Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Five candidates qualify for state’s 16th District Senate race

A week of political drama narrowed the candidate field to two
front-runners in the race for the state’s 16th Senate District:
Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.

But they’re not the only ones who will be competing in the May 21
special election.

Democrat Francisco Ramirez Jr., of Riverdale, Democrat Paulina Miranda, of Fresno, and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Mohammad Arif, of Bakersfield, also qualified for the ballot by Friday’s filing deadline, according to election offices in Fresno and Kern counties.

The election is the result of former Sen. Michael Rubio’s resignation
last month. The Bakersfield Democrat took a job with Chevron.

To win his seat, one the five candidates must get 50% of the votes,
plus one, in the May election. If nobody meets that threshold, the top
two vote-getters proceed to a July 23 runoff.

Democrat Fran Florez, of Shafter, dropped out of the race earlier this
week after Perez emerged as the Democratic favorite.

Perez picked up the state party endorsement Wednesday, but only
after she moved to a new home — when Kern County elections officials told her that her old house was not in the district. A week earlier, they had said otherwise.

Real Estate: Sheriff’s revise letter of instruction for evictions

Evictions that turned violent and sometimes deadly in the last year has prompted the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to work with the California Apartment Association to make the eviction process safer.

The two offices worked with Fresno attorney Steve Hrdlicka on revising the “letter of instruction” that landlords are required to fill out for an eviction to be served.

The three-page document asks landlords to identify if tenants are in a gang, if they are violent, have weapons or vicious animals or if there is drug activity at the home.

The letter also alerts deputies to seniors or disabled tenants who may need special assistance out of a home.

“The information provided will help deputies assess potential risks, to help protect both deputies and the public,” Hrdlicka said. “Landlords now have an easy way to alert deputies of potential problems or situations that may be encountered during an eviction.”

At least three eviction cases caught the sheriff’s eye in the last year:

  • In April, a sheriffs deputy and a locksmith were shot and killed while serving an eviction notice at a Modesto home. The man later set fire to the home and killed himself.
  • In November, an unarmed animal control officer was shot and killed in Sacramento County while trying to retrieve pets from a home whose owner was evicted the previous day.
  • In December, the SWAT team was called to a home in Clovis after civil enforcement deputies tried serving eviction papers to a father and son who refused to come out of the house. The daylong standoff ended with the arrest of both men.

Snow surveys in Kings River area confirm small snowpack

The Kings River Water Association on Thursday said the snowpack is half or less than what it would normally be in higher elevations above Pine Flat Reservoir.

Two lower elevation courses had little or no snow, the association reported. Association leaders say this could turn out to be one of the driest years on record at the Kings River.

Kings River Watermaster Steve Haugen said the result was not a surprise. There has been little storm activity since December. Now farmers involved with the 1 million-acre association face a second dry year in a row.

“Our member units and their water users are going to have below-average water supplies again this year,” he said.

More groundwater pumping is expected this summer, Haugen said.

If the dry spell continues, the river runoff is expected to be as low as 32% of average, or about 400,000 acre-feet of water.

Auditors: CVP water contracts falling short

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation is “not making steady progress toward repaying federal investments” in the vast Central Valley Project, auditors warn in a new report.

Citing variations in water deliveries from year to year, as well as apparent issues with the CVP contracts themselves, auditors with the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General caution that at current rates, the CVP water users will fail to meet the 2030 deadline for repaying the federal government. The 20-page report, issued Thursday, notes that:

When actual water deliveries are less than projected deliveries, revenues are insufficient to recover the Federal investment in the project. When actual water deliveries exceed projected deliveries, however, existing contract provisions stipulate that excess revenues collected by USBR must be refunded to the contractors. As a result, USBR has not demonstrated steady progress toward recovery of Federal investments in the CVP.”

The auditors further warn that “the repayment shortfalls could become significant enough to require political intervention.” The shortfall could be significant: auditors noted that “if recent CVP water delivery trends continue, repayment of the capital investment in the CVP irrigation facilities could be short by between $330 and $390 million by 2030.”



Conway to Taiwan, Perea to Poland

Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau reporter Melody Gutierrez filed this report:

At least two groups of state lawmakers are spending their spring recess from the Capitol on overseas trips underwritten by outside groups.

Six lawmakers and the president of the Public Utilities Commission are in Poland on an eight-day trip paid for by the California Foundation on the Environment and Economy, a nonprofit group bankrolled by dozens of donors, including labor, energy, environmental and telecommunications interests.

Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway talks to reporters after Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State speech in January. (Associated Press photo)

In a separate trip, a nine-member delegation of the Assembly, including GOP leader Connie Conway of Tulare, is in Taiwan to promote bilateral exchanges in trade and culture.

