Valley tourism in a megadrought: Come on down!

Various heads of assorted chambers of commerce and Ben Duran, current CEO of Carol Whiteside's Great Valley Center, local fomenter of the greatest real estate boom and financial bust in Valley history, are promoting tourism to the San Joaquin Valley.
Come on down to Megadroughtistan! Feel the land sink as giant pumps suck out deep aquifers! See the mountains rise! See the final, desperate almond blooms! See the dying Honey bee going extinct along with a host of species native to the Valley! See the wells of towns and then cities go dry as almond orchards owned by finance, insurance and real estate corporations pump on and on! Experience pesticide/fertilizer laden dust clouds first hand from inside air-conditioned buses! See the Black bears in Bakersfield and other Valley towns and county seats! See the sick and starving migrating water fowl! Read all the lyric wannabe James Agees, see the photos of all the wannabe Walker Evans, as they chronicle the misery, the misery!
Come on down to California's own Globalwarmingstan! -- blj
Modesto Bee
Summit will explore tourism in San Joaquin Valley
Promoters of tourism in the San Joaquin Valley will gather next week at a Modesto venue that’s a fine example of how to draw visitors.
The Gallo Center for the Arts will be the site Monday of the second San Joaquin River Valley Travel and Tourism Economic Summit.
At the first go-round in Turlock last year, speakers told of how the region might market its farms, rivers, arts, historical sites and other assets. The Gallo Center, which has booked hundreds of top-flight acts over its seven years, has helped show the way.
Valley tourism advocates face the perception that this is a place people need to get through quickly on their way to and from San Francisco, Yosemite National Park and other marquee attractions.
The five counties involved in the summit – from San Joaquin south to Fresno – got just 2 percent of the $109.6 billion in visitor spending statewide in 2013, according to a report by Dean Runyan Associates.
“We should be getting a larger share,” said Virginia Madueño, a former Riverbank mayor who has helped organize the summits through her public-relations firm.
Agritourism gets plenty of mention. It can range from a brief stop at a produce stand or winery tasting room to an overnight stay on a cattle ranch.
“What better area to help with that than our great San Joaquin Valley?” Madueño said.
The summit will feature a talk by Traci Ward, director of consumer marketing for Visit California, a state agency that promotes tourism. She will focus on a new campaign involving agriculture.
Bill Center, a former El Dorado County supervisor, will talk about how recreation on the American River has helped boost the local economy. Attendees also will hear a panel discussion by people from convention and visitor bureaus in the Valley.
The region might be best known for its flat cropland, but it also has hills to the east and west with ranches, parks and historical sites such as Knights Ferry. Fans of rodeos and other things Western can visit the Oakdale Cowboy Museum.
“We find that we are a great stopping place for people,” said Christie Camarillo, the museum’s executive director. “We are two hours from San Francisco and two hours from Yosemite.”
Even with just the 2 percent share, the five Valley counties had $2.6 billion in visitor spending last year, according to the Runyan report. That created an estimated 27,000 jobs and $167 million in tax revenue.
“We need to start looking at ways that we can grow and diversify our local economy in the Valley,” said Ben Duran, president of the Great Valley Center in Modesto, in a news release. “Tourism is definitely an area that we should be paying more attention to and looking at how our region can create more opportunities for job creation and expansion.”
Fans of agritourism have a new online guide from Ag Link CONNECT, a Ballico-based company that promotes local farm products. The lists agriculture-related events and other information.
Detroit's Hot New Economy: Misery Tourism
By Kevin Spak,
 (NEWSER) – Detroit's economy is famously not exactly booming, but the city does have one burgeoning industry: Tourism. Since the city declared bankruptcy, hotels tell theLA Times that they've seen more visitors coming intent on gawking at some of the city's roughly 78,000 abandoned buildings. Restaurants in Corktown, which is strategically located near an abandoned train station, confirm that, and one tour guide the paper talked to said he'd recently upgraded to a 12-seat van.
For $45, former aircraft mechanic Jesse Welter will lead visitors into derelict churches, once-luxurious high-rises, the deserted ballroom where the Who held their first US concert and more—often climbing fences or crawling on hands and knees along the way. It's technically illegal, but police say they don't mind. And visitors are impressed. "It's really a once-in-a-lifetime thing you're going to see," said one British tourist. "You can really feel the history of a city. In Europe when things become derelict, they'll demolish them." Detroit hasn't—in large part because it doesn't have the money.
Los Angeles Times
By DIANA MARCUMcontact the reporter
BusinessColumn OneCooking
Beneath this small farm town at the end of what's left of the Kings River, the ground is sinking.
Going into the fourth year of drought, farmers have pumped so much water that the water table below Stratford fell 100 feet in two years. Land in some spots in the Central Valley has dropped a foot a year.
In July, the town well cracked in three places. Household pipes spit black mud, then pale yellow water. After that, taps were dry for two weeks while the water district patched the steel well casing.
In September, the children of migrant farmworkers who usually come back to Stratford School a few weeks late, after the grape harvest, never came back at all.
By October, there were new faces in the drought relief line in front of the school, picking up boxes of applesauce, canned tomatoes, peanut butter, rice.
If rain doesn't come soon to California, cities and suburbs will survive, with maybe fewer flower beds or more expensive lettuce.

