TODAY

– April 1, 2015

Bell back on financial feet after near-bankruptcy

(AP) — A Los Angeles suburb facing potential bankruptcy following a corruption scandal is back on its financial feet.

The state controller had warned that the city of Bell could end the year with a million-dollar shortfall. But City Manager Doug Willmore tells the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1gSnOAj) that Bell now has two years of reserves in the bank.

The city raised $15.5 million by selling property and got $5.5 million from firms it blamed for failing to prevent officials from giving themselves exorbitant raises.

Five former City Council members and assistant city manager were convicted of crimes.

Former city manager Robert Rizzo has pleaded no contest to 69 criminal counts. He's also agreed to plead guilty to filing a false income tax return.

Which Fresno official should step down over the Keith Foster drug arrest?

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Latest Local News

Written on 04/01/2015, 1:46 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — A woman walking on the airfield at a Silicon Valley airport probably jumped a fence, said authorities, who are now investigating their fifth...
Written on 04/01/2015, 1:33 pm by Business Journal staff
Wild Water Adventure Park in Clovis is hosting a job fair Saturday in hopes of filling some 350 seasonal positions. The job fair will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the park, located at 11413 E. Shaw Ave. in Clovis. Applications and job descriptions are available at http://www.wildwater.net/employment.php The positions are for the summer season, which kicks off May 23 through Labor Day weekend in September.
Written on 04/01/2015, 1:27 pm by RYAN NAKASHIMA, AP Business Writer
(AP) — Deeper blacks, brighter whites, even bigger screens and better sound. When the high-speed action sequel "Furious 7" debuts this weekend, audiences at Hollywood's famous TCL Chinese Theatre will see every tire skid and fistfight in Imax's brand-new laser format. Lasers are supposed to be able to heighten contrast. In laser-projected trailer footage of "Furious 7" shown exclusively to The Associated Press, details were noticeably crisper than images shown in a standard-sized auditorium with a regular digital projector. Deep blacks, one of the touted benefits of laser projection, stood out boldly, particularly in actress Michelle Rodriguez's eyes and hair, a suit worn by actor Jason Statham, Vin Diesel's tank top, black car paint and shadows in the grooves of tire treads. "Furious 7" will mark the first time a film is being premiered in laser. Imax's first laser projector just started operating in Toronto's Scotiabank Theatre in December. The Chinese Theatre, one of the largest Imax theaters in the world, is one of more than a dozen locations that Imax expects to outfit with laser projection this year. Others include the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 in Manhattan and Empire Cinemas' Leicester Square in London. Tickets for laser-illuminated shows will be the same price as those shown in Imax's standard format. Laser projection is more than contrast, though. The technology will allow more movies to be screened in giant theaters, says Imax Corp. CEO Rich Gelfond. Until now, digital projectors haven't been able to use all the real estate of the largest screens because industry-standard xenon bulbs weren't bright enough. And the high cost of Imax film prints, which show more brightly than digital files, meant that only about eight big-budget blockbusters a year could be shown on giant screens. Lasers change all that. Screens should be able to extend to 140 feet wide and utilize more of the screen at the top and bottom, Gelfond says. The Chinese Theatre can now show Imax movies at a width of 96 feet, compared to 86 feet in the past, says theater president Alwyn Hight Kushner. Larger screens means being able to fill bigger theaters with more seats and build even larger auditoriums from scratch, says Gelfond. He hopes the better visual experience and 12-channel audio that Imax is rolling out with the laser upgrade will drive more moviegoers to want to see films in Imax, which typically cost a few dollars more than standard movie tickets. The laser system is expected to boost gross profits by around $1 million this year, Gelfond told investors in October. "I think over time, this will be the next big thing," Gelfond said in an interview Tuesday with The AP. "It's not going to change the world in a day. It's going to happen a pair of eyeballs at a time." Imax joins a host of other companies shifting to lasers, such as projector maker Christie, which has its own offering and a partnership with Dolby Laboratories Inc. Barco Inc. supplies its own projectors and provides them for Imax. There are about 25 screens worldwide outfitted with laser projectors and about half are Barco's, according to Barco vice president of digital cinema, Patrick Lee. Dolby is set to announce a rollout in the next several months; Christie