Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

McCarthy returning to Fresno for $1,000 per person fundraiser

A little more than a month ago, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy quietly came to Fresno, where he briefed prominent area business and agriculture leaders on Washington, D.C.’s political climate.

Now, the Bakersfield Republican is coming back — but this time with hat in hand.

Kevin McCarthy

He will attend an April 3 “reception and buffet supper” fundraiser for his congressional campaign at the north Fresno home of businessman Bob Smittcamp, who also attended last month’s briefing.

That briefing was hosted by local businessman Richard Spencer at his Harris Construction office near Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

Speaking of Spencer, he and wife Karen are also among those co-hosting the $1,000 per person event along with Smittcamp. Other sponsors include Linda and Bill Smittcamp, westside rancher David Wood and the California Westside Farmers Federal PAC.

Borba Farms Partners, which includes Mark and Derek Borba, Woolf Enterprises and Westside Harvesting, which is tied to farmer, developer and beer distributor Ed Donaghy, are some of the donors who in 2012 gave money to the California Westside Farmers PAC.

Vidak, off to quick Senate fundraising start, nets $90k in 10 days

On March 10 — which was just 10 short days ago — Hanford Republican Andy Vidak announced on his Facebook page that he would seek the 16th state Senate seat that came open when Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio abruptly resigned last month.

Since then, Vidak said, he’s been working the phones, seeking both support and cash.

Andy Vidak

He’s off to a good start, according to the Secretary of State’s Web site.

By March 13, records show, Vidak was already recording a string of donations.

The most recent filing was today. The total so far — close to $90,000.

To date, almost all of the cash is coming from agriculture, though Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare also chipped in $4,100 from her 2018 state Senate account.

Contributions also include $2,500 from Allbright Cotton of Fresno and $4,100 each from Madera farmer Chester Andrew and Cutler-based Golden Star Citrus.

As of this afternoon, the other candidates, including Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez and Shafter City Council Member Fran Florez — the two highest-profile Democrats — have yet record any donations, according to the Secretary of State’s Web site.

In the meantime, the list of people who have at least pulled campaign papers — the first step toward a run for the seat — has grown to seven.

Besides Florez, Perez and Vidak, other candidates who already had pulled papers included Fresno resident John Estrada and Francisco Ramirez Jr.

They are now joined by Jerry Armendariz and Arif Mohammad, who have unknown hometowns and list no ballot designation.

Perez, with big-name backing, rounds out 16th Senate front runners

A little more than two months ago, Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez was sworn in to her first term on the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

Now, she’s looking to move up to the state Senate, announcing Monday that she would run for the seat of fellow Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who abruptly resigned last month.

In doing so, Perez will have the backing of the Senate’s Democratic leadership team — including President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg — and some of its most influential senators.

Leticia Perez

Among them are Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, Democratic Caucus Chair Jerry Hill, and Ron Calderon, Lou Correa, Kevin De Leon, Cathleen Galgiani and Hannah-Beth Jackson. There are 18 in all.

Perez’s announcement — which was widely expected — sets up what is likely a three-way race between her, fellow Democrat Fran Florez and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.

Others are running, but Florez, Perez and Vidak will have the name identification and/or money necessary to be competitive.

Florez, who is on the Shafter City Council and is the mother of Dean Florez, who held the Senate seat before Rubio, could be the odd person out, said Stan Harper, a Bakersfield-based Republican political consultant.

“There is no question in my mind Leticia will get more votes than Fran,” Harper said.

That would likely put Perez into a runoff against Vidak.

Florez gave some insight into her strategy when on Monday she officially announced her candidacy — in Fresno.

Fran Florez

She said Fresno County, in terms of the number of voters, is the biggest part of the 16th Senate District. The numbers confirm that. There are more than 137,000 voters in the Fresno County portion of the 16th District. In Kern County, it is around 75,000.

The district is 50.7% Democrat and 28.6% Republican.

Fresno County also happens to be a part of the district where Florez has some name identification, either through her two unsuccessful state Assembly runs, or from Dean Florez. Perez, in the meantime, is virtually unknown in Fresno.

