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Latest News in Laton, CA

About one in five Fresno County residents live in poverty. Map shows most-impacted areas

About one out of every five Fresno County residents lived in poverty from 2016 through 2020. But in some areas, the percentage of people whose incomes fell below the poverty level was much higher.The figures represent the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which released its five-year estimates for the 2016-2020 span on March 17.This interactive map of census tracts across Fresno County can be explored to see the estimated population, plus the C...

About one out of every five Fresno County residents lived in poverty from 2016 through 2020. But in some areas, the percentage of people whose incomes fell below the poverty level was much higher.

The figures represent the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which released its five-year estimates for the 2016-2020 span on March 17.

This interactive map of census tracts across Fresno County can be explored to see the estimated population, plus the Census estimates of the number of residents in poverty, the percentage of residents in poverty, and the number of children and senior citizens living in poverty in each tract.

Countywide, the Census Bureau estimated that of more than 973,000 people for whom poverty status could be determined, about 202,300 were below poverty level, or 20.8%. California’s statewide poverty rate for 2016-2020 amounted to about 12.6%.

At the much more granular census tract level, percentages ranged from a low of almost zero in one area of Kingsburg in the southern part of Fresno County, to a high of almost 74% at and near the university campus of Fresno State in northeast Fresno.

You can find your specific Census tract number using the Census Bureau’s online geocoder search tool. Fill in the address fields, use the “benchmark” dropdown to select “Public_AR_2020,” and in the “vintage” menu select “Current_Current,” and then click the “get results” button.

On the resulting page, scroll down the bottom of the page to find the Census Tract name.

Poverty thresholds used by the Census Bureau set the poverty level for 2020 at $13,171 for a single person, $16,733 for a couple, $20,591 for a family or household of three, and $26,496 for a family of four. The threshold goes up as family size increases, to $53,905 for a family or household of nine or more people.

The 2016-2020 estimates produced by the Census Bureau are based on information collected each year by the agency’s American Community Survey, a sampling that is smaller than the broader census conducted every 10 years.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic created a much lower response rate from households, which forced the bureau to adjust the way it compiled the five-year estimates compared to previous five-year samples.

This story was originally published March 26, 2022 5:00 AM.

With more foggy days ahead, should Fresno-area schools change foggy day schedules?

Joanna Chen said memories of her car accident on the way to school on a foggy day last week remain “just a blur.”The 17-year-old Central High senior was driving on Dickenson Avenue near the school when she lost control of her car and was hit by another driver on the two-lane road.“To be honest, I don’t know who swerved first and who got into what lane,” she said. “It was just so foggy that both parties just couldn’t see what was going on.”The airbag went off, mostly protect...

Joanna Chen said memories of her car accident on the way to school on a foggy day last week remain “just a blur.”

The 17-year-old Central High senior was driving on Dickenson Avenue near the school when she lost control of her car and was hit by another driver on the two-lane road.

“To be honest, I don’t know who swerved first and who got into what lane,” she said. “It was just so foggy that both parties just couldn’t see what was going on.”

The airbag went off, mostly protecting her. Her car was totaled. The other driver was mostly OK, too, she said. The school nurse checked Chen out before she went home.

“I (had) really high blood pressure because of the accident and whatnot, but I was relatively OK,” she said. “I was like slightly woozy and then forgetful for the first 10-20 minutes.”

Chen’s accident has underscored what some Central Unified parents have been worried about so far this fall — that dense fog is making the commute to schools dangerous for bus passengers, drivers, and pedestrians. Meanwhile, administrators in the Central and Selma districts deal with balancing foggy-day schedules that serve both urban and rural students.

Meteorologists are seeing more densely foggy days this year than at least in the prior two years, according to Jeff Barlow, a senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hanford.

Barlow said after the ground was drenched with rain in late October, fog has been a problem. Fog develops from the moisture in the ground and radiates up as water vapor into the lowest 200 feet of the atmosphere. The lack of wind has also made the Valley favorable for foggy days, because it doesn’t get blown out.

Barlow doesn’t see the central San Joaquin Valley getting a break anytime soon.

“It’s already been going and it’s really hard to break out of this pattern, you know, unless you have a cold front come through and give us more rain.”

But he said even that wouldn’t work for long.

“All that does is prime the pump, you know, that just puts more water in the ground and that’s where the fog develops.”

On Facebook, some parents said the fog stayed heavy last week until late morning. Others said they pulled over to try and wait out the fog while driving to Justin Garza High School, Central High, and Central East.

