Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Ex-Lemoore cop named Officer of Year in Illinois

Gordon Beck, chief of police in Le Roy, Ill., has been named Officer of the Year by the American Legion in that state.

Beck, 61, who grew up in Fresno, has been chief since 2005.  The longtime Valley resident served 25 years at the Lemoore Police Department and instructed at police academies.

The recognition in his new state came a surprise, he said.

“I figured my name would go into a hat and never come out,” he said. But he ended up as one of three finalist, then got the award at a statewide convention this month in Springfield, Ill.

The former Lemoore sergeant set a goal of becoming police chief in a small town. His wife’s family lives in Illinois, so he jumped at the chance when Le Roy, population 3,700, asked him to lead the force of six full-time officers.

Religion: Royal birth reminds me of Isaiah 9:6

Did you see The Bee’s main headline on Page A1 on Tuesday?

A king is born!

Big news as Britain welcomed the birth of Prince William and his wife Kate’s first child, a boy who is now third in line to the British throne.

The headline reminded me of Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

News of a totally different birth back then, and I am glad.


Real Estate: Thousands apply for Housing Choice Vouchers

Update: As of Thursday morning, the Fresno Housing Authority has received 28,838 online applications for its Housing Choice Voucher, or Section 8, housing program.

In the first day of registration alone, the authority received 26,852 applications, officials said. In comparison, the authority received a little more than 20,000 during a 45-day sign-up period in 2008 – the last time the waiting list opened for registration.

Original Posted July 23: The Fresno Housing Authority received more than 6,000 applications for its Housing Choice Voucher, or Section 8, housing program in the first two hours of registration Tuesday morning.

That’s impressive considering that the authority’s website became overloaded with users which kicked many offline or gave them a notice that said the website is not working.

I received 46 phone calls, voicemail messages, blog comments and emails from folks who couldn’t get through this morning. A Philadelphia woman, who is moving to Fresno, even called because she wanted to talk to someone about her eligibility.

Here’s what happened: The website was working, but only allowed a certain number of users on at one time. All others were unable to log on.

Housing authority officials said not to worry. There is no rush to apply because the waiting list is now open at all times. It will not close. There is also no first-come first-serve process as the list was handled in the past.

The authority will use a lottery system to pick names when housing vouchers for the program become available.

Read my story to learn more about how the program works.

Here is a direct link to the Housing Voucher program application:

KRCD looks at small hydro project on Kings River

The Kings River Conservation District wants to study a project to install a small hydroelectric unit on the Kings River near Sanger — creating electricity by using the river’s flow at Gould Weir.

It’s part of California’s push to have 33% of its energy portfolio in renewable technologies, such as solar, wind and hydro, by 2020.

Though such small hydro is an established technology, this project wouldn’t happen anytime soon. The district has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a permit to study it. The study would probably take three years.

The main question: Could this project produce enough electricity to make it work financially for the district?

“The river doesn’t run all year round,” said district general manager Dave Orth.

He said the district is the leading resource agency in the region, making it the logical choice to study the project’s feasibility and development in an environmentally appropriate manner.

Another complaint about hazardous waste site expansion

My Sunday story covered the money aspects of expanding the hazardous waste site near Kettleman City. One piece of the story just didn’t fit, and I mention it here because it illustrates how contentious the process has been.

Activists, who have long battled the nearby Waste Management Inc. landfill, say they didn’t like the Kings County-appointed committee that recommended many of the financial benefits on tap for Kettleman.

Among the benefits Waste Management agreed to provide if the expansion is approved: paying off a $552,000 debt on the town water system and donating $450,000 for school improvement.

Paying off the water system debt is no small favor for Kettleman City.  It will allow the state to provide $8 million for a water treatment plant — many consider it a leap forward for Kettleman City.

But the activists were rankled because there was only one Kettleman City resident on the committee.

The list included three people from Hanford and one each from Avenal, Laton and Lemoore. The county stands to gain $1.5 million annually in fees if the state allows expansion of the landfill.

The committee was stacked so that county approval of the landfill expansion was inevitable, the activists say.

“It was a joke,” said resident Maricela Mares Alatorre of the People for Clean Air and Water. “Where was the understanding of Kettleman City’s problems?”

Alatorre is also a full-time employee of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, a national advocacy group with an office in San Francisco. She says activists will do whatever they can to stop the expansion, including filing suit.

