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Columns and Opinions 2013


October 4, 2013


Where are the letters?

By Sarah Elliott

  There is a common sentiment in small towns: Shop local. That is what keeps dollars nearby and tenuous economies in the black.
   That “local” theme is most associated with retail shops. But think of it in terms of a community newspaper.
   Impacts of the Internet have been felt here. For instance, letters to the editor have mostly dried up. There are still some event announcements and thank-yous, but the opinionated pieces, which everyone loves to read, have dwindled in recent years.
   For its size, the Commonwealth formerly received a large percentage of letters each week. So what happened?
   Well, for one thing, people air their frustrations and solutions on social media these days.  And the feedback is immediate with “friends” clicking “Like” or leaving a comment.
   But to reach Three Rivers residents, those who care about Three Rivers, and those with varying opinions on local issues, the Commonwealth is still the best vehicle.
   And we’ve got more readers than you’ve got friends!
   So, what do you think about the closure of the national parks and other federal agencies? We really want to know.


August 23, 2013


Sequoia National Park and its Mineral King partners

By John Elliott

  It figures that a high country paradise like Mineral King might be overrun with hikers in August. It’s the busiest tourist month of the year for Kaweah Country.
   Those visitors pass through Three Rivers on their way to backcountry adventure. Let me clarify overrun – busy by Mineral King standards is still lots of solitude because the 700-plus curves on the winding mountain road to get there are way too much for most folks.
   But for the hearty, step-outside-the-box types who are looking for something physical on their getaway, Mineral King, at 7,800 feet, remains one of the planet’s best places to access the backcountry. It’s also the home to the little cabin community that could.
   Could, that is, convince National Park Service officials that these wooden cabins that date from the 1920s to the 1960s are significant to our past and that the historic community is a willing partner in helping Sequoia National Park accomplish its mission to preserve and protect.
   This summer, with no budget to hire an interpretive ranger, Mineral King visitors continue to enjoy some exceptional guided hikes, campfire programs, a concert, and tours of historic cabins.
   Now hear this! The federal government cuts the funding for Mineral King yet the NPS and members of the cabin community step forward to pick up the slack. That should come as no surprise to those who frequent Mineral King.
   Mineral King folks, who found these mountains and its scenic valley in the 1870s, have been catering to visitors ever since. As fortune would have it, the Mineral King community invited the NPS in the 1970s to take over the area when it appeared the U.S. Forest Service wanted to develop a Mammoth-like, Disney-branded ski resort.
   In 1978, the NPS jumped at the chance to make the Mineral King area a part of Sequoia National Park, but there was a caveat. When the leaseholder of record passed away these inholdings, i.e., the private use of the cabins on federal land, would expire.
   The cabins needed to be phased out, it was argued, because all those new national park visitors would need more room to recreate. If the cabins were allowed to stay with private owners then the public would be left out.
   In the 25 years that followed Mineral King becoming a unique part of Sequoia National Park, something unforeseen happened. A grassroots movement of people who love Mineral King convinced NPS officials that these rustic structures are indeed worth preserving and possess historical value in the context of a Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape District.
   At the Mineral King District Association’s annual meeting on Saturday, Aug. 3, the recently released Standards for Sustaining the Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape District were circulated among the 60 to 70 in attendance. They had been finalized by a work group composed of representatives of the NPS, the Mineral King Preservation Society, and MKDA.
   According to John Crowe, MKDA president who was actually born in his family cabin 78 years ago in Cabin Cove, the spirit of cooperation between the partners was a joy to behold.
  “You will be pleasantly surprised by the degree of flexibility that may be found in a number of areas of interest to cabin owners,” Crowe told the gathering.
   The Standards document explains that all the features of the district will be preserved in keeping with Department of the Interior guidelines but is most specific relative to the cabins.  The typical cabin in the district exhibits a simple rectangle plan; the average square footage is 577 feet.
   Wooden siding, whether board and batten, clapboard, or half-log is predominant. Roofs tend to be gabled; typical features and additions include porches, decks, substantial stone, and stone and brick chimneys. Some have other outbuildings on their lots like outhouses and storage sheds.
   Now here’s the most important statement relative to the cabins in the 55-page document: Modifications made to any site, structure, or object within the district will not substantially alter its historic fabric or introduce non-historic features or additions.
   The Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape District is as unique as its high country setting. In the past 25 years the NPS and cabin community have come full circle in their mutual respect and cooperation.
   May that circle remain unbroken.


