December 31, 2014


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Political Briefs

Top stories

California farmers worry immigration plan will deplete workforce – Farmers already scrambling to find workers in California — the nation’s leading grower of fruits, vegetables and nuts — fear an even greater labor shortage under President Obama’s executive action to block some 5 million people from deportation. Thousands of the state’s farmworkers, who make up a significant portion of those who will benefit, may choose to leave the uncertainty of their seasonal jobs for steady, year-around work building homes, cooking in restaurants and cleaning hotel rooms.  AP article

2014: A look back at key stories — First and last, the year’s biggest story was California’s historic drought, which forced down reservoirs and ground water to unprecedented lows, turned off the taps to farms and businesses – and even at least one small town – and ultimately persuaded voters in November to approve a multibillion-dollar waterworks bond that included $2.7 billion in new storage.  Capitol Weekly article

Valley politics

Year in Review: Visalia goes by-district — For years, efforts have been underway to try to get Visalia to switch from holding general city council elections and instead hold district elections. In February, city leaders agreed to do that, but it took a lawsuit by a group of local Hispanic activists to prompt them to do it.  Visalia Times-Delta article

Statewide politics/Ballot Measures

Californians to watch in 2015: Padilla has long to-do list as California’s election boss – When he is sworn in Monday as California secretary of state, Alex Padilla, a former two-term state senator and possible candidate for higher office, will assume one of the most-maligned posts in state government.  Sacramento Bee article

Other areas

Drought, plastic bags prompt new California laws – California’s historic drought prompted the Legislature into action in 2014, leading lawmakers to regulate groundwater for the first time and override homeowner associations that fine members for replacing lawns with more drought-tolerant landscaping.  AP article

Sacramento Bee: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy defends Whip Steve Scalise’s indefensible blunder — On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the most powerful Republican politician in California, defended House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who had admitted that in 2002, he spoke to a group founded by the neo-Nazi racist David Duke. And McCarthy wonders why Republicans have a tough time winning elections in California.  Sacramento Bee editorial

Tom Steyer was biggest of mega-donors, analysis shows – During the 2014 midterm elections, no one spent political cash like Tom Steyer, the Democratic hedge fund billionaire from San Francisco who has tried to make climate change a paramount issue in American politics.  LA Times article

Could 2015 be the year of the ferret? — With dozens of new lawmakers at the Capitol, might 2015 mark the dawn of a new era for California ferrets? So hopes Pat Wright, founder of, who has pushed for decades to lift a 1933 prohibition on the slinky pets.  Capitol Alert

News Briefs

Top Stories

John Myers: Indian casino, nixed by voters, may not be dead — Long before Californians weighed November’s referendum of a proposed Central Valley tribal casino, powerful forces on both sides quietly admitted something that wasn’t being talked about: The ballot measure wouldn’t be the final word. Now, weeks after voters overwhelmingly rejected the project, it’s increasingly clear that Proposition 48 will be ultimately not much more than a brief distraction.  Myers in KQED

Sierra snowpack levels are greater than a year ago – Measurements of Sierra Nevada snowpack on Tuesday showed more snow than surveyors recorded a year ago. But state water officials said it was far from enough to signal a potential end to California’s continuing drought.  LA Times article; San Francisco Chronicle article; AP article; Hanford Sentinel article

Oil company lays off 700 in Bakersfield — A Canadian oil field services company appears to be the first in Bakersfield to carry out a mass layoff as a result of the recent collapse of oil prices. Ensign Energy Services Inc. warned state officials earlier this month that it expected to release 700 people in Bakersfield effective Dec. 15, according to a website maintained by the state Employment Development Department.  Bakersfield Californian article

Jobs and the Economy

Dan Walters: California’s economy a mixed bag – Both the recession and recovery have revealed some fundamental faults in California’s $2-plus trillion economy along geographic, economic sector and sociological lines. The recovery has been largely concentrated in coastal communities, for example, while much of inland California still experiences double-digit unemployment rates.  Walters column in Sacramento Bee

