Terry McAteer: California’s “doughnut hole” is clearly in trouble | TheUnion.com

Terry McAteer: California’s “doughnut hole” is clearly in trouble

Terry McAteer

I recently called for an Uber at SFO and experienced firsthand our two Californias.

Our Uber driver was a college educated immigrant who had been a Special Forces assistant to the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He sadly stated that he is never able to return home to see his extended family as his life is marked by the Taliban and has been provided U.S. citizenship through his U.S. military work.

He now lives in Modesto with his wife and young child and drives a leased car for Uber to eke out an existence. He can’t afford to live in the Bay Area so he drives two hours each way, every day from Modesto to earn the higher Uber rates that are charged in the Bay Area, often working 15 hour days.

While the State of Jefferson folks profess a need for a north/south political split, the real split in our state is an economic one, clearly centered in the “doughnut hole” of California. The Central Valley may be the breadbasket for this nation but a recent Brandeis University study found Central Valley cities to be some of the most impoverished in the nation.

Bakersfield, in fact, ranked lowest in the nation, on what Brandeis called the “child opportunity index.” The ranking accounted for poverty, access to preschool, graduation rates, pollution and other environmental factors. Fresno and Stockton joined Bakersfield in the bottom five.

“We define child opportunity as the neighborhood’s resources and conditions (e.g., good schools, healthy food outlets, clean air) that matter for children’s healthy development,” said the Brandeis study.

In Bakersfield, Fresno and Stockton over half of the children live in low-opportunity neighborhoods that, by national standards, have the most limited conditions and resources for healthy child development.

Seventy five miles away from Stockton are the high-tech capitals of San Jose and San Francisco which Brandeis placed in the Top 10 of the “Child Opportunity Index.” The report points out that in San Francisco and San Jose there are virtually no children living in very low-opportunity neighborhoods.

And it’s just not child opportunity. In a recent health study entitled the American Fitness Index, Bakersfield, Fresno and Stockton showed these cities having some of the worst personal fitness issues of any cities in the nation. In contrast, San Jose, San Francisco and Irvine were all in the top 10 best cities for personal health.

While the Central Valley produces most of our food with water supplied from the Central Valley Water Project, it is the five counties in the Valley that have the highest levels of contaminated drinking water in the state. According to the State Water Resources Board, 141 water districts in this region do not meet state safe drinking water standards.

It is perfectly clear that the “doughnut hole” of the Central Valley is in dire need of some intervention as compared to the coastal and Sierra foothill counties that have seen economic expansion this past decade. In fact, Gov. Newsom has pledged to get public and private funds to invest in clean water, preschool education and workforce development.

“I care deeply about this damn Valley because I care about this state,” Newsom said recently at a Central Valley Economic Forum. “I’m so sick and tired of this notion that somehow we’re living in two different worlds in the state: coastal economy and inland economy.”

While California may have the fifth largest economy in the world (ranking behind the U.S., China, Japan and Germany), we obviously have some work to do to insure that all Californians share in the economic opportunity of this great state.

Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at editboard@theunion.com.

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