Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Real Estate: Central Valley fund receives $30 million for projects

The U.S. Treasury Department has awarded a Central Valley community development fund with $30 million in tax credits to help finance commercial projects in low-income areas.

The Central Valley NMTC was one of 85 organizations nationwide to receive a chunk of the $3.5 billion tax credit allocation from the Treasury Department’s New Market Tax Credit program.

The Central Valley group – which serves Fresno, Madera, Kings and Merced counties – plans to use the money for health care, education and community development projects.

“NMTC transactions allow community-based organizations to develop greatly needed facilities in economically disadvantaged areas,” said TJ Cox, the Central Valley group’s president and chief executive officer. “This allocation provides us with a critical financing tool to continue delivering capital with consistency and efficiency in our communities that need it most.”

Since May 2012, the group has received $65 million from the federal program. Last year the credits were used to help the Fresno Rescue Mission renovate an old Fresno hotel into a 10-acre women and children’s facility and to renovate and build two health centers in Parlier and Mendota.

2012-2013 wet season might be among Fresno’s 10 driest

Rainfall in Fresno for January through April? It was a kidney stone of a four-month period. It ranks as the sixth-driest on record, according to the National Weather Service in Hanford.

It’s a relief that those four months have just about passed, but we have more than just a dry spell here. If there’s little or no rainfall between now and the end of June, this will go down as one of the 10 driest years on record for Fresno.

Those records date back to 1878.

I’ve talked with a few meteorologists who say California is in a drought, though the state has not declared one.

Paul Iniguez of the National Weather Service says: “As a meteorologist, I will say that large areas of the state are experiencing meteorological drought.”

 The state had a dry year in 2011-2012. It looks like 2012-2013 — water year runs from July 1 through June 20 — will be even drier.

Fresno is a good example. It had 8.15 inches of rain last year, about 75% of average. This year, the city has 5.60 inches, about 52% of average for late April.

The snowpack was a bit of a disaster as well. It was 48% of average on April 1. The year before, it was 54% of average.

With reservoirs still close to average — with the notable exception of San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County — the impact of consecutive dry years could be much worse.

But water managers throughout California already are worrying about next winter.

Sheriff’s sergeant develops river rescue training exercise

Tulare County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Kemmerling has been named 2012 Tulare County Employee of the Year.

Kemmerling, 41, received the recognition for his role in eradicating illegal marijuana growing operations and developing a training exercise for river rescues.

He was selected from 130 nominations.

“The thing that separated Kevin from all of the others is his exceptional willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty,” Tulare County Board of Supervisors Chairman Pete Vander Poel said.

Kemmerling, of Springville, a former manager of The Springville Inn, volunteered for a search and rescue team and liked it so much he entered the police academy and was hired by the sheriff’s department.

Now he’s an expert at spotting illegal grow sites in mountainous areas from a helicopter.

For swiftwater rescue, he developed an approved training exercise in the proper use of a “throw bag,” or throwing a rope across a river so that someone in distress can grab it and safely drift to shore on the current.

He developed it for U.S. Forest Service employees and other river area first responders, making it less likely that a search and rescue team must be called out, Kemmerling said.

Counties miffed that they have little say over Brown’s prison-realignment money

The millions of dollars that Gov. Jerry Brown is giving to counties to manage the state’s prisoner surplus is bypassing the watch of county boards of supervisors. And some counties don’t like this.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors this week passed a resolution vowing to exercise final say over its share of so-called prison realignment funds, despite what Brown’s realignment policy calls for, reported Brad Branan of The Sacramento Bee.

The realignment policy dictates that panels of law-enforcement and social service officials divvy out the cash. It’s a change from the way funds are normally distributed: through elected county boards of supervisors, which oversee just about all county matters.

The Board of Supervisors in Fresno County is also raising questions about the change.

“There is a problem when supervisors cannot participate in the deliberative process,” said Supervisor Andreas Borgeas. “We are virtually irrelevant here.”

The 1½-year-old realignment policy, which has been no stranger to controversy, has put counties in charge of thousands of felons who were formerly managed by the state in an effort to reduce California’s prison population. The state is compensating counties accordingly.

The money, however – about $28 million next year for Sacramento County and about $25 million for Fresno County — is being routed in an unprecedented fashion.

The panels set up under the realignment, called Community Corrections Partnerships, decide how to spend the state funds and county supervisors then vote on the spending plan, but in a way that deprives supervisors of any real power. The supervisors need a four-fifths vote to reject the plan; in other words, only two votes are needed for approval.

