Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Castro digs in on provost search, wrestling

I got a chance to sit down for breakfast at a local Mexican diner with Fresno State President Joseph Castro this week to talk about his first 100 days on the job and some of the initiatives he’s pushing this year.

Over a cup of coffee and his favorite breakfast — eggs and napales, just like what his grandma used to make — he shared some of his goals including hiring a new provost next spring and adding 800 student seats next fall.

Check out Sunday’s edition for more details about increasing enrollment. But for now, here are some tidbits from our conversation that didn’t make it into print:

  • On the provost search: “I’m looking for someone who has strong academic experiences, who can work well with faculty, who understands that lifestyle, has done research themselves, who has participated in education and is someone who has been a department chair, or a dean or had leadership on the administrative side as well.”
  • On bringing back wrestling: “I’ve received a lot of emails, a few phone calls, a lot of Twitter messages … people around the nation saying it’s great Fresno State is thinking about this. I love the enthusiasm, that’s great … my hope is they will join me in supporting it. Fresno State will need to invest in this area because when you add a sport for one gender you’ll need to add a sport or two for women and that’s a great thing for everybody.”
  • On faculty salaries: “I think we have a ways to go in that area and my hope is over time that increases in future years … One of the things I’m trying to do is invest in them in different ways beyond salary increases. Invest in their professional development, whether that means supporting them to travel to present their work or go to a conference and learn more about their field, or for faculty who might eventually want to be department chairs or deans, (go to) leadership development programs.”

State resources leader told people in small towns need help during drought

When John Laird, secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency, comes to Fresno these days, people want to talk with him about water.  Specifically, the lack of it.

Community Food Bank provided food for Mendota in 2009.

He met this week with the Latino Water Coalition to chat about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan — the one with the twin tunnels — the final draft of which will hit the streets Dec. 13.

The plan looks decades ahead to cure California’s water and ecosystem problems. It involves billions of dollars and construction of two tunnels to avoid pumping water directly from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

But the Latino Water Coalition seemed just as interested in the short term, meaning next year. What if there is a dry winter? People in small west San Joaquin Valley towns could suffer as they did in a dry 2009, members said.

In west-side cities with high unemployment, food lines are not unusual. But the lines were much longer in 2009. The coalition said nobody in state government prepared for the problem.

Said Gary Serrato, general manager of the Fresno Irrigation District, “We should be preparing now to help Mendota and Firebaugh next year in case we have a dry winter.”

Laird said he would take the message back to Sacramento. He said both long- and short-term issues need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, farmers, water districts, cities and industries are worried in Central California. Not a drop of November rain has hit the rain gauge in Fresno yet.

“We will wind up idling close to 50% of our land next year if it continues to be dry,” said west-side farmer Joel Del Bosque.

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.

Larry Westerlund may return to Fresno City Hall

Larry Westerlund

Former Fresno City Council Member Larry Westerlund may be in line for the “Adam Smith Chair” at City Hall.

In other words, the largely thankless job of bringing capitalism to a city where for decades the only reliable road to the middle class is a taxpayer-funded job.

The chatter at City Hall is that Mayor Ashley Swearengin wants to hire Westerlund to lead her economic development team. The position has been vacant since Craig Scharton resigned at the end of August to open Peeve’s, his Fulton Mall restaurant.

Anyone who’s been around City Hall recently knows Swearengin is gearing up to push private-sector job-creation during her final three years in office.

I asked Swearengin about the rumors Thursday afternoon. She had just finished telling the City Council about her business-friendly plans.

Swearengin adroitly dodged the question. She said the city is understaffed when it comes to economic development expertise. She said such expertise is pivotal if business is to look kindly on Fresno. She said maybe something will break at year’s end or in January.

I called Westerlund today. He was termed out in January and now works for a local law firm. He sent me an email.

“I understand the mayor has plans to add an additional staff member to be dedicated to economic development,” Westerlund said. “I don’t know whether I will fill that role or not. I do believe it’s the right thing for a city the size of Fresno to have a person dedicated to supporting job creation.”

I have no idea the title of the position in play. Scharton was called the “business development director.” Scott Johnson, the former Fresno State athletic director who came to City Hall during Alan Autry’s second term, was the “economic development director.” Fred Burkhardt, who came on board in Autry’s first term, was the “economic development manager.”

Each of them made more than $100,000 a year.

By any name, the job is a tough one.

Jeff Reid, city manager under former Mayor Jim Patterson, said of the job in 2005: “This role is so multifaceted that no one background can well prepare anyone for the challenges.”