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Latest Local News

Written on 07/24/2014, 11:30 am by Business Journal Staff
Netafim USA, a Fresno-based irrigation company, will present a Farm Grown Central Valley Water Forum Aug. 29 at Chukchansi Park prior to the Tacoma...
Written on 07/24/2014, 11:27 am by Business Journal staff
A recent Firebaugh High School graduate is the recepient of a full-tuition technical school scholarship as part of a contest sponsored by Dirty Jobs television show host Mike Rowe. Colton Stuhr is one of 33 winners of the mikeroweWORKS/UTI Scholarship contest. Stuhr will receive the scholarship to the auto and diesel programs at the Sacramento campus of Universal Technical Institute. Stuhr submitted an application as well as a video making a case for why he deserved to win the scholarship. More than 270 finalist videos were posted on UTI's Facebook page for public voting, with Stuhr garnering 464 votes. The value of each scholarship is about $30,000, with the 33 winners receiving a total of $1 million in scholarship money. In his video, Stuhr talks about his love of working with his hands, helping his grandfather fix tractors, old pickups and even diesel trucks. He also enrolled in his high school's automotive program, learning skills he has used to fix his own 1992 Ford F250 truck. He graduated this year with plans to become a mechanic. "It's what i want to do with my life, and UTI is where i need to be to start that," Stuhr said in his video. MikeroweWORKS is the foundation started by Rowe to help people train for technical jobs such as automotive repair.
Written on 07/24/2014, 11:20 am by Ben Keller, Business Journal staff writer
Another vacant lot is getting new life in downtown Fresno as Pyramid Homes makes progress on a 16-studio apartment project at Divisadero Street and College Avenue. Pyramid Homes began construction around eight weeks ago on the 6,000 square-foot project sited on a dirt lot at 1102 E. Divisadero Street. The apartments, dubbed Courtyard Studios, will feature a pair of two-story studios near the street and another 14 single-level units measuring 400 square feet each toward the back. Massoud Assemi, president of Pyramid Homes, said he is expecting a lot of interest from downtown Fresno's creative and tech-oriented class when the new studios finish up some time before the end of the year. "It's meant for singles," Assemi said. "I think we need to do stuff like this to build downtown up." The apartments will be managed by Granville Realty. Assemi said each unit will rent for around $600 to $700 a month. Pyramid Homes and Assemi's son, Reza Assemi, were also the developers behind several other residential projects in downtown Fresno's cultural arts district, including the Pearl Building, Vagabond Lofts, H Street Lofts, the Iron Bird Lofts and Studio 64.
Written on 07/24/2014, 11:16 am by Business Journal staff
Hefty fines aren't the only thing awaiting drunk drivers in Fresno. A new list also showed car insurance rates in Fresno among the highest in the country after a DUI conviction. The list, compiled by consumer information website NerdWallet, ranked 150 of the nation's largest cities in order of the most fatal alcohol-related car accidents. Fresno came in at No. 7 with 0.1614 crashes per 1,000 residents from 2010 to 2012, 80 in total and twice as many per capita as the national average. Topping the list was San Bernardino with 0.4368 crashes per 1,000 residents for a total of 92 during the sam period. But crashes weren't the only consequence, as Fresno drivers charged with a DUI found insurance premiums climbing 137.87 percent. While the average Fresno driver pays $887.93 for car insurance each year, that amount increases to $2,112.10 after a DUI. Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NerdWallet's analysis also showed 10,322 people were killed in alcohol-related vehicle accidents in 2012 alone. The cost of drunk driving is estimated at $199 billion each year in the U.S., including fines, court costs and increases in car insurance premiums. The national average annual car insurance premium increase after receiving a DUI is 75.3 percent a year, or around $857.53. Six of the 10 cities with the most fatal-alcohol related car crashes per capita are cities where drunk drivers see relatively low car insurance rate increases, like No. 2 Mobile, Ala. with a 46.98 percent increase and Tulsa, Okla. with a 42.34 percent increase.
Written on 07/24/2014, 10:16 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The state Public Utility Commission has approved emergency permits for two ride-sharing companies that have been operating in the Pittsburgh area. The San Francisco-based firms Lyft and Uber use smartphone apps to dispatch drivers who use their own personal vehicles to give people rides. The drivers then share the fares they collect with the companies. The companies have come under fire over concerns that drivers, their vehicles, and — especially — their insurance don't meet regulations for taxi cabs and other similar services. The companies have argued their services are just as safe, but have been targeted because they don't fit neatly into current public transportation regulations. The PUC's five commissioners voted to approve the permits citing the "immediate and substantial" benefit they'd provide to residents who want an alternative to traditional taxicab services.
Written on 07/24/2014, 10:08 am by Associated Press
(AP) — A California wine collector the government has characterized as a prolific wine counterfeiter who sold at least $20 million in fake wine is set for sentencing on fraud charges. Rudy Kurniawan, 37, was convicted in December of mail and wire fraud charges after evidence was presented to a jury that he manufactured bogus bottles of wine in his Arcadia, California, kitchen, and then peddled them as vintage wine. Although the charges carry a potential of up to 40 years in prison, federal sentencing guidelines call for him to serve at least 11 years in prison. Defense lawyer Jerome H. Mooney has told U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman that Kurniawan, born of Chinese descent in Indonesia, should be sentenced to the two years and three months he has already served, since he will be deported anyway. His sentencing is on Thursday. Mooney said his client used millions of dollars of his family's money to build a large collection of rare wines from 2004 to 2012 as he was embraced by the wine collecting community, which attended tastings he arranged. "Rudy liked the feeling of being the center of attention. It gave him a feeling