Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Rim fire footprint would encompass Valley’s 5 largest cities

The Rim fire is winding down, now 92% contained at a cost of more than $125 million. But it’s the physical size of the fire that continues to capture the imagination — what does 257,135 acres look like?

Mono Lake, on the east side of the Sierra, has a footprint of 45,000 acres. Lake Tahoe is about 122,000 acres. That’s not a bad comparison if you’ve seen those lakes.

Fellow reporters have resorted to all kinds of comparisons. I recently heard a network news anchor refer to it as a third the size of Rhode Island. Others compare it to the area of Los Angeles or San Francisco.

So this is my attempt at putting the San Joaquin Valley into this picture. I wondered if the fire footprint was big enough to encompass the Valley’s major cities, including Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, Modesto and Visalia.

Yes, they would all fit within that footprint.

Bakersfield had the largest physical footprint I found. It is 146.6 square miles, according to the U.S. Census. Fresno, which has a bigger population than Bakersfield, is only 112.3 square miles.

The Rim fire is 402 square miles. And any way you look at it, this is the third largest fire on record in California.

A small milestone on the road to eight-hour ozone cleanup

My Sunday story dwelled on the old one-hour ozone standard. The San Joaquin Valley appears poised to achieve it, thus wiping out a $29 million annual federal penalty.

Smoggy summer sky in Fresno.

But what about that other ozone standard — the eight-hour? It looks like this could be a rec0rd-setting year for it. That’s important, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.

First the numbers: If we have six or fewer October or November exceedances for this tougher, eight-hour standard, it would be the lowest total ever recorded here.

The Valley has 86 exceedances, as of Sunday. The record is 93 set in 2010.

Over the last five years, the Valley has averaged a little more than six October exceedances per year — ranging from only two in 2009 to nine in 2011. There have only been two exceedances in November over the last five years combined. There’s a chance the record would be set.

It’s important because it is progress, and we’re talking about human health. The threshold spans eight hours, which is a long time. It’s hard to prevent children or anyone else from being exposed to it at some point during a bad day.

Ozone is a corrosive gas that can scorch the lungs like a sunburn. Aside from triggering coughing and wheezing, it can cause heart arrhythmia that can lead to stroke.

Dozens of people die prematurely in the Valley each year due to ozone exposure, studies have shown. Bottom line, this is a dangerous air pollutant, and the Valley is still many years away from achieving the eight-hour standard for it.

Burbank news about Fresno’s former city manager

My theory is this: Fresno is such a good news town that local reporters should continue to keep tabs on former City Hall officials even after they’ve moved to a new job 200 miles away. I’d summarize this story but I don’t fully understand it. The fault is mine, Alene, not yours.

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Burbank City Council OKs contract change

By Alene Tchekmedyian

Burbank Leader, Glendale, Calif.

Sept. 27—The City Council on Tuesday signed off on changes to City Manager Mark Scott’s contract after discovering — contrary to what officials thought when he was hired — that he doesn’t fall under the new employee pension system, and thus would cost the city more money than originally anticipated.

Scott gave up a number of benefits in his contract after realizing he qualifies for the old California Public Employees’ Retirement System plan, which allows him to earn a larger pension upon retirement.

Under the new system, Scott’s annual pension would have capped at $155,000, meaning that his, along with the city’s, annual pension contribution would have cost roughly $10,500.

Before accepting the position, he was advised that he likely would have fallen under the new system since his former employer, the city of Fresno, has its own pension system.

But after taking the Burbank job, he discovered he qualified for the old plan, which meant the city would have had to pay an additional roughly $12,000 annually into his pension, paying the full employer pension contribution on his $290,000 salary, instead of on the $155,000 cap, he said.

“I went a back to the City Council, I said, ’OK, look, we’ve got to change my contract,’”

Scott said. “’I need to take enough out of my contract to pay for that.’”

That meant cutting the relocation assistance clause through which he would have received $1,800 a month for up to 18 months, and the $8,000 raise that would have kicked in after the relocation assistance expired.

