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Top 10 local stories in 2017

The past year saw big global news stories including President Trump’s first year in office, seemingly non-stop protests, an historic solar eclipse and the broken silence surrounding Hollywood’s rampant sexual harassment cases.

Before we officially welcome in 2018 and hang our new calendars on the wall, let’s take a look back at the stories that affected us here in Hanford and around the Valley.

These are the biggest local stories that came across our desks at the Hanford Sentinel this year.

1. Award-winning dairy calls it quits (May 3)

On Brian Medeiros’ desk in Hanford was a pile of paperwork that had to be sorted through, the visual evidence of what it takes to wrap up the Medeiros and Son dairy after 27 years in the business.

The bulk of the nearly 5,000 milk cows and heifers that had called the dairy home were auctioned off Saturday.

The dairy itself, along with 1,200 acres to support it, had already been sold.

2. Police: Don't pay for gas at the pump (Jan. 12)

Police are warning residents not to pay for gas at the pump after a recent credit card number theft incident at a Hanford gas station.

Hanford Police say a credit card number skimming device was discovered earlier this month at the T&A Mobil Mini Mart at the corner of 10th and Grangeville avenues.

The device was attached to pump #5 and may have been there for a week, according to a police statement.

3. Co-owner of Superior Dairy dies in accident (Nov. 13)

Susan Wing, co-owner of Superior Dairy, died Friday night after being struck by a vehicle while trying to help a neighbor, police said.

Around 5:35 p.m., Hanford Police officers said they were called to the 1300 block of North Douty Street for a report of a vehicle versus a pedestrian traffic accident.

During the investigation, officers said they learned that Wing was walking across the street to assist a neighbor who was having a seizure.

4. Food safety failures in 2016 (Feb. 23)

Twelve places in Kings County that sell food and are open to the public failed at least one food safety inspection in 2016.

Getting a failing grade means they likely had more than one critical violation and may have been repeat violators, according to Jeff Taber, Kings County Public Health Department deputy director.

Critical violations include key areas such as cross-contamination of raw and cooked food and not having the right temperatures in refrigerators and hot food holding bins.

5. Zachary Gonzalez found guilty in 2016 murder (Feb. 16)

A Kings County jury found Zachary Gonzalez guilty Tuesday of murdering and robbing a 25-year-old Hanford man on June 17, 2016.

Gonzalez, 22, was found guilty of first-degree murder during the commission of a robbery and enhancements for use of a firearm causing death. His victim, Julio Gonzalez, was found shot to death in a field near 10th Avenue and Cameron Street, behind Sierra Liquor. His autopsy revealed he had been shot 14 to 15 times.

6. Electric car maker coming to Hanford (Aug. 7)

Faraday Future, a Los Angeles-based electric car company, is set to open a manufacturing facility in Hanford that is expected to bring more than 1,300 jobs to the city of Hanford.

Faraday Future is currently beginning the process of clean-up at the site located in the building of the former Pirelli tire plant.

The facility marks a step in the company producing its first vehicle, the FF91. The vehicle is expected to be sent to market in 2018.

7. State: Ground sinking near Corcoran, Avenal (Feb. 10)

The ground is sinking near Avenal and Corcoran, and the drop is damaging the California Aqueduct, according to a report released this week from the California Department of Water Resources.

The report identified agricultural groundwater pumping alongside the Aqueduct in a section near Avenal as the cause of a buckle in the Aqueduct's cement-lined channel.

The report says the buckle is causing a 20 percent loss in the Aqueduct's capacity to carry water.

8. The mystery of Hanford teen prostitution (July 11)

Hanford Police Detective Richard Pontecorvo, with 20 years under his belt at the Hanford Police Department, had never seen anything like it: A 16-year-old Hanford girl named Jelinajane Bedrijo Almario was pimping out two Hanford girls and one Avenal girl. They were 14 and 15 years old.

Through friends and acquaintances or social media, Almario lured them in and eventually got them to perform sex acts with men in motel rooms in the area.

Almario was sentenced last week in Kings County Superior Court to 13 years in state prison just a few days after she turned 18.

9. ALDI planning Hanford store (July 21)

German-based ALDI Market plans to open new stores in the Central Valley, says Jeffrey Luna, Central Valley Director of Real Estate.

“We have 38 stores open now in Southern California and Bakersfield and hope to have 50 open by year’s end,” he said.

The company is in final negotiations for sites in Hanford and Porterville and is scouting locations in Visalia, he says.

10. Developer faces challenges filling out Costco center (Jan. 7)

Commercial real estate broker Michael Kennedy, who works for Fresno-based Retail California, is one of the agents tasked with recruiting businesses to fill out the 58 acres of shopping center space around Costco.

His take? It’s not going to happen overnight, and there are a number of obstacles.

“I think first off, our challenge is residential population immediately surrounding the site,” he said.

That’s why the Costco development calls for a phased-in growth over several years. Kennedy and others are hoping that more residential development occurs around Costco.

How minimum wage increases affect local businesses

HANFORD — With the New Year comes changes, and one of the bigger changes at the beginning of 2018 will be another increase in minimum wage earnings.

