Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Fresno County health report: STDs “entrenched” and “persistent”

Fresno County health officials have a new communicable disease report that gives a glimpse into the health of residents — and the biggest area of concern revolves around sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Despite prevention efforts, rates for sexually transmitted diseases continue to increase, including those for chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV, as well as hepatitis B and C, according to the report.
Here’s some of the numbers from the report:

— The five-year average for HIV cases is 64 per year. In 2011, there were 111 new cases — a 73% increase over a five-year baseline.

And of concern was an increasing trend in cases among Hispanic males and a continuing disproportionate number of black males diagnosed with the disease, the report said.

A possible factor in the increased rate of HIV infections — closure of the county’s HIV/STD clinic in 2010 due to budget cuts, the report said. The clinic was serving 61 patients when it closed.

— Fresno County is one of the top five counties in the state for rates of clyamydia infections from year to year — and that trend isn’t changing, the report said.

Gonorrhea also continues to be a problem in the community. “STDs appear to be entrenched in the community” and “the persistence of STDs is established and needs to be addressed to bring down the rate,” according to the report prepared by Jared Rutledge, the county’s epidemiologist.

The report includes recommendations for addressing STD problems, such as improving outreach to teenagers, collaboration with community-based organizations for education and encouraging doctors to have candid discussions with patients about prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

The county has not had a communicable disease annual report in several years, and officials said they hope to have one annually from here out.

The report not only helps public health workers identify health issues, but it gives community-based organizations a blueprint, said David Luchini, assistant director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health. “It helps them if they go after grants.”

The document also can help the county explain why it is spending taxpayers’ money. “We want to be able to say how we spend our dollars most effectively in public health,” said Joe Prado, division manager for community health.

Race already shaping up for Fresno City Council’s District 1

The presidential-year elections were less than nine months ago, and the Fresno area has just been through three special elections, but it’s already time to start gearing up for next year’s Fresno City Council contests.

Of the four seats that will be up for grabs, none will likely get more attention than District 1, which covers west-central Fresno. The reason: current Council Member Blong Xiong will be termed out of office, making for an open seat.

Oliver Baines in District 3, Sal Quintero in District 5 and Clint Olivier in District 7 are all eligible to seek re-election. An open seat is always more attractive because there is no incumbent.

Cary Catalano

Already, businessman and community activist Cary Catalano and businessman and Fresno Planning Commission Member Rama Kant Dawar say they’re running.

Catalano, in fact, already has a Facebook page, has designed a campaign brochure, plans to release his initial slate of endorsements this week and has big precinct walk planned for Aug. 10.

“We are ready,” he says.

Right out of the gate, Dawar also has something significant: Xiong’s endorsement.

“I’ve worked with him for a long time,” Xiong said of Dawar. “If he’s still going forward with it, I told him I’d support him.”

The question is, who else — if anybody — will join the race?

Rama Kant Dawar

One intriguing possibility is Marina Magdaleno, who is business representative for the Fresno’s blue-collar union. She was one of the opposition leaders of Measure G, the unsuccessful ballot initiative to privatize the city’s residential trash pickup.

“I’m very interested in running,” she said. “I feel I have a lot to offer.”

Magdaleno, 61, said she still hasn’t made up her mind. “I make a really good salary,” she said of her current job. “It would be a cut in pay, but I’m OK with that. Money isn’t everything.”

Two other familiar names appear to be out — at least for now.

Fresno Unified trustee Carol Mills, 58, said she’s been “asked by many supporters, Republican and Democrat,” to run.

“Although I indicated I was not inclined to run, folks have been trying hard to get me to reconsider,” she said.

Marina Magdaleno

The other is business owner Scott Miller, who lost a tough race for the seat to Xiong in 2006.

Miller, 41, said he’s thought about running again “every day for eight years.” But for Miller, it’s a different world now. The big difference is his business — Gazebo Gardens — which has doubled in size since his run against Xiong.

“As of right now, I’m not in,” he said. ”As much as I love running, love city politics, love the city, love my neighborhood, I do not see it right now.”

So for now that leaves Dawar and Catalano.

Catalano, 39, is the owner of Catalano Fenske & Associates, a Fresno marketing firm.

