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– March 6, 2015

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Written on 03/06/2015, 3:58 pm by George Lurie
Beginning April 16, changes in government regulations may cause a routine water heater replacement to become an unexpectedly expensive endeavor for Valley...
Written on 03/06/2015, 3:42 pm by Leah
Beginning April 16, changes in government regulations may cause a routine water heater replacement to become an unexpectedly expensive endeavor for Valley homeowners.  Next month, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is set to begin enforcing new energy efficiency standards for residential water heaters.The updates to the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) require new or replacement water heaters that are larger and more expensive, but also more environmentally friendly than what is required under current regulations.Aimed at increasing Energy Factor (EF) ratings, a measurement unit used to gauge the total amount of energy that is used by an appliance, the new regulations will impose a higher set of environmental standards — and prompt manufacturers to rollout a new generation of bigger and costlier units.Starting April 16, homeowners nationwide will be footing the bill.“Our customers could face price increases of up to 35 percent,” said Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Texas-based Mr. Rooter Plumbing, which has a Fresno franchise.“Not only will the cost of water heaters increase an average of $120, but installation and maintenance costs will likely rise as well,” Thompson said. The new regulations require “a more complicated installation and an increased amount of system parts. Some homeowners could face a hefty replacement fee in the short run,” Thompson added.The larger size of the new units could create an additional unforeseen expense for homeowners. Electric hot water heaters larger than 55 gallons (the minimum size for most residential units) will require a minimum of 128 cubic feet with a duct to a larger space in order to comply with the new standards. For homeowners needing to make some extra room, replacing a water heater could lead to a major renovation involving construction — and dealing with additional gas or electric supply complications. Abe Torres, owner of the Mr. Rooter franchise servicing Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties, said most of his customers “do not even know this is happening.”“I’ve seen some articles in trade publications but nothing in the mainstream media warning people of the coming price increases,” Torres said. “I’m a little surprised the Department of Energy didn’t do some sort of a marketing campaign” to educate consumers about the new regulations, he added.Torres said there is still “a lot of confusion” in the marketplace about “how this is all going to play out,” even among plumbers, contractors and suppliers. “My understanding is that large suppliers like Home Depot and Lowe’s will be allowed to deplete their existing inventory, even after the…deadline,” Torres said.At its website, www.energy.gov, the Department of Energy has posted information and a FAQ section on the new water heater requirements. “These energy-conserving appliance standards are a critical part of the Administration’s overall efforts to save energy,” said Department of Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz. “By raising the energy efficiency requirements of our everyday appliances, we will save money for American families and companies, reduce carbon pollution and enhance our energy security for decades to come,” Moniz added.The new regulations, which were approved in 2010, increase minimum conservation standards for residential heating products, which, according to the DOE, account for about 18 percent of energy use in homes across the country. According to the DOE, the changes will significantly reduce water heater energy consumption by decreasing energy use in electric storage water heaters by as much as 47 percent and by more than 30 percent in gas water heaters.Torres recommends that those homeowners with water heaters “getting close to the ten-year mark” replace them this month before the new regulations take effect. Homeowners can contact a plumber or contractor to find out their best options.“Getting these new, larger units through narrower doors and closets in older homes could be an issue for some people,” Torres said, estimating the new regulations would increase the cost of a typical residential water heater installation between $400 to $800.But if a homeowner has to relocate the water heater, the total cost “could go as high as $2,000,” Torres said. “Every situation is going to be different.”Installing a tankless water heater is an option, Torres added. “But tankless units require a larger gas line and involve adding a second contractor to the process.”“For homeowners, these new regulations may be a burden up front,” Torres said. “But in the long run, the changes will save energy and be easier on the environment.”
