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Our Federal Policy “Asks” for a Resilient Food System

The small but mighty 2021 Food and Ag Cap-to-Cap Team is back prepping for the Metro Chamber’s annual regional advocacy program, which will be held virtually during the last week of October. As America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, the Team strives to elevate the importance of the $12 billion+ food and agriculture economic cluster, highlighting innovations and initiatives across our food system, and leveraging federal policies, programs and investments.

After the Spring 2020 Cap-to-Cap visit was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team continued to work with regional, state and federal partners on issues that have even more urgency than before – strengthening the resiliency of the regional food system, and ensuring a strong workforce. Our third big issue – broadband connectivity, access and adoption, which focused on supporting our rural economies and driving adoption of agri-food technologies – has broadened to a high overall regional priority, given all the impacts from the pandemic. We’re grateful to the Cap-to-Cap Economic Development Team for taking on this issue, linking to it as one of the region’s key infrastructure strategies.

To strengthen the region’s resilience, one Cap-to-Cap priority is to target institutional procurement policy changes that will expand local purchasing and supply chains and support local growers, food processors, distributors, and more. We are seeking increased flexibility in the USDA National School Lunch Program’s procurement regulations so local school districts can receive Cash in Lieu of Commodities – meaning school districts can use funds to purchase local goods instead of having to obtain food products from outside the state. This is a true Farm-to-School approach. As we have for many years, we continue to support the development of food system infrastructure such as food hubs, central kitchens at schools, and other facilities and equipment to increase opportunities for farm-to-institution procurement, including for hospitals. We have excellent examples of local procurement initiatives such as with Sacramento City Unified School District’s Nutrition Services and UC Davis Health system that have greatly expanded local purchasing, supporting the local economy and also delivering more than 65,000 fresh and healthy meals daily prepared by our local chefs. We also have a goal to address SNAP eligibility requirements for food insecure college students across the region.

Our other Cap-to-Cap priority is supporting the food and ag cluster’s workforce. Pre-COVID, there was already a skills gap and a pipeline gap across the economic cluster. With the average farmer being 57.5 years of years of age and the average skilled manufacturing (food processing) worker being 55 years of age, we now face a new challenge of worker retention, along with increased demand for digital and agri-tech skills across the entire industry. And of course, we want to ensure that our farmworkers and other front-line workers who kept the regional food system and supply chain going – through health crises and climate challenges, to ensure safe and healthy food for all of us – have safe working conditions and opportunities for income mobility. The Team supports increased federal investments in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, including for training, industry partnerships, and apprenticeships among others, to reskill, upskill, retain, recruit and grow the next generation of farmers, food entrepreneurs and food system workers. We also support legislation to provides certified agricultural workers with a path to help achieve earned legal status.

The Cap to Cap team is led by Honey Agency, Sacramento City Unified School District Nutrition Services, Valley Vision and Wilson Vineyards. Valley Vision is excited that this year’s program also will benefit from the update of the Food System Action Plan from 2015, prepared in partnership with the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, and the new Food System Resilience Poll, conducted in partnership with Sacramento State Institute for Social Research. These linked reports will be released in early October, giving us new insights for our food system. It will help drive the success of our Greater Sacramento Region Prosperity Strategy, in which food and agriculture is one of our three competitive advantage clusters. We’re also excited that Cap-to-Cap will provide the opportunity to work with our supportive Congressional delegation and new leaders at USDA and other agencies who hail from the region. Please join us to lend your voice and expertise to our food and ag mission!

To continue staying up to date with efforts to strengthen our regional food system, subscribe to Valley Vision’s Food for Thought email newsletter!

Trish Kelly is Valley Vision’s Managing Director, leading its food, agriculture, workforce, and broadband initiatives.

2021: A Time for Courageous Action

January is often when we make predictions for what is to come in the new year. But, if 2020 taught us anything, it is that we are living in an unpredictable world. And given the tumultuous start to 2021, it is likely we won’t be sailing through smooth waters.

With upcoming transfers of leadership, still-record-breaking COVID-19 infection rates, an aggressive national vaccine roll out needed, and with economic recovery and the need for climate resilience at the forefront, we know the 2021 waters will be choppy. Throughout 2020 we talked about the need to reimagine systems that are resilient and equitable. Without courage to take on hard things and focus on tackling complex problems together, we will come out the other side of the pandemic only to recreate inequitable systems that don’t meet the needs of all and can’t adapt to rapid changes that occur in our modern world. Here are some foundational questions and bold ideas from outside our region to inspire us in 2021. 

Economic Insecurity

Almost a year into the pandemic, our nation has lost tens of millions of jobs and while there will likely be additional support for small businesses with a new administration, economists have braced us for a slow recovery. Further, with rapidly accelerating changes to our economy and workplaces, many of the lost jobs may be gone permanently. We must push forward innovative and equitable solutions to help people re-enter the labor market. How do we address the dual challenge of the pandemic’s impacts on the economy and the rapidly changing and digitizing workforce? The Aspen Institute has launched a partnership with Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth to modernize the structure of worker benefits. The program, Benefits21, reimagines a 21st century worker benefits system that provides financial security to all, with a focus on inclusive, portable, people-centric, and interoperable benefits, including unemployment insurance, paid leave, training, and retirement. Additionally, mayors from around the nation are exploring how Universal Basic Income could be a part of a solution to pandemic response and economic insecurity in their communities. Finally, close to home, the Stanislaus Cradle to Career Partnership drives a highly collaborative and robust campaign approach to align institutions to ensure that every child has a path, plan, and a purpose.