Starting Jan. 1, businesses with over 26 employees will have to pay a minimum wage of $11 per hour and businesses with fewer than 26 employees will pay $10.50 per hour. Both wages are going up 50 cents from what the previous standards were.

The increase was passed and signed into law in April 2016 as Senate Bill 3 by then-Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). Several increases over the next few years will gradually raise California's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023.

The bill was put into effect with the intent to help improve the economic well-being of lower-paid workers and combat poverty.

Joey Joslin, executive director of the Hanford Chamber of Commerce, said the increase will affect every business in the state in some way, particularly the small businesses with fewer than 26 employees.

Joslin said the last thing businesses owners want to do is let go of employees, so product prices go up to balance the costs. He said one of the most important things for a small business owner to do is let customers know ahead of time that there may possibly be changes to pricing on products.

“When you own a small business, you’re not making a lot of money,” Joslin said. “It’s important for the community to understand that as minimum wage increases, so does the cost of goods. It’s a double-edged sword.”

Damon Miller, owner of the Chicken Shack in Hanford, said he has 13 employees, so he falls under the new $10.50 minimum wage law. However, he said he already pays his employees more than minimum wage because he wants to keep his good employees happy with what they’re earning.

Miller said he doesn’t understand the logic behind all the wage increases and doesn’t believe the increases benefit workers as much as some people think they will, especially because the prices of products all rise as well.

He said the minimum wage increases actually benefit the state more because as product prices increase, the state gets more sales tax money. When product prices increase, Miller in turn has to sometimes increase the prices on the food he serves.

He said he gets complaints about his prices every once in a while, but for the most part, his customers are OK with the increases because he explains to them why the costs are rising and they know the good quality of service and food will remain the same.

Although the wage increase is meant to help lower-paid workers, Joslin said most of the time the younger workers are the ones who minimum wage increases hurt the most because employers may not have the justification to pay an unskilled worker that amount of money.

Joslin emphasized the importance of an education for younger employees and Miller agreed, saying he encourages all of his employees to get an education so that they can get higher-paying jobs and be able to afford the products they want.

Whether businesses are for or against minimum wage increases, Joslin said it’s just something business owners and employees will have to deal with for the next several years, so they should take the time to learn about and understand the issue.

“It’s manageable; we just have to make sure everyone is informed,” Joslin said.

US eyes increased pumping from biggest federal water project

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Trump administration said Friday it will look at revving up water deliveries to farmers from California's Central Valley Project, the largest federal water project in the United States, in what environmental groups called a threat to protections for struggling native salmon and other endangered species.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation formally served notice it would begin looking at changing the operation of the massive California water project to maximize water deliveries. Spokeswoman Erin Curtis called it the first step in what would likely be an 18-month analysis.

The water project is a network of 18 dams and reservoirs and 500 miles of canals and aqueducts that draw water from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, which are part of the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

Launched in the 1930s, the water project has helped make California's Central Valley the United States' richest farm region. It also has contributed to driving several once-plentiful species of smelt, salmon and other native animals toward extinction, biologists and environmental groups say.

Doug Obegi, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group, contended in an email Friday the move represented "the latest attempt by the Trump administration to roll back protections for salmon and other endangered native fisheries ... in order to increase water supplies" for the state's agricultural water agencies.

Curtis, the Reclamation spokeswoman, called the effort a priority for the current administration.

Cutbacks of water deliveries for the project's customers during the recently ended five-year California drought — including cutbacks prompted by rules protecting endangered native species also struggling in the drought — helped prompt the decision to look at possibly redoing the rules for operating the water project, Curtis said.

So did new U.S. legislation last year that encouraged more big water construction projects and water deliveries for Western farmers, Curtis said.

Federal authorities will seek public comment through Feb. 1.

File photo  

Brian Medeiros stands in the empty Medeiros and Son barn a few days after the bulk of cows were sold at auction. The family is getting out of the dairy business.

New date for Pate trial set

HANFORD — A jury trial for Todd Pate, who is accused of the 2013 killing of his wife, Melanie Pate, has been set for April 23, 2018.

Pate’s second trial was originally set to begin Dec. 4, but was postponed due to personal matters involving Pate’s attorney, Adam Nelson.

Managing Deputy District Attorney Phil Esbenshade will prosecute the case along with Deputy District Attorney Cambria Lisonbee, both of whom are from the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.

Pate’s trial in August 2016 ended in a hung jury and mistrial because one of the 12 jurors felt the evidence did not support a conviction of first-degree murder.

Pate previously pleaded not guilty to the charges, but in February he entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Nelson also filed a motion for change of venue on March 30 arguing Pate could not receive a fair retrial in Kings County. Among the reasons given was extensive media coverage of the case.

Judge Donna Tarter said the motion didn’t meet the criteria to warrant a change of venue and denied the motion without prejudice, meaning Nelson could file another request for change of venue later.

Esbenshade said the guilt phase of the trial will begin first, followed by the sanity portion of the trial. He said the entire trial is expected to last two weeks.

Sentinel file photo 

Todd Pate