June 20, 2015


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Political Briefs

Top stories

 This time for real: Legislature passes (another) budget – Three days after Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders reached agreement on a $115.4 billion general fund state spending plan, lawmakers in both houses on Friday ratified the deal. The budget includes Brown’s more conservative revenue estimates and lower overall spending levels, while increasing funding for preschool and universities and expanding Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children starting in May 2016.  Sacramento Bee article; LA Times article; AP article; John Myers in KQED

 Legislature passes anti-drought measure imposing fines, water system consolidation — A California budget bill that would allow the state to forcibly consolidate water systems, exempt certain water projects from environmental review, and make other far-reaching changes in response to the drought cleared the Legislature on Friday over the angry objections of Republicans. Sacramento Bee article; KVPR report

State budget

 California governors tend to win state budget fights – The budget agreement announced the next day – and passed by lawmakers on Friday – laid bare how overmatched the Democratic-controlled Legislature stands in spending talks with a governor of its own party. Sacramento Bee article

 Drivers with unpaid-ticket suspensions may get a break — The new state budget that the Legislature approved Friday offers a break to some of the millions of Californians whose driver’s licenses have been suspended for failing to pay traffic tickets — a chance to get their licenses back by signing up for a cut-rate repayment program, with further discounts for the poor. San Francisco Chronicle article

Valley politics

 Baines touts ‘brief moment’ with Obama in San Francisco — Fresno City Council President Oliver Baines on Friday participated in a public safety panel discussion at the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual conference in San Francisco, and then had what his office termed a “brief moment” with President Barack Obama. Baines’ office didn’t offer details on the Obama moment other than to call it a “fortunate opportunity.” Fresno Bee article

Statewide politics/Ballot Measures

 Tony Quinn: Alex Padilla’s voter reforms — Secretary of State Alex Padilla has some nifty new ideas on how to increase California’s dreadful voter turnout – 2014 was the lowest off-year turnout in history. Unfortunately, his ideas are not likely to increase voter participation for the simple, reason that more and more California voters simply see no reason to waste their time casting a ballot. Quinn in Fox & Hounds

Other areas

Brown, lawmakers hunt Medi-Cal money — Hoping to fill a “billion-dollar hole,” lawmakers were poised to gather in a special session Friday to figure out new sources of funding for the state’s complex health care programs – including Medi-Cal. Capitol Weekly article

 Ronald Reagan’s nuanced legacy as California governor – A statue of Ronald Reagan will be unveiled in the California state Capitol rotunda on Monday. It’s funded by private donations under a law signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2012. Much has been said of Reagan’s legacy as president – but as Ben Adler reports from Sacramento, his time as California governor often goes overlooked. Capital Public Radio report

 Delaware decriminalized marijuana this week: Here are the states that may be next — Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill Thursday that decriminalized marijuana use, and a host of ballot measures and legislative initiatives could push other states closer to decriminalization or legalization before the year is over. LA Times article

 Dan Morain: The Numbers Crunch: Colorado starts surveying the Rocky Mountain High – The Mile High City definitely is. A survey by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows 18.5 percent of adults 18 and older in Denver have smoked, vaped or eaten marijuana in the past month. Morain in Sacramento Bee

 Obama: Gun regulations could save lives — President Barack Obama implored hundreds of U.S. mayors on Friday to refuse to accept gun violence and mass killings as “the new normal” and combat killings with stricter gun control laws. Capitol Alert; San Francisco Chronicle article

 President Obama tells mayors racism is a ‘blight’ on nation — President Obama told hundreds of mayors in San Francisco Friday that this week’s massacre at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, shows that racism still haunts the United States. KQED report

 This senator wants to clamp down on the drone you got for Christmas — A top Democrat is proposing to give the Federal Aviation Administration new powers to police consumer drones just like the agency plans to regulate commercial ones. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) introduced the Consumer Drone Safety Act on Thursday in a bid to head off some of the near-collisions that have plagued airports and manned aircraft around the country.  Washington Post article

 Trade dispute exposes House Democrats’ turmoil, challenges —  Congress’ upheaval over trade has exposed turmoil within a House Democratic caucus that’s grown smaller and more liberal in recent years as moderates have been ousted in successive election bloodlettings. San Francisco Chronicle article

