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Temperance Flat Dam hits hurdle

While the Temperance Flat Reservoir Project hit a speedbump recently, local officials still have hope the project will get funded and bring more water storage to the Valley.

“I hope in 10 years we can all get together and celebrate a new dam,” said Doug Verboon, Kings County supervisor and county representative on the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority.

The San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, a joint power authority, filed an application with the California Water Commission in August asking for $1 billion of Proposition 1 water bond money to build the dam north of Fresno above Millerton Lake.

Altogether, the Water Commission is expected to allot around $2.7 billion for new water storage projects. The applicants from across the state submitted projects for the commission's evaluation on their eligibility and the level of public benefits provided.

In December, all project applications were evaluated at a Sacramento commission meeting. Last week, the Water Commission gave the Temperance Flat Reservoir Project application a score of zero on the cost-benefit ratio.

Verboon said he believes this “hiccup” is not going to hurt the project in the long run.

Verboon said the Water Commission didn’t like the equation the Water Infrastructure Authority used to estimate public benefit, so now it’s just a matter of reevaluating the equation.

“[The Water Commission] is making it harder for all the applications to get approved,” Verboon said.

Verboon said the reservoir would be able to hold over 1 million acre-feet of water that could be stored during wet seasons and used during periods of drought.

He said a reservoir like this could potentially prevent major issues from arising in places like East Porterville, which had wells dry up that caused around 1,000 homes to be without water in 2015.

Other public benefits include an increased water supply that would enhance flood control, fish habitat and recreation; refuge water supply; and allow for groundwater recharge and management.

Assemblyman Rudy Salas said he was surprised by the low score the Water Commission gave the project.

“I strongly support the Temperance Flat project because it will increase water storage and supply, which we desperately need in the Valley and the state,” Salas said. “It will also provide demonstrable benefits to the public – such as improved flood protection and emergency response, ecosystem and environmental restoration, and expanded recreational opportunities.”

Salas said he is working with the California Water Commission and stakeholders to clarify the benefits this project will bring to the region, the state and the public.

Even if the project doesn’t get the necessary funding, Verboon said the Infrastructure Authority proved different counties can come together for a common goal and “fight for the rights of all.”

The joint power authority, which has been active for two years, is made up of representatives from Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Madera and Merced counties.

“We create a stronger voice,” Verboon said. “One district can have more power than all of us working separately.”

The Water Commission is expected to determine the maximum funding eligibility for each water storage project and then make a final commission award by June.

Chicken Shack opens second location in Fresno

Chicken Shack is opening its second Central Valley location in Fresno’s downtown.

The shack’s owner, Damon Miller, has been looking for a second location and said he was attracted to Fresno’s rejuvenation of Fulton Street.

Miller said there were some setbacks with getting plans finalized with the city of Fresno. He said he hopes they will be able to open in June or July of this year. He said a great help to getting through the process was Craig Scharton, the interim president/CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership.

Scharton said businesses that entered during the construction period of Fulton Street, like Chicken Shack and Toshiko Japanese Cuisine, were eligible for a reduction in city fees.

Toshiko Japanese Cuisine, located in the Hanford Mall area, is also opening a new location on Fulton Street. Chicken Shack and Toshiko will actually be neighbors.

Toshiko’s owner did not want to comment until they were closer to opening.

Miller said there were some struggles with getting their plans approved because Fresno was restructuring zoning for businesses on that street. He said Chicken Shack was being used as the model for future businesses or restaurants on that street.

The Fresno location will have outdoor patio seating where alcohol can be served despite the fact that there is a sidewalk separating the space between the restaurant and the seating.

The new location will take the place of an old Payless shoe store. It will have more kitchen space, so despite starting off with the same menu, Miller said there will be room to try new food items.

Currently, Chicken Shack, in addition to its shop here in Hanford, has a food truck that makes visits to Tioga Sequoia tap room in Fresno.

“You can’t go wrong with beer and chicken,” Miller said.

He said he wants to build more relationships with other micro-breweries in Fresno and have their beers on tap.

He said he is always looking for another location. One of the towns he said he has his eye on is Visalia.

“I have people asking me to come out to Visalia,” Miller said. “It’s a matter of finding the right location and making it happen.”

Trump calls for unity on immigration, infrastructure in State of the Union

WASHINGTON — Addressing a deeply divided nation, President Donald Trump summoned the country to a "new American moment" of unity in his first State of the Union address, challenging Congress to make good on long-standing promises to fix a fractured immigration system and warning darkly of evil forces seeking to undermine America's way of life.

Trump's address Tuesday night blended self-congratulation and calls for optimism amid a growing economy with ominous warnings about deadly gangs, the scourge of drugs and violent immigrants living in the United States illegally. He cast the debate over immigration — an issue that has long animated his most ardent supporters — as a battle between heroes and villains, leaning heavily on the personal stories of White House guests in the crowd. He praised a law enforcement agent who arrested more than 100 gang members, and he recognized the families of two alleged gang victims.

