Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Real Estate: First-time homebuyer workshop in Visalia

Community Services Employment Training will hold a free First-time Homebuyer workshop in Visalia on Nov. 2.

The daylong event will provide buyers with information about the homeownership process and downpayment assistance.

Low-income buyers who are interested in purchasing a home within the city should also attend to learn if they qualify for the city’s gap financing program, or second mortgage, which can be used as part of a downpayment on a home.

The workshop will be held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the CSET office, 312 N.W. 3rd Ave. To reserve a seat or for more information, call (559) 741-4641.

Appointed Fresno Co. clerk Orth says she’ll seek election to post

Brandi Orth has been around elected officials for a long time. Now, she’s going to try and become one herself.

Orth, 57, announced Wednesday that she will seek the post next year of Fresno County Clerk, a job best known for voter registration and overseeing county elections, but one that comes with other tasks as well, including conducting civil marriage ceremonies.

Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth

And, yes, it’s true: Orth already holds the job.

But she was appointed — and not elected — by a unanimous vote of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in January 2012. Her selection came a week after former Clerk Victor Salazar unexpectedly resigned.

At the time, Orth was a policy analyst who worked for the county administrative officer — a position that worked closely with the five elected supervisors. Before that, Orth worked for a decade in the clerk’s office.

“I realized all the work experience and career path had prepared me for this job,” she said Wednesday at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in downtown Fresno after being introduced by Supervisor Phil Larson.

So this will be Orth’s first run for elected office.

Still, she had to hit the ground running after her appointment, as 2012 was a presidential election year. This year — normally a quiet off year in the election cycle — has proved to be equally busy, with three unscheduled elections.

The big question in whether Orth will get face any challengers for the post, which currently pays $121,442 annually.

Like Orth, Salazar was appointed to the post to replace Susan Anderson, who left the office after winning a seat on the county Board of Supervisors.

That was in January 2001.

The next year, Salazar had an opponent — and beat him. But in 2006 and 2010 re-election bids, Salazar was unopposed.

Real Estate: Lennar Homes will unveil new Next Gen floor plans in NW Fresno

(Submitted photo. Lennar’s Omnilliant Next Gen floor plan.)

Lennar Homes plans to unveil two new Next Generation home floor plans during the grand opening of its latest development in northwest Fresno this weekend.

The Next Gen home offers multi-generational families a private suite that includes a bedroom, kitchenette and full bathroom. The suite has a separate front entrance and one into the main house.

It was first introduced to the Fresno market in October 2011 to fit the changing demographics of buyers and has quickly become a best selling product for the national builder.

There are now five Next Gen floor plans. The two newest models include the 2,600-square-foot Omnilliant, a single-story, four bedroom, three bathroom, three-car garage home. The second is the Revelation, the first model to have a two-bedroom suite in a 3,404-square-foot, two-story home with three to four bedrooms, three ½ bathrooms and a three-car garage.

“There are so many uses for this concept,” said Susan Wilke, vice president of sales and marketing. “Grandma can have her own space. Or maybe it’s your teenagers abode when he starts college or returns from college.”

The plans are available at Elderberry on the Bluffs which celebrates its grand opening from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Real Estate: Fresno County home prices inch up in September

The pace of Fresno County’s home price appreciation is slowing down, but the median home price of an existing single-family home still inched up higher in September compared to the month before, a monthly report said.

The median home price of a home in Fresno was $185,830 last month compared to $184,000 in August, the California Association of Realtors monthly housing report said.

In September 2012, the median home price was $159,130.

Madera and Tulare counties followed a similar trend with home prices increasing nearly 12% and 3.2% month-over-month respectively. Kings County, however, saw an 8.4% fall in home prices.

Controller labels cities, districts as late filers, but some deny it

John Chiang

State Controller John Chiang sent out a list this week of cities and special districts that he said are tardy in filing required financial reports with the state.

Several are from the central San Joaquin Valley.

“Lindsey” — Lindsay is the correct spelling — didn’t file, nor did Firebaugh, according to the list.

Lindsay finance director Tamara Laken had the class to take responsibility for failing to file the 2010-11 Cities Transactions Report, also known as an audit.

“It is an oversight on my part,” she said.

Laken has a pretty good excuse in that her predecessor was on medical leave for months, and the previous city manager suddenly resigned, leaving staff to pick up the pieces.

As for the misspelled “Lindsey,” Laken said “however you spell it” she still didn’t file the audit, but will do so early next week.

Attempts to reach Firebaugh were unsuccessful.

Also on the list is the obscure Friant Power Authority, a group of irrigation districts that has hydro generators at Friant Dam. General Manager Bill Carlisle said they file their reports every year, but the state just can’t get it straight that the authority moved from Tulare County to Kern 13 years ago, yet keeps dinging it as a Tulare County agency that didn’t file.

“We get this every year,” he said.

Others on the list:  Coalinga-Huron Mosquito Abatement District.  Tulare District Healthcare System, Deer Creek Storm Water District, Del Rey Community Services District, Excelsior-Kings River Resource Conservation District, Goshen CSD, Lindsay-Strathmore Cemetery District, Lindsay-Strathmore Memorial District, Porterville Memorial District and Patterson Tract CSD and Atwell Island Water District.

Click here to read more from The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert about Chiang’s list, including a link to it.

Vidak rails against high-speed train project

State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford.

State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, is taking his anti-high-speed rail show on the road, launchng what he calls his “Whistle-Stop-the-High-Speed Rail” tour.