A dust devil kicks up debris as it whirls its way across a parched field on the outskirts of Stratford. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
But in Stratford — where the school has had some of the same teachers for 40 years, the auto parts store doubles as a coffeehouse and first names change but last names don't — survival isn't a given.
Even above ground, the town is sinking.
Arches at both ends of the town square spell out S-T-R-A-T-F-O-R-D in the shape of a rainbow. Years ago there was a population sign, but people argue over the last number it gave. There are about 900 people left now.
The glory days, when the arches were entrances to burger joints and gas stations for Central Valley residents driving to Pismo Beach, faded decades before the drought.
"But nothing like this," said Josh Orton, manager of the farm equipment store his great-great-grandfather started in 1906. "There's just no water."
Two doors down at Hardin's Grocery, the inventory has evaporated to a puddle of chips, drinks, tobacco and pregnancy tests near the cash register.
Customers push open the door to the dim store and its empty shelves, hollering "Hey ya, Kenny, or "Hola, Kenny" over the door chimes.
"Oye, Carnal" — "hey, dude" — the Yemeni store owner with tired eyes answers in Spanish slang.
His name is Mahmod Alrihimi, but they've been calling him Kenny for 24 years, ever since he leased the business from Mr. Hardin, who still lives in a trailer behind the grocery. ("I don't know why 'Kenny.' Maybe it is easier for them to say?")
Each day Alrihimi opens the store at 8 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. If he's really tired he'll go home a half-hour early, but people invariably knock on his door and say, "Kenny, Can you come out? We just need a bottle of milk."
He doesn't mind. He likes feeling needed.
"I really love this town. I know so many families," he said.

