January 24, 2015


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Political Briefs

Top stories

Renteria considers Sacramento – and not D.C. – for her future — With the 2014 election now behind her, Amenda Renteria is looking ahead to 2016 and considering the possibility of realigning her political world from Washington to Sacramento. The target is obvious — Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea’s 31st Assembly District seat.  Fresno Bee article

Willie Brown: Villaraigosa should sit out U.S. Senate race – Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown suggested Friday that Antonio Villaraigosa should pass on the U.S. Senate race out of loyalty to his friend and fellow Democrat Kamala Harris, the only announced candidate for the 2016 contest.  Sacramento Bee article

Statewide politics/Ballot Measures

Internal poll puts Harris well ahead for California Senate – The survey, conducted for the Harris camp by Democratic robopolling firm Public Policy Polling, shows the state attorney general leading former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa 41-16 in a head-to-head match-up. Forty-three percent were undecided.  Politico article

Chris Christie to keynote California GOP convention — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a reliable source of entertainment – and inspiration – for California Republicans, will keynote the state party’s spring convention, organizers said Friday.  Capitol Alert


Jeb Bush emails foreshadow a likely immigration battle with GOP — On the explosive issue of immigration, Bush occupies the left side of his party’s spectrum, his views squarely contrary to those of many conservative voters who will help determine the next Republican nominee.  LA Times article

Other areas

Dying Californians could get experimental drugs under ‘right to try’ bill — Terminally ill Californians could get access to treatments not yet approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration under a bill by Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier.  Capitol Alert

Mayor Johnson introduces Obama: ‘He’s hip, he’s a smooth president’ — Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was introduced before hundreds of games during his professional basketball career. But he said the introduction he made today was “the honor of a lifetime.” Johnson introduced President Barack Obama at the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. Before he made the introduction, Johnson mentioned Obama’s singing and comedy appearances, saying, “he’s hip, he’s a smooth president.”  Sacramento Bee article; LA Times article

Testimony: Building trust in state government — Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, on Thursday testified before the Little Hoover Commission about interactions between state government and the public. His testimony is below. Baldassare testimony in Fox & Hounds

California Supreme Court: Judges can’t belong to Boy Scouts because of its anti-gay stance — California’s Supreme Court voted Friday to prohibit state judges from belonging to the Boy Scouts on grounds that the group discriminates against gays. AP article

Biden touts community college proposal, healthcare during LA visit – Vice President Joe Biden visited several Los Angeles sites on Friday to tout and gather support for two of the White House’s signature initiatives: a plan to make the first two years of community college free and the Affordable Care Act.  LA Times article

White House hopeful Jeb Bush hits Democratic bastion of San Francisco — Sounding increasingly like a presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hit the Democratic bastion of San Francisco Friday, arguing that the next president must concentrate on “restoring America’s leadership in the world” abroad, while promoting policies at home that help Americans “move up the economic ladder.”  San Francisco Chronicle article; LA Times article

News Briefs

Top Stories

Dry January starts familiar feeling of dread among farm water leaders – Facing a fourth drought year and maybe the driest January on record, farm water leaders hope storms are on the way, but they saw a dry January last year and got no water from the federal Central Valley Project.  Fresno Bee article; Merced Sun-Star article

California unemployment falls to 7 percent; few new jobs – California’s unemployment rate fell to 7 percent in December, a drop of two-tenths of a percentage point from a month earlier, but the state added just 700 jobs last month, a disappointing number after good job gains in November.  AP article; Sacramento Bee article; LA Times article

Jobs and the Economy

Unemployment rates mixed in Valley – Jobless rates were mixed in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley in December but remained well below December 2013 rates, according to data released by the California Employment Development Department.  Unemployment rates ranged from a low of 9.9 percent in Kern to a high of 12.8 percent in Merced County.  Here are the December unemployment rates, following in parentheses by November 2014 and December 2013 rates:

  • Fresno – 11.0 percent (11.1, 12.1)
  • Kern – 9.9 percent (9.6, 10.9)
  • Kings – 11.6 percent (11.7, 12.8)
  • Madera – 10.5 percent (10.7, 10.8)
  • Merced – 12.8 percent (12.3, 13.8)
  • San Joaquin – 10.4 percent (10.7, 12.0)
  • Stanislaus – 10.5 percent (10.7, 12.0)
  • Tulare – 12.7 percent (12.3, 13.6)

