Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Valley Republicans split over food stamp cuts

San Joaquin Valley House Republicans split, just a little bit, over a controversial bill passed Thursday night that would cut an estimated $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Freshman Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, was one of only 15 House Republicans to vote against the measure, which was unanimously opposed by House Democrats. All other Valley Republicans voted for the nutrition program cuts, which passed on a 217-210 margin.

“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits Program is extremely important to my constituents in the Central Valley. Without this assistance many in my district would be unable to feed their families,” Valadao stated.

Valadao will be targeted by Democrats for the 2014 election, so votes like this one can get special consideration.

The nutrition program funding is usually part of an overall farm bill, but House Republicans have split the two measures. Senate Democrats have already made clear they won’t go along with the level of cuts sought by most House Republicans.


Rim Fire salvage logging measure passed

The House of Representatives on Friday approved a measure designed to ease the salvage logging of timber from the devastating Rim Fire.

By a mostly party line 243-172 vote, the Republican-controlled House approved the amendment authored by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay. The provision, added to a larger forest management bill, is supposed to streamline logging by waiving judicial review of salvage plans for 2013 fires.

“Salvaging the timber will provide for an economic lifeline to communities already devastated by this fire as local mills can be brought to full employment salvaging the timber,” McClintock declared in a statement.

The Rim Fire burned more than 250,000 acres in and around Yosemite National Park, with McClintock estimating that “an estimated one billion board feet of timber” could be salvaged from the area. Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock added sidestepping judicial review will help because “the permitting process is typically fraught with problems, lawsuits, delays and frustrations.”

The underlying forest management bill faces an uncertain future, as House Democrats say it would “dramatically alter the management of our national forests, and undermine the multi-use mission of our public lands.”

Real Estate: Apartment complex gets new community center

(Submitted photo. Apartment owners and Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong at the ribbon cutting for the community center.)

The Pleasant View Apartment complex in central Fresno got a new community center this week, a year after the new owners announced a big renovation project for the affordable housing development.

Community Development Trust, a national real estate investment trust company, and LINC Housing Corporation, a Long Beach-based nonprofit affordable homebuilder, partnered last July to buy the 60-unit complex for a little more than $2.5 million.

The owners announced back then that it would renovate the 43-year-old complex which is home to seniors and low-income families.

The 1,325-square-foot community center was part of the first phase of construction. The building, at 3513 N. Pleasant Ave., will allow residents to gather for on-site activities such as afterschool programs, health and wellness workshops and special events.

The second phase of rehabilitation will start in January. Plans are for full kitchen renovations, roof and window replacements and new exterior paint.

Real Estate: Fresno cheap place to operate distribution warehouse

Fresno ranks high among the top 29 lowest cost places in the western United States and Canada to operate a distribution warehouse, according to a new report released by a New Jersey-based consulting company.

In California, Fresno is the cheapest, the report said.

That distinction isn’t new. Fresno is known for its low operation costs, it’s access to the rail system and the advantage of being able to conduct one-day deliveries, said John Hans, industrial broker at Fortune Associates in Fresno.

But add a few more factors to the equation this year such as the area’s proximity to a new port expansion project in Oakland, an educated workforce at Fresno State and the school’s dedication to helping businesses with green energy and it creates an opportunity for Fresno like never before, said John Boyd, principal at The Boyd Company which wrote the report.

Boyd was in Fresno and Visalia on Tuesday to present the report to corporate planners.

The annual operating cost of a warehouse distribution company in the western U.S. ranges from a high of $20.7 million in Los Angeles to $14 million in Quincy, Wash., a new emerging city for warehouse tenants, the report said.

Fresno falls in the middle where the operating cost is about $18 million.

Boyd recognizes, however, that cost isn’t always the deal maker. The tough state business climate deters some companies from entering California. Then there’s the strict carbon emissions regulations and new competition from other cities.

Despite the challenges, the Fresno industrial market is picking up, brokers say.

“There’s more demand for industrial buildings than we’ve seen in the past, but there’s fewer buildings for sale,” Hans said.