For their part, Kings County officials said they had problems filling out the local committee that suggested the financial benefits for Kettleman City.

In the end, Supervisor Richard Valle said he was able to add Avenal resident Alvaro Preciado, who has family in Kettleman City and cares deeply about the issues in the town.

Dueling news releases hit Costa, Valadao on education bill

The congressional public-relations machinery otherwise known as the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee offered up two widely divergent viewpoints on a piece of GOP-backed legislation.

As usual, the Republicans went after Fresno Democrat Jim Costa, and the Democrats targeted Hanford Republican David Valadao.

Here’s the two headlines from a news release on a bill dubbed the “Student Success Act” — “Jim Costa Wants Fewer Opportunities For Students,” the NRCC said in a release. And from the Democrats: “Valadao Lets Students Down — Again.”

Here are the takes:

The NRCC said Costa’s vote on the “Student Success Act, a common-sense measure,” was “a true disservice to millions of students across the country.

“Unfortunately, Jim Costa wants more bureaucratic interference in our children’s education. Instead of giving control back to parents, Costa simply believes that Washington has all the answers.”

But the DCCC had a much different viewpoint. It called the bill the “Letting Students Down Act,” and said it was “an extremely partisan measure that would gut education funding by billions of dollars and undermine our students’ ability to compete globally for jobs.

“Once again, Congressman Valadao’s priorities are out of whack with California; he would rather let students down than help them succeed,” the DCCC’s Emily Bittner said in the release.

Can it be both ways?

Senate leaders to campaign for Vidak, Perez this weekend

Just how important is the 16th state Senate battle between Democrat Leticia Perez and Republican Andy Vidak?

Well, the two candidates and the various independent groups backing either of the two have collectively spent $4.5 million on the special election to replace Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who resigned in February.

But quite probably an even bigger measure is that heading into this final weekend ahead of Tuesday’s election, both Senate leaders will personally visit the district, which covers all of Kings County and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic leader, will spent Sunday with Perez. The visit will be highlighted by 3 p.m. rally at the Hinton Community Center, 2385 S. Fairview Ave. in Fresno.

This is Steinberg’s first district visit in support of Perez.

Not to be outdone, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff is also coming south from Sacramento — and a day earlier.

Huff has already campaigned in the district on Vidak’s behalf several times. This time, he’ll visit Vidak’s campaign headquarters in Hanford starting at 11:00 a.m. today. The office is at 101 N. Irwin Street, Suite 110.

Real Estate: Fresno’s Section 8 waiting list opens 10 a.m. Tuesday

The Fresno Housing Authority will begin accepting online applications for its preliminary waiting list for Section 8 housing at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The authority is opening the wait list for the first time in five years. Check out the story I wrote July 9 when the authority announced that it would accept applications.

This is your reminder. But remember applications will only be accepted online. Gone are the days of long lines and a first-come first-serve method. You can’t show up to the housing authority offices to apply.

Fresno residents can log onto to apply for free.

The waiting list will be open year round. Names will be picked at random from the list when a Section 8 or Housing Choice Voucher becomes available.

Real Estate: Southeast Fresno shopping center prepping for a Ross

Construction work has begun to prep a southeast Fresno shopping center for two new tenants.

Workers are renovating a 31,472-square-foot building in The Canyons Shopping Center on East Kings Canyon Road for a Ross Dress for Less store.

A new 8,400-square-foot addition is also under construction on the west side of the center to expand an existing space for an unnamed tenant. The center’s commercial broker and owner declined to say who because the deal has not been finalized.

The center, between Winery and Willow avenues, is anchored by a FoodMaxx grocery store and a Dollar Tree. Tenants in the center’s outlying buildings include Big 5 Sporting Goods and a Comcast store.

Ross will fill a space that was occupied by Mexico-based furniture store Famsa, said Sarah Pilibos, vice president of Stephen Investments, Inc. and Pilibos Bros. of Fresno. The Pilibos family owns the center.

Famsa subleased the spot from Rite Aid drug store which closed its store there years ago, Pilibos said.

“To see the center coming back with this new development and growth makes us very happy and proud,” Pilibos said.

Pilibos doesn’t know exactly when Ross is expecting to open but said the store is shooting for a fall opening.