Fresno City Council Member Steve Brandau offered gracious and well-spoken introductory remarks before Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s State of the City address on Thursday.
There was one problem: the first-year council member referenced a closed-door council discussion about the city budget, and city budgets are not supposed to be discussed behind closed doors, per the state’s open-meeting laws.
City finances are meant to be open for public debate.
Brandau explained himself Friday, saying that the private council discussion (or discussions) was not specifically about the budget but about something else that had financial ramifications.
He didn’t specify, but it could have been a topic that’s legally afforded privacy, such as a lawsuit or labor contract.
“Every decision we make is a decision about the budget,” he said.
Fresno County Assessor Paul Dictos wants another two terms in office, and this week he threw himself a 70th birthday party-slash-campaign drive to underscore that point.
While it’s still a year and a half before the next election, Dictos is sending a clear signal to potential adversaries that he’s not the political lightweight that narrowly won the job two years ago. He’s become something of a force to reckon with.
More than 200 people attended the party outside his Fresno accounting business Thursday, and the crowd reflected a range of political interests, from Tea Party conservatives and mainstream Republicans to labor leaders and liberals.
Dictos has needed to broaden his support since taking office in 2011. He raised property taxes after finding county tax records out of date, and he ostracized many who didn’t want to see their tax bills climb, particularly those in agriculture, where taxes went up the most.
Many Republicans who helped put him in office, technically a nonpartisan seat, no longer support him and may choose to back another candidate next year.
Dictos has left the Republican Party since the backlash, and he’s now registered as a “Decline to State” voter.
“I always try my best to do the right thing,” he said during a speech at his birthday party.
Attendees included five of the seven Fresno City Council members, retiring Superintendent of Schools Larry Powell and state Senate hopeful Leticia Perez.
Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea and former Supervisor Susan Anderson were guests of honor — though both had last-minute conflicts and didn’t attend.
A sample of mosquitoes from Fresno County tested positive for West Nile virus, according to mosquito control officials on Friday.
Mosquito season has arrived.
And there’s good news and bad news.
First the good: The drought means less standing water for mosquitoes to use as breeding ponds. And an improving economy has reduced the number of neglected swimming pools where mosquitoes breed.
The bad: The heat makes mosquitoes frisky and Fresno’s high temperature of 102 degrees on Sunday was perfect weather for mosquitoes to multiply.
Mosquito control officials remind that mosquitoes are more than just an annoyance. They can carry West Nile virus, which can make people sick, usually with mild, flu symptoms, but in some cases with life-threatening neurological complications.
So far, Fresno County has not detected any mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, says Tim Phillips, district manager at the Fresno Mosquito and Vector Control District. But mosquitoes have tested positive for the virus in Tulare County, he says. “If it’s in Tulare, it’s here,” Phillips says. “That’s just my gut feeling.”
So it’s time to take precautions against mosquito bites. The choices are to wear mosquito repellent or long sleeves and pants in the early evenings or avoid the outdoors when mosquitoes are buzzing. For more tips about mosquito avoidance and about West Nile virus, check out the state Department of Public Health web site.
Also check window and door screens for rips and make sure they fit tight. And report green pools (there are still lots) to a local mosquito control district so they can stock them with mosquito-eating fish.
(Photo courtesy of Granville Homes. Pasatiempo model: 2.029 square feet with four bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms and a two-car garage.)
Update: Darius Assemi, president of Granville Homes, will discuss how home building affects the local economy at Saturday’s grand opening event.
Assemi will be joined by Fresno City Council Member Lee Brand and Al Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.
The event will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Granville Model Center at Copper and Maple avenues.
Original Post: Granville Homes is unveiling four new model homes on Saturday at Copper River Ranch in northeast Fresno.
The models range in size from an 1,800-square-foot, three bedroom and two bathroom home to a 3,484-square-foot, seven bedroom, four bathroom house. All models have Granville’s Eco-Smart Technology with cool roof technology, extra insulation, and solar panels.
The houses can be built on lots in any of Granville’s three developments including Sageberry at Copper River, Rio Belleza at the La Ventana development west of Highway 99, and Green Park at Sunnyside in southeast Fresno.
Prices start in the $200,000s. For more information, visit Granville Homes or call (559) 440-8370.
The Measure G media battle is heating up.
