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Latest News in Santa Rita Park, CA

The fastest growing school districts in Central Texas may surprise you

LIBERTY HILL, Texas (KXAN) — On the first day of school for Liberty Hill Independent School District, the line to pick up students snaked around Santa Rita Middle School’s parking lot and onto the street.“It’s the first day, and so it’s trying to get things smoothed out, but so far, so good,” said Alex Vu, who was there to pick up his son.Amanda Major went inside to pick up her daughter, who started attending the school last year.“Last year, when we started dropping her off at sc...

LIBERTY HILL, Texas (KXAN) — On the first day of school for Liberty Hill Independent School District, the line to pick up students snaked around Santa Rita Middle School’s parking lot and onto the street.

“It’s the first day, and so it’s trying to get things smoothed out, but so far, so good,” said Alex Vu, who was there to pick up his son.

Amanda Major went inside to pick up her daughter, who started attending the school last year.

“Last year, when we started dropping her off at school, you could actually get through the pickup line. And then as the year progressed, it just kept getting bigger and bigger. It’s crazy,” Major said.

The school is one example of growth in the district. It opened last year to accommodate 900 students and is already being expanded to accommodate 400 more, according to the superintendent.

“It literally just boomed overnight, you know,” said Vu, who moved to the area two years ago.

“As far as the students who showed up, we’re about 8,100 students,” said Steve Snell, Liberty Hill ISD superintendent. “We ended last year with 7,100 students. So, when you take away the students who graduated last year, we have about 1,400 new Panthers at Liberty Hill this year.”

According to KXAN data, the district has been growing at one of the fastest rates in our viewing area over the past decades at 149%. It trails only behind Jarrell ISD, growing at 186%. For comparison, Austin ISD’s enrollment has decreased 14% during the same time.

Snell said the school district currently has 13 ongoing construction projects, funded by the nearly $500 million bond passed last year, and there will be more.

“[It] takes about two years to build an elementary school from start to finish. So, we’re trying to stay ahead on the school build,” he said.

He said they now have eight schools, and by 2025, he expects to have at least 12.

So, who’s moving here?

Snell said their demographic data for this school year isn’t available, yet, but in the past, they’ve found families are flocking to Liberty Hill, because they like the community and school district and for job opportunities.

“About one in three were moving from California for tech jobs. One in three were moving from other metropolitan areas in Texas or other states like the Midwest or Florida. And a third were moving from Travis County,” Snell explained.

Katie Amsler, spokesperson for the City of Liberty Hill, said they’re expecting more neighbors.

“We’ve actually had 1,500 new home starts since February, we have five to 6,000 more homes in the works, along with 16 multifamily complexes,” Amsler said.

She said they’re working on infrastructure, like expanding their wastewater treatment plants and preparing to dig four new water wells.

Major moved to the city two years ago after returning to Texas from Cambodia.

“I think ultimately, growth is a good thing. It brings in more people it brings in more businesses. I just wish we could figure out the traffic thing,” she said.

Dublin Council Selects District Draft Map; Asks For Revisions

The Dublin City Council asked to see a revised version of Map 112 before they make a final decision in August. DUBLIN, CA — The Dublin City Council voted Tuesday on one district map out of 15 possible selections, but asked that demographer Kristen Parks present them with a modified version of the selected map before they make a final decision at the final public hearing on Aug. 16. The map will be included in an ordinance and a resolution on which the council will vote.In February, the ...

The Dublin City Council asked to see a revised version of Map 112 before they make a final decision in August.

DUBLIN, CA — The Dublin City Council voted Tuesday on one district map out of 15 possible selections, but asked that demographer Kristen Parks present them with a modified version of the selected map before they make a final decision at the final public hearing on Aug. 16. The map will be included in an ordinance and a resolution on which the council will vote.

In February, the city voted to transition to a district-based election system starting in 2024 after receiving a letter from a law firm accusing the city of a “racially polarized” at-large voting system. Pleasanton and Livermore received similar letters, and have also transitioned to district-based elections. California law requires the following of districts, in descending order of importance:

Districts must also not have a difference in population of more than 10 percent.

At the fourth of five required public hearings, council members submitted their top three choices of 15 draft maps that meet the population requirements - some created by professional demographers, and some by the public. More recent demographic maps took public comments from an extensive public outreach campaign and incorporated them into new maps.

After some discussion, council members gave a preliminary nod to Map 112, which was one of the maps submitted by a resident using an online mapping tool.

As the map currently stands:

All districts except District 3 extend from the city’s northern to southern border.

Council members asked Parks of the National Demographics Corporation to bring them back a revised version of 112 that moves a trapezoidal offshoot east of Village Parkway from District 1 to District 2 due to concerns that it would unnecessarily break up the neighborhood. Council members also wanted to give more population to District 2, where Santa Rita Jail and FCI Dublin are located.

