

Public health booth, where free masks and covid tests were available

Another public service booth, this one for Mosquito Vector Control

The population of Tomales, which lies right on Highway 1, is 187.  It is home to a small elementary school, the William Tell saloon (oldest in California, it says), and the popular Route 1 Bakery and Kitchen.  

This farmer's market, associated with True Grass Farms, was set up at the festival entrance but apparently operates apart from the festival because it was also there on Saturday.  Their meats, eggs, fruit and veggies, and cut flowers were irresistible.

Rural gentrification in far northern California: where climate change and covid migration converged

Ok, I admit I'm borrowing part of that headline from this 2021 Bloomberg story about Humboldt County, California.  But the phenomenon (along with the link) were brought to my attention today when I saw Hailey Branson-Potts' Los Angeles Times piece on the Samoa Peninsula, just west of Eureka, the county seat of Humboldt County, California.  Here's an excerpt: 
[T]he month of September rolled in with a chill here on the Samoa Peninsula — one of the coldest places in California in these waning days of summer.

“We have our natural air conditioning here. If you can put up with a little morning fog and drizzle and overcast sky, it’s not too bad,” said Doug Boushey, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Eureka.
The Pacific Ocean has a moderating effect that Boushey calls a “cool, moist pump.”

When it is hot inland, that warm, thinner air rises in the atmosphere, and cold marine air is sucked in, like a vacuum, to fill the void, Boushey said. The warmer air aloft acts “like a lid,” trapping the heavier, cooler air, which can’t easily flow over mountains.

In Eureka, a mile east across the bay from the peninsula, the hottest temperature ever recorded is 87 degrees, Boushey said. The mercury hit that number in 1993, 2017, and 2020.

It’s a “wimpy record” as far as heat goes, he acknowledged.

With the heat dome firmly in place in parts elsewhere, the average highs around Eureka over the next week are in the mid-60s, Boushey said.

That’s even cooler than the famously frigid summer in a city five hours south: San Francisco. A high of around 79 is forecast there over Labor Day weekend.

While the overwhelming majority of U.S. cities have had shorter, hotter winters over the last 50 years because of climate change, Eureka is one of the very few to buck the trend, with its winters becoming slightly colder, according to Climate Central, a nonprofit research group.
Branson-Potts notes that the weather is a factor in the recent rise in Eureka;s housing costs, but clearly it is only one factor in a record-breaking 24% rise in prices over the prior year.  As suggested by the Bloomberg piece, part of that was covid migration, when lots of folks looked to leave cities and find more space in "the country."  That said, I know two families who not long ago moved to Eureka to avoid Central Valley heat.  Plus, I assume the designation of Cal State Humboldt as the latest Cal Poly is also driving up demand.  Indeed, that designation and anticipated accompanying growth also recently drove the university to pay well above market rate for a strategically located piece of property in neighboring Arcata. 

Prior posts about this part of far northern California are here (including several from 2011, when a student in my Law and Rural Livelihoods class had grown up in Humboldt).  As you'll gather from these, Humboldt County is part of the so-called Emerald Triangle, a notorious pot-growing region.  But that part of the region's economy has suffered badly since marijuana cultivation was legalized--and came to be highly regulated.  

Sunday, September 4, 2022

How 988 hotlines are working (or not) in rural areas

Aaron Bolton of Montana reported for NPR this week about rural areas' struggles with the new 988 hotline.  The headline is, "988 mental health hotline doesn't fix the lack of in-person resources in rural areas," and the summarizing blurb is: "Even with the upgraded 988 mental health hotline, there are still some callers who need to be connected with in-person services. In rural areas especially, those resources remain few and far between."  Here's more from Bolton on Montana Public Radio.  It's a familiar story of spatial inequality--resources available in urban areas but not in rural ones.  

Friday, September 2, 2022

California jail incarceration rates highest in sparsely populated counties

CalMatters reported yesterday that incarceration rates are highest in rural California.  Here are some excerpts from Nigel Duara's story, covering a new report from the Prison Policy Institute, a non profit seeking to end mass incarceration: 
The report takes newly available data from California prisons to show where inmates come from – not just their home counties, but their neighborhoods. The group’s stated intent is to show lawmakers where they can better direct public dollars.

The neighborhoods where incarcerated people come from often have a higher percentage of Black and Latino residents than the state average, according to the report, while the counties that host the prisons are predominantly white.

The effect has been “the siphoning of political power from disproportionately Black and Latino communities to pad out the mostly rural and often predominantly white regions where prisons are located,” the study found.

Unsurprisingly, the most populous counties send the most people to state prison. Los Angeles County had the most people incarcerated, followed by Riverside and San Diego counties.

I've written about this issue before here and here, among other posts. 

But in some counties, though they have fewer total people in state prisons, the rate of incarceration is much higher than the statewide average of 310 per 100,000 people.

Tiny Kings County in the San Joaquin Valley has the state’s highest incarceration rate at 666 per 100,000, the study found.

Shasta County ranked second among counties that send people to prison, with 663 county residents incarcerated per 100,000 people. The county of fewer than 200,000 is framed by mountains to its north, west and east. People move there for cheap land and open spaces, or burrow further into its hills to escape creeping modernity, Bowman said.

“And then we have those who have moved up here for political reasons and I’ll just leave it at that,” Bowman said with a laugh.  

Bowman is director of Shasta County's program to help "formerly incarcerated people transition back to life outside."  He says the three drivers of crime in that far northern California county are high housing costs, untreated mental illness and drug trafficking.  

In one Shasta County Census tract that encompasses most of the city of Redding, more than one in every 100 people is in a state prison.

To be clear, both Shasta County and Kings County are metropolitan counties, but they are sparsely populated compared to many in the state.  The screenshot captured above shows that an even less densely populated county, Mendocino, has a considerably lower rate of jail incarceration, and nonmetro counties like Mono and Calaveras also have low incarceration rates.  Incarceration rates in nonmetro Alpine and Amador are also low, but they creep higher in other sparsely populated nonmetros, like Plumas, Lassen, Sierra, Inyo and Mariposa.  In other words, it's not clear to me that there's a strong rural correlation to high jail incarceration rates.  Depends on how you define rural, including at what scale--at the scale of the county or below.  

Prior posts about rural jail populations are here.