Barlow said last Monday’s dense fog advisory was extended out until noon.

But Central Unified has not called foggy day schedules (which delay bus transportation) on those days, and parents feel pushed to get their students to school on time. Parents say the fog has been rolling in later in the morning after the buses are already out.

Chen said when she leaves her house in the city in the morning, it’s about a 20-minute drive to her school.

“(The fog) gets like 10 times worse once you get into the countryside,” she said, making it harder to decide if she should venture out or not.

“I knew sooner or later something would happen. Honestly, I just hope that they just take into consideration that there are students (driving) because, frankly, we don’t have a lot of experience with driving and it’s just really scary driving out in the fog.”

Some parents are calling on the district to adjust its foggy day policies so rural-area schools can delay class schedules without having to include city schools each time.

But Central Unified spokesperson Gilbert Magallon said that calling foggy day schedules for the district isn’t so easy. He said students who attend different schools are often picked up from the same stops across the 88-square-mile district.

“This means students who attend Central East High School, Central High School and Justin Garza High School may all be getting picked up from the same areas, making it challenging to call a foggy day for just one school. This is why foggy days are called districtwide.”

Like most area schools, the transportation department works with spotters, who live across the district. A supervisor checks the visibility on the way to work between 4:30 and 5 a.m., and then spotters “give distance markers that correlate with the visibility in their area, which is logged.”

If the visibility is less than 200 feet, a foggy day is called by 5:30 a.m. to get the word out on time. Buses normally begin to pick up students at 6:05 a.m.

“It may be extremely foggy in several areas, with no fog in others, but the call is made for the whole district,” the protocol reads.

Miles away in Selma, parents also are struggling with foggy day schedules, but for a different reason.

Near the end of the Selma Unified School District board meeting on Nov. 15, Interim Superintendent Marilyn Shepherd made a quick announcement that caught some parents off guard.

She said beginning after Thanksgiving break, “we will be implementing a new foggy day process here in the district where only the bus riders will be delayed, not the entire district.”

That means school will start at the regular time on foggy days, unlike in previous years. Shepherd told the board that she believes delaying instruction for everyone until 10 a.m. is not a procedure followed by most Fresno County schools.

“(In) most districts the school district starts at the regular time, just the bus riders are late,” she said. “We must have been asleep at the wheel, and my apologies for not catching it sooner.”

Shepherd told the Education Lab that, since then, she’s fielded emails from parents who are worried that students who walk or are driven to school will be placed in dangerous situations because of the fog.

“If it’s not safe for a parent to bring their child to school, of course they can be late,” she said. “They would be excused. We’re not going to penalize anybody that is delayed.”

But Shepherd said the reality is, most students live in town, where it’s less foggy. Selma Unified has two rural elementary schools, but only about 20 students get bused into the town from rural areas, she said.

If there are 500 bus riders, and about 6,000 students in the district, most of whom live within a mile of their school site, it wouldn’t make sense to delay instruction for all students, she said.

Barlow, the meteorologist, said one of the reasons it gets more foggy in the country is because of the “heat island effect,” because concrete, roads and buildings hold in more heat.

“So the temperatures in Fresno are going to be different than say the temperature in Laton or Pixley or somewhere more rural,” he said.

There’s also more vegetation, “which holds the water, (which is) a key source of fog, from the rain. So there’s trees and there’s fields and those those areas have more moisture than concrete or asphalt.”

Some parents worried bus riders might be left behind in classes if school starts on time, but Shepherd said they would have time to catch up in class, and now students have better ways to access work from home, such as Google Classroom.

“When you think about it, everybody’s losing two hours of instructional time the way it is now,” she said. “This gets them in school sooner and we can start working with them and it’s not perfect but I think for most of our kids that will be better.”

Selma Unified parents, speaking out on social media, weren’t sure that it was typical of schools to not delay their start times for all children.

A spokesperson for the Fresno County Office of Education could not say if it was the norm, but said it’s up to each school to have its own procedure.

For example, Central, Clovis and Sanger Unified begin instruction at their normal time when buses are delayed, but some rural schools, such as Caruthers and Fowler Unified, delay their start times.

Teachers in Selma are expected to be at school 30 minutes before class begins, Shepherd said, and will have to follow the new foggy day rules of arriving on time. Other staff have always had to arrive at their normal time.

Shepherd said she expects teachers and staff will arrive on time, but “if they encounter something they are to call their immediate supervisor and let them know if they’re going to be a little late. But we hope everybody will adjust their time because of the foggy weather.”