A man put two packages of hot dog buns and a roll of paper towels on the counter.
"Hey, Kenny, OK if I pay for these after Friday?" he asked, lowering his voice.
Alrihimi nodded. But his stomach dropped. This was a man who had never asked for credit before.
The store owner had 29 receipts that constituted the week's IOUs. On the backs of two torn-up cigarette cartons, he wrote the running accounts: the ones where they owed $34, paid $12, then charged $8.
"It's too sad to say no. I think of their kids," said Alrihimi, a father of five.
"They don't have any money. I don't have any money. We're all trying to get through little-by-little-bit."
When he has to run errands, Darlene Lacey watches the store for him. She's been helping out since her husband died 13 years ago.
Alrihimi worries about her.
that when people can't pay, she takes money out of her own pocket and puts it in the cash register," he said. "She is a very good-heart lady. But she has too little money."
Later that afternoon, when Alrihimi was at the bank, Lacey rang up two sodas for an elderly couple who asked for credit. Then she slipped $2 in the cash register.
"Kenny is hanging on by a thread," she said. "And, oh my gosh, our little town needs him."
Next door at the post office, a wall of boxes have "closed" stickers over them. They belong to families who've moved or haven't paid their bills.
The lone employee, Rick Kimball, is bending the rules and keeping mail for those still in town. ("They're working their tails off to get by. Seems like the least I can do.")
He likes learning about people by paying attention to their mail.
"The Hamiltons? Nice folks. All the women's first names start with "S" and all the men are named Tony," he said.
We're growing dirt. It's a very popular crop around here right now.- Stratford resident David Orton
Johnny Caldeira, 36, picked up a package, then leaned his elbows on the counter to chat.
"I'm beginning to feel like a bartender," Kimball, a former parole officer and truck driver, told him.
"You're the hangout spot now," Caldeira said. "There aren't any other places left."
Caldeira went to Stratford School. Most of the classmates he graduated with in eighth grade are still in town.
"Adrian teaches fourth grade, Danny's in the reserves. The Meyers — George and Charlie — farm," Caldeira said. "They just lost their grandfather, old man Meyers. I think he was 100. We just lost Mr. Henry."
His former seventh-grade teacher, William Henry, persuaded Caldeira to go to college after he returned from the war in Iraq. This month the graduate takes the test for his credentials. He wants to teach in Stratford like the man who pushed him.
"Mr. Henry used to be in the Navy before he was a teacher, so when I came back, I could actually talk to him. He had seen things too.
"At first it was, 'How you doing? When you going back to school?' Then one day he comes in, slams down a college application and says, 'Now get your ass in school before I kick it.' That's a cleaned-up version. Mr. Henry had a mouth."
Each spring, the seventh- and eighth-graders still dance around a maypole, and there's always a festa at the Portuguese Hall.
But it's the Constitution Day Parade that is really something to behold, said David Orton, Josh's father.
The Navy base in Lemoore usually sends over a jet to loop around the arches. The ROTC kids from the high school the next town over march. A couple of farmers pull kindergartners on flatbed trucks. The Ortons add a tractor and Stratford School Principal Bill Bilbo rides his motorcycle — a crowd favorite.
"There are so many people in the parade that it leaves about 20 people watching," Orton said, shaking with laughter. "And the next year, we do it again. This town has a way of holding on."
The Orton family first came to farm in Stratford in the 1800s, when they got pushed off their Lemoore land by railroad barons.

There is no coffee shop in Stratford; it, along with every other restaurant in town, went out of business years ago. Most mornings a group of farmers get together and drink coffee at the Napa Auto Parts store in the town's center. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Back then, their farm was on the edge of Tulare Lake — "the lake that once was." It had been the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi, some four and a half times bigger than Lake Tahoe. But the four Sierra rivers that flowed to the lake — the Kings, Kern, Kaweah and Tule — were dammed, diverting water that powerful landowners could own and sell. The crops for some 50 miles around Stratford grow on what would have been the bottom of a lake.
The tule fog that rises from the ground and blankets the Central Valley in a blinding thickness each winter is said to be a Yokut Indian curse that the stolen waters shall haunt this place forever.
The drought is affecting even eternal curses. There seems to be less fog each year. Farmers fear it could hurt the moisture-loving, high-value nut crops that are quickly replacing fields of alfalfa, tomatoes and cotton.
At the Ortons, they still grow row crops, but they planted only 18 of their 100 acres. Now two wells are out and they don't have water for what they planted.
"We're growing dirt," David Orton said. "It's a very popular crop around here right now."
On a Wednesday morning when the sky was still dawn-pink, Allyson Lemons and JD, her husband of 62 years, walked to the auto parts store. She carried a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.
With all the town's cafes long gone, Chris Rodriques always puts on a pot of coffee at his family's store. On Wednesdays, Allyson and JD bring cookies. Last week it was her cornflake recipe.
The couple took their place at a long table with floral-patterned dinette chairs, where a group of neighbors had already settled in.
A couple of farmers read the Wall Street Journal. Dick Newton, 67, stretched out long legs while he checked college football scores in the local paper. Newton is one of the old families by dint of his mother's side, who settled in the area in 1905. His father's family didn't come till 1911.

