On January 10, 2007, the Foothills Sun-Gazette began a 3-part series on the problems facing poor rural communities in Tuare County. They are considered to be "non-viable communities," and as such are apparently an irritation to some of our more fastidious Tulare County residents. As the first article relates, during a public gathering to discuss the Tulare County General Plan, "they were referred to by Visalia residents and business owners as 'one taco truck towns' that should 'just go away' or be 'left to die.'"
(Poverty plagues Plainville)
"But to the thousands of people who live in these small, rural communities they are simply known as home," the editor writes.
I, of course, found these comments — certainly spoken by pillars of the Visalia social and business set — deeply irritating to my own sensibilities. So I crafted a letter to the Foothills Sun-Gazette in response. I recall that it was printed as written below, but I have apparently misplaced or lost the printed copy. It occurred to me later that many of those who read it might well miss my sarcasm completely, and simply think that I shared their own views on the subject. I'll never know.
To Foothills Sun-Gazette
January 12, 2007
By Bill Becker
Those Visalia residents and business owners who reckoned that poor communities like Plainview are just "one taco truck towns" that should "just go away" or be "left to die" clearly need to review economics 101, as well as the likely consequences if these towns actually did disappear. ("Poverty Plagues Plainview. Jan. 10, 2007, by Reggie Ellis.")
Consider: If Plainview were to "die," its residents might move to Springville, or Three Rivers, or crowd into the poorer sections of Visalia itself. Do we want that? Of course we don't.
As it is, Plainview residents are effectively out-of-sight, and the criminal activity that generally plagues such poor communities is generally limited to the community itself. The danger to law enforcement is minimized as well, considering the general lack of response to complaints by the Sheriff's department. Do we want that criminal activity to spread beyond Plainview? Of course we don't.
On the economic side, Plainview is a downright blessing. By living in a centralized location, the farmworkers of Plainview can carpool to the fields, and lengthen the life of any individual vehicle. So, the workers get to the fields on time. If Plainview were to disappear, these workers might well have to spread out, requiring more use of marginal vehicles, more breakdowns, and more disruption of the harvest. Do the growers, on whom Tulare County's multi-million dollar agricultural economy depends, want that? Of course they don't.
Moreover, in the future these "non-viable communities," as they have been called, will provide another, long overdue economic benefit to Tulare County's larger cities. I refer to the 1/2-cent sales tax increase that Tulare County voters so wisely approved last November. The tax will pay for the maintenance and improvement of the Tulare County roads. Plainview has no commercial section to speak of, and Plainview residents have for years been riding free on the streets of the commercial hubs where they come to shop. Now, because the sales tax will be spent in the areas where it is collected, the free ride for Plainview is finally over.
These are only a few of the benefits we get from Tulare County's outlying working poor. (If I were a Visalia businessman, I would say that God's in His heaven and all's well with the world — knock on wood.)
Finally, the article tugs at our heartstrings over the lack of municipal services in these communities, such as deteriorating water systems, or unpaved streets.
But, really, aren't the people of Plainview themselves responsible for their situation? The founding principle of our free-market system, in which labor is a commodity just like apples and oranges, is that anyone who really wants a good-paying job can find one — if he or she wants it badly enough. "Personal responsibility" is the name of the game out here in the rural west, so if the farmworkers of Plainview don't like working for low pay, then they shouldn't complain. They should just go out and get better jobs. It's as simple as that. But don't expect the rest of us to pave Plainview's streets for them.