Additionally, the city will match voluntary contributions that Scott makes to his deferred compensation plan for up to $250 per month, instead of $1,250, and contribute $750 a month to his retiree medical account, according to the contract amendment.

“I just wanted to be fair,” Scott said.

The council approved the changes Tuesday in a 4-0 vote. Councilman Bob Frutos was absent.

(c)2013 the Burbank Leader (Glendale, Calif.)

Is Perez’s Fresno visit part of any plan for a Vidak Senate rematch?

All five Fresno County supervisors were on hand this week for board Chair Henry R. Perea’s state-of-the county breakfast speech.

Interestingly, another supervisor was present — Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez.

Leticia Perez

So what brought the Bakersfield Democrat 110 miles to the north?
There was some speculation that she’s already gearing up for a second state Senate battle against Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.

Earlier this year, Vidak beat Perez in the battle to fill the 16th District state Senate seat vacated by Michael Rubio.

But Vidak is only filling Rubio’s current term, which is up next year. So he’ll immediately face a re-election battle, only in the newly created 14th state Senate district.

“We would love to see her run again in 2014,” Fresno County Young Democrats Chairman Matt Rogers said.

A few other names have been rumored, but so far nobody has stepped forward and Perez is still the most prominent potential Vidak challenger.

But Perez said her visit had nothing to do with campaigning or exploring a Vidak rematch. When asked why she was in Fresno, Perez replied: “Visiting the city I have fallen in love with and reconnecting with old friends.”

Real Estate: Fresno foreclosure activity slowing down

Foreclosure activity in Fresno County is down more than 50% since last year, according to a monthly foreclosure report.

In August, 93 notices of default, the first step in the foreclosure process, were filed in Fresno compared to 146 the month before, according to PropertyRadar, a real estate data company. Last year, 226 notices of default were filed.

The notices of sale, which set a date and time of auction, increased slightly to 209 last month from 185 in July, but are is down 55% from 467 a year ago.

Foreclosures bottomed in California sometime in May and June and are trending sideways, said Madeline Schnapp, PropertyRadar’s director of economic research.

“The sideways trend reflects the ongoing recovery in the California real estate market,” she said.

Foreclosure Filings
Foreclosure Filings: California > Fresno County

Republican George Radanovich weighs gubernatorial bid

With former Lt. Gov Abel Maldonado’s gubernatorial bid foundering, another Republican candidate is dipping his toe in the 2014 race.

Former Republican congressman George Radanovich announced that he is mulling a run with an email Thursday touting a “program of rebuilding the private sector and then cutting government.”

“I believe Californians are ready for change and the time is ripe for a new approach,” Radanovich said in the email. “That is why I am considering entering the race for governor of California.”

Gov. Jerry Brown appears so far to be in prime position to win a second term. A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll gave the governor an overall approval rating of 49 percent among likely voters. Though a mere 23 percent of Republicans approved of the job he’s doing, 65 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents backed him.

The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert has the full story.

Real Estate: Assisted senior living center to be built in Clovis

(Submitted photo. Carmel Village of Clovis Assisted Living, 1650 Shaw Ave., between Stanford and Fowler avenues expected to open by fall 2014.)

A long vacant piece of property on busy Shaw Avenue in Clovis will soon have a whole new look by next fall.

An 85,000-square-foot assisted living community is planned for the lot between Stanford and Fowler avenues. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at noon Thursday.

The 107-unit, three-story building called Carmel Village of Clovis Assisted Living will be nestled between office buildings on the west and a Walgreens drug store and Yosemite Gardens, an existing senior housing complex, on the east.

The community “will emulate the beauty of a California coastal lodge which features spectacular amenities and provides the care giving services that its residents are seeking in order to remain as active and independent as possible,” said Brian Glover, a project partner and developer.

Frontier Senior Living will serve as the property management company. Frontier operates 50 communities nationwide including two others in northern California.

For more information, visit Frontier.

Real Estate: Lennar Homes building in northwest Fresno

(Submitted photo. Lennar’s next generation home, called the Camelot, at the homebuilder’s newest development, Elderberry on the Bluff Estates.)

