Volunteers hand out bottled water to Tipton residents on Sunday, Dec. 20.

Monica Vaughan

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Good morning, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Friday, Jan. 1st. Happy new year!

Last week in Fresnoland, Danielle wrote about the Christmas present for the Friant-Kern Canal and south Valley farmers; Monica wrote about how bad the air quality was during this year’s wildfires, and Dayana wrote about some of the local heroes amidst a chaotic and difficult 2020.

This week was Dayana’s last week with the Fresnoland Lab at The Fresno Bee. She’s starting a new position with the City of Fresno in the new year. We’ll miss her dearly!

Dani Bergstrom, policy editor for Fresnoland, here.

This past year has brought tremendous disruption and sorrow to so many people throughout the central San Joaquin Valley, and we’re still in the middle of what experts are calling a ‘’surge upon a surge.’

But this year, we’ve also been blown away by stories of kindness in our community.

As a result of our generous readers, we were able to raise nearly $2,000 for clean water for the residents of Tipton — where Monica co-reported with Nathalie Vera of Univision 21 about their ongoing struggle to get rid of the nitrates and arsenic in their water.

Just before Christmas, Monica (along with amazing volunteers Jennifer Kim, Alton Williams and their families — and Tipton matriarch Estella Bravo and 12 other residents) delivered about 300 cases of bottled water to more than 100 carloads of families who had lined up around the block on a foggy Sunday afternoon.

Thanks to the generosity of Fresno Acura, we were able to bring a whole lot more water, food, diapers, and baby wipes to the community as well.

Kids in the backseats of cars cheered “Merry Christmas!”

Because of your donations, we have nearly enough funds to also supply five families with pregnant mothers or families with infants with water deliveries for a whole year. We’re just $300 short of our goal.

Can you donate today to help these families get clean water for a year?

As we wind down 2020, I’ve been reflecting on our reporting this past year.

Dympna’s stories in a series on being Black in Fresno — which launched with a personal essay on her own experience as a Black mother, is an indictment of our community’s failures to address racial injustice in our own backyard. (After her reporting on the failures to invest in Black-owned businesses, the Fresno City Council approved a $224,000 contract with a Black-owned janitorial company — a small but meaningful step towards what we hope will be more systemic change.)

Monica’s story on private wells failing in eastern Madera County — over and over again — has led to farmers and residents building better relationships and figuring out how they can improve neighborly relationships.

Dayana’s reporting on the high cost of bringing backyard apartments up to code — which can be a critical income stream for working families — illuminates an impediment towards what many state policymakers see as a major solution to the state’s affordable housing crisis. A bill that would bring more financing options — AB 69, was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom — but we’ll continue to follow this ongoing story in the new year.

And my favorite story? I loved writing about the Fresno neighborhood that has now endured two pandemics — Chinatown — and what makes this small, diverse business community resilient despite decades of efforts to tear it down.

I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of needed stories to tell and policies to explain in our region.

2021, we’re coming for you.

(Support our local, policy, and engagement-driven reporting with a donation to Fresnoland today.)

And now, the week’s top reads:

(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit www.fresnobee.com/coronavirus.)

Housing, Transportation, and Land Use

Fans of parks, trails, and open space were given an early Christmas present, as the Fifth District Court of Appeals declared that Measure P, the 2018 sales tax in Fresno, passed with a simple majority. Fresno Bee

Crop reports reveal new, old trends in valley agriculture. Fresno Business Journal

Kern unemployment drops to pre-pandemic levels. Bakersfield Californian

The COVID-19 relief bill, signed earlier this week by President Donald Trump, will save 40 million people from eviction and includes $25 billion in rent relief. Vox

PG&E Corp. is facing claims approaching $1 billion related to the massive wildfire damages, six months after successfully emerging from bankruptcy. Sacramento Bee

The expiration of the federal eviction ban is sparking fears of a housing crisis that could disproportionately displace people of color out of their homes. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, communities of color represent 80% of the most vulnerable populations and more likely to become homeless. CNN.com

Economy and Neighborhood Inequality

President Trump signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package, ending days of drama over his refusal to accept the bipartisan deal that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown. Fresno Bee

Fresno Hmong community grieves the cancellation of local Hmong New Year celebrations — the largest in the country — amid the pandemic. Valley Public Radio

Why few farmworkers isolate in California’s free COVID-19 motel rooms. CalMatters

California’s economic struggles continue through the COVID-19 pandemic and business shutdowns. The Employment Development Department reported on Friday that California’s unemployment rate fell eight-tenths of a point in November, to 8.2%, and at 57,100, the job growth total was just a little more than one-third of jobs created a month earlier. Sacramento Bee

Under the economic relief agreement announced Sunday by congressional leaders, millions of Californians would get quick financial help — stimulus checks, more unemployment benefits, and other aid, and an estimated 1 million state residents would not lose unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of this week. Sacramento Bee

Phoenix didn’t just feed the hungry. It saved local farms and restaurants. Bloomberg CityLab

Water and Air Quality

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, was given a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Here’s why that’s a big deal for Central Valley water projects. Fresno Bee/McClatchy

It reads like something from a horror story, but the air you breathe while flying on an airplane is not as safe as you think. The airline industry and their regulators have known for decades that something called “bleed air” — which causes heated engine oil to leak into the air supply — happens quite frequently. Los Angeles Times

According to a report issued on Wednesday by Resources for the Future, wealthier and whiter neighborhoods stricken by wildfires are more likely to get help to reduce the risk of future fires, the latest evidence that racial and economic inequality leaves some Americans more exposed to the worsening effects of climate change. New York Times

The hottest decade on record is coming to a close, and with just a few weeks left, 2020 is in a dead-heat tie for the hottest year on record. The last five years have been the hottest since 1880. NPR.org

Experts say that increasingly large and devastating fires have already altered California’s iconic forests for centuries to come. Worsened by a warming climate and decades of aggressive fire suppression efforts, these fires will continue to alter the landscape and, in some cases, will leave it more susceptible to wildfire than ever before, they say. Los Angeles Times

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