Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Real Estate: Fresno council member pushes to cut development fees

(Fresno City Council Member Clint Olivier talks to reporters on a vacant lot owned by Sam Lucido on Clinton Avenue, near Highway 41.)

Fresno City Council Member Clint Olivier introduced on Thursday an act that would cut development impact fees for builders and encourage infill development within the city.

The Best Utilization of Infill Land Development Act, or BUILD, would eliminate fees for police, fire and park stations and for roads and traffic signals. The total can amount to more than $10,000.

Developers would still pay planning fees, and for water and sewer connection, Olivier said at a news conference on a vacant Clinton Avenue lot next to Highway 41.

The idea is to make it affordable for owners of vacant residential city lots, one-acre or smaller, to rebuild the homes that once stood there. There are nearly 3,000 empty lots collecting trash, weeds and inviting crime in the city, Olivier said.

Infill development “is critical to improving the lots inside the inner city, the urban core, and also to improve people’s lives,” Olivier said.

Here’s how it works: The planning office would consider the development fees already paid since vacant lots exist in neighborhoods where roads and light signals have already been built. The fees are typically collected for the initial development of a property, Olivier said.

Only residential lots would qualify, not commercial. The proposed project would also have to mirror what was on the lot before. A builder can’t decide to build a triplex on a lot where a single-family home once existed.

The BUILD Act is scheduled to be heard at the city council meeting on June 27.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan more than tunnels, state leader says

I listened to the state’s top water leader talk for an hour Thursday about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Then I tried to check some of his data online.

The download of so many documents crashed my computer. Let’s just go straight to the talk at The Fresno Bee editorial board meeting, which did not break any news.

Mark Cowin, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources, said the controversial plan is more than tunnels and arguments. Nonetheless, he had to spend time explaining the two huge water tunnels being proposed at the sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The tunnel idea is to move Sacramento River water south in tunnels so the water doesn’t pass through the delta. The idea is the epic issue for California natural resources these days, easily on a par with the Peripheral Canal fight I covered 30 years ago.

Some Northern Californians have told me it’s simply a water grab for Central Valley farmers and Southern California. The delta’s ecosystem and Northern California will suffer, they say.

Some farmers and Southern Californians argue it would give the state a more certain water supply. Plus, the delta would get the chance to heal, they say.

Cowin said he supports the $25 billion tunnels, but the plan is equally about restoring the faltering delta.

He and Karla Nemeth, outreach and communications manager, said saving the delta’s dying fish species and declining habitat is a linchpin of the plan. They mentioned such projects as rebuilding flood plains and fattening up migrating salmon.

We asked tunnel questions, such as: How much difference would the tunnels have made for west Valley farmers who lost water this year in environmental cutbacks for the threatened delta smelt?

Cowin and Nemeth said the tunnels probably would have resulted in about 700,000 acre-feet of additional water.

The draft of this plan should be available in the next few months, they said. I’m not sure that will give you enough time to read the 27,000 pages of documents related to it.

California liberals, conservatives join in killing farm bill

A classically strange-bedfellows alliance of California liberals and conservatives helped defeat the House farm bill on Thursday afternoon, embarrassing Republican leaders and casting the future of farm policy into disarray.

By a 195-234 vote, the House rejected the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. For farm bill supporters, of course, the vote was a slap in the face. Freshman Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, declared that it was “inexcusable that members from both parties could not come together” on the five-year farm plan.

Other Central Valley lawmakers with pronounced agricultural roots likewise voted for the bill, including Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.

But the wide array of lawmakers who opposed the bill suggest the continuing difficulties the legislation’s authors will continue to face. Some of the naysayers, for instance, were staunch conservatives like Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove. A budget hawk, McClintock had failed in an effort to cut further funding from the bill, including with an amendment to eliminate the Market Access Program, which helps California farm groups and others advertise overseas. A number of McClintock’s conservative allies, like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, likewise opposed the bill.

From the other side of the aisle, California Democrats like Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, opposed the bill for a variety of reasons, including its cuts to the supplemental nutrition programs.

All told, 62 House Republicans joined 172 House Democrats in voting down the bill.

One-hour, eight-hour standard, it’s confusing

I apologize if there’s been some confusion about an air-quality blog I wrote a few weeks ago — remember the one about the “silver lining” during an ozone siege?

A few readers have asked how there could be a silver lining if there are more eight-hour breaches of the standard than last year. The silver lining — or good news — was that the air didn’t breach the one-hour standard.

Eight-hour is a much tougher standard, the average of eight one-hour readings. The one-hour standard refers to the peak reading during a one-hour period.  They are quite different.

Now, let’s talk about comparing the eight-hour exceedence totals with last year’s totals. It’s a dangerous thing to do early in the season.