But Perez will likely have plenty of money to help close that name identification deficit, thanks to the Senate leadership’s backing. That support seems like a slap in the face to Dean Florez. It was Steinberg, as incoming Senate President pro Tem, who in 2008 named Florez Senate majority leader.

Perez also has a political get-out-the-vote machine inherited from Rubio — her former boss.

“Leticia will have a better ground game,” Harper said. “As much as Fran has what Dean had several years ago, Leticia has everything in place that Rubio had a year ago.”

Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong introduced Florez, and one person standing behind her was Dave Wilson of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. He said he personally supported Florez and would work to get the UFCW behind her as well.

On the Republican side, it appears that Vidak — who in 2010 came close to ousting Fresno Democrat Jim Costa from Congress — won’t have any competition from within his own party.

Andy Vidak

It means he’ll likely do well in the May 21 primary election. He might even win. But if, as expected, none of the candidates win a majority of the votes, the top two will advance to a run-off July 23.

The special election to replace Rubio will be for the 16th Senate District as it was between 2002 and 2012. Next year, the person in the seat must run again under newly drawn boundaries. That is the 14th state Senate District. The two districts are 88% the same.

State Senate confirms Sherriffs as air board member

The state Senate this week confirmed Dr. Alex Sherriffs as a governing board member on the California Air Resources Board.

Sherriffs is a Fowler physician and member of the governing board for San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Known as a clean-air advocate, he was named to the local air board in late 2011 and the state board last year.

On the local board, he fills a seat dedicated to a health professions. On the state board, he is the Valley air district’s representative. There is no compensation for either position, state officials said.

Existing fertilizer fee is used in research, not cleaning up water

A state report last month suggested a farm fertilizer fee to help fix drinking-water problems, especially in rural towns around the San Joaquin Valley.

I wrote about it, but I should have added that there already is a fertilizer fee in California, a reader said. The existing fee funds research, however, not dirty-water cleanup.

It is the Fertilizer Research and Education Program in the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Last year, Assembly Bill 2174 from Assembly Member Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, made the money available for research on more efficient application of fertilizers.

It would not provide near enough money anyway. The analysis on the fund last year showed it would be worth about $1 million. The state needs $36 million a year to address drinking water problems.

The state report last month focused on nitrate contamination, which comes from fertilizers, animal waste, septic systems and sewage treatment plants.

study released last year by the University of California at Davis said the problem threatens water for 250,000 people from Fresno to Bakersfield. Nitrates can cause a potentially fatal blood disease in infants.

Grants and loans through the state have not panned out for  some towns that can’t afford to pay back loans or maintain treatment facilities. Another funding source is needed, say leaders of the State Water Resources Control Board, which did the report.

I have not seen any legislation yet to raise the funding.

Bad air in Houston, Phoenix? Not compared to Valley

The phone conversation started with a question: Which city has worse ozone — Fresno or Bakersfield?

It’s a good question, but I told the reader that we have this conversation far too often around here. It’s like debating the difference between drowning in 15 feet of water and 17 feet of water.

Fresno? Bakersfield? They’re both among the worst in the country.

I think it’s more interesting to compare the Valley with cities outside of California that have a national reputation for dirty air — like Houston and Phoenix. The pollution in Fresno, Bakersfield and other Valley cities is far worse than in cities several times larger.

Look at 2012 violations of the federal eight-hour ozone standard. Phoenix has 1.46 million people, according to the U.S. Census, and the city recorded 30 violations. Houston with a population of 2.1 million had 35.

How many Valley locations had more violations? Clovis, Fresno, Parlier, Arvin, Bakersfield, Oildale, Edison, Porterville and, oddly enough, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

In fact, Houston and Phoenix combined didn’t have as many as the Ash Mountain site in Sequoia National Park, which recorded 82 violations. Parlier with a population of about 15,000 in Fresno County had 60. In Southern California, Crestline in the San Bernardino Mountains led the nation with 88.

Back to Bakersfield and Fresno.

