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Local
Council sets date for Ramirez recall election

HANFORD — The Hanford City Council met Tuesday and discussed a date for the recall election of Councilman Francisco Ramirez and possible zoning changes to allow medical offices outside of the downtown area.

A group of Hanford residents recently petitioned for the recall of Ramirez because they believe he has been deceitful and caused mistrust with his constituents, and accused him of “corruption and disregard for the law” as well as “malfeasance.”

Ramirez, wearing a blue T-shirt with words that implored the community to “find out the truth,” thanked his supporters before recusing himself from the discussion about his recall election.

“I believe in my colleagues [and] that they’re going to do the proper procedures to go forth,” Ramirez said before recusing himself from council chambers. “I truly still believe in the election process, so I’m going to make a good fight of it.”

City Clerk Jennifer Gomez relayed recent events to council, including having received a recall petition against Ramirez on Aug. 21 and taking a raw count of over 1,000 signatures. She said the recall group needed 853 signatures for her to accept the filing of the petition.

After accepting the petition, Gomez said she began the process of verifying signatures at the county elections office. Of the 1,062 signatures that were verified, she said 864 were considered sufficient and so she created a certificate of sufficiency that she then presented to council to accept.

Gomez then asked council to give her direction on when the recall election will take place. Legally, the council must pick a date between 88 and 125 days after accepting the certificate, which they did Tuesday night.

The council discussed possible election dates, with Vice Mayor Sue Sorensen saying she believed the later the date the better because it would give candidates running for the council seat more time to campaign; and Mayor David Ayers agreed, adding he didn’t want the date set too early because he wanted to give people a chance to enjoy the holidays with their families.

Out of several possible election date options Gomez gave council members, they eventually settled on Jan. 23, 2018, to hold the recall election.

The date for the recall election will be formally approved at the next regular council meeting on Oct. 3. The day after the election date is formally set by council, any resident of Ramirez’s Council District D wishing to run against him in the election can file nomination papers.

The period to file nomination papers will be open from Oct. 4 through Nov. 9.

The election will be like any other election, with at least one precinct polling station in District D and absentee ballot voting for those who are registered to vote by mail.

The voters would be asked two questions on their ballots: the first question would ask whether or not they want to recall Ramirez, and the second question would ask who they would want to replace Ramirez if he were to be recalled.

If the first question passes with 50 percent plus one, then the replacement candidate with the highest number of votes would win the council seat.

Gomez previously said the County Elections Office informed her the election is estimated to cost the city between $25,000 and $30,000.

Medical offices

At the request of Councilman Justin Mendes, council once again discussed the possible amendment of the city’s zoning ordinances to allow medical offices to locate outside of the downtown zone by use of permits.

Currently, medical, dental or optometrist offices are not allowed outside the downtown zone in an effort to protect and preserve the downtown area.

In May, the council essentially killed a proposal from Adventist Health to locate a full-service health clinic in the Costco shopping center by maintaining the downtown-protectionist zoning.

Tuesday, Mendes asked if it was possible for a specific definition of a “health clinic” be created by city staff so that clinics can be allowed to locate in the city’s regional zones, like the Costco shopping center.

Community Development Director Darlene Mata told council that it is possible to create verbiage that limits individual doctor’s offices from locating in the regional zones, but allows a broader definition of health clinics.

Ramirez supported Mendes’ idea and said as Hanford continues to grow, the city needs to strategically plan for that growth and give consideration to those who live in that area of town and who need access to a health clinic.

Ayers said he was recently contacted by a group of health care professionals who he said told him they were interested in locating an office downtown that targeted low-income families, without having to change any zoning.

Though he couldn’t say much more, Ayers said he wanted to wait and see if things panned-out with the health care professionals he talked to. If nothing comes to fruition, he said he’d then be willing to revisit the idea of allowing health clinics in the regional zones.

“I’m not interested at this time to changing any of our current zones that we just approved through our general plan update,” Ayers said.