At the time of that blog item, there were 23 exceedences this year compared to 17 last year. So isn’t the air actually getting worse? Why didn’t I point that out in the item? Well, check it now, and you’ll see why it’s dangerous to jump to any conclusion right now.

There are 25 exceedences through this week, compared to 26 at this point last year. I was simply giving a running total in my blog item a few weeks ago.

One last thing. Improvement is a gradual thing in air quality, and the San Joaquin Valley is far from clean or healthy.

In summertime, the goal is eliminating ozone exceedences. Last year, the Valley had 105. Alongside South Coast Air Basin in the Southern California area, that’s the worst in the country.

But compare the numbers this year to 2003.

There were 38 exceedences at this point in 2003, and there had been a one-hour exceedence. During that period in 2003, I counted 17 days when the ozone concentration was above 100 parts per billion — an exceedence happens at 76.

This year, there have been 25 exceedences and only three days when ozone exceeded 100 parts per billion. Clearly, the air quality is improving, but not very quickly for many people.

Air-quality activists say the improvement comes partly because of the relocation of the Arvin air monitor in Kern County. That air monitor showed the most exceedences in the nation. The new one — two miles away — doesn’t record as many bad days.

There are many other arguments about the improvement. I’ll leave that for the readers to comment.

I want to leave you with the clear message: A few weeks ago during record-breaking heat, the Valley didn’t exceed the one-hour standard, which is connected with a $29 million annual fine paid mostly by motorists here.

But the air still is a long way from the goal.

New Super-PAC to help Central Valley GOP congressmen

Former Republican Congressman Richard Pombo is heading up a newly formed Super PAC, which will focus on electing — or keeping in office — Central Valley-based Republican and conservative congressmen.

The federal political action committee will be known as Empower Central Valley. Pombo is the chairman — and its public face. As with so many other such independent organizations, everyone else — including donors — will remain anonymous.

Richard Pombo

But Pombo, a Tracy cattle rancher, did say that “ag interests are all gearing up to get involved.” He said many contribute significant amounts of money to Republican causes and committees, but the money ends up being sent to out-of-state candidates.

“With other PACs, very little is spent in California,” Pombo said. “They raise money here, but spend it in Ohio.”

Empower Central Valley, he said, will spend its money in the Valley.

The first order of business is ensuring that Hanford Republican David Valadao in the 21st District and Turlock Republican Jeff Denham in the 10th District hold on to their respective congressional seats. The two have earned the PAC’s initial endorsements.

Both will almost certainly be Democratic Party targets next year. Beyond that, the PAC will look to get involved in other Valley races that may be competitive, be they working to keep a Central Valley Republican in office or hoping to oust a rival Democrat.

The PAC’s initial budget, based on the current targeted seats, is $1.2 million, Pombo said.

“We can expand, based on need,” he added.

The PAC is, by law, independent of the candidates it supports.

It is permitted to raise unlimited funds and in turn advocate for the election of federal candidates.

Local farmers unhappy about Chevron’s 16th Senate contributions

Some in the Valley’s agriculture community are unhappy that Chevron Corp. has made a second sizable campaign contribution to an independent group that supported Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez over Republican Andy Vidak last month in the 16th District state Senate special election.

Chowchilla-area farmer Kole Upton is so unhappy about the contributions that he and others are discussing ways to boycott Chevron. One way is to get their local fuel suppliers to stop buying from Chevron.

Kole Upton

“There’s definitely a backlash,” Upton said. “They want a fight, I guess they’re going to have one.”

On April 16, Chevron contributed $100,000 to Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, which was the largest of many donations to the independent organization. The organization then spent $230,000 in support of Perez ahead of the May 23 special election, according to campaign finance reports.

None of the five candidates won an outright majority in the primary election, so the top two finishers — Vidak and Perez — will now face off in a July 23 runoff.

On June 3, Chevron gave another $150,000 to Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy. Many in the local agriculture industry think that money will help Perez in the coming July 23 runoff election.

That’s not the case, Chevron says.

In an email, spokesman Morgan Crinklaw said the company “regularly supports candidates, organizations or ballot measures committed to economic development, free enterprise and good government.”

But Crinklaw said both contributions to Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy that benefitted Perez were for use in the May primary election.

“We have made no donations for the July runoff election nor do we intend to do so,” Crinklaw said.

Valley farmers and ranchers are still unhappy.

They say Perez is not agriculture friendly, while Vidak is not only ag friendly, he’s also a farmer. They also point out that Perez supports the state’s proposed high-speed rail project, which is widely disliked among many in the local agriculture community.

Some tie the two donations back to Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who resigned from the Senate seat in February to work for Chevron. Rubio once employed Perez. Rubio declined comment.