This is his second council run. He earlier ran in 2002 for the neighboring District 3 council seat, losing in the primary. Cynthia Sterling ended up winning the seat. Baines is now the council member in that district.

“I have no regrets,” Catalano said of that run. “I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about the people in the community.”

It also makes him a better candidate this time, he said.

Dawar, 45, is an interpreter, paralegal, notary public, registered income tax preparer, substance abuse specialist facilitator and domestic violence facilitator.

“I want to serve my community,” he said. “I already made up my mind (to run) two years ago.”

Xiong — who said the district is really three distinct regions in the Tower/Fresno High, west of Highway 99 and south of Shaw Avenue areas — had advice for any potential candidate: “It’s about contact. Walking, talking to people.”

Fresno already has 31 triple-digit days this summer

How hot has it been? Fresno already has 31 days at 100 degrees or higher this year, and the average for an entire summer is 36.

But the heat will have to keep blasting for Fresno to equal last year’s total — 48.  As I have written already, August was very warm last year with 23 days at or above 100 degrees.

There was one other thing I saw in the 2012 numbers that seemed interesting: October had two triple-digit days. I checked October data all the way back to 1996, and did not find a 100-degree day.

I have emailed the National Weather Service in Hanford to find out how long ago there was another triple-digit Fresno day in October.

Updated 16th District Senate vote counts solidify Vidak win

It’s now safe to call Andy Vidak “senator-elect.”

The Hanford Republican’s lead over Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez in the 16th District state Senate special election has dwindled considerably since Election Day.

But there aren’t enough ballots left to count for Perez to catch Vidak — even if she won every single vote.

Andy Vidak

When the count was finished late Tuesday, Vidak held a 5,833-vote edge. By Friday afternoon, when Fresno County updated its count, Vidak’s lead over Perez had dwindled to 3,516.

It means Perez picked up more than 2,300 votes in late counting.

But Fresno County only has around 870 votes left to count — about 750 provisional ballots and 120 challenged ballots. That’s not enough to pull Perez even close to snatching victory away from Vidak.

Friday’s count, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, had Vidak at 52.2% and Perez at 47.8%. Vidak’s lead: 4.4 percentage points.

The two candidates faced each other in a runoff after finishing one-two in the five-person May primary. The 16th District seat came open after Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio resigned to take a job with Chevron Corp.

It became a heated, high-profile showdown because Senate Democrats are fighting to retain a two-thirds majority in the chamber.

Leticia Perez

Millions of dollars poured into the race, which even caught the attention of major national publications such as the New York Times.

The race — or, more specifically, Perez — made an appearance on Comedy Central’s satirical news program, the Daily Show. In a segment featuring Perez, she adamantly rules out a congressional run.

In May, Vidak was initially above 50% of the vote and appeared on his way to staying above that threshold and winning the race outright. People began calling him “senator-elect.” Then, in late vote counts, he fell below 50%, forcing the runoff.

Fresno’s government affairs manager leaving for eBay

Katie Stevens, who has been Fresno’s government affairs manager since November 2009, is leaving the city to work for eBay in San Jose. Her last day was Friday.

Stevens, 33, had worked for Mayor Ashley Swearengin when she was director of the Office of Community and Economic Development at Fresno State. Swearengin took office as mayor in January 2009, and Stevens came to City Hall that November.

Swearengin praised Stevens, calling her “one of the top government affairs managers in California and across the nation. She has been an integral part of the city’s efforts to engage the state and federal governments on a wide range of issues.”

But Stevens also found herself in the middle of a City Council debate early this year on the city’s spending on lobbyists. Some council members questioned the need in tight budget times for lobbyists in Washington D.C., Sacramento and in the mayor’s office.

Stevens earned $65,476 annually for her city job, and spokesman Michael Lukens said the position will stay and be filled after a candidate search.

In her city job, Stevens coordinated efforts between the city’s various departments, the lobbyists, the League of California Cities and the region’s state and federal legislators. She also wrote grant applications.

Stevens will be a manager in eBay’s government relations office.

Valadao’s staff on message, but off point?

Even if you can’t get a straight answer, at least give Rep. David Valadao’s staff credit for staying on message.