CAPTIONCentral Valley town hit hard by California's drought
Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
Waves of heat rise above a dried-out irrigation canal running along a road southwest of Stratford. Businesses have fled, as have many residents. The town has no gas stations, restaurants, coffee shops or even a hardware store.

skiing on the Kings River — there was water in it then — and from the far bank, Newton's brother shot an arrow at one of the Lemons' chickens. The arrow went right through the bird's neck and carried it to the front porch.
"You remember that?" Newton asked.
"Oh, do I," said Allyson Lemons. "I heard something. Came to the door. And it landed right at my feet. I cooked it up for dinner."
The Newton brother who shot the chicken is now farming marijuana on Orcas Island in Washington state, where the crop is legal.
Newton had a text from a farmer who said that 70% of his crop of pistachios were blanks — no nuts inside.
No one knew the reason for sure, but when the snows don't come and rain doesn't fall and even the fog thins, things go wrong.
On the other side of the square, Alrihimi opened for the day.
Three years ago he'd had a deli in back, with lines of field workers out the door twice a day. Now, he owed "so, so much money," he said.
The other week, a farmer had put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Kenny, when the rain comes, the money comes."

Mahmod "Kenny" Alrihimi, from Yemen, has been in business in Stratford for more than 20 years and has never seen the economy this bad. He keeps running tabs on scraps of paper for the majority of his customers. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
"I pray every day the water is coming back," he said. "I don't want to leave here."
He sat on a milk crate in the doorway of the store. Lacey pulled out a crate and joined him in the sunshine of another cloudless day.
Modesto Bee
Claudia Newcorn: Is there enough water for people and nuts?
Do almond barons put us at water risk?
Long, long ago (mid-1800s), in a land far, far away (Lake Tahoe), eager opportunists seized on what became known as “green gold.” Ancient stands of virgin timber were decimated to support mining and railroad development. Timber barons flourished, implicitly supported by Congress’ 1862 Pacific Railway Act and the 1878 Timber and Stone Act. By the end of the century, clear cutting had denuded the mountain slopes, leaving behind ragged stumps, erosion, debris – what today would be considered an environmental travesty. Timber companies abandoned the region, leaving the mess for others to clean up.
Fast forward to 2014. Now we have “almond gold.” According to a Sept. 27 article in The Bee (“Almond boom’s price,” Page A1), acreage has more than doubled in 15 years to more than 160,000 – and that’s just in Stanislaus County. Both local farmers and outside groups are investing in almond acreage, eager to capitalize on the world’s growing demand for almonds and surging prices.
Sound familiar? Is this the “green gold” boom, revisited?
Proliferating almond orchards are sucking groundwater to counteract the effects of the drought. Because the aquifer is a shared resource, many people near these orchards report their pumps sucking air as their shallower wells run dry. Meanwhile, local and county officials dither about what to do.
Throughout the lower San Joaquin Valley, there has been clear documentation of ground sinking when aquifers are depleted; once they collapse, they can never be refilled. Concurrently, when we do get precipitation, more is falling as rain than snow, and all the evidence points to an evolving climate – something California has experienced before. What happens if our cumulative precipitation is declining, further affecting the aquifers and water flows from the mountains?
But like the timber barons, the almond barons seem to shrug off these facts, many expressing outrage that there might be any water regulation at all. And when water does become limited – due to regulation and/or ongoing drought – how many of these barons will abandon the industry, possibly even their acreage, leaving locals to struggle with permanently damaged water resources? Unlike Lake Tahoe forests, aquifers won’t regrow.
Agricultural jobs are already suffering, per The Bee’s article, accompanied by a measurable decline in crop diversification. If you regard crops as analogous to the stock market, shouldn’t our agricultural portfolio be well-diversified to balance demand shifts? What happens if global almond demand scales back or prices drop due to overproduction or production moves elsewhere? We’ve seen it before, in commodities such as peaches and sugar beets.
It seems counterintuitive that the almond barons would not prefer to support smart water regulation that would ensure long-term survivability of their orchards. But then, I live in a region technically classified as an inland desert, where the concept of putting in residential water meters is a recent development. And homeowners are shrieking about not being able to have unlimited water for their lawns.
I guess the almond doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Nobody is “entitled” to unlimited water. This is a mindset that many Californians don’t want to accept, including here in Stanislaus County. Sadly, when dollars fuel decision-making, long-term risks are set aside. Unfortunately, it’s the county residents and businesses that will eventually suffer if the almond barons leave due to a water shortage they have helped create. Déjà vu anyone?
Stanislaus County’ jobless rate dips below 10 percent
jnsbranti@modbee.comOctober 17, 2014 

Foreclosure rates plunge in California
Central Valley Business Times-Oct 23, 2014






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