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Tulare Street in downtown is nice — if you walk

The Fresno City Council on Thursday approved a wish-list for transportation projects. The feds will decide which projects get the OK. Nothing is guaranteed.

One of the wishes caught my attention: Traffic lights on Tulare Street at N Street.

This intersection has the backside of Fresno Unified School District headquarters on the northwest corner, the backside of the county library’s main branch on the northeast corner, offices on the southeast corner and the Maubridge Building (once home to the Redevelopment Agency) on the southwest corner.

I walk by this corner all the time on my trips to and from City Hall.

Let’s say you live in west Fresno and you want to drive on Tulare Street to the donut shop near Divisadero. And let’s say the Tulare/N intersection gets stop lights.

Your journey could look like this:

1.) Red light at Tulare/E Street. Wait.

2.) Red light at Tulare/F Street. Wait.

3.) Red light at Tulare/G Street. Wait.

4.) 125-car freight train passes on Union Pacific tracks. Wait.

5.) Red light at Tulare/H Street. Wait.

6.) Crowd crosses at Fulton Mall. Wait.

7.) Red light at Tulare/Van Ness Avenue. Wait.

8.) No lights at Tulare/L Street. Barrel through.

9.) Red light at Tulare/M Street. Wait.

10.) Red light at Tulare/N Street. Wait.

11.) Red light at Tulare/O Street. Wait.

12.) Red light at Tulare/P Street. Wait.

13.) 125-car freight train passes on Burlington Northern-Santa Fe tracks. Wait.

14.) Red light at Tulare/R Street. Wait.

You’ve gone about a mile. You’ve stopped 13 times. You’ve lost your appetite.

A motorist faces the same dilemma heading the other direction.

I chatted with Public Works Assistant Director Scott Mozier after the council vote. He said the Tulare/N intersection gets heavy foot traffic. Stop lights are a good idea, he said.

Mozier said the city has already sought funding for stop lights at Tulare/L, but without success. He said the city still wants stop lights there.

Tulare/N and Tulare/L would make it 14 out of 14.

Mozier said traffic-signal synchronization will keep cars moving along nicely.

I’d like to have a dime for every time I’ve seen westbound cars on Tulare, trying to turn north on Van Ness on a green light, get stacked up six or eight-deep because pedestrians crossing Van Ness just shuffle along at about one-mile-an-hour.

It doesn’t happen quite as often, but westbound cars on Tulare also get stacked up at M as slow-poke cars try to get into that funky parking lot on the south side of the county Hall of Records.

People wonder why I prefer to walk in downtown Fresno. Tulare Street between E and R streets is why.

The Cosmo might be headed to Selland parking lot

Gary Lanfranco, left, and his son Joe in front of the Cosmopolitan in 2006.

The Cosmopolitan Tavern & Italian Grill, one of downtown’s most popular restaurants, may be moving — to the Selland Arena parking lot, of all places.

Third-generation owner Gary Lanfranco on Tuesday said he and top City Hall officials have had productive talks on finding a new home for the Cosmopolitan. But, he added, nothing is signed.

The high-speed rail alignment will force the restaurant to move from its current location on the southwest corner of Fresno and G streets in Chinatown.

“I won’t leave downtown,” Lanfranco said. “This is my core.”

Lanfranco gave no details about his talks with Mayor Ashley Swearengin and City Manager Bruce Rudd. He said the mayor and Rudd have been very helpful.

I wasn’t able to get a comment from anyone at City Hall.

A historic photo of the Cosmopolitan from 1970 is displayed on the wall of the tavern.

Lanfranco said his family has done business at Fresno and G since the early 20th century. He said business is good and he wants to keep the place open.

“But I’m in a predicament,” Lanfranco said.

That predicament is the bullet train, which, should the system get built, would displace a lot of Fresno businesses. Lanfranco needs a new spot with good visibility and plenty of on-site parking.

The marriage of the Selland Arena parking lot and The Cosmo (as it’s often called) raises all sorts of intriguing questions and thoughts.

How much of the parking lot is needed? Would the Cosmo pay rent? Is City Hall thinking about incentives?

The Convention Center could certainly use some new action. So, too, could Swearengin’s downtown revitalization plans. The opening of Fulton Mall to cars might generate more business for The Cosmo.

Investors in the Fresno Falcons semi-pro ice hockey team and the Fresno Grizzlies Triple A baseball team once hoped to build something called The Legacy Downtown on the Selland Arena parking. The project was to have loft apartments, commercial space and an indoor ice rink.

That was 2007. Nothing got built.

Let’s hope for The Cosmo’s sake that Selland’s parking lot isn’t jinxed.

