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Coastal Voices: Even in DN, don't take water for granted

“Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

-— Quote attributed to Mark Twain

Lets just forget the possibility of a water rate increase for a minute and take the time to reflect on what water really means to all of us.

Once the importance of water is honestly assessed, we’ll be more equipped to objectively address the rates necessary to deliver the water to our homes and businesses.

We all know from basic science classes that our bodies are actually about 97 percent water! Water is a basic building block of life. Without drinking water none of us survive very long. The majority of the world’s population lives near or depends upon freshwater environments.

My brother recently retired from a career working with the World Health Organization to improve the public health of people living in developing countries. He does not hesitate to volunteer that the biggest threat to the populations of those countries is simply the lack of clean drinking water.

We drink, bathe, cook, clean, flush and play in and around water. Our crops and animals of all kinds need and consume water. We depend on water to put out fires in our forests and buildings. Water runs all manner of machinery and provides power to our industrialized world.

Here in California it is not unusual to hear about “water wars” between special interest groups, and between populations in Northern and Southern California. Dams and reservoirs are constructed, and complex, expensive delivery systems developed.

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Coastal Voices: This isn’t necessarily just a ‘crackpot’ idea

What does it take for an idea to go from “crackpot” to “worthy of consideration” to “the time has come” to “acceptance?”

I imagine our ancestors asked that question as they contemplated the “crackpot” idea of organizing 13 British colonies so that they could consider the outlandish idea of breaking away from the British yoke of oppression.

 They had legitimate reasons that they enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. They were willing to risk their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for a cause.

Today we live under an oppressive state government that only listens to the citizens living in large metropolitan areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. 

Our forebears fought the British because those colonists had no representation before the British crown. Is that any different than a state  imposing a tax that only applies to those living in rural areas and exempts cities?

The fire tax is a case in point where only those living in rural areas pay this $150 tax every year even though they are protected by their own local fire departments, to whom they also pay a tax.

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Coastal Voices: Dealing with health care reform puzzle

We are just days away from the Affordable Care Act taking a major step forward as individuals and families begin to seize newly available opportunities to enroll in health care coverage.

All the pieces of the puzzle have to fit together. We won’t know how well all the technology and procedures will work together until after Tuesday, when enrollment commences.  

Undoubtedly, there will be problems — some with easy fixes and some that are more difficult to overcome — to address. Please know that our county agency and staff are doing everything in our control to bring health care coverage and the expansion to our residents.

For many in our community, it is the county where the rubber meets the road in health care reform.  Del Norte County Department of Health and Human Services is where many people will turn to understand the available health care coverage options either through the expansion of MediCal, or through the state insurance exchange, known as Covered California, which will offer income-based federal subsidies.

For Del Norte County, state projections indicate an additional 2,000 individuals will be eligible for MediCal and another 3,000 for the state insurance exchange. 

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Protest aside, what about our water?

It’s not an election year, but there is a door-to-door campaign unfolding nevertheless on the streets of Crescent City.

Both inside and outside the city limits, users of the city water system are being asked to sign letters protesting plans for a rate increase. If enough such letters are collected by Nov. 4, the proposal is quashed.

The natural inclination, of course, is to oppose anything that adds to your monthly expenses, especially if it seems to provide no additional services. The opponents of the rate increase are banking on this simplistic response. They say the good folks of Crescent City can’t afford to pay more. Period. End of story.

After all, when the budget’s tight, long-term maintenance gets deferred, right?

The problem with that line of thinking is that, while it may be prudent to postpone a new coat of paint on the house, it’s irresponsible not to maintain a public system that delivers fresh, clean, downright good-tasting water to your tap, your neighbors’ taps, the whole community’s taps. And once that system falls into disrepair, it’s a lot more complicated to fix it than to finally get around to that paint job.

Another problem with the just-say-no campaign is it ignores the fact that city officials have already deferred taking care of the water system’s finances to the point of irresponsibility.

The water system is aging. An elevated storage tank needs to be made more earthquake-resistant. And the water fund has been running a deficit that the city has been covering with reserves that are now depleted.

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Church Notebook: Church offers ‘Around the World’ class

When I got home from Bible study Thursday night, I made a disheartening discovery. I had forgotten to turn on the porch light before I left.

But the not thinking about it wasn’t the problem. The whole thing of it was, once again, how time has flown — that we have arrived at that point in the year when turning that light on is a necessity in order to arrive safely at the front door.

Before we know it, most of our days will be wet and windy again. At least the rose bushes and other flowering things will have a never-ending source of water that doesn’t require hauling out the garden hose!

I’m about to embark on a repeat of four years ago — the time I grew my jalapenos on the kitchen counter all winter.

Four years ago, I had four mild-variety jalapenos growing in a big pot on the back porch. I like the flavor of those peppers, but the regular variety make my mouth sore. So the mild ones seemed like a good thing to try.

They were growing beautifully, about 24 inches tall. One morning I went out to water them, and found them completely denuded of leaves. The slugs had had a feast. I watered anyway, hoping they’d come back.

Come back they did —unfortunately, for a repeat slug feast. Well, maybe they’d come back again. Water and a liberal application of slug pellets did the trick. Come back? They did so with a vengeance. At 30 inches, and just loaded with leaves and blossoms, I observed them with smug satisfaction. I was going to get some peppers after all. Really?

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Coastal Voices: Poor residents can't pay more for water

I am the organizer of the Prop. 218 protest against the proposed water rate increase, and my reason for this action is to represent the 46 percent of the Crescent City population that lives at or below the federal poverty limit, which as anyone in that group knows, it’s a constant struggle for survival.

