– August 1, 2014

Amazon hikes Prime membership to $99 per year

(AP) — Amazon is raising the price of its popular Prime membership to $99 per year, an increase of $20.

It's the first price increase since the online retailer introduced its Prime membership program, which includes two-day free shipping on many products, in 2005. The company said it would probably raise the price by $20 to $40 in January.

The hike will apply to users when they renew their membership. Users who renew membership before April 17 will pay $79 for the year. After April 17 the price will change to $99. New customers that start a free trial between now and March 20 will lock in the $79 rate for the first year.

Amazon has spent heavily to grow its business and expand into new areas, from movie streaming to e-readers and groceries, and it has accomplished that goal.

The company said it added a million new Prime members in the week before Christmas and a surge in online ordering in the U.S. contributed to huge delays for people sending gifts just ahead of the holiday.

But that has rankled some investors, who are looking for bigger returns.

In an email Thursday to members, the Seattle company stressed that it has not raised the price on Prime in the nine years since its launch, even though shipping costs have increased and it has added new services, such as video streaming. The number of products available for two-day shipping has grown to 20 million from 1 million.

Amazon doesn't disclose how many Prime members it has, but it said in December that it has "tens of millions" of members worldwide.

Cowen & Co. analyst John Blackledge estimates there are about 23 million U.S. prime members. Blackledge said that since the bulk of new memberships occur in the fourth quarter, around the holidays, the benefit of the price hike will probably be felt next year.

He added that he doesn't expect the continued growth of Prime members to slow down despite the price increase.

The announcement was an immediate hit with investors.

Shares rose $10.05, or 2.7 percent, to $380.69 during morning trading. The stock is down 7 percent since the beginning of the year.