Written on 03/06/2015, 1:26 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Idaho authorities are telling movie theaters serving alcohol that they can't provide drinks during showings of the erotic blockbuster "Fifty Shades of Grey." The Idaho State Police's Alcohol Beverage Control has contacted at least two theaters showing the popular R-rated flick, ordering them to comply with a law banning businesses from serving booze to people watching sexually explicit films. "I just found it odd that this movie was singled out," moviegoer Michele Williams, 50, of Eagle, told the Idaho Statesman newspaper in Boise in a story published Friday (http://bit.ly/1BOpi8q ). "I just thought, 'What year am I living in here? Women can't control themselves when they drink during this movie?' I don't know what the message was." The statute passed by Idaho lawmakers in 1999 lists types of movie scenes requiring a booze ban, including simulated sex acts or touching of private parts. "Fifty Shades of Grey" features bondage and sadomasochism scenes. Business owners that violate the law could face up to a $300 fine, a six-month jail sentence and a suspended liquor license. "Movies like 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' the ladies come to our theater — responsible mothers, grandmothers, etc. — they watch a movie, they share wine," said Dave Corkill, owner of theater operator Cinema West. "It's part of an experience. It's part of what they want. We clean up the bottles whether we sell those bottles to them or they sneak them in." He told the newspaper that some PG-13 films seemingly violate the law and that he hopes lawmakers will change the statute. State officials also told Rick Kessler, owner of Magic Lantern Cinema in Ketchum, to stop serving alcohol to those attending the movie. However, the call came after its two-week run at the theater ended. "It did not even cross my mind that this was in violation of anything," he said. In 2013, the statute drove another theater, The Flicks in Boise, to decline to show "Blue is the Warmest Color," a critically acclaimed film about lesbian romance featuring explicit sex scenes. Teresa Baker, spokeswoman for the Idaho State Police, didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Friday.
Written on 03/06/2015, 1:19 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks and bonds fell sharply as a strong jobs report led investors to anticipate higher U.S. interest rates. The Standard & Poor's 500 lost 29 points, or 1.4 percent, to close at 2,071 Friday. It was the worst drop for the index since Jan. 5. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 278 points, or 1.5 percent, to 17,856. The Nasdaq fell 55 points, or 1.1 percent, to 4,927. The Dow and S&P 500 closed at record highs on Monday. Bond yields rose after the Labor Department reported a surge in hiring last month. That raised the likelihood that the Federal Reserve could raise rates as soon as this summer. Apple rose following news that the company would join the Dow, replacing AT&T. AT&T fell 1.5 percent.
Written on 03/06/2015, 11:50 am by Business Journal staff
The City of Fresno will host four public forums next week focusing on community development and housing needs in preparation of its next five-year Consolidated Plan.  The Consolidated Plan will be used to help allocate federal funding through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Home Investment Partnerships Act (HOME), Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and Housing for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) programs.  The programs will reinvest $45 million over five years into assisting low- to moderate-income households and the revitalization of older, neglected neighborhoods in Fresno.  Scheduled forums: • North Fresno — Wesley United Methodist Church, Fireside Room, 1343 E. Barstow Avenue, 5:30-7:30 p.m., March 9 • Central Fresno — Manchester Mall, 3302 N. Blackstone Ave., Suites 208 and 209, 5:30-7:30 p.m., March 10.  • Southeast Fresno — Boys and Girls Club of America, 1621 S. Cedar, 5:30-7:30 p.m., March 11.  • Southwest Fresno — California and Elm Neighborhood Center, 1802 E. California Ave., 10 a.m.-12 p.m., March 14.  For those unable to attend one of the forums, an online survey is available here. 
Written on 03/06/2015, 11:09 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — An 85-year-old man says his suburban Cleveland home has been pelted with eggs several times a week for a year, and police haven't been able to crack the unusual case despite stakeouts, questioning neighbors, installing a surveillance camera and even testing eggshells as evidence. The homeowner and Euclid police suspect the eggs are launched a block or two away, the Northeast Ohio Media Group (http://bit.ly/1BNXAZj ) reported. Albert Clemens Sr. said whoever is responsible has "phenomenal" accuracy, launching five or six at a time and often hitting the front door of the green, two-story home that he and his late wife bought nearly six decades ago. The after-dark attacks sometimes sound like gunshots as eggs splatter on the aluminum siding, creating a residue that strips the paint, he said. He used to clean up each time but quit because it happens so often. His insurer won't settle a claim until police catch the vandal or vandals, so Clemens is waiting until then to make repairs. But he refuses to move from the home he shares with his adult daughter and son, on a corner less than a mile from the police station. "I would live and die in this house — but it's been kind of a nightmare," Clemens told the media group. Officers haven't determined a suspect or specific motive, though they have suspicions. "Somebody is deeply, deeply angry at somebody in that household for some reason," Lt. Mitch Houser said. Police traced the eggs to a local Amish farm, but fingerprinting shattered shells proved useless because egg proteins destroy DNA. Door-to-door questioning yielded no tips, and a $1,000 reward for information remains unclaimed. "The person or people who are doing it have remained very tight-lipped apparently," Houser said. "I would imagine it would be hard to keep a secret of something that had been done hundreds of times and for nobody to step forward to talk about it." Police have spent hundreds of hours on the investigation, but their involvement doesn't seem to be a deterrent. Once, an egg hit an officer in the foot as he took a report on the vandalism. The egging has been rarer during cold weather, but Clemens and the officers anticipate the attacks will increase with the temperature. "We're not going to let it go," Houser said. "We'll continue to put effort into it until we figure something out."