Council informed Mata that no zoning amendments would need to be initiated at this time.


Local
Changes for Sacramento travel on Amtrak

HANFORD — Passengers thinking of riding a train to Sacramento will have a chance to arrive earlier starting in January.

Amtrak for the San Joaquin Valley – serving San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Stockton, Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, Wasco, Corcoran and Hanford – plans to make a schedule change that will allow an early morning arrival in Sacramento, said Dan Leavitt, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority Manager of Marketing and Outreach.

The new early morning train ride will be called the morning express train and get to Sacramento around 8 a.m.

For the early arrival in Sacramento, the train will start in Fresno instead of Bakersfield at about 4:30 a.m. 

For riders south of Fresno, there will be a bus to get riders to the train station in Fresno in time for the early morning train to Sacramento.

“In the next few months, we are hoping to get people’s attention and increase ridership by having one train leave earlier in the morning for Sacramento,” Leavitt said. 

Leavitt believes part of the reason why people decide to drive rather than ride the train to Sacramento has to do with how late the earliest train arrives (around 11 a.m.).

“We want to enable people to take daily rides including business travel and we hope to get more people excited and more people riding the train,” Leavitt said. “This is the safest way to travel, and its on time performance is very good. The deal with visiting a big city is parking, and if you drive there, it’s bumper to bumper traffic.”

Luis Medina, 23, lives in Clovis, and boards the 702 train from Fresno to Hanford at least twice a week to visit his girlfriend.

 “…I don’t have to worry about driving and it’s really relaxing,” Medina said.


Taron Egerton stars in Twentieth Century Fox's "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," also starring Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Mark Strong, Elton John, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges. 


Local
German firm plans 1,600-acre local solar project

The Central Valley’s Westside continues to get new large solar farm applications that include two new projects totaling near 400 megawatts (MW) in Fresno County - both in the Westlands Water District.

On land leased from the Woolf family, the county is processing an application to build a 1,600-acre solar project near the Kings/Fresno county line. A scoping session is planned for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, at Keenan Community Center in Huron.

German-based EC&R Solar Development, LLC has submitted three conditional use permit applications to allow the construction and operation of a 150 MW solar PV generation facility, a 20 MW solar PV generation facility and a 20 MW energy storage facility. The parent company is one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the world.

The project site, called Fifth Standard Solar Project Complex, is located on 12 parcels totaling 1,593 acres, west of South Lassen Avenue and north of West Jayne Avenue – about 3 miles south of Huron.

Like many recent applications, this project will have a storage component. Storage systems can assist grid operators in more effectively integrating intermittent renewable resources into the statewide grid and assist utilities to meet energy storage goals mandated by the California Public Utilities Commission, says the application. A 20 MW energy storage facility, on five acres, with a four-hour discharge duration would be constructed.

The applicant – E.ON Climate & Renewables (EC&R), headquartered in Essen, Germany – currently operates over 9 GW of renewable capacity including large hydro. Since its formation in 2007, EC&R has invested more than 9 billion Euros, including more than $5 billion in the U.S. solar and wind facilities. It owns a 20MW project in Southern California.

The second utility-scale project is the Little Bear Solar Project involving a 180 MW PV electricity generating facilities. The solar facility would consist of up to five individual facilities including an Energy Storage System. The project would connect to PG&E's Mendota substation.

Last year, the developer of Little Bear - First Solar announced it had pre-sold 40 MW to a large community solar provider, MCE, based in the Bay Area. A not-for-profit, community-based electricity provider, MCE offers its customer base an opportunity to source 50 to 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources like solar, wind and hydroelectricity at competitive rates throughout California. MCE also allows its customers to choose which kind of green energy they want, whether it be wind, solar or a combination without the initial high costs of leasing equipment and construction.

The Little Bear project, located on around 1,300 acres, is set to break ground in 2019 and should be complete by 2020. After that, MCE will have the option to expand - potentially growing to 160-megawatts in size, it said in 2016. Next door is the NorthStar solar project.