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Waiting for the heroes

POSTED August 23, 2011 9:25 p.m.

Have you ever watched a horror movie and wondered why the townspeople never decide to just get out of dodge before the monsters arrive at their doorsteps? I have.

In the 2004 movie “Van Helsing,” a Romanian village is consistently visited by vampires and a mad scientist who creates a giant creature made out of corpses lives just outside of town. Whenever I see this show I find myself shouting, “Move away! Just pack your bags and head west!” Of course, they never do — but, then again, what would a monster movie be without victims?

At times, I have the same feeling about living in the Central Valley. Here is why:

— We are in the middle of an air alert because the high ozone levels put the Valley at risk for exceeding health standards.

— Asthma is a serious and growing epidemic that disproportionately affects school-age children in the San Joaquin Valley.  An estimated 157,000 (15.8 percent) children and adolescents ages 0-17 in the San Joaquin Valley have been diagnosed with asthma, according to a study done by the Central California Children’s Institute, Central California Center for Health and Human Services, and the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State.

— The Modesto Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Turlock, Denair, and the surrounding communities, has placed in the top three spots for having the highest auto thefts per capita over the past few years, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which tracks auto thefts.

— In Stanislaus County, 0.8 percent of jobs were lost in 2011, with near 17 percent of the population unemployed, according to the Economic Development Department.  The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent.

— The California State University system has decreased enrollment by 10,000 students this fall, increased tuition 26 percent, reduced personnel, and engaged in other cost cutting measures to cut $500 million from its budget this year. And the cuts aren’t over yet.

This is just the short list. When the Valley’s faults are listed like that, it makes you want to rent a U-Haul and keep driving east until the air gets clear and the bread lines are no longer visible. Before you pull the kids out of school and cancel the cable service, let’s take another look.

Yes, the air is bad but there are things we can do to make it better. Driving less and using air-friendly transportation isn’t just a good idea during an air alert, it’s the environmentally right thing to do. Maybe because we’re the most at risk, we’ll lead the nation in living “greener” lifestyles and the number of children suffering from asthma will plummet.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” — or so the old saying goes. And the Valley is definitely in need of economic development. There are Valley businessmen and women right now taking advantage of cheaper construction and rent costs to launch their entrepreneur dreams. If only 1 percent of those new businesses survive and thrive, it could mean a world of difference in local employment and tax revenues.

Once the Valley’s unemployment rate falls in line with the national average, I believe we’ll see a drastic decrease in the number of stolen cars. There will always be criminals, but normally upstanding citizens will sometimes do the unthinkable in order to feed their families. These thieves of circumstance will walk the right path, if able.

The drastic cuts in higher education are a direct result of the financial crisis the State of California finds itself in. California can, once again, be the Golden State of college education when the economy turns the corner and painful cuts are no longer required to avoid bankruptcy. The people of this state have a desire for knowledge that will not be suppressed for long. 

So, while the Central Valley definitely is no paradise, it is a work in progress and an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for human ingenuity and a spirit of progress to bring about the new gold rush, dotcom boom or medical breakthrough.

Let us not forget that the Valley is also a world leader in agriculture. California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables — the majority of which are grown in the Valley.

Being a resident in one of the country’s most fruitful lands is amazing. The Valley didn’t start out that way. It took the determination and hard work of Valley residents to transform a dry wasteland into an agricultural giant. The descendants of those visionaries are the same people who serve on local government boards, own businesses and teach our children.

So while the monsters may be at our doorsteps, the heroes are not far behind.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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