Backers of the ballot measure, which seeks Fresno voter approval to privatize the city’s residential trash pickup, began airing television and radio ads Wednesday featuring Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer, who casts the issue as one of public safety.
“There’s a lot of good reasons to support Measure G, but for me the most important is the funding Measure G provides to keep police officers and firefighters on the job,” Dyer says in a 30-second television ad.
In the radio spot, which is a minute long, Dyer adds: “The funding is essential to our police department, and without it, we could lose an additional 20 to 30 police officers.”
Yes on G consultant Tim Clark said another ad featuring Fresno businessman and Republican activist Michael Der Manouel Jr. will debut Thursday.
As the Yes on G campaign ramps up, Common Sense Information — an independent political committee formed by local Republican businessman Tal Cloud — is doing the same.
Actually, the Common Sense Information radio advertisement that also started Wednesday never mentions Measure G, though it’s clear that’s the target since a special election on the proposal is fast approaching.
On June 4, Fresno city voters will be asked to approve privatization of residential trash pickup.
“Now the City of Fresno has decided to give a contract to one company to privatize over 100,000 residential accounts with claim that rates will be lower once the contract is approved,” the radio ad says. “Can you really trust the mayor and City Hall to do what’s in the best interest for the people of Fresno or to do what’s best for their political future?”
In fact, the ad feels more like a broad-based attack on Fresno City Hall, which currently is occupied by Mayor Ashley Swearengin. The minute-long spot does eventually get around to the trash issue.
Already, Yes on G supporters are crying foul.
Clark, the Yes on G consultant, said he will file a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is the state’s political watchdog.
Clark said Cloud’s organization “is acting as a political committee for the defeat of Measure G, even though they haven’t filed as such.”
He pointed out a $4,000 contribution to Common Sense Information from the City of Fresno Professional Employees Association, which was reported to the Fresno city clerk as being against Measure G.
“The law states that if you are an organization that receives funding for the purpose of making political expenditures, then you must register as (a political action committee) and file campaign finance disclosure reports,” Clark said.
Common Sense Information is no stranger to controversy.
Last year, George Whitman, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the Fresno Unified School Board Area 6 seat, complained about a CSI ad that talked about a foreclosure and a bankruptcy.
And in 2010, Rep. Jeff Denham — who was making his initial run for Congress — complained about a Common Sense Information attack ad. But he never filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
Cloud welcomed the complaint.
“That’s good,” Cloud said. “I’m perfectly legal doing what I’ve done. That shows their incompetency.”
Cloud said the City of Fresno Professional Employees Association did give money to Common Sense Information, but it was wrong in filing a report because his ad does no advocate for or against Measure G.
As the forces for and against Measure G battle on the airwaves and behind the scene, a political mailer from the Fresno Police Officers Association landed in the mailboxes of “high-propensity voters” in the City Council districts of Lee Brand, Steve Brandau and Paul Caprioglio.
The mailer highlights what the FPOA says are millions of dollars in contract concessions to help the city’s finances.
But the timing — and who received the mailers — makes it appear like the FPOA is weighing in indirectly on Measure G, some political watchers said. The FPOA opposes Measure G and has given money to fight it.
FPOA President Jacky Parks said that isn’t true.
He said the mailer — which features quotes from Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, and former Mayor Alan Autry — is a direct appeal to council members and city residents because City Manager Mark Scott and other members of the Swearengin administration have stopped talking to the police union.
“We’ve lost confidence in the administration,” Parks said. “So we’re taking it to the council.”
Linda Penner, Fresno County’s chief probation officer for the past seven years, was appointed today by Gov. Jerry Brown as executive officer of the Board of State and Community Corrections.
Penner, a 58-year-old Fresno Democrat, was already on the organization’s board, appointed last summer by Brown. She also served from 2007 to 2012 on its predecessor, the Corrections Standards Authority Board.
But the Board of State and Community Corrections is being reorganized as part of Brown’s proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Under the new plan, Penner — who is the wife of Fresno County Superior Court Judge Don Penner — will serve both as the department’s director and the chair of its the board, which will be expanded from 12 to 13 members.
The Board of State and Community Corrections oversees various corrections duties, including financing for construction and oversight of county jails and juvenile halls, as well as professional training for corrections staffers and administering state and federal grants to cities and counties.
It does not deal with state prisons.