In Fresno with population of about a half million, there were 51 violations last year at one monitoring site. In Bakersfield, population 352,000, one monitor showed 56.

Compared to the rest of the country, the Valley is really in another universe. Fresno and Bakersfield are just part of a bigger picture here.

Use an EPA-certified wood stove, get a little break on new rules

The local air board is planning to soften new restrictions that could stop wood-burning in fireplaces most of the winter in Fresno and Bakersfield.

Wood-burning will be allowed on some no-burn days, leaders said Thursday. But an EPA-certified wood-burning device, such as a stove or heater, would have to be used.

The district will hold public hearings to determine the threshold.

Starting in 2014, the new burn bans will be triggered when soot and other debris reaches 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Right now, the threshold is 30.

The exemption level for people using EPA-certified devices will probably be 30 to 35, I’m told.

On an even more technical note, the new restrictions are part of the district’s plan that will be sent to state and federal authorities. But the pollution reductions won’t be claimed until the winter of 2016-2017 in the plan — a matter of bookkeeping on the way to the 2019 attainment date.

The district board moved the restrictions up two years to get the health benefits early.

 

 


Confusing air standards will save lives

The federal government last week announced a new standard for dangerous bits of soot, chemical and other debris — saying it will save hundreds of lives when the air is clear in 2020.

On Thursday, the local air district will consider a plan with a 2019 timeline to clean up this debris. So, we’re fine with the new standard, right? Not exactly.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is not talking about the new standard announced last week. It’s talking about a new standard announced a few years ago.

And, like most new standards, the Valley can’t possibly meet this one in time to avoid a problem with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If you’re thinking this is confusing, you’re right. The Valley and the Los Angeles area’s South Coast Air Basin are still struggling to keep up with older standards, much less achieving new ones.

Every few years when medical research advances and regulators realize the old standards are not protecting people, we get a new drama in the Valley and South Coast.

That’s always going to be the case. South Coast has 16 million people and big challenges with the warm weather. The Valley is surrounded by mountains and has even bigger challenges with weather.

The confusion and drama are worth it only because the air quickly becomes a public health crisis at times in the Valley. The EPA was not exaggerating when it reported that lives would be saved with a particle pollution standard that cuts the soot and other debris by 20%.

Who are the people who die prematurely due to this pollution? Think about people you know who have heart, lung or other severe health problems. It could be your grandfather, your aunt or even you.

A 2008 study by California State University at Fullerton showed that 800 people die prematurely in the Valley each year. Most of those deaths are blamed on microscopic soot, chemicals and other particles.

Economist Jane V. Hall, one of the Cal State Fullerton authors of the study, placed a value of more than $5 billion on the lives of those who die from bad air quality. It’s not actual money. It’s a value set by federal government based on risk and human life..

The whole process of cleaning the air under federal law is confusing and just a bit of a mess. But the plan under consideration Thursday at the local air district will make quite a difference. The new standard, which may seem completely out of reach right now, will help even more.

As PM-2.5 increases, so does risk of heart attacks

Over Thanksgiving, a friend asked how the San Joaquin Valley’s air quality might affect someone with a heart problem. It’s a good question now when the most dangerous air issues arrive.

There is evidence that heart attack risk rises as particle pollution, known as PM-2.5, increases.

What’s PM-2.5? Think soot from wood burning in fireplaces, though it also comes from diesel exhaust, chemicals in the air and microscopic moisture droplets.

By chance, an air-quality activist last week sent me a link to an article in progress on the Journal the American College of Cardiology. It included a section on PM-2.5, saying the odds of a fatal heart attack for nonsmokers rise 22% for each 10 microgram increase in PM-2.5.

The health standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air. On Jan. 1 this year, one Fresno monitor was 70 micrograms higher than that federal standard.

You don’t need to do the math to see that even people without heart or lung problems were suffering through an air crisis at the time.

The article advises anyone with cardiac problems to avoid exposure during episodes of PM-2.5. Last winter, that would have meant avoiding the outdoors for weeks in December and January.

Obviously, the Valley has many violations of the federal PM-2.5 standard. The biggest hot spots seem to be Fresno and Bakersfield, but there are PM-2.5 violations in many places.

