By C.J. Barbre
The final head count was about 40 people in attendance for an "ABC-30 Listens" community meeting on Aug. 24 at Lindsay City Hall.
It was a stellar gathering with two representatives from the Tulare County Board of Supervisors including District 1 Supervisor Allen Ishida and District 5 Supervisor Jim Maples, both looking TV dapper in dark jackets and ties. There were representatives from TCAG, HHSA, Porterville Adult Care and the county library system. From the City of Lindsay there was the mayor, vice mayor, chief financial officer, superintendent of schools, representatives of the hospital board, the cultural arts council, and a bunch of staffers. And there were private citizens.
"We're here to find out what's happening in Lindsay and come away with a lot of stories," News Director Joel Davis said. He gave the example of a story they covered in Fresno where closing off alleyways dramatically decreased crime. "TV gets a bad rap for covering crime way too much." Davis said this was a great venue for finding other stories.
Also visiting from KFSN-TV Fresno was South Valley Bureau Chief Subha Ravindhran and ABC 30 General Manager Eric Lerner.
Ravindhran said she was responsible for covering "everything" in the South Valley, from crime to new development. "You guys are literally the big leader. There is an amazing grant writer in the city … Sweet Brier Plaza and the new sports complex … I think what we can do for you guys is show the South Valley, 'Look what Lindsay is doing' so they say, 'We can get the same stuff.' My goal is to have my number on your speed dial," Ravindhran said. Lerner said they were there, "because we're tired of getting beat by the Sun-Gazette all the time," whereupon this reporter jumped up and did a little victory dance. Lerner said they got fantastic response from the coverage they did on the development of and activities taking place at Sweet Brier Plaza. "It's one of the important stories you will see on Channel 30." He added he was impressed with the turnout at this meeting.
Mayor Ed Murray was invited to give an overview. He reeled off the stats in double time.
Population: Lindsay has grown dramatically with 11,000 plus citizens, 78% Hispanic; the city measures 2.5 square miles; it has had three recent annexations (the first in 14 years) with another in the works for 120.6 acres.
General Plan: Small town atmosphere, compact, not spreading west of Highway 65; in last 6-7 years the city has repaired and replaced infrastructure including a new 4.5 million gallon water storage tank, new sewage treatment facility, new water lines; citizens passed a tax in the last two years to upgrade every road in a 10-year time frame. The city recently put in 4.5 miles of sidewalks, curbing and gutters.
"We want new business to come in but we're looking to 2006, after the downtown streets are repaired. A couple of buildings need to be taken down and a couple restructured," Murray explained.
Growth: New subdivisions include 700 homes and 61 apartments with another apartment complex in the works for an additional 132 apartments. Higher end housing is at long last available so residents can move up without moving out.
Health: McDermot Field House, a vacant packing house for 15 years, is being turned into a multi-faceted sports facility, modeled after Chelsea Piers in New York City. Several medical labs are talking to the city about taking space in the former Lindsay Hospital. The golf course is being redone, or revitalized with new trees, new irrigation system and possibly a new clubhouse.
Art and literature: The new downtown library will be under construction soon along with several retail business and homes on the same parcel. Cultural arts is developing a museum and gallery next to city hall, in the historic California bungalow/craftsman style Mason House and the mediterranean style Lindsay Library.
Environment: The Lindsay Department of Public Safety has gotten their first hybrid vehicle with more on the way. The city is getting a refuse truck that runs natural gas. These vehicles were causing a lot of excitement on a couple of fronts. "We will be cutting-edge in the country, the only police department with such cars," Lindsay Finance Director Kenny Walker said. "Our citizens get the benefit of an entire new police fleet for 11 cents on the dollar."
Murray said they still had to figure out how to outfit the Toyota Highlander SUVs for police duty. Grant writer Kindon Meik said their grant writing was "very creative. At the time there was no such vehicle on the market. We submitted the grant almost two and a half years ago. And in gas it is estimated we will save $2,300 to $2,500 per vehicle per year."
Walker said they were originally looking at a Ford hybrid. "The reason funds were available was air quality," he said. "But the police did not like driving anything with 'Escape' written on it."
"How come Lindsay has money and the county doesn't?" A red haired woman demanded.
"The state took ours," Supervisor Maples responded.
"We mapped out every single street," Murray said. "The citizens were willing to tax themselves and trust us. It's not from the county or the state where we get relatively zip."
Transportation: Supervisor Ishida said the county is looking into light rail to connect Valley towns, which needs to be done now or routes will be lost to development. "We have some existing routes and need to plan now for light rail to connect the east side to Visalia and Tulare." He said the county was addressing mental health issues with meetings all over the county, but there was a problem getting people to Porterville or Visalia for mental health services. "Like Lindsay we're looking down the road 30 years. That's why Lindsay is successful."