Lennar Homes is continuing to grow in the Central Valley with the grand opening of a new development overlooking the San Joaquin River in northwest Fresno.

Elderberry on the Bluff Estates is a 139-home neighborhood at Herndon and Riverside avenues, next to the Riverside Golf Course.

The homes will range in size from 1,766 to 2,969 square feet with three to four bedrooms, two to three-and-a-half bathrooms and up to three bay garages. Eight floor plans are available.

The national builder will also introduce its new Next Generation home design, called the Camelot, at Elderberry, the company said.

The Next Gen two-story house includes a private suite on the ground floor with its own separate entrance, bedroom, kitchenette and full bathroom.

“As time passes, lifestyles can change and the Next Gen, the Home within a Home, floor plans make design history by offering a dual living layout that so many families want and need and are finally discovering courtesy of Lennar, said Susan Wilke, vice president of sales and marketing.

The grand opening will be held 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Tractor replacement: Like taking 1 million cars off road

Farmer Will Scott Jr.’s 1989 Massey-Ferguson tractor sat on trailer Tuesday, waiting for demolition. Nearly a quarter-century old and spewing plumes of pollutants, it was time.

Farmer Will Scott Jr. photographs as his old polluting tractor is torn apart by large dismantling equipment. Photo by Sylvia Flores

Scott’s little tractor — which toiled on his 40-acre spread — had an honorable and memorable demise, according to public officials who gathered at Bruno’s Iron and Metal on Golden State Boulevard in Fresno.

With its destruction, the tractor replacement program in California has removed the equivalent of 1 million vehicles or 3,400 tons of nitrogen oxides per year — most of the reduction coming in the San Joaquin Valley. Nitrogen oxides are a key component in summertime ozone.

It’s a voluntary program involving $100 million in government funding to help farmers replace old tractors. The more than 3,200 farmers who have gotten involved in the last four years typically get tractors that run 75% cleaner.

Scott was pleased with his role and the celebration Tuesday.

“I’m impressed you took the time to come out here and see this,” said Scott, whose replacement tractor is a newer, cleaner-running trade-up. “You’re including the small farmer.”

The gathering featured Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, along with leaders from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Among the crowd was Jason Weller, new chief of Natural Resources Conservation Service; Jared Blumenfeld, EPA regional director, and Lynn Terry, deputy executive officer of the state air resources board.

All talked about the continuing air-quality improvement in the Valley, though it still has a long way to go for healthy air. Farm air pollution is among a long list of pollution sources, they noted.

Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the local air district, announced the Valley had gone through the entire summer without exceeding the federal one-hour ozone standard.

“That’s the first time in our history,” he said.

But the star of this show was the 1989 tractor and Scott, who grows black-eyed peas, okra, corn, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli.

“I think it shows we are all working together,” he said. “There are a tremendous amount of small farmers here, and we are part of the solution, too.”

State approves study funding for Tulare County water contamination

There’s big news for seven northern Tulare County communities that have waited years for healthy drinking water.

The California Department of Public Health has agreed to approve funding for a feasibility study on how to fix the problem.

The Bee has written stories about the possible fix since 2011, but technicalities and confusion have delayed the feasibility study.

Well water in the rural communities is tainted by nitrates, a chemical that comes from farm fertilizers, septic tanks, sewage treatment and decomposing vegetation.

Water advocates and leaders in Tulare County believe the problem can be solved with a regional plant to treat Kings River water for the towns of Culter, Orosi, East Orosi, Monson, Seville, Sultana and Yettem. The combined population of the region is 15,000.

Alta Irrigation District in Dinuba already has completed a project to make water available. River water would be banked in the ground during wet years and pumped back out for use on farms, thus making a supply of river water available for the towns.

The agreement for the funding is scheduled before the Tulare County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 8.

The study will evaluate many parts of the project, including the ability of the towns to pay for operation and maintenance of the treatment plant.

The plant construction could cost as much as $20 million, engineers say, and healthy drinking water will still be several years away after the feasibility study.