says it has a half-dozen laser projectors installed. Imax plans to use lasers only on its biggest screens — 80-feet-wide and above — and at institutions such as the Smithsonian, which has ordered three for all its Imax theaters. Imax has contracts with over 71 theaters to install its laser system so far. Art Seago, the CEO of family-owned Santikos Theatres, said customers felt they had a better experience after the Santikos Palladium IMAX in San Antonio installed a Barco laser system in December. Seago plans to convert all of the company's big screens to laser projection. "They know there is something different without us telling them it's laser," he says. "We think it's the new standard for what a guest should expect." One drawback of the format is its hefty cost. Today's digital projectors cost tens of thousands of dollars apiece. Barco's Lee says its laser offering costs about four to five times that, a figure echoed by Christie spokesman Dave Paolini. Gelfond says the Imax system will cost only 50 percent more at first, and decrease over time. Because of the cost, it remains to be seen how far the laser rollout will spread, says Keith Watanabe, director of business development for Miami-based Cinema Equipment and Supplies. "Everyone that begins to see films like this will prefer it," he says. "The question is, will people come up with the capital to make this investment a reality?"
Written on 04/01/2015, 1:23 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are closing modestly lower, continuing a downward trajectory from the day before. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 77 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,698 Wednesday. The Dow slumped 200 points on Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost eight points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,059. The Nasdaq composite declined 20 points, also 0.4 percent, to 4,880. Five of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500 fell, led by health care. Energy stocks were among the winners as the price of oil rose sharply. Oil soared on signs that U.S. production growth is slowing and anticipation that a delay in talks with Iran over its nuclear program could keep Iranian oil off the world market. U.S. crude rose $2.49 to $50.09 a barrel in New York.
Written on 04/01/2015, 1:22 pm by CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
(AP) — McDonald's says it's raising pay for workers at its company-owned U.S. restaurants, making it the latest employer to sweeten worker incentives in an improving economy. The company owns about 10 percent of its more than 14,300 U.S. restaurants, representing about 90,000 workers. The rest are run by franchisees, and McDonald's said they "make their own decisions on pay and benefits" for workers. The announcement comes as several other major companies including, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have announced wage hikes as the economy has picked up and made it more difficult to find reliable workers. Over the past 12 months, the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.5 percent from 6.7 percent. Several cities and states also moved to raise their minimum wages in the past year, while the federal rate has remained at $7.25 an hour. The change also comes as McDonald's has faced bad publicity from demonstrations over pay and labor practices at its restaurants. Worker groups have also been pressuring the company with lawsuits and cases filed with the National Labor Relations Board and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on behalf of workers. In a statement, McDonald's worker Kwanza Brooks of North Carolina called the move "too little to make a real difference" and that it only covers a fraction of workers. Starting on July 1, McDonald's says the starting wages will be a dollar more than the local minimum wage where company-owned restaurants are located. Wages will be adjusted accordingly based on tenure and performance, it said. By the end of 2016, it said the average hourly wage for McDonald's workers at those stores will be more than $10 an hour. A representative for the company was not immediately available to provide details on current wages at company-owned stores. In addition to wage increases, McDonald's says workers at company-owned stores will get paid time off. Employees who have worked for the company for at least a year and work an average of 20 hours a week will be eligible to accrue about 20 hours of paid time off a year. Workers who don't take the time off will be paid for the value of that time, McDonald's said. "We are acting with a renewed sense of energy and purpose to turn our business around," CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement. "We know that a motivated workforce leads to better customer service so we believe this initial step not only benefits our employees, it will improve the McDonald's restaurant experience." McDonald's also said it is expanding benefits to help workers at company- and franchise-owned restaurants complete high school and college. It did not immediately provide details on that program.
