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December 21, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
12-14-12

by Sarah Elliott

  Along with the rest of the world, we are in shock over the tragic events that occurred Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn., in which a lone gunman killed 20 first-graders and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School before turning one of the three firearms in his possession on himself.
   It is a sad irony that on the same day of the mass murder of young children, THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH featured five kindergartners in its Snapshots segment. This coincidence illustrates how much small communities adore their youngest inhabitants.
   But contrary to popular belief, small towns provide no safe haven from evil and depravity. There is no Mayberry in real life; deranged predators and perpetrators can be anywhere.
But the small-town myth survives even as children die. Even as we grieve and search for answers.
   We have a culture of violence in this country, and it is proliferating. How have so many become so dehumanized? We need to find the answer to this question, and quick.
   For now, we will continue to nurture the children of this community. After all, who was attacked on that terrible day is who we should be protecting the most.
   Let’s start the conversations necessary — gun regulation, mental health access, school safety, violent video games — to make sure this never, ever happens again.

November 23, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
Thanksgiving and a national day of shopping

by Sarah Elliott

 “Black Friday.” What a concept. The ultimate proof that corporations control our lives. A national day of shopping that immediately follows, or actually encroaches on, a national day of gratitude.
   On the Thursday of Thanksgiving, we celebrate all we have in our lives for which to be thankful. Then we set our alarm clocks for some godawful hour to join other feral materialists to push, shove, and trample our way to buy a bunch more stuff that we don’t need but have been convinced we do.
   The term “Black Friday” refers to the beginning of the period in which retailers go from being in the red (posting a loss on the books) to being in the black (turning a profit). So don’t be fooled by a couple of great deals. They’re just bait to lure you in.
   These same retailers are also the ones that determined on what day we gather to give thanks way back in the 20th century. Thanksgiving originally didn’t have a set date. George Washington proclaimed the first one on November 26, 1789, but the dates and even months changed for almost a century. Abraham Lincoln gave it a regular berth in 1863 as the last Thursday of November. But November sometimes has five Thursdays, and this would create a problem down the road.
   One of those Novembers with five Thursdays happened in 1939, when the United States was recovering from the Great Depression. At that time, waiting until after Thanksgiving to start the holiday shopping season was seen as almost holy, but Thanksgiving fell on the very last day of the month. A short number of Christmas shopping days, starting on December 1, could hurt the recovering economy. That’s why President Franklin Roosevelt had to put Turkey Day in its place.
   A presidential proclamation was issued moving Thanksgiving to the second to the last Thursday of November. Thirty-two states went along with FDR and issued the same proclamation, while the other 16 states said no way. For two years, a third of the U.S. celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November, while the other two-thirds of the country celebrated it on the second to last Thursday. For family members living in opposing states, this created more conflict than what usually occurs when gathering the entire family in one house to spend a holiday.
   In 1941, Congress passed a resolution setting a fixed date for Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. The Senate, reminding them that there was shopping at stake, amended it to declare Thanksgiving as being on the fourth Thursday to get rid of the occasional five Thursday problem.
   Thus it was settled that the most important part of the holiday season is having a standard, sensible number of days in which to buy stuff. But now retailers ignore the 70-plus-year-old resolution altogether and start the holiday shopping season in October.
   Here’s the best holiday shopping strategy of all: Shop 3R!

November 16, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
Slow down

by Sarah Elliott

 Well, I’m over the shock of Measure I’s demise. It’s gratifying that although the measure didn’t pass, it won the popular vote. Kind of like Al Gore in 2000.

For the past six weeks, I have been telling you how to vote. Now I’m going to tell you how to drive.

  A LOT SLOWER. The amount of wild creatures that I’ve seen dead on the roadways in the past month is astounding. The raccoon and deer populations have taken the biggest hit.

  At this time of year, animals are more active. It’s mating season, for one reason, and we all know that when falling in love, even the most level-headed among us go off the deep end. For wildlife, that could mean not looking both ways before crossing the road in pursuit of a prospective mate. So slow down.

  Water sources are also few and far between with the Kaweah River being the most reliable place to get a drink these days. The way Three Rivers is designed, critters more often than not have to cross a road to access the river.

  Currently, there is a dwindling herd of deer that crosses Sierra Drive several times a day in the undeveloped area between Village Shopping Center and Old Three Rivers Drive.   Dwindling because at least two have been hit in recent weeks. In fact, more than 4,000 drivers in the U.S. will hit a deer today. So slow down.

