Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Real Estate: Last weekend to tour the St. Jude Dream Home

(Courtesy of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Rendering of the St. Jude Dream Home built by De Young Properties.)

The St. Jude Dream Home in Clovis will be open for viewing one last time this weekend before it is raffled off for charity.

Built by De Young Properties, the 3,300-square-foot,  four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in the CountryCourt community, at Gettysburg and Armstrong avenues, will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The $100 tickets, for a chance to win the house, are available until all tickets are sold or up to Nov. 10 when the drawing will be held during a live television special on KMPH (Channel 26.1).

This is De Young’s seventh St. Jude Dream Home. The builder has raised more than $5.4 million for the children’s research hospital.

Central Valley Honor Flight: Mission Accomplished

The 69 World War II veterans participating in the inaugural Central Valley Honor Flight attended the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday morning, shortly before they were to return home.

Central Valley Honor Flight participants attend Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns.

For many of the veterans, and the red-jacketed guardians who accompanied them, the visit at 9 a.m. Wednesday was the first time they had seen the clock-like ritual conducted hourly.

“It’s impressive what people can do what they want,” said Dale Brimhall, an 88-year-old Fresno resident. “They are a precision group of boys.”

Brimhall served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and, later, in the U.S. Air Force. He and the other Honor Flight participants pulled up in their buses about 10 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony. About three dozen watched from wheelchairs; others stood.

“It was great to watch them,” said Jim Kitchen, a 90-year-old Fresno resident and Coast Guard veteran.

Central Valley Honor Flight participants observe the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

On Wednesday, the Honor Flight participants visited the World War II Memorial. Most everyone thought it hit the mark, though retired architect and Army veteran Francis Capone, an 87-year-old Porterville resident, allowed that the memorial should have conveyed more about the destructiveness of war.

“It was very attractive, respectful,” said Robert ‘Jack’ Tolladay, a Navy veteran and 86-year-old Fresno resident.

After the Changing of the Guard, the men boarded buses and headed for the airport, in preparation for a return to Fresno Yosemite International Airport on Thursday afternoon.

Real Estate: Music group buys Bob Wills House from Granville

(Photo courtesy of Granville Homes. The Wills House ready for transport.)

The Central California Music Association has bought the Bob Wills house for $1 from Fresno homebuilder Granville Homes.

The group, a new nonprofit led by president Lance Tullis, plans to have the one-story wood-frame house moved from Clinton and Armstrong avenues in Fresno to a 20-acre property less than 15 miles away in Prather. The move is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 6.

“Bob Wills was a major contributor to western country music,” Tullis said. “We’d like to open (the house) up as a museum of country music in the foothills.”

Granville wanted to raze the house, which is falling apart and has problems such as bee infestation, asbestos and lead paint, to build a housing project in its place.

But the city’s Historic Preservation Commission intervened to preserve the home where Wills — the King of western swing — and his family lived in the 1940s.

Granville in turn offered to sell the house if the buyer moves it at no expense to the developer.

Tullis answered the call by forming the association and then starting a campaign called “Raise the Roof” to raise the $75,000 needed to move the house and restore it.

The first fundraiser was on Saturday, and attended by Wills’ daughter, Carolyn, Tullis said. For more information or to help, visit

Valadao is third House Republican to support immigration bill

Recently, Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock became the first Republican to formally endorse a comprehensive immigration bill introduced by House Democrats.

In the meantime, Denham’s Republican colleague, David Valadao, was doing just about everything he could to show support for immigration reform — short of signing on as a co-sponsor of the bill.

Rep. David Valadao

On Wednesday, Valadao changed that when he joined Denham and Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as the third Republican to sign on as a bill co-sponsor.

The 1,137-page House bill includes a pathway to legal status and, potentially, eventual U.S. citizenship for immigrants currently in this country without authorization. It also includes myriad other provisions, including border security measures, an agricultural worker program, employment verification and more.

Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform say at least 28 Republicans have publicly expressed support for a path to citizenship — but only Denham, Ros-Lehtinen and now Valadao have put their name on a bill that would make that a reality.

In a Wednesday news release, Valadao said he has been “working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find common ground on the issue of immigration reform.”