Parks said that the trapezoid contained over 1,000 residents and could shift the population deviation between districts, but said she would bring back a modified draft for consideration.

“I think it would be good for us to bring back a revision because I think it’s important for us to see the population because Santa Rita Jail’s in number 2,” City Manager Linda Smith said.

“We understand it’s going to make District 2 significantly higher than the rest. We want to know how significantly higher it’s going to go if we put that triangle in there,” Vice Mayor Josey said. “I wouldn’t tweak the east side and see what happens. If you come back and tell us it puts us out of compliance, we go, okay, but we want to see it happen.”

Only Councilmember Shawn Kumagai listed Map 112 as his top choice, though he was also the first to question the trapezoid east of Village Parkway.

“I was a little concerned about the little chunk on District 1 east of Village Parkway,” he said. “Curious what folks think about it breaking up that neighborhood - Village Parkway north of Amador Valley Boulevard area right there. That seemed a little odd to me to cut it there. You’re putting the high school in there, but all that area around the high school adjacent to it is in a different district.”

Before Kumagai, Mayor Hernandez, Vice Mayor Josey and Councilmember McCorriston all listed the district as their second choice, making it the most consistently mentioned option.

“The things that I like about 112 are the low variance and the compactness - it keeps west Dublin together,” Josey said. “District 2 keeps most of Echo Park with the area that Shawn was concerned about with Lake Drive and Stagecoach and that area. It keeps Camp Parks intact with the boulevard, it spreads out the commercial a little bit as well.”

Three callers voiced support for map 113, while another voiced support for maps 110 and 111. Callers expressed the desire to keep west Dublin in a single district, and to have at least one minority majority district, among other concerns.

Council members listed their top 3 choices. Click on the links to view the map, and see detailed demographic statistics for each district.

Councilmember1st Choice2nd Choice 3rd Choice
Mayor Melissa HernandezGreen112Pink
Vice Mayor Jean JoseyGreen112Pink
Councilmember Sherry HuGoldPink113
Councilmember Shawn Kumagai112GreenPink
Councilmember Michael McCorriston111112113

Council members also unanimously agreed to accept an election sequencing proposal that would place Districts 1 and 3 up for re-election in 2024, and Districts 2 and 4 up for re-election in 2026. If Map 112 is accepted, Josey and McCoriston will compete to represent District 1 (where they both reside), and Hu will compete to stay in District 3. In 2026, Kumagai will compete to represent District 2, and District 4 will be vacant.

For more information on the district election process, including all draft maps and the history of the process, see the city’s district elections website. To watch the hearing, fast forward to 44 minutes here.

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Santa Rita Hills Lavender Farm in Lompoc is about family and sustainability

Spotlight Mother-and-son duo Denise and Lucas Neumann traded Los Angeles city living for more open spaces to pursue Denise’s dreams of running a farm. During her time in the city, she became a master gardener and taught people how to make edible gardens in their backyards, but she wanted something more, Lucas said. “We were always coming up to the Santa Rita Hills area because [my mom] loved the wine country and agricultural places,” he said. “We came up here and found a beaut...

Spotlight

Mother-and-son duo Denise and Lucas Neumann traded Los Angeles city living for more open spaces to pursue Denise’s dreams of running a farm. During her time in the city, she became a master gardener and taught people how to make edible gardens in their backyards, but she wanted something more, Lucas said.

“We were always coming up to the Santa Rita Hills area because [my mom] loved the wine country and agricultural places,” he said. “We came up here and found a beautiful 8.5 acre piece of property with no drip line, basically just weeds. [But] we thought it had good bones and tried to do something here.”

The two started planting lavender for essential oils, and now have more than 3,000 plants.

“We have an acre of lavender for essential oil and then another acre for culinary lavender. We decided on that because my mom loves lavender and it’s great for the Mediterranean climate,” he said.

After creating a stronger infrastructure and better harvesting system, the family began a soft launch of the Santa Rita Hills Lavender Farm where people can take tours of the property and buy essential oils and lavender bundles to take home. The grand opening is scheduled for July 2023, but because of the plants’ rapid growth, they decided to open early, Lucas explained.

“It’s pretty amazing, and we couldn’t not let people come out and see the lavender,” he said. “We had such a great full bloom, so we upped our schedule but we still felt it was appropriate to say our grand opening will still be July 2023. So far, people have enjoyed it immensely.”

The tour starts in the front of the farm with the field meant for essential oils, then loops through the pomegranate hedge where there are 50 pomegranate trees with five varieties—which will eventually be used for pomegranate juice and kombucha. A hedge line of rosemary is for essential oil and herb bundles, and there are also crab apple trees for jams, vinegars, and kombuchas, he explained.

“I then take people through a more in-depth tour of the upper field because of the 65 different varieties of dahlias, three different varieties of culinary lavender, and then the last one is three different types of sunflowers,” Neumann said.