Written on 03/06/2015, 11:05 am by LYNN ELBER, 
TAMI ABDOLLAH, Associated Press
(AP) — When a man battles Darth Vader, Nazis and other evil-doers for work, what does he do for fun? Harrison Ford finds his answer in a pilot's license and the freedom to take to the skies. But with adventure comes risk, just as Han Solo, Indiana Jones and other daring movie characters Ford brought to life realized. On Thursday, one of Hollywood's pre-eminent stars added a plane crash to an aviation record that includes both mishaps and service to others. Ford, 72, who battled Hitler's henchmen in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" as dashing archaeologist Jones, was flying a World War II-era plane when it lost engine power shortly after takeoff from Santa Monica Municipal Airport near Los Angeles. He crash-landed on a golf course nearby. Bystanders who feared the aircraft might explode or catch fire pulled the actor from the wreckage, and doctors who happened to be playing golf gave him aid, Los Angeles fire officials said. An ambulance then took him to a hospital in fair to moderate condition. "He had no other choice but to make an emergency landing, which he did safely," Ford spokeswoman Ina Treciokas said. He is expected to make a full recovery, she said in a statement Thursday. No one on the ground was hurt. Ford's son Ben tweeted Thursday evening from the hospital: "Dad is ok. Battered, but ok! He is every bit the man you would think he is. He is an incredibly strong man." Ben Ford's publicist, Rebecca Brooks, verified the tweet Friday in an email to The Associated Press. Harrison Ford had a cut to his forehead and scraped arms, but it wasn't clear what internal injuries he may have received, Los Angeles Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Butler said. "He wasn't a bloody mess. He was alert," Butler said. Ford told the airport tower about 20 minutes after his 2 p.m. takeoff that he had engine failure and was making an immediate return, according to a recording posted by LiveATC.net. The plane had been flying at about 3,000 feet and hit a tree on the way down, according to witnesses and officials. The plane, a yellow 1942 Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR, had damage mostly confined to the front. "I would say that this is an absolutely beautifully executed — what we would call — a forced or emergency landing, by an unbelievably well-trained pilot," said Christian Fry of the Santa Monica Airport Association. Charlie Thomson, a flight instructor at the airport who saw Ford take off, said engine failure like Ford's does not make the plane harder to maneuver. "It just means you have to go down," he said. Jeff Kuprycz was golfing when he saw the plane taking off. "Immediately you could see the engine started to sputter and just cut out, and he banked sharply to the left," he said. Kuprycz said there was no explosion when the plane plunged to the ground, "it just sounded like a car hitting the ground or a tree or something. Like that one little bang, and that was it." Among the first people to reach Ford was a spinal surgeon hitting the links. Sanjay Khurana told TV stations in Los Angeles that he found Ford slumped over in the cockpit but conscious. Aside from worrying about Ford's injuries, he saw fuel leaking out and feared the plane could explode. He helped pull Ford from the wreckage as others threw dirt on the fuel. The airport's single runway sits amid residential neighborhoods, and city leaders and many residents advocate closing it, citing noise and safety concerns. Other planes have crashed into homes, and four people died in September 2013 when their small jet veered into a hangar and caught fire. Ford, who plays the swashbuckling Solo in his fourth "Star Wars" movie set for release in December, shuns attention to his private life but has been publicly effusive about his love of flying. After arriving in his own plane at a 2001 fundraising gala for Seattle's Museum of Flight, Ford said he was glad to help "engage kids in the romance and the mystery and the adventure of flying. ... I know what it means." Ford got his pilot's license in the 1990s and has made headlines, though he had never been significantly injured. In 2001, he rescued a missing Boy Scout with his helicopter. Nearly a year before, he rescued an ailing mountain climber in Wyoming. In 2000, a gust of wind sent a six-seat plane Ford was piloting off a runway in Lincoln, Nebraska. He and his passenger were not injured. He has also volunteered his services during forest-fire season, when helicopters are busy battling blazes. The actor, who is married to Calista Flockhart of "Ally McBeal" fame, has said his rescues "had nothing to do with heroism." "It had to do with flying a helicopter. That's all," he said. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation could take up to a year before a final report. NTSB investigator Patrick Jones said the agency would look at "everything: weather, man, the machine." ___Associated Press writers Andrew Dalton, Robert Jablon, Justin Pritchard and Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix and Jake Coyle in New York contributed to this story.