Racial Equity

2020 laid bare long term racial inequities and generated an increased sense of urgency to act. How do we move forward with racial equity as a central and driving force in community initiatives? The California Strategic Growth Council is working in collaboration with the Public Health Institute to support the Capitol Collaborative on Race & Equity (CCORE) – a racial equity capacity-building program for California State employees. The program offers cohorts for participants to receive training to learn about, plan for, and implement activities that embed racial equity approaches into institutional culture, policies, and practices. McKinsey offered a data report looking at the role of coalitions in advancing racial equity and W.K. Kellogg Foundation in partnership with Lever for Change is seeking proposals to close the racial equity gap so all children, families and communities can be more confident, healthier and secure in their trust of the systems and institutions that serve them. Registration is due January 28th. 

Digital Divide

2020 also made clear the necessity of digital access for all. Over 20 million people across the U.S. lack broadband access- yet connectivity is required for education, jobs, and basic services. How do we rapidly transition infrastructure and services to reflect an economy that requires full digital access? The City of San José, in partnership with the City of San José Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, has engaged the California Emerging Technology Fund to establish the Digital Inclusion Partnership, a $24 million cross-sector fund that will be distributed in grant awards over a ten-year period. It is the city’s largest philanthropic effort in recent history and aims to provide universal connectivity and appropriate digital skills to 50,000 households. This robust effort is a public private partnership and in its first round of rounding will disperse $1M to organizations in San José who are closing the Digital Divide through expanding device access and digital literacy skills.

Housing and Homelessness

Homelessness continues to rise, with a new report from L.A. projecting homelessness doubling by 2023. Additionally, housing affordability challenges have only worsened in 2020 as income loss has occurred and while evictions were avoided, the weight of accumulated rent payments will hit many in 2021. What are the solutions that will help us launch and scale efforts to address housing affordability and homelessness? In Portland, Oregon, Mercy Corps created the Community Investment Trust (CIT) creating a fund that builds the possibility to strengthen communities and create empowered lives. The CIT offers a long-term path to collective, communal ownership of real-estate for investors starting from $10-$100 per month. In Vancouver, the charity Foundations for Social Change (FSC), in partnership with the University of British Columbia gave individuals experiencing homelessness $5,800 with no strings attached and saw very positive outcomes including the attainment of stable, long term housing and food security.

Climate Change

Another aspect of 2020 has been the opportunity to decrease commuting and spend more time in nature for many. Further, COVID-19 response has showed us that we can have the will to move quickly to enact policies and practices for the good of public health. How will we take the lessons of pandemic response and translate them into gains in climate response and resilience? Many cities are taking rapid approaches to increase active transportation, addressing climate change and responding to increased demand for safe walking and biking infrastructure. Paris has demonstrated that cities can go green fast and enact changes that go beyond the pandemic, and Stay Healthy Streets Seattle shows ways that bike lanes are being utilized in ways that improve health and environment.

Addressing these foundational questions for 2021 and learning about initiatives from outside our region inspires us to think differently, take action in new ways, build new types of partnerships, and advance bold solution sets about complex community problems. 

Valley Vision supports livable communities in the Capital region by advancing economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental sustainability. We use actionable research, policy education and advocacy, collaboration, and program activation to advance our work. Some key priorities in 2021 will be: enacting a regional agenda for digital inclusion, supporting inclusive economic recovery and growth through Our Path Forward: The Prosperity Strategy, advancing climate resilience, and supporting decision-making with actionable research. Our next Vantage Point will include a focus on inspiring action being taken within our region – there have been a significant amount of that too!

What inspires you for 2021? Let us act courageously together to advance equity, prosperity, and sustainability in our region and in our communities.

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Chief Executive Officer.

An Integrated Approach to Innovation

On January 22, 2020, The City of Woodland, along with partners representing Food and Ag innovation, including Valley Vision, University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), Greater Sacramento Economic Council (GSEC) and UC Davis, presented its second Ag Innovation Forum – Ag, Food & Health: An Integrated Approach to Innovation. This event highlighted Woodland, and the Greater Sacramento Region’s, critical role in integrating food and Ag entrepreneurship, industry, academia, and policy for a healthy and sustainable future.

The discussion focused on the Region’s opportunity to align and mobilize its world-class assets to build a state-of-the-art Research & Technology Park. The planned site will become an epicenter for research, as well as a Global Ag, Food & Health Center – a proposed public-private partnership integrating science and technology innovation for agriculture, food, and health, similar to proven models in Texas, New York, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Situated close to the University of California Davis and complementary to the planned Aggie Square development in Sacramento, Woodland is recognized for its agricultural innovation, food and plant science, food processing, as well as its investments in startup ecosystems. Its unique geographical location has made Woodland the perfect candidate for this endeavor. Secretary Karen Ross spoke to the importance of Woodland and its agricultural assets and contributions to the state’s economy. With the effects of climate change becoming more prevalent, especially in agriculture, innovation for our regional food and farming industries is critical.