Fresno County records lowest unemployment rate for December in 7 years — Fresno County’s unemployment rate edged down slightly in December, ending the year at 11% and marking the county’s lowest December unemployment rate in seven years.  Fresno Bee article; The Business Journal article

Kern’s jobless rate rose to 9.9 percent in December — Kern County’s unemployment rate rose again in December as farm payrolls plunged more than 10 percent and oil employment held mostly steady, the state reported Friday.  Bakersfield Californian article

Jobless rate creeps up in Merced County – The unemployment rate in Merced County in December rose by a few percentage points from the previous month but remains down by 1 percent from last year, according to numbers released Friday from the Employment Development Department.  Merced Sun-Star article

San Joaquin County unemployment rate drops in December – San Joaquin County’s unemployment rate dropped in December, easing to an estimated 10.4 percent from 10.7 percent in November, primarily due to fewer county residents actively looking for jobs, state employment officials reported Friday.  Stockton Record article

2014 brought fewer large-scale layoffs in Fresno, Valley – The number of large employers who issued mass-layoff notices to their workers in the Valley fell in 2014 to its lowest level since the depths of the Great Recession.  Fresno Bee article

California DMV retracts notice that UberX, Lyft need commercial plates — California DMV Director Jean Shiomoto this evening retracted Vehicle Industry News alert VIN 2015-01, which affected ride share operators for companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar and issued the following statement.  KQED report; LA Times article

Realtors: Distressed home sales fell in December — The California Association of Realtors (CAR) is reporting that distressed home sales in the Central Valley decreased last month compared to December 2013. The Business Journal article

Specialty food distributor expected to create 200 jobs in Stockton – A major distributor of specialty food products has selected Stockton for its newest facility, a move expected to create 200 new jobs, the city announced this week. Illinois-based KeHE Distributors has begun recruiting for managers, supervisors, delivery drivers and order selectors, with build-out of its project expected in March, according to the city.  Stockton Record article

Eatery explosion: Valley sees surge in new restaurants – Sushi, fries smothered in jalapeño popper dip and brisket that’s smoked for 14 hours. The Valley is about to be awash with new restaurants offering these eats and more. An increasing willingness to eat out, new shopping centers and the promise of a new year are inspiring a slew of new restaurants opening in and around Fresno.  Fresno Bee article

Joel Fox: Taking on the minimum wage debate in LA – The national debate over minimum wage increases will take center stage in Los Angeles because two efforts to raise the minimum wage face staunch opposition from the business community. The Los Angeles Business Federation, known as BizFed, went on the offensive last week coming out strongly against both minimum wage proposals and the way the council is going about reviewing the consequences of a minimum wage increase.  Fox in Fox & Hounds

Sierra Vista Mall sold at auction for $39 million – Sierra Vista Mall, the regional shopping center in Clovis that has struggled to fill its retail spaces, was sold in a public auction Tuesday for $39 million. The buyer was identified in a trustee’s deed, filed at the Fresno County Recorder’s Office on Wednesday, as COMM 2006-C8 Shaw Avenue Clovis, a Delaware limited liability company.  Fresno Bee article

Jill Fields: Not so fast – Fulton Mall’s fate is still up for debate – The Fresno State history professor and government liaison for the Downtown Fresno Coalition writes, “Any destruction of the Fulton Mall’s integrity should not be taking place. Though the Downtown Fresno Partnership has started planning a ‘groundbreaking,’ no ground can legally be broken until the city meets a number of conditions set by the Fresno City Council on that fateful day last February.  Fields op-ed in Fresno Bee

Tulare cheese plant gets march hearing – All systems are go on the 220 job CaliCheese plant in Tulare says company CEO Robert Moultrie. Originally approved without an environmental impact report the “final EIR is now expected to be heard in March “says Moultrie with anticipated approval by the city council. The draft was released in September.  Visalia Times-Delta article

Manteca edges closer to its own Great Wolf water project – This new year could see one of the city’s great old traditions revived — or at least, well on its way toward revival. As soon as June, the City Council may approve a $200 million water-park resort just north of the Highway 120 bypass. Groundbreaking could take place shortly afterward, City Manager Karen McLaughlin said this week.  Stockton Record article

