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News that the 136-bed Coalinga Regional Medical Center is closing all of its health care services is affecting not just locals and 200 employees but other caregivers like Adventist Health in Hanford and Selma. Recently the closure of the 112-bed Tulare hospital, also for financial reasons, resulted in one fewer choice for residents between Tulare and Hanford. Both Tulare and Coalinga have shut down their emergency rooms that served the west side of the South Valley. The nearest emergency department to Coalinga is Adventist Health in Hanford, some 40 miles away.

Responding to the news Adventist Health’s Andrea Kofl, Central Valley Network President, said “Our hearts and prayers go out to the community members and health care workers affected by the recent hospital closures. Because our Valley services are part of the larger nonprofit Adventist Health system, we’re fortunate to maintain a strong foundation in the more than 20 communities we serve. We are aware of the need for quality care in rural areas of the Central Valley, which is why we’re partnering with Valley Children’s Healthcare to offer an extensive outpatient facility in Fowler. We also are expanding our emergency department in Selma and adding an intensive care unit and catheterization lab. Our doors are open to anyone who needs care.”

California to adopt Federal Milk Marketing Order

California milk producers voted yes on transitioning to a Federal Milk Marketing Order from a state system after all California’s big milk co-ops voted yes in a producer referendum. Three cooperatives including Land O'Lakes and California Dairies Inc., in the Central Valley, represent over 75 percent of the producers in the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will not make it official until early June. USDA will be targeting Nov. 1 as a start date. Dairymen hope for a better price for their products under a federal order like the rest of the nation has.

Meanwhile, concern over labor shortages has Wisconsin dairymen looking to robots. One report says “fewer than five percent of the 9 million US dairy cows are now milked by robots, but in 2019 the share may rise to 25 percent. Walk-up milking robots that feed cows can milk 60 cows a day so that a 300-cow dairy could do its milking with five robots that cost $200,000 each.”

Kings County population climbs thanks to Hanford

Kings County’s population grew to 151,662 as of Jan. 1, says the California Department of Finance. That is up 2,125 persons with some communities gaining and others losing population. Hanford grew the most, up 2,531 or a brisk 4.5 percent, while Lemoore lost 477. Avenal grew due to more prisoners, now up to 4,103, being housed there. Kings County grew for the first time since 2007, just before the recession impacted the local economy and the world. Of the total county population of 151,662 persons, some 12,735 were prisoners either housed in Avenal or Corcoran. NAS Lemoore’s population was 6,797 compared to over 7,000 in 2007 and 2008 and over 8,000 in the late '70s.

County hires new EDC director

The Board of Supervisors has offered the position of the Economic and Workforce Development Director to Lance Lippincott. He has accepted the position and will begin work on June 4 with an annual salary of $130,164. Lippincott will replace John Lehn who continues on a consultant basis. Lance is deputy director at Merced County-Department of Workforce Investment and is a lawyer.

County to install solar at government parking lots

Kings County plans to contract with a solar company ENGIE, to build solar projects at the various county-owned locations. The cost will be approximately $19.4 million, but their installation is projected to save approximately $31.1 million in energy costs over the 30-year life of the project. Solar carports and ground-mounted arrays at the Government Center and the Road Yard will shade vehicles as well as house solar panels and energy storage components. There will be a 500 kilowatt energy storage system to reduce peak-hour charges. ENGIE would maintain the system under a power purchase agreement (PPA).

ENGIE Services U.S. (formally Opterra Energy Services and Chevron Energy Solutions) is the largest independent electricity producer in the world, and the third largest retail electricity supplier in the United States. A PPA is a financial agreement where a developer arranges for the design, permitting, financing and installation of a solar energy system on a customer’s property. The developer sells the power generated to the host customer at a fixed rate that is typically lower than the local utility’s retail rate.

Tulare County this month is signing a similar agreement with the same company.

Gas prices up again

The average price in California for regular gasoline increased 6.5-cents from the previous week, says the California Energy Commission now up to $3.63 a gallon.

Governor candidate gets both farm and labor support

When was the last time Cesar Chavez’s UFW and mainline farmer groups in California were backing the same candidate for governor? Former Los Angeles Mayor and Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa received the endorsement of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual and Fresno’s Nisei Farmers League after the United Farm Workers endorsed his candidacy in late February.

Villaraigosa faces a tough primary in June with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom, who has a power base in the Bay Area, is competing as well with several strong GOP candidates popular in the San Joaquin Valley.

Political realities and the need for both water and labor are playing a part in these practical political calculations.

Reports suggest growers in the California heartland are donating to the LA-based candidate. This account is from the publication CALmatters, suggesting large farmers are coming around.

"Villaraigosa will be in Modesto later this month for a fundraiser hosted by almond growers, one of many trips he has made as a candidate. It’s paying off. Political action committees representing pistachio growers, berry farmers, and dairy operators have given him $20,000 or more each.

J.G. Boswell Co., one the state’s largest farmland owners, has given him $50,000. Fresno almond farmer Donald Peracchi chipped in $25,000. Peracchi is president of the Westlands Water District, which supplies water to farms in Fresno and Kings counties, and no issue is more important to farmers than water. Woolf Farming donated $15,000 to his campaign. Dan Gerawan, a rival of the UFW, has donated money to Villaraigosa.

Valadao knocks tariffs

Local congressman David Valadao joined eight California congressmen from both sides of the aisle this week asking the Trump administration to rethink the current tariff battle with China.

“Agriculture drives the American economy and is the backbone of the Central Valley’s economy,” said Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford). “Not only do the proposed tariffs fail to adequately remedy China’s unfair practices, such tariffs seriously jeopardize our farmers’ access to export markets, which accounts for roughly 20 percent of their production.”

“While advancing equitable trade policies between foreign nations and the United States is critical, implementing such tariffs will have a long-lasting negative impact on hardworking Central Valley farmers who are already struggling."

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John Lindt is an independent business reporter. He can be reached at sierra2thesea@gmail.com

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