of achievement and belonging that he had never before experienced," he wrote. At one party for Kurniawan's mother's birthday, actor Jackie Chan was a special guest, the lawyer said. "The highlight of the evening for Rudy was when Jackie Chan stood on a chair and applauded Rudy. It was the best night of his life," Mooney added. But prosecutors say Kurniawan deserves a longer sentence after he sold millions of dollars of fake wines and then "flaunted that wealth with extravagant purchases of authentic wine, luxury cars, a Beverly Hills mansion, flights on private jets, designer watches and clothing, fine art and much more." They said his lust for money and attention motivated him. "Simply put, Kurniawan is not sorry for what he did, he is sorry that he was caught," prosecutors wrote. "The court should thus not show Kurniawan any leniency based on an 11th hour attempt to show remorse." Billionaire yachtsman, entrepreneur and wine investor William Koch filed a letter with the court saying he lost more than $2 million in the fraud and had spent millions more investigating it. He said serious fraud merits serious punishment.
Written on 07/24/2014, 8:59 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Rep. Paul Ryan proposed a new plan Thursday to merge up to 11 anti-poverty programs into a single grant program for states that he said would allow more flexibility to help lift people out of poverty. Programs that would be merged include food stamps, cash welfare, housing subsidies, and heating aid for the poor, among others. The Wisconsin Republican and 2012 vice presidential nominee is a respected voice within his party. His new "Opportunity Grant" plan would impose work or job training requirements on aid recipients and require states that choose to participate to set up at least two service providers, a move he says would encourage partnerships with locally-based nonprofits and community groups that may better know the needs of their communities. Ryan, who has traveled the country in the past year visiting with the poor and with those who help them, said current anti-poverty programs are "fragmented and formulaic" and that his new grant program would allow greater collaboration within communities to help lift people out of poverty. "The idea would be to let states try different ways of providing aid and then to test the results — in short, more flexibility in exchange for more accountability," Ryan said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. "Get rid of these bureaucratic formulas. Put the emphasis on results." In the speech, Ryan said his plan would permit greater innovation to help people find opportunities to get jobs. A single mother who wants to be a teacher, for example, might focus on getting help with transportation and child care to take night classes rather than on getting other forms of aid like food assistance. "Right now, you have to go to a bunch of different offices to enroll in a bunch of different programs." Ryan said. "Under the Opportunity Grant, you could go to one office and work with one person for all your needs." Third-party monitors would judge the effectiveness of programs and providers. Participation by states would be voluntary, and Ryan said he sees the proposal as an experimental pilot program that wouldn't be expanded until the initial results are in. "Any provider who came up short could no longer participate. And at the end of the program, we would pool the results and go from there," Ryan said. Ryan largely endorses a plan by President Barack Obama to increase tax credits for the working poor by doubling the credit available to childless workers and lowering the eligibility age from 25 to 21. He proposes to pay for it by cutting what he calls "corporate welfare" and ineffective programs. He also endorsed bipartisan efforts to give judges more discretion in handing down prison sentences to nonviolent offenders.
Written on 07/24/2014, 8:57 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week to its lowest level in more than eight years. Weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 284,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the lowest reading since February 2006, nearly two years before the Great Recession began. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 7,250 to 302,000. Claims for jobless aid have been falling for the past three months. Recent reports have coincided with the temporary summer shutdowns of auto plants, yet the impact of those closures is addressed through seasonal adjustments. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers hold onto their workers, it's a sign of potential income gains, increased hiring and confidence that the economy will grow. The recent drop-off in unemployment benefit applications point to a substantial number of jobs added in July, raising expectations for the monthly employment report to be released August 1. "All in, it looks like we may be in for another solid payroll report," said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets. The decline in people applying for benefits buttresses other reports that the economy is improving. Employers added 288,000 jobs in June, the fifth straight month of job gains above 200,000. That's the first such stretch since 1999, during the height of the dot-com boom. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.1 percent, the lowest since September 2008. Total layoffs in May dropped below pre-recession levels, the government said in a separate report. Job openings are at their highest level in seven years, while more workers are quitting their jobs. Workers usually quit when they have an offer for a better position or confidence that they can find one. Still, the job growth has done little to lift wages significantly. Wage growth has barely matched inflation during the economic recovery. But more people with jobs increases the total number of paychecks, which could boost consumer spending and growth. After a sharp contraction in the economy in the first three months of the year, most economists expect growth to return in the April-June quarter and exceed 3 percent at an annual pace in the second half of 2014.