Both school administrators and meteorologists said that fog is hard to predict.

“It’s not like an evenly distributed thing, Barlow said. “It moves around and is very difficult to forecast. We try to do the best we can. We do have models available to us that show where it thinks visibilities are going to go down or fog is potentially going to develop.”

For drivers, using low beams, and rolling down the window to hear for other traffic could help navigate in poorly visible areas. Barlow said pulling over is also an option, but unlike a thunderstorm, fog lasts hours.

Many schools, whether they begin at the normal time on foggy days, or are delayed, allow for students to be excused for tardiness if the fog is making it dangerous to get to school.

“As parents, if you feel that it is not safe to drive your students to school, you may keep them home until you feel it is safe to transport them to school,” the Kingsburg Joint Union School District foggy day protocol reads. “The schools will not consider students as ‘tardy’ on Foggy Days.”

A lot of times, fog will be worse in the early morning, Barlow said, making it easier to call foggy day schedules.

“But you can’t put it in a box, you know?”

This story was originally published November 29, 2021 5:00 AM.

After a year disrupted by COVID, students grateful for in-person livestock shows at Big Fresno Fair

The first thing you notice in the livestock pavilion at the Big Fresno Fair is the sound. There are the animals, of course: The cows and goats being steered to their enclosures, the squeals of hogs less than excited about being bathed, and the blow dryers fluffing up freshly shorn sheep.But behind all that is the thrum of an excited crowd: The hurried footsteps of polished boots, the P.A. announcements calling classes of presenters to the show rings, and the cheers of proud parents.Though many of the fair’s 600,000 visito...

The first thing you notice in the livestock pavilion at the Big Fresno Fair is the sound. There are the animals, of course: The cows and goats being steered to their enclosures, the squeals of hogs less than excited about being bathed, and the blow dryers fluffing up freshly shorn sheep.

But behind all that is the thrum of an excited crowd: The hurried footsteps of polished boots, the P.A. announcements calling classes of presenters to the show rings, and the cheers of proud parents.

Though many of the fair’s 600,000 visitors may have been drawn to the fried Oreos, cinnamon buns or Smokey Robinson on the main stage, the draw for hundreds of students was the opportunity to show off their agricultural business skills at the annual livestock show and auction. And they were so glad to be back after a year nearly lost to the pandemic.

Among the more than 800 middle and high school competitors this year were Nicholas and Nathaniel Bonomi of Sanger. The 14- and 16-year-old brothers spent the last year raising steers, Bear and Jack, who they describe as docile and sweet.

“They’re affectionate, basically. They always come over to you,” said Nicholas.

“I’ve had ones that were just wild animals,” said Nathaniel. “The one I have right now, we go on walks like people walk their dog.”

The Bonomi brothers have participated in FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, since they were little kids. Their animal of choice has always been cattle, which they raise in an enclosure on their ranch alongside the family’s other cattle and rows of grapes and almonds.

FFA and its sister program, 4-H, are practically full-time jobs. Members get up early to feed their animals before school then bathe and train them almost every day, even when getting home late after chapter meetings, sports practice and other extracurricular activities. “You have to put a halter on them, then you have to walk them around in a circle,” Nicholas said. “When you show you have to have their feet in the correct spot so they look the best, so you have to set them up correctly.”

But everything changed with the pandemic. With virtual school, Nathaniel and his brother had a lot more time to spend with Bear and Jack. “I called them COVID cows,” said Nathaniel.

And they started taking them to class. “Our wifi reaches out [to the barn] so I can just kind of prop myself against my cow,” said Nathaniel. “So I’ll just be in my class laying right with him on my iPad listening to my virtual teacher.”

That may have been sweet, but last year’s fair was disappointing. Every October, it’s the culmination of the months of work these students put into their animals. Unlike this year, however, most of the 2020 fair was drive-through-only, and the livestock shows were scaled back. “It was a one-day fair,” said Nathaniel.

This year, even though the fair mandated masks in all indoor spaces, submitted employees to regular COVID-19 tests, and required all visitors to self-screen for symptoms before attending, Nathaniel said the fair felt relatively normal. “We’re back to a week long,” he said. “It feels good to be here all day long.”

“This is what it's all about,” agreed Big Fresno Fair Deputy Manager Lauri King. “Last year, it was a whole host of things, but it definitely wasn’t normal.”

