Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Lawsuit against Darling International also about health concerns

The future of the Darling International rendering plant could be decided soon when a Fresno County Superior Court Judge delivers his decision in a lawsuit that a citizens group filed last spring against the city and the plant.

Both sides of the lawsuit met at a hearing Tuesday afternoon to give their final arguments in the case. The lawsuit, filed by the Concerned Citizens of West Fresno, contends that the plant is required to obtain a conditional-use permit from the city in order to operate and that the city has failed to enforce that requirement.

You can read the full story here.

What didn’t make the final cut in my story was West Fresno resident Mary Curry’s concern about the health problems created by the stench that comes from the plant, particularly asthma which she suffers from.

Curry and other members of the citizens group are concerned about the health of current residents and the health of those will live in the nearby veteran’s home which is scheduled to open in the fall.

“Unless people live it, they don’t know” what it’s like to live there, Curry said.

McCarthy offers bill to speed VA disability claims

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is adding his muscle to the effort to reduce the Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability benefits backlog.

In a bill being introduced Thursday, McCarthy followed up on recommendations made by a Government Accountability Office study he ordered. The study found, among other problems, that the Los Angeles VA Regional Office has a total of 25,322 claims, with 80 percent pending 125 days or later. The bill includes provisions designed to improve sharing of information, strengthen congressional oversight  and increase accountability by setting a deadline for backlog reduction.

The GAO study found, among other things, that the average length of time to complete a claim increased from 161 days in fiscal year 2009 to 260 days in fiscal year 2012. Moreover, VA’s backlog of claims–defined as claims awaiting a decision for over 125 days–has more than tripled since September 2009.

Other San Joaquin Valley lawmakers have authored their own efforts to aid the delivery of services to veterans. Last month, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, introduced a bill that’s supposed to streamline VA centers’ access to veterans information.


Real Estate: Housing agency aimed at Asian Americans opens Fresno office

A nonprofit housing agency with an emphasis on helping Asian American homeowners has opened an office in Fresno.

The National Asian American Coalition, whose corporate headquarters is in Daly City, has a small two-person office at 2569 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 103A, between Marks Avenue and Van Ness Boulevard. The group also opened a satellite office in Hercules, north of Oakland.

While the office is new, the coalition’s work in the Central Valley is not, said Faith Bautista, president and chief executive officer.

“In 2008, when foreclosures were really bad in every city, the Hmong community (in Fresno) asked for help from NAAC to train them on how to help the Hmong save their homes,” Bautista said.

The agency taught Hmong leaders how to fill out intake forms and to identify the necessary housing and financial documents for lenders.

“We also did a lot of one-on-one foreclosure counseling,” Bautista said.

Now the agency is taking its work one step further by buying real estate-owned property throughout the Valley, renovating them and then selling the houses to families who have gone through its Project Renew housing education program.

The group bought 18 houses already. The goal is to buy at least 100 houses.

Rather than dwelling on the housing problems, the agency thought about a solution that would create jobs and help people who lost their homes buy again, Bautista said.

For more information, visit or call (650) 952-0522.

Measure G is about who gets the power

READER NOTE: This blog has been updated to correct an error I made. Overtime is not pensionable for the city’s home trash drivers. My thanks to Marina Magdaleno at Local 39, Stan McDivitt at the City of Fresno Pension System and Fresno City Council Lee Brand for providing information in this updated blog. I apologize for my error.

The pivotal number in the Measure G debate — 1.3 million.

The pivotal concept — a funnel.

The pivotal player — Mancur Olson.

Continue reading →

After hantavirus deaths, NPS should review tent cabin changes, report says

Federal investigators have recommended a National Park Service review of any design changes in tent cabins after three deaths last year during a hantavirus outbreak at Yosemite National Park.

Several hantavirus cases were diagnosed after people spent the night at Curry Village in newer tent cabins with a double-wall construction. Investigation showed infected mice nested between the walls.

The tent cabins were shut down last year after the outbreak was discovered.

There have been reports that the tent cabins were torn down and replaced with the old, single-wall version. But Yosemite officials were not immediately available to confirm the reports.

The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General investigated last summer’s outbreak and last week reported that park officials responded appropriately in accordance with policy.

At least eight of the nine tourists who fell ill stayed in the newer tent cabins, which are operated by the private concessionaire, Delaware North Parks and Resorts.

The concessionaire had added rafters and wall studs to the tent cabins. Park Service policy did not require park leaders to approve the design changes because they were considered routine maintenance.