Historic Yosemite names on negotiating table – Yosemite National Park will take bids next month on a contract worth nearly $2 billion to run the Ahwahnee Hotel, Badger Pass Ski Area and other retail outlets, but the high-stakes jockeying is already happening. Delaware North Companies, the park’s concession operator for 21 years, last week announced that its “intangible” assets — including names, such as the Ahwahnee Hotel — are worth $51 million.  Fresno Bee article

Court sides with POM Wonderful in beverage fight – A federal appeals court has sided with juice maker POM Wonderful in a lawsuit over another beverage company’s use of the term “pom.”  AP article

Bitwise’s new boot camp gives top Fresno-area programmers a leg up – Bitwise Industries, a hub of fledgling technology companies in Fresno, is injecting $200,000 into a rigorous new boot camp for computer programmers, an effort CEO Jake Soberal hopes will position Fresno as a leader in schooling local developers. Fresno Bee article

Fresno real estate market headed into healthy new year – What does the new year have in store? Local housing experts are calling it a “healthy” year for housing or a return to a “normal” market.  Fresno Bee article

Modesto gets $2.5 million from MRFA split – Modesto has received $2.5 million in cash and nearly $1.27 million in firefighting equipment and other assets in the breakup of the Modesto Regional Fire Authority, which the city formed with Stanislaus County and the Salida Fire Protection District in 2011.  Modesto Bee article

New LA Fire Department class is nearly all male; 20 percent have relatives in the ranks – The first new class of Los Angeles Fire Department recruits since Mayor Eric Garcetti overhauled the city’s firefighter hiring process this year is half white and nearly all male, according to data released Tuesday evening. One in five is related to an LAFD member.  LA Times article

In-N-Out is a better place to work than Apple, according to employees – The powers of an In-N-Out Double Double burger are strong. According to a survey by the job community website Glassdoor, In-N-Out is a better place to at work than Apple, and even Facebook.  LA Times article

You gave us the strength: Nonprofits say thanks to the community – Leaders of nonprofits in the Bakersfield area give thanks to the community.  Bakersfield Californian article

Sony insider – not North Korea – likely involved in hack, experts say — Federal authorities insist that the North Korean government is behind the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. Cybersecurity experts? Many are not convinced.  LA Times article

Sony hacking attack, first a nuisance, swiftly grew into a firestorm — It was three days before Thanksgiving, the beginning of a quiet week for Sony Pictures. But Michael Lynton, the studio’s chief executive, was nonetheless driving his Volkswagen GTI toward Sony’s lot at 6 a.m. Final planning for corporate meetings in Tokyo was on his agenda — at least until his cellphone rang.  New York Times article

Marie Callender’s to close its doors in Stockton – Marie Callender’s restaurant, a fixture on March Lane since the 1970s, will serve its last slices of pie this Sunday, a company spokeswoman said.  Stockton Record article

Pasadena employee allegedly embezzles $6 million from city — Pasadena’s city manager blamed a “a complete breakdown” of internal controls Tuesday as prosecutors announced the arrest of a former city employee accused of embezzling more than $6 million from city coffers and funneling some of the money through two local churches.  LA Times article

State scolds tiny Madera County utility district over risk of fraud, embezzlement — The beleaguered Sierra Foothills Public Utilities District in Madera County was scolded this week by the state Controller’s office for failing to file years of required financial reports and for nonexistent or “grossly deficient” internal financial controls that put the district “at risk of … fraud, forgery and embezzlement” by the district’s staff.  Fresno Bee article

Wine thief with nose for best reaps huge haul from French Laundry — A crook with knowledge of high-end wine tore into the French Laundry’s expansive cellar, bypassing hundreds of bottles of lesser vintages to zero in on the priciest pickings at the celebrated Napa Valley restaurant.  San Francisco Chronicle article; ‘Full list of wine bottles stolen at French Laundry’ in San Francisco Chronicle


San Joaquin Valley braces for sub-freezing nights, possible citrus damage — Valley citrus growers and emergency shelters are bracing for sub-freezing nights over the next couple of days as a sometimes blustery arctic air mass settled over much of California.  Fresno Bee article; Bakersfield Californian article

Livingston water well receives $2.3 million filter system — One of the city’s largest water wells previously plagued by a major contaminant now runs with a new filtration system, city officials announced this week. The $2.3 million project took more than a year to complete, but the well now has a filtration system with computer monitoring and four large tanks to remove all traces of TCP contamination from water. The project also increased the well’s water capacity.  Merced Sun-Star article

