Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Real Estate: CBIA President stops in Madera and speaks about home building

If anything good came out of the housing downturn it was a new awareness about the importance of the home building industry and a growing alliance of trade groups and leaders working to solve issues at the state government level, a building industry official said in Madera on Wednesday.

Mike Winn, the president of the California Building Industry Association, was the guest speaker at the Madera County Economic Development Commission’s 2012 Economic Summit.

“Home building was a huge economic engine, probably more than anyone imagined at the time,” Winn said.
The industry once employed about 750,000 people statewide in a trade or construction-related job and that number has fallen to about 70,000 over the last five years, he said.

As a result, many people can’t find work or have had to change jobs, Winn said. It has also trickled down and affected business like home improvement stores who benefitted from the robust building years, he said.

But Fresno is pulling out of the dumps — albeit very slowly and behind cities like San Diego, San Francisco and those on the coast that are already stabilizing, Winn said.

Winn, a Sacramento builder, believes regional alliances and new partnerships with other trade organizations, labor agencies and legislative leaders are helping the industry advocate for easier building application processes that will allow the industry to grow again.

A demand from aging baby boomers looking to downsize and those in Generation Y beginning their home search will also help boost the market.

There is a large group of people in Generation Y — those ages 18 to 29 — “who are approaching the age where they need to crawl out of mom’s basement and get a house,” Winn said.

Feinstein still turns thumbs down on draining Hetch Hetchy

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein hasn’t changed her mind on restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park — it’s still a terrible idea, she says.

The reservoir at Hetch Hetchy has long been a source of controversy because it occupies one of the country’s premier national parks. It provides San Francisco some of the most pristine water in the country.

Feinstein, who was at The Fresno Bee Tuesday for an editorial board meeting, has always opposed tearing down O’Shaughnessy Dam. In her days as mayor of San Francisco, she said the idea makes no sense.

The dam has been a sore spot dating back to venerated conservationist John Muir, who fought a losing battle against its construction.

Many environmentalists say Hetch Hetchy is the geologic twin of Yosemite Valley and would be an exceptional attraction in Yosemite if it were not under 17 billion gallons of water from the Tuolumne River.

The issue is hot right now in San Francisco with a vote scheduled next week on a measure aimed a drafting a plan to drain the reservoir.

“Maybe we wouldn’t build the dam today,” she said. “But it’s a terrible idea to tear it down now.”

She said the city would need more extensive water treatment if it obtained drinking water from lower-elevation reservoirs. Also, two irrigation districts have long-term hydroelectric power agreements that would be threatened, she said.

“I’m not opposed to dam removal,” Feinstein said. “But not in this case.”


Visalia lets residents dispose of needles for free

Getting rid of needles just got easier in Visalia. The city is accepting home-generated medical sharps at quarterly Dump On Us events for free.

The county had a program to take needles for free but state funding ran out. It’s illegal to put needles in the regular trash.

Dump on Us lets Visalia residents toss out old junk for free, and now there’s a separate line to accept needles and lancets, which must be in an approved container.

But the city program is temporary.

Kim Loeb, the city’s natural resources conservation director, said the city is preparing to ask the Visalia City Council to pass an ordinance requiring pharmacies and businesses that sell needles to accept used needles for free.

San Luis Obispo County has a similar ordinance.

It’s an issue everywhere.

Fresno County, including Fresno, has a free needle disposal program twice a year at its household hazardous waste disposal events. But Fresno County will not be pushing an ordinance, said Linda Kline, the county’s recycling coordinator.

Instead, there’s a list of options, including businesses that take needles for a small fee, at the recycling division’s household hazardous waste web page on the county’s website.

Visalia police upgrade radios to new standard

Visalia police are vaulting into the 21st century by buying new radio gear.

The buy is for 125 new handheld radios, 40 car radios and nine motorcycle radios from Motorola.

They each have 1,000 frequencies and can communicate with law enforcement agencies outside Visalia in case police get called to an emergency. That’s the new P25 national “interoperabilty” standard in law enforcement radios.

They are also digital for a clearer signal.

The city is spending about $300,000 on radio replacement. By trading in the old 1993 radios, the city gets a $58,000 discount.

Real Estate: Free Housing Resource Fair to be held at Bullard High School on Nov. 10

The Community Housing Council of Fresno is hosting a free housing resource fair for homeowners and home buyers on Nov. 10.

The event will be from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Bullard High School, 5445 N. Palm Ave., Fresno. It is open to people looking for information on the home-buying process and homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure.

Homebuyers can sign up for free homeowner education classes, hear about closing cost assistance and learn how to qualify for downpayment assistance.

Struggling homeowners can meet with bank representatives, learn about legal options and find other tools and resources with the help of housing counselors.

