Porterville Overview – Introduction to a CA City

Porterville California City Hall

Welcome to Porterville: PEFA Welcomes You!

Porterville is a rapidly growing City with a troubled economic past and present, but it does not need to be that way. In PEFA’s view, there could be a bright future with LGBT and other new leadership locally and efforts to reach out to leaders elsewhere.

Our current population is estimated at 55,000. In the mid 1960s, when many of the Councilman and local politicians were children, the population was under 20,000. In the past, when current-Mayor Cameron Hamilton’s grandfather was Mayor, the population was well under 10,000.

Porterville is located midway between Fresno and Bakersfield in California’s farming belt, the Central Valley. We are a 3.5 hour drive from both LA to the south and Silicon Valley’s San Jose to the north. Our primary industry is support of the local citrus and other tree crops such as olives, almonds, pistachios, walnuts. Other local crops include grapes and dairy. Just for perspective, within a few miles of Porterville, in its economic influence area are approximately 1 million orange trees. There is a very good chance that the table orange you last ate, if it was grown in the US, came from Porterville.

Porterville is in the area that has had economic troubles, despite its bountiful harvests, for well over a century and a half. By 1939, John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Carey McWilliam’s Factories in the Fields documented the already-endemic economic disparities and poverty that persist to this day. Cesar Chavez began his efforts in the grape fields in Delano, the next town to the southwest from here.

The largest employers in town are:

  • Porterville Developmental Center, opened in the mid-1950s and one of only two forensic facilities for intellectually disabled men, women, and minors in the US.

  • Walmart Distribution Center, opened approximately 25 years ago, was Walmart’s first distribution center west of Texas. Although they are common now, with the nearest ones less than 75 miles away, Walmart DC remains Porterville’s second largest employer.

  • Public Service Sector:  Local, County, State and Federal government positions compose a very large percentage of Porterville’s employment opportunities.

The Worst Of Porterville: Currently, Porterville’s population in aggregate has some of the lowest educational achievement, likely in the bottom 10 for cities its size across the United States. It has some of the lowest per capita income nationwide due to the issues, raised by Steinbeck and McWilliams in the 1930s, that have never been addressed in the intervening 75 years. We have some of the worst air pollution in the United States. Immediately outside city boundaries are serious ground water pollution issues. Inside Porterville, ground water is at risk due to a Superfund site left behind by a long-gone electronics manufacturer.

Local Politics are overwhelmingly conservative and Tea Party oriented:  Porterville’s politics and politicians at all levels have been ultra-conservative, anti-innovation, and anti-lgbt. At the State level, we were represented for a long time by Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield. Ashburn made a career out of harsh anti-gay legislation until he was outed as gay shortly before being termed out of his position. Currently, we are represented by Connie Conway, R-Visalia, CA Minority Leader and Tea Party fan. At the Federal level, we are currently represented by Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and House Majority Whip. See our description of our City Council’s long anti-LGBT history.

Overall, Porterville in a very red and very religious (“Bible Belt”) oriented area of California. In political fervor, our area is second to none in the US when it comes to citizens voting against their own economic interest and refusal to take responsibility for their own economic dire straits.

But… a new day is dawning, it does not have to be this way anymore.

All Backgrounders:

  1. Porterville’s LGBT Community
  2. Porterville Council Homophobic History and PEFA Efforts
  3. Porterville Overview
  4. Porterville’s Future: A Positive View from PEFA