Marek Warszawski

Welcome back to Fresno, Gov.-elect Newsom. Didn’t expect to see you so soon

Newsom tours Fresno job training site

On a campaign stop for his bid for governor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom tours the Fresno Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee's Electrical Training Center.
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On a campaign stop for his bid for governor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom tours the Fresno Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee's Electrical Training Center.

Thought we had seen the last of Gavin Newsom around these parts.

California’s governor-elect kept a frequent 559 presence during the November election run-up, which isn’t all that unusual. Politicians have long made a habit of courting votes in the central San Joaquin Valley, only to delete us from their memory sticks once they’re safely ensconced in Sacramento.

I figured Newsom would follow designer suit. He’d impress with his knowledge of local issues, make a few vague promises and leave us to our low-paying jobs, high poverty rates and terrible air as soon as the ballots came in.

Well, knock me over with a tube of styling gel. Newsom hasn’t even been sworn in and he’s already coming to Fresno for a town-hall meeting, a tour of high-speed rail construction and series of tete-a-tetes with local legislators and VIPs.

Which will make one more town hall than Congressman Devin Nunes has held around here over the last eight years, at least without charging $2,700 for Beef Wellington.

That’s despite us (meaning Fresno County as a whole) voting 51 percent for Newsom’s gubernatorial opponent, John Cox, the guy who thought the campaign slogan “Make California Great Again” would get him elected in this state.

How’d that work out?

Yet a month after election day, Newsom carved out an afternoon to visit our humble burg. Even at a time when he’s being pulled in more directions than Gumby by Democratic lawmakers eager to flex their new supermajority with tens of billions in new spending.

Newsom pledged he wouldn’t forget about us if elected (“I want to break the meme of elected officials ignoring the Valley,” he said during the campaign), so this is a purposeful first step.

The more time Newsom spends here, understanding our region’s problems and listening to our needs, the better. Because we can sure use the help, so that folks here can share in the bounty other places in our state enjoy.

"Now is the time for leaders to lead." Gavin Newsom and his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom greet a crowded room in Downtown Los Angeles after he was elected California's newest governor, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. He'll be inaugurated Jan. 7.

Despite his big-city roots, Newsom understands agriculture is a vital pillar of our economy. More water storage is needed, but unlike so many local politicians (as well as the farmers who own them) he seems to recognize a new dam behind Millerton Lake isn’t the only solution. Nor even the best one.

Our governor-elect needs to do a lot of listening. But maybe he could use his loquacious tongue to articulate why erecting new dams is less preferable to storing water underground, where it can be used to not only irrigate crops but also replenish aquifers that have been depleted by decades of uncontrolled pumping.

Newsom hinted at this during the campaign. Now he can speak a little more firmly.

High-speed rail is another huge issue for Fresno. Readers know where I stand, but we aren’t quite certain where Newsom does. It makes sense for him to see first hand what progress has been made before deciding whether to take that baton from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Another area that needs addressing is our region’s dearth of representation on state boards and commissions. As laid out by my former colleague (and boss) Bill McEwen, no San Joaquin Valley resident has served on the University of California Board of Regents since Fred Ruiz’s term ended in 2016.

We are the home to UC Merced, after all.

Brown had a chance to rectify this a couple months ago with four appointments to the UC Board of Regents. Instead, he gave us the cold shoulder.

Newsom said he would increase Valley representation on state boards and commissions, and now he must be held to that. (I’d be more encouraged if there were more local voices on his transition team.)

Gov-elect Gavin Newsom names a UC Merced dreamer during his victory speech on election night, Nov. 6, 2018.

One thing that struck me during the campaign was Newsom’s extensive and detailed knowledge of issues affecting Fresno and the Valley. I don’t want to give him too much credit for that. He did spend the last eight years as lieutenant governor.

Still, his level of engagement was impressive. He knew about Bitwise Industries, the technology incubator in downtown Fresno, before setting foot inside the building as well as the Fresno Area Electrical Training Center, where he talked shop with plumbing, electrical and sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

Democrats, Newsom said during the visit, “often don’t treat folks who don’t go to college as we should” and that there is room in California’s budget to “exponentially increase” programs that provide a living wage to trade workers and their families.

Now’s his chance to do so.

I especially appreciated how Newsom, as a member of the State Lands Commission, saw right through the shameless kowtowing by Fresno City Hall and other pols to an influential neighborhood group. Which has only served to further delay and complicate much-needed public access to the San Joaquin River.

In November 2017, during a rare meeting in Fresno, Newsom and two other commission members voted unanimously to access the River West Open Space Area via a perfectly good preexisting road rather than build a new, more expensive one near Palm & Nees avenues, which will require extensive tree removal and inventive engineering. (We all know how that turned out.)

So perhaps Newsom will be more receptive than his predecessor to the idea of expanding Millerton Lake State Park to include the San Joaquin River Parkway.

With that, I’d like to welcome back the governor-elect to California’s fifth-largest city.

Didn’t expect to see you so soon.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee