Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

That federal air penalty is really a local DMV fee, money stays here

Valley motorists have been paying most of a $29 million federal dirty-air penalty since 2011. It’s the extra $12 on your annual Department of Motor Vehicle registration fees.

The federal mandate for the penalty would be lifted if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees that the San Joaquin Valley has attained the one-hour ozone standard. Local air leaders this month are approaching EPA with a historic attainment request.

But what has the federal government been doing with the $29 million each year? I asked the EPA.

“Characterizing the DMV fees as a federal penalty is inaccurate, and it’s the air district that has received the $29 million, not the federal government,” a spokeswoman told me this week.

I confess I have written about the air district part of that statement. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has been open about the money for years. It is used in such Valley clean-air programs as diesel replacement.

But almost every time I write about it, someone writes or calls and asks why Valley residents have to send millions of dollars to the federal treasury. That is not happening.

When the “penalty” was enforced, the Valley air district was allowed to collect the fee. A few years ago, the state law gave the district the option to collect these DMV fees — whether or not the district is under a federal mandate.

Local air leaders say if the Valley attains the one-hour ozone standard, they want to eliminate the mandate.

The next question: How would the public feel about continuing the $12 fee to help achieve the much tougher eight-hour ozone standard as well as the tiny particulate standard?

Expect that question and discussion to come up later on.

Real Estate: Valley rental housing and property professionals honored

(Photo provided by the California Apartment Association. The late Paul Chubick of Buckingham Property Management received a Lifetime Achievement award.)

The California Apartment Association of Greater Fresno celebrated and recognized the area’s top rental housing and property professionals during an award ceremony on Saturday.

Nearly 650 members attended the 16th Annual Mark of Distinction Awards at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in downtown Fresno where the group’s Lifetime Achievement Award was given to the late Paul Chubick, owner of Buckingham Property Management in Fresno.

Chubick, died in January. He was a longtime association member and served on the Fresno board of directors. His widow, Barbara, accepted the award on his behalf.

The association, a trade group that represents owners, investors, developers, managers and suppliers of apartment communities, gave out another 19 awards during the event. Award categories included grounds person of the year, maintenance person of the year, leasing consultant and manager of the year.

For a list of award winners, visit the California Apartment Association.

Real Estate: Fresno foreclosure activity up slightly in October

Foreclosure activity in Fresno County and across California inched up in October compared to September, but remains at or below pre-housing crisis levels, according to PropertyRadar’s monthly foreclosure report.

In Fresno, 229 notices of default – the first step in the foreclosure process – were filed last month compared to 202 in September.

The notices of sales, which set the time of an auction, increased slightly to 207 from 204.

About 104 foreclosure sales were cancelled in October, compared to 91 in September, because a homeowner may have had a successful loan modification or short sale, or there was a filing error.

Only 43 properties were sold to a third party or investor, one more than the month before. That’s a nearly 60% decrease from last year at the same time.

Foreclosure Filings
Foreclosure Filings: California > Fresno County

Real Estate: Fresno home building permits up in October

(Bee File Photo 2010.)

Update: The new home building market in Fresno is gaining some steam after taking a fall in September.

Like Visalia, builders in Fresno pulled more single-family building permits in October than they did the month before.

Last month, Fresno issued 84 single-family building permits compared to 66 in September, according to the city’s latest monthly building report. In August, builders pulled 111 permits.

Original Post Nov. 4: Single-family homebuilding may be on its way up in Visalia.

Homebuilders pulled more permits to build new houses in October than the month before, according to a city report released Friday.

Last month, builders pulled 57 permits compared to 26 in September. A year ago, only 17 permits were issued for the construction of new homes.

Fresno building permit numbers for October have not been released yet, but the September report shows 66 new home permits were issued that month. In August, builders pulled 111 permits.

Fresno nearing driest calendar year on record?

How dry is it in Fresno this year? The National Weather Service in Hanford shows the city has 2.32 inches of rainfall since Jan. 1.

It’s possible this could be the driest calendar year on record. I scanned the list dating back to 1878 and found 1917 with 3.91 inches. That’s the lowest one I saw.

The average for November is .64 of an inch. So far, Fresno is still at zero. The average for December is 1.02 inches.

Larry Westerlund may return to Fresno City Hall

Larry Westerlund

Former Fresno City Council Member Larry Westerlund may be in line for the “Adam Smith Chair” at City Hall.

In other words, the largely thankless job of bringing capitalism to a city where for decades the only reliable road to the middle class is a taxpayer-funded job.

The chatter at City Hall is that Mayor Ashley Swearengin wants to hire Westerlund to lead her economic development team. The position has been vacant since Craig Scharton resigned at the end of August to open Peeve’s, his Fulton Mall restaurant.

Anyone who’s been around City Hall recently knows Swearengin is gearing up to push private-sector job-creation during her final three years in office.

I asked Swearengin about the rumors Thursday afternoon. She had just finished telling the City Council about her business-friendly plans.

Swearengin adroitly dodged the question. She said the city is understaffed when it comes to economic development expertise. She said such expertise is pivotal if business is to look kindly on Fresno. She said maybe something will break at year’s end or in January.

I called Westerlund today. He was termed out in January and now works for a local law firm. He sent me an email.

“I understand the mayor has plans to add an additional staff member to be dedicated to economic development,” Westerlund said. “I don’t know whether I will fill that role or not. I do believe it’s the right thing for a city the size of Fresno to have a person dedicated to supporting job creation.”

I have no idea the title of the position in play. Scharton was called the “business development director.” Scott Johnson, the former Fresno State athletic director who came to City Hall during Alan Autry’s second term, was the “economic development director.” Fred Burkhardt, who came on board in Autry’s first term, was the “economic development manager.”

Each of them made more than $100,000 a year.

By any name, the job is a tough one.

Jeff Reid, city manager under former Mayor Jim Patterson, said of the job in 2005: “This role is so multifaceted that no one background can well prepare anyone for the challenges.”

Real Estate: Third quarter housing affordability fall as home prices rise

(Fresno Bee file photo. Sign for house for sale in the Fresno High area.)

The California Association of Realtors has some good news and bad news to report.

The good news is that home prices continue to rise or at least remain stable. But the bad news is that the rise in home price continues to drive home affordability down in Fresno and other central San Joaquin Valley counties.

In Fresno County, 56% of prospective homebuyers could afford a median-priced single-family house compared to 61% during the second quarter of the year, the association said in its third quarter report released last week.

Last year at the same time, affordability was much higher at 69%.

A Fresno buyer would have to earn $37,920 a year to afford a median-priced home at $184,550.

Home affordability levels have also fallen in other Valley counties. About 62% of the buyers in Kings and Madera counties could afford to buy a home compared to 70% and 71% during the second quarter, respectively. In Tulare County, 61% of the buyers could qualify compared to 66% the previous quarter.

Even with the declines, the Valley still remains one of the most affordable areas statewide to buy a home.

Only 15% of the buyers in San Mateo could afford to buy a home and 16% in San Francisco. In the Sacramento area, 50% of the homebuyers could buy while 35% of the buyers in Los Angeles could afford a home.

Wheelchair access is part of $24 million Mariposa Grove facelift

A reader wrote to me about my Sunday story on the rehabilitation of Yosemite National Parks’ Mariposa
Grove, expressing disappointment about the lack of wheelchair access.

“Again, the Yosemite restoration program is NOT for people. For the last decades, the environmentalists have ruined
the pleasure of Yosemite for the public. Now the grove will be RUINED for those who cannot walk. We are disgusted.”

The story was mainly about nature, the removal of paved roads and generally a reduction in the human footprtint around magnificent giant sequoias.

I am sorry I did not find room to simply say that the plan provides “universal accessibility.” For some readers, I missed a key part of the story.

Park leaders will make accommodations, such as parking areas, for people who have mobility issues, according to the plan. Here’s a quote:

“Visitors with vehicles displaying accessible parking placards or NPS service vehicles would drive through the lower Grove area to the Grizzly Giant. Several pullouts would be installed to allow these visitors to stop and view individual sequoias or groups of sequoias such as the Bachelor and Three Graces.

“Accessible parking spaces would be available at the lower Grove area and Grizzly Giant for visitors with accessible
parking placards, and the existing vault toilet would be relocated to the Grizzly Giant parking area. The
shuttle originating at the South Entrance would continue to be available to visitors with limited mobility.”

In other words, the plan attempts to address the needs of people who have range of limited mobility issues,
including wheelchairs. I urge anyone who has further doubts or concerns to read the plan and contact Yosemite.

Real Estate: San Francisco Giants coach headlining Realtors fundraiser

A San Francisco Giants coach will be in Fresno on Saturday to help the Fresno Association of Realtors boogie down and raise money for a newly established foundation that will help students and Realtors expand their education.

Tim Flannery, the Giants’ third-base coach, and the Lunatic Fringe will play folk and bluegrass music at the Fresno County Sportsmen’s Club where the association and its Affiliates Foundation will hold their biggest fundraising event of the year.

Flannery has played music for 30 years when not coaching baseball. He is friends with local Realtors Bob and Colleen Wiginton who were instrumental in getting him to stop in Fresno.

The event will raise money for college scholarships and to help Realtors who are association members apply for different real estate designations.

Real Estate: Schuil and Associates celebrates 30 years

(Submitted photo. Mike, Marc and Rick Schuil of Schuil and Associates Real Estate in Visalia.)

Visalia real estate company, Schuil and Associates, is celebrating 30 years in business this month.

The company, run by three brothers, started in Dinuba in 1983 and over the years opened three other offices in Kingsburg, Reedley and Visalia. Back then, the business handled residential, commercial and agricultural property sales. Each brother — twins Mike and Marc and younger brother Rick — managed an office.

Then in 2007, the brothers decided it was time to consolidate locations. The company built a nearly 4,000-square-foot building on Mineral King Avenue and Akers Street in Visalia six years ago where the brothers and all employees reunited under the same roof.

What’s it like to work with family all these years?

“Obviously family businesses always offer challenges,” Rick Schuil said. “The fact that we consolidated rather than moving farther away (from each other) is a testament that we get along pretty darn well.”

The company made its name specializing in agricultural and dairy sales. It shed the residential portion of the business just before the economic downturn to concentrate on agricultural and commercial property.

“The economic downturn really affected residential sales,” Rick Schuil said. “We were proactive before that happened.”

While the residential market suffered, farmland prospered allowing the Schuils to remain stable in recent years.

“Agricultural sales and values have dramatically increased in the last five years so our timing was very good.”