Lanare’s closest option for healthy water was contaminated

Folks in the southwest Fresno County town of Lanare avoid drinking arsenic-laced water from their taps. They thought four vending machines in nearby Riverdale were their best option for healthy water.

Now the machines are gone, according to California Rural Legal Assistance, representing Lanare’s 590 residents. The machines apparently were not filtering the water in Riverdale, which also has arsenic contamination.

CRLA said water from the machines was tested at more than three times the safe level. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the threshold is 10 parts per billion.

Instead of the four-mile drive to Riverdale, Lanare residents must drive as far as Fresno, 20 miles away, to buy water for drinking and cooking.

As part of a series titled Living in a Toxic Land, The Bee published a story last month about the environmental risks people must live with every day in Lanare.

The town has no schools, health care or sewer service. The tainted well water is the most immediate problem.

Veronica Garibay, a CRLA community education outreach coordinator, says the Lanare Community Service District has applied to the California Department of Public Health for $50,000 to fund interim water solutions. Some of the money could help provide a water vending machine in Lanare.

If the town gets the money, the machine could be installed at the Lanare Community Center.

Fresno council member defends closed-door budget discussion

Fresno City Council Member Steve Brandau offered gracious and well-spoken introductory remarks before Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s State of the City address on Thursday.

There was one problem: the first-year council member referenced a closed-door council discussion about the city budget, and city budgets are not supposed to be discussed behind closed doors, per the state’s open-meeting laws.

City finances are meant to be open for public debate.

Brandau explained himself Friday, saying that the private council discussion (or discussions)  was not specifically about the budget but about something else that had financial ramifications.

He didn’t specify, but it could have been a topic that’s legally afforded privacy, such as a lawsuit or labor contract.

“Every decision we make is a decision about the budget,” he said.

Fresno County Assessor turns 70, kicks off reelection bid

Fresno County Assessor Paul Dictos wants another two terms in office, and this week he threw himself a 70th birthday party-slash-campaign drive to underscore that point.

While it’s still a year and a half before the next election, Dictos is sending a clear signal to potential adversaries that he’s not the political lightweight that narrowly won the job two years ago. He’s become something of a force to reckon with.

More than 200 people attended the party outside his Fresno accounting business Thursday, and the crowd reflected a range of political interests, from Tea Party conservatives and mainstream Republicans to labor leaders and liberals.

Dictos has needed to broaden his support since taking office in 2011. He raised property taxes after finding county tax records out of date, and he ostracized many who didn’t want to see their tax bills climb, particularly those in agriculture, where taxes went up the most.

Many Republicans who helped put him in office, technically a nonpartisan seat, no longer support him and may choose to back another candidate next year.

Dictos has left the Republican Party since the backlash, and he’s now registered as a “Decline to State” voter.

“I always try my best to do the right thing,” he said during a speech at his birthday party.

Attendees included five of the seven Fresno City Council members, retiring Superintendent of Schools Larry Powell and state Senate hopeful Leticia Perez.

Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea and former Supervisor Susan Anderson were guests of honor — though both had last-minute conflicts and didn’t attend.

Fresno Co: Short on water but big on mosquitoes

A sample of mosquitoes from Fresno County tested positive for West Nile virus, according to mosquito control officials on Friday.

Mosquito season has arrived.

And there’s good news and bad news.

First the good: The drought means less standing water for mosquitoes to use as breeding ponds. And an improving economy has reduced the number of neglected swimming pools where mosquitoes breed.

The bad: The heat makes mosquitoes frisky and Fresno’s high temperature of 102 degrees on Sunday was perfect weather for mosquitoes to multiply.

Mosquito control officials remind that mosquitoes are more than just an annoyance. They can carry West Nile virus, which can make people sick, usually with mild, flu symptoms, but in some cases with life-threatening neurological complications.

So far, Fresno County has not detected any mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, says Tim Phillips, district manager at the Fresno Mosquito and Vector Control District. But mosquitoes have tested positive for the virus in Tulare County, he says. “If it’s in Tulare, it’s here,” Phillips says. “That’s just my gut feeling.”

So it’s time to take precautions against mosquito bites. The choices are to wear mosquito repellent or long sleeves and pants in the early evenings or avoid the outdoors when mosquitoes are buzzing. For more tips about mosquito avoidance and about West Nile virus, check out the state Department of Public Health web site.

Also check window and door screens for rips and make sure they fit tight. And report green pools (there are still lots) to a local mosquito control district so they can stock them with mosquito-eating fish.