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Written on 08/01/2014, 3:21 pm by Business Journal Staff
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Written on 08/01/2014, 3:16 pm by Leah
President/CEOJ-I.T. Outsource (Formerly The Geeks Computer Service) What we do:Solve business problems with technology, act as the outsourced I.T. department for small to medium-sized businesses under 500 computers.   Education:Bachelor’s degree, English — California State University, Fresno Age:39 Family:Wife, JenniferSons, Aaron (12) & Tyler (8) How did you come to establish The Geeks Computer Service?My first post-McDonald’s job was with the Fresno Unified School District, where I moved from a Spanish language bilingual instructional aide to technology aide. I soon was working in the homes of teachers and administrators and their spouses’ businesses. Over the next 19 years, I served 17,000 end users and ended up known as the leading consumer computer repair brand in the area, despite vicious competition. Being known as the consumer solution, a lot of people didn’t even realize that by the end of 2013, 70 percent of my business was coming from business network support. How did you get interested in computers and technology?I’ve always loved the excitement of getting the most out of the technology I had available to me. I grew up learning to do without a lot of luxuries. So by the time I was 7, I learned to repair the broken record player just to listen to Fleetwood Mac, and by the time I was 12, I’d repaired a broken Atari 2600 so I could finally play Yars’ Revenge. My mom saved her pennies and bought me a TRS-80 and I learned to code in BASIC and made my own little games. But mom couldn’t afford the tape deck to save my programs, so I learned a lot of patience when all my work was lost when I turned the computer off. What are the most common computer problems you see?I think it’s interesting that we launched rockets to the moon with computers less powerful than a basic calculator, and yet a lot of businesses think of their systems as ways to type documents and watch cat videos. In reality, they forget about the valuable information that is kept on their systems, and they fail to protect that valuable information, and they wait until something fails before they think of what should be done (or should have been done) to keep that information safe-guarded. So, data protection and business continuity seem to be the least-thought-of, yet the most-important-after-the-fact issues I run into. While most businesses say they’re backing up, in reality, there is no plan in place to recover that information in a time of crisis, and they only check the integrity of that backup on the day they need it. I’ve seen this mentality ruin businesses to the point of bankruptcy. What is the best defense against hackers and viruses?Constant monitoring in the background, plus a team that can spring into action once the threat is detected. Your standard computer repair guy isn’t equipped to respond proactively like that. He only comes in once the damage is done. What are you trying to convey with your new brand?J is the brand, I.T. Outsource is what we do. Changes in market need and a desire to better represent the services we offer meant trading in the cartoonish, 8-bit brand image for something more appropriate for business support. I think the new logo is beautiful, and my team does too. We all feel like the brand now matches our focus, and our attitude toward the success of our clients. It’s surprising to our former consumer clients, but to our existing business clientele the change makes a lot of sense. What skills do you think will be the most important for the next generation of job seekers and business leaders?Critical thinking and problem solving are, hands down, the most valuable skills you can bring to the table. A lot of job seekers, especially college graduates, are looking for a great company culture more than they’re looking for medical benefits or 401k. As business leaders, it’s our job to create and facilitate a great culture for our team. At the same time, folks entering the business world can’t expect to just come in and drink lattes all day. That’s a tech-startup fantasy world. You’ve got to identify problems, create solutions, implement solutions, and not wait for your boss to tell you what to do. What is the job market like for local software and technology professionals? Would you say industry is growing?It’s still a bit lean, I have to tell you, and even leaner for those who are merely chasing the money and are looking for Silicon Valley without leaving home. However, the local market is growing, much more rapidly than I expected. I’ve seen a huge increase in our technical culture in the past two years alone and I’m encouraged by the creativity and the problem solving that is coming out of our Valley’s tech entrepreneurs, programmers and developers. So, I’d say if you’re willing to do the work, you have a bright future in the Valley. What was your first job and what did you learn from it?My first real job was throwing the Fresno Bee when I was 14. I learned the value of “putting it on the porch.”  