New Macy’s site in Sacramento shows rise of e-commerce, logistics as manufacturing wanes – South Sacramento’s old soup factory is becoming a distribution hub for the modern era, a place to ship goods to consumers who order from their computers.  Sacramento Bee article

Daniel Borenstein:  Contra Costa supervisor pay debacle may have crossed legal line – This is what happens when greed trumps ethics. In their pursuit of a ridiculous 33 percent salary increase, two Contra Costa supervisors may have violated county workers’ civil rights and, possibly, crossed a criminal line.  Borenstein in Contra Costa Times

California state pay increased $1.1 billion last year – California state workers’ salaries rose a total $1.1 billion last year, according to new payroll data, while the number of state employees also grew.  Sacramento Bee article

California state salary pay database updated — The Sacramento Bee’s searchable California state-pay database has been updated with 2014 information. You can search or sort by name, department and pay amount, and look up salary histories dating back to 2007.  Sacramento Bee article

Foon Rhee: To make it to middle class, location matters – This is about whether the American dream is still real. It turns out that the answer depends quite a bit on where you happen to grow up.  Rhee column in Sacramento Bee

Head of Kern Community Foundation resigning – The president and CEO of the Kern Community Foundation has resigned after five years to take a job in Vero Beach, Fla., the nonprofit announced Friday. Jeffrey R. Pickering is leaving at the end of May to become CEO of the Indian River Community Foundation and to be closer to family in Central Florida.  Bakersfield Californian article

Event hopes to slide into Sacramento region – An upstart company wants to bring a massive inflatable waterslide to the Sacramento area this summer. Officials at the Salt Lake City-based company say Sacramento is showing strong interest in a “Slide The City” event set for June 13. The only hitch is that JSC Events is still looking for a site. Sacramento Bee article

Most of wine stolen from French Laundry restaurant is recovered — The $300,000 worth of wine that was stolen from the French Laundry restaurant on Christmas Day has turned up — in Greensboro, N.C.  LA Times article; AP article; San Francisco Chronicle article

Guy Fieri’s proposed Santa Rosa winery gets totally rejected — On Thursday, the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments unanimously rejected Guy Fieri‘s plans to build a winery in Santa Rosa. San Francisco Chronicle article


‘Ridiculous Ridge’ may be back to prolong California drought — You might’ve noticed a conspicuous absence lately: rain. In fact, with a scant few days remaining in the month, much of Northern California is on track for a record-dry January. The winter storms that had us scrambling in December have largely dried up, raising the prospect of a fourth year of drought. We had two big bursts that qualify asatmospheric river storms and then … crickets.  KQED report

Robots could be headed to Central Valley farms – Robots may soon be pulling weeds on Central Valley farms. At UC Davis researchers have received  $2.7 million dollars from the USDA to study how new technology could replace field labor.  Capital Public Radio report

Fresno State water center announces $1.1 million grant — Fresno State’s announced Friday that its International Center for Water Technology (ICWT) received a $1.12 million grant from the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board (FRWIB) to continue its research and partnership with industry and government agencies.  The Business Journal article

USDA considers freeing organic farmers from promotion fees – Organic farmers are fertilizing a proposal to broaden their exemption from paying industry fees that largely support conventional agriculture.  McClatchy Newspapers article

Audit: Ag department’s penalties on animal-care violations lacking – The U.S. Department of Agriculture continually reduced penalties for animal-care violations around the country and so poorly used its limited resources that it sometimes inspected facilities that had no animals while it skimped on other reviews, according to a new audit. McClatchy Newspapers article

Farm Beat: Blackbird effort gets new help — The tricolored blackbird, which has struggled to survive in the remnants of Central Valley wetlands, got a $1.1 million boost this week.  Modesto Bee article

Criminal Justice/Prisons

Brown says criminal justice system must be improved – Governor Jerry Brown was speaking at a conference on realignment, his program that diverts some offenders from state prisons to county jails. The program has been controversial among law enforcement, but Brown says it’s given local governments more control. And he says he wants to work on other ways to improve California’s criminal justice system.  Capital Public Radio report

