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Mendes announces bid for state Assembly

HANFORD — At the tail end of a seemingly average Hanford City Council meeting, Councilman Justin Mendes started telling a story that ended with a big announcement.

Mendes has decided to run for the 32nd Assembly District against Assemblyman Rudy Salas, and his reason to run hits home.

Mendes said he was told by his son’s day-care provider on Feb. 26 that a registered sex offender moved in right next door to the northeast Hanford home where she provides her state-licensed day-care services.

A search into the California Megan’s Law Website reveals the offender was convicted in 1993 of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14.

When he heard the upsetting news, Mendes said he went to Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever to see what could be done.

Sever confirmed that Mendes did go to him for help, but said there was nothing the police department could do locally because there are no concurrent circumstances that prevent the offender from living there.

Georgia Hall, the day-care provider, said every place she called, including the Hanford Police Department, Senator Andy Vidak’s office and Salas’ office, said they would look into the matter.

Hall said she was told there was nothing that could be done because her day care has fewer than 60 children. Hall’s state child-care license, which she has had for decades, lets her provide care for up to 14 children.

Hall said she could not believe the responses she received.

“I believe all children are important,” Hall said. “I’m appalled at the state that these laws don’t protect our kids.”

Mendes decided to go to Salas’ office as well, and said he was told by the district director that “changes to the law were not something [Salas] wanted to pursue.” He said he was also told that due to the small size of the day care, the day care could move to a new location if the owner wanted to.

“I find that kind of representation terrible,” Mendes said at the council meeting. He said the entire situation persuaded him to champion this issue and pursue changing state law.

Salas said the story Mendes is telling mischaracterizes the actions of him and his office to date.

“As a father, Justin’s concern for his child is valid. His day-care provider approached my office [eight] days ago. In the five working days since then we have been fully engaged in exploring every legal avenue. If none exists, we will change the law,” Salas said Wednesday in an email statement to the Sentinel.

Hall said she wants to do everything by the law, but it more than concerns her that the offender will continue living next door. Even with cameras that she is going to have installed, she said it will always be at the back of her mind because kids are always walking past the homes to get to school or the nearby park.

“For Justin to run for Assembly just to help is so honorable,” Hall said. “I thank him for caring for our children.”

Last year, Mendes said he would not run for reelection when his City Council term was up in November 2018 because he wanted to focus more on his growing family and spend time with them. Mendes and his wife, Melissa Mendes, have two young boys.

Mendes said that was his intention at that time in his life, but said now his young boys are a little bit older (one is nearly 4 years old and the other is 1 year old), he and his wife are getting a little more sleep than they used to and he believes he’s ready to take on this responsibility.

“Last Friday’s discussion with [Salas’] staff was enough motivation for any father,” Mendes said of his quick decision.

Mendes said his wife, who was a supporter of Salas, was also astounded by the assemblyman’s response and fully supports her husband. He said they are committed to making the situation work as a couple and as a family.

Mendes is currently the district director for Congressman David Valadao’s (R-Hanford) office. Beginning April 1, Mendes said he will take a leave of absence without pay from Valadao’s office as he begins his campaign.

Mendes said he believes Salas has gotten complacent in the position he’s held for the last six years and has gotten to “pick and choose what he champions, instead of what’s right.”

As an ardent Republican, Mendes is critical of current Sacramento politicians and their “inaction” as a whole, and has vowed to put Central Valley issues first, including water and job creation.

"Put simply: while other areas of California thrive, our politicians have left the Valley behind,” Mendes said in a press release. “That's why I'm running – to fight for our community, protect our children, and build a thriving Valley."

The 32nd Assembly District encompasses all of Kings County and the Kern County communities of Arvin, Delano, Lamont, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco and part of the city of Bakersfield.

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Lemoore heads toward solving water problems

LEMOORE — After a seven-year battle with contaminants, Lemoore is moving toward a solution.

The city of Lemoore’s water has not been in compliance with the state's drinking water by-products, specifically because of total trihalomethanes (TTHM), standards since 2011.

Currently, the city draws water from 10 wells, mixes the water from some of the wells together and treats the water with chlorine all to reduce the natural amount of arsenic in the water.