Criminal Justice/Prisons

LA violent crime rate rises for first time in 12 years, LAPD says – For more than a decade, the Los Angeles Police Department has pointed to year-end statistics showing big drops in crime as proof the agency was making the city safer. But as 2014 draws to a close and the numbers show violent crime has climbed for the first time in 12 years, Chief Charlie Beck has struck a decidedly different note.  LA Times article

Man accused of vandalizing Islamic Cultural Center and nearby Fresno business ordered to stay in jail — The man accused of vandalizing the Islamic Cultural Center and a nearby northeast Fresno business on Christmas Day pleaded not guilty Tuesday and asked a judge if he could be released from jail. “Absolutely denied,” Judge John Gallagher told Asif Mohammad Khan and his lawyer, Vishad Dewan, of the Public Defender’s Office.  Fresno Bee article

Ruben Navarrette: We need to stand up for the cops –You can bet that many law enforcement officers had a “blue” Christmas. The air is heavy with the haunting sound of bagpipes as police officers pay respects to fallen brothers. For me – the son of a retired law enforcement officer – the issue of dead cops can’t be discussed in the abstract. It’s personal.  Navarrette in Sacramento Bee

San Francisco’s probation chief has unlocked a new era for offenders — Wendy Still hasn’t been able to single-handedly change California’s “lock ’em up” mentality — but she sure has tried. In her final years as a full-time public servant, she has embraced rehabilitation over punishment and turned around the city’s largely ignored probation department.  San Francisco Chronicle article

Retired Stockton officer remembered as ‘man of integrity’ – On a bright, cold Tuesday morning — a sharp wind stealing the warmth from the sun — about 600 people gathered to mark the passing of Jimmy Pendergrass, retired Stockton police officer and part-time civilian investigator killed in a hit-and-run collision.  Stockton Record article

Probe: Deadly force justified in veteran’s shooting – The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that a protocol investigation has determined two Lodi police officers were justified in using deadly force in the shooting death of mentally ill Gulf War veteran Parminder Singh Shergill.  Stockton Record article; Sacramento Bee article

Year in Review: Criminals got their due in 2014 — While many Tulare County trials in 2014 continued to be delayed by the process, some went to trial and others were settled before a jury could have a say.  Visalia Times-Delta article


Many college students err on cost of education – Researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank conducted a survey of freshmen at a “selective four-year public university” in the northeast and found that barely over half were able to correctly say what they paid for their first year of college. And about half of students nationwide underestimated how much debt they are taking on for their education.  LA Times article

Frank Lamas: Financial aid is available at Fresno State – The vice president for Student Affairs at Fresno State writes, “I may be a newcomer, but I already know something very important about Fresno State: It is a place where lives are changed! Our work to provide students the financial aid they need is one very important part of helping them succeed.”  Lamas op-ed in Visalia Times-Delta

Stanislaus County Office of Education tackles toughest school problems – County offices serve as the state’s boots on the ground, collecting reports, watching finances, stepping in to help districts with low test scores, assess beginning teachers and get chronically absent students to school. If districts consolidate, split into election districts or swap territory, the county office provides the process to make that happen.  Modesto Bee article

Top 10 most shared EdSource stories of 2014 — 2014 has been an exciting year for EdSource, with a more engaged audience on a wide range of education topics, from the Common Core to the Vergara lawsuit. Here are the 10 most popular posts from the year based on how often they were shared via Twitter, Facebook and email.  EdSource article

UC Merced Connect:  Solution engineered for sweet potato farm — A group of students in the most recent School of Engineering capstone design course at UC Merced devised a sweet solution to a local farm’s harvesting problem, one that is reaping long-term benefits for the farm and the students.  UC Merced Connect in Merced Sun-Star


Prospective California Public Utilities Commission heads dismisses PG&E concerns, says too much Bay Area focus — Michael Picker, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to become the new president of the California Public Utilities Commission, told KQED he is not concerned about the close ties the agency has had with PG&E. He also said he thinks the large regulatory agency is too focused on the Bay Area.  KQED report