The Secretary, and Lenny Mendonca, Chief Economic and Business Advisor at the State of California, both agreed that adaptation and investing in resiliency across agricultural production to adjust these major disruptors (i.e. floods, droughts, fires), is imperative. They also affirmed that research and development in new technologies that enable farmers can address these changes must be a top state priority. Furthermore, aligning the Region’s industry goals will allow the right capital and the right people the chance to work together to lead us on the path to “durable, equitable, profitable solutions.”

A moderated panel discussion led by Lon Hatamiya, The Hatamiya Group, continued the discussion with leaders supporting initiatives for our food and agricultural industries. Santana Diaz, Executive Chef, UC Davis Health, Trish Kelly, Managing Director, Valley Vision, Gabriel Youtsey, University of California Ag and Natural Resources, and Adam Englehardt, Englehardt Agricultural Services, and Tim Schaedler, Panattoni Development, all echoed the importance of expanding region’s innovation ecosystem through investments like the Woodland Research Technology Park, institutional procurement, and comprehensive financing programs, to uplift our regional food and ag economy.

Extending the Table

On February 24th, WomenUp NetworkUptown Studios, and Slow Food Sacramento hosted “Extending the Table” a discussion with local women leaders in the farm-to-fork movement. These inspiring women spoke on the exciting developments in the local food scene, their careers, challenges they had faced and shared advice on what it is like to lead a woman in this industry. Jodie Chavious, Slow Food Board Member, Charmaine Magale, Legado Spirits, Gerine Williams, Neighborworks/Oak Park Farmers Market, and Rachel Wallace, Echo and Rig, all participated in the wildly exciting and informative discussion. Tina Reynolds, from Uptown Studios, moderated the discussion.

The evening kicked off at Uptown Studios, with a wonderful spread of local foods prepared by Brenda Ruiz and Jodie Chavious, Chefs and Slow Food board members. Citrus shrimp ceviche, braised meatballs, fresh rye bread from Faria Bakery, cheese, and charcuterie, KC Kombucha, and other cocktails from Drinks by Dru were all on the menu. Truly delicious.

The panel discussion, lead by Renyolds, focused on the highlights and challenges these women faced as they journeyed through their careers. Each speaker addressing how she had chosen to balance or blow past the barriers placed in front of them.

In September 2018, Charmaine Mageale and her partners founded Legado Sprits, a “ bold new American whiskey crafted to deliver incredible flavor, developed by the female palate.”  Magale revealed that many times she found her passion, knowledge, and business partners being questioned simply for not being “white, a man, and old.”  But she refused to be deterred from the nay-sayers and skeptics, setting aside society’s expectations of a whiskey connoisseur, and instead became obsessed with creating a phenomenal product.

Touching on her life-long experiences as a chef, Jodie Charious came up the ranks, rather unscathed by many of the stories we see across headlines today, but very aware of the existence of unfair and sexist practices. Charious noted, “I was very fortunate” but her career did not come without struggle, admitting “Today, I don’t have any shame in asking for help, reaching for something on the top shelf, cutting through a bone of animal I’m breaking down.” The need for thick skin in this industry is imperative; being emotionally tough is a basic requirement, but with the leadership from chefs like Chef Charious, culinary communities are stepping into a new era.

Gerine Williams, spoke to the trends of Sacramento’s food and culinary community and the importance of supporting new, small, and entrepreneurial business. She emphasized that smaller producers need to be empowered to get their businesses off the ground. For too long, “the same people seem to get the same shot, over and over.” The result, the same business owners, the same style of foods, and the same price points, continue to pop up. This means communities lose out on having a diverse range of options. Williams followed up asking “How many places in Sacramento can you get a Fried Chicken Sandwich? Let’s get real”. Putting her words into action, Williams tries her best to provide opportunities through the Oak Park farmers market and in her personal life – going as far as purchasing food from smaller homemakers off Facebook Marketplace as a way to support entrepreneurs in her community.

After being pushed into a pastry position early in her career, like many women in the culinary space, Rachel Wallace dedicated herself to breaking through that traditional position where women often find themselves. “It’s typical to place women in Pastry, which isn’t a bad thing. There are some badass women pastry chefs out there” but it’s not where she saw herself staying. Wallace was determined to break out of that space and prove her skills as a chef. Today Wallace is the Chef de Cuisine at Echo and Rig, working alongside a team that promotes and advocates for a healthy workspace for everyone. “Be confident, own your space, and don’t let people say you don’t belong” were some of the characteristics she believes are imperative for women if they are going to enter the culinary workforce.

This event was supported by Slow Food Sacramento, WomenUp Network, Uptown Studios, SMUD, Tri-Counties Bank, Rani Pettis, Charles Vincent McDonald Photography, Crooked Lane Brewery, Drinks By Dru, Faria bakery, GoldLineBrands, Haarmeyer Estates, KC Kombucha, Legado spirits, Macy’s, Real Pie Company, Revolutions Wine, and Sacramento Natural Food Co-Op.