Written on 03/06/2015, 11:00 am by MARK THIESSEN, Associated Press
(AP) — Much of the start of the world's most famous sled dog race is covered in barren gravel, forcing Iditarod organizers to move the start farther north where there is snow and ice. A weather pattern that buried the eastern U.S. in snow has left Alaska fairly warm and relatively snow-free this winter. "If I have one more person say to me to move the Iditarod to Boston, I'm going to shake my head," said race director Mark Nordman. The nearly 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race starts Saturday with a ceremonial run through Anchorage. But the official start two days later has been moved 225 miles north, over the Alaska Range, to Fairbanks to avoid the area that left many mushers bruised and bloodied last year. Iditarod officials said the conditions are worse this year. The race's chief executive officer, Stan Hooley, called the conditions "pretty miserable." And last year was no picnic. A rescue helicopter picked up one musher last year after making it through the treacherous Dalzell Gorge only to hit his head on a tree stump. Knocked unconscious for at least an hour, Scott Janssen got back on the trail after waking up. But shortly after, he broke his ankle while walking on ice trying to corral a loose dog. "As an outdoorsman, to have to be rescued from the trail isn't a wonderful thing," Janssen said. This year's race will feature 78 mushers, including six former champions and 20 rookies. The winner is expected in Nome in about 10 days. Alaskans can thank the jet stream, which has been delivering warm air from the Pacific, said Dave Snider, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. It is "allowing a lot of cold air to flow out of the Arctic into the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard, (but) we're locked into the warmer part of that pattern," he said. Anchorage gets about 60 inches of snow in a normal year, but only about 20 inches have fallen this year. The new route, which puts mushers on river ice for about 600 miles, could level the playing field. "Nobody has a plan," said Nordman, the race director. "You're not going to be stopping and putting your snow hook into the same tree you had the last 20 years. It's a whole new ballgame." Brent Sass of Eureka, Alaska, is running his third Iditarod, and is coming off a win in last month's 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. "It doesn't hurt a guy like me who has only run the race a couple of times," he said of the route change. "For the guys that have run the race 20 times, it's not just the normal routine, so it might throw them off a little bit." Among the veterans in this year's race is defending champion Dallas Seavey, and 2014's bizarre finish will be remembered as much as the poor trail conditions. A sudden blizzard blew four-time champion and race leader Jeff King out of the race when he was about 25 miles from the finish line. Aliy Zirkle, who was solidly in second place, waited out the storm at the last checkpoint, 22 miles from Nome. She got back on the trail when Seavey blew through the checkpoint, but lost the race by two minutes, 22 seconds. It was her third straight runner-up finish with no wins. The route change eliminates the mountainous terrain and treacherous gorge, but it could present mushers with a whole new set of problems with a flat trail on unpredictable river ice. Plus, because it's an entirely new route, mushers say they can't rely much on information, even something as simple as the mileage between village checkpoints, provided by Iditarod officials. By removing the Alaska Range, mushers may assume it will be a very fast race, Seavey said. "Just because it's a flat trail does not mean your dogs can all of a sudden do 10 times what they've been able to do in the past," said Seavey, a two-time champion. "In the end, this race will not be won on tricks or gimmicks. It will be won on good dogmanship," he said.