In a statement Friday, Vidak cited a recent visit to PFFJ LLC, a large hog farm operated by a subsidiary of Hormel Foods in Tulare County southeast of Corcoran. Vidak said the 420-acre farm supplies about 150,000 pigs a year to a Farmer John processing plant in Los Angeles, and includes a feed mill that produces hog and chicken feed.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has yet to finalize a route for its Fresno-Bakersfield section that would also cross Kings and Tulare counties, but Vidak’s statement said the rail route “runs right through the farm” and would displace not only the farm, but the feed mill.

“The result of wiping out this business is 43 full-time, year-round employees will lose their jobs and benefits,” Vidak’s statement said.

(View PFFJ hog farm and feed plant in a larger map)

Vidak said he plans to visit other local businesses “being run over by the HSR Authority.”

“We’ve got sky-high unemployment in our Central Valley,” he added. “Wiping out jobs to build a train to nowhere just defies common sense.”

It’s a sentiment that’s going to be popular in much of Vidak’s state senate district, where discontent and distrust of the rail authority run high, particularly in his own backyard in Kings County and the cities of Hanford and Corcoran.

Under the law, the rail authority is obligated to compensate businesses that are displaced by the project, including paying for relocating. But the agency has said it cannot begin negotiating with businesses to acquire property, or start eminent domain proceedings, until a final environmental impact report is certified and an actual route determined — neither of which has happened for the Fresno-Bakersfield section of the project.

Last year, we were talking about snow in the Sierra

In the midst of this balmy, October weather, I sneaked a look at the weather a year ago. I saw an archived item about a local storm report — talking about snow in the Sierra Nevada. There were reports of heavy snow in the mountains of Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties.

Earlier in the month last year, there was an item about record heat. It was a good reminder of how quickly things can change in October.

No one has complained to me about temperatures in the 80s during the day and 50s at night. Air quality has been pretty good, too.

But if the nice weather continues into November, people will begin to get nervous about a third consecutive dry winter in Central California.

Fresno fracking opponents join worldwide protest

Fresno fracking opponents demonstrated last weekend as part of “Global Frackdown2,” a worldwide effort to oppose injecting chemical-laden water into the ground to open up oil-bearing rocks.

The opposition is stirred by fears of drinking water contamination and overburdening existing water supply.

The demonstration was led by Fresnans Against Fracking. The group, like many other opposition organizations, wants to see a moratorium on fracking — a shorthand name for hydraulic fracturing.

The local group is asking for the Fresno City Council and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance to enforce a moratorium.

In the San Joaquin Valley, this is no small issue.

Along the western edge of the Valley, there are deep shale rock formations that hold an estimated 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

That is an attractive prospect to local leaders. Many thousands of jobs could be created, and there would be a tax bonanza.

Many public officials are courting the idea, but environmentalists have been hammering it. They say the practice needs to be thoroughly studied first.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 4, the first fracking law in California. It requires oil companies to obtain permits for fracking as well as acidizing, the use of hydrofluoric acid and other chemicals to dissolve shale rock.

It also requires notification of neighbors, public disclosure of the chemicals used, as well as groundwater and air quality monitoring and an independent scientific study.

Neither side of the debate likes the law. The oil industry opposed the bill, saying it goes to far in regulating their work. Environmentalists generally opposed it as well, saying it is not nearly protective enough.

In Fresno, Gary Lasky, president of Fresnans Against Fracking, says there is not enough known yet about the impacts to the water and air. He said the groundwater and air should be protected before fracking is allowed.

GOP still recovering from Prop. 187 fallout

Christopher Cadelago of The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau files this report:

Nearly two decades after its controversial passage, Gov. Pete Wilson’s Proposition 187 continues to haunt the Republican Party in California and across the U.S.

A new report from Latino Decisions, a firm that analyzes demographics and voting trends, argues California could have remained a presidential battleground state — with Democrats and Republicans vying for more congressional and legislative seats here — were it not for Proposition 187 and later measures that mobilized Latino voters.

Proposition 187, most of which has been invalidated, would have denied various public services to undocumented immigrants. Latino partisanship has grown to more than 70% Democratic since the group first comprised more than 10% of the state electorate in 1996.

The massive shifts could have broad impacts on the nation, with Latinos nationally poised to swing 24 GOP-held congressional seats in 2014 and 2016 in states such as Nevada, Florida, Colorado and North Carolina, said Gary M. Segura, a politics professor at Stanford University who worked on the study.

Read more here

Real Estate: Investors make money flipping homes in Fresno

Real estate investors flipped more homes in the Fresno metropolitan area in the third quarter of this year compared to last year and made a sizable profit, according to a report released Thursday.

Investors bought, renovated and sold 182 homes in Fresno during the third quarter, a 47% increase from 124 properties at the same time last year, the quarterly home flipping report said.

RealtyTrac, an online housing data company, compiled the report showing a 13% drop nationally in home flipping, but an increase in the average gross profit of each home sold.

In Fresno, the average purchase price of a house was $141,908. Investors then renovated and sold the home for an average of $192,585 — a profit of $52,704, or 36%. That’s quite a jump from last year when investors made a profit of $29,977.

Nationally, home flips were down 13%. Investors made an average profit of $54,927 off each home — a 12% increase from last year.

As the inventory of cheap homes falls, investors are being driven to more high-end homes, which sell for $750,000 or more, allowing them to make a bigger profit, RealtyTrac said.

“Increasing home prices over the past 18 months combined with decreasing foreclosures have created a market less favorable to the high quantity of middle- to low-end bread-and-butter flips,” said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac’s vice president.

“But the sharp rise in high-end flipping indicates there is still good money to be made for flippers willing and able to take on the additional risk of buying and rehabbing more expensive homes.”