Valley Vision continues to support Farm to Fork efforts, and work being done to uplift the Sacramento Region’s namesake as America’s Farm to Fork Capital. We are excited to see events like “Extending the Table” taking place and being well-attended and supported by local businesses.

Subscribe to Valley Vision’s Food For Thought Newsletter to learn more about Food and Ag events and stay up to date about other work happening in our region!

Newsom and First Partner to Support Farm to School Programs

Governor Newsom has proposed a $600 million dollar budget that includes funding support for initiatives that will enhance student nutrition and school meal programs.

First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who has been engaged in supporting Farm to School programs, will be championing these efforts. Most recently, Ms. Siebel Newsom, with coordination from CDFA, Valley Vision, Woodland Community College, and other partners, toured Farm to School Programs in Yolo County and Career programs hosted at Woodland Community College. The purpose of the visit to Woodland Community College was intended to show the connection between eating locally grown healthy foods at school and the potential for opportunities in food and ag career pathways 

Late last year, Mrs. Siebel Newsom toured Yolo County and other areas to learn more about the thriving Farm to School programs led by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and Secretary Karen Ross, and food and ag career education programs. Nick Anicich, Farm to School Program Lead, CDFA Office of Farm to Fork, Valley Vision’s Managing Director Trish Kelly, and Carrie Peterson, Regional Director, Agriculture, Water, and Environmental Technology, coordinated the First Partner’s visit to Woodland Community College. This was an opportunity to showcase how food and ag career education programs are providing pathways for local students in this important regional industry, building on Farm to School programs in K-2. Faculty, Students, and College District Leaders hosted the First Partner as she toured the Greenhouse and other facilities, discussing programs and topics like Ag-tech, regenerative agriculture, and growing healthy foods. Valley Vision supports these career pathway efforts as part of the Community College’s Strong Workforce Programs.

Photo top: Jennifer Siebel Newsom tours Greenhouse at Woodland Community College (WCC)

Photo above: Yuba Community College District Chancellor and Board of Trustees, Woodland Community College President, and Faculty, Valley Vision, and California Department of Food and Agriculture, with First Partner.

Leadership Is a Team Sport: My Time with CSN

Leadership is a team sport.” This expression resonated as I sped down the hill toward Fresno. I turned the wheel of my trusty 2006 Honda Odyssey to match the curvature of the country road before me. “Sometimes success is a change in the tenor of a conversation.”

I’d just spent two days in the foothills below Kings Canyon participating in the Orientation of the California Stewardship Network’s new Leadership Program. The California Stewardship Network (CSN) is an alliance of fifteen unique regional organizations committed to the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of our regions and our state (the “triple bottom line”). Notably, CSN collaborates with California Forward to host the annual California Economic Summit (set to be held in Fresno on November 7-8). Valley Vision represents the 6-county Sacramento region and serves as the backbone organization and fiscal agent for CSN.

As I reflected on the groundbreaking and brilliantly subversive lessons of the past 48 hours, I can’t help but be eager for the continuation of this program – a series of upcoming exchanges over the coming year where my “cohort” of 19 young leaders will grow and collaborate on creative solutions to the challenges our State faces. Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller left me with a key nugget of wisdom prior to my departure, which I also shared with the other participants: “it is really hard to build a statewide network through a conventional career. This is your chance to do exactly that while better connecting our diverse regions to one another.”

19 young leaders are taking part in the 2019-20 program.

The Orientation kicked off with a storytelling session, where each participant was tasked with telling their “origin story,” including why we are dedicated to advancing triple bottom line approaches to persistent problems. I was able to connect my upbringing in rural Mendocino County to my current work at Valley Vision on issues like wildfire resilience, rural broadband, air quality, and so much more. It was quite an icebreaker! Then, we took part in a very comprehensive Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 session with Gallup Certified Strengths Coach Adrian Ruiz, where we identified our talents and those of others in our cohort. We also dug into how sometimes our strengths can translate as weaknesses in certain circumstances (for example, an “Includer” needs to be mindful that at times they might be seen as too deferential to others). Strengths are like muscles, and it takes the intentional ‘exercise’ of talents combined with skills and knowledge to create a true “strength.” I had no idea that my unique ‘DNA’ of five talents – Strategic-Maximizer-Adaptability-Developer-Includer – is shared by only one in every 33 Million people. Crazy!

In the second half of the program, Micah Weinberg of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute and Kriselda Bautista of the Local Government Commission put our strengths and knowledge to work. We tackled a tough case study out of West Oakland where a new housing development was being considered for development (replete with NIMBY opposition group, cerebral city planners, et al), and we had to balance equity, economy, and environment in determining how to move the project forward. Our considerations ranged from the right number of affordable units, to design of a human-centered community engagement process, to the proper means of evaluating our entire effort.

Did I mention that it was super fun?!

