Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

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.

Wheelchair access is part of $24 million Mariposa Grove facelift

A reader wrote to me about my Sunday story on the rehabilitation of Yosemite National Parks’ Mariposa
Grove, expressing disappointment about the lack of wheelchair access.

“Again, the Yosemite restoration program is NOT for people. For the last decades, the environmentalists have ruined
the pleasure of Yosemite for the public. Now the grove will be RUINED for those who cannot walk. We are disgusted.”

The story was mainly about nature, the removal of paved roads and generally a reduction in the human footprtint around magnificent giant sequoias.

I am sorry I did not find room to simply say that the plan provides “universal accessibility.” For some readers, I missed a key part of the story.

Park leaders will make accommodations, such as parking areas, for people who have mobility issues, according to the plan. Here’s a quote:

“Visitors with vehicles displaying accessible parking placards or NPS service vehicles would drive through the lower Grove area to the Grizzly Giant. Several pullouts would be installed to allow these visitors to stop and view individual sequoias or groups of sequoias such as the Bachelor and Three Graces.

“Accessible parking spaces would be available at the lower Grove area and Grizzly Giant for visitors with accessible
parking placards, and the existing vault toilet would be relocated to the Grizzly Giant parking area. The
shuttle originating at the South Entrance would continue to be available to visitors with limited mobility.”

In other words, the plan attempts to address the needs of people who have range of limited mobility issues,
including wheelchairs. I urge anyone who has further doubts or concerns to read the plan and contact Yosemite.

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.

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.”

Mariposa Grove and the pileated woodpecker

At the Mariposa Grove, a tourist pointed out something I had never seen in Yosemite National Park — a pileated woodpecker.  Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss snapped a picture of it.

We were in Yosemite to research a story about the Mariposa Grove, where about 500 mature giant sequoias live. The graceful scenes were everywhere, but the pileated woodpecker stole the show.

This is a big, eye-catching bird. It looked like the size of a crow — black with bold white stripes down the neck and a flaming-red crest.

The bird was pounding at the base of a white fir tree, making little pieces of wood fly. A few people stopped and took photos, but nothing distracted this woodpecker. Someone told me it was hunting for carpenter ants. I couldn’t really see what it was doing.

It has been a while since I had visited the Mariposa Grove, which is near the South Entrance and Highway 41. I’ll have to get back there again soon.

Perea leads lawmakers’ grilling of state officials over jobless check delays

David Siders of The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau reports on Wednesday’s hearing about delayed jobless benefits:

Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, chairman of the Assembly Insurance Committee, speaks with reporters after a committee hearing at the Capitol on Nov. 6, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

The state Assembly Insurance Committee, led by Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea, blasted state officials for their oversight of a computer problem that delayed jobless benefits for nearly 150,000 Californians, while front-line employees testified Wednesday that problems persist.

The oversight hearing was the first on the troubled project. (Perea told The Los Angeles Times’ David Lazarus ahead of the meeting that the goal was to make sure issues that caused the delay don’t arise again.)

A miscalculation converting old unemployment claims into a new processing system over the Labor Day weekend resulted in a massive backlog of unemployment claims. The problem became so severe it skewed reporting of initial jobless claims by the U.S. Department of Labor, and it provided another example of the state’s information-technology shortcomings.

“I think the fundamental issue for the state is we are the home of Silicon Valley, we are seen as the most technologically adept state in the nation,” said Assembly Member Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova. “To have this sort of thing happening is a colossal problem.”

While EDD administrators said backlog claims have largely been resolved, Irene Livingston, an employment program representative for EDD In San Jose, testified that it remains “nearly impossible” for unemployed Californians to reach front-line employees. She said the system is overwhelmed with telephone calls and an email system that remains backlogged.

“There’s literally hundreds of thousands of messages that have yet to receive a response,” she said.

EDD administrators lamented staffing shortages at the department, but EDD Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard told the committee that staffing levels were not responsible for the computer problem. The department greatly underestimated how many claimants would be affected by a glitch in data conversion done over the Labor Day weekend, as well as how long it would take employees to address the problem.

“For this, we are very sorry,” Hilliard said.