  More people live in closer proximity to wild animals than ever before. For nature lovers, this is a wonderful lifestyle. But we may be loving nature to death.

  Coyotes are killing our cats. Wild turkeys eat newly planted seed while rabbits are on standby till the sprouts emerge if the gophers don’t take it all first. Bears loot unfortified garbage cans. Raccoons, skunks, and possums raid the pet food.

  We human residents offer up more and better amenities than many creatures can find in the wild: plenty of food, water, hiding places, and protection from predators with guns. We are unwittingly luring the fauna in, only to kill them on our roadways. So slow down.

  And if you knowingly entice wildlife to your yard, your romantic sentimentalism about nature can have destructive consequences. The animals will lose their instinctual fear of humans, which leads to their downfall, whether on the highway or by some other violent means.

  We recently traveled on Highway 93 in Arizona, the primary transportation route between Phoenix and Las Vegas, where three wide overpasses span the four-lane solely as a corridor for desert bighorn sheep in order to reduce the inevitable wildlife-vehicle collisions. As you know, I LOVE taxes (note sarcasm and another reference to Measure I), so I would have supported these multi-million dollar thoroughfares over the highway that bisect the sheep’s range on Mount Wilson and their water source, the Colorado River. I can imagine how controversial the project was when proposed, but I think we owe it to the animals when we encroach on their habitat with our speeding, killing machines.

  Maybe that can be our next measure on the local ballot. To integrate large culvert underpasses along Highway 198 to allow animals safe passage during their migrations to the river. Look at it this way, drivers wouldn’t have to slow down.

  But until then, don’t mess with Mother Nature. She has her ways of getting even. So slow down, and live and let live.

November 9, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
Measure I: Closing costs

by Sarah Elliott

  It is with extreme disillusionment that The Kaweah Commonwealth must report this week that Measure I will most likely not garner the votes necessary to pass (absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted but the math doesn’t add up). While the $60 annual parcel tax measure received more than 60 percent approval, it did not attain the required two-thirds super majority necessary for passage.

  I am forever grateful to the hundreds of voters who have the foresight to vote in favor of this measure. Your generous commitment to Three Rivers and the education of its children is appreciated and will not be in vain. Even the smallest of ripples is felt.

  As for the 30-something percent of local voters who opposed this important measure on the ballot, this is unprecedented as Three Rivers School has never before met with such resistance when going to voters for support. This community’s demographic has changed.    There is a resentment, which most likely has nothing to do with the school, that is palpable.

  Most likely, local activists will call the naysayers’ bluff and dig in their heels in a final attempt to save the school. Yep, once again a few volunteers will work for the common good of the entire community. You’re welcome.

  Remember, life is an echo and will always get back to you. What you see in others exists in you. What you send out, you reap. What you give, you get.

November 2, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
Measure I: Closing costs

by Sarah Elliott

  Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you’ve seen the headlines. California schools from kindergarten to college are in dire straits financially. But why?

  Budget woes— It’s the State of California that provides the money to operate our schools. The funds come from our state income tax, property tax, and sales tax. The State receives our tax dollars then allocates it back to the school districts; the schools then budget the money in a way that will best educate the students.

  Schools base their budgets on what the State has pledged to pay. However, in recent years, the State has been deferring funds with little notice.

  Look at it this way: you have a house payment, utility and grocery bills, car payment, and other regular expenses each month. You depend on your paycheck to meet these obligations. But what if your boss said you wouldn’t be getting paid for the rest of the year? You’ve got to dip into your reserve fund… if you have one. California schools are required to have a reserve fund, so that is what is being used at Three Rivers School right now in order to pay the bills.

  The predicament TRUS is in currently is not the result of mismanagement on a local level. And cuts have been made to the bone with more planned.

  Soul searching— If you are a past or present TRUS parent telling yourself that you are voting NO on Measure I because there’s a teacher that you didn’t think was the best match for your child or the superintendent made a decision that you didn’t agree with, then you are being extremely narrow-minded or, at the very least, not honest with yourself about the real reason.

  Maybe you don’t have children at TRUS and never will and see no reason to pay for other people’s kids. But parents know something that childless adults occasionally forget: it takes a community to rear a child. Children need a community of involved adults to bring them up properly.