He also spoke forebodingly of catastrophic dangers from abroad, warning that North Korea would "very soon" threaten the United States with nuclear-tipped missiles.

"The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world," Trump said. "But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers and America's forgotten communities."

Trump addressed the nation with tensions running high on Capitol Hill. An impasse over immigration prompted a three-day government shutdown earlier this year, and lawmakers appear no closer to resolving the status of the "Dreamers" — young people living in the U.S. illegally ahead of a new Feb. 8 deadline for funding operations. The parties have also clashed this week over the plans of Republicans on the House intelligence committee to release a classified memo on the Russia investigation involving Trump's presidential campaign — a decision the White House backs but the Justice Department is fighting.

The controversies that have dogged Trump — and the ones he has created— have overshadowed strong economic gains during his first year in office. His approval ratings have hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency, and just 3 in 10 Americans said the United States was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.

At times, Trump's address appeared to be aimed more at validating his first year in office than setting the course for his second. He devoted significant time to touting the tax overhaul he signed at the end of last year, promising the plan will "provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses." He also highlighted the decision made early in his first year to withdraw the U.S. from a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade pact, declaring: "The era of economic surrender is totally over."

He spoke about potential agenda items for 2018 in broad terms, including a call for $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending and partnerships with states and the private sector. He touched only briefly on issues like health care that have been at the center of the Republican Party's policy agenda for years.

Tackling the sensitive immigration debate that has roiled Washington, Trump redoubled his recent pledge to offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants — but only as part of a package that would also require increased funding for border security, including a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ending the nation's visa lottery method and revamping the current legal immigration system.

"Americans are dreamers too," Trump said, in an apparent effort to reclaim the term used to describe the young immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

A former New York Democrat, the president also played to the culture wars that have long illuminated American politics, alluding to his public spat with professional athletes who led protests against racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, declaring that paying tribute to the flag is a "civic duty."

In a post-speech rebuttal, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, was seeking to undercut Trump's optimistic tone and remind voters of the personal insults and attacks often leveled by the president.

"Bullies may land a punch," Kennedy said. "They might leave a mark. But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future."

The arc of Trump's 80-minute speech featured the personal stories of men and women who joined first lady Melania Trump in the audience. The guests included a New Mexico policeman and his wife who adopted a baby from parents who suffered from opioid addiction, and Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea and outspoken critic of the Kim Jong-un government.

On international affairs, Trump warned of the dangers from "rogue regimes," like Iran and North Korea, terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, and "rivals" like China and Russia "that challenge our interests, our economy and our values." Calling on Congress to lift budgetary caps and boost spending on the military, Trump said that "unmatched power is the surest means of our defense."

California bullet train project faces audit as costs climb

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Lawmakers approved an official audit of California's high-speed rail project Tuesday with the goal of understanding whether the ambitious infrastructure plan can be completed on time and without more dramatic cost increases.

"What we are all trying to do is to get past all of the noise, to get past all of the politics, to get down into a thorough audit that is going to give us a very good heads up as to what is coming and what has happened," said Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno.

State auditor Elaine Howle said her evaluation would take six to nine months. Meanwhile, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will release a highly anticipated biennial business plan in February or March, which could showcase a significant shift in costs or the timeline of the project. It will be the first business plan under new chief executive officer Brian Kelly, who most recently led the state transportation agency.

Patterson requested the audit alongside Democratic Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose. The bullet train is projected to first connect the Central Valley to Silicon Valley before eventually going down to Los Angeles. It's been plagued by delays and cost overruns, with the California High-Speed Rail Authority recently announcing a $3 billion jump in costs in the Central Valley alone.

Republicans on the committee offered a more critical take of the project and whether it can realistically be up and running without needing state subsidies to operate. As Democrats backed the audit, they highlighted the project's benefits including the roughly 1,500 construction jobs it's created in the Central Valley.

"I look forward to the rest of the state realizing the benefits that are happening in my community," said Democratic Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, who represents part of Fresno.

Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's board of directors, said he welcomes the transparency the audit will bring and that the authority will implement its recommendations.

"It's critical that the public maintain their confidence in our ability to do this," he said. "I think the public confidence will be sustained if they know, well, you've done some things well, but these things need to be improved and you're doing that."

Voters approved $10 billion in bonds to help finance a train that can take people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than three hours in 2008. Then, the project was estimated to cost about $40 billion. Now, the costs are upward of $65 billion. The timeline of the project has changed too, with the authority switching and building north first instead of south in 2016.

Beyond looking at the cost and the timeline, Howle, the auditor, will evaluate the economic benefits of the project to communities where it is being built and whether the train will meet its sustainability goals to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The auditing team will also examine the authority's process for approving changes to contracts. The board has updated contracts on numerous occasions, often adding more money due to delays from lawsuits or trouble gaining rights of way or environmental approvals.

Some Republican lawmakers said they wanted to see the audit's scope go even further.

"Every red flag that you could raise about a public works project is raised with high-speed rail," said Republican Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of Dublin.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has defended the project in his State of the State address.