John Harris

Some, however, question whether a boycott will even faze the energy giant.

“What any of us in this district buys from them or doesn’t buy from them won’t really make that much difference to them,” said west-side rancher John Harris, who is CEO and chairman of Harris Farms.

Instead, Harris said the best strategy would be to “find someone we can talk to at Chevron to express our genuine concerns for a company like this getting engaged in a local race with a contribution that distorted the outcome.”

Vidak fell a few hundred votes of an outright win in last month’s primary. All he needed was 50%-plus-one to avoid a runoff. He got 49.8%.

Upton, however, thinks diplomacy won’t work.

“We have no clout, none whatsoever,” he said. “You ask to talk to the corporation and they blow you off. You’re insignificant. Maybe we are, but we don’t have to do business with (Chevron).”

Real Estate: Ivanhoe celebrates first new apartment complex since 1992

(Photo provided by the Corporation for Better Housing. The Linda Vista Apartments in Ivanhoe.)

The unincorporated town of Ivanhoe on Tuesday celebrated the grand opening of its first new affordable apartment complex in years.

The Linda Vista Apartments, on the southwest corner of Avenue 327 and Highway 216, is the first new apartment development to be built since 1992, according to the Tulare County Resource Management Agency.

The $16.6 million project answers a call from the agricultural community to provide housing for the area’s poor and farm-worker families. It was paid for with state and federal housing grants, tax credits and farmworker housing funds.

“Safe, affordable housing has long been sorely needed in Ivanhoe,” said Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley, who represents the area.

The 76-unit complex has one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, a community center, basketball court and playground area.

The developer was the Corporation for Better Housing, a Sherman Oaks-based nonprofit development company has has built several other affordable housing projects in Fresno, Madera and Tulare counties.

For more information, visit corpforbetterhousing.com.

House transportation bill rejects HSR funding

Congressional skeptics of California’s high-speed rail project make their feelings known in a draft Fiscal 2014 transportation spending bill made public this week.

The bill from the transportation subcommittee of the powerful House Appropriations Committee declares that “none of the funds made available by this act may be used for the California High-Speed Rail Program of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.”

The language conforms with the views of skeptics like Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, a member of the appropriations committee, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, chair of the House railroad subcommittee and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, the House majority whip.

Denham said Wednesday his intent is to ensure that “Valley dollars stay in the Valley.”

“We’re working together in concert with the other concerned members from the Valley,” Denham said.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has already received some $3.5 billion in federal funds, and was not anticipating getting any more in Fiscal 2014.

The high-speed rail language was included in a bill that, overall, provides $15.3 billion for an assortment of federal transportation.

California lawmakers convene on water, BDCP

Water brought California lawmakers together on Wednesday. Or, at least, it got a bunch of them in the same room.

In two separate sessions on Capitol Hill, one held for House Republicans and one held for House Democrats, California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird briefed members of the state’s congressional delegation on the touchy subject of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, or BDCP.

The ambitious plan is favored by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno as well as some big water districts in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. It also faces considerable skepticism from House members whose congressional districts include portions of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. More than 15 Democrats attended the late afternoon briefing, many of them skeptics.

“I was pleased to have the attention of Governor Brown’s administration today and look forward to our meeting tomorrow; however, I will only be satisfied when I see concrete results,” said Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, called the meeting a “very good exchange,” and no shouting could be heard from outside the room during the hour-plus meeting. The enduring differences were clearly present, though, when Costa and BDCP skeptic Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, entered into a spirited and spontaneous hallway debate following the session.

Real Estate: Fresno Housing Authority receives $60 million in tax credit equity

The Fresno Housing Authority received two awards this week that will help pay for apartment renovations and construction and housing counseling.

On Monday, the agency announced that it received nearly $60 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credit equity from the California State Treasurer’s office. The tax credit program was created to encourage private investment in affordable housing projects.

The authority plans to rehabilitate 400 public housing units in Fresno, Mendota and Orange Cove. Plans also include building community centers with computer labs, kitchens and offices.

“The Fresno Housing Authority is proud to be the catalyst that will bring this significant investment into Fresno County,” said Preston Prince, chief executive officer and executive director.

“We continue to work with multiple partners including local jurisdictions, school districts, service providers, architects and contractors to create high-quality, affordable housing opportunities for our residents that have positive impact on our community,” he said.

Some of the money will also be used to build a 60-unit apartment complex for families on 4.9 acres on Dinuba Avenue near Orange Avenue in Reedley.

On Tuesday, the authority was one of 334 national, regional and local organizations to receive a slice of more than $40 million housing counseling grants, according to a list of recipients released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The authority received $20,750 to continue its housing programs including home buying workshops, foreclosure intervention, rental counseling, and mortgage scam awareness.