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Opinion: Madera, the county that Santa forgot

‘Twas a dismal Yuletide in the Heart of California. Santa’s sleigh seems to have passed over the county, taking our few gifts and giving nothing in return. This is most uncharacteristic of the jolly old man with the enslaved caribou and unpaid workforce of little folk. And I heard him exclaim ere he flew out of view, “Happy Christmas to all, but there’s nothing for you.”


Yep, we’ll enter the new year with less, not more. Remember when we had an Office Depot/Office Max. Before that, there was a Mervyn’s. At one time, we could shop at Penney’s and then eat at Lucca’s. The list goes on, and it’s a long one. We were promised a few legal marijuana dispensaries to relieve the anxiety, boredom, and even actual pain. The people spoke through the ballot box, and City Council promised a decision by October, 2022. There’s still been no decision, although several businesses are waiting in line.


We’re lacking in nearly everything from the entertainment industry to handymen (or should I say multi-faceted workpeople, given our current state of consciousness?). So far, our reputation for friendliness and low-cost housing has sustained us. However, during the past few years, low-cost housing has become mid-priced housing, and checkers at the increasingly crowded supermarkets with long waiting lines seem to be more interested in trading stories with other cashiers and baggers than with customers. If you need to pick up a prescription, you have a choice of waiting half an hour at the drive-up window or standing for 30 minutes inside the pharmacy.


Recent/pending closings


A while ago, Edgar’s Restaurant on Howard Road closed, and on December 24, Sugar Pine Smokehouse closed its doors. Located on Cleveland Avenue near the interchange with State Route 99, Sugar Pine sustained us through the worst of the COVID pandemic. But although it could stand up to and defeat disease, it was no match for In-N-Out Burger.


From the point of view of city planning, there is no worse location for the soon-to-be newest fast-food drive-through joint. Drivers, already frustrated by long periods of idling while traffic creeps through the Death Maze that includes on- and off-ramps for the freeway, crossing trains, and a direction sign that comes too late for decision-making, will now have to jog around lines of cars filled with people who need their carbo fix.


On December 20, Pak ‘N Save, a member of the Safeway food family, placed its final order for products. It was scheduled to close before the end of the year, so perhaps it will be history by the time you get this newspaper. Pak ‘N Save was noted for its wide aisles, diversity of items, and specialty baked goods. Multiple sources inform me that it will be replaced at some point by a Ross-Dress-for-Less discount clothing store and a Smart & Final store. Smart & Final has a reputation for foodservice products, like napkins, food buckets, and paper plates, but I understand that the Madera branch on the corner of N. Schnoor and W. Cleveland will also carry meat, refrigerated and frozen food, and janitorial supplies.


The big hit


Madera County has struggled by with two hospitals for decades: Valley Children’s Hospital near the intersection of Avenue 9 and SR41 and Madera Community Hospital on E. Almond Avenue, near SR99. In another example of city-planning brilliance, MCH has an off-ramp for SR99 southbound traffic, but no off-ramp for northbound cars or ambulances. Also, it has no on-ramps for the freeway.


Valley Children’s, of course, specializes in pediatric care, and we’re very lucky to have it. MCH is a general-care hospital and I’ve been a patient at the facility a number of times. I’ve always received excellent care, although on one occasion I had to be transported to Modesto because there was no orthopedic surgeon available at the time. On another occasion, I had surgery which required general anesthesia but I had only repeated injections of local anesthetic because there was no anesthesiologist on call. But those are not complaints, just recognition for jobs well done despite a lack of proper resources.


But, beginning in early 2023, we will be without a general hospital because an agreement for Trinity Health to buy and operate MCH was quashed by a list of requirements from state Attorney General Rob Bonta. I don’t know why Mr. Bonta thinks that Madera County would do better with no hospital than with one that doesn’t meet one or more of his minimum requirements. Perhaps we’re being passed over just as we are dismissed by every other central valley concern that manages to surface in Sacramento.


The Christmas Curmudgeon


Okay, okay. I know that ‘tis the season to be jolly. And, I also know that I have a reputation for being the Christmas Curmudgeon. But in the past, that’s always been in jest. This year, I’m seriously upset by our losses as one of the state’s most important counties and a community of deserving people. We need and deserve medical specialists, entertainment for adults and children, a variety of shopping and dining facilities.


In the past, our Employment Development Corporation has been mediocre at best at attracting businesses that would build a more vibrant community. About a decade ago, we lost our Madera Redevelopment Agency which had been doing a spectacular job under the direction of Jim Taubert. But we still have city planning (both a civic department and a public commission). I don’t know what they do, although I’m familiar with at least one of the results of their efforts.


I live on an S-shaped street which was probably a developer’s dream, but a city-planning nightmare. The problem is that an S-shaped street runs both east and west as well as north and south. So, if you enter my street from the north end, the houses are numbered in the 1600’s, but when it bends eastward, the numbers jump to the 2900’s and 3000nd’s. Maybe that was just a practical joke on the Amazon delivery person.


Let’s hope for a better new year.


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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.

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