Representatives from TCAG (Tulare County Association of Governments) a regional planning agency, joined the fray. "Even as we're looking at how to fix the roads today, we look 40-50 years down the line. Lindsay is proof of why you plan. Just through TCAG alone Lindsay has gotten $4- to $5 million over a seven-year period." He said for a half million matching funds they got back millions. "They hit a home run for air quality."
Lindsay Unified School District Superintendent Janet Kleigl said the school district got a couple of electric cars instead of the old trucks custodians had been using. They also got three brand new buses that run on natural gas. "We got $35,000 buses for $10,000."
Education: "The schools have lots of human interest stories," Kleigl said. They have on-site mental health for children; they are one of five sites for father involvement on children 0-5 years, a study being done from Berkeley; the dual language immersion program has eighth graders fluent in Spanish. She said it's grant funded. The kids even took a summer field trip to a school in Mexico.
"I'm aware of several kids in our district in the 97th to 99th percentile testing in Spanish as a second language," Meik said.
Pastor Paul Leavens said the after school program which has about 400 kids, is very successful. "I've seen attitudes change. They become goal oriented and take care of themselves and their homework," he said.
The after school program director stepped up to pass out brochures. She said they were in their seventh year offering homework assistance and academic support. She said the three-hour program times 180 school days added up to an additional 90 days of school. The program recently received a federal grant of $250,000, which will be used to enrich the art content including taking field trips to things like school plays and concerts. She said the program also offers service learning aspects from the 4-H curriculum. A couple of years ago they expanded to the junior high school level and have been very successful.
Kleigl mentioned the two new gymnasiums/multi-purpose/music rooms, one completed at the junior high school and one under construction at one of the three elementary schools.
One citizen complained there was not enough room in the elementary schools, forcing some families to divide their children between schools.
Elder care: Everyone wanted to know the timeline on building the Wellness Center which has been in the works going on five years. Among many other health related activities it is to house adult day care. "When you start looking at a $12- $13 million project it takes time to put together," Murray said.
Porterville Adult Day Services plans to put in an adult day care facility for people with dementia at the Wellness Center. Meanwhile they said they are establishing elder care resource centers in conjunction with KT triple A (Kings-Tulare Area Agency on Aging) at present senior facilities in the county such as the Lindsay Community Center, to let seniors know what resources are available to them.
Martha from the Mt. Whitney, who participates in senior activities, said they should do a story about the senior singers, "a pretty good group."
Retired school administrator Jack Keeley said there are a lot of seniors but only 15-20 per day come to the community center for activities or lunch. He said the city deserved a lot of kudos, as did the county, but there were also a lot of concerns such as inadequate public transportation for the poor, more medical facilities, more education, cars that don't need much gas. "This city, county, state, country needs to invest in people," he said.
Animal care: Keeley said the Lindsay Kennels needed more personnel. He said they are open three hours a day, but were unable to help him find his lost dog. Another man complained that pitbulls were getting a bum rap. He said the State Assembly is trying to set up breeding laws. "I would have it put on the owners, not the dogs when they are vicious. A top FBI drug sniffing dog is a pitbull terrier."
News Director Davis was surprisingly amenable to this idea, his first interruption for a long time. He said, in fact, they had recently done such a story agreeing that the breed was maligned.
Wrap-up: Supervisor Maples, consummate politician that he is, brought it home. He noted that there were people present from county as well as the city, that the county has 400,000 residents, is No. 1 in dairy and No. 2 in ag, with eight incorporated cities and a lot of smaller communities. "I think you see tonight what people expect us to do," he said. He said city managers meet with the county administrative officer on a regular basis. Maples said they have been in a decade-long struggle, "But tonight you see people helping people." He said negative news was not helpful. "If you cover success stories … each area has success stories, people helping people; somebody willing to sit on the city council for not a lot of money; the positive things is what sells us as a county."
It had inched past 8 p.m. Television news people keep a sharp eye on the clock. Davis said any more story discussion could be done individually if people wanted to stay on after they dismissed, as in now.
Vice Mayor Pam Kimball had her hand up.
With erudite chivalry coated in a veneer of humor, financial office Walker said, "Everyone is free to leave after Vice Mayor Kimball speaks and we unlock the doors." A smidgen of overtime wasn't going to hurt anybody.
The next day ABC 30 was filming the guitar ensemble at Lindsay High School.
People with story ideas are invited to call Subha Ravindrhran at 627-5376. And, as always, you are welcome to call the Sun-Gazette at 592-3171, ext. 17.