Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Real Estate: Free national online mortgage fraud conference open to homeowners

The National Crime Prevention Council based in Virginia is hosting a free virtual conference on mortgage fraud that is open to homebuyers, homeowners, victim advocates and law enforcement.

The 2013 Mortgage Fraud Virtual Conference, “Mortgage Fraud: Protecting Homeowners, Empowering Victims” will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 10.

Participants can register online and log in on April 10 to virtually sit it in on workshops about mortgage fraud prevention and helping other victims. The conference will have eight workshops on prevention and eight on serving victims. There will also be two live plenary sessions with experts in law enforcement, fraud, advocacy, and from nonprofit help groups.

The speakers include:

  • Ann M. Harkins, the council’s president and chief executive officer

  • Kristen Mahoney, deputy director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance

  • Joye Frost, acting director of the Office for Victims of Crime

  • Michael Bresnick, executive director of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

  • Michael Stolworthy, director of fraud prevention at the Department of Housing and Urban Development

  • Colleen Hernandez, chief executive officer of the Homeownership Preservation Foundation

For more information about the conference or to register, visit the registration page.

Real Estate: McCaffrey Homes to build new houses in northeast Fresno

(Photo courtesy of McCaffrey Homes. Soho model with three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms.)

Homebuilder McCaffrey Homes is returning to Fresno with a new development called The Heights on Copper.

The gated community in northeast Fresno, at Maple and Copper avenues, will have the same floor plans available at The Heights in Loma Vista, a development at Ashlan and Locan avenues in Clovis that opened in October.

The one- to two-story homes vary in size from 1,141 to 1,753 square feet with expanded side yards for entertaining. Prices start at $239,990.

The new neighborhood is a response to buyer demand for affordable homes and a well-planned community with amenities in the Fresno area, the builder said.

The McCaffrey’s last Fresno new home development was Madison Place at Gettysburg and Hayes in 2010.

For more information, call (559) 292-7533 or visit The Heights at Loma Vista Model Center at Ashlan and Locan avenues.

Senate candidate Perez kicks off campaign today in Fresno

A week after announcing her interest in replacing former state Sen. Michael Rubio, Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez is officially launching her campaign in Fresno today.

The Bakersfield Democrat is hardly a household name in Fresno, the Senate district’s most populous area, but she’s hoping to change that by concentrating her initial outreach here.

Perez is opening the first of her two planned offices at 480 N. Fulton Street in Central Fresno this afternoon. She’s scheduled to talk up her credentials at a 4:30 meet and greet in which the public is invited to attend.

The race for the 16th District seat is nothing short of a crash course in campaigning. Candidates for the office, which Rubio abruptly left last month to take a job with Chevron, have had just weeks to make a decision on running and have less than two months for politicking before the May 21 election.

Perez chose Fresno for her campaign kick-off because the county is home to about half of the district’s registered voters. The rest are in Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

Fellow Democrat Fran Florez, a Shafter City Council member, launched her campaign in Fresno last week.

Republican Andy Vidak, of Hanford, rounds out the list of front-runners so far.

The deadline to file for the contest is Friday.

Perez will benefit in the race from the district’s large share of Democratic voters and the support she has from her party’s Senate leadership, including President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

On Wednesday, the California Democratic Party is expected to figure its endorsement, which is Perez’s to lose. The endorsement comes with campaign cash that, among other things, is a big boost to name recognition.

Perez expects to open a second campaign office next week in Bakersfield.

If no candidate wins 50% of the vote, plus one, in May, the top two vote-getters proceed to a July 23 runoff.

Federal water cutback called ‘crippling blow’

The federal government reduced irrigation water projections for west San Joaquin Valley farmers last week — only the third time I remember it ever happening.

The 5% cutback — from a 25% water allocation to 20% — has been called a crippling blow to agriculture

The cutback has resulted from a below-average winter, the second in a row. Plus, the state and federal water projects were forced to curb water pumping at the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect dwindling delta smelt.

Some 800,000 acre-feet of water were lost in the process.

You can imagine the strong feelings when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation dropped its forecast last week.

“The water supply reductions facing farmers will devastate the local communities,” said Thomas Birmingham, general manager of 600,000-acre Westlands Water District, the largest customer on the Central Valley Project.

After I passed along his sentiment on Twitter, a water analyst, known as @flowinguphill, tweeted: “Westlands no longer mentions Mendota — the center of the 110,000 plus acres of retired land in the district.”

The implication is that communities are harmed by farming on some marginal land that must eventually be taken out of service because of salt contamination. There is a long-running argument about the wisdom of farming the west side.

Setting aside the back-and-forth, it is likely to be a very tough summer for agriculture, rural communities and the Valley as a whole. A water crisis here usually results in thousands of acres being idled, people losing jobs, the economy suffering.

The Sierra snowpack, a frozen reservoir providing more than 60% of the state’s water, is at 55% of average. You can understand the caution from the federal government.

But the large Northern California reservoirs are still slightly above average.  It galls farmers to see the 5% cutback when those reservoirs appear full enough to tap for shortfalls in the Central Valley.

Farmers I know on the west side have been looking to buy from other water suppliers and get their groundwater wells ready for a summer of pumping.

On the Valley’s east side, the Friant section of the Central Valley Project has not yet been cut back from its 65% of the highest-priority water from Millerton Lake. But that could change, too.

State Senate District 16: The week that was

Politicians were busy last week jockeying for position in the race to replace Michael Rubio as a state senator from the San Joaquin Valley.

Much of the action was chronicled as it developed here on Political Notebook. Friday, John Ellis wrapped it all up plus a little bit of extra news in our weekly Political Notebook print recast. Check it out here.