Written on 04/01/2015, 1:20 pm by MICHELLE CHAPMAN, AP Business Writer
(AP) — A bevy of big-name businesses including Apple, Gap and Levi Strauss are publicly speaking out against religious-objections legislation in states such as Indiana and Arkansas. The world's largest retailer and America's largest private employer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., waded into the debate Tuesday when its CEO urged Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto a bill in Arkansas that critics said would open the door to discrimination against gays and lesbians. On Wednesday Hutchinson called for changes to the bill. Separately, a group of technology executives from companies such as Yelp and Twitter signed on to a joint statement supporting the addition of non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to civil rights laws. In early 2014, a similar corporate outcry used threats of reduced business to help convince Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto legislation that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays based on the owner's religious beliefs. Here are some reasons corporate America is raising its voice on this issue: SOCIAL MEDIA MACHINE Gone are the days when companies could just sit tight and hope that hot-button topics would blow over without them having to make a statement about it. These days businesses get instant feedback from customers on how they feel about an issue, thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Social media catapulted objections to Indiana's law to the forefront fast, said Laura Ries, president of marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries. That helped force companies to make their voices heard publicly, she said. The companies can't stay silent because many customers would see that as tacit support of the laws, she said. In addition, many of the companies that have weighed in deal directly with consumers. Because so much of the debate centers on whether businesses can deny services to certain groups, Wal-Mart and other retailers could feel the need to forcefully send a message that they're open to all customers. John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said that speaking out on the religious-objections legislation may not have been too difficult for some companies because it is not as divisive as some previous hot topics in the U.S., such as gun control. "This issue seems to so many to be such a wrong," he said. Dan Eaton, an instructor in business ethics and employment law at San Diego State University, said that since the religious-objections legislation is a law that is perceived to exclude people, companies may feel a broader obligation to speak out. IT'S ABOUT CUSTOMERS AND WORKERS Companies know that they have to continuously appeal to the concerns and interests of both employees and customers. That keeps customers coming back to spend money, workers happy and both groups loyal. Increasingly, companies feel they have to speak up on social issues that could prompt backlash from customers or make companies lose out on talented employees, Challenger said. "Big U.S. companies realize that their customers and employees care that the company is doing the right thing," he said. Among the companies speaking out is Aetna, which sent a letter to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Monday, arguing that the state's religious-objections law would hurt its ability to attract and retain talent. The insurer has about 500 employees in Indiana. Aetna, which says it has a long history of supporting the LGBT community, also launched a website and marketing campaign this week that targets that community. With the public becoming more supportive of gay rights, Ries says businesses are seeing that they need to keep pace with evolving views. "Companies want to be ready for the future and supportive of employees and consumers," she said. Nancy Rafuse, Practice Group Chair for Labor & Employment at Atlanta's Polsinelli, said today's businesses want to be inclusive and have a "diversity of people and thoughts and ideas" that will help the business appeal to customers who are also diverse. For example, Wal-Mart joined many other companies in offering domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples, in 2013. THE BIG ECONOMIC PICTURE Businesses are also worried about the economic impact of threatened boycotts of states that pass such laws. That can hurt tourism or cause companies to cut back on business in the state — and those effects can reverberate through a regional economy quickly. In the case of Arizona in 2014, for example, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker suggested his airline would cut flights if the state's business, tourism and convention industry didn't remain healthy. "An economic boycott is how you get folks to listen," Rafuse said.
Written on 04/01/2015, 12:16 pm by FENIT NIRAPPIL, Associated Press