What about this year?

A quick look at the California Air Resources Board site tells us that PM-2.5 hasn’t been a problem yet. If we have a lot of stormy weather this year, we might not have a long run of bad days as we did last year.

But dry, stable weather — as we seem to be having now — can make things miserable. So keep your eye on the weather report, and check with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District web page before you light a wood fire at home.

 

Political Notebook: Is the 21st Congressional District competitive? The evidence is conflicting

UPDATE: On Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee weighed in on the 21st Congressional District race for the first time.

The DCCC said it was doing a robocall on behalf of Democrat John Hernandez. The gist of the call: Vote for Hernandez because he would be the first Mexican American congressman from the district, where two-thirds of the voting-age population is Hispanic.

Here’s part of the script, which features “Maria from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.” The call says Hernandez, “unlike his Republican opponent” David Valadao, “supports the DREAM Act,” which would allow illegal immigrants under 30 who entered the U.S. before age 16 and have lived here for five years without committing a serious crime to be eligible for legal residency.

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The evidence continues to mount that Hanford Republican David Valadao won’t roll to an easy win over Fresno Democrat John Hernandez in the newly drawn 21st Congressional District.

A few weeks ago, that was the assumption. The race, just about everyone thought, was a done deal. Hardly anyone was paying attention.

Then came an article in the National Journal — a nonpartisan magazine that covers national politics and policy — that quoted a Republican saying private polling was moving “the wrong way” for Valadao.

On Friday, a group known as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies said it had put together a television ad attacking Hernandez, and was spending more than $600,000 to buy air time.

Now, political watchers from the Valley to Washington D.C. are wondering if the race is truly competitive, or if Valadao just needs to shore up his lead.

“I think Republicans are worried that if Valadao doesn’t define himself, the person with the Hispanic surname may have an actual advantage,” says Kyle Kondik, communications director at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which tracks federal races.

Like so many other political prognosticators, the Center for Politics’ Crystal Ball e-magazine long ago stopped considering the race competitive. But now Kondik says it “may be moving back on to the table,” though still rated as “likely Republican.”

Among Hernandez’s advantages are a nearly 15-percentage-point voter registration advantage, and a huge Hispanic electorate. Hernandez has vowed to get those voters to the polls.

In addition, President Barack Obama won the district in 2008, and Gov. Jerry Brown did as well in 2010.

But Hernandez’s disadvantages are huge. For starters, he really doesn’t have any money. He raised just $53,000 between July 1 and September 30, has just $17,700 in his account — and $40,000 in unpaid bills. His campaign has constantly been in debt.

In addition, while the Republicans seem to be pushing the panic button, Hernandez’s own Democratic Party — or any of its political allies — isn’t helping with any money at all.

This comes at the same time it is pouring hundreds of thousands into a Stanislaus County-based congressional race involving another Hernandez — former astronaut Jose Hernandez, a Democrat who is challenging incumbent Republican Jeff Denham in what is shaping up to be a very close race.

Valadao, in the meantime, has almost $800,000 in his account, and he plans to run television commercials through the November 6 general election. Coupled with more than $600,000 in ads from Crossroads GPS, and that adds up to a double-barreled onslaught of anti-Hernandez and pro-Valadao campaign advertising.

The Valadao campaign is also touting an internal poll that shows him with a 20-percentage-point lead — 53% to 33% — and 14% saying either they are undecided or will vote for neither. However, it is unknown how the questions on the race were asked.

In some ways, the Hernandez-Valadao clash has similarities to the 2010 race between incumbent Democrat Jim Costa and Republican challenger Andy Vidak.

That race was largely quiet — until mid-September. In the final seven weeks, Vidak went toe-to-toe with Costa in what turned out to be a very competitive race.

The common thread is the territory. Costa’s district at that time was largely the same as the area that is now part of the 21st District.

Costa is now gone, thanks to a redistricting that put him in a new district that runs from Fresno to the north. But could history be repeating itself in a chunk of his old westside Valley stamping grounds?