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Hidden Valley Park issue flares up again
Future of undeveloped land remains up in the air
 Seth Nidever  / 

HANFORD — The future of the vacant, city-owned, 19-acre parcel next to Hidden Valley Park was once again a hot topic of discussion at this week's Hanford City Council meeting.

The issue of what to do with the land remains controversial.

Should it be sold for development? Should it be kept vacant for a future expansion of the park? Where would the money come to pay for the expansion, and how much would it cost?

Such questions remained unanswered at Tuesday night's council meeting.

As in previous council discussions — the last of which was in in August 2016 — local residents with connections to the park voiced strong opinions in favor of converting at least part of the land into additional park space.

Hanford resident Mark Pratter, who lives near the park and walks his dog there, stood up Tuesday to propose a compromise that could bridge the gap between those in favor of selling the property to gain the city additional revenue and those who want to see the park, which is currently 20 acres in size, expanded.

Pratter's idea is to extend Rodgers Road to connect with Bryce Road, sell off the approximately 12 acres west of Rodgers Road and retain the smaller section east of Rodgers Road for a future park expansion.

If it worked out, the compromise would leave the council the option of taking the money from the sale and setting it aside for a Hidden Valley Park expansion.

Or not: The proceeds could be used for any number of city projects, including a renovation of the Old Courthouse building and refurbishing the Bastille.

Pratter and other residents who spoke out about the land expressed their desire that the money from any future sale of part of the property go toward expanding the park.

"Most of the council members seemed amenable to a compromise on the issue," Pratter said Wednesday in an interview.

"I hope that it can be done," Pratter said. "We're not going to give up. We need to press on."

"They could put part of the money from the sale of the land ... toward extending Hidden Valley Park," said Hanford resident Pamela Johnson in an interview. "If they do that, it would pretty much pay for itself."

Johnson said that using money from the sale of any part of the land for something other than an expansion of the park would be a deal-breaker for her as far as supporting the compromise is concerned.

No study has been done of the feasibility or cost of Pratter's idea, according to Hanford Community Development Director Darlene Mata.

"It would be a full-on project," she said in an interview Wednesday. "We haven't worked on that yet. The issue just got raised yesterday."

Mata said she wouldn't move forward with the idea unless and until the council directed her to do so.

The only decision the council made on the issue this week was to direct city staff to move forward with re-zoning the property to low-density residential.

Mata assured council members that the proposed change would allow the council to sell all or part of the property for housing development if the council wanted to go in that direction at some future date.

Mata said the new designation wouldn't preclude turning all or part of the property into parkland if the council wanted to go forward with that idea.

The land is currently zoned for "public facilities," which prohibits any of it from being sold for development.

The proposed change is part of a full-blown overhaul of the city's general plan, the governing document which guides all land-use planning decisions in Hanford.

The council is planning to cast a final, yes-or-no vote on the overhaul in February.

Cleanup underway on trash-filled Hanford sump
 Seth Nidever  / 

HANFORD — The cleanup of a trash-filled, waterlogged drainage basin behind Big Lots in Hanford is underway.

Workers Michael Gamble and John Alaniz stood at the edge of the water Wednesday, halfway down the embankment, and raked all the floating rubbish they could reach to the edge of the deep water that has pooled there from runoff from the Cost Less/Big Lots shopping center during recent rainy weather.

Floating trash Gamble and Alaniz couldn't reach will likely remain there until the water level drops.

Gamble and Alaniz were able to get at the trash higher up on the slanted embankment as well as the junk spread over the strip of flat ground surrounding the basin.

The eyesore has for weeks been accumulating stinking piles of illegal trash city officials say was generated by homeless encampments.

Officials had been working with the property owner, Southern California-based Moisce Belinow, since as far back as November 2016 to try to get the filth cleaned up, but nothing happened.

The piles of junk kept growing.

A story about the unsightly, stinking mess and who was responsible for cleaning it up appeared in The Sentinel last week.

The story identified Belinow as the principal owner of the drainage basin.