(AP) — California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered state officials Wednesday to impose mandatory water restrictions for the first time in history as the state grapples with a serious drought. In an executive order, Brown ordered the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns that cut usage by 25 percent. "We're in a historic drought and that demands unprecedented action," Brown said at a news conference in the Sierra Nevada, where dry, brown grass surrounded a site that normally would be snow-covered at this time of year. "We have to pull together and save water in every way we can." The move will affect residents, businesses, farmers and other users. Brown's order also will require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to significantly cut water use; order local governments to replace 50 million square feet of lawns on throughout the state with drought-tolerant landscaping; and create a temporary rebate program for consumers who replace old water-sucking appliances with more efficient ones. The snowpack has been in decline all year, with electronic measurements in March showing the statewide snow water equivalent at 19 percent of the historical average for that date. There was no snow at the site of the Wednesday snow survey. Snow supplies about a third of the state's water, and a higher snowpack translates to more water in California reservoirs to meet demand in summer and fall. Officials say the snowpack is already far below the historic lows of 1977 and 2014, when it was 25 percent of normal on April 1 — the time when the snowpack is generally at its peak. Brown declared a drought emergency and stressed the need for sustained water conservation. The Department of Water Resources will conduct its final manual snow survey at a spot near Echo Summit, about 90 miles east of Sacramento. Electronic measurements are taken in a number of other places.
Written on 04/01/2015, 12:06 pm by Business Journal staff
Homeowners and commercial property owners in Parlier, Selma and unincorporated parts of Fresno County can now take part in the HERO (Home Energy Renovation Opportunity) Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program.  The program allows owners to make energy- and water-efficiency improvements to their properties and pay them off through their property tax bill.  "Fresno residents want to do the right thing when it comes to saving energy and water, and the HERO PACE program will make it easier and more affordable for homeowners to improve efficiency," said Henry Perea, Fresno County supervisor. "The county is proud to make this service available to local residents so that they can afford to install the most efficient technology available when it comes time to replace that water heater or furnace." Fresno, Kingsburg, Clovis, Reedley and Sanger have already launched the HERO program and Kerman is expected to begin its participation this summer. Property owners who participate can repay the assessment over five, 10, 15 or 20 years. The interest is tax deductible and homeowners often see savings on electric and water utility bills.  A wide variety of energy-saving products and contractors available through HERO including solar panel installations, whole-home heating and cooling (HVAC) systems, energy-saving windows and doors, roofing and insulation services.  The HERO program now serves 10 million households in California and has helped fund 28,000 residential efficiency projects totaling more than $550 million in financing. The program has also helped increase demand for contractor services, creating 4,700 jobs since 2011. 
Written on 04/01/2015, 11:44 am by Business Journal Staff
The City of Fresno announced that the Department of Development and Resource Management has released a draft of the first major update of the city’s development code in more than 50 years. The development code deals with permitting, zoning, land use, public works and other topics and is required to be consistent with the vision presented in the General Plan Update. Since the passage of the existing Zoning Ordinance in 1962, the City has adopted numerous General Plans but neglected to address significant deficiencies in the Code. Although there have been several piecemeal efforts to make modifications, city officials said those amendments have resulted in a fragmented code that was often difficult to comprehend. “This update was long overdue,” said Jennifer Clark, director of development and resource management.  “We took an outdated, arcane document and made sensible changes that not only reinforce our new General Plan, but also allow properties to be developed in ways that enhance the quality of life in our community,” Clark added. “We’re looking forward to getting comments and suggestions from Fresnans that will help make our development code work for everyone.” The Zoning Ordinance update incorporates contemporary planning and business practices, sets objective criteria for new development, reduces the need for conditional use permits, and incentivizes development by offering flexible property development standards.  The new development code was drafted by City staff after extensive discussion and input by industry professionals. The Draft of the Development Code is available for public comment until June 1 at 5 p.m. The Draft Code will be available for download at www.fresno.gov/code. Hardcopies may also be obtained at the City of Fresno Development Department on the 3rd Floor of City Hall after 1 p.m. A hardcopy may be viewed at the central branch of the Fresno County Library at 2420 Mariposa Street in Downtown Fresno and at libraries and community centers around the city. For additional information, or to submit comments please contact Arnoldo Rodriguez at (559) 621-8172 or Arnoldo.Rodriguez@fresno.gov.  
