The report says winters and summers are the cleanest they’ve ever been here. The Valley has achieved the coarse particle pollution standard — it’s called PM-10, or dust.
But tighter federal ozone and particle pollution standards will come. The Valley probably will still be struggling in the next two decades. The 4 million people here live in a bowl of air that traps pollutants.
The difference now is that there has been a shift in public awareness. I wrote my first news story on the air district in June 1993, and it illustrated the thinking of the time.
The story was titled “Wood-burning rules go on back burner.” People refused fireplace rules. Instead, the district began discussing “voluntary wood-burning rules.”
“The two words (voluntary and rules) go together as much as jumbo and shrimp, and army and intelligence,” said Charles Harness, a board member at the time. The words confusing and toothless also were used.
A dozen years later, people still didn’t want a wood-burning rule, but the district became one of the first places in the country to enforce bans on burning.
The change was forced by air-quality activists and advocates who filed a federal lawsuit. This kind of legal action has been a driving force behind many important changes in Valley air quality.
Today, the fireplace soot problem remains, but Valley winters are nothing like they were in the 1990s.
More importantly, people seem to have come around. The air district now is tightening the wood-burning rule, and many readers have told me that it’s good news.
The wood-burning rule is just one among many important changes over the last 20 years. The air district also has regulated air pollution from farms as well as city sprawl. Air leaders also pioneered an alert system online and via texting to tell the public when pollution is spiking.
All of which is important to recognize with fanfare. After the celebration, though, there’s more work and expense waiting.
Meteorologist Steve Johnson, a private consultant in the Fresno area, posted a list of California records set on warm Wednesday this week.
It was topped by Fresno’s 85 degrees, which broke the 2007 record for the day by one degree. Burbank broke its record by eight degrees.
From reading the list, it looks like 2007 was pretty warm, too. But there are also some very old records that were broken. The Riverside record was more than a century old.
Here’s the list, which includes the place, the new record and the old record:
Fresno, 85° (84° set in 2007), South Lake Tahoe, 69° (64° set in 2007), Burbank, 93° (85° set in 1951), Sandberg, 77° (76° set in 2007), Woodland Hills, 94° (92° set in 2007), Ramona, 86° (84° set in 2007), Riverside, 95° (90° set in 1902), Thermal, 97° (96° set in 1997), Alpine, 84° (81° set in 1994), El Cajon, 86° (81° set in 2004), Elsinore, 92° (88° set in 1926), Escondido, 87° (86° set in 1951).
If warm weather continues, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada will come rolling down a little sooner than usual. The snowpack is about 60% of average right now — better than last year when it was about 45% as spring began in late March.
Looking over the visitor totals for Yosemite National Park last year, I realized there was news that I had not written — there were fewer people.
In 2011, 4,098,648 visited Yosemite, according to the National Park Service. In 2012, the figure was slightly down — 3,996,017.
Even so, 2012 will go down as the park’s third biggest year since 1996.
Yosemite’s totals fell off noticeably in 1997 after the big January flood inundated Yosemite Valley, closing the park and triggering years of lower numbers. The total didn’t climb back over 4 million until 2010.
How about this year? The big crowds get bigger when the famous waterfalls are huge in May and June. A few snowstorms and a fatter snowpack could make that happen.
SACRAMENTO — Fresno insurance agent Marcelino Valdez rolled to an easy election win this morning in his campaign to be the California Republican Party’s next Central Valley Region vice chair.
Valdez, 33, was unopposed for the post after his long challenger, Sacramento County’s Ruth Crone, dropped out of the race weeks ago. But under the state GOP rules, a challenger could have stepped forward right up until 9 this morning, and as delegates gathered in a conference room at the Sacramento Convention Center, Valdez’s people kept handing out campaign stickers and keeping an eye out for any possible 11th-hour challengers.
it made for short work at the meeting, and Valdez soon found himself making a quick acceptance speech. It was all done in about 20 minutes.
