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Tulare County Environmental Health Services


Tulare County Environmental Health Services

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Tulare County Environmental Health Services

5957 S Mooney Blvd, Visalia CA 93277
1-559-624-7400

Tulare County, Californias Heartland
California is one of the most diverse states and everyone of its 58 counties is unique. Stretching from San Diego to Shasta and Monterey to Mono, California has It all from beautiful beaches to arid deserts and majestic mountains. Our CUPA profiles have featured many of these and this time we are stopping in at Tulare County. Located in the heart of the Central Valley and with just under 500,000 residents the County stretches from lush croplands to the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains. Tulare County offers a little bit of everything, but their biggest asset is agriculture. It is consistently one of the most productive agricultural counties in the U.S. with dairy as the most productive commodity followed by oranges and grapes, truly Americas breadbasket.
The Tulare County Environmental Health Services is the CUPA for the entire County and was certified in 1997. I was able to get Joel Martens to sit down and tell me all about their CUPA. Joel has been the CUPA program supervisor for more than 20 years, so he knows what is going on, in addition Joel is a past Chair of the CUPA Forum board and was the Issue Coordinator for the Hazardous Materials Business Plan Technical Advisory Group for 15 years.
The Tulare County CUPA implements all of the CUPA programs countywide and has eight inspectors, one office assistant and a Program Manager. Tulare exemplifies why the CUPA program has been such a success statewide. They have been able to consistently meet the mandated inspection frequencies and have achieved an extremely high rate of compliance. Their success is directly attributable to their approach which stresses outreach and education. Their UST owners and operators also tend to be less sophisticated. Many are relatively recent immigrants for whom ownership of a convenience store or gas station is their path to the American dream. As Joel says creating real relationships with these clients is vital to helping them stay in compliance. It is hard enough for regulators to stay abreast of the many changes in this complicated mix of regulatory programs let alone folks trying to make a living, raise a family and still live life.
Like many CUPA agencies Tulare has to compete for staff with agencies around the state that pay more or have more opportunities for advancement. Joel feels that they have been fortunate to have a low turnover rate for staff. This is primarily because they have been able to hire people that either live in the area already or want to live in a place where they can afford to own a home and raise a family. Whether it is new or existing staff training them in all elements and then maintaining that knowledge is a challenge for every CUPA. Tulare has been able to send their staff to the CUPA conference every year which helps them meet all required continuing education, OSHA and ICC requirements. Like many counties inspectors in Tulare are generalists in that they do inspections in all program elements. That is what makes a CUPA career so rewarding and challenging but also requires a lot of technical training. Joel would like to see some sampling and laboratory support that were discontinued and enforcement resources like the Regional Task Force meeting that was coordinated by the U.S. Attorney. These were all helpful resources in the past and resources that counties especially midsized and smaller counties typically cannot afford.
Since the inception of the CUPA program changes and advances in technology have been constant. Tulare has made significant changes in several areas that have made a difference. One of the changes that has aided first responders is the use of the HAZTRAKR application. This application lets first responders use their smartphone to access the most updated information including chemical inventories, facility maps and contact information. As the Business Plan legislation intended way back in 1986 when enacted this application protects first responders by giving them all the information they need when responding. Tulare also use an e-Compliance portal and CERS to collect business data. This allows easier input and access for business and also ensures the data in both systems is correct. Inspectors also have been using tablets in the field when performing inspections allowing easy access to facility information and eliminating some data entry. Lastly, they have utilized ESRI GIS which is able to provide detailed maps of facilities in the county and allows CUPA staff to quickly access property records, zoning requirements and pertinent facility information when preparing for an inspection. All these technological improvements help staff work more efficiently and improves the public and responder safety.
The Tulare CUPA like every CUPA wants to help business in their community to comply and thrive. Joel sees opportunities for establishing the frequency and priority of program routine inspections based on relative risk and community impact rather the existing mandated frequencies. Most rural CUPAs are going to be limited as to staffing and the ability to fully support their programs through fee revenue alone. Ideas such as the Regulatory Performance Initiative may provide for more efficient implementation by prioritizing local resources to activities that provide the most bang for the buck, that is, those that have the greatest environmental and public health benefits. It doesnt seem to make sense to inspect all hazardous material handlers and waste generators at the same frequency, regardless of risk.
Like everyone in the nation the pandemic has reduced field work and productivity although UST inspections are taking place since they can be done while social distancing. Life is slowly coming back to normal and so is this CUPA. Tulare is a shining example of the diversity, ingenuity and connection to community that makes the CUPA program so successful and resilient. So next time you are passing through the Central Valley or maybe even when you are having that cold glass of milk , know that local staff like Tulare Countys staff are hard at work helping local business comply.