High-speed rail route change unlikely to sway Valadao

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford

UPDATE (Monday, Nov. 18, 4 p.m.):
Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, was traveling Friday and unavailable to comment for the original blog post, according to his staff. Late Friday, his staff provided this statement in response to The Bee’s query about whether Valadao thought his opposition to high-speed rail may have swayed the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s preliminary selection of a Fresno-Bakersfield route that does not go through property owned by the Valadao family dairy business:

“Congressman Valadao absolutely does not believe his objections influenced the agency’s recent vote. The High-Speed Rail Authority has never concerned themselves with Congressman Valadao or his constituents, why would they begin to now? Their refusal to respect the Central Valley has only added to the widespread opposition to this project.”

ORIGINAL POST (Friday, Nov. 15)

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s vote last week to identify a “preferred alignment” for its Fresno-Bakersfield section is unlikely to appease Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, an ardent opponent of the agency’s bullet-train plans through his stomping ground in Kings County.

In April, the authority’s staff was recommending a route that would bypass Hanford on the city’s west side — and which would run directly past three properties owned by Valadao Dairy, the congressman’s family farming business. Those parcels amount to about 509 acres and have a combined assessed value of more than $1.8 million, according to a database on the Kings County Assessor’s Office website.

But the latest route choice, which will be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for evaluation, bypasses Hanford on the east. That may still be too close for comfort for Valadao, whose family, parents or uncle own a dozen properties west of Highway 43 between Idaho and Lansing avenues south Hanford — and within a mile of the would-be route for the high-speed tracks.

Valadao was traveling from Washington, D.C. to his district Friday and unavailable to comment on the rail authority’s route vote, his staff said.

Cows at the Valadao Dairy farm south of Hanford pay little attention to freight railroad tracks that run behind the fence in the background.

“However, Congressman Valadao has been both consistent and clear when discussing his opposition to high-speed rail since entering public life, regardless of the proposed track location,” said Anna Vetter, his communications director. “One of Congressman Valadao’s original criticisms of the High-Speed Rail Authority was their refusal to truly identify a route. This has created confusion for hundreds, if not thousands, of families and businesses in the potential wake of this project.”

Valadao came under scrutiny this summer after he offered an amendment to a budget bill that, if it becomes law, could stall or permanently derail construction of the high-speed rail project. Valadao, a member of the potent House Appropriations Committee, proposed the amendment and argued for its adoption in the committee apparently without informing his colleagues that his family holdings included property along or near the rail routes. The issue raised questions about whether or not Valadao faced a conflict of interest because of the potential effects of the rail routes on property values — often cited by project foes as one factor for their opposition.

Valadao’s amendment was approved by the committee. But the ultimate fate of Valadao’s efforts remains in limbo because of the budget stalemate between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, which is in the hands of Democrats.

Real Estate: State program changes rules to help more underwater homeowners

The state-run Keep Your Home California program is making some changes that will hopefully allow more underwater homeowners in Fresno and other communities qualify for a principal mortgage reduction.

Homeowners no longer have to show a hardship in addition to being underwater on their mortgage to apply for the program. Now, homeowners just have to show that they owe more than 40% of the value of their home.

“Although the housing market has improved dramatically over the last few months, there are still areas of the state where home prices are not rebounding as quickly, and many homeowners in those areas have exhausted all of their resources just trying to hold on until that recovery reaches them,” said Claudia Cappio, executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency which oversees Keep Your Home California.

The $2 billion program was created in February 2011 to help low- and moderate-income homeowners who suffered a financial hardship such as a job loss, cut in pay, extraordinary medical bills or a divorce.

In addition to principal reduction help, Keep Your Home California also has an unemployment assistance program, a mortgage reinstatement assistance program and a transition assistance program.

For more information, visit Keep Your Home California or call (888) 954-5337.

This will be my last blog post on this site. Follow me to The Fresno Bee website,, for future real estate and business news. See you there!


Perez announces she won’t seek Senate rematch vs. Vidak

Leticia Perez, the Bakersfield Democrat who unsuccessfully sought the 16th state Senate race earlier this year to Hanford Republican Andy Vidak, said Friday she will not seek a rematch next year.

The seat came open when Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio unexpectedly resigned in February. The election this year was only to fill the remainder of Rubio’s 16th District term.

Leticia Perez

Rubio’s normal term was up next year, so Vidak will have to stand for reelection — this time in the newly created 14th state Senate District.

Several pundits thought Perez — a Kern County supervisor — would run again, but in a release she said next year the board “has the opportunity of ushering in an unprecedented era of economic growth and stability for families in Kern County and throughout California.”