The Bee didn’t insist I do it for every client, only those who requested it. I learned that if I simply put it on the porch for everyone, I would have happy customers. It’s the simple service details that make all the difference. What are your roots in the San Joaquin Valley?My mom was raised in Clovis. I was born in SoCal but she brought me to Fresno when I was a year old, so I’m a Fresno native—a Southeast Fresno Homeboy, even though I now live in Clovis. Mom worked very hard and raised me and my brother and sister as a single parent, eventually working her way out of poverty, when she remarried to a man who eventually adopted all of us. Chris Petersen served on the Fresno City Council in Southeast Fresno’s District 5 in the 80s, and I learned from him how important it is to bring value to your community and to show love for your city. I took his last name when he adopted us. He passed away a number of years ago, but I hope he’s proud of the contribution I’m trying to make. What do you like to do in your spare time?I’ve read about spare time in a book once.
Written on 08/01/2014, 2:50 pm by Leah
Fresno’s WinCo Foods locations will soon feature self-checkout stands as the grocery chain rolls out the feature to all of its 93 stores in seven states.Mike Read, vice president of public and legal affairs at Idaho-based WinCo Foods, said three stores in the Fresno area should have the self-checkout stands this month. With its low prices, extensive bulk food selection and warehouse-store feel, WinCo may be known by customers as a place to stock up. But Read said that doesn’t apply to everyone.“Not all shoppers do what I would call a stock-up trip,” he said. “Some have only a few items and really would like the convenience of having self-checkout lines.”WinCo Foods recently secured a building permit to install the self-checkout stands at the Clovis location at 396 W. Ashlan Ave., though a representative reached at the store was unaware of the project and referred a reporter to WinCo’s corporate office.Read declined to state how much the self-checkout lanes will cost the entire chain. The valuation of the Fresno permit was $90,000, and the contractor is Eleven Western Builders Inc. in Escondido.Construction had yet to begin at WinCo’s Fresno store at 4488 W. Shaw Avenue earlier this week. Fresno has another store at 1004 S. Peach Ave. in Fresno. There is also a Visalia location.As part of the renovations, two traditional checkout stands in each store will be replaced with six self-checkout stands recommended for customers with 15 items or less. The use of coupons will require a clerk’s assistance.As before, WinCo shoppers will continue to bag their own groceries. All forms of payment except credit cards will be accepted at the stands. WinCo doesn’t accept credit card payments.Read said there will be no accompanying layoffs or staffing increases at WinCo stores as a result of this effort. — Gabriel Dillard Tulare Family Dollar closesA Tulare Family Dollar location is set to close Monday, an apparent victim of flagging sales.The North Carolina-based discount retail chain started a building spree around 2012, opening around a couple of dozen stores in the Central Valley, in larger as well as rural cities.An employee at the Tulare Family Dollar location at 1277 N. Cherry Street said a going-out-of-business sale will continue through the weekend. Two other Tulare locations will remain open.The Dollar Tree discount chain announced this week it is buying the Family Dollar chain for $8.5 billion. The move would make Dollar Tree the largest player in the dollar store segment, with more than 13,000 combined locations. Current leader Dollar General Corp. has about 11,300.Both have opened several Central Valley locations in the last few years.The companies did not say if any Dollar Tree or Family Dollar stores would be closed as a result of the sale. — Gabriel Dillard New Wing Stops in worksNew Wing Stop restaurants are planned for Clovis, Hanford and Porterville.The Clovis location spans 1,200 square feet at the northeast corner of Clovis and Herndon avenues. The building was leased to Wing Stop from Clovis-Herndon Center LLC. Shane Anderson and Doug Cords were agents.The Hanford restaurant spans 1,606 square feet at 150 N. 12th Avenue, #103. It was leased to Wing Stop from Centennial-Hanford Center III LLC. Shane Anderson and Doug Cords were agents in cooperation with Geoff Smith, agent at Lauritzen Company.Wing Stop picked up 1,444 square feet of space at 1375 W. Henderson Ave., Suite 2B. The building is leased to Wing Stop from Henderson-Prospect Partners III LLC. Nathan Negri, Shane Anderson and Doug Cords were agents in the deal.The Wing Stop chain already has restaurants at 5177 E. Kings Canyon Rd. and 1089 E. Shaw Ave. in Fresno, and at 1195 Herndon Ave. in Clovis.Wing Stop is known for its chicken wings. Its menu includes boneless wings, boneless chicken strips and gliders with 11 sauce flavors including atomic, mango habanero, Cajun, original hot, mild, hickory smoked BBQ, lemon pepper, garlic parmesan, Hawaiian, teriyaki, and Louisiana rub. Wing Stop started out as a buffalo-style wing restaurant in Garland, Tex. It now has 500 locations in 30 states. — Chuck Harvey Fresno firm takes on Lotto poolsEveryday millions of people join office lottery pools to increase their chances of winning the big jackpot and hopefully changing their lives forever. One local company, LottoLishus, is launching a social, mobile lottery pooling website and smartphone app aimed at bringing lottery pooling into the 21st century.The company launched what it calls its “Universe Builder” on June 18, which allows potential lottery poolers to begin creating their own lottery pools using the LottoLishus software. Starting in a few weeks, LottoLishus will go live with its full program.It will allow members to play games like Mega Millions, Powerball and Super Lotto Plus from their phones, tablets and PCs.Entrepreneur’s Mark Lane and David Hardcastle have been working with local development firm Bitwise Industries and their subsidiary Shift 3 Technologies to bring LottoLishus to life.