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State’s health screening tool changes for Lanare, Riverdale zip code

You can look up your zip code on the final version of the state’s new health screening tool to find out the risk of living wherever you live in California. And you will find it here.

I wrote about this in March for a story about West Fresno, which is ranked the most dangerous place anywhere in the state. The Bee links to the tool have been updated.

I noted at least one change. There are bound to be others.

The change I saw was in the 93656 zip code for Lanare and Riverdale in southwest Fresno County. In the previous version of the tool, the zip was ranked among the top 10% of the riskiest places to live. The new tool shows it is in the top 20%.

I noticed the score for the category on low birth weights had been lowered, meaning there was not as much risk as previously thought.

It may seem like a small change, but these rankings will be used to prioritize the spending of some money raised at cap-and-trade auctions.

Costa joins in reviving ‘victims’ rights’ constitutional amendment

Lawmakers including Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, joined Thursday in re-introducing a proposed victims’ rights amendment to the Constitution.

Many states have passed their own victims’ rights measures, as has the federal government for federal crimes. If adopted, the constitutional amendment would apply nationwide, specifying that crime victims shall have the right to reasonable notice of public proceedings related to the offense, as well as the right to be heard at time of release, plea or sentencing.

“Only a constitutional amendment will begin to change the culture that treats crime victims with less than fairness, dignity and respect to which they are entitled,” Costa and his congressional allies wrote.

A perennial proposal since it was first suggested 31 years ago by President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, the proposal does not appear to have much of a chance of going anywhere. To succeed, it would have to pass the House and Senate with a two-thirds vote, and then win ratification in three-fourths of the states.

Lawmakers this Congress have similarly proposed a host of other constitutional amendments to, among other things: require balanced budgets, lift presidential term limits, curtail corporate campaign contributions, take away the power to levy taxes, ban flag burning and impose congressional term limits.



Obama avoids term ‘Armenian genocide,’ but Brown doesn’t

President Barack Obama may have avoided using “genocide” or “Armenian genocide” in the White House’s annual statement commemorating the systemic killing and forced relocation of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.

But Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t.

Gov. Jerry Brown

California’s top elected official echoed his predecessors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis, Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian in using the term “genocide.” His proclamation added that the events were a “deliberate attempt by the Ottoman Empire to eliminate all traces of a thriving, noble civilization.”

Wednesday — April 24 — is Genocide Remembrance Day and is marked by Armenians worldwide. It has also become a contentious day in American politics as the word genocide is carefully avoided by U.S. presidents.

But it has been a different story in California. Back in 1985, then Gov. George Deukmejian said it was time for President Reagan and Congress to “stop buckling under to Turkish pressure” on the genocide issue.

Subsequent governors have used the term in annual proclamations.

In declaring Wednesday as “Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide,” Brown’s proclamation honors the “victims and survivors of the genocide, and reaffirm our commitment to preventing future atrocities from being committed against any people.”

Obama issues annual Armenian statement, avoids ‘genocide’ term

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama on Wednesday issued the White House’s standard April 24 statement marking what he termed the “Meds Yeghern (an Armenian term meaning great calamity) … one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.”

Carefully avoiding the term “genocide” or phrase “Armenian genocide,” Obama stated that “ninety-eight years ago, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.”

Like other presidents before him, Obama had indicated while campaigning his intention to apply the term genocide. That played well among Armenian-American voters. Once in office, though, he shifted position.

“I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed,” Obama insisted.

The rest of Obama’s statement went on:

“A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests.  Nations grow stronger by acknowledging and reckoning with painful elements of the past, thereby building a foundation for a more just and tolerant future.  We appreciate this lesson in the United States, as we strive to reconcile some of the darkest moments in our own history.   We recognize those courageous Armenians and Turks who have already taken this path, and encourage more to do so, with the backing of their governments, and mine.

“The history and legacy of the Armenian people is marked by an indomitable spirit, and a great resiliency in the face of tremendous adversity and suffering.  The United States is stronger for the contributions Armenian-Americans have made to our society, our culture, and our communities.  In small measure we return that contribution by supporting the Armenian people as they work toward building a nation that would make their ancestors proud: one that cherishes democracy and respect for human liberty and dignity.

“Today we stand with Armenians everywhere in recalling the horror of the Meds Yeghern, honoring the memory of those lost, and affirming our enduring commitment to the people of Armenia.”