News Briefs

Top Stories

 California water districts challenge state’s drought order — Three California irrigation districts sued the state on Friday, claiming officials overstepped their authority by ordering farmers with some of the strongest water rights to stop pumping from some rivers during the drought. The legal challenges came from three districts that provide water to farmers in the San Joaquin River watershed — prime California farmland that relies on the river to produce a significant portion of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables. AP article; Modesto Bee article; Sacramento Bee article

 Potentially harmful chemicals found in oil field water used for irrigation — Testing of recycled oil field wastewater used on about 45,000 acres of farmland in the Central Valley shows the water contains small amounts of potentially harmful chemicals, including oil, benzene and acetone. LA Times article

 New Yosemite parks contract sparks questions – The surprising selection of a new concession operator at Yosemite National Park now faces scrutiny from lawmakers, local communities and, not least, park visitors. With officials from the Philadelphia-based Aramark just starting to introduce themselves to key Yosemite-area players, they face questions on everything from why they were selected to what role Congress might play to what the company plans for Yosemite Valley. McClatchy Newspapers/Fresno Bee article

Jobs and the Economy

 Unemployment rates drop throughout Valley – Unemployment rates dropped throughout the eight-county San Joaquin Valley in May, according to data released by the California Employment Development Department.  Jobless rates also stayed well below May 2014 levels. Here are the May 2015 jobless rates, followed in parentheses by the April 2015 and May 2014 rates:

  • Fresno – 9.8 percent (10.1, 11.1)
  • Kern – 10.0 percent (10.3, 10.1)
  • Kings – 10.3 percent (10.7 11.4)
  • Madera – 9.8 percent (10.3, 10.5)
  • Merced – 11.1 percent (11.4, 12.4)
  • San Joaquin – 8.6 percent (8.7, 10.1)
  • Stanislaus – 9.6 percent (9.8, 11.1)
  • Tulare – 11.0 percent (11.4, 12.2)

 California adds 52,400 jobs in May; unemployment rate ticks up to 6.4 percent – California employers added 54,200 jobs in May, one of the largest monthly gains in the past year, according to federal data. The state’s unemployment rate edged up to 6.4% — slightly higher than 6.3% in April, but significantly down from a rate of 7.6% a year earlier. The national unemployment rate is 5.5%. LA Times article; AP article

 Unemployment rates rose in half of U.S. states last month – Unemployment rates rose in 25 U.S. states last month, driven higher in many cases by more people who began looking for work but didn’t immediately find jobs. Rates fell in 9 states and Washington, D.C., and were unchanged in 16 states, the Labor Department said Friday. AP article

 Central San Joaquin Valley unemployment continues year-over-year drop – Unemployment in Fresno County fell below 10% last month for the first time since last fall, dipping to 9.8% on the strength of a seasonal rise in farm employment. Figures released Friday by the California Employment Development Department also show that May was the 44th consecutive month in which the county’s unemployment rate has fallen from the prior year — a long-term trend that reflects a slowly improving jobs picture for the Valley. Fresno Bee article; The Business Journal article

 Kings May unemployment down fifth consecutive year – Kings County unemployment dipped to 10.3 percent last month, representing the fifth year-over-year decline for May. Hanford Sentinel article

 San Joaquin County jobless rate drops to 8.6 percent – San Joaquin County’s unemployment rate eased to 8.6 percent in May, one tick down from a revised 8.7 percent in April, but well below the May 2014 estimate of 10.1 percent, state employment officials reported Friday. Stockton Record article

 Fresno City Council debate on downtown revitalization a head-scratcher – The Fresno City Council on Thursday gave its blessing to a special district focused on downtown revitalization. Don’t be fooled by the 7-0 vote. This was one strange hearing. At issue was the Downtown Fresno Property and Business Improvement District. Most people know the district by its brand name — Downtown Fresno Partnership. Fresno Bee article

 Head Start employees pick up final paychecks – Tears welled up in the eyes of many Head Start employees as they left the agency’s main office on North Pershing Avenue Friday to pick up their final paychecks. Stockton Record article

 Tulare library foundation presents council with $30,000 pledge check – The Tulare Library Foundation presented the city council with a $30,000 check earlier this week, part of a $1 million pledge. Visalia Times-Delta article

