For one day, Fresno County's dusty west side in national spotlight

The Fresno BeeFebruary 14, 2014 

LOS BANOS -- For Juan Luis Trejo, a farmworker from Mendota, watching President Barack Obama land aboard Marine One near Los Banos on Friday was surreal.

"It's a dream come true," he said. "It's a true gift for me to be here watching history in the making."

Trejo, 30, was already in a festive mood. After 10 years, Trejo became a U.S. citizen on Thursday, and went with his father Alejandro on Friday to get a glimpse of the president. The pair stood on a hill with about 20 others near a Chevron gas station where Nees Avenue hits Interstate 5. Before them was the Valley's expanse.

"It's amazing," he said. "I can't even describe how I felt when I saw the helicopter land."

Obama spoke during a roundtable with farm, water and political leaders at a San Luis Water District maintenance building on the west side of Fresno County, about 18 miles west of Los Banos near I-5.

For one day, the dusty west side caught national attention.

Friday's visit of the president to the central San Joaquin Valley's drought-damaged farm country also caught the attention of motorists.

RELATED STORY: Obama vows to give attention to drought in Valley visit

Megan Schultz was driving from Seattle on her way to Los Angeles with her husband Nic and 2-year-old son Henry when they stopped for gas at the Chevron and realized the president was just a few miles away.

"That was the last thing I expected when I stopped and saw the crowd," Megan said. "My son is just really excited about the helicopters."

Barbara Gonzales, of Merced, took her sons Anthony, 15, and Ayden, 7, to watch the landing.

"It's a historical moment," Anthony said. "Someone that powerful here in the Valley -- you don't see that every day."

In Los Banos some residents were surprised to hear that Obama took a trip to the region.

Gilbert Petrissans, who grew up in Los Banos, was playing soccer at a local park with his 12-year-old daughter Maiya. Petrissans said Obama's visit had to happen, given how bad the drought has become.

"It's a pretty serious situation with the drought so it's good that he is seeing it firsthand," he said. "Hopefully he can provide some federal aid, some help for the farmers."

Jean Hubrechtsen of Los Banos said in addition to the drought, there are other problems Obama should be aware of.

"I love that he is coming around here," she said. "But everybody needs to speak up because there are no jobs here."

Ibarra Sitlali, a junior at Pacheco High School in Los Banos, said it's important fo Obama to visit other communities in the Valley besides Fresno.

"I think it's really cool," she said. "It feels kind of surreal, I never thought he would be so close."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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