Penner will be paid $139,500 annually and will serve at the discretion of the governor. Her term will begin Sept. 1. In the interim, Curtis Hill Jr., a former San Benito County sheriff/coroner, will serve as executive officer until Penner starts.
She currently is paid $134,842 as Fresno County’s chief probation officer.
Penner has held that post since 2005 and has held multiple positions in Fresno County’s probation department since 1977, including probation division director, services manager, probation officer and group counselor.
Her new position requires Senate confirmation.
In the meantime, Fresno County is looking for a new probation chief, a position that reports to the Superior Court’s presiding judge. The position has been posted, according to county officials.
Notices of default in Fresno County are on the way back up after falling at the beginning of the year as lenders adjusted to new state legislation designed to prevent foreclosures.
Last month, 305 notices of default – the first step in the foreclosure process – were filed in Fresno County compared to 256 in March, according to ForeclosureRadar’s monthly report.
“The increase simply reflects a return to a longer-term trend that was interrupted by the implementation of the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, which went into effect Jan. 1,” the report said.
But other foreclosure activity including notices of sale, which set the date of an auction, fell slightly last month to 225 compared to 246 notices filed in March.
“The longer-term foreclosure trend is down due to the fact that fewer homeowners are defaulting on their loans and the potpourri of government debt-relief programs that have slowed the foreclosure process to nearly 300 days,” the report said.
Visit ForeclosureRadar for information about your area.
Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who said Tuesday that he’ll likely seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination next year, came to Fresno to criticize Gov. Jerry Brown’s program to relieve prison overcrowding in the state.
Maldonado said he will seek to repeal the realignment plan, which was enacted with Assembly Bill 109. Under the plan, state prisons are holding fewer inmates, many of whom are being sent to county jails.
“It’s not a realignment plan, it’s a crime victims expansion plan,” Maldonado said.
The Santa Maria Republican held a news conference outside the Hall of Records in downtown Fresno as part of the kickoff campaign. Maldonado said he would seek signatures to qualify his plan for a ballot initiative next year.
As for a gubernatorial run, Maldonado said “I’m pretty much in.”
After leaving Fresno, Maldonado went to Bakersfield.
Luggage sits on an airport carousel. (AP photo)
America’s largest airlines, apparently incapable of making ends meet just on ticket sales, are increasingly relying on ancillary charges such as baggage fees and reservation-change fees in their efforts to turn a profit.
In a release of financial data today, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that collectively, the nation’s airlines rolled up nearly $3.5 billion in baggage fees, and more than $2.5 billion in reservation cancellation or change fees, in 2012.
Those fees, of course, are above and beyond what you pay for a ticket.
Delta Airlines racked up the biggest haul in these extra charges last year, amassing more than $1.6 billion between its baggage fees (about $865 million) and reservation fees (about $778 million). The airline’s total net income for the year was less than $1.2 billion.
United Airlines managed to lose about $661 million last year, despite charging more than $705 million in baggage fees and about $661 million in reservation/cancellation fees.
The extra charges reported today by the DOT don’t even include fees for seat assignments (paying extra for an aisle seat or the extra legroom of a row with an emergency exit), food, beverages, pillows, blankets and entertainment (renting the headset for that scintillating in-flight showing of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer,” for example).
Even relatively small Allegiant Air, which serves Fresno Yosemite International Airport with flights to Las Vegas and Hawaii, cracked the top 10 in the amount of baggage fees collected in 2012.
The airline, with a business model aimed at providing flights from smaller markets across the country to popular tourist destinations, rang up almost $90 million in baggage fees — the eighth largest haul among the nation’s carriers. Allegiant’s $7.4 million in fees to change or cancel reservations ranked it 13th among U.S. airlines last year.
Allegiant’s 2012 operating profit, according to the DOT database, was less than $107 million.
Housing affordability is falling in Fresno County as home prices rise, said the California Association of Realtors.
In Fresno, 64% of prospective home buyers could afford a median-priced, single-family house at the end of the first quarter this year compared to 70% the previous quarter and 72% a year ago, according to the association’s housing affordability index released on Friday.
That means buyers have to earn $30,010 a year to buy a $157,470 house, the association said.
Madera County was the state’s most affordable county with an index of 77% while San Francisco and San Mateo counties tied for the least affordable at 23% due to higher home prices.
For a list of counties and an affordability index, visit CAR.