Kig says many fairs shut down altogether last year, but the Big Fresno Fair worked with the county to keep the livestock events going. They were shorter—only one animal could show at a time, and only for one day—and some schools dropped out for the year. But for those schools that still participated, the events kept the kids working toward a goal.

“There is nothing that can teach you more responsibility than caring for an animal,” said King, who at one point could be seen corralling a goat that belonged to one of her three children who were also competing that day. “Athletics and school work and all of those kind of things are great things, and we want our kids to strive at whatever it is they do. But when you're responsible for the life of something else, it's a whole different level.”

The week of the competition, groups of students trot their animals out in front of judges in the middle of the pavilion, and in the wings are the enclosures where the animals eat and sleep.

That’s where Gisele Galaviz found her hogs, Chewy and Coco, two speckled canvases of black, pink and gray, lying snout to snout in the sawdust. “They're very attached to each other, so they lay right next to each other,” she laughed.

Galaviz is a 15-year-old sophomore at Central High School in Fresno. It’s her first year in FFA, so she had to learn how the animals would be judged. One category is market-readiness, how healthy and sturdy they look, and the ratio of fat to muscle on their bones. “They want the front and back views, as well as the side views, going back and forth,” she said. “And for showmanship, they like to see the way you present yourself while walking the pig.”

Most of these animals will be sold for meat or dairy at the final auction. The winners fetch the highest price. Galaviz knows all this, but she still wonders if it’ll be hard to say goodbye to Chewy and Coco. “I don’t know, it might be,” she said. “I've heard people cry, so I'm a little scared.”

These livestock-rearing programs aren’t just about the animals. Some chapters also offer classes in leadership, public speaking and plant science, as well as clubs for specialized skills like welding and wood-working.

Then there are the life skills. Joseph Ortega is a senior at Laton High School, and the 17-year-old’s first year in FFA has been challenging. He couldn’t afford a hog at first, but his chapter rallied and helped him pay for it. Then he was told he had to step up after missing a few meetings. “It was a little difficult,” he acknowledged. “I'm just glad they gave me this chance to just show, cause it's my first time and I feel good about it.”

He says he enjoyed spending these last few months with his hog, whom he named Sarah Star. “Look at where I’m at, I'm making it, I’m doing what I have to do, I feel happy for myself,” he said. It feels good “to show my parents and my family that anything is possible and I could be something in this world.”

His school didn’t participate in the fair in 2020, but he’s so glad they did this year.

After the fair, Nathaniel and Nicholas Bonomi both received awards and cash prizes for Jack and Bear. Gisele Galaviz and Joseph Ortega left the fair with ribbons for Chewy, Coco and Sarah Star.

Kings River watershed snow level falls short

Snow surveys taken during the final week of March reflected far below average water conditions.Steve Haugen, watermaster for Kings River Water Association (KRWA), reports the remaining snowpack water content in the Kings River basin is just 41% of average. Haugen, who manages the KRWA, cautioned this water year's Kings River supply is likely to not even be that high.Most of the winter and early spring storm activity has been minimal. How the remainder of this year may ultimately turn out is still up to precipitation that could ...

Snow surveys taken during the final week of March reflected far below average water conditions.

Steve Haugen, watermaster for Kings River Water Association (KRWA), reports the remaining snowpack water content in the Kings River basin is just 41% of average. Haugen, who manages the KRWA, cautioned this water year's Kings River supply is likely to not even be that high.

Most of the winter and early spring storm activity has been minimal. How the remainder of this year may ultimately turn out is still up to precipitation that could be received over the next month or two.

Haugen said the most recent storm put a blanket of 2 to 3 inches of snow over the watershed, hiding many areas that appeared bare in a prior survey. However, the latest storm will not add substantially to anticipated runoff.

A more thorough and accurate picture of the Kings River snowpack should be available early this month when results from the latest Aerial Snow Observatory (ASO) flight data from the Kings River region is expected to become available. The new ASO system is capable of measuring snow conditions in every square foot of the watershed.

"Nearly all of California and much of the U.S. West is in severe to extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor," the Associated Press reported. "Last July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked people to cut their water use by 15% compared to 2020 levels, but so far consumption is down just 6%. State reservoirs are filled far below normal levels."

Haugen added: “Snow survey results have unfortunately confirmed what we have been expecting, and that is our 28 KRWA member units with Kings River entitlements are facing still another considerably below average water supply season. Snow water content totals are at an average of just 11.9 inches. it certainly will be considerably less than our water users need.”