Written on 07/24/2014, 8:55 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration has lifted its ban on U.S. flights in and out of Israel. The end of the ban, which the agency had imposed out of concern for the risk of planes being hit by Hamas rockets, was effective at 11:45 p.m. EDT Wednesday. "Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation," the FAA said. "The agency will continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions as necessary." The FAA instituted a 24-hour prohibition Tuesday in response to a rocket strike that landed about a mile from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. The directive, which was extended Wednesday, applied only to U.S. carriers. United Airlines, which has two daily flights from Newark, New Jersey, to Tel Aviv, said Thursday: "We intend to resume service. We're now reviewing when we can do so." American Airlines — parent company of US Airways, which has one daily flight from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv — said: "We are in the process of assessing the situation and will make a decision as soon as possible on when to resume service. Other factors will be considered before we resume — the most important being the safety of our crew and our passengers." The FAA has no authority over foreign airlines operating in Israel, although the European Aviation Safety Agency recommended Tuesday that airlines refrain from operating flights to and from Tel Aviv. EASA lifted that advisory Thursday, recommending that national authorities base decisions on flying to Ben Gurion "on thorough risk assessments, in particular using risk analysis made by operators." The FAA's flight ban was criticized by the Israeli government and by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who questioned whether President Barack Obama used a federal agency to impose an economic boycott on Israel. Delta Air Lines, which diverted a jumbo jet away from Tel Aviv before Tuesday's ban by the FAA, will not necessarily resume flights to Israel even if U.S. authorities declare the area safe, the airline's CEO said before the FAA lifted the ban. CEO Richard Anderson said Delta would of course obey FAA orders but would continue to make its own decisions about safety. "We appreciate the advice and consent and the intelligence we get, but we have a duty and an obligation above and beyond that to independently make the right decisions for our employees and passengers," Anderson said on a conference call with reporters. "Even if they lift" the prohibition on flying in and out of Ben Gurion Airport, "we still may not go in depending on what the facts and circumstances are."Anderson declined to discuss specifically how the airline would make the decision to resume the flights and spoke only in general terms. He said the airline decides whether flights are safe to operate "on an independent basis, so we will evaluate the information we have and we will make the judgment that our passengers and employees rely on us to make for them every day." The CEO of Middle East carrier Emirates said after the shoot-down in Ukraine of a Malaysia Airlines jet last week that global airlines need better risk assessment from international aviation authorities. Delta, however, seemed more inclined to go it alone. "We have a broad and deep security network around the world," Anderson said. "We have security directors that work for Delta in all the regions of the world, and we have a very sophisticated capability and methodology to manage these kinds of risks, whether it's this or a volcano or a hurricane."
Written on 07/24/2014, 8:51 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Sales of new U.S. homes plunged in June, a sign that real estate continues to be a weak spot in the economy. New home sales fell 8.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 406,000, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The report also revised down the May sales rate to 442,000 from 504,000. Buying of new homes fell 20 percent in the Northeast, followed by less extreme declines in the Midwest, South and West. The modest sales caused the inventory of new homes on the market to increase to 5.8 months, the highest since October 2011. The median sales price was $273,500, up 5.3 percent over the past 12 months. "Today's report underscores" Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's "observation in testimony last week that housing sector data still are 'disappointing,'" said Dana Saporta, director of economic research at the bank Credit Suisse. Home sales had been improving through the middle of 2013, only to stumble over the past 12 months due to a mix of rising prices, higher mortgage rates and meager wage growth. The pressures from mortgage rates have eased since the start of 2014 and the pace of price increases have slowed. Still, other indicators suggest that home-buying has stalled after rebounding from lows reached during the Great Recession. The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes increased 2.6 percent in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million homes. It marked the first time that sales have been above the 5 million-mark since October. Economists were encouraged by the second straight monthly gain in existing home sales, though those sales are still hovering below the recent peak of 5.38 million sales hit last July. Nasty winter storms weighed on sales of both existing and new homes in late 2013 and early 2014, making it unlikely that sales can match last year's pace. Sales of existing homes are expected to be below the 5.1 million homes bought last year and the 5.5 million annual sales that would be consistent with a healthy housing market. Still, there are indications that sales could pick up. Along with the arrival of spring, average mortgage rates have dropped to 4.13 percent, from 4.53 percent at the beginning of this year, according to Freddie Mac. The rate of price gains has slowed as the inventory of homes for sale has improved. But wage growth has barely kept pace with inflation, reducing how much income people have to spend and save for down payments.

Latest State News

Written on 07/24/2014, 10:16 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The state Public Utility...
Written on 07/24/2014, 10:08 am by Associated Press
(AP) — A California wine collector the...
Written on 07/23/2014, 1:56 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — Facebook Inc. (FB) on Wednesday...
Written on 07/23/2014, 11:24 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Enrollment growth at California...

Latest National News

Written on 07/24/2014, 8:59 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Rep. Paul Ryan proposed a new...
Written on 07/24/2014, 8:57 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — The number of people seeking...
Written on 07/24/2014, 8:55 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — The Federal Aviation...
Written on 07/24/2014, 8:51 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Sales of new U.S. homes plunged...