  C’mon, admit it. Deep down, the real reason you’re considering voting NO is because you want to keep the $60 (the cost of one venti Caramel Macchiato a month) for yourself instead of investing in your community. In fact, anyone voting NO on Measure I is doing it for this one reason only, no matter what argument you may use to persuade yourself (and others) otherwise.

  Well, that could certainly come back to bite you. Mark Twain famously said, “The only two certainties in life are death and taxes.”

  By voting the school away, you are ensuring that all of our taxes will be raised. Why?

  Because families will move away and prospective buyers won’t move to a community in decline, so the dwindling population of property owners will be smaller, thus ensuring that more taxes will be paid by fewer people to pay for unmet needs.

  It’s inevitable— It is well documented what happens to communities that don’t have a school. Formerly active residents and young parents move away, property values take a nosedive, and the community is fractured.

  Small schools are the glue that binds together small communities, serving as their economic and social hub. Small villages that lose their schools lose more than a building; they lose their collective cultural and civic center.

  Good schools close to home are the right of every child. In rural communities that means keeping small schools open no matter what the cost and making them the best schools they can be.

  Quality over quantity— I don’t need TRUS anymore. My kids have now graduated from college and settled elsewhere. But over the past several months, I have done so much research on the issue of small, rural schools; consolidation of schools; and parcel taxes — with the best interest of all of Three Rivers in mind — that I can guarantee that Measure I is a worthwhile and safe investment for Three Rivers property owners.

   At this point, I don’t think that opponents care about the reasons why a small school like TRUS is better for students than being bussed to a large school elsewhere (but it is). Because when it comes right down to it, it’s not really about the school, is it? It’s about you not having to pay for it.

   Three Rivers School is the reason our family moved here in April 1993, just four months before our oldest child was to start kindergarten. We wouldn’t have returned to Three Rivers if not for the school. In fact, we took a huge pay cut by relocating here from Orange County, saying over and over and over, it’s not about the quantity of money, it’s about the quality of life. In retrospect, we were right.

  The basic question is whether we’re still all in this together — committed to equal opportunity and the common good in our little town — or if each of us is now on our own.

Please vote YES on Measure I.

October 26, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
Why Measure I

by Sarah Elliott

  That I was able to attend Three Rivers School is an opportunity for which I will always be grateful. This became evident as I gathered with eight decades of alumni at the first and only TRUS Reunion earlier this month.
   Three Rivers School is a special place that offers an education like no other elementary school. In this rural setting, education extends beyond the classroom to include the natural world that interfaces with the schoolyard.
   Although I hadn’t seen some of my classmates for 40 years, we had a bond that was not severed by time. By the time graduation rolls around at TRUS, classmates are brothers and sisters, and the love doesn’t fade.
   Five generations of my family have been educated in Three Rivers. Measure I will ensure that local children continue to be offered this extraordinary experience. It will guarantee that students stay in Three Rivers through their eighth-grade year, that we have representation of a local school board, and that students share an unbreakable bond that remains no matter where their lives later lead.
   There were hundreds of TRUS alumni in Three Rivers this month that would attest to the significance of this local school. Please don’t deny children the ultimate experience of this same remarkable education.

 

October 19, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
Vote YES on Measure I

by Sarah Elliott

  The Kaweah Commonwealth is proud to be on record for supporting Three Rivers Union School and endorsing the passage of Measure I on the November 6 ballot. We certainly wouldn’t want to be remembered in the annals of Three Rivers history as not supporting this important ballot measure.
   If, in the years to come, this community no longer has a school, historians, researchers, and writers will know that the town’s newspaper realized the implications of a community without a school well in advance of its demise. And, most likely, if there is no school, a newspaper won’t survive in the community much longer either, along with several other quasi-public services.
   Three Rivers residents have always understood the importance of having an elementary school. After all, the first school opened here in 1873, which is when the first major influx of settlers arrived. By the 1880s, there were five schools serving the Three Rivers area. In early settlements, schools were of great importance, second only to a reliable water source in priority.
   In 1927, local voters approved unification and the Three Rivers Union School District was formed, combining the far-flung schools into one. In the 1980s, local voters also approved the funding of the multipurpose building that was opened in 1993 and today is known as McDowall Auditorium (it’s a gymnasium, a performing arts venue, a cafeteria, a meeting hall, and an indispensable community resource). Now it is time for the community (two-thirds of you are needed) to step up to ensure that quality education continues in Three Rivers as we can no longer rely on state funds.
   When the population of Three Rivers began declining in 2008 concomitant with the housing crisis and the downturn of the economy, the per-pupil funding at TRUS declined also. A vicious cycle ensued: fewer people moved here, the population declined further, TRUS felt the pinch and began making deep cuts.
   Measure I is a temporary initiative to bridge the gap during these difficult economic times. For a commitment of $5 a month for a period of about five years, we can ensure, as previous generations have before us, that a school remains in Three Rivers.
   It’s a sacrifice that we should be willing to make for future generations of Three Rivers children. It’s a sacrifice that was made for us by previous generations.
   Measure “I” would be better called Measure “We,” because this isn’t about what’s best for me or you, singularly. This is about what’s best for Three Rivers and its future.
   Together as a community, we have the opportunity to come together for the collective good in order to continue providing quality education to Three Rivers children for now and generations to come. Please vote YES on Measure “We”!

