Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Confessions of a health writer

This is the confession of a health writer.

I didn’t get a flu shot.

And I got the flu.

I have no excuse. I’m not afraid of needles. I don’t have a bad reaction to the vaccine. Time wasn’t a factor: There were plenty of opportunities to get the vaccine. The Fresno County Department of Public Health had flu-shot clinics. My doctor’s office had vaccine. On any weekend, I could have made a quick stop at a chain pharmacy and rolled up my sleeve. Even worse, The Bee had a shot clinic early in December.

I ignored them all and on Friday, I paid the price.

A sore throat that started at noon was joined that evening by a fever and a raging headache. During the night, aching arms and legs, plus the sore throat, the fever and the headache. By the third day, sheer exhaustion. Then, on the fourth day, the cough.

I’m still coughing … and tired.

But I’ve learned my lesson: I’m going to get a flu shot — Monday.

Even though I’ve had the flu, there’s more than one strain in the air and I am not going to be unprotected again.

The Fresno County Department of Public Health is holding a clinic today from 4-7 p.m. at the American Legion Hall, 3509 N. First St. Another clinic will be Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at Sierra Vista Mall, 1050 Shaw Ave., Clovis. Flu shots also are available at the department at 1221 Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m.  That’s where I’m heading Monday morning. I don’t want to cough on others in a flu-shot line.

Information regarding other flu vaccination opportunities can also be found at
or the department’s website or call the toll-free
Influenza Information Line at 1-888-993-3003.


Activists challenge new ag groundwater order

The tug of war over California’s groundwater continues over a 1 million-acre swath of the San Joaquin Valley, north of the Fresno area.

For the last decade, the state has studied and discussed ways to protect groundwater beneath farm fields. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board late last year issued hard-fought orders for several thousand farmers north of the San Joaquin River.

Activists in early January told the state the orders don’t do the job, and they need to be rewritten.

Activists say farm chemicals and pollution would continue to pollute the water, monitoring would be inadequate and people in small towns would have to continue living with poor drinking water quality.

They asked that authorities stop the new orders for the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition in Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties.

The petitioners are community groups, including Asociacion de Gente por El Agua (AGUA), Fairmead Community and Friends, and Planada en Accion.

These challenges take time. The state will have nine months to respond.

If the challenge is denied, the next stop is probably Superior Court in Sacramento. The lawyers who filed the petition with the state are Laurel Firestone of the Community Water Center and Phoebe Seaton of California Rural Legal Assistance.

The petition notes that it has been 13 years since legislation was passed requiring farm groundwater regulation. The disputes over the program may take a few more years to resolve.

This is the first large coalition in the Valley to come under the groundwater program.

Religion: Bibles are meant to get worn at the edges

It has been 10 days since President Barack Obama was sworn-in for a second term — and the Bibles that he placed his left hand on are still leaving an impression with me.

The Bibles were really worn at the edges.

One was the Bible that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. owned and traveled with. The other was owned by President Lincoln.

The Bible that Vice President Joe Biden used for his swearing-in also was really worn. It was the Biden Family Bible, which has been in the Biden family since 1893. It is five inches thick, with a Celtic cross on the cover.

The well-used Bibles remind me of my friend Robert “Borneo Bob” Williams, a Fresno missionary whose really worn Bibles filled several shelves at his home office.


Before the inaugural ceremony Jan. 21, the Rev. Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., gave the sermon during a special service at St. John’s Church — and mentioned the Bible.

“For those of you who don’t read the Bible, you should read it, even if you don’t believe it,” Stanley said. That triggered a chuckle from some in the church.


I recently bought a new one. It’s a “lay-flat,” NIV Thinline Bible, a design that helps religion writers, such as myself, take better notes.

After awhile, my Bibles get really worn, too.

Judge says those in legal world must speak up for court budget

The way Fresno County Superior Court Judge Gary Hoff explains it, these are not happy financial times for the state’s superior court system.

In the past five years, the amount of the judicial budget covered by the state’s general fund has fallen from 56% to 20%. Last year alone, general fund support for the judicial branch of government dropped by $544 million.

Judge Gary Hoff

Ideally, the Fresno County court system should have 584 employees to adequately meet its staffing needs, Hoff told a Bench Bar Media luncheon group today at the Downtown Club. At one point, that number reached 550. It is now at 420 and is expected to continue on the downward trend.

The state is requiring reserves to be spent by mid-2014 — at least that is the plan for now — with a reserve no greater than 1% kept on hand after that.

“One slight mistake, we aren’t making payroll,” said Hoff, the current presiding judge of the Fresno County Superior Court.

So what to do?

Those in the judicial system often say they are an easy budget cut because they have no constituency. A few judges, prosecutors and others complaining to legislators don’t carry the weight of broader constituencies who might be affected by budget cuts in other areas.

Think education.

But today, Hoff — as well as U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii, speaking on the federal side — told attorneys they should urge their clients and other people affected by any proposed budget cuts to speak up.

These aren’t the judges or prosecutors, but real people who are paying higher fees to use the court system, or who are facing delays in their hearings.

With the drop in general fund support for the judicial budget, Hoff said, the expectation is the difference will be made up by user fees.

