Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Yosemite would grow by 1,600 acres

Yosemite National park would grow by 1,600 acres under a bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

The bill would allow the National Park Service to buy the Mariposa County land through an existing program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The land was originally part of Yosemite, but Congress stripped its protection in a 1906 concession to industrial interests. The land is near a development called Yosemite West and reportedly was part of naturalist John Muir’s original plan for Yosemite.

“This is a great day for Yosemite,” said Nathan Weaver with Environment California. “We applaud work by California’s leaders to preserve and strengthen one of the most beautiful places in California and the world.”

The current landowners, Pacific Forest Trust and a partnership of private individuals, support the land transfer. And a coalition of state leaders supports expanding Yosemite. The California State Senate passed a resolution last week to show support for expansion.

Real Estate: Granville to break ground on 2013 Home of Hope

(Photo courtesy of Granville Homes. Mia model with three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, two-car garage, loft and Granville Eco-Smart technology.)

Granville Homes will break ground on its eighth Home of Hope at 10 a.m. Wednesday in southeast Fresno.

The Fresno homebuilder has built and given away a house every year to raise money for eight local charities. Granville has raised more than $2.4 million since 2006.

The charities include: Community Food Bank, Poverello House, Hinds Hospice, Assistance League, Renaissance Scholars at Fresno State, and the Foundations for Clovis, Sanger, and Central Schools.

This year’s 2,216-square-foot house with three bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms will be built in the Sunnyside Grove community near Fowler and Church avenues. The house – Granville’s Mia floorplan – is expected to be finished by August.

Tickets are $100. People who buy tickets before Aug. 3 will be entered into a drawing for a 2013 Harley-Davidson motorcycle valued at $20,000. The drawing for the house and 20 other prizes will be held Oct. 19.

For more information, visit or call (559) 440-8388.

Voting starts in 16th State Senate District battle to replace Rubio

Let the 16th State Senate District voting begin!

Monday was the first day voters living in the district could cast ballots for the May 21 special election to fill the seat of Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who unexpectedly resigned in February to take a job with the Chevron Corp.

Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth said her office mailed out absentee ballots on Monday to 16th District voters who live in the county. Clerks in Tulare, Kern and Kings did the same.

But starting Monday at 8:30 a.m., Orth’s office was also open to anybody registered to vote in the district who couldn’t wait a moment longer to cast their ballot. And, Orth said, a few did just that.

There are five candidates seeking the seat: Peace and Freedom Party candidate Mohammad Arif of Bakersfield, Fresno Democrat Paulina Miranda, Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez, Riverdale Democrat Francisco Ramirez Jr. and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.

If none of the candidates gets 50% of the votes, plus one, in the May 21 election, the top two vote-getters will face off in a July 23 runoff.

The district favors a Democrat, but Republicans say they like their chances because special elections typically have low turnouts, which often favors the GOP.

Political Data Inc., which collects voter information, said registration in the district was 50.7% Democratic and 28.6% Republican as of Feb. 22.

But that support is not spread even across the district.

For instance, in Fresno County Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 30,000 registered voters.

But in Kings County, Republicans outnumber Democrats, though only by a few thousand. In Tulare County, Democrats outnumber Republicans, but not by much. Kern County is another Democratic stronghold.

Still, it is clear that any winning strategy must center on Fresno County. Though it is at the district’s northern end, Fresno County has, at slightly more than 48%, the largest number of voters in the district.

Political Data has also collected some other interesting information.
For instance, almost 60% of registered voters have an average income below $50,000, and less than 1% are above $100,000.

The City of Fresno has, by far, the most voters — 25.9% of the district’s total. Next is unincorporated Kern County at 8.5% and Bakersfield and Hanford, each with 7.8% of the voters.

Real Estate: National Mortgage Settlement money headed to Fresno

A piece of the $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement is coming to the Valley.

Two nonprofit legal firms serving Valley residents have received more than $1 million to help homeowners in foreclosure or to help them recover after losing their houses, the California Attorney General’s office announced last week.

Central California Legal Services and the California Rural Legal Assistance are among 21 statewide organizations who will split $9.4 million in grants. The money comes from the $18 billion that California received in last year’s settlement between a coalition of attorneys general and the major banks over foreclosure abuses.

The grants will help the state’s neediest homeowners and families by providing them with free legal assistance, foreclosure intervention, homeowner education, financial literacy clinics, blight services, fraud prevention education and employment support services, the attorney general’s office said.

The Central California legal group received $700,000 to work with Tenants Together, a statewide organization for tenants’ rights, and the Community Housing Council of Fresno, a nonprofit housing counseling agency.

“For the Central Valley to get $700,000 is huge,” said John Shore, the council’s executive director. “That is the first money and probably the only money we’ll see from the mortgage settlement.”

The California Rural Legal Assistance got $550,000 to work with homeowners in Kern, Madera, Merced, northern Santa Barbara and part of San Luis Obispo counties.

The assistance group will offer legal services and housing counseling to low-income and rural communities.

For more information, call Central California Legal Services at (800) 675-8001 or California Rural Legal Assistance at (805) 922-4563.

Former lawmaker Coelho opposes Merced River Plan

A voice from the past has joined the backlash against the National Park Service’s plan to protect the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.