The majority of Crescent City citizens have an annual income of $30,000 or less. Of that group, those with an annual income of $10,000 or less is the largest, followed by the second-largest group with annual incomes in the $20,000 range. Our city’s median annual income is $19,000, which is less than half the state average.

Half the population in Crescent City literally can’t afford to pay more for such vital services as water and sewer. That isn’t saying they merely would prefer not to: they simply can’t.

Thanks to the doubling of our sewer rates back in 2007, low-income people, half the population, have already made sacrifices in food, medicine, or other necessary evils of living, to pay their increased sewer bill. We were told with that rate increase to just suck it up, and we were forced to do so. But for those living on a fixed income, or working a low wage job — which is the bulk of jobs Crescent City has to offer — the incomes have not gone up, in fact, adjusting for inflation they’ve gone down, and cost of living has increased.

Another aspect to consider that was pointed out to me by a local business person: These rate increases combined with lowered incomes take enough out of customers’ pockets that it affects their ability to buy extras: get haircuts or nails done, buy clothing or shoes, go out for an occasional meal or movie. This hurts local business.

Look around at the empty houses and closed businesses. Do we want to turn Crescent City into a ghost town? It appears to be already on its way.

But I’ve noticed a pattern with city dealings: the poorer end of the population is not even considered in its solutions. It’s as if our plight is not real to them. If they really understood what it’s like to live on $866 a month, they would not be coming with their hands out one more time.

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California Focus: There’s still hope for political compromise

Anyone who says there was no effect from political rule changes California used for the first time last year just hasn’t been watching. These included “top two” primary elections, slightly revised term limits and use of election districts drawn by non-partisan non-politicians.

Those changes had enormous impact this year on some of the most important issues taken up by state legislators — making it obvious some similar changes could be useful at the federal level.

The main impact of the changes has been restoration of respectability to the word “compromise.”

For decades before the rule changes, behavior patterns in Sacramento were much like those so paralyzing today in Congress: almost mindless adherence to the party line of whichever party lawmakers belong to and blind unwillingness even to listen to the reasoning of the other side.

But the new rules, including a term limit change allowing legislators to serve 12 total years, whether in one house or both, has lessened the need for new lawmakers to start looking for their next jobs almost as soon as they’re elected. So there’s less pressure for rookies to please party leaders who control money they could use if and when they seek to move up the political ladder.

Meanwhile, top two frees some politicians from the fear of extremists within their own parties, who often controlled the old Democratic and Republican primaries.

And some of the new districts are more competitive than the old gerrymandered ones, making moderation more attractive.

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House Calls: Skin-to-skin contact for newborns

Jeannine Williams-Barnard is a registered nurse for the Family Birth Center at Sutter Coast Hospital.

Remember the old images of a baby being born, held upside down by the feet and spanked by the doctor to make it cry?

I’m not sure if this was actually ever done to newborns, but one thing is clear — when it comes to the experience of being born, we’ve come a long way, baby!

 All of the major organizations involved with improving health of newborns, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the World Health Organization recommend skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth for all stable mothers and babies.

Following Sutter Health’s lead, the staff at Sutter Coast Hospital’s Family Birth Center began practicing the “Golden Hour” of skin-to-skin bonding time a few years ago, and have seen first-hand the benefits to both mothers and babies. 

Our efforts to promote skin-to-skin bonding time led to major changes in the way mothers undergoing caesarean sections receive recovery room care as well. Previously, mothers moved from the operating room to the recovery room, causing a delay in contact with their babies. Now, mothers proceed from the operating room directly back to their Family Birth Center room for recovery and simultaneous bonding time. 

To further reduce any delay in bonding, we are beginning to give thought to how to safely achieve skin-to-skin contact in the operating room for mothers who would like to try.

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Church Notebook: Music events at two churches

Time is getting short for filling up Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes

Have you gotten started on your shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child yet?

Before we know it, September will be over — and they have to be ready by the middle of November, so Samaritan’s Purse folks can get them sorted and headed in the right directions for Christmas.

I hadn’t started yet, and was reminded by a friend who brought me several boxes of crayons “for your shoeboxes.” Oops! Time for me to get busy.

I love doing these, and it’s fun to see just how much I can stuff into an individual box. I do that not only for the fun of it, but so that if the folks at Samaritan’s Purse find a box that has been sparsely packed, they can take some things out of my boxes and fill out some of the others.

The boxes go all over, in needy places here in our country, and in many, many others. They let children know that someone cares about them. Often they are the only Christmas gifts these children will receive.

Boxes are identified with tags showing gender and age groups 2–5, 6–10 and 11–14.

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California Focus: Lines blur between citizens, non-citizens

As the lines begin to blur between American citizens living in California and immigrants who are here legally, it’s fair to begin asking, what’s the difference? What rights and privileges should be reserved strictly for citizens?

These questions are highlighted by two bills that swept easily through the California Legislature, one already signed without much fanfare by Gov. Jerry Brown, the other awaiting his signature at this writing.

Essentially, they take some functions previously reserved entirely for citizens and open them up to legal residents, green card holders.

These developments really began almost 150 years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment applied to foreign residents of this country and not only to citizens. From then on, immigrants were entitled to equal protection under all laws. They already could own property, and right up to this day, they can hold virtually any job if they possess documents showing their presence here is legal.

So what’s left as the exclusive realm of citizens? Voting and its offshoots, for one thing. One of those offshoots is jury duty, where voting rolls are usually used when state and federal courts summon individuals to serve. Another is working at the polls, where individuals sign up with county officials to verify that voters only cast one ballot and to assist anyone who can’t understand how to use the state’s seemingly ever-changing ballots, which in the last two decades have evolved from punching chads out of cards through electronic machines to the Ink-a-Vote system used in most counties today.

But the new law and its possible companion put big dents into these former reserves for citizens.

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