By supporting the legislation, he said, “I am strengthening my message: addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait. I am serious about making real progress and will remain committed to doing whatever it takes to repair our broken immigration system.”

Merced mayor caught in political flap

The Merced Sun-Star reports on a tough spot Merced Mayor Stan Thurston found himself in this week:

Stan Thurston

Thurston cut ties with a member of his re-election committee Monday after condemning an email message the campaign volunteer sent that attempts to use opponent Noah Lor’s ethnicity to drum up voter support for the incumbent.

The email, obtained by the Sun-Star, was written by Denis Kenshalo, a volunteer for Thurston’s committee. It was dated Oct. 21 and sent by Kenshalo to at least 10 people and was forwarded to dozens more. Kenshalo has admitted writing and sending the email. He issued an apology on Monday.

In the message, Kenshalo asks his “good friends” to vote for Thurston, saying that he’s done a “great job” for Merced. As the email continues, however, Kenshalo states that Thurston needs “all the support he can get” because Lor will have “all of his own kind” voting for him.

Lor, who is Hmong, was born in the southeast Asian country of Laos and came to the United States at age 15. Kenshalo incorrectly refers to him as being from Vietnam.

Read more here.

Valadao still on immigration reform fence

David Valadao

Rep. David Valadao of Hanford said Tuesday he hasn’t ruled out a break with his Republican party’s leadership over comprehensive immigration reform.

“A bunch of us are getting nervous,” said during a Tuesday telephone news conference, The Bakersfield Californian‘s Steven Mayer reported, echoing comments he and fellow Valley Republican Jeff Denham made to Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle for a story published in Sunday’s Bee.

While Valadao said he favors a path to citizenship, he remained cautious Tuesday about whether to take the kind of risk Denham has taken and throw his support behind the bipartisan effort.

“I haven’t ruled that out yet,” Valadao said.

Several high-profile supporters of immigration reform joined Valadao at the news conference, including Fresno Chamber of Commerce CEO Al Smith, California Chamber President Marti Fisher, Nisei Farmers League President Manuel Cunha and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, who shared the stage for a round-table discussion (more coverage of Tuesday’s event, including video, here).

Amanda Renteria, who announced last month that she’ll run against Valadao next year, said in a statement Tuesday that Valadao is one of many in Washington who talk about problems rather than do something about them.

“Valadao could have taken part in bipartisan talks that have been going on all year, but he hasn’t,” she said. “He could have joined other Republicans and worked on a popular Democratic proposal, but he won’t do that, either. Congressman Valadao just isn’t getting the job done, and that’s unacceptable for the valley.”

Real Estate: M Street Arts Complex opening in downtown Fresno

A new artist venue is getting ready to open its doors in downtown Fresno.

The M Street Arts Complex, a collaboration between local artists and Fresno homebuider Darius Assemi of Granville, will have its grand opening on Saturday in conjunction with its first exhibition.

The complex was built in an old warehouse space on the corner of M and Tuolumne streets. Granville bought the property a few years ago with plans to convert it into commercial, retail and office space.

But the plans changed and an idea to create gallery space and artists studios with security and private parking took its place. The 10,000-square-foot complex has a large gallery, five galleries with attached private studios, three warehouse style spaces with roll up doors, and seven other studios. The curators are artists Christina Rea and Julia Woli Scott.

The grand opening will include a ribbon cutting at 3 p.m. followed by the unveiling of two public art installations. The exhibition, “Spectacle, A Closer Look at Fresno,” highlights the work of 13 artists. The event is free to the public.

San Joaquin River water releases will increase

This week, San Joaquin River water started pouring out of Friant Dam a little faster than it has been. It’s part of the experimental flows in the river restoration project.

For those who don’t follow the river closely, I’ll explain a little. Water releases from Friant have been going on for decades to supply land owners immediately downstream of the dam. It’s usually just a trickle.

This week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is ramping up to 1,050 cubic feet per second — about 2,000 acre-feet of water per day. Later this week, the release will be dropped to 700 cfs through Nov. 6. Then it will dip to 350 until the end of February.

The restoration project, which began four years ago, is supposed to reconnect the dried parts of the river with the Pacific Ocean. One goals in the project is to bring back runs of salmon that died off decades ago.

