Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

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.”

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.

Tractor replacement: Like taking 1 million cars off road

Farmer Will Scott Jr.’s 1989 Massey-Ferguson tractor sat on trailer Tuesday, waiting for demolition. Nearly a quarter-century old and spewing plumes of pollutants, it was time.

Farmer Will Scott Jr. photographs as his old polluting tractor is torn apart by large dismantling equipment. Photo by Sylvia Flores

Scott’s little tractor — which toiled on his 40-acre spread — had an honorable and memorable demise, according to public officials who gathered at Bruno’s Iron and Metal on Golden State Boulevard in Fresno.

With its destruction, the tractor replacement program in California has removed the equivalent of 1 million vehicles or 3,400 tons of nitrogen oxides per year — most of the reduction coming in the San Joaquin Valley. Nitrogen oxides are a key component in summertime ozone.

It’s a voluntary program involving $100 million in government funding to help farmers replace old tractors. The more than 3,200 farmers who have gotten involved in the last four years typically get tractors that run 75% cleaner.

Scott was pleased with his role and the celebration Tuesday.

“I’m impressed you took the time to come out here and see this,” said Scott, whose replacement tractor is a newer, cleaner-running trade-up. “You’re including the small farmer.”

The gathering featured Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, along with leaders from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Among the crowd was Jason Weller, new chief of Natural Resources Conservation Service; Jared Blumenfeld, EPA regional director, and Lynn Terry, deputy executive officer of the state air resources board.

All talked about the continuing air-quality improvement in the Valley, though it still has a long way to go for healthy air. Farm air pollution is among a long list of pollution sources, they noted.

Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the local air district, announced the Valley had gone through the entire summer without exceeding the federal one-hour ozone standard.

“That’s the first time in our history,” he said.

But the star of this show was the 1989 tractor and Scott, who grows black-eyed peas, okra, corn, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli.

“I think it shows we are all working together,” he said. “There are a tremendous amount of small farmers here, and we are part of the solution, too.”

State approves study funding for Tulare County water contamination

There’s big news for seven northern Tulare County communities that have waited years for healthy drinking water.

The California Department of Public Health has agreed to approve funding for a feasibility study on how to fix the problem.

The Bee has written stories about the possible fix since 2011, but technicalities and confusion have delayed the feasibility study.

Well water in the rural communities is tainted by nitrates, a chemical that comes from farm fertilizers, septic tanks, sewage treatment and decomposing vegetation.

Water advocates and leaders in Tulare County believe the problem can be solved with a regional plant to treat Kings River water for the towns of Culter, Orosi, East Orosi, Monson, Seville, Sultana and Yettem. The combined population of the region is 15,000.

Alta Irrigation District in Dinuba already has completed a project to make water available. River water would be banked in the ground during wet years and pumped back out for use on farms, thus making a supply of river water available for the towns.

The agreement for the funding is scheduled before the Tulare County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 8.

The study will evaluate many parts of the project, including the ability of the towns to pay for operation and maintenance of the treatment plant.

The plant construction could cost as much as $20 million, engineers say, and healthy drinking water will still be several years away after the feasibility study.

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.

Why study expansion of a nearly empty reservoir?

A federal leader last week mentioned a study to raise San Luis Dam and expand the nearly empty San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County, raising eyebrows all around. Why study expansion of a reservoir holding 16% of its capacity? And why now?

First, a little context. San Luis Reservoir is an important hub in California’s waterworks — supplying both west San Joaquin Valley farmers and Southern California cities. The reservoir has no natural stream to fill it, so water is pumped there from the sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

San Luis Reservoir at 16% this month.

When pumping was restricted this year to protect dying fish species and water quality, California lost the opportunity to send a lot of water into the reservoir. The lost pumping and the drought have turned the reservoir into an August mud puddle.

So why look at expanding San Luis Reservoir now?

Half of the answer: It’s part of the ongoing efforts under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, a 1992 environmental reform law that includes a section to improve water supply.

The other half: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is going through a dam safety study. The planning division is appraising a project to both reduce earthquake risks and improve deliveries to the federal Central Valley Project.

At the same time apparently, water customers began asking about expanding the capacity of the reservoir.