Because of that, the release said, “are of such magnitude that I must focus all of my attention, in collaboration with my colleagues, on the processes that will revitalize our local and state economies. My focus must always be to insure that future generations have the opportunities that have been afforded to me and my family. For these reasons, I cannot divide my time and focus on such pressing local matters with a Senate race in 2014.”

Perez and Vidak finished one-two in the five-person May primary election, but neither finished with more than 50% of the vote, so a July runoff ensued.

The primary election surprised many political watchers, because Vidak finished with 49.8% of the vote — just missing the 50% threshold — to Perez’s 43.9% in a district that is has a majority of both Democrats and Hispanics.
Vidak followed that up in July with another win, 51.9% of the vote to Perez’s 48.1%.

With Perez now out, the focus will be on who steps up to challenge Vidak in a district Democrats feel they can win. Earlier this week, Fresno Unified School District board member Luis Chavez, a Democrat, announced plans to run for the seat.

Castro digs in on provost search, wrestling

I got a chance to sit down for breakfast at a local Mexican diner with Fresno State President Joseph Castro this week to talk about his first 100 days on the job and some of the initiatives he’s pushing this year.

Over a cup of coffee and his favorite breakfast — eggs and napales, just like what his grandma used to make — he shared some of his goals including hiring a new provost next spring and adding 800 student seats next fall.

Check out Sunday’s edition for more details about increasing enrollment. But for now, here are some tidbits from our conversation that didn’t make it into print:

  • On the provost search: “I’m looking for someone who has strong academic experiences, who can work well with faculty, who understands that lifestyle, has done research themselves, who has participated in education and is someone who has been a department chair, or a dean or had leadership on the administrative side as well.”
  • On bringing back wrestling: “I’ve received a lot of emails, a few phone calls, a lot of Twitter messages … people around the nation saying it’s great Fresno State is thinking about this. I love the enthusiasm, that’s great … my hope is they will join me in supporting it. Fresno State will need to invest in this area because when you add a sport for one gender you’ll need to add a sport or two for women and that’s a great thing for everybody.”
  • On faculty salaries: “I think we have a ways to go in that area and my hope is over time that increases in future years … One of the things I’m trying to do is invest in them in different ways beyond salary increases. Invest in their professional development, whether that means supporting them to travel to present their work or go to a conference and learn more about their field, or for faculty who might eventually want to be department chairs or deans, (go to) leadership development programs.”

State resources leader told people in small towns need help during drought

When John Laird, secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency, comes to Fresno these days, people want to talk with him about water.  Specifically, the lack of it.

Community Food Bank provided food for Mendota in 2009.

He met this week with the Latino Water Coalition to chat about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan — the one with the twin tunnels — the final draft of which will hit the streets Dec. 13.

The plan looks decades ahead to cure California’s water and ecosystem problems. It involves billions of dollars and construction of two tunnels to avoid pumping water directly from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

But the Latino Water Coalition seemed just as interested in the short term, meaning next year. What if there is a dry winter? People in small west San Joaquin Valley towns could suffer as they did in a dry 2009, members said.

In west-side cities with high unemployment, food lines are not unusual. But the lines were much longer in 2009. The coalition said nobody in state government prepared for the problem.

Said Gary Serrato, general manager of the Fresno Irrigation District, “We should be preparing now to help Mendota and Firebaugh next year in case we have a dry winter.”

Laird said he would take the message back to Sacramento. He said both long- and short-term issues need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, farmers, water districts, cities and industries are worried in Central California. Not a drop of November rain has hit the rain gauge in Fresno yet.

“We will wind up idling close to 50% of our land next year if it continues to be dry,” said west-side farmer Joel Del Bosque.

Real Estate: Fresno’s Big Realty office grows, relocates

(Mark Chu, broker, Big Realty in Fresno.)

The Big Realty office in Fresno is growing and its business model is changing as the real estate market recovers.

The company, which opened its Fresno real estate office on West Shaw Avenue in 2009, specialized in foreclosure properties and helping struggling minority homeowners make decisions about their homes.

“Now our focus has changed into growing as a company and helping agents build their business,” said Mark Chu, broker. The company also wants to help educate today’s buyers, he said.

Big Realty, which has 23 agents, moved into a new 5,000-square-foot office at 1273 E. Shaw Ave., near Fashion Fair Mall, early last month. A grand opening will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. today to tour the office and meet with real estate experts including those from the mortgage and insurance industries.

The company plans to add more agents in the future. The new office gives Big Realty an additional 3,000 square feet of space to conduct training classes for agents and to hold homeownership classes for first-time buyers or veterans.

A first-time homebuyer education class will be held on Dec. 7. For more information, call (559) 389-7777.