At the end, people can visit the animal pen where they can feed the goats and sheep—which also play a role in weeding the property and creating natural fertilizers for the plants. He tells groups that the farm is completely sustainable and regenerative through all its methods with every plant or animal having a purpose.

“For my mom, it’s always been a part of how she’s been a gardener or farmer. She’s always been interested in using the minimum of resources. When she did edible gardens, she learned about waste beds, and recycling water, harvesting water in the easiest, and the most effective ways of growing. ... She doesn’t know how to do it another way,” he added.

Eventually, the farm will include beehives to harvest lavender honey and sell more products on-site, but for now Lucas said he hopes people come visit the farm and explore its website to find class opportunities and other on-site events.

“I think our farm in and of itself is a very relaxing place. It’s secluded off the freeway, outside the hustle and bustle of cars driving by. Lavender adds a calming, soothing aroma to the property as a whole,” he said. “As we are here longer and trees get more established and plants get more acclimated, we hope to have the entire field covered in flowers, almost to the point where there isn’t a place you can walk without something beautiful just blooming.”

The farm is located at 1900 Tularosa Road. Tours cost $10, and people can visit the front area of the farm for free. Visit goldenstateapothecary.com, or explorelompoc.com for more information.

Highlight

• Tri-County Regional Energy Network (3C-REN)—a partnership between Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties that delivers energy-saving programs—is partnering with participating Santa Barbara and Ventura county libraries to provide electric-powered magnetic induction cooktops that local residents can check out and use at home. Included with the portable cooktop is an induction-compatible cooking pan and information in both English and Spanish about cooking with induction. Induction cooking benefits include faster, more precise heating and easier to control temperature, and it eliminates indoor air pollution from gas appliances. Residents can use the cooktop to test a variety of recipes and return it to the library when finished. To learn more about the cooktops, other energy-saving tools, and find a participating library, visit 3C-REN’s Home Energy Savings online at 3c-ren.org/diy-toolkit.

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at toconnor@santamariasun.com.

Historic Forty Acres near Delano would be part of farmworker leader national park

The historic Forty Acres site near Delano would become part of the César E. Chávez and the Farmworker Movement National Historical Park under proposed legislation by Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Raúl Ruiz of Palm Desert.Forty Acres served as the headquarters of the United Farm Workers movement when it was purchased in 1966. The site hosted growers who signed a historic labor agreement with the UFW in 1970.The proposal – which has the backing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Arizona Congressmen Raúl G...

The historic Forty Acres site near Delano would become part of the César E. Chávez and the Farmworker Movement National Historical Park under proposed legislation by Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Raúl Ruiz of Palm Desert.

Forty Acres served as the headquarters of the United Farm Workers movement when it was purchased in 1966. The site hosted growers who signed a historic labor agreement with the UFW in 1970.

The proposal – which has the backing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Arizona Congressmen Raúl Grijalva and Rubén Gallegos – would add the César E. Chávez National Monument in Keene and the Santa Rita Center in Arizona to the historical park.

The legislation would add McDonnell Hall in San José upon a written agreement by the property owner.

The plan, which was announced in a press statement released on Thursday (June 9), would also designate the 300-mile march route that farmworkers took from Delano to Sacramento in 1966 as a National Historic Trail.

Establishing the park, said Padilla, “will pay proper homage to a Latino icon and civil rights leader who fought tirelessly for the dignity, respect, and equal treatment of farmworkers and to the movement he created that carries on today.”

“Our country is special because of our diversity and our never-ending endeavor for justice – yet our park system does not adequately preserve the full culture and diverse legacy of all Americans,” said Padilla.

Ruiz, who grew up the son of farmworkers in the Coachella Valley, said Chávez’s story “still inspires and motivates me even today.”

“It is crucial that we amplify the stories of communities whose history too often gets left untold,” said Ruiz.

The legislation, said Paul Chávez, son of the farmworker leader and president of the César Chávez Foundation, would be more than a tribute to his father.

“Just as important, it would recognize all the women and men who helped create and shape the movement,” said Chávez. “It would teach Americans from all walks of life about what transformational leaders and activists could achieve in their struggle for civil rights and justice.”

UFW President Teresa S. Romero called the effort “a small token of appreciation to the thousands of farmworkers who have harvested the foods on our table.”

“It is crucial that our national parks represent the diversity of America and respect the rich heritage of all of its people,” said Romero.

Gallego, the Arizona Congressman, praised the legislation.

“Throughout our nation’s history, farmworkers and immigrant communities have played vital roles in growing our country and building the prosperity we’ve come to know,” he said. “It is important that our National Park system reflect their important role and that Latino leaders like César Chávez are commemorated for their efforts.”

Esta historia fue publicada originalmente el 9 de junio de 2022 3:53 pm.