Leading up to the vote, Valdez had continued to campaign, putting up signs, handing out stickers and meeting with delegates.
Valdez replaces Kings County Republican Central Committee Chair Prudence Eiland, who decided not to seek re-election.
Now, Valdez says, the hard work begins.
He plans to start by visiting each of the 11 county Republican central committees. Those counties are Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Tuolumne, Merced, Tulare, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Sacramento. Valdez plans to do a “needs assessment” to find out what the county party’s need to help them succeed in next year’s election.
Valdez’s message: “I need to find out your challenges. How can I help you?”
He expects the feedback to surround technology needs, getting out the vote and ethnic outreach.
Job two is getting those who are registered to actually vote on Election Day. And job three is giving the county parties fundraising help, likely through shared strategies on what has worked elsewhere.
Finally, Valdez says he’ll take the concerns of the county party to the state Republican Party. He feels the state party should work to assist the counties, and not the other way around.
This is especially important, he says, in the San Joaquin Valley.
“Our Valley sometimes feels like your voice isn’t being heard,” Valdez says.
“I expect another extended dry (temperatures cool to near normal) pattern to set in for the next one to two weeks,” meteorologist Paul Iniguez in the NWS Hanford office.
He said his forecast is in line with the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, which says odds favor a drier than average spring. Iniguez said precipitation for California is below normal.
For those who follow this stuff, check out NOAA’s El Nino-La Nina discussion. El Nino is the warm water phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, sometimes meaning California will be wet. La Nina, corresponding to cooler water, can mean drier, cooler winters here.
Unfortunately, the Pacific is neither Nino, nor Nina this year. It’s tougher to handicap the wet season when neither is present in the ocean.
The way Fresno County Superior Court Judge Gary Hoff explains it, these are not happy financial times for the state’s superior court system.
In the past five years, the amount of the judicial budget covered by the state’s general fund has fallen from 56% to 20%. Last year alone, general fund support for the judicial branch of government dropped by $544 million.
Judge Gary Hoff
Ideally, the Fresno County court system should have 584 employees to adequately meet its staffing needs, Hoff told a Bench Bar Media luncheon group today at the Downtown Club. At one point, that number reached 550. It is now at 420 and is expected to continue on the downward trend.
The state is requiring reserves to be spent by mid-2014 — at least that is the plan for now — with a reserve no greater than 1% kept on hand after that.
“One slight mistake, we aren’t making payroll,” said Hoff, the current presiding judge of the Fresno County Superior Court.
So what to do?
Those in the judicial system often say they are an easy budget cut because they have no constituency. A few judges, prosecutors and others complaining to legislators don’t carry the weight of broader constituencies who might be affected by budget cuts in other areas.
But today, Hoff — as well as U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii, speaking on the federal side — told attorneys they should urge their clients and other people affected by any proposed budget cuts to speak up.
These aren’t the judges or prosecutors, but real people who are paying higher fees to use the court system, or who are facing delays in their hearings.
With the drop in general fund support for the judicial budget, Hoff said, the expectation is the difference will be made up by user fees.
That means higher traffic fines, penalty assessments on convictions and filing fees in areas such as custody or divorce cases. These often hit hard-working taxpayers, Hoff said.
In 2007, Hoff said, court filing fee costs ranged from $180 to $320. Now it is $225 to $435.
Said Hoff: “It’s not a good business model.”
The challenge is convincing state legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown. And those were the marching orders Hoff gave to the luncheon guests.
Of 500 debtors on the list released Friday, 14 are from Fresno, Madera, and Tulare counties. Their debts range from about $454,000 to more than $3.1 million, and the oldest dates back nearly 20 years.
To put additional bite into the list, state law requires the Board of Equalization to provide the Top 500 list to other state agencies. Taxpayers on the list can be subject to penalties that affect any state licenses they may have, including driver’s licenses, occupational or professional licenses, and they may be barred from entering into contracts with state agencies.