 

October 12, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
Vote YES on Measure I

by Sarah Elliott

  When faced with voting to tax one’s self, it’s understandable to be concerned. Currently, there are thousands of voters in California dealing with this dilemma as they decide if they are going to support their school district in these unprecedented times of vast education cuts.
   That’s because there are 25 school district parcel tax measures on ballots throughout the state, including Visalia Unified School District’s Measure E, which has been unanimously endorsed by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce. In addition, five of these 25 don’t have sunset dates, including TRUS. And $60 for five or so years in Three Rivers doesn’t sound so bad compared to $204 per year in Marin County, $196 (for eight years) in San Mateo County, $184.70 (for eight years) in Sonoma County, or $96 a year in Los Angeles County.
   Here are some concerns I’ve heard that deserve further clarification:

WHY IS THERE NO SUNSET DATE?
   Due to state cuts, it has become imperative that the Three Rivers Union School District has a temporary yet reliable source of funds or the school will face consolidation or closure within three years. Measure I will ensure that the high quality of education in Three Rivers continues with income that the state cannot take away.
   As taxes go, there could be no better. All dollars raised stay here. Living in an unincorporated community, we have a low return on our tax dollars. Without a doubt, a buck will go farther when going straight to TRUS than to Sacramento.
   An independent Community Oversight Committee will provide strict accountability and transparency of Measure I funds; it will be the committee and not the TRUS administration or board of trustees that will determine when Measure I funds are no longer needed.

I OWN TOO MANY PARCELS!
   For many landowners, their additional parcels derive income, whether it’s rent, ranchland, investment, equity, or resale. Just like a business has overhead, a person in the business of land can expect to have costs over and above the average homeowner.

UNIFY WITH WUSD!
   Three Rivers School is struggling not to give up its independence, and the board of trustees is working under the assumption that this is the preference of the community they serve. Local control and local board representation are worth keeping.
   Policies that promote school consolidation are likely to do more harm than good to budgets and students, conclude the authors of “Consolidation of Schools and Districts: What the Research Says and What It Means,” published in 2010 by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
   According to the policy brief, “Research on the effects of contemporary consolidation suggests that new consolidation is likely to result in neither greater efficiency nor better instructional outcomes. The consolidation strategy seems to have reached the point at which markedly diminished returns should be anticipated.”
   The report identifies a number of reasons for concern about school consolidation. Research findings show that larger school and district sizes are associated with reduced rates of student participation, more dangerous school environments, lower graduation rates, and larger achievement gaps along lines of poverty, race, and gender.
   While small schools tend to attain higher levels of student achievement, a rural school also holds a prominent position in the economic and social development of a community.

I DON’T USE THE SCHOOL!
   The private cannot exist without the public. In Three Rivers, we use roads and rely on sturdy bridges everyday, and also expect clean water, call law-enforcement officers or the fire department when the need arises, go to parks, fly in airplanes (most pilots are trained in the Navy), check out free books from the library. We depend on the public in ways we don’t even think about. Yes, you use the school, or employ a graduate of the school, or have attended an event at the school, or have gone to school yourself. Somehow, someway, public education here in Three Rivers has benefitted you.

TRUS WILL LOSE STATE FUNDS!
   Although the revenue to schools from the state is dwindling, a school that derives income from a parcel tax measure does not get state funds withheld. Approval of Measure I will not affect per-pupil income.