For more information, visit

Owens Valley dust lawsuit lands in Fresno

Los Angeles is suing the air district in the Owens Valley, asking a federal court to say enough is enough. LA has spent $1.2 billion on settling the dust at the dried Owens Lake, the lawsuit says, and it’s time to back off.

This is part of the infamous LA water grab a century ago when the big city drained the Owens Valley and turned the lake into a dust bowl. LA has been paying for years to control billowing dust storms in the lake bed.

The suit was filed this month at the U.S. District Court in Fresno. Given the turmoil over Owens Valley in the past, it is very interesting reading. You can read it here: owenslake.

The lawsuit, which names the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, makes it sound like this has been a contentious affair for the last few years. Now it’s downright nasty.

LA says the district is keeping a $2 million pot of the city’s money — basically an unlawful extra fund that came from overpayments. The district also tried to fund a legal war chest by assessing $500,000 in supplemental fees to LA, the lawsuit alleges.


Political Notebook: Supervisor Poochigian throws cash at Fresno County privatization measure

Fresno County’s least-known ballot measure in the coming election finally got an ounce of publicity, thanks to county Supervisor Debbie Poochigian.

Poochigian bankrolled a slew of mailers to county households this week, urging voters to support Measure O –- which would make it easier for the county to outsource government services.

The longtime Republican, who has been a strong advocate for privatizing county jobs as a way to reduce government spending, led efforts to get Measure O on the ballot.

Prior to the mailers, however, little had been said or done about the initiative since it was drafted last summer.

“If you support something and you believe in something, you got to put your money where your mouth is,” Poochigian said on Friday.

Financial reports due this week show that the supervisor’s campaign, through Oct. 20, spent $3,635 on the “Yes on O” mailers. That’s a drop in the bucket for Poochigian, whose campaign has more than a half million dollars in the bank, according to county records.

Labor groups have quietly opposed Poochigian’s initiative. But union officials said this week they, too, planned to spend money on the issue: $8,000 on mailers that both go against Measure O and stand in support of Measure B, the county’s library tax extension.

The local chapter of Service Employees International Union maintains that privatization decisions should not be easy for county leaders to make, arguing that politics in the near term can result in bad policy in the long run.

Political Notebook: Voter registration boosted by online signup

California’s new online voter registration prompted more than a million people to sign up to vote in next month’s presidential election, including nearly 12,000 in Fresno County.

The bump could help push state voter registration totals to a new high, topping the record 17.33 million voters who were registered in 2009.

This year’s registration count, which tallied 17.26 million voters as of early September, will be updated Nov.2.

“People are so computer literate these days. If you can go to your computer from the comfort of your home, people like that,” said Fresno County elections head Brandi Orth. The convenience, Orth said, undoubtedly drove up registration numbers.

As of the Oct. 22 registration deadline, the Fresno County Elections Office had processed 10,543 online voter signups and a little more than a thousand were pending.

Political Notebook: New PAC tries to boost Whelan in 16th Congressional District battle

It’s pretty clear that Fresno Republican Brian Whelan wanted to reach the top level in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program.

The designation would have given his campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Costa in the 16th Congressional District some legitimacy — and, likely, money. With just 12 days until the election, it looks like Whelan will fall a rung short on the Young Guns ladder.

But it appears that there is one organization trying to help Whelan.

The Central Valley Independent PAC was formed Oct. 9 and on Wednesday reported to the Federal Election Commission that it had raised $130,000.

But there must be more cash where that came from because the Central Valley Independent PAC has bought around $200,000 in television time on KFSN (Channel 30), KSEE (Channel 24) and KGPE (Channel 47).

It has formed a Twitter account as well as a website — — but as with so many other independent expenditure groups these days, exact details on the group are hard to find.

The only contributor, according to the Federal Election Commission’s website, is Double B Land Company, which lists an address of 5200 N. Palm Ave., Suite 310, in Fresno.

That is also the address of West Hills Financial LLC, which lists Brad Gleason as its president. Gleason, who also looks to be a farmer and has ties to the Valley’s pistachio industry, is listed on Whelan’s campaign website as an endorser.

He’s also donated close to $5,000 to Whelan’s campaign, as has Gregorio Jacobo, who is listed as executive ranch manager for West Hills Farm Services, which shares a website with West Hills Financial.

The PAC’s treasurer is listed as Ross Allen, and has a Coalinga post-office box. The PO Box number is also tied to Turk Station LLC, which has Allen listed on the Secretary of State’s website as its agent for service of process. Turk Station is listed as a hunting lodge and ranch that also offers wild boar hunts, though it is unclear if the Coalinga-area business is still open.

Neither Gleason or Allen could be reached for comment.

Congressional campaigns aren’t supposed to coordinate their activities with any independent groups such as the Central Valley Independent PAC, but there’s no doubt the question for Whelan is: can the television ads and website help? And, with thousands of people already having voted, are the ads hitting the airwaves too late?