“Technology has touched almost every aspect of our lives in the past few years except for lottery pooling,” said Hardcastle, CEO of LottoLishus, in a release. “We saw an opportunity to combine lottery pooling, which has been around since lotteries began, with the convenience of modern technology and ease of sharing with social media.”Players set up an account with a credit card to play $4, $6 or $8 on lotto each week. Playing with a pool of members helps increase the chance of winning.“And to make it more fun, we’re giving away iPads and iPad Minis to people who can grow the biggest pools,” Lane said.Lane and Hardcastle make their money through subscription fees. All business will be handled online.LottoLishus is a homegrown Fresno company. “We’re using local developers, graphic designers, and marketers to launch this venture,” Hardcastle said. “We even did a grass roots capital raise up with local friends and family. We truly believe in the talent here in Fresno and are looking forward to showing off what we can do to our anticipated worldwide audience.”Lottery sales globally are close to $300 billion dollars annually and growing at a steady 8-10 percent rate every year. LottoLishus hopes to tap into that market.“Our goal is to make it fun and convenient while increasing your chances to win,” Lane said. “Our patent pending software will allow our pool to grow to thousands and hopefully millions of players and tickets in play.”Lane said players will win something slightly more than 70 percent of the time playing Mega Millions and more than 30 percent of the time playing Powerball. — Chuck Harvey
Written on 08/01/2014, 2:46 pm by ben
The Hanford City Council voted 5-0 last week to approve environmental documents for a development that will include 500,000 square feet of commercial space near highways 198 and 43. The development, proposed by Fresno-based Pinnacle Pointe LLC, is sited on a 58-acre plot of former ag land bordered by Lacey Boulevard, Highway 198 and Highway 43 in east Hanford.Pinnacle Pointe, which bought the property in 2004, will be building up the development in four phases.Phase 1 will consist of 275,000 square feet of building space, including 100,000 square feet of anchor retail, 6,500 square feet of fast-food restaurants and 5,000 square feet of sit-down restaurants.The first phase also calls for two other retail pads of 9,500 square feet and 4,000 square feet and 150,000 square feet of a discount club that will likely be a Costco.While other potential tenants have yet to be announced, Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle said the goal is for Costco to close escrow on the property soon with construction wrapping up on the store by spring 2015.“We’re going to bust tail at the City of Hanford to make that happen and the street improvements will begin as soon as we do our plan check and acquire the right of ways,” Pyle said.Phase 2 of the project will add three large retail tenant spaces to the area as well as two smaller building pads, while phase 3 will see another three large retail tenant spaces and two smaller building pads. Phase 4 will bring another four building pads and additional parking.Complying with the City of Hanford’s wishes to preserve downtown as a viable commercial center, Pinnacle Pointe will exclude certain types of businesses from the development, including financial institutions, theatres and auto dealerships.To handle the influx of new traffic, Pinnacle Pointe has also agreed to install traffic signals where Highway 43 intersects 10th Avenue and Grangeville Boulevard and add road lanes to allow for the increase in traffic volumes.Pinnacle Pointe will also be responsible for relocating the intersection at Highway 43 and Lacey Boulevard about a quarter-mile west and 300 feet north of its current placement to avoid a gas station and convenience store in the area.In addition, the company will take on a widening project bringing Lacey Boulevard from its current two lanes to four and will also make improvements to the Highway 43-to-Highway 198 ramps. Another project will involve two new wells drilled on the site with booster pumps to provide power for fire sprinklers.Under the City of Hanford’s Sales Tax Incentive Program adopted in 2011, Pinnacle Pointe will be reimbursed for the improvements by receiving back 50 percent of its sales tax revenue — up to $2 million per year — if the development generates at least $23 million a year in sales tax.The Costco must generate $5.75 million per quarter in sales tax in order for Pinnacle Pointe to receive payment for that quarter.Pinnacle Pointe is also benefiting from another city program started up in 2011 that reduced development impact fees by 30 percent for sewer, water and transportation infrastructure.Pyle said the new sales tax revenues should be in the neighborhood of $500,000 a year at full buildout, helping Hanford to add more services and infrastructure in that part of the city, including a planned eastside fire station.“We were going to struggle with east Lacey Boulevard until this development came along,” Pyle said, referring to the loss of the city’s redevelopment agency a few years ago. “Now we have good motivation for public investment with sewer and infrastructure and road improvements. It’s also within eye-shot of the high-speed rail station location.” Ben Keller  |  Reporter can be reached at:490-3465 or e-mail