Written on 03/06/2015, 10:59 am by Business Journal staff
Local restaurant Guri's Grubhouse has announced it will be adding foie gras to its menu in light of the recent lifting of a statewide ban.  Chef Megan Beck said the item was a staple at her previous restaurant, Urban Space in San Diego. "On the last day before the ban took effect, we sold out of our inventory because many knew that it would be a long time before they would be able to indulge in this culinary delicacy," she said.  Foie gras is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specifically fattened. In 2012, California became the first state to ban the production and sale of foie gras citing animal cruelty concerns of birds being force fed until their bodies and livers grow beyond a natural size.  The ban was overturned earlier this year, and Beck introduced her Foie Gras Burger to Guri's menu today. The burger will consist of a blended ground chuck and house cured bacon patty, topped with seared foie gras, apple butter and red onions. Supplies will be limited to ensure freshness and the cost is $24.  Michael Jew, owner of Guri's Grubhouse, said the two are excited to bring the foie gras culinary experience back to Fresno.  "This burger is not for everyone, but for those that want to treat themselves, it truly is something special," he said. 
Written on 03/06/2015, 9:48 am by ALICIA CHANG, AP Science Writer
(AP) — After a nearly eight-year journey, a NASA spacecraft on Friday flawlessly slipped into orbit around Ceres in the first visit to a dwarf planet.The Dawn craft will circle the dwarf planet for more than a year, exploring its surface and unraveling its mysteries. "It went exactly the way we expected. Dawn gently, elegantly slid into Ceres' gravitational embrace," said mission chief engineer Marc Rayman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $473 million mission. Ceres is the second and final stop for Dawn, which launched in 2007 on a voyage to the main asteroid belt, a zone between Mars and Jupiter that's littered with rocky leftovers from the formation of the sun and planets some 4½ billion years ago. Dawn will spend 16 months photographing the icy surface. It previously spent a year at Vesta exploring the asteroid and sending back stunning close-ups of its lumpy surface before cruising onto the Texas-sized Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. The 3-billion mile trip was made possible by Dawn's ion propulsion engines, which provide gentle yet constant acceleration and are more efficient than conventional thrusters. As Dawn approached Ceres, it beamed back the best pictures ever taken of the dwarf planet. Some puzzling images revealed a pair of shiny patches inside a crater — signs of possible ice or salt. Scientists hope to get a better glimpse of the spots when the spacecraft spirals closer to the surface. It'll also study whether previously spotted plumes of water vapor continue to vent. "There are a lot of secrets that will be revealed," said mission scientist Lucy McFadden at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The spacecraft glided into place at 4:39 a.m. Friday and flight controllers received confirmation about an hour later. The maneuver occurred without a tense moment, unlike other captures that require braking to slow down. "The real drama is exploring this alien, exotic world," Rayman said.Dawn is currently in Ceres' shadows and won't take new pictures until it emerges in April, he said. Discovered in 1801, Ceres — measuring 600 miles across — is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture and harvest. It was initially called a planet before it was demoted to an asteroid and later classified as a dwarf planet. Like planets, dwarf planets are spherical in shape, but they share the same celestial neighborhood with other similar-sized bodies. With its massive solar wings spread out, Dawn is about the size of a tractor-trailer, measuring 65 feet from tip to tip. Dawn carries an infrared spectrometer and a gamma ray and neutron detector to study the surface of Ceres from orbit. In the coming months, it will spiral down to within 235 miles of Ceres' surface where it will remain long after the mission is over. "Every time we get closer, we see more things that make us scratch our heads," said mission scientist Mark Sykes, who heads the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona. Dawn almost never made it out to the inner solar system. The mission endured funding-related project cancellations and launch delays before it received the green light to fly. Dwarf planets lately have become the focus of exploration. This summer, another NASA spacecraft — New Horizons — is set to make the first visit to Pluto, which was demoted to dwarf planet.

Latest State News

Written on 03/06/2015, 11:05 am by LYNN ELBER, 
TAMI ABDOLLAH, Associated Press
(AP) — When a man battles Darth Vader,...
Written on 03/06/2015, 9:48 am by ALICIA CHANG, AP Science Writer
(AP) — After a nearly eight-year...
Written on 03/06/2015, 9:44 am by BRANDON BAILEY, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — No one can argue that Apple has...
Written on 03/06/2015, 9:39 am by SUDHIN THANAWALA, Associated Press
(AP) — A sex discrimination trial...

Latest National News

Written on 03/06/2015, 1:26 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Idaho authorities are telling...
Written on 03/06/2015, 1:19 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks and bonds fell...
Written on 03/06/2015, 11:09 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — An 85-year-old man says his...
Written on 03/06/2015, 11:00 am by MARK THIESSEN, Associated Press
(AP) — Much of the start of the world's...