Real Estate: Greene & Green’s Mundorf Home has sold

(Photo by Mark Crosse. Exterior shot of the Mundorff Home).

A Fresno house designed by architects Greene & Greene of the famed Gamble House in Pasadena has sold.

I wrote about the house back in May when the owners, Steve Lewis and Nancy Ellis, were busy getting the unique 3,300-square-foot home ready for the listing pictures to be taken.

The couple moved to Santa Rosa and hoped to find a buyer that would love the nearly century-old home just as much as they did while living there for eight years.

Realtor Eldon Daetweiler tells me the new owners, a young couple, fell in love with it after seeing the house.

“Totally supports my theory that a house speaks to people,” Daetweiler said. “I always tell people they will know when they walk into a house and it may not even be the type of house they thought they were looking for.”

The house sold for the asking price of $349,000.

For a look at the U-shaped house which has a basement, a butler’s pantry, a guesthouse and plenty of shade and fruit trees visit photographer Mark Crosse’s photos in the The Bee’s photo gallery.

Clearing Sequoia’s air 83 years from now

Giant Forest web cam looking at the San Joaquin Valley.

Take a look at the Giant Forest web cam. Most of the time, you can see why the National Parks Conservation Association sees a need to improve hazy conditions in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

It is improving, the group says, but far too slowly. How long will it take to clear the air at this rate? About 83 years, the parks association said last week, quoting statistics from the California Air Resources Board.

The parks association got such calculations for many national parks as part of a campaign for more action.

The group’s sampling of 10 national parks includes Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Sequoia. Yellowstone won’t get natural air quality until 2163. Check out the other parks. You’ll find Sequoia’s 2096 is the earliest cleanup date.

Sequoia’s foothill air monitor at Ash Mountain is among the smoggiest places in the country. Sequoia usually has more bad ozone days each year than Fresno, Bakersfield or Los Angeles.

Ozone is invisible, but it makes the haze more unhealthy. The parks association says  more natural conditions will be better for both people and Sequoia-Kings Canyon.

“The basic idea is that clear air will be good for both the lungs of people and the ecosystem of the national park,” said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program director and counsel for the parks groups.

That means focusing on clean-air improvements on vehicles in California, Kodish said. The cleaner engine rules need to be developed faster, she said.

Study: California ranks 16th for highest average tuition price

California ranks 16th among states with the highest average college tuition costs according to a new study from Affordable Colleges Online.

Students and their families will pay an average of $8,705 each year in in-state tuition and fees to attend one of California’s public schools, the survey showed.

That’s about $5,300 less than average New Hampshire public university tuition ($14,017) — which ranked No. 1 on the list — and about $4,700 more than schools in Florida ($3,980), which was the least expensive state on the ranking.

Vermont ($13,507 on average per year), Pennsylvania ($12,112) and Illinois ($11,992) were also among the most costly states on the list, while Nevada $4,245), Wyoming ($4,278) and Utah ($5,477) joined Florida near the bottom.

Among western states, only Arizona ($9,512) was more spendy than California.

The study from Affordable Colleges Online, a website that aims to help students make cost-saving decisions when they apply to college, looked at four-year, public degree-granting institutions. Each school was evaluated based on tuition prices and the average amount students spend per year — and over four years.

It used information from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Carnegie Foundation to compile the report.

Western states ranking:

1. Arizona, $9,512

2. California, $8,705

3. Oregon, $8,152

4. Washington, $8,010

5. Colorado, $7,341

6. Montana, $6,101

7. Idaho, $5,968

8. New Mexico, $5,508

9. Utah, $5,477

10. Wyoming, $4,278

11. Nevada, $4,245

Real Estate: Home price appreciation slows down

The strong and fast climb in the median price of an existing home in Fresno County and other communities nationwide this summer is starting to slow down.

Fresno’s median home price increased slightly to $184,000 last month from $183,870 in July, according to a monthly housing report released Monday by the California Association of Realtors.