Commissioner Ron Manfred says new A’s stadium remains a priority – Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday the A’s need for a new stadium remains a top priority for Major League Baseball – and that the best-case scenario is for the A’s to geographically stay right where they are. Sacramento Bee article

 Bay Area mortgage relief target of mayors — Bay Area mayors are asking banks and federal agencies to offer their distressed mortgages first to nonprofit organizations to help keep homeowners in their houses and rents low. Contra Costa Times article

 LA city homeless committee debuts with call for restrooms, showers and shelter — The Los Angeles City Council’s new homeless committee kicked off Thursday with members calling for the city to provide showers, restrooms and emergency shelter to help indigents survive in the streets with dignity. LA Times article

 Michael Hiltzik: San Diego nightmare: Tell me again why any city would do business with the NFL — San Diego has a right to be appalled. It doesn’t have a right to be surprised. This is how the NFL and its teams operate when they’re trying to get themselves a new stadium. To their incumbent cities, they dangle their interest in staying on a string; to wanna-be cities, they dangle their interest in relocating. Hiltzik in LA Times

 City: Chargers kept changing rules — San Diego officials say a frustrating part of this year’s stadium effort has been the Chargers’ habit of frequently changing what they want or making new demands every time one of their complaints gets resolved. San Diego Union-Tribune article


 Situation in Mountain House ‘grim’ – The water district that supplies Mountain House with its drinking water warned late Friday that it will shut down its pumps at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, unless assured that it will not be penalized for continuing to draw water. Stockton Record article

 Sierra storms offer drought-year surprise for Kings River farmers – Kings River Water Association Watermaster Steve Haugen says Kings runoff expectations are “dramatically different” than just a month ago based on the unseasonable storms in the Sierra the past month. Visalia Times-Delta article

 Mike Dunbar: The Modesto Bee invitees you to a forum on the future of water – We’ll conduct a “Conversation on Water” at 7 p.m. July 15 in the Foster Family Theater at the Gallo Center in downtown Modesto. We’re inviting up to 440 people – including you – to join us and hear what they have to say. There will be opportunities to submit questions and get answers.Dunbar column in Modesto Bee

 Drought scrubs Visalia health employees competition — Kaweah Delta Health Care District’s 25-year tradition of racing rubber ducks on Mill Creek in Visalia ended Friday, a victim of the drought. The health district had no choice but to dry-dock the ducks. Fresno Bee article

 Hilmar Cheese co-founder will get major ag award — Charles Ahlem, a dairy farmer and co-founder of Hilmar Cheese Co., will receive one of the state’s top ag honors. The California State Fair will present the Agriculturist of the Year Award in recognition of Ahlem’s work in business and government. Modesto Bee article

Criminal Justice/Prisons

 Fresno police sued over alleged inaction on domestic violence — A federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of two domestic abuse victims — one deceased, the other living but paralyzed — says Fresno police didn’t do enough to help the women even though they were clearly in dangerous situations. Fresno Bee article

 Sacramento violent crime rises nearly 25 percent in 2015 — A spike in assaults and robberies caused violent crime in Sacramento to increase nearly 25 percent during the first five months of the year. But the increase – which follows a historic low number of homicides in 2014 – doesn’t necessarily point to a yearlong trend for the city, law enforcement officials and expects say. Sacramento Bee article


 Eye on Education: An overhaul for special education in California? Experts say ‘yes’ — Too many students are kept separate in “special day classes,” fail to get the skills they need to function in society and are greeted with low expectations by teachers and administrators. Parents often aren’t knowledgeable about their children’s rights. Few teachers are trained in both special education and general education. And the way special education is funded is out of date and unequal between school districts. It’s time for an overhaul, Kirst says. Fresno Bee article

 Eye on Education: The sooner the better: Diagnosing, assessing special needs early improves a child’s odds for later success – Whatever the condition, experts concur that the earlier a child can be assessed and care provided, the better the odds the child will improve as they grow older. Fresno Bee article

 Eye on Education: ‘School within a school’ helps Visalia students with autism – At Visalia Unified School District, students with autism are being educated under a new program that administrators say increases attention on language development, behavioral and social skills, and academics. Fresno Bee article

