TODAY

– August 29, 2014

North Fork Casino passes skin-of-its teeth vote

The North Fork casino gaming compact has passed a key Assembly vote.The North Fork casino gaming compact has passed a key Assembly vote.Plans to build a casino off of Highway 99 in Madera County dodged a narrow bullet today with a vote by the state Assembly approving a gaming compact with the North Fork Rancheria.

The bill, AB 277, failed to garner the needed 41 yeses in the first two rounds of Assembly voting, but eventually passed on a 41-12 margin, with 23 Assembly members abstaining, according to the Twitter feed of Jim Miller, Sacramento bureau reporter for the The Press-Enterprise in Riverside County.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where it would need 21 votes to pass. A vote has not been scheduled.

Senate approval could be the last roadblock for the casino, which would include 2,000 slot machines as well as a resort hotel. The North Fork Rancheria says the project would generate up to 4,500 jobs, $100 million in annual economic activity and $5 million in annual funding for Madera County.

Opponents of the project include operators of the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino in Coarsegold and a pair of influential gaming tribes in Riverside County that say the pact would set a bad precedent for tribes opening casinos off of their reservations. The North Fork Rancheria is based in Madera County's Sierra foothills.

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Related article: Gov. Brown approves North Fork's Madera casino

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Written on 08/28/2014, 4:02 pm by Business Journal staff
Valley Commerce Bancorp, parent company of Valley Business Bank of Visalia, announced an eight-cent cash dividend to its shareholders for the third...
Written on 08/28/2014, 3:43 pm by Business Journal staff
More than $5.2 million is on its way to Central Valley school districts as part of the first round of funding from the Prop. 39 Clean Energy Jobs Act. Approved by voters in November 2012, Prop. 39 relies on a five-year corporate tax to support energy efficiency and alternative energy projects at schools within the state. Under the initiative, up to $550 million is available every year for eligible projects. A little more than $381 was made available for the first 2013-14 fiscal year. Of that, the California Energy Commission approved $66 million to school districts that submitted energy expenditure plans for projects at 244 schools throughout the state. Around 36 schools in the Central Valley will be the first to see energy saving projects from the first round of Prop. 39 funding, with a total of $5.264 million going to schools and school districts in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties. The recipients in Fresno County are:• Central Unified School District: $3,379,735• Big Creek Elementary School District: $72,965 Kings County:• Hanford Elementary School District: $287,720• Hanford Joint Union High: $158,248 Madera County:• Sherman Thomas Charter School: $293,471• Chowchilla Union High School District: $293,471 Tulare County:• Terra Bella Union Elementary School District: $256,000• Columbine Elementary School: $172,327• Sunnyside Union Elementary: $76,682• Moson-Sultana Joint Union Elementary: $264,796• Alta Vista Elementary School District: $204,553 Any unallocated funds in the first year will roll forward into the second fiscal year. The California Energy Commission will accept energy expenditure plans for the second year in September. School districts can either submit one plan each year or a multi-year plan. Each school district approved this year had an option to receive part or all of their first-year award allocation for energy planning purposes. A full list of school districts approved in the 2013-14 fiscal year can be found at www.energy.ca.gov/efficiency/proposition39.