TRUS IS SPENDING TOO MUCH
FOR ADMINISTRATION AND STAFF!
   If teachers’ salaries were commensurate with standardized test scores, then TRUS staff would receive much more than their present salaries. But this is not the case, so although we have a tireless superintendent/principal/teacher and a half-dozen other dedicated teachers, they receive some of the lowest pay in the county.
   The TRUS superintendent/principal’s salary is $78,700. TRUS teachers earn $35,000 to $41,000. According to 2011 figures, Sequoia Union’s (Lemon Cove) superintendent earns $90,000 and the teachers make $53,000; Woodlake’s superintendent earns $133,250 and the teachers are paid $60,000; and in Exeter, the superintendent earns $145,000 while a teacher’s salary is $66,000.
   Some administrative leaders in California, such as in smaller school districts, occupy the hybrid role of superintendent/principal. Currently, the TRUS District superintendent is also the site principal and, for the last three years, has taught full-time in the classroom without receiving teacher’s pay.
   Superintendent’s duties— A superintendent serves as the chief executive officer for their school district, overseeing the implementation of policies and laws and ensuring the proper use of resources, including state and federal funds. They prepare budgets and handle union contract negotiations.
   Principal’s duties— Principals evaluate teachers and other staff, oversee the maintenance of school facilities, and ensure that school staff implement district policies.
   The above equation of administration and staff has worked at TRUS for 85 years. The proof is in the product!

 

October 5, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
Vote YES on Measure I

by Sarah Elliott

  Rarely does a measure hold the significance or face a challenge that Measure I does on the November 6 ballot. Three Rivers residents have the opportunity to act to save our school.
   This is the second attempt at passing a parcel tax measure in as many years. In 2010, the measure garnered 56.46 percent of the vote, meaning it was about 10 percent, or 60 votes, short of the two-thirds majority required. I am proud that a majority of Three Rivers voters are forward-thinking enough to comprehend the implications of this measure.
   Upon approval, Measure I will assess property owners in the Three Rivers Union School District $60 per year until that time it is no longer deemed necessary by an independent oversight committee. This translates to $5 per month. Or $1.15 per week. Or a mere 16 cents a day!
   If we property owners don’t collectively take responsibility for this save-our-school project, Three Rivers Union School will be consolidated or closed within three years. Those who are considering a “no” vote can give any excuse they want for opposing the measure, but none is valid considering the risk we, as a community, are taking if we don’t allow this measure to pass.
   TRUS plays a significant role in the community, serving children, youth, and families; providing public space; offering programs; hosting events; building social connections; and providing a hub for many facets of community life. Schools are key in developing community connections and pride in the accomplishments of local residents while enhancing the quality of life.
   Although a school closure is aligned with economic savings, do not automatically assume that this is so. Any examination of the cost of keeping Three Rivers School open should be balanced against the broader costs to children, families, and the community.
   The cost to students: When students are displaced because of a school closure, they face longer days, traveling by bus or family vehicle to a school outside the community. As Three Rivers high school families already know, the transportation schedules for these students present obstacles to extracurricular activities at their new school, to programs in their home community, and playtime with friends and family time.
   The cost to parents: With their children attending school away from Three Rivers, it will be difficult for parents to volunteer at school, attend events, deal with any medical issues their child may experience, and connect with their child’s teachers.
   The cost to Three Rivers: The loss of TRUS has significant implications for the community at large. In addition to the impact of losing the public space and social connections provided by the school, a closure presents a significant deterrent to families residing here or relocating here. School closures affect property values, retail trade, variety and number of businesses, the local job market, and community viability.
   The importance and validity of Three Rivers School goes beyond education. It plays a major role in the economic development of the community and makes Three Rivers more attractive to newcomers (including National Park Service employees). Businesses are more likely to move to communities with schools, and families will not move to communities without schools.
   Don’t make Measure I our fate. Make it our destiny.
   Your vote really does count. Vote YES on Measure I.