Hydrologists taking the April 1 snow surveys for KRWA, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the California Department of Water Resources and National Park Service found water content readings of more than 50% of average (of what would typically be their seasonal maximum) on only four courses reported as of April 1.

Surveyors would typically measure an average of 27.5 inches of water content on April 1, where this year they found just 11.9 inches of water content. Water contents of the minimal snowpack at the three lowest-elevation courses ranged from 10%-18% of the April 1 average.

With only three more survey locations to be reported, Haugen does not expect the final number to change significantly.

Best conditions were measured at the Kings River's highest snow course, 11,300-foot Bishop Lake, near the Sierra crest. It had the greatest water content, 69.3% of average for the date. Nearby Bishop Pass had the deepest snow measured, 57 inches.

“If it had not been for the drenching rains that fell in October and heavy snow produced by the atmospheric river event in December, this water year would be even more critically dry,” said Haugen. “There is a small amount of storage being carried over from last year by a few units but growers will have to rely more upon groundwater for a supply cushion.”

The Kings River service area includes 1 million acres in parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties. Although there have been two recent smaller storms, very little rain and snow has fallen over the mountains since New Year's.

Central Valley women in agriculture recognized

Souza is named — along with 11 additional Central Valley women — as a recipient of the Common Threads award from the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation and the Ag One Foundation.Both organizations are part of Fresno State University's College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology college. The objective of the Common Threads award is honoring women in agriculture "who make a philanthropic difference in their communities and the world," according to a press release."I was raised around farm...

Souza is named — along with 11 additional Central Valley women — as a recipient of the Common Threads award from the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation and the Ag One Foundation.

Both organizations are part of Fresno State University's College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology college. The objective of the Common Threads award is honoring women in agriculture "who make a philanthropic difference in their communities and the world," according to a press release.

"I was raised around farming," she said, explaining her parents worked on various dairy farms in the area when she was growing up.

She moved to Hanford in 1980 when she married her husband, Leonard.

"He was in a partnership with his parents and he decided to go out on his own," she said of her husband, with whom she's been married for 42 years.

"I like to say, 'We had 80 acres and a shovel.' I did my share of chopping cotton, and whatever was necessary to make our farm grow," Souza said. "We managed to do it."

In 1984, she gave birth to twins: Brandon and Chad. Soon, she became involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA).

Along with her husband, she helped start the Kings River 4-H club.

"Then, when my boys went on to high school, we stayed involved in 4-H and transitioned to FFA," she said.

Brandon went on to graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, while Chad graduated from Fresno State.

"The whole [ag] program was a wonderful opportunity for my children and my husband...who was always involved with [4-H]," Souza continued. "But for me it was a new experience."

She and her husband recently retired, after farming for nearly four decades — mostly walnut orchards.

"Ag is the backbone of our community," she said. "I think whatever we did for the community pales compared to what the industry has done for us. We're just blessed — anything that we've done has come back to us three times over."

Souza expressed gratitude to Ag One and the Ag Leadership foundations for recognizing her — along with 11 other Central Valley women — for their contributions to agriculture and their communities.

"You know, this valley feeds the world," she said, acknowledging water shortages and other issues that are setbacks for Central Valley farmers and ranchers. "Ag has always been able to rise to the occasion.

"Ag is the core, and people I've been involved with are just the salt of the earth," Souza said. "I have no doubt that ag will continue, but just in a different manner."

As for the Common Threads award, Souza said she was taken aback by the news.

"I'm truly honored," she said, attributing most of her success in ag to hard work.

"When you're a farmer...there's always work to be done," Souza said. "Hard work. Dedication. It's a way of life — farming."

She quickly returns to youth groups, family and neighbors as vital to the success of farmers.

"4-H, FFA, the community," she said. "It's all people in ag. We know each other. You just feel that support and camaraderie."

Harkening back to childhood, when she first relocated to the Central Valley, Souza expressed her views about the benefits of raising children in an agricultural home and region devoted to hard work.

"I feel very strongly that it starts at home," she said. "I think, with the farm community, there's a lot of work to be done. It instills in [children] a work ethic."

Twelve women have been selected as the 2022 honorees for the Common Threads Award. These San Joaquin Valley women have strong agricultural backgrounds and are active participants in their communities through philanthropic endeavors and community service.

Common Threads Award recipients for 2022 are:

"We're so very delighted to be honoring these women from the Central Valley," said Alicidia Gomes, executive director of Ag One. "They have done so much to contribute to our community, whether it's time, talent or treasure."

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