Written on 08/01/2014, 2:44 pm by chuckharvey
A warm, dry spring has expedited harvests of two of the most valuable Valley crops, grapes and almonds.“Grapes are now being harvested on a small scale,” said Ryan Jacobsen, CEO and executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. “And they are already shaking almonds.” National Agriculture Statistics Service reports that the Kings County almond harvest has begun. Normally the start is later in August.And the grape harvest is running one to two weeks ahead of schedule.Bud break for grapes was very early this season, leading to early flowering and an early harvest. Water allocations for the crop all but disappeared in drought conditions, but farmers with wells kept the crops alive and growing.The hope is that grape quality will be good throughout the season. GrapesWine grape harvesting normally starts in August with Thompson seedless and pino gris harvested first in Valley vineyards. The season concludes in October.Jacobsen said his family would start harvesting wine grapes the week of July 28.Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, said wine grape maturity is running about five days ahead of normal. The crop is lighter and the berry size is smaller.Sugar levels are high, which is great for wine making. Early maturity means that dry wines can be produced with just the right alcohol and sugar levels.“The quality is quite good,” said Peterangelo Vallis, executive director of San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers Association in Kingsburg.Vallis said growers dodged a bullet this year in that most were able to pump enough water to keep vines healthy. But another dry year would mean less water available and plant stress levels would be high.DiBuduo said he hopes that with production down some this year, and with early maturity, buyers will be tempted to buy early and generate some markets. However, many buyers have long-term agreements that keep prices in check.Table grapes, by contrast are more subject to crop timing, supply and market conditions.The Valley table grape season started in late June. “Normally it starts about the fourth of July,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League.Bedwell said production statewide would be about 116 million boxes of grapes this year, compared to 117 million boxes in 2013. Earliest grape varieties include flame seedless and superior seedless.Quality of the table grape crop is good, Bedwell. He added that harvest of table grapes would continue into November or December.The early table grape harvest could mean a profitable start for many growers. Farmers report good demand and above normal prices as the market transitions to the San Joaquin Valley. Wholesale table grape prices have been running at $17 to $19 per 19-pound container of bagged grapes since July 1.Bedwell said farmers have been fortunate in terms of having enough workers to pick grapes. “But we expect the real test to be in late August and early September when we reach peak harvest time for other crops such as raisins.”Fresno County grapes, for the first time, reached the billion-dollar mark for gross value in 2013. Almonds reached $1.1 billion in gross value the same year. Almonds are shaken from the trees by mechanical equipment. Wine grapes and a growing percentage of raisin grapes are also harvested mechanically.Table grapes are harvested by hand. AlmondsIndustry website reported that some almond harvesting started in Shafter in the southern San Joaquin Valley on July 21. More almond orchards were set to start on July 28.In Kings and Fresno counties, almond harvest is about 10 days ahead of where it was last year and two weeks ahead of the norm.As with grapes, bud break for almonds was very early this year. Then, hot weather around July 4 pushed the crop along even further.Because of shortages in water deliveries, growers had to supplement their irrigations with water from new or existing wells. Because almond trees need to be irrigated following harvest, the industry is concerned about getting enough water in late August and September.Also with less water available, farmers had to fallow many row crops in order to irrigate their almond groves. Fortunately, the quality of the almond crop has been excellent so far. “The hulls and the meats look good,” said Michael Kelley, CEO of Central California Almond Growers Association in Kerman.Kernel sizes on the newly harvested almonds is said to be larger than the 2013 crop.The National Agriculture Statistics Service reported that California’s 2014 almond production is forecast at 2.10 billion meat pounds, up 7.7 percent from May’s subjective forecast and 4.5 percent from last year’s crop. The forecast is based on 860,000 bearing