Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Political Notebook: Honored by Swearengin, council in the morning, Stanley turns foe in the evening

Fresno City Council members this morning honored the Rev. Sharon Stanley, giving her a plaque, reading a proclamation and naming the day in her honor.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin was present, stood with Stanley and gave her a hug. A standing ovation followed.

In the evening, however, the hugs and tears will turn to gritty determination for Stanley, who is a leading opponent of Swearengin’s controversial proposal to outsource the city’s residential trash service.

It will likely be Stanley’s final Fresno battle.

For the past 23 years, she’s been in Fresno. The past 18 as executive director of the Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministry, which helps refugees — many from Southeast Asia — transition to life in America.

But now she’s headed to Washington, D.C., for a new job.

That was the reason for today’s honors.

Stanley, however, is also a force in local progressive politics, and she isn’t a fan of Swearengin’s proposal, which has several supporters on the council — likely a majority.

Stanley said local residents need more information, more debate and more time before a decision is made.

Political Notebook: Fresno City Council signs off on election — the June election, that is

The Fresno City Council this morning passed a resolution “declaring the results” of the election — not from three weeks ago, but from June.

County elections officials certified the June primary election five months ago.
“We’re moving at the speed of government,” Council President Clint Olivier said in an interview.

A resolution approved by the City Council says that Ashley Swearengin, “having received the majority of votes cast for the office of Mayor, is hereby declared elected to that office.”

It does the same for soon-to-be Council Member Paul Caprioglio in District 4 and incumbent Council Member Lee Brand in District 6.

For those with short memories, a background memo to the council from City Clerk Yvonne Spence says that Swearengin, Brand, and Caprioglio all received more than 50% of the vote.

Oh, and one more thing: the resolution also says “a general municipal election in November is required for Council District 2.”

That, of course, already happened, and Steve Brandau won the race over Pat Di Cicco.

Brandau and Di Cicco faced off because none of the five candidates in District 2 were able to win more than 50% of the vote in June. Di Cicco and Brandau advanced because they were the top two vote getters.

There’s no word on when Brandau’s win will be “declared” official.

Real Estate: Shamshoian appointed 2013 FAR president

(Fresno Association of Realtor’s 2013 president John Shamshoian. Photo provided by FAR.)

The Fresno Association of Realtors has announced its new officers for 2013.

John Shamshoian, owner of Realty Concepts, a Fresno residential real estate company, will be the trade association’s new president in January. He takes over for Dan Hawkins, a broker and associate, also at Realty Concepts.

It’s hard to believe this is Shamshoian’s first time sitting in the hot seat. He has 34 years of real estate experience and has served two different times as a director for the association.

“I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly,” Shamshoian said.

His first goal next year is to improve the relationships between real estate agents and strengthen the association.

“We’re going to do various functions through the year to bring Realtors together and hopefully by doing that it’s going to improve they way we communicate better.”

And what does Shamshoian think the housing market will look like next year?

Mortgage interest rates are still low and while home prices have increased in the last year, they are still lower than the peak of the market in 2006, he said.

“Big times are right in front of us,” Shamshoian said.

Other officers include: Liz Kuchinski, president-elect; Joan Jolly, treasurer; and directors, John Carey Jr., Sandy Darling, Susan Davis, Lynn Heintz, Kristy Mastro, Colleen Wiginton, Jared Martin, Jim Whitlach and Dan Hawkins.

The 2013 Fresno Multiple Listing Service chairman is Bob Wiginton; Ron Shapazian, chair-elect; and committee members, Jonna Aluisi, Javier Cavazos, Annie Foreman, Anthony Gamber, Lydia Graham, Julie Salinas, Joe Sciarrone and 2012 chairman, Patrick Prince.

The association will welcome the new officers during an installation dinner Friday at Pardini’s Catering & Banquets.

Media outnumbered salmon in this restoration tale

It was compelling to see adult salmon being put into the San Joaquin River on Wednesday to spawn near Fresno for the first time in six decades.

But I hardly noticed one detail until someone mentioned it: The media outnumbered the fish — probably three to one. I saw at the Associated Press, at least one television crew from San Francisco, local television stations and a host of other  photographers. I actually saw only three fish.

Was this event overplayed by environmentalists, river advocates and the media? I think not, but you can understand why some people might have seen it that way.

First the background. The river went dry around 1950 after Friant Dam was built to help the suffering east San Joaquin Valley farmers. It succeeded in saving farmers, but salmon runs died, nature suffered and the river shriveled.

After a long-running lawsuit was settled in 2006, federal and state wildlife agencies began one of the most unusual river and salmon restoration projects in the country. Nobody has brought back salmon to a 350-mile river that had been dry for 60 miles in the middle.

Since 2009, the restoration has been in an experimental phase. Scientists need to learn how the river and fish will react to a renewed flow of water. This event on Wednesday was publicity for one of those experiments.

The state wildlife crew trapped five fish in western Merced County, north of Los Banos, and hauled them all the way to Fresno at Camp Pashayan. One died along the way. Only two of the fish were placed in the river in front of the cameras.

The remaining fish were hauled farther upstream to be released.

So was that the beginning of salmon spawning near Fresno for the first time in more than a half century? Hardly. The state had been trapping and hauling adult salmon since mid-October. This was not a first.