 Eye on Education: Small rural districts battle to keep special ed students close to home — Unlike the Valley’s larger urban districts, small rural districts often don’t have the money — or enough students, or even teachers — to float their own programs. So they rely on the Fresno County Office of Education to hire teachers and organize classroom programs for those students. The downside: It can entail an hour-long bus ride to get to the program. That can be a deal-killer for some parents. Fresno Bee article

 Eye on Education: Advanced programs help special needs students learn to be independent adults — Life after high school was hard for Michael Jensen to imagine. His mother, who has been by his side for years, had no idea what was next for her younger son. Jensen, a 24-year-old Fresno man, has autism, a developmental disorder that affects his ability to communicate and interact with others. While many high school seniors graduate and move on to study at a college or a university, there aren’t many options for young adults with intellectual disabilities.Fresno Bee article

 Eye on Education: Protecting Patrick: Parents talk about challenges getting services — To help their son, Joe and Judy Barron have spent more than a decade versing themselves in an alphabet soup of special education: a complex web of programs, plans, agencies and laws aimed at helping children with special needs get an education. But even for the well-educated Barrons (Joe is a high school teacher, Judy an attorney), the task continues to be very overwhelming. Fresno Bee article

 Erin Studer: Let’s create schools where all children are welcome – The executive director of CHIME Institute’s Schwarzenegger Community School writes, “Each year, data shows us that our schools do not prepare all students for life after high school and often fail to meet the needs of our most at-risk students. Separation does not seem to be the answer. At CHIME Charter School in Los Angeles, a national model for inclusive education, we take a different approach.” Studer op-ed in Fresno Bee

 San Joaquin Delta College owes $1.8 million after blunder – San Joaquin Delta College must refund the state $1.8 million after over-reporting student attendance for almost three years, officials said Friday. Stockton Record article

 Grand jury investigates Avenal district — The Kings County Grand Jury investigated Avenal High School and the Reef-Sunset Unified School District as a whole after receiving complaints from teachers and other staff about some of their procedures. The grand jury recently published its report online. In its findings, grand jury members criticized the school and district for the implementation of its block schedule, lack of Chromebook use monitoring, poor communication, being rude and more. Hanford Sentinel article

 Leslie Cox: My deaf son launched me into leadership – The special education program manager for the Fresno County Office of Education writes, “As an educator, I experience every day the life-changing influence of the inclusion of special needs students into general-education classrooms. And what I’ve learned is that our most fragile students are the most powerful when it comes to teaching lessons of compassion, kindness and respect.” Cox op-ed in Fresno Bee


 North Fork evacuations ordered as brush fire nears – A full-scale evacuation is in progress in the North Fork area where a fire that started Thursday night re-ignited Friday and headed toward the foothill community. Fresno Bee article

 As Sierra hills burn, California fire season begins in earnest – A truck that caught fire on a rural road about 10 miles south of Yosemite National Park on Thursday touched off a wildland blaze that, by Friday afternoon, had torn across more than 500 acres of bone-dry brush and forest north of the Madera County community of Oakhurst, fire officials said. San Francisco Chronicle article

 Lake fire’s drought-fueled spread point to an ugly fire season – California’s first major forest fire of the season, which has consumed more than 11,000 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest, is being fueled by nearly four years of drought. LA Times article

 Threatened salmon die after PG&E temporarily shuts canal – More than one-tenth of the largest wild population of threatened salmon in the Central Valley died after repair work near a power plant led Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to cut off a cooling flow of water into a creek, wildlife and utility officials said Friday. AP article

 Dick Hagerty: Limiting Yosemite for your own good – Once again our beloved National Park Service has irritated and offended many of us who visited Yosemite over the Memorial Day weekend. Hagerty column in Modesto Bee

 EPA proposes tougher fuel-efficiency standards for trucks – The Obama administration on Friday proposed tough new standards to reduce pollution from carbon-emitting trucks and vans, the latest move by President Barack Obama to address global warming. AP article

 Air district offers new grant program – The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is giving organizations an incentive to offer electric vehicle charging stations. Businesses and public agencies are being given the chance to receive up to $6,000 per charging station made available for public use through the district’s new Charge Up! Grant program. A total of $2 million is expected to be given out in this first round of funding. Hanford Sentinel article

