Marcher Irene Gonzalez Revisits Childhood in Atwater &amp; Livingston

Marcher Irene Gonzalez Revisits Childhood in Atwater & Livingston

By AFSCME Assistant Director Willie Pelote

Los Angeles probation officer and Central Vally émigré Irene Gonzalez, who is participating in a 48-day trek from Bakersfield to Sacramento to highlight the need for quality public services and education in California, revisited parts of her childhood when the March for California’s Future reached Atwater and Livingston this past weekend.

As a child, Gonzalez cycled between various foster homes in the Central Valley before finding a permanent home in the town of Atwater.

Her foster parents also ran a flower shop in Livingston called Rose’s Flowers, which has long since disappeared, another casualty on the long list of small businesses that have fallen victim to the practice of subsidizing the operations of large companies like Wal-Mart through unnecessary tax credits.

Small, local businesses create two-thirds of the jobs in the United States and generate an appropriate tax base, upon which to build a community supported by a network of vital public services and structures.

However, tax policies and land use and zoning rules at the municipal and state level have generally focused on doling out large tax breaks, credits, and subsidies worth billions to big businesses at the expense of local merchants.

According to Murtaza Baxamusa, research and policy director at the Center on Policy Initiatives:

Big businesses will usually ask for a variety of tax concessions from local and state governments as a condition for setting up shop somewhere: things like free land or to keep a percentage of their sales taxes. This creates an uneven playing field. When politicians allow our tax dollars to finance the operations of these large companies, what happens is that mom and pop stores like Rose’s Flowers are driven out of business, shrinking the overall tax base.

Because chain stores and other large companies and corporations are designed to suck dollars out of a local economy and aggregate them in their head offices far outside the places where they have set up shop, this accelerates the running down of a community or city or state.

Said Gonzalez:

I remember how people used to go out with their kids on Sundays and walk around town window shopping or taking in the sights. Now weekends in places like Visalia and Merced mean empty streets and shuttered storefronts. We really need to change our tax policies, because they have decimated mom and pop shops throughout the state. Here in the Central Valley it’s especially important, because there is no local economy to speak of, and people have no real prospects or jobs.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has characterized the policy of extending tax breaks and tax credits to businesses to spur job creation as fiscally irresponsible.

In a 2009 PPIC report, researchers concluded that directing tax credits, subsidies, and other incentives to businesses to spur job creation, “has no effect on job or business creation.” The report called for a reexamination of these policies.


The budget deficits we’re seeing at state and local levels throughout California are the direct result of allowing multinational corporations and the wealthy to escape paying their fair share of taxes. At a time of record home foreclosures and record unemployment across the nation and California, we need to invest in our public services and institutions to protect us from the economic storms that Wall Street has unleashed. This includes restoring quality public education and public services, rebuilding a government that serves all Californians, and creating a fair tax system to fund our state’s future.

Both Atwater and Livingston are located in Merced County.

In January, the Associated Press (AP) ranked Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin Counties at numbers two, three, and four respectively on the list of the most economically depressed counties in the U.S.

According to the AP’s Economic Stress Index, which measures unemployment, bankruptcy, and home foreclosure rates, California is home to nine of the most economically depressed counties in the nation.