It was, no doubt, an orchestrated media event. And the out-of-town media incorrectly shaded this story like these few fish signaled the start of the full restoration. This was an experiment, not the full restoration.

But it was a nice snapshot in a long-running story about an unusual event in California. This is the farthest south that salmon spawn in North America — an interesting note that I did not see in any stories about this, including my own.

Real Estate: Walmart building neighborhood grocery store in Fresno

(Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Photo courtesy of Walmart.)

Walmart is known for its supercenter expansions, but the retail giant is going small with at least one of its projects in Fresno.

The company is building its first neighborhood grocery market at Willow and Herndon avenues in Fresno. The concept is similar to Fresh & Easy and the new Dollar General Markets that have popped up in town.

“We are very excited about the new Walmart Neighborhood Market,” said Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia. “Designed for convenient grocery shopping, customers will find a full line of fresh groceries, meat and dairy products, dry goods and staples, as well as household supplies, and pharmacy services.”

The 40,000-square-foot Fresno store is expected to create about 75 new jobs, Garcia said. It is scheduled to open in summer 2013.

The retailer is also building a market in Visalia on the corner of Demaree Street and Goshen Avenue, just north of Highway 198.

Political Notebook: Fresno’s federal campaign contributions rank it 13th among state’s 58 counties

Fresno ranked 13th among the state’s 58 counties in federal political contributions for the 2012 election cycle, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The county donated close to $5.9 million. Just above Fresno was Santa Barbara County, which gave $6.78 million. Just below it: San Bernardino with $5.53 million.

Not surprisingly, Los Angeles County was in first place with more than $132.1 million donated, the center said.

The totals reflected contributions of $200 or more to federal political candidates, as well as parties, political action committees and outside spending organizations including super PACs.

Also not too surprising for Los Angeles: 51% of the money went to Democratic candidates, the party and leadership PACs, which just 28% went to candidates and groups on the Republican side.

The Fresno County totals showed again that while there are more registered Democrats here, much more money goes to Republicans and Republican groups. The GOP was at 65% of the total, and the Democrats at 21%.

That was already known anecdotally based on the number and cost of Republican fundraisers versus those for Democrats.

Totals in both counties don’t equal 100%. Where party percentages don’t add up to 100 percent, the rest went to outside spending organizations, third parties or independents.

The Center for Responsive Politics said that’s because the dollar amounts include contributions to outside spending organizations, third parties and independents, as well as corporate, labor and ideological PACs that are not affiliated with either party.

Of the other Valley counties, Tulare was 25th with $1.3 million contributed, Merced was 28th with $807,414, Kings was 32nd with $461,974, and Madera was 33rd with $452,432 donated.

Fresno County ballot count progressing, but slowly

The Fresno County Elections Office made little headway on the ballot count over the holiday week, and a handful of local contests from Nov. 6 remain too close to call.

Measure O, the countywide measure to streamline government privatization, continues to trail by a little more than 1 percent, or about 3,000 votes. But some 25,000 ballots remain uncounted.

Labor groups opposing the measure said last week that they’re confident the initiative will fail.

A handful of city council and school board races are tighter.

According to Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth, about 1,000 mail ballots and 24,000 provisional ballots still need to be tallied.

The office has a state deadline of Dec. 4 for finishing the count.

Sheriff pushes for new bail rates to ease jail crowding

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims heads to Sacramento next week as part of her ongoing effort to halt early releases of dangerous jail inmates.

Mims is scheduled to testify before the state’s oversight agency, the Little Hoover Commission, on the issue of bail.

Her position is that bail amounts are sometimes set in a way that makes it pricier, thus harder, for low-level inmates to get out of jail while awaiting trial; this can mean tying up jail space needed for more egregious offenders.

Mims wants to find out how often this is the case and what can be done to change things.

The lack of space at the Fresno County Jail has meant releasing dozens of inmates early each day, and many go on to commit new crimes. Mims, obviously, wants the least dangerous folks to be freed.

Also, she says, if there is a way for more inmates to be freed on bail rather than let out without bail when space is short, more accused offenders would show up for their court date — they’d want to collect on their deposit.

“I want to see if my belief is accurate: that lower bail would hold people accountable and create bed space for more serious offenders,” she said.

Bail amounts are set county-by-county by the courts under state conditions.

Recently, there have been legislative calls for reforming the bail system. The Little Hoover Commission is taking up the issue at its Tuesday meeting.

Soccer mom rounds up gear

Soccer Mom Debbie Winsett gazes at the boxes holding her son’s old but usable soccer gear.
“What do you do with perfectly good cleats that he outgrew?” Winsett asked.
And there’s tons of soccer gear gathering dust in garages up and down the Valley, she said.
Now Winsett is putting out collection barrels at AYSO soccer games in Visalia, Odyssey South soccer games in Visalia, the Pro Soccer store at Willow and Herndon in Fresno and a handful of schools in Visalia.
She’s sending home flyers with soccer players that explain how to participate in the program.
“I want this to go to the soccer families that need it,” Winsett said. “I don’t know anybody else who is doing this.”
She and fellow volunteers are collecting the gear and sorting it. In spring or summer of 2013, they’ll have a distribution day.
“Those who donate can pick for free,” Winsett said.
Donors must include their names and contact information to be notified when the distribution will take place. The date has yet to be determined.
“If you didn’t donate or didn’t register, we’ll sell if for $3 to $5,” she said.