Bay Area inmates build furniture for people coming out of homelessness

After seven years of homelessness and an arrest that landed him behind bars, 50-year-old Raymond Abels never dreamed he’d be in a position to help others struggling to overcome life on the streets.As part of a new 15-inmate vocational training program at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Abels volunteers several days a week putting together furniture for people in need. The finished pieces – desks, dressers, nightstands and more – are distributed by the Bay Area Furniture Bank to people and families transitioning ou...

After seven years of homelessness and an arrest that landed him behind bars, 50-year-old Raymond Abels never dreamed he’d be in a position to help others struggling to overcome life on the streets.

As part of a new 15-inmate vocational training program at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Abels volunteers several days a week putting together furniture for people in need. The finished pieces – desks, dressers, nightstands and more – are distributed by the Bay Area Furniture Bank to people and families transitioning out of homelessness.

To Abels, who is awaiting sentencing on a conviction for stealing cars, the chance to take this small step toward giving back and turning his life around is a “small miracle.” He gets emotional when he talks about it.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s definitely something I needed.”

Santa Rita Jail started the program six months ago as a way to break the cycle of incarceration for the people who come right back to jail, sometimes just months after being released, said Joe Vu, one of two sheriff’s deputies who spearhead the program. The idea is that volunteering to help the community helps inmates’ mental health, work ethic and desire to improve their lives. Participants currently build furniture, wash cars owned by county workers, and do maintenance and groundskeeping at the jail, but the deputies hope to expand to include more volunteer jobs. The program can accommodate just 15 people now — all of whom volunteer for the opportunity — but Deputy Lance Thomas estimates there are 100 inmates interested in participating.

Once inmates are released, Thomas and Vu continue working with them, helping them navigate finances, job hunts and other difficult aspects of the re-entry into society – all with the goal of reducing recidivism.

“Now when they’re released, they’re not going to just be ‘see you later, see you in six months,’” Vu said.

The training program begins as the jail reels from several challenges. Earlier this year, a federal judge approved a settlement that will force Santa Rita to improve its mental health care under court oversight. A recent lawsuit accuses jail staff of failing to properly supervise inmate Jonas Park’s withdrawal from opioids, resulting in his suicide. It was the second lawsuit filed in a month over concerns about the health and safety of inmates at Santa Rita.

The partnership with Santa Rita Jail also comes at a key time for the Bay Area Furniture Bank, a South Bay nonprofit founded in 2016 by Ray Piontek. Prior to the pandemic, Piontek relied on people donating furniture – especially hotels that offered up entire floors’ worth of items when they remodeled. When he needed to fill in the gaps in donations, Piontek would buy items in bulk from Wayfair or Ikea, and have volunteers from local schools and other organizations assemble them.

But when COVID hit, hotels shut down and canceled renovation projects, resulting in a huge drop in donations.

“We had to buy furniture like a son of a gun,” Piontek said.

And the group had fewer people to help assemble that furniture, as fears of the virus made volunteers reluctant to venture out.

The furniture bank serves an average of 74 households per month, making sure they have essential furniture when they’re moved off the street or out of a shelter and into their own homes. During the first six months of the pandemic, demand for furniture more than doubled as officials rushed to get people off the streets, out of crowded shelters and into housing.

“We come in and there’s their clothing in a garbage bag and that’s all they have to store their clothing,” Piontek said. “How many times have we seen people just sleeping on the floor? If you’re going to sit somewhere, you’re sitting on a box.”

For 34-year-old James Chantler, the furniture bank’s help was “huge.” Chantler, a Navy veteran, was living in a homeless shelter until he found a low-income apartment in San Jose last month. The furniture bank gave him a desk, microwave, dresser, lamps, cleaning supplies, pots and pans, sheets and more.

“Getting this is a big relief,” he said. “Money’s been really tight, so not having to divvy out what little resources I have on those sorts of things … I’m just really grateful for everything that I’ve been offered here.”

Chantler, who lives off $150 a month in government benefits, is hoping to find part-time work and go back to school to become a park ranger.

On a recent morning, Abels and several other men put together nightstands in an outdoor courtyard at Santa Rita, while shots from deputies’ target practice rang out in the distance.

Abels, who has been in jail for two months, had been homeless since 2015 when he got involved in a toxic relationship and spiraled into bad habits and addiction that cost him his job managing a coffee shop and his Pleasanton condo. He was living in a trailer on the side of the road in Oakland when he was arrested.

Joseph Sanseverino, 43, has been locked up off and on since he was 13, mostly for drug-related charges. He’s in Santa Rita now awaiting sentencing on a federal drug-dealing charge. Sanseverino is adamant this will be his last time behind bars. His work with the vocational program has helped him keep his eyes on that goal.

“Working on doing this is helping me focus on what I need to do,” he said, “which is work and stay busy doing the right things.”

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