 El Capitan beach to reopen a month after Santa Barbara County oil spill El Capitan State Beach will reopen next Friday, more than a month after 101,000 gallons of crude oil gushed from a ruptured pipeline off the Santa Barbara County coast. LA Times article

 Toxic algae bloom shuts down West Coast fisheries — One of the largest toxic algae blooms seen off California has shut down recreational and commercial fishing along the West Coast and could be contributing to a host of sea lion strandings in the Bay Area, scientists said this week. LA Times article

 Earth is on track for a mass extinction, and humans are to blame, study says — Today’s animal species are disappearing at a rate up to 100 times higher than they did in the past — and humans are responsible, a new study warns. LA Times article

Health/Human Services

 Tobacco sales to minors in Fresno County drop – Illegal sales of tobacco to minors are going down in Fresno County, according to a study released Friday by the American Lung Association. Fresno Bee article

 Lewis Griswold: Visalia hospital seeks parcel tax to save tower project — The long saga of the unfinished Tulare Regional Medical Center building is moving into a new phase because community leaders are lending their names to a rescue effort. Griswold in Fresno Bee

Preventing skin cancer topic of focus at San Joaquin lecture — It’s not much of a surprise that those residing in Bakersfield, one of the sunniest places in the United States, could be at higher risk of developing skin cancer than the rest of the population. Bakersfield Californian article

 Michael Hiltzik: High cost of hepatitis drug reflects a broken pricing system — Here’s the problem: The list price of the one-pill-a-day, 12-week treatment is nearly $100,000 and Blumenfeld’s health insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, refuses to pay it. Hiltzik in LA Times

Land Use/Housing

 Planning experts look to the past to predict the future — What will Southern California look like in the future? The Times asked this question back in 1988, when 60% of the population was white and it took only 15 minutes to zip down the freeway from the Valley to downtown L.A. Planning experts crunched some numbers and gave their best guess for 2010. Some of their projections came pretty close. Other changes since the 1980s took everyone by surprise. Studying these numbers helped officials rethink what it might be like by 2040. LA Times article


 Stockton airport looks to fly to Mexico — Stockton Metropolitan Airport officials want to seek funding for a customs inspections station that would support international flights, with an eye to initially establishing service to Mexico. Stockton Record article

Other areas

 Hanford Fire Department works to improve response times — As the Hanford Fire Department continues to work toward improved response times, a third fire station may be the best way to do it. Hanford Sentinel article

 Arvin bars under fire after shooting – Arvin’s pretty dry already, but the city could get even drier if an Arvin civic group has its way. No, not because of the state’s four-year drought. Because a local civic group is calling for the closure of Arvin’s bars. There are only two in town, and one of them was the site of a shooting Monday that left two Arvin men dead and a third person critically wounded. Bakersfield Californian article

 Tulare County animal shelter prepares to renovate –  Tulare County Animal Control is preparing for its own, planned renovation of its animal shelter off Road 140 and Avenue 256, south of Visalia, but those plans are substantially more modest. Visalia Times-Delta article

 Jasjit Singh: From Charleston to Oak Creek, we must combat hate – The community development fellow for the Sikh Coalition writes, “What happened in Charleston, South Carolina, happened in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, nearly three years ago, and I’m no longer so naïve as to think that it won’t happen somewhere else again. While these acts of horror are a long way from our doorsteps here in Fresno, we must do more as a community right here and across the nation to make sure this never happens again.” Singh op-ed in Fresno Bee

 Gary Wayne Walker: Fresno’s Carolyn Hogg brings people together – The Fresno resident writes, “My next door neighbor, Carolyn Hogg, brings to mind that Latin phrase. She is the city of Fresno’s Chief Information Officer, and top digital expert. E Pluribus Unum is translated, ‘Out of many, one,’ or sometimes, ‘One from many.’” Walker op-ed in Fresno Bee

Orange County’s illegally fixed court cases add up to ‘big-time corruption’ — Officials now say that about 1,000 DUI and misdemeanor traffic cases were “fixed” by a clerk, who has not been identified. The clerk apparently created fake plea deals with heavily reduced penalties. LA Times article