That means higher traffic fines, penalty assessments on convictions and filing fees in areas such as custody or divorce cases. These often hit hard-working taxpayers, Hoff said.

In 2007, Hoff said, court filing fee costs ranged from $180 to $320. Now it is $225 to $435.

Said Hoff: “It’s not a good business model.”

The challenge is convincing state legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown. And those were the marching orders Hoff gave to the luncheon guests.

Real Estate: Benchmark Communities opens second Fresno neighborhood

Two of the five model homes at Dakota Square in Fresno which opened on Saturday. Morgan Hill-based Benchmark Homes is the builder.

Homebuilders are opening new neighborhoods again – a good sign that the new-home market continues to improve.

Benchmark Communities, based in Morgan Hill, opened its new Fresno neighborhood over the weekend.

Dakota Square is a 175-lot development on Temperance Avenue between the Gould Canal and Dakota Avenue. The neighborhood is in the Clovis Unified School District, but located just south of the Clovis city line.

Buyers can visit five model homes on site but choose from seven floor plans between 1,527 and 3,317 square feet in size. Prices start in the low $200,000s.

Families walked in and out of the models all day Saturday where children were treated to some fancy face painting with glitter.

I attended the opening with my husband and some friends, however, forgot to take detailed pictures to share. One of the models has a master suite that caught my eye. It had a sitting area big enough for a couch and an entertainment center and it’s hidden in the corner of the bedroom out of view.

Benchmark also has a model with an optional casita – a second living area that is attached to the main house, but has its own entrance. The casita has a bedroom, bathroom and living room with laundry hook up.

In early October, Benchmark opened the 79-lot Vantage at Harlan Ranch, a master-planned community in northeast Clovis.

Visit Benchmark Communities for more information or call (888) 823-3440. Stay tuned for details from another builder.

D.C. judge declines to block Madera casino

Opponents of a proposed casino in Madera County failed Tuesday to convince a Washington, D.C.-based federal judge to block the project with a temporary injunction.

But the legal fight will continue, in the nation’s capital rather than California. That part, at least, represented a bit of a victory for the group Stand Up for California! The organization had sued in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. while the Justice Department had tried to get the case moved out to California.

In a 53-page decision, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell declined to issue the injunction that Stand Up for California! sought against the casino proposed by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. The challengers argue that then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar failed to account for a host of detrimental impacts, from crime to water use and loss of cropland, but Howell said the decision-making appeared sound, at least so far. 

“The secretary appears to have considered all aspects of the problem that he was required to consider under the (law), and this court must confer significant deference to the secretary’s expertise,” Howell wrote.

Stand Up’s lawsuit is challenging the Interior Department’s approvals for the 305-acre project, to be located adjacent to Route 99  just outside the northwest border of the city of Madera.

Howell pointed out that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act “does not require that a new gaming development be completely devoid of any negative impacts.” Rather, Howell said, the law requires that the Interior Department determine that “a gaming establishment on newly acquired lands . . . would not be detrimental to the surrounding community.”

Howell further concluded that it was “rational” for the Interior Department to reject other, proposed site alternatives.

“Absent a preliminary injunction, the transfer of the trust lands will occur on February 1, 2013, and the North Fork Tribe will continue on its odyssey to make its long-awaited gaming complex a reality. Yet, none of the tangible harms identified by the plaintiffs (e.g., traffic congestion, increased crime, problem gambling, environmental effects) would be remotely likely to occur for some time,” Howell reasoned.

The Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, which operates the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, is also challenging the North Fork proposal.



Irrigation vapor from Central Valley gives Colorado River big bump

Massive water vapor from farm irrigation in California’s Central Valley each year blows over the Sierra Nevada, pumps up rainfall over other states and adds 100 billion gallons of water to the Colorado River, new research shows.

The Colorado gets nearly a 30% bump in stream flow. That’s enough water to fill nearly two-thirds of Millerton Lake near Fresno.

The study, led by climate hydrologist Jay Famiglietti of the University of California at Irvine,  will be published Tuesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. This part of the water cycle has not been accurately described before, Famiglietti said.

If irrigation stopped in the Central Valley, there would be a decrease in the stream flow of the Colorado River basin — a supply of water that has been hotly contested for decades.

The Colorado River basin provides water to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and other cities. Nearly 35 million people, as well as more than 3 million acres of farmland, rely on the water.

The study says more than 12 million acres of farmland are irrigated in the Central Valley, which includes the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. As water evaporates into the air, it is caught by the wind and taken over the Sierra.

As it moves into the interior of the Southwest, the vapor feeds into the annual monsoon cycle that includes moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, Famiglietti said.

“Adding the moisture from the Central Valley makes storms wetter and more violent,” he said. “It’s like throwing fuel on a fire.”

He said climate computer models make it possible to isolate the contribution from the Central Valley. The research is an effort to account for as many weather influences as possible.

Famiglietti’s study says about 40% of the irrigation in the Central Valley comes from ground-water pumping, and that worries him.

He wonders what it will mean to the Colorado River If land must be taken out of production as the ground water is depleted.

“It raises questions about the future,” he said.