The Vallejo Sun is celebrating it’s second anniversary, and has earned my respect with excellent in-depth reporting on police, local government, schools, arts, and local events. Recently, I re-subscribed with a voluntary increase in my annual renewal amount. You can subscribe here.
Understand – I’m a longtime supporter of our own small town press, the Benicia Herald, and our next door neighbor paper, the Vallejo Times-Herald. And gosh, wouldn’t ya know, I read the Benicia Independent, yes! I hope you do, too, because local journalism isn’t on firm ground anywhere in the U.S. these days. We need a variety of perspectives – and no one source can cover it all.
Here’s how Scott Morris of the Vallejo Sun puts it on the occasion of the Sun’s second anniversary:
I’m writing because the Vallejo Sun just passed a major milestone: Our second year anniversary. While this is cause for celebration, it remains to be seen whether we can keep going for another year. So I’m also asking for your help.
We founded the Vallejo Sun in 2021 because we saw a need for in-depth reporting about local government, policing, and extremist movements in the region. In 2022, we expanded to cover Vallejo’s rich arts and culture.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our in-depth reporting on police, local government, schools and arts, and have found our extensive event listings useful. We think it’s important to bring you the best information available. But we can’t do it without your help.
This year we’ve overcome some challenges. Our founding member John Glidden departed for a new role with the county. Upheaval at social media companies has made it harder for news publishers to reach consumers.
But we remain committed to bringing you the news and added six new contributors in the last year. These new voices have expanded our breadth of coverage and brought you even more of the in-depth news you’ve come to expect from us.
For the first time, you can make a tax deductible contribution to the Vallejo Sun through our fiscal sponsor, the Alternative Newsweekly Foundation. Your contribution means more work for local journalists and more thought-provoking, impactful stories.
Behind-the-scenes activist/reporter ending public service – group organizing to continue the online news and views
BENICIA – Longtime Benicia activist and reporter/publisher of the Benicia Independent Roger Straw will retire soon. Old issues of the Benicia Independent will be archived and saved for future reference.
Today’s good news is that you can continue to read BenIndy news and views – but with an impressive new design and staffed by a small but growing group of dedicated volunteers. They need more of you to help! If you are even just a little bit interested in contributing, please contact the BenIndy transition group by emailing Nathalie Christian at email@example.com.
Roger will continue to work with this group during a brief transition and will post new content occasionally until the start-up of the new BenIndy.
About the Benicia Independent ~ Eyes on the Environment / Benicia news & views
In 2007, two years after Roger retired from his service in ministry at Benicia’s Community Congregational Church, UCC, he founded the Benicia Independent, an online source for local news and views. The “BenIndy” as it has become known, served initially to highlight charges of political influence in the firing of the editor of Benicia’s print newspaper, the Benicia Herald.
Over the following 16 years, the BenIndy has published over 4,100 articles. It has gone through design changes, upgrades, and a series of single-issue coverages, including the championing of progressive electoral candidates, reporting on environmental issues local and beyond, calling for sensible gun control, racial, cultural and gender justice, immigration reform, a long-running daily log on the pandemic in Solano County (now archived), and more. Perhaps most importantly, the Independent played a major role in stopping Valero Benicia Refinery’s dangerous and dirty crude by rail proposal (also archived) and has kept a close eye on the refinery at every stage since. More: benindy.wpengine.com/about.
How to say good-bye? A brief personal reflection from Roger…
I’m in relatively good health, so no dramatic health concerns are behind my decision to leave public service. But I’m thinking about the future. It’s important to me that I focus on some unmet personal goals. I need to attend to home chores and spend time with family, and I want to slow down a bit for the first time in a more-or-less driven life.
So I’m saying good bye to a fulfilling 25-year chapter of public service in Benicia and welcoming in a new chapter of being productive in an entirely different way.
Please know that it’s a thrill to give over the Benicia Independent to talented others. The BenIndy will no longer be a one-person operation. Any number of you can now volunteer to write up the Benicia news and to express your views on important issues of the day. Contact Nathalie at firstname.lastname@example.org Who knows? I may have to join in on occasion, but not every day or every week, and not under a self-induced pressure to produce on deadline.
Friends, family and neighbors near and far – it’s been a looong and sometimes lonely road here at the wheel, driving and maintaining the clean-energy vehicle known as the Benicia Independent.
Now, having passed through a challenging 25 month public health journey, the time has come to reconfigure the roadmap – again.
The BenIndy on COVID-19
In April of 2020, the BenIndy was overtaken by the urgency of reporting on the deadly pandemic sweeping into Benicia and Solano County.
At first, your BenIndy staff of one – that’s me – collected, analyzed and published Solano County COVID data five days a week M-F. More than a year later in June of 2021, the County cut back to 3 days a week, and although I complained that we ought not be slacking off, I followed suit and began posting my COVID report on MWF.