Finally, we learned how to de-escalate difficult situations by appealing to emotion. Doug Noll, a former trial lawyer who has dedicated himself to peacemaking and conflict resolution, led our group through a science-based journey into human brain chemistry and cutting-edge psychology. Doug Co-Founded a nonprofit called Prison of Peace, which since 2010 has helped inmates develop peacemaking skills to reduce violence and promote problem-solving within their prison community. We learned how our society regularly invalidates emotional expression, which is manifested in how so many of us say “It’s OK” and attempt to problem-solve when another person is experiencing difficulties. This is actually a selfish act, and a form of self-soothing that is hurtful to the person we are trying to comfort. If you really want to help people who are angry or sad, you need to learn and practice affect labeling – essentially “lending them your prefrontal cortex” and helping them process their emotions through a specific set of actions. This simple yet effective process is detailed in Noll’s book, De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less, and I’m happy to share more if you send me an email! This tool stood out to me in a world that desperately needs more healers.

I want to thank Joanna Wessman, the Network Coordinator for CSN, Kathy Moxon, CSN’s Past Chair and Director of Redwood Coast Rural Action, and Deb Nankivell, CEO of the Fresno Business Council, for introducing us to this awesome network and guiding us through such an impactful and thought-provoking 48 hours. Thanks also to Bank of America for sponsoring. Of course, I’d also like to thank Bill Mueller for nominating me for this program, and my fantastic cohort – I so look forward to seeing you all again in May! I’ll continue to share my experiences as I learn how to apply triple bottom line outcomes and work to elevate California’s diverse region’s to build a stronger and more equitable California. Stay tuned!

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.

Our Predictions for 2019

“Nothing we can do can change the past, but everything we do changes the future.” – Ashleigh Brilliant

In this final post of 2018, I wanted to write to you about some predictions we have for the coming year, and our hopes for you and our communities at the holidays.

Our regional economy will grow by another $5 billion next year. It’s been growing at that clip for the past four years, and despite global head winds, it’s likely to happen again, raising our total Regional GDP to about $130 billion annually. If you didn’t already know, we have one of the nation’s biggest economies – we are in the top 10% of all regional economies in the US today in terms of economic output.

While the regional economy will grow larger, inequity will get worse. Middle-wage jobs are more scarce these days, while jobs at the top and bottom of the scale and bottom are growing. If you have a good education and workplace skills, you’ll earn a good livable wage. If you are entry level, or lack the skills or training for the increasingly technical or digital jobs available, then service jobs will be your best (and maybe only) option. For most people, this needs to be the start of their careers, not the end of their economic fortunes. That’s why we at Valley Vision are so focused on helping students, employers, universities, workforce boards and schools prepare for this new future of work, creating a talent pipeline that includes everyone. Nearly one-third of our work directly relates to this purpose.

In 2019, a bunch of really important decisions affecting the lives of you and your family will be made. If you live in Sacramento, the people at city hall, with input from various communities, will decide the priorities for a long-term jobs strategy, how to spend millions from the Measure U tax increase, and how best to help under-represented school kids dealing with the potential bankruptcy facing the Sacramento City Unified School District. Regionally, big choices are coming for what type of housing, growth, and mobility investments we will make for the next generation. Being plugged into these decisions is important to your wellbeing. Valley Vision will be more than watching; we’ll be directly engaged with our region’s leadership, advocating for solutions that balance equity, economy, and environmental sustainability.

Harder to predict, but still inevitable, are the ways that coming shifts in mobility and new technologies will affect how we live, and the form and shape our communities will take. We are going to see more autonomous vehicles on our streets and universities’ campuses, new electric fleets, more bikes and scooters, and new applications that can help us get where we need to go easily and without a huge price tag.

In so many ways, the headquarters for the State of California is the likeliest place in the world to test the latest innovations that are transforming our buildings and streets, how we get our food, our sources of energy, and transportation. This is not only because California is setting the pace globally on these issues with new policies and technologies, but also because we have vast sections of our cities in the Capital Region that can be re-built – often from scratch – with the latest technologies and cutting-edge materials, as well as break-through designs and modern conveniences geared for the future.

For our part, Valley Vision is doing what we can to champion this region’s ability to serve as a “test bed” and incubator for new technologies and applications aimed at solving urban problems – as a fiscal sponsor for local governments, businesses, and utilities for new cutting-edge mobility enterprises; as a project manager driving changes in policy that focus on future needs; and as an independent researcher and catalyst.

2018 has been a formative year. Strong foundations have been laid and things feel more certain (or at least known). The region’s business, government, education, and community groups seem to be coming together, sharing effort, trusting each other more versus going it alone. New leaders are settling into their posts and getting things sorted out. More seasoned leaders in our neighborhoods, governments, and businesses are actively working with others to fulfill their promises. 2019 will put it all to the test as these decisions come up and the stakes rise. We are at a turning point.

Our wish for you? Participate: the voices of those whose lives are directly impacted need to be heard now more than ever in boardrooms and council chambers. Encourage: tell those who represent you that you expect them to work collaboratively with others, including people with whom they don’t instantly agree, because we are better together. Hold them to account for this. Remember, they work for you, not the other way around. Last, love always: love your family and your community. Be involved. This is most important and what no one can do but you. Throughout time, positive change has always begun here.

The future remains bright, if we make it together.

Happy holidays from the team at Valley Vision! To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

My Valley Vison Experience in One Word

I am grateful to have been Valley Vision’s Communications Intern since January 2018. Grateful to work alongside people dedicated to their work. Grateful to deepen my appreciation and love of my region. Grateful to grow my skillset with a nonprofit whose mission is aligned with my own. Grateful that I’m now prepared for my next step in life.