Written on 04/01/2015, 11:19 am by SUE MANNING, Associated Press
(AP) — Not every veterinarian would call it paradise. Scott Sims gets to far-flung locales in the Hawaiian Islands by flying a plane he built himself or by biking, riding an ATV or swimming to reach sick or injured animals. He will wrangle overweight pigs, scuba-dive to free a sea turtle tangled in a net and patch up patients in unexpected places, operating in a barn or the back of a truck. He stars in Nat Geo Wild's show "Aloha Vet" that debuted March 21. He treats pets, of course, but also takes flight or bumps along Kauai's lone cross-island road to help wild animals — something that sets him apart from other veterinarians in rural or hard-to-reach U.S. areas who often travel to treat livestock or pets. The 59-year-old vet, who sports a Hawaiian shirt and a worn-in hat lined with palm trees, soars above lush forests and lands on secluded beaches when he's not taking his car — tricked out with water, refrigeration and X-ray capabilities — to treat animals. In the first episode, Sims flies to Molokai to help a dog with a broken leg, which he thinks he can save despite another vet's recommendation to amputate. He also treats a runaway horse that got a large gash on its leg after falling into a river and making it through rapids and over rocks. Finally, Sims meets a pig for a manicure because its unkempt hooves threaten to outgrow it. In the second episode, Sims pulls a horse's cracked tooth, examines an endangered coot and checks on a portly pig that's blind from extra skin covering its eyes. Sims later removes the excess flesh so the pig can see again. This week, he treats a goat with constipation. Sims started his adventure by moving his practice from California to Hawaii in 2001."I came here on vacation and fell in love with the beauty and warmth and clean air and everything else that is so spectacular in Hawaii," Sims said. The other animal clinics on the 571-square-mile island of Kauai are only for pets and don't make house calls, while Sims covers any animal, any size, anywhere, said Penny Cistaro, executive director of the Kauai Humane Society. "He has a genuine heart for the animals. He puts them first," Cistaro said. "He doesn't think anything of flying. It's all in a day's work." The vet spends half his time at his home clinic and the other half in the air or on the road — in often time-consuming trips. The lone road across Kauai is one lane each way and takes 2½ hours to cross, Cistaro said. Plus, his plane is hardly a jet. Sims says he made the two-seat propeller plane, a dynamic WT9, from a kit. His efforts get a "mahalo" from clients such as Katja Langholv, who visited Sims' home clinic so he could help her cat with an eye problem. Langholv, who has eight cats, three dogs, three cockatiels and eight horses, has had Sims treat most of her animals. "He always gives his all and you can call on him anytime for anything," she said.Despite the tough conditions, happy endings far outnumber the sad ones, Sims said. The horse he rescued from the riverbank in the March 28 show was one of his best memories, he said. The animal was left to a woman by her deceased soul mate, so she was very attached, Sims said. "It's just amazing the horse lived through this ordeal," Sims said. "We were able to get down there and put a sling under the horse and lift him up with a big crane. He's doing just great now."

Latest State News

Written on 04/01/2015, 1:46 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — A woman walking on the airfield...
Written on 04/01/2015, 1:27 pm by RYAN NAKASHIMA, AP Business Writer
(AP) — Deeper blacks, brighter whites,...
Written on 04/01/2015, 12:16 pm by FENIT NIRAPPIL, Associated Press
(AP) — California Gov. Jerry Brown...
Written on 04/01/2015, 11:19 am by SUE MANNING, Associated Press
(AP) — Not every veterinarian would...

Latest National News

Written on 04/01/2015, 1:23 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are closing modestly...
Written on 04/01/2015, 1:22 pm by CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
(AP) — McDonald's says it's raising pay...
Written on 04/01/2015, 1:20 pm by MICHELLE CHAPMAN, AP Business Writer
(AP) — A bevy of big-name businesses...
Written on 04/01/2015, 9:05 am by RYAN VAN VELZER, Associated Press
 (AP) — Four Peaks Brewing Co. has...