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Sec. Sonny Perdue visits World Ag Expo

After the fanfare of the opening ceremonies were over, a small number of the expo attendees gathered in the banquet hall of the Heritage Complex.

This group comprised of farmers and other agriculture-related professionals gathered to listen and speak with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who opted to attend the World Ag Expo.

Perdue said California was the 33rd state he has visited in the past nine months.

“I’m here in California to learn about …your state and expanse of California agriculture because it is a huge part of U.S. agriculture,” Perdue said. “It’s the No. 1 agricultural state in the nation.”

In his introduction of Perdue, Rep. David Valadao said the secretary’s experience as a farmer in Georgia, a state with diverse crops, leads him to have a greater understanding of the issues farmers in California face.

Perdue spoke on what he knew and was apt to point out what he didn’t know. After explaining his history and what is great about farmers, the secretary got into some of the issues California agriculture leaders face: regulations, funding, labor force and water.

The concerns of the crowd seemed to focus on how California is treated, funded and regulated based on its size and layout in comparison to other states.

Hanford-based dairy producer and president of the California Dairy Campaign, Joaquin Contente, addressed the margin protection program. He mentioned how the new program does not aid the average size dairy in California.

The California Dairy Campaign estimates that in most California dairies herd size is around 1,200 cows while herd size in other states is closer to 120.

According to the USDA 2012 Agriculture Census, Tulare County, with $1.8 billion in revenue from dairy, produces the most milk in the nation. Kings County, with $600 million in revenue from dairy, followed in fifth place. Seven of the top 10 counties are in California.

Contente said the new margin protection program mainly helps smaller dairies in the nation. He said there needs to be a balanced program that addresses the needs of all dairy producers, not just small ones.

Perdue did not directly provide a solution to the problem Contente raised.

Another issue was raised by Glenda Humiston, vice president of Agriculture & Natural Resources at the University of California Office of the President.

She said the current definition of rural prevents enough funding to go toward agriculture research in California. Humiston said rural counties have no cities with populations greater than 50,000, disqualifying many counties.

“If a county has one town that has 50,000 population in it, the entire county is labeled metropolitan for purposes of allocating funding,” Humiston said.

Perdue said that there is work being done to fix the definition of rural amongst different departments in the government.

One member of the audience was concerned about whether California will receive federal money since it is a sanctuary state. Perdue responded that he has no knowledge of the sanctuary status affecting infrastructure funding.

Perdue also said that the best way to voice concerns about how federal money is spent in California is to contact state legislators.

Ken Melban, with the California Avocado Commission, brought up immigration and said the H-2A program does not work well in terms of cost and flexibility.

Perdue responded that he hopes an immigration bill will be discussed in the next few weeks. He went on to say that Melban was correct in that “around the country there is not enough money you can pay people” to do agricultural work.

When asked about water supply in California and what the federal government can do to help, Perdue tried to relate the problem to water problems in Georgia where most of their rainwater flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Then Perdue asked the crowd if anyone understands California’s allocation of water. The crowd said no, and he responded that he didn’t think so.

He ultimately suggested that water issues be addressed to the state government and that their are limits on how the federal government can actively help since it has to do with state regulations.

After the town hall meeting, Perdue and his team explored the Expo. The next two days he will visit some of the local farms and dairies, including Giacomazzi Orchard and DeGroot Dairy, to learn more about California agriculture.

Demolition of old fire station begins

HANFORD — While the sounds of construction work filled the air, Diana Leoni stood near the intersection of Lacey Boulevard and Phillips Street and began creating a painting of the old fire station.

“It’s tearing my heart out to hear those sounds right now,” Leoni said of the work that was taking place near the back end of the station.

Despite efforts from citizens who wanted to save it, demolition of the old fire station began Tuesday morning.

“I am so sad. I am just so sad,” Leoni, a member of the Plein Aire Painters who was outspoken in her desire to preserve the building, said with tears in her eyes.

During the Dec. 19, 2017, meeting, Hanford City Council members voted in a 3-2 split decision to demolish the building for future expansion of recreational facilities. The old fire station, located at 404 W. Lacey Blvd., sits adjacent to the city pool, the Plunge.

Leoni and fellow Plein Aire painter Sharon Banister showed up at the Feb. 6 council meeting holding paintings of the old fire station, while others held signs that read “This place matters” over pictures of the station building.

Over a dozen spoke out against demolishing the building and implored the council to halt the demolition of the old fire station to reconsider options for saving it, but council members conveyed that they did not want to readdress the issue.

Several people The Sentinel talked to, including Vice Mayor Sue Sorensen, were under the impression that the work wouldn’t start until Wednesday, so they were taken aback Tuesday when they heard the demolition had started.

City Manager Darrel Pyle said the contractor, Bowen Engineering and Environmental, indicated they would start either Tuesday or Wednesday.

“[The building] should be down by Thursday, then cleanup will take another few days,” Pyle said in an email.

Pyle said the work is going from north to south, meaning demolition started at the back of the building and will move toward the front of the building that faces Lacey Boulevard.

Leoni said she decided to paint the building for the fourth week in a row before it’s gone. She couldn't bear to watch the demolition going on in the back and would paint as a way to heal.

She said there were plenty of ways the building could have been repurposed, and said it was “not acceptable” that the city was not transparent in its intention for the building and didn’t give the community time to figure out how to save it.

Main Street Hanford and its board were against demolishing the old fire station and even held a community meeting in January to discuss Direct Public Offerings as a way to raise funds to restore downtown buildings.

“Main Street Hanford is very saddened by the loss of the fire station,” Michelle Brown, executive director of Main Street Hanford, said in a statement. “We will always stand on the side of historic preservation because we believe our history tells an important story of who we are as a community.”

Sorensen said she voted against demolishing the building at the December meeting in order to give the community some time to figure out how they could save it. However, because she was in the minority on that decision, she did not have the power to ask that the issue be put back on the agenda.

“It’s sad that this old building is coming down,” Sorensen said. “My heart is breaking.”

Sorensen said the city has to make hard decisions, and the financial obligation to improve the building — which was estimated to be about $2 million — was just too much in the end. She said the city’s hands are tied because there is not enough money to do all the projects that people would like.

Leoni grew up in Hanford and was sentimental about its demolition because she said the building is a part of history and the foundation that makes up Hanford. She said she can only hope now that other historic downtown buildings will remain standing.

“Without our roots, we’re nothing,” Leoni said.

Brown said Main Street sees the beauty and the value in buildings like the fire station and will continue to promote the benefits of historic preservation.

“We will continue our research on Direct Public Offerings to see if we can prevent the loss of other historic buildings in downtown Hanford,” Brown said.