Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

High-speed rail route change unlikely to sway Valadao

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford

UPDATE (Monday, Nov. 18, 4 p.m.):
Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, was traveling Friday and unavailable to comment for the original blog post, according to his staff. Late Friday, his staff provided this statement in response to The Bee’s query about whether Valadao thought his opposition to high-speed rail may have swayed the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s preliminary selection of a Fresno-Bakersfield route that does not go through property owned by the Valadao family dairy business:

“Congressman Valadao absolutely does not believe his objections influenced the agency’s recent vote. The High-Speed Rail Authority has never concerned themselves with Congressman Valadao or his constituents, why would they begin to now? Their refusal to respect the Central Valley has only added to the widespread opposition to this project.”

ORIGINAL POST (Friday, Nov. 15)

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s vote last week to identify a “preferred alignment” for its Fresno-Bakersfield section is unlikely to appease Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, an ardent opponent of the agency’s bullet-train plans through his stomping ground in Kings County.

In April, the authority’s staff was recommending a route that would bypass Hanford on the city’s west side — and which would run directly past three properties owned by Valadao Dairy, the congressman’s family farming business. Those parcels amount to about 509 acres and have a combined assessed value of more than $1.8 million, according to a database on the Kings County Assessor’s Office website.

But the latest route choice, which will be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for evaluation, bypasses Hanford on the east. That may still be too close for comfort for Valadao, whose family, parents or uncle own a dozen properties west of Highway 43 between Idaho and Lansing avenues south Hanford — and within a mile of the would-be route for the high-speed tracks.

Valadao was traveling from Washington, D.C. to his district Friday and unavailable to comment on the rail authority’s route vote, his staff said.

Cows at the Valadao Dairy farm south of Hanford pay little attention to freight railroad tracks that run behind the fence in the background.

“However, Congressman Valadao has been both consistent and clear when discussing his opposition to high-speed rail since entering public life, regardless of the proposed track location,” said Anna Vetter, his communications director. “One of Congressman Valadao’s original criticisms of the High-Speed Rail Authority was their refusal to truly identify a route. This has created confusion for hundreds, if not thousands, of families and businesses in the potential wake of this project.”

Valadao came under scrutiny this summer after he offered an amendment to a budget bill that, if it becomes law, could stall or permanently derail construction of the high-speed rail project. Valadao, a member of the potent House Appropriations Committee, proposed the amendment and argued for its adoption in the committee apparently without informing his colleagues that his family holdings included property along or near the rail routes. The issue raised questions about whether or not Valadao faced a conflict of interest because of the potential effects of the rail routes on property values — often cited by project foes as one factor for their opposition.

Valadao’s amendment was approved by the committee. But the ultimate fate of Valadao’s efforts remains in limbo because of the budget stalemate between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, which is in the hands of Democrats.

Real Estate: State program changes rules to help more underwater homeowners

The state-run Keep Your Home California program is making some changes that will hopefully allow more underwater homeowners in Fresno and other communities qualify for a principal mortgage reduction.

Homeowners no longer have to show a hardship in addition to being underwater on their mortgage to apply for the program. Now, homeowners just have to show that they owe more than 40% of the value of their home.

“Although the housing market has improved dramatically over the last few months, there are still areas of the state where home prices are not rebounding as quickly, and many homeowners in those areas have exhausted all of their resources just trying to hold on until that recovery reaches them,” said Claudia Cappio, executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency which oversees Keep Your Home California.

The $2 billion program was created in February 2011 to help low- and moderate-income homeowners who suffered a financial hardship such as a job loss, cut in pay, extraordinary medical bills or a divorce.

In addition to principal reduction help, Keep Your Home California also has an unemployment assistance program, a mortgage reinstatement assistance program and a transition assistance program.

For more information, visit Keep Your Home California or call (888) 954-5337.

This will be my last blog post on this site. Follow me to The Fresno Bee website, fresnobee.com/real-estate-blog, for future real estate and business news. See you there!

 

Real Estate: Fresno’s Big Realty office grows, relocates

(Mark Chu, broker, Big Realty in Fresno.)

The Big Realty office in Fresno is growing and its business model is changing as the real estate market recovers.

The company, which opened its Fresno real estate office on West Shaw Avenue in 2009, specialized in foreclosure properties and helping struggling minority homeowners make decisions about their homes.

“Now our focus has changed into growing as a company and helping agents build their business,” said Mark Chu, broker. The company also wants to help educate today’s buyers, he said.

Big Realty, which has 23 agents, moved into a new 5,000-square-foot office at 1273 E. Shaw Ave., near Fashion Fair Mall, early last month. A grand opening will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. today to tour the office and meet with real estate experts including those from the mortgage and insurance industries.

The company plans to add more agents in the future. The new office gives Big Realty an additional 3,000 square feet of space to conduct training classes for agents and to hold homeownership classes for first-time buyers or veterans.

A first-time homebuyer education class will be held on Dec. 7. For more information, call (559) 389-7777.

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.

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.

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.