Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim DeMartini breezed through a “State of the County” speech Tuesday until he reached the section on water.
That’s when the fourth-term supervisor reverted to a characteristic blunt tone of voice.
The chairman blasted the State Water Resources Control Board for proposals to divert an “ever increasing percentage of water” from the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers, which are key sources of water for farms and cities in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
DeMartini said it’s not the state’s water to take.
“No state or federal money went into the construction of the Don Pedro and Exchequer dams,” he proclaimed. “These dams are owned by the ratepayers of the irrigation districts. Yet the State Water Resources Control Board wants to take the water stored behind those facilities that we own, and use it for their purpose.”
He said the effect of the water diversions will be thousands of acres of fallowed farmland and local economic calamity.
DeMartini said the purpose of diverting the water —restoring salmon —is doomed to fail because of a deficient state plan. Salmon won’t be restored in the rivers unless there is first a plan to reduce striped bass in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; those fish prey on the ocean-bound salmon smolt, he said.
His speech in the meeting chamber at Tenth Street Place also touched on the growing homelessness crisis in the cities and counties of California. DeMartini cited recent surveys showing that California has 25 percent of the homeless population and almost 50 percent of the unsheltered homeless in the United States.
The state’s homeless population grew by 14 percent from 2016 to 2017, with annual counts showing increases in Stanislaus County.
“Although this problem may feel very personal to our community, the statistics show that we are definitely not alone,” DeMartini said. “Communities throughout our state are struggling with how to respond to this issue.”
Last year, the county spearheaded an Outreach and Engagement Center in downtown Modesto, providing access to homeless services at a single location.
DeMartini cited a case in which Modesto police and fire personnel referred a couple in need of help to the outreach center. There, staff members discovered that one of them was a veteran and was eligible for veterans benefits and disability services. The couple was placed in housing and provided with clothing and other necessities.
DeMartini also mentioned a soon-to-open Re-Entry and Enhanced Alternatives to Custody Training Center at the Public Safety Center on Hackett Road, where the county is supposed to take a new approach with reforming jail inmates. The 288-bed facility costing $44.5 million gives the Sheriff’s Department enough additional beds to vacate the antiquated jail for men in downtown Modesto.
DeMartini recalled a visit with inmates in a classroom of the Public Safety Center three years ago that included former county Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen and Sheriff Adam Christianson. All of the inmates indicated they had dropped out of high school, had substance abuse issues and had lived in single parent homes as children.
“It seemed obvious to me that unless we begin to do things differently to break this cycle, nothing will ever change,” DeMartini said.