The releases over the next several days mimic nature by attracting migrating chinook salmon to move upstream for spawning, a bureau spokeswoman said. Biologists and other wildlife officials are studying the river’s reaction to the reintroduction of fish and flows.

Biologists have tagged and planted salmon in the river to follow their progress.

A big concern is seepage downstream beyond the Mendota Pool on the Valley’s west side. The flows have gotten into farm fields and caused damage, growers say.

Federal officials have installed underground water monitoring systems to detect when groundwater is rising in reaction to the extra flows.

Also local land owners have been alerted to call or email federal officials if they see seepage. Bureau leaders say they are prepared to reduce the flow if problems appear.

Just when you thought it was safe to inhale

The October whiplash is in full swing. The San Joaquin Valley’s dirty air suddenly made a comeback in the last 10 days, then just as quickly vanished in a storm Monday.

Just a few weeks ago, I had written that the Valley has a good shot at the lowest-ever recorded number of federal eight-hour ozone exceedances. With a rash of exceedances — eight since Oct. 19 — it’s going to be close.

The total now is 91. The record is 93.

South Coast Air Basin in Southern California has 94 exceedances right now. The region has had only one ozone November exceedance in the last five years.

It’s possible the Valley could wind up with more than South Coast this year. That would mean the Valley would have the most in the nation.

There’s another issue in the Valley. A reader points out high hourly readings for tiny particle pollution, wondering why the residential wood-burning ban doesn’t start in October. Right now, the rule kicks in Nov. 1 each year.

As I understand it, the tiny particle threshold — known as the standard for PM-2.5 — is an average over 24 hours. So hourly readings, by themselves, are not considered exceedances.

But the reader pointed out some pretty high hourly readings, saying October is known for these problems. It might be worth taking a longer look at this point.

Remember, wood-burning restrictions begin Friday. Check with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s web site to see if wood-burning is allowed in your county before you light up.

Fresno supes continue stumbling in effort to make First 5 opposition official

Fresno County Supervisors Judy Case and Debbie Poochigian again this week made it clear that they are opposed to First 5 Fresno County’s plan to build a new $15 million downtown headquarters.

The issue was so pressing, they said, that an emergency addition was needed to Tuesday’s board agenda so they could discuss the matter further and make absolutely certain that County Administrative Officer John Navarrette sent a letter to the agency expressive the concerns of the board’s majority.

Supervisor Judy Case

But the request required four votes on the five-member board — and it only got three. Besides Case and Poochigian, Supervisor Phil Larson also backed adding the item to the agenda.

Supervisors Andreas Borgeas and Henry R. Perea, however, didn’t feel Case and Poochgian made their case for the last-second addition.

“What’s the emergency?” Perea repeatedly asked.

County Counsel Kevin Briggs backed that position, saying an emergency was like a fire or a flood. This, he said, was more like an urgency than an emergency.

But Case continued to press the matter, saying it was, indeed, an emergency because First 5 commissioners were moving ahead with the project, even after the supervisors expressed its dissatisfaction with the building.

Poochigian and Case have written to the commission with their concerns, but they both wanted an official letter on behalf of the Board of Supervisors.

The problem is that during an exhaustive discussion of the matter at its Oct. 8 meeting, Case offered up multiple motions opposing the First 5 building, but none of them specifically directed staff to draft and send a letter.

Supervisor Debbie Poochigian

Navarrette pointed out as much on Tuesday.

In fact, its unclear what the board approved because two similar but different motions were offered up ahead of the vote, which passed 3-1, with Perea in opposition and Borgeas abstaining.

The First 5 project will be built on agency-owned property along Tulare Street, between N and O streets, adjacent to the Fresno County Library. It is currently a parking lot. The building will include a child care center, classroom space and a community conference room in addition to First 5’s administrative offices.

Case, Poochigian and Larson think the building isn’t a wise use of funds for the agency.

The issue certainly isn’t over. The matter is already an official agenda item for the board’s Tuesday meeting, and the supervisors are likely to resume their criticism of the project — and, this time, maybe officially direct Navarrette to draft a letter saying as much to the agency.