The team guided me and shaped me: Understanding that Adrian adds an exclamation point to make anything more exciting, and that Robyn will catch any spelling or grammar error that I threw at her, assured me that I was in a space where we took care of business. Days of having dogs in the office, the steady stream of Philz Coffee, and being offered helpings of Yzabelle and Sonia’s food kept my heart and stomach full.

Chloe was patient with me when I struggled with program design, showing me that others will help me, but I need to help myself first. Alan’s quiet confidence and one-liner jokes was something I tried so hard to emulate. Seeing firsthand how hard everyone worked, but then how willingly we would play along with an office joke or conversation was the balance I needed to keep me motivated.

I deepened my appreciation for my hometown and heightened awareness of the surrounding counties: I’ve always been proud of being from Sacramento. While living in the Bay Area and Stockton, I proudly reminded people that I was from Sacramento. Curating content for our five monthly newsletters has showed me all of the great work that people are doing to improve the region. Small establishments are making huge impacts, like the Yisrael Family Farm in Oak Park which teach residents about agriculture, and CleanStart, which helps clean technology startups share their work and secure funding.

There are countless other people and organizations who work tirelessly to make sure the region is a place where everyone can live comfortably. The people create the direction for the region, and have spoken loudly. We care about one another.

Ruben and Project Manager Adrian Rehn discussing important Fantasy Football outcomes.

Valley Vision took a gamble on me, but it paid dividends: When I accepted my role at Valley Vision, I had managed social media accounts for City Year Sacramento, and championed newsletter efforts at St. HOPE – not exactly expansive knowledge of communications. I did not have a degree in Communications, Public Relations, Graphic Design, or a related field. What I did have was a curiosity and unwavering commitment to never stop learning. Those qualities are what helped me overcome what I lacked in formal education. Gratitude and curiosity fueled my first few months as I learned platforms like MailChimp and WordPress, and kicked up our social media activity.

After building proficiency and confidence, and learning the working styles of my teammates, I gained traction. Curating 50+ newsletters, growing our Twitter reach by over 750%, and developing rapport with staff members to create content, I elevated the external awareness of Valley Vision greatly. Taking cues from Bill, Trish, Christine, and Adrian, I found a way to leverage my enthusiasm and turn it into irrefutable growth.

Growth and opportunity: My next step is to be determined. Staying in Sacramento and continuing to make my hometown and the region I love a place where everyone can live and thrive is of the utmost importance to me. Nonprofits do this work. Government agencies do this work. Schools do this work. The private sector does this work. I do this work.

Ruben Moody has been a Valley Vision Communications Intern since January 24th, 2018.

What Are You Thankful for in 2018?

As each year comes to a close, Valley Vision staff reflect on what we have been thankful for over the past year. It’s an annual tradition, and we are excited to share our reflections with you. Thank you for continuing to support and collaborate with us!

  • Chloe Pan: I am thankful for community and being able to witness all of the love people have for those around them. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing. And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.”
  • Bill Mueller: I am thankful for the next generation of problem solvers who are tackling our biggest challenges. The future is in great hands, with a growing crowd of people locally who really care about equity, economy and the environment, and are working in our community daily to do something about it.
  • Jennifer Romero: “I am thankful for family, friends and loved ones near and far, who continue to support and love me during my very hectic culinary endeavors.  I am also thankful for my beautiful wife and all that she does for us, and our furry babies, Max, Marley and Belle!”
  • Yzabelle Dela Cruz: There have been many people and experiences throughout this year that have added a wealth of love and insight to my life. I am grateful for the health of my family, friends, and colleagues, and the ability to share these connections and experiences with people who offer such kindness and support.
  • Tammy Cronin: Family, friends, good health, prosperity and abundance, kindness and generosity.
  • Ruben Moody: I’m thankful for the people around me who continue to drive me forward. They help me create opportunities to evolve and develop as a professional and a person.
  • Debbie Aubert: Being cancer free!
  • Sonia Duenas: 2018 has been a big year of change. I’m grateful for my expanding family, good health, new friendships, and the opportunities that lay ahead. Change is good.
  • Alan Lange: I am thankful to be done with our office hunt. The search was long. The options were many. Very glad we landed in such a great space. And I am also grateful for the many wonderful years spent at the former location.
  • Trish Kelly: Grateful for ongoing love and support from friends and work colleagues as my family experienced loss of loved ones this past year; grateful to be part of a community that is responding so deeply to support those experiencing the devastation of the fires; and grateful to do work that is dedicated to a healthy and sustainable future for the region.
  • Adrian Rehn: I am thankful for the increasingly small differentiation between friends, family, and colleagues. The people I have collaborated with over the past year are all of the above.
  • Evan Schmidt: My family’s health and well-being, good friends and community, and meaningful work that challenges and excites me.
  • Meg Arnold: I’m grateful for Valley Vision’s great new office space, which has enhanced the funkiness of the old office’s brick walls by adding many windows and copious natural light! I’m also grateful for Alan’s steady and quiet hand during the moving process, and for the three great colleagues with whom I share our office “pod.”
  • Emma Koefoed: Thankful being able to move to Midtown this year. Thankful for having the BEST POD EVER.
  • Robyn Krock: There are so many who need a hand right now, I am grateful that I am in a position to be able to help others.