The combination of the chlorine with other natural compounds in the water creates TTHM, which is carcinogenic. The city and the state agree that the level of TTHM in the water here is still safe to drink, but also want to eliminate it.

Nathan Olson, Lemoore’s city manager, told the Sentinel last Friday about the upcoming steps for the water treatment, the hurdles the city has to go through and the hope for when residents can see clean water.

The treatment plan involves building new treatment centers at a few of the current wells.

Comparing Armona's water treatment

Olson, acting public works director Frank Rivera, utility manager John Souza, engineers with the region's California water quality control board drinking water division and representatives from Granger Water Specialties met Wednesday to go over the method Armona Community Services District uses to treat its water.

The new treatment plan for Lemoore would be similar yet different from the way Armona Community Service District treats water at its new well site.

Armona uses sodium manganate as an oxidizer instead of chlorine like Lemoore currently does. Armona’s water is then treated with another chemical and then passed through several different layered filters. Then the water is moved to a storage tank and treated with chlorine.

Olson said that the way Lemoore has treated water is to get it out of the ground, chlorinate it a lot and then send it out.

Lemoore’s plan is to use ozone to break down the total organic carbon before using chlorine. Then they plan to pass the water through a few filters and then through an ion exchange and then treat it with chlorine.

The new process will lower the amount of organic carbon and the amount of chlorine used so there will be significantly less TTHM, Olson said.

The drinking water division expects Lemoore to be in compliance with state standards by Oct. 30, per the extension they gave from the deadline last year.

Olson said that he has made bringing good quality drinking water to the city his priority.

Carl Carlucci, the regional engineer with the state water board, said arsenic is one of the biggest natural contaminants in the region. He also said that the health risks for consuming TTHM typically do not occur unless a person consumes approximately 8.5 cups of water every day for 70 years.

In 2006 the Environmental Protection Agency changed its standard for allowable amounts of arsenic in the water from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb.

To lower the amount of arsenic, Lemoore added chlorine to its water. The amount of chlorine used in combination with the other natural organic carbons in the water created an issue with the amount of TTHM in the water. TTHM is a by-product of the reaction between the natural carbons from the ground with the chlorine.

The new treatment facility for Armona has been operating for around six months. Armona has also struggled with drinking water quality for years, but has been in compliance with the state's standards for drinking water since the use of the new facility.

The new facility costs more than Olson has estimated for Lemoore’s project.

A large price driver with Armona’s $9-million facility was the fact that it dug a new well and built a building. Armona also had to purchase the property and a private well for initial testing. Armona spent about $1.8 million on the well and construction of the building.

Lemoore’s project will be adjusting existing wells' treatment plants,  which should keep the cost of the project from being so high. Not all wells have treatment plants. The city also already owns the land.

Current water rates for Armona after implementing its new facility are $5.90 per 100 cubic feet of water, or approximately 750 gallons, said Jim Maciel, chairmen of the Armona Community Service District board.

Maciel said that Armona has one of the highest water rates in the state and is working to potentially lower it next year after conducting studies.

Lemoore is currently going through an annual rate change with the last rate hike scheduled for 2020. Currently, for a residential, single-family unit the meter and first 700 cubic feet of water are $17. After use of the initial 700 cubic feet of water, users in residential, single-family units pay $1.10 per 100 cubic feet of water.

Next steps

“It is just getting us and the state to agree on a treatment system,” Olson said.

In just under 30 days, the city needs to get approval from the state water board for the proposed treatment. Then it needs to get its environmental study in accordance with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) assessed, which can take from 30 days to six months.

Olson is confident they will be approved in both instances. He said if the CEQA, which could take most of the time, does not come back in the city's favor, then they will adjust whatever needs adjusting but the chances of this happening are slim.

"I've never had a CEQA get kicked back yet," Olson said. "We don't anticipate any problems with it."

In the meantime, he said the plan is to move forward with enacting the plan in certain ways. Olson said they can get the engineering done and order the parts. The parts could take up to four months to be received in Lemoore.

If the CEQA decision comes before the sixth months and they get working right after the parts arrive, Olson said they should be able to make their state-appointed deadline for compliance on Oct. 30.

Council's study session

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Olson and the Vice President of Carollo Engineers, Richard Pyle, gave a presentation on alternative ways the city could take to develop new treatment facilities. Carollo Engineers is consulting the city on the development process.