Here’s the list for the fourth quarter of 2012, along with the amounts owed and the first lien date reported by the state:
Central Valley Food Services Inc., dba Jack in the Box, Fresno — $3,110,382 (2008)
The Board of Equalization issues the Top 500 list every quarter. Businesses on the list are notified 30 days in advance, giving them a chance to settle their debt or set up an installment program. Amounts that are paid through installments, or are in the midst of bankruptcy, litigation or appeals, are not included on the list.
There’s a riveting online article raising the scary possibility of more frequent megastorms like the siege that struck California in 1861-62.
The Scientific American article says the rain started on Christmas Eve 1861 and continued 43 days, turning the Central Valley into an inland sea 300 miles long and 20 miles wide.
It apparently was not just a freak, the article says. New studies suggest this kind of storm hits every two centuries.
So will climate change increase the frequency? Just raising the question causes anxiety, and you can understand why. The article’s description of the 1860s event is like a script for a disaster flick.
Scientific American said: “Downtown Sacramento was submerged under 10 feet of brown water filled with debris from countless mudslides on the region’s steep slopes. California’s legislature, unable to function, moved to San Francisco until Sacramento dried out — six months later. By then, the state was bankrupt.”
Fresno ranked 13th among the state’s 58 counties in federal political contributions for the 2012 election cycle, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The county donated close to $5.9 million. Just above Fresno was Santa Barbara County, which gave $6.78 million. Just below it: San Bernardino with $5.53 million.
Not surprisingly, Los Angeles County was in first place with more than $132.1 million donated, the center said.
The totals reflected contributions of $200 or more to federal political candidates, as well as parties, political action committees and outside spending organizations including super PACs.
Also not too surprising for Los Angeles: 51% of the money went to Democratic candidates, the party and leadership PACs, which just 28% went to candidates and groups on the Republican side.
The Fresno County totals showed again that while there are more registered Democrats here, much more money goes to Republicans and Republican groups. The GOP was at 65% of the total, and the Democrats at 21%.
That was already known anecdotally based on the number and cost of Republican fundraisers versus those for Democrats.
Totals in both counties don’t equal 100%. Where party percentages don’t add up to 100 percent, the rest went to outside spending organizations, third parties or independents.
The Center for Responsive Politics said that’s because the dollar amounts include contributions to outside spending organizations, third parties and independents, as well as corporate, labor and ideological PACs that are not affiliated with either party.
Of the other Valley counties, Tulare was 25th with $1.3 million contributed, Merced was 28th with $807,414, Kings was 32nd with $461,974, and Madera was 33rd with $452,432 donated.
The evidence keeps mounting that people living in impoverished, Latino towns around the San Joaquin Valley are in danger if they drink water out of their taps.
Researchers this year linked dirty drinking water with many towns, such as Seville, Orosi and Tooleville in Tulare County. The culprit is widespread nitrates, which come from fertilizers, septic systems, animal waste and rotting vegetation.
This month, a new study reveals people living in similar communities also are at a high risk of drinking arsenic in their water.
Arsenic is routinely found in the water of such towns as Lanare in Fresno County, Kettleman City in Kings County and Alpaugh in Tulare County. It is linked to skin, lung, bladder and kidney cancer. More recently, it has been connected to diabetes.
The lead researcher in the latest study is Carolina Balazs of the University of California at Berkeley.
She said, “We found that across the Valley, lower income communities had higher arsenic levels than their wealthier counterparts. These same systems may be the least equipped to comply with drinking water standards in the future, leaving residents at continual risk of exposure.”
California’s approach to cleaning up the problem has fallen far short for many years, say those living in the communities. A plan to build a water treatment plant in Tulare County has been caught in funding snafus with the California Department of Public Health for more than a year.
Balazs says California needs a new, well-funded approach over the long-term.
“In the meantime,” she said, “interim solutions need to be put in place so that residents of small communities are protected from dangerous contaminants like arsenic.”