Few petition local court for Prop 64 relief
Law allows offenders to reduce, seal some marijuana crimes
 Mike Eiman  / 

More than two months after California voters approved Proposition 64, few Kings County offenders have taken steps to reduce or seal their marijuana-related criminal convictions.

Effective Nov. 9, 2016, Proposition 64 made it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis for recreational purposes. Adults may also grow and process up to six marijuana plants.

The law also allows those who would not have been guilty of a crime, or would have been guilty of a lesser crime under Prop 64, to petition the court for resentencing, reduced charges or sealing of their criminal records.

Jeff Lewis, court executive officer for the Kings County Superior Court, said his office has only received two petitions since Prop 64 was adopted. Both of those, which were for adult convictions, were submitted in the past two weeks.

“It’s started, and we assume there will be more,” Lewis said.

According to state law, eligible convictions may include possession; planting, harvesting or processing; possession for sale; and unlawful transportation, importation, sale, or gift of marijuana.

Proposition 64 allows an offender to do the following:

  • A person currently serving a sentence for an eligible offense may petition the court for resentencing or dismissal of eligible convictions. If the petition meets all criteria for resentencing or dismissal, the court must grant the request unless doing so would pose an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”
  • Those who have already completed a sentence for an eligible offense may file an application to have the convictions dismissed and sealed, or redesigned as misdemeanors or infractions.

The Kings County court had not received any petitions for juvenile resentencing or reclassification as of Wednesday.

Once the court receives a Prop 64 petition, Lewis said, the petitioner must serve a copy to the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in person or by mail.

“The DA can respond, providing that they have an objection to reducing the sentence,” Lewis said.

Deputy Kings County District Attorney Phil Esbenshade said his office had not received any petitions as of Wednesday. It remains to be seen whether either of the two filed with the court will qualify for resentencing or dismissal.

“We would have to really look at the specifics of each case to see if it qualifies,” Esbenshade said.

Lewis said he was expecting a flood of petitions similar to what the court saw after the 2014 passage of Proposition 47, which reduced certain felony theft and narcotics crimes to misdemeanors.

Over the following year, the Kings County Superior Court received more than 1,000 petitions from offenders seeking resentencing and more than 600 applications to have felony convictions reclassified as misdemeanors. The bulk of those were filed within a few months of the law’s adoption.

Lewis said the court has received several phone calls from people asking about Prop 64 petitions. He said more people will likely file the forms after the new laws have been in place for a while longer.

“It may just be that people are waiting to see how this progresses,” Lewis said.

Former Avenal prison cook charged for crimes with inmates
 Mike Eiman  / 

A former Avenal State Prison employee was arrested this week for allegedly having sex with inmates and providing them with drugs.

Kings County Deputy District Attorney Phil Esbenshade said Mary Ann Cano, 46, of Lemoore, allegedly committed sexual acts with two inmates at the facility, provided inmates with cellphones and narcotics, and accepted money from inmates. Esbenshade said the alleged misconduct took place between February 2011 and May 2014 when Cano was working as a supervising cook at the prison.

“The inmates worked with her in the kitchen,” Esbenshade said.

Cano pleaded not guilty to the charges during arraignment Tuesday. A preliminary hearing has been set for Jan. 30.

The Kings County Sheriff’s Office arrested Cano Sunday on a warrant issued by the Kings County Superior Court on Jan. 12. Cano is charged with receiving bribes, bringing narcotics into a prison, bringing a controlled substance into a prison, having sex with a prisoner while employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, delivering a cellphone to an inmate and selling a controlled substance to a prisoner.

Cano is being held in the Kings County Jail with bail set at $120,000.

Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said Cano was a cook at Avenal State Prison from September 2007 until her voluntary resignation in January 2015. Sessa referred questions about the circumstances of Cano’s arrest to the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.

“Typically, we don’t divulge the details of what comes out of our (CDCR) investigation,” Sessa said.

Esbenshade said Cano could face up to 11 years and four months in prison if convicted on all charges. While it’s a felony for a prison employee to have sex with an inmate, someone who is convicted of that crime is not required to register as a sex offender.