Lawmakers took $329,000 in free trips last year, according to financial disclosure statements filed in March.
The Taiwan trip was outlined in a release from Taiwan’s government-run Central News Agency. It precedes Gov. Jerry Brown’s trade mission to China, which has long-standing strained relations with its island neighbor Taiwan. Brown leaves for China on April 8.

The March 23-29 trip is funded by the government of Taiwan’s Taipei Economic and Cultural Office and will include a meeting with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, according to the release.

“With Taiwan serving as California’s seventh largest global trading partner, it is important to strengthen cultural and economic ties,” said Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for Conway.

Last year, California exported $6.3 billion to Taiwan, primarily in non-electrical machinery and computer and electronic products, according to the California Chamber of Commerce.

Henry T. Perea (Fresno Bee file)

The roster of legislators in Poland includes Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea. The sponsor of the Poland trip, CFEE, arranges similar journeys every year for lawmakers and industry executives. Last year, the nonprofit sent six legislators to Brazil for two weeks. Among the lawmakers on that journey were Michael Rubio, who resigned from the Senate last month to take a job at Chevron.

“These are fact finding missions and working trips,” said CFEE spokesman P.J. Johnston. He said Poland is pursuing solar, smart grid and hydraulic fracturing.

Others on the trip to Poland include CFEE board members, who represent Pacific Gas & Electric, the Northern California Power Agency, Southern California Edison, Shell Energy North America, Sempra Energy Utilities, NRG Energy, IBEW Local Union 1245, the State Building & Construction Trades Council, AES Southland, NextEra Energy Resources, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Calpine Corporation, Southern California Pipe Trades, Colorpower, Independent Energy Producers Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Bob Stern, the former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said he has concerns about trips such as the Poland excursion.

“I’m in favor of overseas trips, but paid for by the state,” Stern said.

The reporter can be reached at (916) 326-5521, or @MelodyGutierrez on Twitter.

Fran Florez drops out of Senate race

From James Burger of the Bakersfield Californian:

Fran Florez (2010 Bee file photo)

Shafter City Council Member Fran Florez dropped out of the 16th Senate District race Wednesday, just two days before final candidacy papers were due.

She said she was frustrated that the state party was going to endorse in the primary and not allow local Democrats to contest for the seat independently.

But, she said, she couldn’t stay in the race knowing it might compromise Democrats’ chances to hold the seat.

Florez’s son, Dean, once held the seat. More recently, Michael Rubio unexpectedly resigned, prompting a May 21 special election to fill the seat.

The only other prominent Democrat in the race is Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, who announced Tuesday that she had solved her residency issue by renting a house in the district.

On the Republican side, Hanford’s Andy Vidak is the lone clear candidate.

The list of people who have at least pulled campaign papers includes John Estrada, Francisco Ramirez Jr., Jerry Armendariz and Arif Mohammad. Friday is the filing deadline.

Update: Late Wednesday, Perez’s campaign announced that it had received the endorsement of the California Democratic Party’s Central Valley Regional Caucus in a unanimous vote.

Bee photographer was part of snow-surveying crew

Fresno Bee photographer Mark Crosse — yes, his name is very similar to mine — took the stunning photographs in the high Sierra for my story about the snowpack today. But he came back talking about more than just the gorgeous scenery.

Mark Crosse’s photo of Blackcap Basin, taken from PG&E’s helicopter on Tuesday.

Snowpack photo assignments usually involve a quick helicopter ride to one mountain meadow where you take a picture of hydrographers. Not this time.

Crosse wound up as part of the crew, writing down the record of snow measurement at each of the five stops that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. made Tuesday in the Sierra. In these times of economic strain, PG&E has streamlined its operation, so everybody gets involved.

The photographer said he really didn’t know what to expect. He found that PG&E hydrographer Christine Bohrman and pilot Brett Hendricks were amiable companions and keeping records was not difficult.

“It was a fantastic day flying in a helicopter, seeing the Sierra up close and just being part of it,” he said. “My name is in the register as the record keeper for those places.”

The places included wind-swept Blackcap Basin above 10,000 feet in the Kings River watershed. These high Sierra basins are amazing to see in summer, but Crosse had the opportunity to photograph one from a helicopter in March with snow everywhere.

That stop simply was not usually part of the itinerary in past years.

Crosse and I have backpacked for  stories at The Bee over the last 18 years — Mount Whitney, Half Dome, lengthy sections of the John Muir Trail. He is no stranger to interesting outdoor photography. But he said this assignment stands out.

“This assignment is on my list as one of the best experiences I’ve had at The Bee,” he said.

State Senate hopeful Perez finds new home in Rubio’s old district

State Senate hopeful Leticia Perez today signed a lease on a rental home that secures her residency in the 16th Senate district –- where former Sen. Michael Rubio’s seat is up for grabs.

The Bakersfield Democrat wasted no time in making the move after she was notified Monday evening by elections officials that her old house would disqualify her from running. Friday is the deadline for candidates, who must live in the district, to file.