Dozens of felons apply for reduced convictions in Merced County – Prosecutors in Merced County are reviewing dozens of petitions from felons seeking to reduce their convictions to misdemeanors in the wake of the recent passage of Proposition 47. That’s creating a substantial caseload increase for an already staff-strapped Merced County District Attorney’s Office.  Merced Sun-Star article

Supreme Court to review lethal injection case – The Supreme Court is stepping into the issue of lethal injection executions for the first time since 2008 in an appeal filed by death row inmates in Oklahoma.  AP article

Scott Shafer: California’s chief justice: ‘Hard to say death penalty is working’ – In an interview with KQED this week, I asked Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to assess the state of capital punishment in California, given that there hasn’t been an execution since 2006 even though there are more than 700 inmates on death row. “It’s difficult to say it’s working,” she said in her typically cautious manner. “And there’s no talk in the state legislature of fixing it.”  Shafer in KQED

Court filings: Taft teachers, aware of bullying, planned to strangle Bryan Oliver if needed – The attorney representing Bryan Oliver and his mother in a multimillion dollar claim against the Taft Union High School District has filed a scathing response to the district’s cross complaint seeking money from the Oliver family to pay for injuries shooting victim Bowe Cleveland suffered. It includes allegations that teachers planned to strangle Oliver with purse straps if he attacked them.  Bakersfield Californian article

Lemoore Police Department seeks to serve at-risk youth — In an effort to prevent at-risk youth from going down the wrong path, Lemoore city officials are advocating for the creation of a Police Athletic League program.  Hanford Sentinel article

Homicide victims skewing older in LA County — In 2000, the average homicide victim was 30 years old and in 2014, the average victim was 34 years old, according to a Los Angeles Times data analysis. The shift comes as the total number of homicides falls.  LA Times article


John Myers: Showdown looms over California’s school construction needs — The key question is this: is it time to rethink the existing system where state and local officials share responsibility for building and improving schools, financed in large part by the state government selling multi-billion dollar general obligation bonds?  Myers in KQED

‘First Look’:  Bakersfield College chosen as a 4-year degree community college — Having the opportunity of obtaining a four-year degree at a community college is not always an option. A community college is usually the platform for students to transfer to a four-year college or university. But on Tuesday, students attending or planning to attend Bakersfield College now have that option.  Bakersfield Californian article

After-school enrichment program attracts Merced, Atwater students – About 1,000 students at high schools in Merced and Atwater are participating in an after-school program that helps them keep up with their academic credits, stay physically fit and explore enrichment opportunities for college classes or careers.  Merced Sun-Star article

Some state college basketball coaches share in profits of ‘buy’ games – Facing stiff competition for highly regarded coaches but constrained by state budgets, schools such as Long Beach State give the coaches a share of outside revenue to keep them on campus.  LA Times article

Bachelor’s degree program kicks off — Bachelor’s degree programs aren’t going to be coming anytime soon to community colleges in Kings County.  Hanford Sentinel article

Modesto City Schools board interviewing 13 for vacancy — The Modesto City Schools Board of Education will hold special meetings Monday and Thursday to interview candidates to fill the vacancy left by Ruben Villalobos. The 13 applicants – six women, seven men – have a wide range of education and experience.  Modesto Bee article

Larry White: Marshall Plan needed for state’s education system — Reforms, effective reforms, must be enacted to alter the downward slide of our educational system. But which reforms and enacted by whom?  White column in Stockton Record


PG&E hit with $430,000 fine for pipeline-safety problems – Pacific Gas and Electric Co. did not properly inspect its natural-gas pipelines for eight years and missed federally mandated deadlines to draw up safety plans, state regulators concluded Friday in fining the company $430,000.  San Francisco Chronicle article; AP article

Wasco project would treat oil wastewater for reuse – In another sign oil field wastewater treatment is gaining steam locally, an Arizona company plans to build a $10 million processing plant in Wasco.  Bakersfield Californian article

Jerry McNerney and Renee Ellmers: Interstate highway needed for our nation’s electricity – Congressmembers McNerney (D-Stockton) and Ellmers (R-North Carolina) write, “Though our grid has served us well, we’ve simply outgrown it. It’s time to modernize the grid so we can better provide reliable, efficient and cheaper electricity while incorporating renewable sources to holistically tackle our 21st-century energy needs.” McNerney/Ellmers op-ed in Stockton Record