July 5, 2013


Taking our town back: Don’t be in denial of street gang influx

By Sarah Elliott

   Three Rivers has entered a new era. A tipping point was reached on Thursday, June 27, and we can never go back.
    Although we don’t have the archives to prove it, Three Rivers probably hasn’t had a death due to a shooting since the 19th century. What I can document is that in the 19 years that John and I have owned this newspaper, there has not been a homicide.
    This is a first. And if the trend keeps moving in the present direction, it won’t be the last.
Summer in Three Rivers has become something to dread. The limited availability of river access has become a bottleneck.
    Day-users who want to access the water for free have two choices: Cobbleknoll, just upriver from Lake Kaweah and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or trespass on closed or private property.
    All of the above is occurring. And escalating with each summer season.
    The new deputy on patrol is up to the task and has been patrolling the trouble spots diligently. But he is undermanned, and backup could be 20 minutes or more away.
    Years ago, a Tulare County Department of Education gang prevention specialist gave a presentation at Three Rivers School. Less than 10 parents attended the informative and enthralling program, but that’s beside the point. What he said was that communities that admit there is a gang problem and are proactive have less street gang activity than those that are in denial.
    In November 2011, Woodlake High School, in cooperation with the City of Woodlake and its police department, hosted a free “Gang Summit.” There were almost as many speakers as there were people in the audience. Noticeably, no Three Rivers parents were in attendance. It was interesting that more parents weren’t just a little bit curious about what would be revealed at this event.
    Last week’s shooting that left two dead and two hospitalized was allegedly gang against gang. Next it could be gang against the general public.
    So, Three Rivers, we can hide our heads in the sand and live in denial until violence affects us personally or we can band together and take charge to ensure that our families, friends, and neighbors reside in a safe community now and in the future.
    Besides Lake Kaweah and the Cobbleknoll area, there are signs of street gang activity on upper North Fork Drive and in Sequoia National Park. The undersides of many of Three Rivers’s bridges have been tagged.
    The Commonwealth is willing to take action to keep this element out of our town. We are also committed to getting to the root of the problem and learning what is necessary to deter people, especially youth, from considering involvement in a gang in the first place.
    The meeting on Monday, July 8, is a good start. In addition to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, there will be representatives from the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
    Hopefully there will be more audience members than speakers at this event. “Hope is not a strategy,” said a speaker at Woodlake’s 2011 event. But action is.

