Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

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.

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.”

Banks working with furloughed federal employees to defer loan, mortgage payments

Bank of the West is giving furloughed federal employees a break on paying their loans and mortgages.

The bank, which has five offices in Fresno, is granting one month deferrals on consumer loan payments and one month forbearance on mortgage payments.

“We are committed to helping our customers succeed financially through the ups and downs of life,” said Paul Wible, head of the bank’s National Finance Group.

Bank customers with auto, recreational vehicle and boat loans, credit cards and home equity loans and lines of credit can call (800) 653-0362 to request help.

Other banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo are working with customers on a case-by-case basis.

“Federal government employees and other workers whose jobs are directly impacted by the government shutdown may be eligible for forbearance programs or other mortgage payment assistance depending on their individual circumstances,” a Wells Fargo spokeswoman said.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America customers, who are furloughed federal employees, are encouraged to contact their banks to work on a solution.

Real Estate: Golf course housing development to get started in Dinuba

A long-awaited housing development surrounding a golf course designed by a former PGA-level golfer is finally coming to fruition.

No, it’s not Running Horse, the defunct southwest Fresno project once courted by famed developer Donald Trump. This project is south of the Valley at the Ridge Creek Golf Course in Dinuba.

The Dinuba City Council approved the site map this week and took a look at the first renderings and floor plans for the custom and semi-custom development on the city’s western edge.

“The recession delayed the project but we feel the time is right now,” said Mark Davis, managing partner of Ridge Creek Partners. “Dinuba is growing and there are no homes like this in the greater Dinuba area. The golf club has a great reputation and we will build on that.”

Ridge Creek Partners is the developer. The builder is Ted Intravia of TTI Development in Los Banos.

The development will have two communities. The Golf Estates at Ridge Creek will be a gated community with 55 custom homes on lots ranging from 10,000 to 26,000 square feet.

The Golf Villas at Ridge Creek will have 115 semi-custom homes from 1,780 to 3,400 square feet. Buyers can choose from eight floor plans designed by Visalia architect Stan Canby of Teter AE. Prices will range from the $200,000s to $400,000s.

The project is expected to be developed in four phases. A boutique hotel and recreation center are also proposed for the community.

Real Estate: ClearPoint merger creates large network of financial and housing counselors

Two nonprofit financial counseling agencies, including one with an office in Fresno, are merging to help more families in need of credit debt relief and housing education.

ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions and CredAbility have signed an agreement to merge effective Dec. 31, the companies announced on Tuesday. Both organizations will operate under the ClearPoint name.

The merger will create the second largest nonprofit credit counseling organization in the country with 50 offices in 15 states from California to New York, the new company said.

ClearPoint, which has an office in Fresno, will combine its strength in debt management with CredAbility’s power in housing and bankruptcy counseling.

CredAbility is a national nonprofit credit counseling agency with offices throughout the southeastern United States.

The new organization will have more than 150 credit, housing and bankruptcy counselors and financial educators including a large staff of Spanish-speakers. Help will be provided seven days a week over the phone and Internet.

Republican George Radanovich weighs gubernatorial bid

With former Lt. Gov Abel Maldonado’s gubernatorial bid foundering, another Republican candidate is dipping his toe in the 2014 race.

Former Republican congressman George Radanovich announced that he is mulling a run with an email Thursday touting a “program of rebuilding the private sector and then cutting government.”

“I believe Californians are ready for change and the time is ripe for a new approach,” Radanovich said in the email. “That is why I am considering entering the race for governor of California.”

Gov. Jerry Brown appears so far to be in prime position to win a second term. A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll gave the governor an overall approval rating of 49 percent among likely voters. Though a mere 23 percent of Republicans approved of the job he’s doing, 65 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents backed him.

The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert has the full story.

Real Estate: Lennar Homes building in northwest Fresno

(Submitted photo. Lennar’s next generation home, called the Camelot, at the homebuilder’s newest development, Elderberry on the Bluff Estates.)

Lennar Homes is continuing to grow in the Central Valley with the grand opening of a new development overlooking the San Joaquin River in northwest Fresno.

Elderberry on the Bluff Estates is a 139-home neighborhood at Herndon and Riverside avenues, next to the Riverside Golf Course.

The homes will range in size from 1,766 to 2,969 square feet with three to four bedrooms, two to three-and-a-half bathrooms and up to three bay garages. Eight floor plans are available.

The national builder will also introduce its new Next Generation home design, called the Camelot, at Elderberry, the company said.