Hilliard and a representative of Deloitte Consulting, the contractor on the project, both said the department should have done a more thorough test on the amount of time required to address “stop pay” flags associated with a portion of claims being converted.

(Perea summarized the hearing on his webpage — including some audiofiles.)  

Read more from Capitol Alert

Friday update

Perea’s office released a letter that he sent to Hilliard, the EDD chief, outlining five specific things that the Assembly committee asked the EDD to do:

1. Update the criteria for determining eligibility on an untimely claim.

2. Update the criteria for determining whether an applicant’s ongoing training is a valid reason for not looking for a job.

3. Improve communication with claimants.

4. Look into having more multi-language documents and web pages.

5. Improve the EDD call center.

— The Fresno Bee


At age 85, former Fresno Co. Supervisor Stan Oken pens parenting book

Clovis resident Stan Oken has accomplished quite a bit in his 85 years of life.

A nine-year Fresno County supervisor. Co-founder of Domus Mitis, a foundation set up to assist in the care of abused and dependent women and children. Longtime chair of the Oken family-owned Wonder Valley Ranch Resort and Conference Center. Past chair of the Fresno Convention and Visitors Bureau. Teacher. Coach.

Stan Oken

Now, add author to that sterling résumé.

Oken has penned a book titled “Raising the Whole Child: Gardens of Destiny,” which talks about raising children and urges adults — be their children natural or adopted, or if they are foster parents — to step up and start parenting.

Using gardening as a metaphor, Oken writes that good gardeners raise whole children, while the seeds of the bad gardeners never bloom.

He even offers up a checklist that any couple should meeting before deciding to have a baby: be at least 21 years old, married, have at least a high school diploma, be free of drugs and alcohol, be prepared both socially and financially, have positive self-esteem, be educated about pre-natal care for the mother and health care for the child, and have both mother and father take parenting classes.

For anyone who knows Oken, the book may be a surprise, but certainly not the subject matter.

During his time as a county supervisor, children’s and juvenile justice issues were top priorities. And Oken has been a foster parent himself and founded the River Way Ranch Camp, a summer camp for youth.

Real Estate: Habitat to build nine houses in southeast Fresno

(Submitted photo. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin announces a $845,000 award to Habitat for Humanity Fresno County.)

Habitat for Humanity Fresno County will build nine new houses in southeast Fresno next year thanks to some help from the city of Fresno.

The nonprofit housing agency was awarded $845,000 from the city’s Home Investment Partnership Program for the project at Belgravia and Laval avenues, east of Chestnut Avenue.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin joined City Council member Sal Quintero and Habitat representatives for a news conference and official kick off on Tuesday morning.

The plan is to build three-, four- and five-bedroom houses that range in size from 1,300-square-feet to 1,600-square-feet.

Construction is expected to begin in March or early April.

Oilfield drilling muds, boring waste go into unlined pits

Readers were surprised to learn from my Sunday story that oil companies are allowed to send their drilling muds and boring waste into unlined pits.

They do it with a waiver that was granted several years ago. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board does not view the muds and waste as a hazardous discharge.

But the waiver will expire next month. Environmental groups are pressing the state to end the waiver and require more protection for the underground water table.

My Sunday story was not about the muds or boring wastes. It was about a separate and controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing,  or fracking, which includes the use of chemicals to help free up oil trapped in shale formations.

Fracking fluids were illegally discharged into two of those unlined pits, called sumps. Regional water authorities found the chemicals in concentrations above safe thresholds.

The regional board is now investigating the sumps of several dozen oil companies in the San Joaquin Valley.

The concern is that the contamination might wind up in drinking water systems and irrigation water.

The contaminated sumps are both near Shafter in Kern County, which produces most of the oil in the Valley and in the state. The sumps and wells are owned by Vintage Production, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corp.

To be abundantly clear: The drilling muds and boring waste are not part of fracking, which takes place after the well is drilled. The muds and boring waste have long been considered a low threat.

The Center for Biological Diversity says the muds and wastes themselves contain many kinds of chemicals to help reduce friction and make the drilling more efficient. Some chemicals are related to gas and diesel.

The group, representing many activists, says the time has come to regulate it.