July 19, 2013


I have seen the future, and it is Leticia Perez

By John Elliott

   Even though Three Rivers won’t vote in next Tuesday’s (July 23) runoff election for the District 16 Senate seat vacated by Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield), lots of other folks will, including Woodlake, Lindsay, Visalia, and dozens of other communities from Bakersfield to Fresno. The election has come down to Andy Vidak, a Republican and Hanford farmer vs. Leticia Perez, a Democrat and Kern County Supervisor.
    Vidak has name recognition from a previous campaign that he lost in an attempt to win Jim Costa’s congressional seat. In that election, some conservative Democrats crossed over to vote for Vidak.
    Vidak sought a similar trend in this election. He almost pulled off a primary victory when it appeared that he had 50 percent of the vote. But late returns went for Perez, and Vidak fell, by one account, 112 votes shy.
    The runoff gave Perez, a tireless campaigner, the several weeks she needed to become better known in the district that includes 47 percent of Fresno’s residents and 24 percent of those who live in Bakersfield. District-wide voters are registered 50 percent Democrat and 29 percent Republican.
    Of course, the undecided could be a factor but lots of those votes are expected to be tallied for Perez. Though she is a relative unknown, she won’t be for long.
    Friend and colleague— In fact, for the past five years I have watched her meteoric rise, and mark these words — Leticia Perez is ticketed for greatness. And even if Vidak happens to win Tuesday it’s not likely that Perez will go away. Someday soon she will be a household name in California.
    I first met Leticia in 2008 — when she was a newly appointed Kern County planning commissioner — at a Bakersfield conference for the CCPCA (California County Planning Commissioners Association). She joined the group of planning commissioners from around the state on a tour of a Tehachapi wind farm and a Bolthouse carrot factory.
    From the outset, she impressed me with an energetic, commanding presence. As I became better acquainted with her the next several years at CCPCA functions it became clear: Leticia is poised to do great works.
    Like so many disadvantaged minorities coming of age in California, Leticia was able to parlay education to escape her Bakersfield neighborhood though she never forgot where she came from or her staunch family values. After graduating from University of California, Santa Barbara, she landed at Valparaiso (Ind.) University, returning home a few years later with a law degree.
    Leticia’s first job as an attorney was with the Kern County Public Defender. She attacked the most tragic of cases with the same passion she has for everything. And contrary to the attack ads on TV, she didn’t “put criminals back on the street” nor is she an ultra-liberal job killer.
    In 2011, Leticia took a position on the staff of former State Senator Michael Rubio.  That’s where she learned the Sacramento scene and what might be possible in politics. For  Leticia, that translates to serving all people, not the special interests.
    I served with her on the CCPCA board of directors for three years, and we have stayed in touch even after her tenure as a planning commissioner. We shared several late-night sessions with other politicos where we talked a non-stop stream of California politics, history, water, and the issues confronting our respective counties.
    In many of those sessions, her husband, Fernando Jara, also participated. “Ferdie,” as his friends call him, is another self-made success story. Growing up in Bakersfield with his father imprisoned most of his life for drug crimes, Fernando gravitated to street gangs and served some time as a juvenile.
    Once released and armed with high school equivalency, he attended community college and later transferred to Cal State Bakersfield. It was there a history professor realized Fernando was a gifted student in wolf’s clothing and paved the way for him to attend grad school at Princeton.
    But higher education would have to wait because that was the time when his father was released after decades in prison. Fernando took it upon himself to find something for his father and other parolees to do that might save these men from old habits and a return to life in prison.
    His idea was brilliant. Start a self-sufficient farm where these men could live and work with dignity, free from drugs and crime.
    The major stumbling block was that Fernando didn’t know the first thing about farming.  But he did know the Bakersfield community and wasn’t afraid to ask for help.
    Soon he had five acres of land south of Bakersfield that belonged to a local church. Area farmers donated equipment, seeds, irrigation supplies, and some were even willing to teach this motley group of ex-cons how to produce a crop. In 2009, Rockhill Farm was born.
    “That first year my dream was a nightmare, and we couldn’t grow more than a few peppers and tomatoes for the men to eat,” recalled Fernando. “But today, in four short years, we are selling our surplus at farmer’s markets and are practically self-sufficient. We are even thinking of expanding the program.”
    It’s no wonder that Leticia’s campaign platform is anchored by a raise in the minimum wage. For this next generation of California leaders, they have experienced first-hand the struggle of the poor to make ends meet and are devoting their lives to finding solutions.
    “I am running for the State Senate because the Valley needs a champion in Sacramento,” Leticia said Wednesday from her home in Bakersfield. “If I am elected, you have my commitment that I will work hard every day to represent the Valley and ensure we get our fair share.”
    I’m certain Leticia will be an instrumental factor in restoring the Central Valley to a position of leadership in California.