The Next Gen two-story house includes a private suite on the ground floor with its own separate entrance, bedroom, kitchenette and full bathroom.

“As time passes, lifestyles can change and the Next Gen, the Home within a Home, floor plans make design history by offering a dual living layout that so many families want and need and are finally discovering courtesy of Lennar, said Susan Wilke, vice president of sales and marketing.

The grand opening will be held 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Senate repels Vidak effort to put high-speed rail on ’14 ballot

State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford.

In a move that stunned, well, practically nobody, the Democrat-controlled state Senate voted down a set of amendments proposed by Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, intended to freeze money and halt work on California’s high-speed rail project and put the controversial effort in front of the state’s voters once again.

Vidak’s amendments to a bill by Assembly Member Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, would have put high-speed rail on the November 2014 ballot. But the amendments shot down Wednesday on a straight party-line vote, with 11 Republicans voting to take up the amendments and 24 Democrats voting to reject the amendments.

Frazier’s bill deals with allocating duties that used to be part of the now-defunct Business, Transportation and Housing Agency to the state’s new Transportation Agency.

Even Vidak’s staff had acknowledged that the amendments were a long shot, but after the vote the senator kept swinging at the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency tasked with developing the rail system.

“I was simply asking to let Californians re-vote on high-speed rail,” Vidak said. “Much has changed since Californians voted on this issue in 2008, and the people deserve the right to vote on whether billions of dollars of taxpayer money should be spent on” — wait for it — “this boondoggle.”

Voters approved Prop. 1A, a $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure, in November 2008. But since then, the estimated cost to build the system to link the Bay Area and Los Angeles by way of Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley has roller-coastered from about $45 billion to as much as $98 billion in 2011 and, since early 2012, about $68 billion.

Wet or dry this winter? So far, there’s no clue in the ocean

Making a bet about a wet or dry winter this year? Don’t look for El Nino or La Nina to give you an edge. It’s looking like La Nada so far.

San Luis Reservoir has been low this year due to drought and pumping restrictions in the delta;

If you don’t know, El Nino and La Nina are all about the shallow water temperature in the Pacific Ocean around the equator. Nino means warmer than usual — an indication California might have a wet winter. Nina means cooler — a hint that it might be dry.

After two arid winters years and the long, dry summer of 2013, I hear from a lot farmers, city leaders and business folk who want some idea about the winter to come.

But the Pacific isn’t giving anyone a clue this year. Scientists say it is neither warm nor cool. Which means it’s just a coin flip so far, unless things change soon.

I like to follow Jan Null’s web site about the phenomenon.  Null is a private meteorologist in the Bay Area, and you can learn a lot from his page.

Meanwhile, all bets are off when the ocean is in neutral. Will it stay in neutral? NOAA says it looks like neutral conditions will remain for the 2013-2014 winter.

Real Estate: Valley cities could get shut out of USDA rural housing programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is changing the way it defines rural communities, a move that could shut out residents in 923 California cities — including seven in Fresno County — from accessing its rural housing programs.

On Oct. 1, the USDA will start using population statistics from the 2010 Census to determine if a city or community is rural. Those areas with a population of 10,000 people or less, or fewer than 20,000 people if located in a metropolitan statistical area, will be considered rural, the USDA said.

The department has been using 1990 population statistics, under a grandfather clause, to determine eligibility. That clause, which set the rural population at 25,000, will expire this year unless Congress extends it or takes some sort of action, the USDA said.

Under the new rule, Fresno cities like Coalinga, Kerman, Kingsburg, Mendota, Parlier, Reedley and Selma would no longer be eligible for the program. Another eight cities in Kings, Madera and Tulare counties would also lose the federal help.

Last fiscal year, the USDA distributed more than $53 million in home loans and home repair programs to moderate- and low-income Fresno County homebuyers and homeowners.

“For a lot of families these programs are the only options they have for purchasing a home,” said Sarah Marquart, public affairs specialist for the USDA. “It’s unfortunate to see a lot of these communities not be eligible any longer.”

For nonprofit housing agencies like Self-Help Enterprises of Visalia, the rule change could have a devastating effect.

Over the last 10 years, Self-Help has built more than 80% of its homes in the Valley cities that are slated to become ineligible. And most of the agency’s homeowners use the USDA direct loan program.

Under the new rule, “the families that participate in our program would not have access to the best direct mortgage available,” said Tom Collishaw, vice president of Self-Help. “And Self-Help would not be able to use the grant it received from the USDA to help people. Suddenly we wouldn’t be able to help people in those areas.”