By sometime next year, the appraisal study will let federal leaders know if they should do a full-blown feasibility study.

This is all part of a bigger fight, pitting Northern California against Southern California over water. It’s a story that has played out over decades. Another chapter is about to be finished as the state prepares the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, touted as a way to fix this marathon problem. It’s a nerve-racking process.

The short-term solution makes everyone even more nervous: Hoping for a wet winter. This problem could get much worse if California gets a third year of drought.

Delta Water Summit scheduled Aug. 3 at Fresno State

Water experts, lawmakers and government officials will field questions from the public in a Delta Water Summit, scheduled 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 3 at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union.

I will write a story about it in the next week or so, but it’s time to get the word out about the summit on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Public leaders, scientists, biologists and engineers have been working years on a plan to revive the declining delta ecosystem while providing a more certain water supply. The plan is slowly reaching critical mass, with state leaders focused on two large water supply tunnels.

Though the process has been contentious, the public has not followed it closely. This is an attempt to explain the issues and answer questions, according to the Latino Water Coalition, a Valley group that organized the summit.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been invited to make an appearance and speak at the beginning of the summit. No word yet on whether he will be there.

Real Estate: Ivanhoe celebrates first new apartment complex since 1992

(Photo provided by the Corporation for Better Housing. The Linda Vista Apartments in Ivanhoe.)

The unincorporated town of Ivanhoe on Tuesday celebrated the grand opening of its first new affordable apartment complex in years.

The Linda Vista Apartments, on the southwest corner of Avenue 327 and Highway 216, is the first new apartment development to be built since 1992, according to the Tulare County Resource Management Agency.

The $16.6 million project answers a call from the agricultural community to provide housing for the area’s poor and farm-worker families. It was paid for with state and federal housing grants, tax credits and farmworker housing funds.

“Safe, affordable housing has long been sorely needed in Ivanhoe,” said Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley, who represents the area.

The 76-unit complex has one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, a community center, basketball court and playground area.

The developer was the Corporation for Better Housing, a Sherman Oaks-based nonprofit development company has has built several other affordable housing projects in Fresno, Madera and Tulare counties.

For more information, visit corpforbetterhousing.com.

Judge reverses direction, farmers will see water rules sooner

A Sacramento Superior Court judge reversed direction on an agriculture lawsuit challenging new farm groundwater rules, meaning thousands of farmers probably will see the rules and expenses this year.

In case you haven’t been following it, this is the end of the historic waiver for agriculture from these kinds of water rules.

Sacramento Judge Timothy Frawley hinted in a tentative decision earlier this year that he might delay the rules and require a rewrite of the environmental studies.

Late last week, he said the studies are acceptable.

That affects growers in Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties where farm production amounts to $15 billion annually. The rules will cost farmers about $1.90 per acre, the state estimates, but farm-water leaders figure it’s a range from $3 to $10 per acre.

We’re talking about 850,000 acres of land, so the total costs could range from $1.6 million (the state’s estimate) to more than $8 million (farm-water leaders’ estimate).

“We are gearing up in anticipation that the (rules) will be adopted and implementation will begin in the fall, but that too is very fluid,” said Dave Orth, general manager of the Kings River Conservation District and coordinator of a coalition representing farmers in the region.

The judge also upheld a challenge by the fishing and environmental water advocacy groups. But the rules will not be set aside while the state addresses the technical issue concerning the transition to the new rules.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has been working on these rules for years. Farmers have been dreading them. Environmentalists have been getting impatient waiting for them.

Underground water contamination is widespread in this region with nitrates from fertilizers, septic systems, sewage treatment and decomposing vegetation. Drinking water is threatened for 250,000 people, mostly in small towns.

Environmental and fishing groups wanted more from the new rules, but most of their claims were rejected. The court agreed with one contention: State law was not followed in granting an extension of a temporary ag waiver several years ago.

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, a group involved in the legal action, said the regional board needs to penalize offenders and reward those who follow the rules.

Bill Jennings, executive director of Stockton-based Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said: “We work with farmers, understand their concerns and likely could amicably resolve our issues except for the water board’s costly, unwieldy and ineffective bureaucratic octopus.”

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.