Featured Image Credit: Chantel Elder

Valley Vision Staff Cook Meals for Camp Fire Victims

In the immediate wake of the Camp Fire, several organizations arrived in Butte County to support those facing life with an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. World Central Kitchen, founded in 2010 by Chef José Andrés, was one of the first organizations on scene providing support. For the last several weeks, chefs around California and beyond have rallied to leverage commercial kitchen spaces in making a difference.

World Central Kitchen (WCK) made headlines previously when disaster hit Haiti and Puerto Rico, as well as during the Mendocino Complex and Carr Fires earlier in the year. They have established a reputation now as the tenacious non-profit known for being the go-to organization to feed thousands in the wake of natural disasters. When it became apparent the Camp Fire was going to be yet another wildfire for the record books, WCK made its way up to Northern California to set up a facility. With Paradise only a short drive away and so many people affected, the staff at Valley Vision immediately wanted to find a way to help. In less than a day Project Associates Sonia Duenas, Yzabelle Dela Cruz, and myself registered as volunteers and made our way to Chico, California the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

We arrived in Chico around 11 am and immediately took notice of the blackened hills and fire lines coming right up to the freeway pavement. The smoke was heavy, and not much could be seen past the few cars in front of us. In both directions we passed more than a dozen Cal Fire Trucks, dusty and grayish-red as they returned back down Highway 99, horse trailers packed with animals being transported to makeshift animal shelters, Red Cross disaster vans, pedestrian vehicles noticeably loaded with supplies, bags of clothing, and food, and regular families probably leaving the only home they’ve known. It was a leveling experience just coming into the area. However, once we arrived at the WCK headquarters, the tone instantly changed. What a few moments ago felt so dire, was replaced with a bustling group of cheerful and smiling WCK volunteers that immediately welcomed us and directed us to a station. The Red Cross had just arrived to pick up what was probably lunch, and there was a line of people loading up cambros and sack lunches into the disaster vans. After a quick tour of the facility and run down of tasks to be completed, we made our way across the parking lot to the kitchen to help prep food for the dinner shift. Chef Dominic Orsini, head chef from Silver Oak Winery, greeted us at the door and immediately led all three of us outside to a table with 5 large boxes of Spanish onions that needed to be sliced up for dinner.

“Can you cut onions?”

Slightly intimidated we each quickly grabbed an onion, rubbed off the outer layer of dried peels, sliced off the nubby little ends, and julienned the little herbaceous plants as fast as we could.

“Great! Get started”. And like that, we were off.

For the rest of the day, we were flying around the kitchen, working alongside the many other World Central Kitchen staff, the Silver Oak Kitchen team and other volunteers. As Kerrie Jacobson, a representative from Chef Tyler Florence’s team, was moving back and forth hastily making chimichurri sauce for the dinner meal and simultaneously making batches of quinoa, several of us were outside braising beef chuck on large paella pans. Time flew by as we shared stories about where we were from and why we had come to participate. We met several amazing people including Carrie, a massage therapist who had driven all the way from Santa Rosa to lend her hands, and Joe, a Red Cross organizer who had flown in from Connecticut to help with the relief efforts. Together we were able to prepare over 2,500 dinner meals for Camp Fire victims.

Returning to the car covered in sweat and kitchen debris, we couldn’t help but feel completely humbled and inspired by our time spent with World Central Kitchen. As we pulled out of the parking lot, we watched as the Red Cross vans departed down the road with the meals for delivery, hopefully to bring some comfort to those in need. The experience was one of a kind, and aside from the unfortunate circumstances, Sonia, Yzabelle, and I were grateful that we were able to participate in something so impactful.

Emma Koefoed is a Valley Vision Project Associate contributing to the 21st Century Workforce and Food and Agriculture impact areas. 

What Are the Region’s Five Most Important Transportation Investments?

In January, Valley Vision reported that 93% of local residents said that transportation is of critical importance to business and job growth in the region. The poll result was part of the ongoing survey research of resident attitudes that Valley Vision conducts with the Institute of Social Research at Sac State.  Our latest opinion survey is now out on resident attitudes about what it’s like to live and work here.

Local residents overwhelmingly get the jobs-transportation link, knowing that we have to make 21st Century-minded investment decisions that better connect existing job and education centers and provide people choice in how they get around.

In a letter sent this week to the leadership of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG – the body that decides our transportation investments), Valley Vision’s Board made this case drawing from our own transportation research and work, facts and evidence from the Brookings Institute, McKinsey & Company, and regional as well as local economic development organizations and experts.

Traffic in Sacramento
Image credit: Greg West

The letter states that advanced economies are clustered in cities today, large and small.  It is in these built-up areas where there is a concentration of firms, investment capital, labor, and schools and universities, working together on technologies, cures, products, and services. Cities are where jobs are located. So it makes the most sense to direct the limited dollars we have in investments where the existing jobs and people are, not to where they aren’t.