July 19, 2013


The Kaweah’s common wealth: Where the water flows

By Sarah Elliott

   In recent decades, we’ve experienced the decline of almost all things public — public schools, public transportation, public parks, public higher education, public recreation, and so on.
    Enter Three Rivers. The town’s very name advertises its most sought-after recreational and natural resource during these long, hot San Joaquin Valley summers: three rivers. And there is obviously an increasing demand for its cooling waters. But this community was poorly planned because although we have three rivers flowing through town, the property is all privately owned and not shared with the general public. There was no foresight decades ago to set aside even a small section of river frontage for public use. Instead it was all subdivided and sold for profit, then fenced off and posted with “No Trespassing” signs. The rest of the Kaweah River frontage that is not private property or corporate-owned (SCE) is government-owned in the form of the National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Bureau of Land Management.
    Two towns come to mind in which I have spent time that have rivers flowing through them: Vernonia, Ore., and Steamboat Springs, Colo. Vernonia provides a public access point on the Nehalem River in the center of town, adjacent to a large swath of open space that is a public park, where the entire community gathers in the summer months. Steamboat Springs has little commercial or residential development along seven miles of the Yampa River; instead it is lined with bike paths, and the community encourages recreation with some commonsense rules (dogs on leash, no alcohol, no glass, no diapers in the river).
    Today, we live in a world of borders and walls. Because of this, some citizens are being excluded from what used to be fundamental liberties for all. Certainly, that includes the air we breathe, but also the oceans, wilderness, soil, and flowing water. This is all part of our common wealth, as is language and knowledge, the processes of democracy, and even the Internet. Public parks, roads and bridges, schools, libraries, fire and police departments, and even sidewalks are government-managed because it was determined that certain of these public works would be underfunded and overused if not regulated.
    Some resources that were always assumed to be available to everyone are being threatened by corporate greed. Recently, Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck made headlines for his claim that water is not a human right, but should be managed by business people and governing bodies. Just as Nestle is out to dominate the world’s water supply, Monsanto is patenting seeds so they can’t be saved and planted. And, last month, the Supreme Court did what should have been done years ago — declared that genes, which naturally exist in all of us, can’t be patented. Someone is missing the point of patents, which is to reward practical inventions and useful creations, not to let people profit from staking a claim on what naturally exists in the world and rightfully “belongs” to all of us.
    So let’s hypothesize about what it would mean to Three Rivers today if there was river access. There would be rules and regulations to keep users safe, the water clean and flowing, and the land free from litter and debris. Monitoring would be essential, so fees would be charged in the form of day and annual passes to fund maintenance and upkeep. If river users pay and play by the rules, the area would remain accessible to all.
    Currently, this community is protecting the economic privileges of its population and its way of life from people who are perceived to have different value systems. But these people aren’t going to go away. In fact, there are more of them today than ever before.   Closing everything to the public is not the solution. Rather, it is to create rules, boundaries, and property rights to protect the Kaweah’s common wealth, just as we do for private wealth. Those that choose to be the polluters will pay more for their transgressions.
    The challenge for Three Rivers is to restore the balance between the private and the common. This will increase all of our wealth while teaching us that “wealth” means much more than money.
    At the town meeting on Monday, July 8, discussions centered around how to keep a certain culture of people away from the river, namely the gang culture. But this would require some racial profiling, general assumptions, and determinations about who is deemed worthy by us to use the river and who is not. It’s a broad brush with which to paint, and it won’t work. Others expressed interest in having cameras at key locations with online monitoring and even unmanned drones flying over and capturing satellite images. These ideas make data collection by the National Security Agency seem transparent.
    In another month or two, all this will be forgotten. The demand on the common wealth of the Kaweah will diminish. Until next summer.


