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Bipartisanship, fentanyl and housing crisis topics at Turlock Government Night
Turlock Government Night 1
Congressman John Duarte talks at the Turlock Government Night event, hosted by Supervisor Vito Chiesa, on Wednesday. Along Duarte were Mayor Amy Bublak, Assemblymember Juan Alanis and state Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

Elected officials at all levels addressed issues that ran the gamut from drug overdoses to water storage to housing plans at a political forum in Turlock Wednesday night.

For more than a decade, Stanislaus County District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa has hosted the annual event — Turlock Government Night — that brings representatives to the people in a convenient, one-stop shopping format.

On the panel were Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak; state Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil, D-Jackson; Assemblyman Juan Alanis, R-Modesto; and Rep. John Duarte, R-Hughson. Also on hand was Bob Phelan, field representative for Rep. Tom McClintock, the eight-term Congressman who now represents part of Turlock. Chiesa served as moderator.

Turlock Government Night 2
Assemblymember Juan Alanis talks with members of the public at the Turlock Government Night event on Wednesday (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

The common theme of Wednesday’s event was “bipartisanship.” Turlock’s local, state and federal representatives seemed to sense that now, more than ever, elected officials of all stripes need to come together to craft meaningful legislation.

“It hasn’t always been that way in my time on the board, but the relationship that we have now between our local elected officials at the state and federal level is the best it’s ever been, in my opinion,” said Chiesa, whose term expires in January 2025. “We’ve always gotten along at our level, but that’s not where the work is done. We never give enough credit to the folks that are actually doing it — our staffers. We need them to communicate continually. I’m very proud of the way this turned out tonight.”

A crowd of about 100 gathered in the Carnegie Arts Center’s Loft Room — with more attending virtually — to hear the elected officials deliver prepared remarks before taking questions from the audience.

Duarte, a fourth-generation farmer and a member of the House Agriculture Committee, was asked about water storage in the Central Valley.

Turlock Government Night 4
Mayor Amy Bublak talks with Congressman John Duarte at the Turlock Government Night event held at the Carnegie Arts Center on Wednesday (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

“Let me give a big shout-out for water storage,” said Duarte. “We look back in history … no great society has ever been built without water and no great society can ever continue to grow without growing water resources. So, the fact we haven’t built water infrastructure in 40 years is just a blemish on our whole history here in this area. This is an area that has a wonderful heritage in water infrastructure and investment.”

Alanis and Alvarado-Gil spoke frequently about solving state problems by being willing to listen to those on the other side of the aisle. 

“This really is the crux of public service: serving the people and not the party,” said Alvarado-Gil. “Assemblyman Alanis and I, from the get-go, aligned on public safety issues and took on some very bold Assembly and Senate bills in the Capitol.”

Addressing public safety, Chiesa pointed out that in 2018, 10 people died in Stanislaus County from fentanyl overdose, while that number climbed to 127 in 2022.

“It’s very frustrating for those in law enforcement,” said Alanis, still officially a sergeant with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department. “We used to have what we called ‘felony hooks,’ where it used to be a felony to be in possession of some of these drugs that are now misdemeanors.

“Some think that by lowering these crimes, decriminalizing, that they’re helping low-income areas, areas that are underserved, but they’re actually hurting them the most.”

Turlock Government Night 3
State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil talks with Manuel Jimenez of La Familia behavioral health services at Turlock Government Night (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

Bublak, for the most part, was reserved in her comments, pointing out that she has the annual State of Turlock address coming up on May 19. However, she was pressed by former Turlock City Councilmember Andrew Nosrati on development.

“Currently, the city of Turlock only has 11 percent of its land that’s allowed for mixed-use and high-density,” Nosrati began. “It’s very clear that these development patterns are contributing to a housing crisis and an economy that isn’t able to support itself. Do you recognize your responsibility and your opportunity in making modifications to the land-use allowances and its connection to affordability and sustainability to our community?”

Bublak said the council will be opening discussions of the city’s general plan soon, and the issue will be raised then.

“Everything comes to us from our staff,” she said. “We don’t necessarily get to alter what they’re doing. They work for the city manager, not for us. … I am one-fifth of that (city council) vote to make any of those changes and I’ll be open to hearing some ideas.”

Also in attendance Wednesday were Turlock City Councilmember and vice-mayor Pam Franco, Turlock City Manager Reagan Wilson, Stanislaus County District 5 Supervisor Channce Condit, Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes, and Turlock Irrigation District board president Michael Frantz, among others.