September 14, 2012

MAKIN' HISTORY:
A yahoo absconds with my email and more

by John Elliott

   No, I’m not in London. No I’m not in dire straits and in need of $1,750 to bail me out of a jam. But that is what a broadcast email announced to dozens of my computer contacts last week. Now I’ve changed my email address and reset all my passwords in what’s become an ongoing quest to stay one step ahead of the hackers.
   On Wednesday, Sept. 5, they got me and they got me good. Not only was there an errant email sent to my contacts saying I was in trouble and requesting money but also a year’s worth of my inbox… poof, gone into cyberspace. My entire address book was suddenly non-existent and with it, several years of information.
   The current hacking incident, which will take several more days and even more dollars to clean up, started Wednesday morning around 7 a.m. Sarah and I were on an early morning run, just turning around at the corrals on the Salt Creek Trail to head back down to Skyline Drive. Escaping to this or other remote sections of Three Rivers is a soothing way to begin what is always sure to be a busy and long workday.
   My iPhone, which is brought along solely to supply running music, not to conduct business, interrupted my extreme endorphin rush with a chain of calls from several concerned friends. With my iPhone strapped to my upper arm, I couldn’t make out the callers’ names but I began to suspect that something was amiss.
   Some 30 minutes later, back at our vehicle, I began to listen to the voicemails. Here are a couple I liked the best: “Hey, buddy, whatever you need just let me know what I can do to help. I’m there for you” and “I just wanted to verify if this is legitimate before I send you the money.”
   Quite touching; the kind of friends I think I’ll keep around for awhile.
   For the next couple of hours I talked all about this latest hacking with a chain of contacts, some of whom I hadn’t heard from in months. There was something nostalgic and silly about those conversations, all because I inconvenienced my contacts in my address book. I’m sorry, I repeatedly said, embarrassed by my vulnerability.
   Like the majority of us who live and work in the digital age, I live by the computer and die by the computer. When you get hacked you are violated. No, they didn’t break into my home, but they broke into my life.
   My son, the recent college grad, told me the average middle school student, who is only slightly savvy on the computer, can compromise and hack into any email account.
   Change the email and passwords, sweep for viruses, and then try to speculate on which knucklehead in what time zone got in this time. It’s happened to me before. The last time was a link sent to everyone that promised a weight-loss secret. Some friends were mildly offended.
   And it’s likely to happen again, especially when dealing with all the information we do in the newspaper business, planning commission, foundations, consumer accounts, banking, insurance, healthcare, hobbies, travel, family, friends, social networks -— it’s far too much information in one place and little wonder that our collective intelligence and computers don’t drive us all crazy.
   The bottomline is always be vigilant with your contacts, downloads, and whatever you do on computer. Safeguard your routing numbers, credit accounts, and especially your social security number. Don’t, under any circumstances, assign the same password to everything. And if your information isn’t backed up (i.e., stored in two separate places), then you, too, are vulnerable to loss via cyber-attack.
   This recent violation was just inconvenient. If one of these hackers gets a hold of your personal data, it could be the end of your cyber life and that’s a place not unlike my recent trip to London –— a place you don’t want to go.

July 13, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
What goes up must come down

by Sarah Elliott

  In May, while sitting in an outdoor stadium at my son’s college graduation in San Francisco, my family and I watched as balloons, both Mylar and latex, drifted from the stadium on an easterly breeze. “See you in the Sierra this summer,” I said.

  Every few years or so, I am compelled to remind readers about the dangers caused by the release of balloons into the sky. I reiterate that this is littering and a threat to the environment, but every year in the Sierra, our family stuffs one or more found balloons into a backpack and haul them out of the mountains and to the trash, where they rightfully belong.

  Twelve years ago, when my son was 10, he was at a birthday party for a classmate.   Another parent told me that all the children at the party were given balloons to let go.   Everyone let their balloons go except for Johnnie. When the parent asked him why he didn’t release his balloon, he adamantly said, “Because it’s littering!”

  Too bad the rest of society isn’t so passionate about the damage balloons can do on land and in the sea.

  When a balloon is let go, it will blow high into the sky. When it eventually bursts or deflates, it returns to Earth, often many miles from its departure location.

  A balloon can travel hundreds of miles before landing in a forest, field, lake, or ocean. No ecosystem is safe as balloons can be deadly.

  Many animals such as birds, fish, marine mammals, and other wildlife easily mistake balloons for food or get tangled in the ribbons or string. When ingested, a balloon can block an animal’s digestive tract and cause it to slowly starve to death. It is extremely common for sea turtles to consume balloon litter because when a balloon lands in the ocean, it resembles a turtle’s favorite food: jellyfish.

  The ribbon that is often attached to a balloon can entangle any animal that comes in contact with it, which also leads to starvation. Simply put, releasing a balloon is littering and should be included in laws that prohibit the act of littering.