July 26, 2013


Hanging out at campaign headquarters with Kern County supervisor Leticia Perez

By John Elliott

   After a special May 21 primary, when Andy Vidak fell 112 votes short of winning a majority of the votes, the Hanford Republican and cherry farmer took advantage of a higher-than-average voter turnout (more than 40 percent) in Kings County to win the 16th District state senate seat in the Tuesday, July 23, runoff election. District-wide Vidak received 54 percent of the votes to 46 percent for Leticia Perez, Kern County supervisor and Democratic challenger.
    Even though the final results of the election won’t be certified for another two weeks, Perez conceded Wednesday, a day after seeing her hopes dashed to replace her former boss, Michael Rubio, who resigned to rejoin the private sector. Rubio, like Perez, started his political career as a Kern County supervisor.
    Central Valley Republicans are touting the win as “special” in light of the fact that the 16th District is composed 50 percent Democrat to 29 percent Republican. But state special elections often feature upsets, and it’s not the first time this has happened in this Valley district that includes all of Kings County and parts of Kern and Tulare counties, including the cities of Fresno, Bakersfield, Hanford, and Visalia.
    And though Three Rivers is not a part of the 16th District that also includes Woodlake, the special election had some important lessons for Valley voters. Vidak’s win over a Democratic challenger came two decades after Phil Wyman (R-Tehachapi) won against another democratic challenger — Jim Costa.
    Costa, a third-generation farmer and Fresno Democrat, has never been defeated since that loss in the 1993 16th District special election. Now a tenured congressman, in 2010 Costa defeated Andy Vidak in a close race for his 20th district Congressional seat.
    Vidak, California’s newest state senator, won’t have long to serve out the remainder of Rubio’s term, which is up next year. But in 2014, when Vidak seeks reelection, he will have the power of the office to fuel his campaign.
    As for Leticia Perez, who will continue to serve as a Kern County supervisor, she has not announced any immediate plans to run in 2014. However, her political career seems to be well-timed no matter what office she seeks.
    Jorge Ramos, who anchors the top-ranked newscast on the Spanish language TV network, Noticiero Univision, said earlier this week that how Latino voters perceive the Republicans on immigration reform will determine the fate of the GOP in every election nationwide.
    Nationally, the trend is already clear. Bush received 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004; McCain 31 percent and, in 2012, Romney 27 percent. To put these numbers in context Ramos said:
    “…We are 55 million Latinos right now. We will be 150 million in 35 years. Republicans better understand that this is a different country, that we are in a truly, truly demographic revolution. Latinos are changing the way we speak, the way we dance, the way we do politics in this country, the way we vote.”
    Ramos went on to say that the U.S. is no longer a black and white country. It is a much more complicated country where minorities will become the majority.
    Leticia Perez finds herself, though defeated this time, in possession of a powerful grassroots coalition of workers and the middle class who will support her again and again. Each race these tireless workers will register more voters many who are voting for the first time.
    AUTHOR’S NOTE: I know Leticia Perez personally, so was invited to her election night gathering to watch the returns. Look closely at these images (in the July 26 print edition) of Special Election night (July 23) at Carpenters Hall in Bakersfield and see the new face of California and what I’m certain is an up-and-coming career in Central Valley politics.


May 17, 2013

Boston at Big Sur

by Sarah Elliott

  Inspired by the "To Boston, with love" column (see below), Heidi Shumacher met with me to tell her experience with some of those who experience the terror firsthand.  

   Heidi Schumacher and Nancy Smith, both of Three Rivers, undertook a challenge that had more significance than they could have ever imagined. On Sunday, April 28, the pair participated in the Big Sur International Marathon.

   The 28th annual BSIM consisted of several endurance challenges in addition to the 26.2-mile race. Heidi and Nancy walked in “The 21-Miler,” and they devoted many weeks, hours, and miles to pounding the local pavement while training for the event.

   Unbeknownst to them at the time, for the past four years, BSIM has included the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, which lures endurance runners with a tempting offer: run the Boston Marathon, then fly to the opposite coast and run the Big Sur Marathon less than two weeks later.

   This year, of course, proved quite poignant for event participants, including Heidi and Nancy, as they watched the B2B runners pass by, knowing what these athletes had experienced less than two weeks before when bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured 275.

   Heidi has run a couple of marathons previously, her second in 2004, when running after kids took the place of logging miles. Because her own mom’s unexpected death coincided with Heidi’s last marathon, and a trip to Boston in her mother’s memory occurred soon after, emotions were already raw during the Big Sur event.

   This was Nancy’s second time at the BSIM, which has been named “Best Destination Marathon” and one of the world’s Top Ten Marathons by Forbes. It is a point-to-point race that snakes along Highway 1 from Big Sur to Carmel, along the way crossing the famous Bixby Bridge.