Monday’s notice from the elections office was unexpected. Elections officials advised Perez just a week earlier that she would qualify as a candidate because of a technicality in local elections procedure.

The change of heart is just the latest in a rapidly-developing and tightly-scheduled Senate race. Rubio’s unexpected resignation last month set the stage for a still undecided field to replace him in a quickly approaching May 21 special election.

Democrat Fran Florez, a Shafter City Council member, and Republican Andy Vidak, of Hanford, are also in the running for Rubio’s seat.

Perez’s old home on Alta Vista Drive in Bakersfield had been mistakenly included in the Senate district since it was drawn in 2001. That led the Kern County elections office to initially believe that her home would remain in the district for the special election.

Elections officials, after consulting with the Secretary of State’s Office, changed their minds, however.

Perez’s new rental, a single-family home, is on 18th Street. It’s squarely in the 16th Senate District as well as in the supervisorial district she currently represents as a Kern County supervisor, according to her campaign manager Trent Hager.

“Her family is going to start moving there immediately,” Hager said.

Clovis girl reaches weight goal

Breanna Bond celebrated reaching her target weight Tuesday by attending a swimming practice.

Breanna weighed 186 pounds when, with her Clovis family’s help, she began losing weight more than a year ago.

On Tuesday, she weighed 110 pounds.

It wasn’t surprising she spent the day moving. The 10-year-old has swam, walked and jumped the weight off — along with eating a healthy diet.

Breanna’s mom, Heidi Bond, said they might plan a big weight loss party down the road, but they didn’t want her to miss out on swim practice. It was Breanna’s fourth physical activity of the day.

I first interviewed Heidi and Breanna in August 2012, early in her weight-loss effort, for a story about obese children and how they were slimming down. Since that story, Breanna’s been interviewed on local television, CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, and most recently, on The Biggest Loser.

It’s all sort of surreal, Heidi Bond said.

“We really had to fight for every pound,” she said. “But now that it’s here, the journey didn’t seem so hard.”

Below are excerpts from the August 2012 story about Breanna.

Date: Sunday, 8/19/2012
Section: MAIN NEWS
Page: A1
Edition: FINAL

Origin: Barbara Anderson The Fresno Bee
Valley children show obesity can be overcome.
Text: Bouncing higher and higher on a trampoline, Breanna Bond reached out, touched her toes and flashed her mother a grin almost as wide as her outstretched arms.
The midair move marked another fitness milestone for the 10-year-old Clovis girl, who seven months ago weighed 186 pounds and was so out of shape she struggled when stooping to tie a shoe.

More than 50 pounds lighter and limber, Breanna showed off her trampoline skills on a recent afternoon. “Look, I’m going to do a flip, ” she said, turning upside down and landing on her feet.

“She just inspires me every day, ” Breanna’s mother, Heidi Bond, said of her daughter’s efforts.
Bond, the Clovis mother, has taught Breanna how to make a low-fat pizza and other healthy meals.

For Breanna — who dropped 56 pounds in seven months — the family’s diet had to change, Bond said. They could no longer have dinners of enchiladas, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. Instead, they switched to chicken breasts, couscous, fresh steamed squash with no butter and salads with lemon juice for dressing.

Breanna is limited to a daily fat intake of 20 grams. While it sounds harsh, Bond said, it’s really not. For example, she can have cereal with fat-free milk for breakfast and low-fat pizza slices with fruit for lunch. For dinner, there’s chicken tacos with lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro and low-fat cheese on steamed tortillas.

Without the diet change, Bond said, Breanna would weigh more than 200 pounds today. In kindergarten, she weighed 100 pounds, and each year since had gained 20 pounds, reaching 186 pounds by age 9. Now, at 130 pounds and 5 feet, 1 inch, she has 15 more pounds to go to reach her goal weight of 115, Bond said.

Bond said she’s had to adhere to a strict exercise routine right along with Breanna to keep the 10-year-old on her weight-loss track. But that can be tough, she said, because she’d never “exercised a day in my life.”

And don’t expect children not to complain, Bond said.

Breanna balked when the family began taking a 3.8-mile walk four nights a week. The walks chafed her legs and she struggled to keep up.

Breanna said she wanted to quit. “I could barely move when I was heavier.”

This summer, mother and daughter walked six days a week for 50 minutes at a time and ran for 10 minutes. They walked another 25 minutes in the evening and ran for 10 minutes. Breanna also did two other activities five days a week. The recent bouncing at SkyWalk Trampoline Arena counted as one of those.

And she’s joined a competitive cheer team — something she never considered at her heavier weight.

Breanna still occasionally grumbles about exercising, but Bond doesn’t budge. She has motivation to keep her daughter moving. Breanna’s paternal grandfather died at a young age of diabetes.

“I want to see Breanna be a mom, ” she said. “I want her to be a grandma. I don’t want her to die early.”