CIRS Blog about Rural California


The Wall Street Journal profiled the city of Fresno's bleak finances October 31, 2013. Fresno, a city of 500,000 residents, had the least cash on hand of any of the 250 largest US cities. Fresno had less than a day's reserves, compared with a median 80+ days for large US cities.

One cause of Fresno's cash crunch is a $26 million convention-center garage that lost business to new facilities at California State University, Fresno in the northern part of the city. Garage deficits were financed in part by borrowing from other city funds. Eventually, the city began to lay off employees, some 1,200 or 30 percent of its 4,200 workers, between 2009 and 2013.

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This article is adapted from a presentation on Food Justice given to the American Planning Association California Chapter meeting in Visalia, CA in 2013.

When addressing food justice, there are several issues farm workers deal with. The two to be discussed here are: access to food and cost of food. When addressing planning issues for rural regions in the context of food justice, we need to review what the barriers are to farm worker justice in the built environment and develop ideas for improvement.

•    Where do laborers work and where do they live? 
•    How does this affect housing, transportation and food access?
•    How do we balance farmland preservation and affordable housing for workers?
•    What does transit oriented development mean in creation of affordable and accessible transport in rural regions?

In 2007, CIRS completed a study in Fresno of farm worker food security. We found that 45% of the workers interviewed in the most productive agricultural county in the US, are food insecure. We conducted a similar study in the Salinas Valley (America’s Salad Bowl) and found a staggering 66% of workers interviewed were food insecure.

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San Joaquin Valley

The eight-county San Joaquin Valley had four million residents in 2012, a labor force of 1.8 million, and an unemployment rate of 15 percent. There are 62 cities in the 25,000-square mile San Joaquin Valley.

Most San Joaquin Valley counties and cities have economic development agencies to speed the creation of middle-class jobs that pay at least $15 an hour or $30,000 a year. Several types of industries are targeted for "good jobs," including food processing, logistics, manufacturing and renewable energy. Living costs and wages are lower in the San Joaquin Valley than in coastal California, but many San Joaquin Valley workers lack the education needed to perform jobs offering higher wages, which deters some of those looking to relocate from moving their operations to the San Joaquin Valley.

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By Marty Graham

The 14-acre certified organic farm at the south edge of the San Pasqual Academy is surrounded by commercial farms, orange and grape trees on three sides.

It’s a rich metaphor for the academy itself, an organic local effort that’s meant to anchor its community to healthy food, one that’s grown jobs and centered the way the students live.

And it has been more than a farm. According to San Diego organic farmer Scott Murray, who helped launch the farm, it is a hands on part of what the academy tries to teach its residents, teenagers in the county foster care system who have run out of housing options and are within a few years of aging out of the system.

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July 2013


The eight-county San Joaquin Valley was the focus of a second economic summit on April 26, 2013.  The briefing book noted the "challenges" of poverty and unemployment, poor air quality, and low scores on other quality of life indicators. These factors combine with too few skilled workers to attract businesses that could help the San Joaquin Valley transform its agricultural economy to a higher-value and higher wage economy.

Average per capita income in the San Joaquin Valley was $31,500 in 2011, only 70 percent of the average $44,600 in California.  Among San Joaquin Valley adults, 30 percent did not graduate from high school and 15 percent had college degrees.  Among Hispanic San Joaquin Valley adults, 48 percent did not graduate from high school and six percent had college degrees.

The San Joaquin Valley summit dealt with the chicken-and-egg problem of stimulating the growth of high-wage jobs.  There is general agreement that the San Joaquin Valley should create more high-wage jobs, but also agreement that high-wage job growth is deterred by  insufficient skilled workers to attract investment that creates jobs that pay more than $30,000 a year.  The summit made only a passing reference to the state's high-speed rail system to be launched in the San Joaquin Valley.

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