Coyote carcasses found south of Tulare — An intended lesson in local natural wildlife Tuesday turned into a ghoulish sight for Lidia Huerta and four young boys. The group was walking on the river bottom near the northbound Highway 99 Tipton rest stop when they discovered the remains of six coyotes hanging from wooden fence posts and barbed wire fencing.  Visalia Times-Delta article

Health/Human Services

New health laws set to take effect in California — The new year will bring in hundreds of new laws in California, including a landmark law that permits undocumented individuals to obtain a driver’s license and another requiring that all eggs sold in California come from chickens living in bigger spaces. Many of those new laws have to deal with health. Some take effect on Jan. 1, others in July. Here’s a look at some of them.  KQED report

Keeping a watchful eye on farmworker health – California’s farmworkers face a litany of health hazards on the job: working bent over and carrying heavy loads of produce is hard on the back, hips, and knees; long hours in the sun can mean heat exhaustion, or worse. Employers don’t always provide the state-mandated access to shade, drinking water, and restrooms. The state’s regulatory agencies can’t keep a very close eye on such a large area. KQED report

Study narrows down genetic suspects in autism — Researchers have narrowed down the list of genes implicated in autism spectrum disorder, and they appear to point toward a part of the brain that has largely been overlooked.  LA Times article


Bay Bridge contractor facing possible fines for unfinished work — With work still to be completed on the new Bay Bridge eastern span, Caltrans is threatening to fine the main contractor up to $25,000 a day for as long as the $6.4 billion project remains unfinished.  San Francisco Chronicle article

Other Areas

Fresno Bee: Fresno’s most interesting newsmaker of 2014 was Darius Assemi — Regardless of whether you respect, fear, admire or loathe him, there is no denying that Darius Assemi is trying to bend and build Fresno into his vision of what a big city should be. Assemi was seemingly everywhere in 2014.  Fresno Bee editorial

The Modesto Bee’s Top 10 local stories of 2014 – In a few ticks of the clock, 2014 will be in the history books. And for countless stories big and small, The Bee has been there to write the first draft of local history, covering news that’s shaped the community we call home. From a worsening drought to mountain lion sightings, 2014 kept The Bee’s journalists on their toes.  Modesto Bee article

Stockton Record top stories of 2014, No. 1:  Bank robbery hostage dies in gun battle; community mourns her loss – One of the saddest days in Stockton history shocks a city, a state, a nation. Three bank robbers enter an oft-robbed branch of the Bank of the West, get just over $15,000, and leave with three hostages: two unidentified bank employees and a customer.  Stockton Record article

He actually said that? The best quotes of 2014 — Sources say the darndest things. These are some of the best quotes captured by The Californian in 2014. Bakersfield Californian article

Only in Bakersfield: The weird and wacky of 2014 — We at The Californian couldn’t even begin to count how many times we’ve caught wind of a bizarre local story and said, “Only in Bakersfield…” 2014 was a banner year for those. We had bears, gun-toting clowns (though not really), Nazi skin wallets and more on the guy who got bit by a raccoon at CALM.  Bakersfield Californian article

South Merced excited about new digs for youths — There was standing room only Tuesday in the McNamara Park Youth Center as scores of people gathered to celebrate the reopening of the newly refurbished building in south Merced.  Merced Sun-Star article

Michael Fitzgerald: A parade that goes back to 1853 — Activist Ralph Lee White invited me over to see the float being built for Thursday’s Freedom Day parade: a slave ship.  Stockton Record article

Valley Editorial Roundup

Fresno Bee – Warning: Our fake news quiz is not all a joke; Darius Assemi was Fresno’s most interesting newsmaker of 2014.

Merced Sun-Star – House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had little choice but to defend Whip Steve Scalise but damages his home state’s party in the process.

Modesto Bee – House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had little choice but to defend Whip Steve Scalise but damages his home state’s party in the process.

Sacramento Bee – On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the most powerful Republican politician in California, defended House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who had admitted that in 2002, he spoke to a group founded by the neo-Nazi racist David Duke. And McCarthy wonders why Republicans have a tough time winning elections in California; Sacramento has a rich history of planting trees.

Stockton Record – 2014 in Review: The year in quotes.

Visalia Times-Delta – Please remember to say “thank you.”