The city has already begun the process of bonding $29 million to fund the project.

The presentation given at council was one of the ways Olson is working to save the city money on this project.

Pyle’s presentation focused on two methods that could save the city money. The methods are what he called the lump sum design-build and the progressive design-build. Both methods focus on having the designer and contractor be on the same path from the beginning. The difference between the two methods is that with the lump sum, the plan is included in reasons to pick a particular contractor.

Pyle said more traditional ways of development include hiring a designer and then later hiring a contractor.

Since it was a study session item there was no action taken by the council.

Trump says he'll meet with North Korea's Kim

WASHINGTON — After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, President Donald Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by the end of May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, South Korean and U.S. officials said Thursday. No sitting American president has ever met with a North Korea leader.

The meeting would be unprecedented during seven decades of animosity between the U.S. and North Korea. The countries remain in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

"Great progress being made," Trump tweeted after the South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, announced the plans to reporters in a hastily called appearance on a White House driveway.

Trump added that sanctions will remain in place until there's a deal.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the summit will be a "historical milestone" that will put the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula "really on track."

In a statement read early today by his spokesman, Moon also complimented Trump for accepting Kim's invitation for a summit, saying Trump's leadership will be praised "not only by the residents of South and North Korea but every peace-loving person around the world."

Trump took office vowing to stop North Korea from attaining a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland, a goal that Pyongyang is on the cusp of reaching. He's oscillated between threats and insults directed at Kim that have fueled fears of war, and more conciliatory rhetoric.

The historic announcement comes during a period of unparalleled tumult in the West Wing, with the president's policy agenda stalled and morale sinking as staff departures proliferate and disrupt efforts to instill more discipline and order.

Trump clearly relished the news of the planned summit. He had made a surprise visit to the White House press briefing room on Thursday afternoon to alert reporters of a "major statement" on North Korea by South Korea. When asked by an ABC reporter if it was about talks with North Korea, he replied: "It's almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit."

Earlier Thursday, Chung had briefed Trump and other top U.S. officials about a rare meeting with Kim in the North Korean capital. During that meeting, the rival Koreas agreed to hold a leadership summit in late April, the first in a decade.

Kim "expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible," Chung told reporters. "President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization."

The White House said Trump's meeting with Kim would take place "at a place and time to be determined."

"Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze," Trump said in a tweet. "Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time."

It marks a dramatic shift in Trump's stance toward North Korea. He has threatened the pariah nation with "fire and fury" if its threats against the U.S. and its allies continued. He has derided Kim by referring to him as "Little Rocket Man." Kim has pilloried Trump as "senile" and a "dotard."

After Kim repeated threats against the U.S. in a New Year's address and mentioned the "nuclear button" on his office desk, Trump responded by tweeting that he has a nuclear button, too, "but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

North Korea appeared to confirm the summit plans. A senior North Korean diplomat at the United Nations in New York, Pak Song Il, told The Washington Post in an e-mail that the invitation was the result of Kim's "broad minded and resolute decision" to contribute to the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula.

By the "great courageous decision of our Supreme Leader, we can take the new aspect to secure the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the East Asia region," Pak wrote.

On Tuesday after leaving Pyongyang, Chung had publicized that North Korea was offering talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties. But the proposal for a summit still came as a surprise, and will raise questions about whether the two sides are ready for such a high-level meeting.

Just a few hours earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is traveling in Africa, had said the adversaries were still a long way from holding negotiations.

Chung, who credited Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign for the diplomatic opening on the nuclear issue, said Kim understands that routine U.S.-South Korea military drills "must continue."

The drills were suspended during the Winter Olympics recently hosted by South Korea, which provided impetus for the inter-Korea rapprochement. The drills are expected to resume next month and had widely been seen as an obstacle to talks. North Korea has long protested the military maneuvers south of the divided Korean Peninsula as a rehearsal for invading the North.

When the South Korean delegation briefed Trump in the Oval Office, he was joined by a number of top advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, chief of staff John Kelly and the director of national intelligence, among others, according to a senior Trump administration official who briefed reporters after the announcement. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the sensitive diplomatic issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no letter from Kim to Trump, just an oral briefing from the South Korean officials.