Written on 08/28/2014, 2:05 pm by ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
U.S. financial markets ended slightly lower Thursday, marking their first loss in a week of record highs. The escalating conflict in Ukraine, disappointing retail earnings and profit outlooks combined to weigh down the market, eclipsing some good news on the U.S. economy and labor market. "The key driver was largely the Ukraine news and the uncertainty of what that means," said Erik Davidson, deputy chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank. U.S. stock index futures pointed to a lower opening in premarket trading Thursday, following a downward turn in global stock markets as traders reacted to the developments in Ukraine. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said Russian forces had entered his country. He called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note declined as investors sought out lower-risk assets. A string of disappointing earnings and profit outlooks late Wednesday and early Thursday also weighed on the market early on. Not all the news was discouraging. The Commerce Department estimated that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 4.2 percent in the April-June quarter. The Labor Department added to the good news, saying the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits slipped last week to 298,000, a low level that signals employers are cutting fewer jobs and hiring is likely to remain strong. "The economic data in the U.S. continues to look quite good," Davidson said. Nonetheless, major U.S. stock indexes opened lower. They pared some of their losses as the day went on, but remained down the rest of the day. All told, the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.38 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,996.74. The index hit record highs the first three days of the week. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 42.44 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,079.57.The Nasdaq composite shed 11.93 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,557.69. Major U.S. indexes are on track to end higher for the month and are up for the year. Trading volume was lighter than the recent average ahead of the Labor Day holiday. Investors seized on the lackluster earnings to reduce their holdings in several retailers. Williams-Sonoma tumbled 12 percent after the cookware and home furnishings company issue a disappointing full-year profit outlook late Wednesday. The stock shed $8.96 to $65.93. Tilly's lost 4.3 percent after the company forecast a difficult summer, noting customer traffic was down and merchandise discounts were cutting into its profit. The stock slid 37 cents to $8.15. Genesco also declined after the apparel and footwear seller issued a profit outlook that was shy of Wall Street's expectations. Genesco sank $6.73, or 7.6 percent, to $81.94.Abercrombie & Fitch fell 4.8 percent after the teen clothing company reported revenue that fell short of analysts' estimates. The stock slid $2.13 to $41.87. The poor earnings and outlooks from retailers ran counter to what has otherwise been a strong corporate earnings season, which has helped drive a late-summer revival for U.S. stocks. The dour outlooks are particularly discouraging when one considers that the sector is entering what traditionally is the best season for retailers, said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. "That does put a bit of a note of caution over everything," he said. Elsewhere in the market, the price of oil rose for the third day in a row on evidence of a stronger U.S. economy. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 67 cents to close at $94.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Wholesale gasoline rose 0.7 cent to close at $2.753 a gallon and natural gas rose 4.1 cents to close at $4.044 per 1,000 cubic feet. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 26 cents to close at $102.46 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.34 percent. In metals trading, gold climbed $7 to $1,290.40 an ounce, silver rose 13 cents to $19.53 an ounce and copper fell 5 cents to $3.13 a pound.
Written on 08/28/2014, 1:53 pm by ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
(AP) — Raul Garcia has a question for Kevin McCarthy, the House's No. 2 Republican: "While we are waiting for you on immigration reform, who should be harvesting America's food?" It's a provocative query and the foundation of Garcia's long-shot challenge to McCarthy, a four-term incumbent who rose to power after another GOP leader thought unsinkable, Virginia's Eric Cantor, fell to an unknown candidate in a primary. Garcia's is a longshot challenge. He's an unknown California farm worker who got on the ballot as a write-in candidate. But he now has backing from labor unions, and ambitions to hold the new House majority leader to account in his own, agriculture-rich back yard for the failure of the Republican House to move immigration legislation. "My idea is to send a message that the whole country will hear," Garcia said in Spanish in a phone interview from Wasco, Calif., after a night shift hauling tomatoes. "The farmworkers are the ones who put the food on the tables of the whole country. And we are not being represented." Garcia's candidacy comes with immigration legislation dead in Congress and President Barack Obama preparing to act on his own to address the dysfunctional system, including potentially extending work permits and relief from deportation to millions. That could have a profound impact on McCarthy's district at the southern tip of California's Central Valley, where many thousands of workers, many of them here illegally, labor in the fields harvesting grapes, almonds, lettuce and other crops. Garcia works alongside