Sacramento State launching environmental research institute — Sacramento State plans to launch a new institute that will merge environmental science and policymaking, particularly concerning climate change and water-related issues that challenge California and the world.  Sacramento Bee article

Forward Landfill expansion floated again – The privately owned landfill is once again seeking to expand, and protests are rising from familiar places — from neighboring property owners, the local farm bureau, and pilots who fly out of nearby Stockton Metropolitan Airport.  Stockton Record article

When finding faults, geologists must sometimes become ditch-diggers — When geologists want to study an active earthquake fault, they often rely on a trenching study. They dig a long trench across the active trace of the fault, perhaps as much as 10 feet deep, or deeper if money and conditions allow. KQED report

Health/Human Services

California measles outbreak expands to 78 cases; more likely – The measles outbreak centered in California continues to expand, with officials now confirming 78 cases of the illness in seven states and Mexico. The California Department of Public Health said there are now 68 cases in the state – 48 that have been directly linked to being at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure last month. Some people also visited one or both of the parks while infectious in January.  LA Times article; San Francisco Chronicle article

Placer County reports its first flu-related death — Placer County health officials reported Friday they believe influenza is a contributing cause in a Placer County man’s death this week.  Sacramento Bee article

Emergency rooms busy with Medi-Cal patients – Mercy Medical Center in Merced almost hit its record number of emergency room patients seen in 24 hours on Tuesday. Merced Sun-Star article

Bakersfield’s private hospitals earn Bs, Cs in new study – Other local hospitals said they support transparency in safety assessments, but they’re a little dubious about the Leapfrog report.  Bakersfield Californian article

Hospital ‘grades’ not always a fair measure – A new report on the safety of care at hospitals across the nation put Kern Medical Center at the absolute bottom of Bakersfield’s hospital pile.  Bakersfield Californian article

Health district buys Atwater dental surgery center – Bloss Memorial Healthcare District has bought out a husband-and-wife team that for 15 years ran a dental surgery center that treats low-income children and severely disabled adults from Merced and Stanislaus counties.  Merced Sun-Star article

Price of hip surgery varies from $17,000 to $46,000 in LA — Hospital prices for routine knee and hip replacement surgeries vary by tens of thousands of dollars in cities across California and nationwide, a new insurance industry report shows.  LA Times article

Mike Osegueda: Finding peace at 4 in the morning – The former Fresno Bee columnist  writes, “When my youngest son was born last March, the doctors immediately noticed his head. Something wasn’t right about it. We kept a keen eye on it for months, eventually getting a CT scan.”  Osegueda op-ed in Fresno Bee


Record TSA airport seizures: Loaded guns, grenades, knife in an enchilada – People who are leaving on a jet plane pack clothes, toiletries and often something to pass the time. Passengers also pack heat, according to a Transportation Security Administration report released on Friday that explains that 2014 hit the bull’s eye with a record number of guns seized by agents.  LA Times article

Sacramento airport reaches hotel construction deal — Sacramento International Airport has reached a deal with a private developer to build a five-story hotel on airport property between the two passenger terminals, officials announced Friday. The deal, years in the making, will provide a privately-built 135-room Hyatt Place. The hotel will include an indoor pool and spa, fitness room, dining area and 3,500 square feet of meeting space.  Sacramento Bee article

Other Areas

Employee arrested at California Secretary of State office on gun charge — Secretary of State Alex Padilla has ordered increased security at his Sacramento offices after an employee was arrested this week on a gun charge, accused of bringing a loaded firearm to work.  Sacramento Bee article

Scott Sample retiring from Madera fair – Scott Sample, chief executive officer of the Madera District Fair for 20 years, is retiring in April.  Fresno Bee article

Will San Diego be a pot mecca? — With every city in the county declining to allow medical marijuana dispensaries except San Diego, the city could become a sort of mecca for legal pot in the region.  U-T San Diego article

Valley Editorial Roundup

Fresno BeeCheers and tears: Bye, Silver Dollar; Thumbs up, thumbs down.

Modesto Bee – Our Views: Still smoking? Save some money by quitting, big week for techies and other issues.

Visalia Times-Delta – Prosecuting Gen. Petraeus seems to be an overkill.