Another shutdown, another grim test for Groveland

Two tourists visit Yosemite National Park in January, finding it uncrowded but also finding very few services.
Two tourists visit Yosemite National Park in January, finding it uncrowded but also finding very few services. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Since 2013, the historic town of Groveland, a Yosemite gateway community, has seen more than its share of economic challenges. In 2013 it was the Rim Fire followed by the (16-day) government shutdown. Last year, Groveland experienced their worst flooding in recent history; followed by the Ferguson Fire which closed Yosemite Valley for three weeks.

The month-long government shutdown is creating tough times once again. In the first few days of the shutdown, businesses and local groups in around Groveland rolled up their sleeves and worked to lessen the confusion and uncertainty at Yosemite National Park.

Groveland’s Echo Adventure Cooperative, which offers guided hiking tours inside Yosemite, helped by supplying plastic garbage bags to visitors. They have also assisted park visitors with details on road conditions and general information.

Elisabeth Barton, a founding member of the cooperative, is concerned about the upcoming fire season. “People don’t realize the important role the Department of Agriculture plays on fire mitigation programs during the off-season,” she said.

In 2014, there were over 1,200 Department of Agriculture employees in the Foothill Congressional District.

Barton’s also concerned about the future of their business. “We’re frustrated because we’re not sure if we’ll be able to expand our current programs and permits.”

Melony Vance, the General Manager of the Groveland and the Charlotte hotels says, “Our businesses solely exist because of Yosemite. We teamed up with the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau to hand out trash bags at the park gate. TCVB has been wonderful to help get out information about current conditions at the park.”

Regardless, said Vance, “Our occupancy rate is way down. Last week we had three days with no guests. Unfortunately, we had to tell our housekeeping staff not to come in.”

Jane Silveira, who coordinates special events at the Iron Door Saloon, says the conditions at the park are not as bad as have been reported. After all, she points out, “there are park rangers working – without pay, of course.”

Then Silveira allowed herself a moment of disbelief, “We are the United States; we’re supposed to work together.”

Joanie Gisler, owner of Ranch Decor Revived in the heart of Groveland, said it best: “We’re here and we’re not going down.”

It’s unprecedented for President Donald Trump to use federal employees as bargaining chips to demand a border wall, which is opposed by every member of Congress whose districts is along the U.S./Mexico border – Republican or Democrat. The lawsuits arising from eminent domain court proceedings as private property is taken to build the wall, could tie up a border wall for decades.

Many question the necessity for a wall as arrests along the border fell from an all-time high of 1.5 million in 2000 to just over 300,000 in 2017.

Reports say deep canyons, rivers and tall mountains make the reality of a continuous border wall costly and impractical. Instead of a costly and ineffective wall, Democrats want to focus more attention on technology and infrastructure to support it – camera towers, underground sensors, drones and helicopters, for instance. Already more Border Patrol agents work along the border, with staff having nearly doubled from 2006 to 2016.

House Democrats insist they will not negotiate a wall while the paychecks of federal employees are being held hostage and important government services are unavailable to the public.

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse. Democrats cannot allow the president to create a crisis in an attempt to bypass their authority.

Meanwhile, some 800,000 federal government employees haven’t been paid for a month; many are unable to pay all their bills, some are turning to food banks for assistance, and a few wonder if they will have a roof over their heads. But the ripple effects in communities like Groveland, while unseen by the larger public, are just as devastating.

Marc Boyd is a resident of the Mother Lode. Email: columns@modbee.com.