The freshman Republican congressman from Hanford (right) has been steadfast in his opposition to California’s high-speed rail plans. That opposition was most recently demonstrated when Valadao, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, successfully pitched an amendment to a spending bill that could stall work on the high-speed rail project in the Valley and statewide for years, and jeopardize some federal stimulus funds that were already approved for initial construction in the central San Joaquin Valley — including through the heart of his district in Kings County.

Over the past couple of weeks, The Bee has queried Valadao’s staff about his high-speed rail opposition, his recent actions in the Appropriations Committee — and his family dairy’s ownership of hundreds of acres of land that sits directly along the path of high-speed tracks south of Hanford.

Since one major concern of high-speed rail critics is the potential loss of property value for land along the rail routes, Valadao’s staff was asked if the congressman had told his Appropriations Committee colleagues about his family’s property interests on the rail route, and what his obligations are under House conflict of interest rules to inform the committee.

A Valadao spokeswoman said he had filed, as a member of Congress and earlier in the state Assembly, the appropriate financial disclosure forms. The statements added that Valadao “opposes high-speed rail regardless of the route or whose property is affected,” and that he has opposed it since before he was ever elected to office.

But that didn’t really address the questions.

Continue reading →

City Council seats create early interest

I bumped into Cary Catalano on Thursday morning in the Fresno City Hall parking lot.

Catalano said he’s already gearing up his campaign for the District 1 City Council race. Catalano unsuccessfully ran for the District 3 seat in 2002.

Council President Blong Xiong, the District 1 incumbent, is termed out in 17 months.

Then I bumped into Marina Magdaleno Thursday afternoon in the council chamber. She said she’s considering a run for the District 1 seat.

Magdaleno is business representative for the city’s blue-collar union. She recently played a key role in the successful effort to stop outsourcing of the city’s home trash service.

As I left the council chamber on Thursday afternoon, Barbara Hunt told me she’s thinking about a run for the District 3 seat. Hunt most recently ran against Mayor Ashley Swearengin in 2012.

Next year’s primary is more than 10 months away. The seats in districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 are up for grabs. Oliver Baines (District 3), Sal Quintero (District 5) and Clint Olivier (District 7) are in their first terms. They most likely will seek re-election.

It’s going to be a busy season in local politics.

Real Estate: Fresno investor and cash purchases remain steady in June

When foreclosures swarmed the central San Joaquin Valley and other communities nationwide, foreclosure tracking services popped up to record the action.

Now that foreclosures have slowed the online companies have decided to expand their services by providing residential sales and home price reports.

RealtyTrac is taking it one step further in its first U.S. Residential Report released Thursday. The company takes a look at the make up of home sales by pulling out the percentage of cash purchases, investor purchases, short sales and bank-owned property for large metropolitan areas including Fresno.

In June, institutional investor purchases, or sales to non-lending entities that purchased at least 10 properties in the last year, made up 8% of the sales in Fresno which was unchanged from May, the report said.

Cash purchases represented 29% of the home sales in June, up from 28% in May.

Last month, short sales made up 23% of the sales compared to 24% in May. And bank-owned property represented 16% of the homes sold which was up from 15% the month before.

Yosemite’s Merced River plan delayed again

Yosemite National Park‘s long-running effort to finish a protection plan for the Merced River just got a little longer.

The U.S. District Court in Fresno Thursday granted a delay in the controversial plan until Dec. 31. It was supposed to be completed by July 31 — a date set by a previous request for a delay. Yosemite needs time to process more than 30,000 comments received this year on the draft.

The National Park Service and the activist groups late Wednesday filed papers to push off the deadline, which adds time to an effort that already is more than a decade old. This is the third version of the plan since 2000. Previous versions were struck down by federal courts.

The current plan is a result of a lawsuit settlement between activists and the Park Service in 2009.

Park Service leaders say they are not reopening the comment period on the controversial plan, as business leaders and many others had hoped. Many had pushed hard this year to reopen the process because they opposed removing the ice rink at Curry Village and several other amenities.

The plan was attacked earlier this month in a hearing before the House of Representatives. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, led a Republican charge to leave the amenities untouched.

He termed the plan “exclusionary and elitist,” and asked, if facilities are removed from Yosemite Valley, “where does a dad go to get ice cream for a kid on a hot summer’s day?”

Activist groups, including Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government, also want to negotiate the content of the draft. They and the Park Service are asking for time for that negotiation.

There were no specifics in court documents about the activists’ concerns.