Crises have a way of revealing what’s important. And Californians adjusting to life in the age of COVID-19 are learning the importance of the Central Valley.
The Central Valley is home to many parts of the economy that continue to operate during the crisis producing products and providing services that we all rely on. It’s a place where food is grown, where warehouses and fleets of trucks distribute essential goods, and where the energy to power our state is made. Without these things, Californians would not be able to persevere through this pandemic.
The question Governor Newsom and the rest of the state’s leaders must ask themselves, does California have a future without essential places like the Central Valley? This crisis is proving once and for all that our state’s recovery can’t fully take hold unless we support essential regions. Right now, we recognize the everyday heroes of this crisis in the Central Valley and throughout California. However, over the years, the State of California has imposed challenges on these same professions from expensive mandates and complex rules that hinder the growing of our food and delivery of products. That can’t continue. Post-COVID-19, our laws must change to reflect our new reality.
Governor Newsom convened a task force charged with developing strategies for economic recovery, both short-term and long-term. It’s vitally important that this task force, which is dominated by individuals who represent large urban areas, provide adequate attention to the importance and needs of essential Central Valley industries. In a head-scratching decision, the co-chair is former Democratic presidential candidate, Tom Steyer, who wants to eliminate entire industries like oil and gas.
My hope is the task force can aside old political agendas, and find a new way forward.
Like the rest of California, the Central Valley is hurting from unprecedented job losses. Many workers in the energy industry are out of jobs due to the downturn in oil prices, farms are hurting from lost demand from restaurants, and countless entrepreneurs are unsure if they will ever open their doors again. Short-term, the top priority must be supporting businesses, especially small ones, because people need to get back to work first. The best place to start is a moratorium on new state regulations, taxes or fees on businesses unless they are a COVID-19-related. Hitting the pause button will benefit the job recovery in the entire state, not just the Central Valley. If we want jobs to bounce back, the state needs to do everything in its power to reduce burdens so local businesses can rehire and expand.
Long-term, California is fortunate to be home to the Central Valley that feeds not only our state but the world. The state can’t continue to ignore the needs of agriculture and the importance of having a local, reliable food supply is. Sacramento needs to deliver on overdue water solutions for Central Valley farmers and create more sensible regulations that preserve the environment while keeping us competitive with other countries. This is also an opportunity to bolster domestic manufacturing in the Central Valley and other inland areas, so we are never dependent on foreign suppliers for crucial things like medical equipment. Those priorities will both create jobs and make our state more resilient to future disasters.
The COVID-19 crisis is a reminder of how reliant other parts of the state are on their inland neighbors for food and other essential goods. The resilience of our food supply and proximity to California-grown food has allowed grocery store shelves to stay stocked, but what if those shelves went empty? Other parts of the US are preparing for food shortages, but local supply chains have spared us similar shortages. That may not always be the case in the future if inland areas remain neglected by Sacramento.
There are a lot of lessons to learn from the COVID-19 crisis, and none more important than realizing what’s essential. What’s clear is that the Central Valley’s success also is essential for California’s future and recovery.
Assemblyman Vince Fong represents the 34th California Assembly District which includes portions of Kern County.