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December 2, 2021

Drought strikes nerve at legislative summit

GILROY—The second-annual South County Legislative Summit was a who’s-who of elected officials that included U.S. Congress representatives and South County mayors pro tem.
Hosted by the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, the April 17 event was a chance for the people’s representatives to focus on some of the California’s greatest challenges, such as ongoing water battles, agriculture and challenges to the county and cities, such as water conservation and transportation.
“This is the new norm for California,” Morgan Hill Mayor Pro Tem Larry Carr said of the drought in its fourth year. “This is not a problem that will go away if we keep our heads down.”
Residents were urged to use smart phones to report water abuse.
“If you see someone wasting water, you can take a picture of it and you can send it to the water district,” Santa Clara Valley Water District Director Dennis Kennedy said, referring to the district’s smartphone app.
Ten inspectors countywide can follow up on reported incidents and, depending on the severity, a warning or fine can be issued, he said.
Congressman Sam Farr called farmers undeserving victims of “bad publicity” as he hinted at media reports that draw a causal connection between the drought and agriculture.
“We want to keep that agriculture here,” Farr said of the $250 million a year industry in Santa Clara County. “It’s our best defense against urban sprawl…and it protects our open space.”
The bad press, he said, is likely due to the fact everyone “realizes they have to sacrifice a little bit.”
Agriculture must strive to be sustainable and he believes the county’s agricultural businesses will show the world how best to do it, he said, whether it’s increasing the use of recycled water or wastewater.
Kennedy described a high-tech concept in the works in which water will be injected into the ground to recharge California’s aquifers.
“Efforts like that are really the focus to make us more drought-proof,” he said.
On another matter, some office holders expressed frustration with the stalemate at the national level over immigration issues.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, said an effort to change immigration laws stalled when the House of Representatives refused to put it up for a vote.
“It was a shame because we had the votes to pass it. We just didn’t have a vote,” Lofgren said. “This year, we’re back to square one and I don’t see any willingness at this point to engage in legislative reform (regarding immigration laws.)
Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, who authored Assembly Bill 60 enacted into law this year, touted the bill’s benefits.
More than 230,000 immigrants have received driver’s licenses under the new law, he said. To obtain one, they must pass a written exam, a driving test and provide proof of auto insurance.
“They can go to work, take their kids to school, go to local restaurants and without fear their cars will be impounded,” he said, adding that he received a call recently from a former reporter for the New York Times reporter, Jose Antonio Vargas, who publicly admitted he was in the country illegally.
“(Vargas) called me the other day to let me know he was renting a car at Hertz because he now has a license. Multiply that story by thousands of people all throughout California,” Alejo said.
State funding to equip police with body-worn cameras, Alejo said, will reduce real and false complaints of excessive force against local departments, Alejo said.
Alejo said he is not running again for the seat, which serves California’s 30th State Assembly District and represents Gilroy and Morgan Hill. This week, his wife and current Watsonville City Council member Karina Cervantez Alejo announced she is running for the seat.
Gilroy Chamber President and CEO Mark Turner said after the event that he plans another in Gilroy in the spring of 2016.
“We got a great response from all the elected officials who indicated they’d enjoy coming back next year,” he said.
“We want to keep that agriculture here (in Santa Clara County). It’s our best defense against urban sprawl…and it protects our open space.”
-Congressman Sam Farr, D-Monterey

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