April 19, 2013

To Boston, with love

by Sarah Elliott

   On Monday, April 15, two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The timing clock was approaching 4:09:45. This senseless act of violence killed three people and maimed so many others.
    I have run for fitness since I was in my 20s, but it’s been only the last five years — since our kids went off to college and my husband joined me in this pursuit — that I’ve entered races. John and I are currently training for our third marathon.
    Because of this, I know how amazing it feels to cross a marathon finish line. To think that this act of violence is how so many people will have to remember a finish line breaks my heart.
    Boston is the holy grail of marathons. Many runners devote their lives to training for this race in hopes of hitting that magical yet elusive qualifying time. It was difficult to watch that dream go up in a cloud of violent, hateful, bloody smoke for so many.
    Also distressing is that most of the injured are spectators; the families and friends of runners who were there to provide support. Training for a marathon is difficult and time-consuming, but runners aren’t the only ones making sacrifices. Families and friends are an important factor in the months of preparation it takes to get across that finish line, and they shouldn’t have to risk their lives to watch us run.
    Most runners I’ve met are awesome, uplifting people. It’s hard to find a bad one in the bunch. The running community is like a fraternity, only healthier (but they still love beer!).   All marathoners have a connection, an unspoken bond, because we know what it takes to make it to that finish line.
    In the images on the TV screen, it was uplifting to see the first responders who ran against the crowd, into the danger zone and toward the terror to help the injured. I had tears in my eyes when I heard the reports of runners who just kept on running — to the hospital to donate blood. Runners have a lot of energy, all of it positive.
    So if terrorists are trying to bring this country to its knees and break the human spirit — because it wasn’t just Americans targeted; the Boston Marathon is an international event — runners are the wrong group to target. It takes grit, determination, a lot of sweat, tears, and triumphing over some really bad run days to make it across the finish line of a marathon.
    Continuing to move forward through pain is normal for runners. Starting over is second nature. Persevering against all odds is at the core of the sport. Passion and joy can’t be taken away from a runner. In fact, they have been given one more reason to run now.
    America is not as safe as it used to be a generation ago, but if you ever feel like you are about to lose faith in humanity, watch a marathon. As for me, I plan on crossing many more finish lines in my running life, and that is something that I will never, ever take for granted.


April 12, 2013

All the jazz that fits, we print

by John Elliott

   Welcome to the 40th edition of Jazzaffair, which is hands down the finest small-venue jazz festival on the planet. As the co-publisher (along with my wife, Sarah) of the hyperlocal weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, this is my favorite weekend of the 52-week grind of the publishing year.

   I love the music, the buzz it creates around town; the No Vacancy signs; the big RV rigs; listening to jazz in a church sanctuary; and, most of all, the wonderful people.

   Jazzaffair at 40 is alive and well, and although there are many who wonder how long it can go on, it is surprisingly sustainable. Of course, its future depends on the High Sierra Jazz Band — and for now there is no slowing down for these remarkable boys in the band.

   In the 1970s, it was Chet and Thelma Crain who did much of the organizational work of the Sierra Traditional Jazz Club and kept track of High Sierra’s bookings. Today it’s Rusty Crain who does what his folks did — with lots of help from his friends, and High Sierra’s extended fan base and, of course, the Three Rivers community.

   That’s not likely to change anytime soon nor is the love that the musicians have for playing Three Rivers. One thing they all say is that playing Jazzaffair is unique and like attending a family reunion.

    The musicians that come here are extremely talented and flat-out love making music so they are willing to make it work just to spend a weekend here. It takes a village to do a lot of things but only Three Rivers can do a Jazzaffair.

   The return of Draga— After a six-year hiatus, Bob Draga returns to the Jazzaffair lineup in 2013. His story is similar to so many of the musicians who have played here over the years.

   His antics on stage and his humor are the ideal complement to his excellent playing on his beloved horn – in this case an extremely sweet sounding and nimble clarinet. In fact, on the Jazzdagen 2004 New Year’s Mississippi River cruise an executive of Arbors Records (the classic jazz purist’s preferred label) told me that Bob Draga was among the top ten traditional jazz clarinet players in the world.

   Lofty praise for a guy who lives in Florida and his day job is fixing air conditioners. Bob, 65, was raised in Clearwater and in the fifth grade his parents gave him six months of music lessons.

   “That’s all the money we had, but it was enough for me to learn that I really liked playing music,” Bob reminisced. “After that I just listened to my dad’s records and played those tunes.”

   Bob confessed he never learned to read music so when he did a tour in the Navy he couldn’t join in the U.S. Navy Band. During those days he hung out at jazz nightclubs and played in a combo. Then he heard the Garden Avenue Gang.