To support inclusive job and business growth in the Capital Region, Valley Vision’s Board said unanimously that we must prioritize fixing and maintaining what we have. Next up is increasing mobility access and use by making our different transportation systems work better together across city boundaries with technology and governance improvements. Lastly, we have to make careful and strategic investments that connect existing job and education centers to improve opportunity for all, not just some.

So if there’s only so much taxpayer money to go around and we want a healthy economy that is inclusive and doesn’t leave anyone out, where should we invest?  The answer is pretty simple. Valley Vision’s Board came up with what we believe are the “Big Five” priorities.

As numbers one and two, we must find a solution that breaks the traffic gridlock on Highway 50 and Highway 80, which are the backbone that links our region’s largest job centers. We lose millions of dollars in productivity when people are stuck behind the wheel, and we make air quality far worse. Goods movement and commerce are blocked. These conditions impact everyone’s lives, directly and indirectly.

Number three is making transit work for all people – for working professionals and people who do not have any other option but public transit to get to work, school, or services. It makes little sense to have so many transit agencies in our region. Further, it is overly complicated and, in some cases near impossible, to get between cities or across our region by bus, light rail, or bike safely, conveniently, and on time. This is a government efficiency problem as much as an infrastructure investment opportunity that continues to block people from jobs and educational opportunity and slows economic activity. Great strides are being made today by RT and other agency leaders, but an inclusive economy that engages all communities, especially the disadvantaged, requires us to act with urgency.

Sacramento Regional Transit in motion
Image credit: Carlos Eliason

Number four is improving connectivity between Sacramento and the Bay Area. This will require vision and investment that goes beyond business-as-usual. Commuter train service and bus rapid transit should be actively advanced and expanded, in addition to Highway 80 capacity improvements. Being better connected to the world’s epicenter for technology is a wise, long-term economic investment strategy and provides job and business growth opportunities to existing and new firms important to all communities.

Number five is improving connectivity and public investment in and around Sacramento International Airport. This is our gateway to the world. Look at any other metro and their major airport is the hub of their transportation and job network.  Access, opportunity, and growth – core tenants of economic inclusion – are served by public and private investment here.

It’s hard to imagine any issue today getting agreement from 93% of the general public. But the importance of transportation to growing jobs and opportunity here in this region is a no-brainer.  Let’s all make sure when the SACOG Board meets next on December 20th that our elected leaders are prioritizing the sort of investments that better link existing job and education centers.

To learn more about this, we hope you take part in the public forums and input sessions for the 2020 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, now in development.  Key decisions are coming up in the months ahead and making your voice heard is vital to building a community we all want to live in, both now and in the future.

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

Featured image credit: Jason A. Knowles

Why Election Results and Facts Matter to the Future of This Region

Last week’s election was another defining moment for California.  While electoral votes are not fully counted, we now have a new Governor-elect with an expansion agenda intended to grow social, economic and environmental programs. In addition, new investment commitments were made to increase affordable housing and voters agreed that paying for mobility and road improvements is worth higher gas taxes at the pump.

Closer to home, the election results showed once more that the four-county Sacramento Metro Area is a region divided – a microcosm for the state and nation at large.  Two indicators:  the vote for governor, and the vote for Proposition 6, the statewide measure to repeal the gas tax.

If the election for governor was up to just Placer and El Dorado County voters, John Cox would have won by a landslide, prevailing over Lt. Gov. Newsom with 59% of the vote in both counties. Yet in Sacramento County voters supported Newsome 55% over 44% for Cox, and in Yolo County, the margin was wider: 66% for Newsom and 34% for Cox.

The vote for Proposition 6 tells a similar story. The gas tax repeal was backed strongly by Placer and El Dorado County voters, with 57% in favor.  Yet in Sacramento County voters said “no” to the repeal by a 53% to 46% margin.  Yolo County voters were more emphatic, voting 65% against repeal, with just 35% in favor.

Results like these should remind us all that California’s Capital region is diverse; its voters politically distinct in outlook; and that the political divide is not just across the US but, for us, is just a 45-minute drive in any direction.  This is important to know for political, government, business, or civic leadership agencies like Valley Vision as we conduct our daily business to make this region more prosperous, just and sustainable.

How do you govern in times of sharp disagreement?  You start with facts.  For you cannot facilitate understanding or agreement among varied interests if there’s not agreement first upon the nature of the problems that you collectively face.

In the week following Thanksgiving, Valley Vision will release the results of our latest scientific opinion poll that reveals resident attitudes about what they value (and not) about our quality of life in the Greater Sacramento area.  Working with the Institute of Social Research at Sacramento State, we asked nearly 1,000 local residents how they feel about homelessness, poverty, their chances at upward mobility, education, health care access, and more.  We also asked tough questions about whether they feel included in their community or not, and whether we should embrace the present boom in this region, or preserve the lifestyle we have come to value.

We trust that these scientifically-derived results that reflect the voices of local residents – rich and poor, urban and rural, old and young, White, Black, Latino, Asian and more – will arm the elected officials lucky enough to lead us with the knowledge and insights to bring us together to focus on the issues that residents prioritize as most important to their lives and wellbeing.

It’s part of the value proposition that Valley Vision brings to you, and to those governing.  We appreciate your support, and all our thoughts and prayers at Valley Vision are with the families confronting the Camp Fire and other catastrophes across California.

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.