acres.Kelley said he believes that the 2.10 billion pounds figure is too high. And although the almond market is stable, it loses some steam when buyers look at that figure. A smaller estimate would be conducive to creating a better market, Kelley said.The NASS report pointed out that after the warmest winter on record for California, the almond bloom began in early February. It was one of the earliest blooms in memory.Rains were sparse this season so orchards required irrigation in the winter months. The average nut set per tree is 6,646 almonds, down 0.6 percent from 2013.Both almond groves and grapevines received several irrigations in July as conditions became very hot and dry.As the water soaked in and rejuvenated the crops, workers prepared for a harvest season that — following an early start — is likely to wrap up a little early this year.That’s positive, Kelley said, because the earlier the almonds come off, the sooner summer irrigation can conclude and less chance there is of almonds drying out. Chuck Harvey  |  Reporter can be reached at:490-3466 or e-mail
Written on 08/01/2014, 2:30 pm by Gabriel Dillard
Assemblymember Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno) was in town Friday morning warning business leaders about impending sticker shock at gas pumps next year. Perea's Assembly Bill 69, which would delay the fuel industry's inclusion into the state's cap-and-trade program until 2018, took top billing along with the water bond during his first appearance as part of the Fresno Chamber's Eggs & Issues breakfasts. The California Air Resources Board estimates that once the state's oil companies are required to deal in emissions credits in the cap-and-trade market starting Jan. 1, 2015, consumers could see a jump at the pumps from 17 to 79 cents per gallon, Perea said. AB 69 would delay compliance until 2018. Perea said Bay Area families could very well swallow such an expense, but the results could be dire for residents of the Central Valley families struggling to make ends meet. "That's a very different dinner table conversation, Perea said. The bill has rankled the feathers of other Democrats in the Assembly and Senate who are reluctant to revisit such a key measure of the state's plan to deal with greenhouse gases. But that's nothing new for Perea and an unofficial caucus of business friendly Assembly Democrats called the Mods — sometimes even the Mod Squad, he said. He chairs the group of mostly inland Democrats that has proven a formidable force in Sacramento. With a magic number of around 17 Mods — along with the Assembly GOP — Perea said the group has had a hand in defeating legislation deemed job killers by the California Chamber of Commerce. These include: • SB 935, an additional minimum wage increase that died in the Assembly labor committee. • SB 1021, a split roll parcel tax proposal that could single out commercial properties for higher taxes. It died in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation committee. Perea also made some predictions about the water bond that will (or will not) be on the November ballot. Perea worked on a proposal that totals about $8.5 billion, which includes $3 billion for water storage projects. Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing a $6 billion bond that Perea said "doesn't do anything for anybody." He said the alternatives heading into the Aug. 11 deadline include going with 2009's $11 billion water bond or pulling the ballot item entirely and starting again for the next election cycle. Perea thinks there will be a bond that lands in the $8 billion range, and include funds for storage, clean water for rural communities, groundwater cleanup, desalination and recycling.
Written on 08/01/2014, 2:28 pm by Business Journal Staff
The City of Clovis came in at No. 15 in survey of top California cities suited for home ownership. A survey by NerdWallet of 178 California cities with 50,000 or more residents took into account home availability, home affordability, area growth, home values, median monthly household incomes and homeowner costs as a percentage of household income. The survey found that despite high housing costs, California remains a popular place to live with a 34-month population growth of 2.9 percent, compared with the national average of 2.4 percent. Population growth in Clovis was 4.7 percent from 2010 to 2012. Clovis has a home ownership rate of 62.6 percent. Median monthly homeowner costs came in low at $1,981. Median home value for Clovis is $259,000. The top-rated city for all the considered attributes was Brentwood. It had the highest population growth rate on the list at 9.7 percent from 2010 to 2012. Brentwood has a homeownership rate of 75.7 percent and a median home value of $360,800. Rounding out the top 10 were: 10, Temecula; 9, San Ramon; 8, Perris; 7, Victorville; 6, Hacienda Heights; 5, Lake Elsinore; 4, Murrieta; 3, Menifee and 2, Elk Grove. Visalia came in at No. 20, followed by Tulare at 27, Porterville at 44, Hanford at 48, Madera at 56 and Fresno at 99. Fresno’s population growth for 2010 to 2012 came in at 2.4 percent. But the real problem for Fresno was in median home values at a low $195,900 and a somewhat high homeowner costs as a percentage of household income (45.9 percent).