   “From the moment I heard them play that Dixieland music, I was hooked,” Bob said. “I used to sit on the stage steps and wait for one of the musicians to take a break so I could sit in. It was strictly a union deal and only so many players could be on stage at any one time.”

   Soon it was, “Kid why don’t you join the band?”  Bob did and eventually he became the leader and changed the band’s name to the Garden Avenue Seven.

He also developed a penchant for torch singers.

   “You have to watch those nightclub singers,” Bob said. “For me they are a like a third sex.”              

   Bob first appeared at Jazzaffair in 2002 with The Titan Hot Seven. After several years with that bunch Bob struck out on his own and now appears solo on the festival circuit playing sets with a number of bands but none exclusively.

   It’s the perfect match for Bob’s extraordinary talent.

   “It’s a challenge, it’s fun, and I love it all as long the jazz is played well,” Bob said.

   He particularly enjoys his jams with the youth bands. Those young players are first  awestruck but Bob’s affection for what he’s doing puts everyone at ease as he inspires each player to reach for more from their respective instruments.

   “I’m 65 and the day will come when I won’t play anymore,” said Bob. “I want to be one of those old cats sitting in the front row listening to these kids in the youth bands today playing this same hot jazz.”

   This weekend, Bob will undoubtedly make on-stage jokes about those singer types; lost loves; boozing and carousing; Earl McKee, who Bob describes as a “jazz cowboy bear”; and Stumpy, the barkeep at the Memorial Building, who Bob thinks would make the perfect hangman in the stereotypical Wild West town.

   He would love to have his current wife, Diane, who he met at the Mammoth Lakes Jazz Festival, here by his side in Three Rivers, but she is busy this weekend at a gymnastics event in London where she is coaching a team of future Olympians.

   “I’m fortunate because my wife can’t sing a note so this marriage will be my last,” Bob says. “I wouldn’t miss the chance to play Jazzaffair. I love the music and people and here they are both honest and real.”

   To see this year’s Jazzaffair music schedule, go to the Home page on this site, then click on the Jazzaffair link on the lower right side of the page. 


March 1, 2013

18 years and 920 issues

by John Elliott

When Sarah and I embarked upon this newspaper venture in 1995 and published our first issue on March 1, 1995, we had no idea where we were headed or how the story of The Kaweah Commonwealth would end. Here we are 18 years and 920 issues later and what we have learned is that there is still a huge learning curve as we continue to do this hyper-local, family-owned newspaper.

And although we don’t yet know how this story will end, we do know how it all began, how we got where we are today, and some exciting developments that are in the works to ensure that the Commonwealth will be around a while longer.

As newsprint goes, we will strive to preserve the hometown medium. The Commonwealth is the last adjudicated weekly left standing in a giant swath of unincorporated communities fromKernville to Mariposa. When the average age of a newspaper reader is 55, the handwriting is on the wall.

Only this “wall” is social media — Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest — all websites with a huge Internet presence that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. How long will sites like Facebook with nearly 800 million subscribers remain popular? They don’t know what’s next, nor do we, but it is realistic to assume that there will be 1,000 issues and a 20th anniversary of The Kaweah Commonwealth.  

The consolidation of the newspaper industry is endemic of what’s going in our brave new world. I call it brave because to get where we are, like thousands of other small businesses, it takes courage on a daily basis to survive. Only the shared commitment of family and a handful of dedicated staff who believe in what we are doing has made the Commonwealth what it is today: a trusted source for information and a partner in the progress of a region.

That region is Kaweah Country. What began as a way to describe Three Rivers and its geographical place on the planet became its newspaper as it extended its influence into the hinterland.

In 2013, we will introduce the Kaweah Country Visitors Guide, a full-color magazine that will highlight the national parks and other nearby public lands, the Kaweah River, and the majestic mountains that make for life’s peak while providing concise information on where to stay, eat, shop, and more.

There will be the traditional hard copy that will be distributed throughout the region. And the rest of the world will be able to  go online and turn the same pages from anywhere there is an Internet connection.

Also in the works, is a modernization of the TKC website with its immensely popular webcam.

None of this would have been possible without you, the reader. And a heartfelt thanks is due from us to all to the loyal advertisers, some that have been in all 920 issues!