Also from the weekend, our friends at The Bakersfield Californian posted this report by James Burger, including some chatter about early polling in the district.


Oakhurst attorney Linn to challenge embattled Madera DA Keitz

Attorney David Linn didn’t need a news release to announce his run against incumbent Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz. He just told his wife, Betty Linn, publisher of the Sierra Star in Oakhurst.

Linn, 64, will try to unseat Keitz, 58, in the June 2014 primary election. A story about his campaign was published Wednesday in the Sierra Star, which is owned by The McClatchy Co. and printed at The Fresno Bee.

David Linn

“My goal is to run the DA’s office like a business without getting sued by the employees,” said Linn, referring to Keitz running up nearly $1.4 million in taxpayer-footed legal bills in settling civil lawsuits filed by two former prosecutors and a secretary in the past three years.

Keitz also has sued the Madera County Board of Supervisors to stop the release of a report that could be critical of him. A judge is mulling over whether to grant the supervisors’ request to make the report public.

Four years ago, supervisors hand-picked Keitz to take over for District Attorney Ernest LiCalsi who was elected to the bench. Keitz ran unopposed in the 2010 election. A telephone call to him was not returned.

Keitz and Linn are both Republicans. Keitz has been practicing law since 1992. Linn has been doing it since 1976.

Michael Keitz

Linn, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1988, said this week he has signed up Darren Rose, former district director for retired Congressman George Radanovich, to serve as his campaign manager.

Linn said he has an array of law experience — from civil litigation to environmental law to criminal defense. He said he also worked as an intern for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in the 1970s, prosecuting minor offenses.

In addition, Linn said, if elected, he plans to do trials and cover a regular court calendar. “I am a litigator,” Linn said. “I will not settle a case unless it’s on my terms.”

Kerman Mayor Yep, a Republican, says he won’t seek 16th Senate seat

It’s probably not much of a surprise, but Kerman Mayor Gary Yep won’t run in the 16th state Senate district special election to fill the seat vacated by Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio.

Yep, a Republican, sent out a statement today saying the main reason for his decision is that he won’t live in the Senate district as it is drawn for the coming decade.

The district that selects Rubio’s replacement will be Senate District 16 as it was between 2002 and 2012. Kerman — and Yep’s home — is in that district.

Gary Yep

But the winner of this year’s special election would face a re-election next year under the district’s new lines — Senate District 14.

The two districts are 88% the same, but Yep’s home is in that 12% that is moving to a new state Senate district. Kerman will move to the district now represented by Ceres Republican Anthony Cannella.

“I have no intention to move from Kerman, a place where I was born and raised,” Yep said in his statement. “More importantly I considered the impact on my young family.”

Yep had openly pondered a run for a few weeks, but then earlier this week offered up a twist: If he ran, he said, it would only be in the May 21 special election. He would not seek re-election next year.

In essence, Yep was offered himself up as a temporary seat-filler until next year, when the Republicans could conceivably find another candidate. That could be former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry, who balked at running this year, but said he might next year.

Yep’s offer, however, came well after Hanford Republican Andy Vidak said he was all-in for the race, and right now it appears as if he’ll be the lone Republican in the field, possibly facing as many as four Democrats — two of them fairly well known — and another from the Peace and Freedom Party.

As Yep departs the race, he’s throwing his support to Vidak.

“Given the chaos created by Senator Rubio’s departure, I have no reservations in supporting Andy Vidak for the 16th State Senate District seat,” Yep wrote. “Mr. Vidak understands that while we may all disagree from time to time, the number one issue for the Central Valley is water; jobs grow where water flows.”

Real Estate: Fresno and Clovis office market stabilizing

The office market is stabilizing in the Fresno and Clovis metropolitan area, according to a market report from Colliers International in Fresno, but vacancies at the end of 2012 still remain nearly identical to the previous year.

The vacancy rate at the end of the year was 13.01% compared to 13.03% at the end of 2011, the report said. That means about 2.7 million square feet of office space out of the 25 million square feet of office space in the market, which includes government-owned offices, is empty.

At the end of 2006, the office vacancy rate was only 7.21%.

The report points to a lack of jobs and an unpredictable political system hindering business growth. “Companies will most likely continue to hold off on any new expansion, remaining in a holding pattern or potentially downsizing,” the report said.

Office vacancy increased the most – between 2% and 3% – in the airport and southeast Fresno area and in central Fresno. The airport and southeast Fresno have a vacancy rate of 14.5% while central Fresno has a 10% vacancy rate. Northeast Fresno and Clovis have the lowest vacancy rate at 7.93%.

The brokers at Colliers are calling 2013 the year of “cautious optimism.” They expect office space vacancies to drop as some new projects are built and existing space is leased.

Click below to see the market comparison chart.

Continue reading →

McCarthy returning to Fresno for $1,000 per person fundraiser

A little more than a month ago, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy quietly came to Fresno, where he briefed prominent area business and agriculture leaders on Washington, D.C.’s political climate.

Now, the Bakersfield Republican is coming back — but this time with hat in hand.

Kevin McCarthy

He will attend an April 3 “reception and buffet supper” fundraiser for his congressional campaign at the north Fresno home of businessman Bob Smittcamp, who also attended last month’s briefing.

That briefing was hosted by local businessman Richard Spencer at his Harris Construction office near Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

Speaking of Spencer, he and wife Karen are also among those co-hosting the $1,000 per person event along with Smittcamp. Other sponsors include Linda and Bill Smittcamp, westside rancher David Wood and the California Westside Farmers Federal PAC.

Borba Farms Partners, which includes Mark and Derek Borba, Woolf Enterprises and Westside Harvesting, which is tied to farmer, developer and beer distributor Ed Donaghy, are some of the donors who in 2012 gave money to the California Westside Farmers PAC.