  Five states have laws against mass balloon releases. California is one of them. It is California Penal Code Section 653.1 and relates solely to balloons that are constructed of electrically conductive material and filled “with a gas lighter than air.” The law states that these balloons must have weights attached “to counter the lift capability of the balloon,” a warning statement about the risk if the balloon comes in contact with electrical power lines, and contain the identification of the balloon manufacturer.

  Since 1990, California has required sellers to attach metallic balloons to an appropriate weight to stop flyaway balloons. First- and second-time violators face a fine of $100, and repeat offenders face a misdemeanor charge. It is a rarely enforced law.

  The bill that would have banned metallic balloon sales in January 2010 was ultimately discarded by Governor Schwarzenegger in a generic veto during California’s 2008 budget impasse.

  The balloon industry is working hard to keep balloon releases legal. They claim latex balloons are biodegradable, but studies show they can take many years for this to happen, offering plenty of time for wildlife to encounter the litter.

  Mylar balloons last even longer. And balloon releases are becoming more popular with charitable events, memorials for loved ones, or to bring awareness to a cause.

  Helium depletion is also cause for concern. It is used for important things such as MRIs, the space industry, and deep-sea exploration. Helium is a nonrenewable resource, and experts warn that the U.S. supply is being depleted, forcing it to be imported from Russia and the Middle East.

  In the last 15 years, it is rare for us to take a hike in the nearby mountains without stumbling across a balloon. We’ve retrieved them from meadows, waterways, trees, and melted by the sun onto granite.

  One balloon contained the logo of a Los Angeles County school, meaning that it conceivably traveled 200 miles to its final resting place near Colby Pass in a remote location on the boundary between Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

  Several years later, we found a balloon “bouquet” of more than 30 balloons, still inflated, in a pristine waterway at the uppermost reaches of Deadman Canyon in Kings Canyon National Park. Our family of four received contemptuous pleasure from stabbing each balloon so it deflated, but did not appreciate having to carry this heavy, oversized mass in our already overloaded backpacks for the remainder of our trip.

  Please take a stand and do not release balloons into the atmosphere. There are many other ways to celebrate or commemorate an event.

  Just because balloons don’t land on the ground when discarded, but instead float into the sky doesn’t mean that the act of releasing a balloon isn’t littering. It is!

  Please hold onto your balloons and dispose of them properly.

 

April 13, 2012

MAKIN' HISTORY:
Let's get this party started

byJohn Elliott

  Welcome, Jazz Fans! I hope the somewhat blustery start to this 39th edition of Jazzaffair has not dampened your spirits. If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it will change.
   Around these parts, this weekend’s weather is just about the norm for what I have come to know as Jazzaffair weather. Jazzaffair weather means that we will experience all four seasons in one weekend and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
   We Californians tend to look at rainfall, no matter how much or how little, as manna from heaven. In Tulare County, with its multi-billion dollar ag industry, it’s like money in the bank or at least how money in the bank used to be in the good old days of pre-2008.
   Of course, some years the Kaweah Country weather in April is warm and dry. In my 18 years of covering Jazzaffair, it’s weather like this year that makes for the best memories.
   Remember the year that Lions Arena had the Memorial Tent set up there? The powers-that-be thought it prudent to combine both venues near the RV haven. After all didn’t those tireless Lions need to work a little harder?
   The former Three Rivers Airport landing strip (the old airport closed in the 1970s) became a sea of mud that weekend. The dancers and the listeners gave up on that venue and the musicians, who played, mostly for each other, had a ball making all the mud jokes.   If it had rained any longer I’m sure we would have seen Wooden Nickel, the Titans, Blue Street, and Raisin Babies performing in the mud like we see at the Major League Baseball ball parks during a rain delay.
   Another year, the Memorial Tent was set up at the former Indian Restaurant. The thinking behind that experiment was why not place the tent nearer the Holiday Inn Express (today’s Comfort Inn and Suites). It’s Three Rivers’s largest lodging property, after all, and the restaurant employees could do the work and earn some extra money to boot.
   The tent failed to attract any numbers at that locale in part because attendance in general was off that year.
   After that ill-fated fest, the jazz club pondered the question that so many jazz festivals have dealt with recently: Should we even go forward with a jazz festival at all?
   The Indian Restaurant, owing to one conspicuous circumstance after another, never recovered. A year or two later after that Jazzaffair, the restaurant closed and became a perennial construction site. Then one night after the bars closed, a Three Rivers motorist, while trying to send a text message, crashed into the iconic redwood Indian chief sculpture at the entrance to the place that for two decades had caught the eye of every visitor and passerby.
   The youthful driver was none the worse for the wear but her car was totaled. Now the redwood sits in pieces out front waiting for the day when someone comes along and puts Humpty Dumpty back together again and, as a bonus, reopens the restaurant too.
   The next year, in both instances, the Memorial Tent was right back where it seems to work best — on the parking lot at the Three Rivers Memorial Building. Sometimes the things that work best are best left alone.
   So it appears through all that plagues this great nation and state of ours, Jazzaffair has weathered the storm. That means it’s time to try out a new venue — St. Anthony Retreat.   This time Rusty Crain, Jazzaffair director, thought it wise to leave the Memorial Tent where it belongs and harbors hope that fans will jump into their cars and find their way up to scenic St. Anthony.
   As it turns out, attending some sets up there will be the hot tip this weekend, especially on Friday and Saturday when daytime high temperatures may only reach the 50s. It’s cozy up there, the food is excellent, there is a fireplace for warmth, and the acoustics in the chapel are super. Best of all, the Jazzaffair musicians are housed in the rooms on the property so this will likely be where impromptu jam sessions happen.
   The new venue is less than a mile past the Memorial Building (watch for the Jazz signs) and affords views up into the Salt Creek drainage. Salt Creek happens to have a wonderful system of trails for hiking and mountain biking that lead all the way to Case Mountain, another beautiful and lesser known grove of giant sequoias.