As we grow older, and we hope a little wiser, we hope for more time to run, bike, hike, kayak, swim, backpack, and climb that next mountain to see what’s on the other side. Thanks for coming along for the ride.


March 1, 2013

'Roots and Wings - A new beginning'

by Sarah Elliott

Here is a reprint of the introduction I wrote for the inaugural issue of the the newly revived Commonwealth (March 1, 1995). The italics are my current thoughts...


Welcome to the first issue of the rebirth of The Kaweah Commonwealth. We hope that all who venture into these pages will find subjects that are of interest and will soon be better informed about Three Rivers and its surrounding communities.

With this initial issue comes a pledge to deliver the news, past and present. It is important to know the current events of this community, whether you live here or are just passing through. It is of equal value to know the history of the area, too. Those who reside in this wonderful place will take pride in knowing its unique past. Visitors will travel on, knowing they are informed and feeling they took full advantage of their time here.

To publish a newspaper has been a dream of mine since before I even realized. Although I didn’t know A THING about the world of publishing. I have been guided on this path for over 30 years. The proof is in my Babar children’s book, dated by my mom in 1964. I broke the house rules by getting a pencil and placing punctuation where there was none, correcting grammar, and improving on the cursive handwriting in this classic tale. I will keep this book close to me (unless my children want to borrow it) as I work on this newspaper. It will remind me that this is not a job... it is a labor of love. Eighteen years later, it is still in my office.

The labor of love is not only in my work. It is directed toward this community in which I was raised. I am the fifth generation of the Barton family to reside in Three Rivers; my children are the sixth.

Though my surname has changed now, the family pride is stronger than ever. It’s funny though... my name had to change for me to be proud of my heritage. It was something I took for granted until I met and married a historian. If you don’t know him already, you will soon know him intimately in these pages. I tried to warn you!

I have lived in several different places since my upbringing in Three Rivers. I never felt completely settled, however, but never knew why. The answer came when my two children began approaching school age. The sense of longing I continually felt was a strong magnetic pull to return home. And home I came.

Our kids were ages four and five when we started this venture. They have both since graduated college. They grew up in the newspaper biz; not always easy in a small town.

I was finally content. Or so I thought. Now that I was here, how could I possibly follow in the footsteps of four previous generations? It’s a difficult act to follow. In my family tree are a Revolutionary War hero (1770s), a Columbia gold miner (1852), Westward ho! pioneers (1866), a Tulare County Recorder (ca. 1860), a Tulare County Supervisor (1870s), a great-great-uncle who is said to have milled the first giant sequoia (1870; felled by natural causes, by the way), a newspaper publisher/editor (Visalia Delta, 1870s) early settlers and ranchers of Three Rivers, Elderwood, and Mineral King (1870s), another great-great-uncle who named Lake Isabella (Kern County, 1893), two Woodlake Union High school student body presidents (1918/1942), and other regional accomplishments.

These guys never cease to amaze me. Yep, all of the above were men (although my great-great-grandmother and children, some of whom were daughters, were on the overland wagon, caring for a six-month-old baby: my great-grandfather, Jason).

One characteristic that most of these Bartons had in common was the foresight to document their activities, somehow knowing that they were making history.

Fate has knocked at the door again. Here I am, co-publisher/editor of Three Rivers’s only newspaper. Now my husband John and I will continue the family tradition, not just writing about our lives, but yours, too. Again, I tried to warn you...

John and I have a deep-rooted sense of purpose and commitment to Three Rivers, Sequoia National Park, Woodlake, and all of Kaweah Country. Still do. We strive for a standard of excellence that will provide accurate information in an entertaining format. Still do. All channels of communication are open, and so are our doors. Those channels of communication have certainly increased. We didn’t have a clue about Facebook and Twitter back then; the fax machine was a luxury.

We welcome your thoughts on what a community newspaper should be and your letters and opinions on current events and local affairs. It’s up to you, and the success of a community newspaper depends on your input. THAT hasn’t changed.

Enjoy this historic issue of The Kaweah Commonwealth, and the others that will follow in the weeks, years, and decades to come. Little did I realize...




THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
© Copyright 2003-2013 The Kaweah Commonwealth