Two months into my new role as president and CEO of PPIC and I’m more excited than ever about the important work we are doing to build a brighter future for our state. In these early days, I’m reaching out to a broad array of policy-active people in Sacramento and beyond—listening, learning, and connecting. Meeting with these dedicated and forward-looking Californians has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my job so far.
Last week, I spent an enlightening few days visiting Fresno and Del Rey, in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Despite much-needed heavy rains, I had the opportunity to go blossom bathing among the organic peach trees at the Masumoto Family Farm. (Mas Masumoto is a long-time member of the PPIC board of directors.) This multigenerational business, started by a Japanese-American couple interned during World War II, symbolizes the grit, resilience, and beauty of a region that faces enormous challenges in a changing world:
- The San Joaquin Valley is an agricultural powerhouse and a key contributor to the nation’s food supply—but by 2040, average annual water supplies could decline by 20%.
- The valley has a greater proportion of children than the rest of the state (28.2% versus 22.7%) but, as of 2017, the data reflects that the region’s 9th graders were less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than their counterparts living elsewhere in California.
- The overall poverty rate in Fresno County is 11.7%, and child poverty stands at 9.7%, according to the California Poverty Measure—higher than many neighboring counties.
Despite these sobering realities, it was impossible not to feel optimistic about finding promising policy solutions. I met and spoke with many valley residents who are not only deeply committed to and knowledgeable about their region, but who are also experienced and successful collaborators. The ability to cooperate across partisan lines is especially important in a region that has more political balance than the state overall—voter registration in the valley is currently 38.8% Democratic and 32.5% Republican, while in the state as a whole those numbers are 46.9% and 23.9% respectively.
In a time of intense national division, witnessing the dedication of Fresno’s communities was truly inspirational—and provides a model for other parts of our state. I encourage you to explore the links below for a direct connection to some of the wonderful organizations I met with last week. Like flowering peach trees in early spring, they renew my hopes for the future of our state.