the laborers each day, and through his candidacy he hopes to highlight the reality that despite Congress' inaction the nation is as reliant as ever on their labor. "It doesn't have to do with money, it has to do with conscience," he said. The economy and demographics of McCarthy's district, which is more than one-third Latino, make immigration a pressing question there. But to the frustration of advocates for overhauling the immigration system, McCarthy has won re-election to four terms without answering their demands. A few other California Republicans have embraced comprehensive immigration legislation— like the bill that passed the Senate last year before dying in the House. But McCarthy rejected that approach, joining other House GOP leaders in calling for border security first and a step-by-step approach. McCarthy's campaign aides declined to address Garcia's candidacy but provided a statement from the majority leader in which he promises: "I will continue to fight for our community and give our hard working families a strong voice in Washington." The statement mentions reducing regulation and taxes, a reliable water supply and energy production, but not immigration. Over time, McCarthy and other Republicans may have to recalibrate their stances on immigration in response to a changing electorate. But for the short term, McCarthy appears headed for easy re-election in November. Republicans are expected to retain the House majority. Garcia and his backers in California's historic United Farm Workers union have few illusions they can interrupt that. But when they saw that McCarthy didn't even face a challenger in California's quirky all-party primary in June, they saw an opportunity to try to get him to engage. California's system guarantees spots on the general election ballot to the top two vote-getters of any party in the primary. Since McCarthy was running unopposed, that meant a write-in candidate could qualify to oppose him in November without having to go through the arduous process of collecting signatures or paying a fee to get on the primary ballot. Garcia and a handful of others mounted write-in candidacies, and Garcia emerged on top with 313 signatures, enough to guarantee him a spot against McCarthy in the fall. Garcia, 46, is a Mexican immigrant who speaks little English and says he entered the U.S. illegally at age 17 to look for work. He became a naturalized citizen under the amnesty signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and has spent a quarter-century picking crops in the region. From those beginnings, he is taking on one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington, a politically savvy lawmaker who knows his district well. McCarthy is unlikely to make Cantor's mistake of spending too much time away from his district. But even if he can't hope to defeat McCarthy, Garcia wants at least to get him to confront the question of where inaction on immigration legislation leaves America's workers. "I want Congressman McCarthy to give us a straight answer," Garcia says in his campaign ad.
Written on 08/28/2014, 1:50 pm by ANICK JESDANUN, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — With the holiday shopping season coming, Samsung and LG unveiled small improvements to their computerized wristwatches to try to sway shoppers. Samsung's latest version can do more without a smartphone to go with it. LG's has a round screen. Apple is also believed to be working on its own smartwatch, and could announce it at a Sept. 9 event. Smartwatches are another product technology companies can offer since many people already have smartphones and tablet computers. But companies have yet to make a strong case for why everyday consumers need smartwatches, especially when so far they have had little functionality without a phone nearby. Samsung's new Gear S, the company's fourth major smartwatch in a year, will have 3G cellular connectivity so that it can receive notifications directly from social networks, calendars and other apps. The Gear S promises to offer turn-by-turn walking directions using mapping data from Nokia's Here service. It also promises to make and receive phone calls, though it's not clear how that will work without its own phone number. For this watch, Samsung Electronics Co. is using a fledging operating system called Tizen rather than Google's Android Wear, which Google has promoted as a way for the same apps to work with watches from competing manufacturers. The new watch will have a screen that measures 2 inches diagonally, which is slightly larger than those on Samsung's previous watches. The display will be curved to fit better around the wrist. Samsung on Thursday also unveiled a headset called Gear Circle. Both products will be available starting in October, though the company didn't say whether they will be available in the U.S. then. Prices weren't announced. LG Electronics Inc., meanwhile, unveiled a watch with a 1.3-inch circular screen — a departure from the rectangular design found in previous smartwatches from LG and others. Like the G Watch that came out in June, the new G Watch R will use Google's Android Wear system. LG said nothing about prices and release dates other than to say the watch will come out early in the fourth quarter. Motorola also is expected to come out with a round-face smartwatch soon, the Moto 360, that uses Android Wear.
Written on 08/28/2014, 1:11 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown's nominee to the California Supreme Court has been confirmed. The three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments on Thursday unanimously confirmed Stanford University law professor Mariano-Florentino "Tino" Cuellar to the state's highest court. The Mexican-born legal scholar and registered Democrat will be the court's only Latino.