Written on 08/01/2014, 2:15 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — The U.S. stock market is closing out its worst week in two years.Traders moved money into investments traditionally seen as having lower risk Friday, such as U.S. government bonds, gold and utility stocks. Energy stocks fell after Chevron reported weaker oil and gas production. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 69 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,493. The Dow has lost 387 points over the past two days. The slump interrupted five months of steady gains.The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell five points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,925. The S&P 500 lost 2.7 percent this week, the biggest loss since June 2012. The Nasdaq fell 17 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,352.Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.49 percent.
Written on 08/01/2014, 1:38 pm by Business Journal staff
A Tulare Family Dollar location is set to close Monday, an apparent victim of flagging sales. The North Carolina-based discount retail chain started a building spree around 2012, opening around a couple of dozen stores in the Central Valley, in larger as well as rural cities. An employee at the Tulare Family Dollar location at 1277 N. Cherry Street said a going-out-of-business sale will continue through the weekend. Two other Tulare locations will remain open. The Dollar Tree discount chain announced this week it is buying the Family Dollar chain for $8.5 billion. The move would make Dollar Tree the largest player in the dollar store segment, with more than 13,000 combined locations. Current leader Dollar General Corp. has about 11,300. Both have opened several Central Valley locations in the last few years. The companies did not say if any Dollar Tree or Family Dollar stores would be closed as a result of the sale.
Written on 08/01/2014, 9:34 am by Paul Elias, Associated Press
(AP) — A California state senator previously charged with bribery pleaded not guilty Thursday to a new count of racketeering and to previously filed charges of accepting and soliciting bribes in exchange for exerting his influence in Sacramento. The revised indictment unsealed last week also alleges that state Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, sought money in exchange for helping pass legislation making it harder for professional football players to obtain workers compensation in California. Authorities allege that an undercover FBI agent met with Yee and political adviser Keith Jackson at a restaurant on May 17, 2013, and talked about pending legislation that would limit the ability of out-of-state players to file claims in the state. Yee was a member of a Senate committee considering the bill and told the agent he controlled two votes. The agent boasted of his connection to an unidentified NFL owner. Yee then encouraged the agent to tell "owner of NFL team A" of his influence with the bill and to have the owner contact the senator "with an offer to help Yee," according to the indictment. When the undercover agent asked how much the vote would cost, Yee responded "'oh no ... we gotta drag it out, man. We gotta juice this thing,'" the document states. Yee and Jackson then discussed approaching NFL players and other owners, according to the indictment. A month later, the undercover agent told Jackson the NFL owner would pay $60,000, which Yee approved during a phone conversation with Jackson, according to the indictment that says the money was never delivered. Yee voted for the bill in committee but abstained when the full Senate passed it late last year. Jackson has pleaded not guilty to racketeering and related charges. The new racketeering charge against Yee accuses him of orchestrating a wide range of criminal activity. Yee previously pleaded not guilty to bribery charges and an allegation that he agreed to arrange a gun sale between an undercover FBI agent posing as a business man and international arms dealer in exchange for campaign contributions. The new indictment also accuses Yee of taking bribes in exchange for votes in favor of several bills, including one on medical marijuana and another to extend the life of the California State Athletic Commission. Also charged with racketeering was Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow. The grand jury said the Ghee Kung Tong community association headed by Chow was a racketeering enterprise. Chow pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to racketeering, money laundering and other charges.Yee, Chow and Jackson could each face 20 years in prison if convicted. The state Senate previously suspended Yee with pay. Several related media outlets filed a lawsuit Thursday in Sacramento against the state Senate seeking the appointment books and calendars of Yee and state Sen. Ron Calderon, who was suspended from the chamber due to an unrelated corruption case. The California Senate and its rules committee previously denied requests made by the Bay Area Newspaper Group, Los Angeles Newspaper Group and San Jose Mercury News to release the documents. Senate lawyers claim the records are part of the deliberative process of lawmakers and are confidential. The media outlets argue that the documents are no longer shielded from disclosure now that both senators have been suspended and charged.

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