Tulare County home prices followed the same trend increasing to $158,460 in August from $157,140 the month before. But Kings County saw a strong jump in median home price to $184,000 from $173,330.

The only odd ball was Madera County where the median home price fell to $170,000 from $175,710, the report said.

Home sales are also slipping although that’s not unusual in Fresno where there has been a low inventory of houses for sale this year.

Home sales were down 4.5% last month in Fresno. Madera and Tulare saw sales fall by 5% and nearly 11% respectively. In Kings County, home sales increased 26.5%.

The change of pace in home price appreciation and sales is expected as the housing market heads out of the busy months and into fall, said Leslie Appleton-Young, the association’s vice president and chief economist.

“As housing supply loosens up with the seasonal slowdown, annual home price increases are expected to taper as we’ve observed in the last two months,” Appleton-Young said.

Brown signs Patterson bill that speeds vocational nurse licensing

It’s not always easy being a Republican in a state government completely controlled by Democrats — from the state Legislature right up to Gov. Jerry Brown.

But this week, Brown signed a bill by Assembly Member Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, that fast-tracks licenses for vocational nurses by removing government red-tape.

Assembly Member Jim Patterson

Assembly Bill 1028 ensures that vocational nurses can begin working once they have finished school and have entered the Board of Vocational Nursing’s licensing process.

The bill speeds up the process by which they can apply for and receive an interim permit while they complete the board exams. Currently, many of these nurses have been forced to wait up to six months to receive their licenses.

Patterson introduced the legislation after being contacted by Clovis resident Danielle Mendoza, who had become frustrated with lengthy licensing process.

Vagim, Wayte begin challenge of Fresno’s water rate hike

Local anti-tax advocates Doug Vagim and Steve Wayte on Friday delivered paperwork and a $200 check to the Fresno County Clerk, officially starting a process to put the city’s recent water-rate increase to a vote.

Vagim, a former Fresno County supervisor, and Wayte, a Tea Party activist, say they need to collect around 4,500 signatures of registered voters — which is 5% of those who voted for governor in 2010 — though they hope to collect at least 5,000 signatures if not several thousand more.

Doug Vagim

They want to go above the minimum, they say, to be safe, and to show city officials there is a groundswell of support for repealing the increase.

City officials, however, say Vagim, Wayte and others supporting the initiative — which would be placed on next June’s primary ballot — are wasting their time.

Doug Sloan, who is Fresno’s city attorney, reiterated what he said in a recent Bee article: essential public functions undertaken by cities cannot be challenged through the initiative or referendum process.

It looks like a court fight in the making, because Vagim disagrees, and thinks he has the law on his side. Furthermore, Vagim says he has a legal team waiting to defend the initiative.

“We’ll win,” Vagim said Friday outside of Fresno’s City Hall before filing the paperwork, “and then we’ll charge (the city) the legal bill.”

But Sloan and other officials who watched Vagim and Wayte’s Friday news conference say the courts have already weighed in on the matter — and found for cities.

Steve Wayte

Fresno officials also point to the city’s nearly seven-week, legally mandated protest period that was held ahead of the council vote on the rate increases.

If a majority of the nearly 134,000 water customers — including county island residents — had turned in protest letters, the rate hike would have been killed.

Fresno City Clerk Yvonne Spence said her office received 495 such letters.

But Vagim says it was poorly advertised, and the petition had the look of a normal city mailer that was likely thrown away by many residents.

Vagim and Wayte are seeking to challenge a new water-rate structure that was approved by the City Council in August. Diane Smith is a third Fresno resident who signed the petition that was delivered to Spence’s office on Friday.

According to Vagim, the Fresno City Attorney’s Office now has 15 days to respond to the petition, and issue a title and summary of the proposed initiative. That will start a six-month window to gather the signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.

The water-rate increase will help fund a $410 million upgrade to the city’s water system that will replace old pipes, build new recharge basins and sink new wells, as well as build a $227 million surface-water treatment plant in southeast Fresno.