Written on 08/28/2014, 12:37 pm by Business Journal staff
Five new Papa John's restaurants are on their way in the Central Valley as the first of 24 locations that franchisee Dixie Foods International has agreed to open under the national pizzeria chain. Making good on an area development agreement with Papa John's in March, the Las Vegas-based company has also signed leases to open restaurants in the Sacramento area. Over the next two years, Dixie Foods plans to open a total of 24 Papa John's restaurants within the trade area stretching from Fresno to north of Sacramento. "It's a trade area we felt was underserved relative to other markets," said Dixie Foods CFO Richard Groberg. "Papa John's is a great brand and the demographics fit." With all the leases now signed, Groberg said he expects the Central Valley restaurants to open before the end of the year. They include three locations in Fresno, one in Hanford and another in Lemoore: • 209 W. Bullard Ave., Fresno• 3842 W. Shaw Ave., Fresno• 4161 E. Ventura Ave., Fresno• 323 N. 11th Ave., Hanford• 75 W. Hanford-Armona Road, Lemoore The locations include four renovated spaces and one brand new building. They will join two local Papa John's restaurants at 1798 Ashlan Ave. and 1512 Champlain Drive in Fresno. Besides Papa John's, Dixie Foods International also operates 13 franchised Capriotti's Sandwich Shops in Texas, Nevada and Southern California, and is also preparing to open two restaurants under the brand of celebrity chef Alex Stratta.
Written on 08/28/2014, 12:29 pm by M.L. JOHNSON, Associated Press
(AP) — Dairy farmers squeezed in recent years by low milk prices and high feed costs can begin signing up next week for a new program replacing old subsidies that didn't factor in the price of corn. Signups for the new program will run Sept. 2 to Nov. 28, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday. Farmers must enroll then to participate in the program in what's left of 2014 and in 2015. They will have annual signups after that. The new program is a kind of insurance that pays farmers when the difference between milk prices and feed prices shrink to a certain level. The previous program paid farmers when milk prices sank too low, but didn't account for their costs. Dairy farmers have struggled in recent years even with good milk prices. Feed costs rose because of demand for corn from the ethanol industry and droughts, including one in 2012 that covered two-thirds of the nation. The price for benchmark December corn on Thursday as $3.67, compared to about $5.90 two years ago. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, warned farmers not to be complacent. In 2009 and 2012, milk gluts sent prices tumbling below the cost of production. "Dairy prices are very high right now ... but you only have to have about a 1 or 1.5 to 2 percent surplus, and every dairy farmer knows that can go into a tailspin," said Leahy, who joined Vilsack in announcing the program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has an online tool to help farmers figure out how much insurance they need. Farmers can buy catastrophic coverage for $100 per year. It would pay if the difference between milk prices and feed costs sank to less than $4 per hundred pounds of milk on average. If a bigger margin is needed to make ends meet, farmers can buy additional coverage and pay a higher premium. Ralph McNall, who has 200 Holsteins in Fairfax, Vermont, said the margin protection program is "as fair a program as they could hope to achieve," and most local farmers are OK with it. He said he appreciated the fact that it took feed prices into account. Dairy economist Mark Stephenson said one difference between the dairy program and home or auto insurance is that most people don't know when they will have a car accident or home fire, but dairy farmers often have some warning of a milk glut or spike in feed prices. "It's not going to be a perfect forecast, but you'll know generally if it's going to be a good year or bad year," he said. Another challenge is that the program uses national averages to calculate the margin, so farmers have to figure out how their local markets compare, said Stephenson, the director of the Center for Dairy Profitability at the University of Wisconsin. "So, if you knew that in 2013, you were OK, but you had some difficulties — 2012 was really bad — you might decide that a $5 margin was when you had a really hard time," Stephenson said. But, he added, "Once you determine that, you don't have to do that all the time. You just need to look at the forecast for the year ahead." State extension services and USDA's Farm Service Agency will provide training for farmers signing up for the program, Vilsack said.