Just two months ago, on March 14, 2022, the Solano County Health Department cut back to informing the public about COVID only on Mondays and Thursdays. Again, I expressed disappointment, but switched to a twice a week posting.
As of today, over more than two years, I have published 416 Solano/Benicia COVID reports, keeping residents informed as the virus mutated and surged – and killed 425 of us. (425 Solano residents. The County does not disclose City data on deaths and hospitalizations.)
I have been tired of this for a long time, but I carried on due to the danger and severe threat to public health.
The world beyond COVID-19
Meanwhile, like everyone else, I have been alarmed by historic news from Ukraine. I’ve not posted nearly often enough about our U.S. Supreme Court poised to take over the private health decisions of women. Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are threatening the very basis of our democracy. And my deep and abiding concern for sensible gun control and racial justice has spiked, again, with the devastating news from Buffalo NY and Uvalde TX.
Of course, that’s not all. There’s a world of nearby news: it’s electoral campaign season again here in Benicia, with our Big Oil political action committee amassing over $200,000 to once again pollute our polls and elect a puppet City Council. Vallejo news and Solano County and California news is compelling and important.
So it’s time for me to let go of the daily, weekly, interminably ongoing COVID report. I’ll archive for public access the spreadsheet I’ve kept that shows the spread of COVID here from April 2020 to May 2022. Check it out at BenIndy COVID SPREADSHEET
ARCHIVE. And the 416 individual updates are archived here: DAILY COVID POSTINGS ON BENINDY.
I will renew and strengthen my Benicia coverage, including:
an expanded focus on Benicia Black Lives Matter
coverage of Benicia’s 2022 electoral campaigns, including the run for City Council by my favorite candidate, Kari Birdseye and the powerful Valero PAC that will surely oppose her
continuing stories on Benicia environmental concerns, with a close eye on the SF Bay, the Carquinez Strait, the air around us and our not-so-friendly neighbor, Valero Benicia Refinery
I will also return to peace and justice themes writ large, national and international issues that have motivated me for over 50 years in my professional and retirement life:
Racial Justice and the resurgence of white supremacist ideology and expression
Gun violence and sensible gun control
Organized threats to our democracy in swing states and the federal government
Gender justice and LBGTQ rights, with a serious focus on women’s health issues and the right to safe and legal abortion
World order, peace, freedom and international justice, including opposition to authoritarian and fascist powers
Limits and personal needs
Of course I’ve set the bar higher than my 73-year old body and retirement needs can begin to attain. We all know that it’s important to accept some limits and attend to personal needs as well as the critical calls to vigilance, resistance and service.
So I’ll never do it all. But at least I’ve given myself clarity and permission to move in a good direction.
Help where help is needed?
If there’s anyone out there reading this far down in the story who would like to assist me, I’d welcome turning a one-person operation into a team approach. In particular, if you would like to pick up on COVID reporting, that would be nice. Or if you’d like to become a regular contributor on any of the themes I’ve highlighted, let’s talk. Write to me at rogrmail at gmail dot com.
Who knows? Maybe the BenIndy will see another 15 years?!
On May 27, I asked Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson to ask Solano Public Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas a number of questions about recent increases in the number of our youth who are showing up positive for COVID-19. The Mayor passed my questions on to Dr. Matyas that day, and on May 31, he replied with answers to all eight questions – see below.
Solano County is reporting an upward trend in confirmed cases among young persons 18 and under, adding (as of today) 26 more positive cases over the last 20 days, having reported only 6 over the 5 weeks prior. (Latest update…)
MY QUESTIONS & DR. MATYAS’ ANSWERS…
How serious are these youth cases?
The youth cases are mostly asymptomatic, although a few have been mildly symptomatic.
How old – teens or young children?
While we have had a few young children, most of the youth are older teenagers.
Surely the increase can be partially explained away as a result of more testing, but that doesn’t mean the numbers are any less serious. Right?
The increased numbers are apparently the result of increased testing of asymptomatic household contacts of cases and testing of asymptomatic persons at the recently opened Optum sites in Vallejo and Vacaville; we are likely uncovering a phenomenon that has been present all along. As to seriousness, the percentage of positive youths we are seeing seems to match statewide and national numbers. These individuals, while not themselves experiencing serious illness, are nonetheless able to spread the virus to others.
Is the County conducting contact tracing for these youth?
Yes, just as for all positive cases.
Does the County have sufficient staffing for contact tracing?
So far, yes.
What can the County and cities do to intensify communication with our young people and parents?
Presumably, utilizing social media and school-based communication systems.
SO NOW WHAT?
I sincerely hope that parents and youth reading this will take note, and that the County and its cities and school districts will intensify communication about the serious reality of COVID-19 transmission among youth, and from youth to their elders.