 

March 30, 2012

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS:
Affordable Care Act

by Sarah Elliott

   The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama two years ago, benefits every American.
   On Monday, March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments on whether to uphold the landmark law. At issue is, is it constitutional to require every American to maintain adequate health insurance?
   I have to answer that question with a question. If it is not legal to require U.S. citizens to purchase health insurance, why then are we required by law to maintain insurance for our cars, homes (i.e., fire and flood), and/or businesses?
   Those who are defending the law in Court say the federal government has authority to compel Americans to buy health insurance under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives Washington the power to regulate interstate commerce. They argue our titanic health insurance system surely extends beyond an individual state.
   Those who are opposing the law say a requirement that individuals contract with private insurance companies isn’t regulation of interstate commerce. It’s coercion of individuals.
   Unhappily for Obama and the Democrats, most Americans don’t seem to like the individual mandate much anyway. Many on the political right believe it a threat to individual liberty. Many on the left object to being required to buy something from a private company.
   There is much work to be done, but the Affordable Care Act has the potential to benefit every American by lowering health care costs and creating greater health care options. And it will make affordable health insurance accessible to everyone.
   According to Kamala D. Harris, the California Attorney General, before the reform was passed, health care spending accounted for 18 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. And by 2008, the health care bill for uninsured Americans climbed to $43 billion, which was passed on by health care providers to the insurance companies that then raised the premiums of all those individuals with health insurance.
   This is a humanitarian law. No American should ever have to decide between health care and homelessness. No American should have to forgo a lifesaving medical procedure in order to pay rent.
   No child should be denied insurance coverage due to a preexisting condition, such as asthma or ear infections. No senior citizen on a fixed income should have to choose between buying prescription drugs or groceries. No person should have to quit their job due to a treatable illness because they can’t afford medical care.
   Nobody should have to die because they can’t afford to live.
   The Affordable Care Act is a good beginning to much-needed health care reform. Personally, I would like something that more effectively and inexpensively provides universal coverage. But this is a step in the right direction.
   By 2014, when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, this near-universal coverage would expand the market, lower costs, and make health care affordable for everyone.
   If this landmark reform can actually make it through the Court in one piece, it will be a victory for all Americans and a legacy we leave to future generations.
                                                          * * *
  People are extremely passionate about the healthcare reform issue. If you disagree with me, I hope you choose to write a Letter to the Editor. But let me remind you of the rules in advance.
   Do not attack me personally. If you do, your letter won’t be published. Instead stick to the facts while explaining your position.
   Even though I have my opinion on this issue — we have been pummeled by our health insurance company since our son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1999 ­— I respect all opinions, know there are two sides to every story, and look forward to hearing yours.

 

 

 
THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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