Written on 08/28/2014, 12:27 pm by MAE ANDERSON, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Imagine using your phone to snap a photo of the cool pair of sunglasses your friend is wearing and instantly receiving a slew of information about the shades along with a link to order them. It's a great idea — but it doesn't quite work. Though many companies are trying to make "visual search" a reality, this seemingly simple notion remains elusive. Take Amazon, which made visual search a key feature in its new Fire smartphone. The e-commerce company says the feature, known as Firefly, can recognize 100 million items. It's similar to a Flow feature Amazon has on its apps for other phones. So far, Firefly can reliably make out labels of products such as Altoids or Celestial Seasonings tea. That makes it easy to buy items such as groceries online. But try it on a checkered shirt or anything without sharp corners, and no such luck. "It works really well when we can match an image to the product catalog," says Mike Torres, an Amazon executive who works on the Fire's software. "Where things are rounded or don't have (visual markers) to latch on to, like a black shoe, it's a little harder to do image recognition." Visual search is important to retailers because it makes mobile shopping a snap — literally. It's much easier to take a picture than to type in a description of something you want. Shopping on cellphones and tablets is still a small part of retail sales, but it's growing quickly. That makes it important to simplify the process as much as possible — especially as people look to visual sites such as Instagram and Pinterest as inspiration for purchases. "Retailers are trying to get the user experience simple enough so people are willing to buy on their phones, not just use it as a research tool," eMarketer analyst Yory Wurmser said. Mobile software that scans codes, such as QR codes and UPC symbols, are fairly common. Creating apps that consistently recognize images and objects has been more challenging. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru believes it could take at least three more years. Since 2009, Google's Goggles app for Android has succeeded in picking up logos and landmarks. But Google says on its website that the app is "not so good" at identifying cars, furniture and clothes in photos. What's holding visual search back? The technology works by analyzing visual characteristics, or points, such as color, shape and texture. Amazon's Firefly, for example, identifies a few hundred points to identify a book and up to 1,000 for paintings. U.K. startup Cortexica uses 800 to 1,500 points to create a virtual fingerprint for the image. It then scans its database of about 4 million images for a match. Without easily identifiable markers, non-labeled objects are difficult to identify. Lighting conditions, photo quality, distance, angles and other factors can throw the technology off. Visual search works best when there is a clearly defined image on a white background. Some retailers are finding success with visual search by keeping the selection of searchable products limited. Target's new "In a Snap" app works only with items from its Room Essentials furniture, bedding and decor line. And it works only when snapping a product image in a magazine ad, not when you see the actual product on a shelf. When a shopper scans the ad, items pop up for the shopper to add to a shopping cart. Heels.com, an online shoe retailer, keeps visual search limited to shoes. Shoppers upload pictures or send links of shoes and are offered similar pairs for sale on the company's website. "People shop through images nowadays," Heels.com CEO Eric McCoy says. "We want to give them the exact shoe, or something similar." So, the race is on to perfect the technology that will create smartphone apps that easily recognize objects in a real-world environment. Cortexica's founders spent seven years on academic research before forming the company in 2009. Since then, it has been trying to mold the technology work more like the human brain when it comes to identifying objects. "Someday you'll be taking a picture of a whole person, and it will identify the different the things they're wearing and offer recommendations," says Iain McCready, CEO of Cortexica. "That's really challenging technically, but that's what people tell me they really want to do." The U.K. company was hired by eBay to develop an app that recognizes cars from behind and matches them with similar cars available on eBay. Next, eBay asked Cortexica to develop a similar app for fashion. The outcome was Find Similar, which analyzes a clothing item's color, texture and shapes to find similar items available for sale. Find Similar is now being used by startup app Style Thief and other Cortexica clients. Superfish, a startup in Palo Alto, California, counts 12 people with doctorate degrees on its staff and has 10 patents for visual search technology. Its technology can be found at PetMatch, an app that matches photos of pets with local pets available for adoption. Superfish CEO Adi Pinhas believes it will be normal in two or three years to use your smartphone to search for things visually. "Your camera will be as smart as the rest of your smartphone," he says. Once that happens, Forrester's Mulpuru says, it will "unleash a whole new type of e-commerce."
