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'I Cannot Sleep Well' - Governor Newsom On Unsafe Drinking Water During Visit To Parlier

Kerry Klein
Valley Public Radio
At Parlier's Riverview Elementary School on February 13, Governor Gavin Newsom signed two laws that allocate $131 million for emergency drinking water projects and wildfire preparedness.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed his first pieces of legislation into law on Wednesday, and he chose to sign them at a school where the water contains a carcinogen and kids can’t even use the drinking fountains.

Newsom opened his visit in a history classroom, introducing the bills to a room full of students at Riverview Elementary School in the Fresno County City of Parlier. “Shall we sign?” he asked, crouching down before the front row with a pen. “Yes,” they shouted, raising their hands excitedly.

The laws pull $131 million out of the general fund for several projects, including emergency preparedness, as well as bottled water and other urgent needs for communities with unsafe drinking water.

In the longer term, Newsom also committed to the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, a pot of money for water projects that had failed to pass under former Governor Jerry Brown’s administration. Newsom, however, allocated almost $5 million to the fund in the preliminary budget he introduced last month. “I cannot sleep well, and I know that’s a rote cliché thing,” he said, “but honestly, I don’t deserve to be your governor if I can’t figure out a way to get that done.”

Newsom also heard from school administrators. Head secretary Nelia Villasenor said parents come by all the time to drop off essentials their kids forgot: Lunchboxes, gym clothes, and most importantly, bottles of clean water. “I’m feeling optimistic about it,” she said of his visit. He’s “actually getting things done right now and not waiting till the end of the fiscal year. So it sounds very promising. I’m excited.”

Credit Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Appearing alongside State Senator Melissa Hurtado, representing the state's 14th district, Newsom first explained his new legislation to a room full of elementary and high school students.

While in the Valley, Newsom couldn’t help but defend his decision announced during the State of the State address on Tuesday to scale back the high-speed rail project from statewide down to only the 170 miles linking Bakersfield to Merced. “I think high-speed rail creates a real opportunity for economic investment that goes well beyond just the issue of moving passengers from one part of the valley to another,” he said.

Put another way, he said, by following through with this part of the project, he’s ensuring the Valley keeps its fair share of federal funding. “If you abandon it, you’re going to have to give $3.5 billion in federal money that was appropriated back to the Trump administration,” said. “That money will never come back to the Valley. It disappears. You’re going to have to explain to me as a taxpayer and all of you as taxpayers, why we wasted billions more and have nothing but lawsuits and partially done projects to show for it”

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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