Tourism and business leaders in communities, such as Oakhurst, around Yosemite National Park are opposing the proposal, which would remove an ice-skating rink, a bicycle rental business and a few other amenities.

Now former Congressman Tony Coelho, who wrote an amendment to include the Merced River in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) , is opposing the removal of the amenities, saying the law was only intended to include the Merced River outside of Yosemite National Park to the west.

Coelho, once a powerful Democrat based in Merced, wrote a letter saying Yosemite Valley should not be considered wilderness. “Yosemite Valley should be left as it is,” he wrote.

The public comment period ends April 30 on the long-debated Merced River Plan, which has been in and out of court for the last decade. Park leaders have spent the last three years rewriting the plan to comply with court orders and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Where does the federal money go for safe-drinking water?

Federal leaders last week notified California that it needs to account for $455 million for safe drinking water here. The money has not been lost or squandered. It just hasn’t been spent yet.

That all sounds like a picky bureaucratic complaint. After all, the state intends to use that money for improving drinking water.

But this is about accounting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and taxpayers. This is about seeing the state’s priorities and making sure those in need are getting the help.

Two years ago, The Bee asked questions like these in a series of stories about small towns that have waited years to get funding to fix drinking water problems.

Who will get the money? How is it prioritized? Are the water systems with the most needs getting the help? What is the holdup?

We found towns, such as Seville in Tulare County, that had been bounced to lower priorities over technicalities and delayed for years.

The state rejected a request for a $500,000 grant because the town’s water company had gone bankrupt, and county governments are not allowed to apply for residents.

Progress has been made for funding in Seville over the last 18 months, but there hasn’t been a fix. People with poverty-level incomes are still forced to buy bottled water.

In another instance, the California Department of Public Health, which holds the purse strings, balked at a regional water cleanup that would have helped several towns with contaminated wells. Again, technical reasons were cited.

The concern about the state’s approach has always been about transparency and accountability. Now EPA says it wants to know about nearly a half billion dollars of public money. The state has 60 days to address that concern.

Workers comp battle involving professional athletes comes to Fresno

The pitched battle over proposed legislation that would limit the ability of professional athletes in other states to file workers compensation claims in California came to Fresno Friday afternoon.

Zack Follett, a Clovis High graduate who went on to play football at Cal, and then professionally for the Detroit Lions, was the featured speaker.

Zack Follett

“Because I played for Detroit, they’re saying that I do not have a right to file in California, even though I am a native here and I did play games here,” Follett said.

Follett played one season and part of a second for the Lions before suffering a career-ending neck injury in 2010 in a game against the Giants played at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. During his National Football League career, he played one game in California — Dec. 27, 2009 vs. the San Francisco 49ers.

A workers compensation insurance claim has been filed by Follett in California against the Detroit Lions for his future medical care and disability compensation.

Friday’s location was chosen because it was outside the downtown Fresno office of Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, a Fresno Democrat who is the sponsor of Assembly Bill 1309.

The bill would deny California benefits to professional athletes in baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer whose teams are not California-based and who only played occasionally in the state during their careers.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled Tuesday before the Assembly Insurance Committee, which Perea chairs, said Steve Hopcraft, who represents opponents of the legislation.

Henry T. Perea

Those opponents claim it is an effort by “billionaire NFL owners” to get out of paying its players for injuries suffered during their playing years. They say owners are now aware that the long-term costs could be significant because of brain trauma that leads to diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“AB 1309 is a bill written by some of the richest individuals in this country — billionaires, multi-multi millionaires who own NFL teams and other major sports league franchises,” Hopcraft said.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Perea said:

“The question isn’t whether Zack Follett or any former professional athlete should be able to file for workers’ compensation benefits — because they absolutely should. The question is where.”

Perea said he was “sympathetic to Zack’s story.”

But, he added, “we need to set some clear and minimal standards for professional athletes because California teams and California businesses can’t continue to foot the bill for thousands of claimants who didn’t work here and weren’t specifically injured here.”

Perea also said that Follett, in particular, wouldn’t be affected by AB 1309, whether it passes or not. The reason, Perea said, is that “the courts have already decided that players who sign contracts with enforceable ‘choice of forum’ provisions, as Zack did, are already required to file in the employer’s home state. He’s obligated to file in Michigan.”

Real Estate: Housing subdivision is going up in Caruthers

A new housing subdivision is under construction in a surprising place — the small farming community of Caruthers.

A general contractor and a farmer are working together to build 55 homes on 16 acres of farm land near Marks and Clemenceau avenues.

Russell Crawford Construction is the general contractor and farmer Charanjit Singh Batth owns the land.

This is Batth’s first venture into home building and the first new-home project in Caruthers since 1994, said contractor Russell Crawford who has built custom homes in the Valley for 35 years, including Batth’s house.

These homes are “kind of what Caruthers, I believe, has needed for a long time,” Crawford said.

The houses will range in size from a 1,539 square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home to a 2,944-square-foot, five-bedroom, three bath house. Five models homes are open for the public.

For more information, call (559) 804-5118.

RFK’s 13-hour visit to Fresno

Thursday, April 18, 2013 is the 45th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s 13-hour stop in Fresno during the amazing 1968 political campaign. The Bee in years past has reviewed that remarkable visit. It merits another quick look.

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