By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun
California State Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) visited the Kern River Valley on Friday, March 1, to speak to community members.
Mathis met with residents at Dam Korner, where he spent about an hour answering questions about various topics, including seismic retrofitting for hospitals, illegal dumping and law enforcement.
Afterward, Mathis spent some time at a meeting including Kern Valley Healthcare District (KVHD) CEO Tim McGlew and John Blythe, Chairman of the KVHD Board of Directors, to share some ideas that KVHD can investigate to mitigate seismic challenges and pay for expansion of services.
“It was a productive meeting,” noted Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce President Judy Hyatt.
While meeting with constituents, Mathis spoke about how the inability to fund state-mandated seismic requirements is not specific to the Kern River Valley. He stated that rural hospitals across the state were finding it difficult to pay for such improvements, many of them within his own district.
However, due to the problem affecting larger cities like Oakland, Mathis said that he now had powerful Democrat colleagues in the Legislature paying attention to how hospitals are being affected by the mandate.
When asked about federal options for hospital funding and whether he would be interested in presenting a bill to the State Legislature to help hospitals like KVHD, Mathis was doubtful.
“Truthfully, unless they’re willing to work with us on it, it’s not going to go anywhere,” he said.
But Mathis did have some ideas about how to make the process easier. He said he believed that if the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements could be waived for hospital campuses, it would make the process of upgrading facilities quicker and less costly. His reasoning was that these improvements would not significantly change the environmental footprint that each hospital already has.
Mathis said that he hoped to have something introduced to the Legislature next year.
“In my opinion, if these guys are going to go out there and shout ‘healthcare for all,’ how about healthcare access for all?” Mathis continued. “Because you don’t get healthcare for all without having access to hospitals or without keeping hospitals open. And that’s the argument that I’m making.”
Mathis also toured some of the blighted areas of Lake Isabella Blvd. during his time in the KRV. Hyatt said that the boarded up buildings are causing a challenge for law enforcement, but they are also putting a damper on economic development in Lake Isabella.
“One of the difficulties in dealing with blight are the absentee property owners that do not maintain their property or care about the negative impact their property is having on our community,” said Hyatt.
“I really don’t like the fact that our area, my district, is the most disadvantaged district in the entire state,” said Mathis.
“Our rural areas are hurting.”
One project that Mathis made note of was Assembly Bill 215, which would criminalize the dumping of garbage on private property.
An original version of the bill, AB 144, was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2015. It was one of nine bills that Brown vetoed because he stated that California’s criminal code had grown to more than 5,000 separate provisions “covering almost every conceivable human misbehavior.”
While speaking to KRV residents, who are all too familiar with illegal dumping, Mathis said that he hoped Governor Newsom’s notable concern for the environment would help him support AB 215.
Discussion of this bill caused some dissent among residents. While no one disputed the issue of illegal dumping, they questioned the ability of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office to attend to such crimes because of staffing levels, as well as California laws that now make it more difficult for law enforcement to retain those who have committed misdemeanors.
Mathis said that he understood the frustration with a lack of county funding for law enforcement. He had no suggestions for improvement but called foul on the county’s inability to properly handle criminal cases.
“You’re telling me the largest ag county in the entire U.S. and the largest oil producing county in the entire U.S., where we’re standing today, doesn’t have the money to prosecute? I call BS. I ain’t buying that,” said Mathis.
However, Mathis assured that Sheriffs within his district had helped him write AB 215, including Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
“I’m going to listen to my Sheriff because he knows more about it than I do,” he said.
Mathis reminded residents that while he is unable to visit frequently, he encourages constituents to contact his office when in need. He emphasized that his office can be called or reached via email. (Visit Mathis’ website at https://ad26.asmrc.org/ for contact information.)
“I apologize for having time constraints and not being up here as often as I wish I could be,” said Mathis.
“Just because I can’t drive out here every day doesn’t mean you can’t send us an email and let us know what’s going on,” he assured.