Written on 08/28/2014, 12:19 pm by 
MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press
(AP) — On the second day of class at Reading Senior High School, teacher Eric Knorr directs his students' attention to the banners hanging on the wall. Syracuse. Temple. Brown. Penn State. All of them brought back by former students who bucked the odds and went to college. "You need to make sure you have a plan," Knorr exhorts the class. "Because your plan will lead to a banner, OK? It will lead to an opportunity to go to college." Long seen as a way out of poverty, higher education eludes most students at Reading High. The public schools here are plagued by low test scores in reading, math and science; the school district has one of the highest dropout rates in the state; and, in a city where almost 60 percent of the population is Hispanic, many students' parents speak little or no English. Yet, as another school year gets underway, Reading's Alvernia University is placing a $10 million bet that it can help kids in one of the nation's poorest cities get ready to do college work — and to succeed once they get there. The first five students selected for the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program joined Alvernia's freshman class last week, flush with full-tuition scholarships and plenty of support to help them make the transition from a high school where fewer than seven in 10 graduate. "I want to be the best that I can, and I just push myself," said Melisa Rivera, 18. "There's no obstacle I can't overcome." Alvernia, a small, private school started by Roman Catholic sisters, has partnered with the city's Olivet Boys & Girls Club on a program that aims to help hundreds of high school students get ready for college — any college — through an intensive four-year program of tutoring and mentoring. That effort launched in the spring. Additionally, as many as 20 city kids a year will get full scholarships to Alvernia, where they'll receive additional tutoring and mentoring. The university is raising money to endow the scholarships. "We can't forget about places like Reading," said David Myers, director of Alvernia's O'Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service. "We can't forget about these kinds of kids." Alvernia is patterning its program after one run by the Posse Foundation, a 25-year-old group that's recruited more than 5,000 high-achieving high school students from major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to receive full scholarships from partner colleges and universities. But there are important differences. Reading (pronounced REH'-ding) is a small, easily overlooked city of 88,000, while the students that Alvernia seeks to serve are not the ones who scored 1,400 on their SATs. They're typically average kids with potential — the ones who often slip through the cracks. Rivera said most of her childhood friends "took a wrong path" and "started to go with the wrong crowd." "They had the motivation when they were younger," said Rivera, "but they lost it."Alvernia had tried before to serve underprivileged teenagers in Reading, with little success. Only 20 percent graduated within six years. "We were bringing students here and they were not doing well," Myers said. "They weren't coming back after the first year." Alvernia realized it would have to do more to help. Among other requirements, students in the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program commit to a summer "bridge" program and to regular meetings with community and faculty mentors who will help make sure they stay on track. "You have to have a mentality that you want to succeed, to get out of that environment," said scholarship student and Reading native Juan Paula, 17, who's majoring in criminal justice and wants to be an officer in the Marine Corps. "Because you have people constantly trying to bring you into that environment, and if you're not strong-willed enough, you'll get dragged in." While their fellow freshmen moved into the dorms last week, the Reading crew assembled in a campus media suite to work on a video promoting their hometown — a city, they say, with a lot going for it despite its problems. Forget what you've heard, they told the camera. Give Reading a chance. They could've been talking about themselves.

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Latest National News

Written on 08/28/2014, 2:05 pm by ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
U.S. financial markets ended slightly...
Written on 08/28/2014, 1:50 pm by ANICK JESDANUN, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — With the holiday shopping season...
Written on 08/28/2014, 12:29 pm by M.L. JOHNSON, Associated Press
(AP) — Dairy farmers squeezed in recent...
Written on 08/28/2014, 12:27 pm by MAE ANDERSON, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Imagine using your phone to snap...