The first full week of 2013 was a newsy one for Merced County. And we hope to add some good news tonight, with the 49ers beating the Green Bay Packers and advancing closer to the Super Bowl. Regular fans will be watching, of course, and so will many others whose primary focus will be Colin Kaepernick, the Turlock native who is the Niners' starting quarterback. Many in the Merced area remember Kaepernick from his days as a star football and baseball player at Central California Conference rival Pitman High School.
Meanwhile, closer to home ...
Recent census figures provide a sobering look at educational attainment in Merced County. Fewer than 10 percent of county residents have earned higher education degrees, according to the American Community Survey. This figure shouldn't be a shock (it's one that the area has grappled with for generations), but it's expected to change as UC Merced grows and more businesses locate here to tap into the university's brainpower. The bad news is that such an economic transformation seems to be very far into the future. But there's a practical lesson in those stats on why it's smart to hit the books: The estimated median annual earnings for someone with a bachelor's degree is around $50,846, almost double the $26,834 of someone with a high school diploma.
Any thought that Merced's vexing homeless problem had been solved when the Black Rascal Creek encampment was broken up two years ago clearly is not on target. Sun-Star reporter Joshua Emerson Smith examined the problem in a story on the front page of Friday's Sun-Star, and the details weren't pretty. Homeless people have fanned out to small-scale camps throughout the city, with a documented 248 people last year not sleeping in shelters. These people have options for shelter from various organizations, but some choose not to take advantage of what's available. The homeless situation certainly will create a problem for city leaders in 2013. They would be wise to see what's worked in other communities -- and what hasn't -- before taking the any next step.
Bills are introduced in the Legislature in January and February. Sixty years ago this past week, an Assemblyman from Modesto introduced a bill that became a law that journalists and the public still depend on. We're talking about the Brown Act, California's landmark open meeting law that requires public bodies to do the public's work in public. We'll write more about the late Ralph M. Brown as the year progresses. Brown, an attorney, served in the Legislature from 1942 to 1961. In 1952, spurred by a newspaper series on secrecy in government and by his commitment to openness, he introduced a bill designed to end closed-door meetings and decisionmaking by public bodies. Who knows what monkey business they would get into without the Brown Act.