This week, a number of issues arose that fit in both the bravo and barb categories — the Mother Lode Fair, the start of fire season and the plight of the homeless.
The Fair — Mixed results came from last weekend's Mother Lode Fair. The community rallied in a big way around the children and teens who raised farm animals.
The Junior Livestock Auction broke last year's record, bringing in about $361,000 on the same number of animals. The Small Livestock Auction raised $37,725 from 57 animals, which was about the same as last year. Moreover, participants raised almost $10,000 for the fairgrounds by donating 26 animals for auction.
Now the bad news: The fair itself saw about a 20 percent decrease in attendance.
Fair Chief Executive Officer Ken Alstott said those are preliminary figures, but it is an early indication that something remains amiss with the Mother Lode Fair and the fairgrounds. Alstott told Union Democrat reporter Alex MacLean that he believes attendance was down because it was hot, pricing was off and people have still not gotten over the hard feelings caused by a feud between the Board of Directors and former CEO.
Well, it is usually hot in July in Sonora, so that seems like something of a false argument. And the previous problems seem to have leveled out.
Could it be the fair itself? Alstott's only nod to this idea was pricing. Did the fair cost too much? It cost $10 to get in and $10 more to attend each of the three arena events. Plus, few people have ever considered fair rides and food to be inexpensive. Taking a family to the fair could easily cost almost $200. That's not family friendly. Other fairs do not charge extra for arena events.
Alstott said the public will have an opportunity next month to talk about what they thought of the fair and to offer suggestions for improvement. Let's not lose this tradition. Share your thoughts to make it better.
Firefighting — Fire season is well underway and, as predicted, the wet weather was not a friend to firefighters. Well before the season began fire officials were warning that the rain brought more vegetation, which once the sun hit it would turn into fuel. That has certainly been the case.
As of mid-week, Cal Fire's Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit had dealt with 215 vegetation fires since May 1. Statewide, there have been an average of 500 fires a week, including a few truly devastating ones. The normal rate is 150 to 200 fires a week.
Firefighters across the state have shown once again their ability, training and shear heroism in keeping people safe. All the fires here were knocked down quickly.
But then let's consider the truly ludicrous statement of California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci that the state would not protect Forest Service lands because the federal government owed the state $18 million for fighting fires on federal lands last year.
For us here, where a vast percentage of the county is in the national forest, the threat to do nothing is simply intolerable.
But the truth is the Forest Service has paid $14 million, is in the process of sending another $2 million and wants to discuss the amount remaining. Fact checking is not just for journalists.
Homelessness — In Tuolumne County, most of the homeless congregate within the city limits of Sonora and the immediate surrounding area. Merchants say, for them, the problem is stark. Alex MacLean wrote that merchants deal with homeless people “loitering, littering, urinating on buildings, defecating on sidewalks, people passed out drunk, and drug use.”
That is graphic and real. It is estimated that between 360 to more than 540 people are homeless in Tuolumne County at any given time.
Those here who work with the homeless do great work, including the Lambert Center and Give Someone a Chance.
What Tuolumne County lacks is a unified vision for attacking this problem head on. City Council next week intends to revisit its no-camping ordinance. This is hardly an answer to this problem.
Tuolumne County needs to take a clear-headed look at its neighbor Stanislaus County, where Supervisor Terry Withrow corralled the community into a serious collaboration to treat the cause of homelessness, not its effects on others.
Called Focus on Prevention, the program has raised $1 million from private businesses and people. Once the state saw they were onto something they got $2.5 million in state funds.
Stanislaus County's first step is to build a low-barrier shelter, which means come in, find a place to live and we'll deal with drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness later.
This plan works. It's been proven in community after community across the nation. Big cities and small, even the entire state of Utah.
Homelessness is a persistent, chronic problem that must be combatted by the entire community, public, private, civic groups, churches.