Local officials delve into Tulare County currents

City of Visalia Vice Mayor Brett Taylor and panel answer questions on the “State of Local Government” luncheon.(Kenny Goodman)

Elected officials from the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, City of Visalia discuss ongoing city, county issues with the community in depth at State of Local Government Luncheon

VISALIA – At this year’s luncheon, a theme of water control in the Valley seemed to surface on multiple fronts as discussion flowed between flood impacts, sewage systems, homelessness and more.

On Thursday Aug. 24, the State of Local Government Luncheon was held at Bello Vita in Visalia to discuss community concerns with elected local officials. The panel interview included Larry Micari and Amy Shuklian from the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, as well as Visalia’s Mayor Brian Poochigian and Vice Mayor Brett Taylor.

A particular theme that seemed consistent throughout the duration of the luncheon’s discussion was a topic that has been talked about frequently in the Central Valley: water. To start, one of the audience members asked the panel how the City of Visalia will work with the California Water Service to plan for municipal water-use in Visalia over the next 15 years.

Taylor explained that the Urban Water Management Plan for the city of Visalia requires both Cal Water and the city to submit a five-year plan to the water resources board. According to him, the plan must detail how the city will be able to provide water to all their citizens for the next 20 years.

“If there were ever any major issues, we would have at least a 20-year heads up to be able to kind of solve those problems,” Taylor said.

Another topic that was brought up at the luncheon was the way the city and county expect to approach the aftermath of the flooding recently caused by the winter storms earlier this year; as well as how the flooding impacted the area’s waterways.

“When I first got chosen as the mayor – out of all these different problems that could happen – flooding in the city of Visalia is something that never crossed my mind,” Poochigian said.

He went on to explain how the city has put in extra effort to monitor the waterways for blockages during the flooding. He also noted that the city will continue to release as much information as they can on social media to keep everyone safe.

The extra flooding this year also impacted local roads, which is why Supervisor Micari was intentional about asking community members to report potholes when they see them. He continued to discuss how many different maintenance repairs the county has done since the flooding, and how it is able to keep the roads at a higher standard than more populated areas like Los Angeles despite having less funding due to Tulare County being a smaller population.

“’The number one complaint I’ve gotten over the last few months is that we’re doing too much road construction,” Taylor said.

Taylor continued to speak about the road construction being done on major roads like Caldwell and Walnut in Visalia. Additionally, he said while he understands the frustrations, he is pleased that it is getting taken care of.

One of the other ways water control came up was in the conversation about managing the local sewer systems. Vice Mayor Taylor explained that water-efficient technology such as shower heads, sinks and toilets have started to impact the city’s sewer system because the system was created before these water-efficient appliances were required as part of building construction.

Taylor explained that the lack of water has made the sewage more concentrated and that the current sewer system was not designed with that in mind. This is keeping the sewage from being able to flow properly and results in the system not being able to support as many people.

This is the main factor on why the city of Visalia has denied to expand their sewage system to the town of Goshen, which is currently undergoing housing developments. This is in spite of the agreement that Taylor said the towns made in the 90s to allow Goshen to share their sewer system to increase growth.

“We’ve had to tell that community service district in Goshen that we can’t accept any new applications out there,” Taylor said. “Which is unfortunate, because I think everybody out here is very pro-growth.”

Housing the unhoused

The need for more homes and growth isn’t only in the community of Goshen, however. Another major issue that warranted perhaps the most attention was housing. The conversation on housing centered on one key aspect, however; in particular, it was meant to address an issue that has been brought to light at previous luncheon discussions: homelessness.

Supervisor Amy Shuklian explained that it was through the funding received from the pandemic that Tulare County was able to fund projects such as Project Home Key, which allowed the county to apply for grants to purchase hotels, motels and apartment buildings for the unhoused.

“So right now, Sequoia Lodge on Mooney Boulevard is a Home Key project. There’s about 50 individuals living there,” Shuklian said. “These are permanent supportive housing, these are not temporary shelters.”

According to a report from The Sun-Gazette in July, across Tulare County, 779 people slept in an unsheltered location, 165 people slept in an emergency shelter and 109 slept in transitional housing. Of the cumulative total, 294 of those unsheltered individuals were in Visalia, 227 were in Tulare and 227 were in Porterville, with the remainder being counted in smaller towns and unincorporated communities.

In 2022, 632 people were recorded as experiencing unsheltered homelessness. When broken up, 285 of those individuals were in Visalia, 148 were in Tulare and 182 were in Porterville. In 2020, there were 704 unsheltered individuals recorded across Tulare County.

Shuklian noted that there is a particular lack of beds for unhoused people who might also require mental health services, such as treatment for drug abuse. However, she said the county recently purchased a facility with 96 beds, that way they don’t have to send as many of their patients out of the county.

“It’s very difficult to have a treatment plan and reunite them with their families – and have their families involved with their treatment – if they’re out of the county,“ Shuklian said.

Shuklian continued to give examples of different local projects aimed at helping the county’s unhoused residents. She stated that there are plenty of vouchers to provide people with housing but, unfortunately, there are not enough homes to put people in.

“There’s a lot of organizations that are working hard to solve this problem,” Vice Mayor Taylor said. “We don’t want to just stick a bandaid on it. We really want to fix the problem.“

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