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Cannabis operations division, permit fees established

HANFORD — The city of Hanford will soon have its own division centered around cannabis operations, with its own high-level management position.

Cannabis operations division

On Tuesday, Council discussed annual fees for commercial medical cannabis business permits and establishing a cannabis operations division.

Community Development Director Darlene Mata said until a tax measure is created, permit fees are a way to ensure full cost recovery for regulating the cannabis businesses once they start in the city.

The permit fees are as follows:

• $32,000 each for campus, cultivation, manufacturing and distribution

• $15,000 for lab testing

Mata said lab testing would require less cost per permit because there would most likely be less enforcement required for that area.

Mata said the staffing required to regulate the future industry was also examined and presented a proposed budget amendment for the remainder of the fiscal year to establish a new cannabis operations division.

Mata said the planning division currently has one “senior planner” position, which is vacant. She said the city has done two recruitments and has not been able to find a qualified applicant.

The proposal Mata outlined was to eliminate that position and create a new position in the cannabis operations division with the title “principal planner.” She said the position is a higher-level management position with a salary in the $90,000 range.

Because Mata said she doesn’t expect to fill the principal planner position until the middle of 2018, the salary will be funded in part by the cost savings from the vacant senior planner position and the rest would be covered by the allocated cannabis money from the 2018-19 fiscal year.

When the cannabis businesses are up and running, Mata said there will need to be even more positions and staffing allocated to the cannabis operations division. Police Chief Parker Sever said the operation will be evaluated annually and adjusted as needed.

Council voted unanimously, with Councilman Justin Mendes absent, to establish the medical business permit fees and make the necessary budget amendments to establish a cannabis operations division.

Second chances?

Council also discussed possibly allowing the two companies that applied but were not recommended for cannabis permits at the Nov. 7 meeting to repeat the second and third phases of the application process.

This talk took place because Mendes suggested giving the companies that weren’t recommended a second chance through some sort of appeals process.

During the public comment at the beginning of the meeting, Rand Martin, who was at the meeting on behalf of medical cannabis company Caliva, told council that the state’s foray into the cannabis business needs to be “squeaky-clean.”

Martin commended the city’s rigorous application process, and asked council to only move forward with the permits they already granted and to not give the businesses that were not recommended a second chance.

Jacob Yparrea, co-owner of Bridge the Gap Solutions — one of the cannabis companies that was not recommended to receive a permit from the city — made a public comment encouraging Council to allow for a second chance opportunity. He said a computer error on the application and a poor interview were not an accurate representation of his business and asked Council to allow them to redo the application process.

Mata said because the application process had strict rules and was merit-based, allowing a repeat of the process would change the whole procedure that Council had previously approved as set standards.

She told council that she did not advise letting any company redo the process because she wanted to leave no room for error.

The four members of Council present at the meeting agreed with Mata, saying the application process was fair and shouldn’t be changed at this point in time.

“I don’t see a necessity in changing the whole process,” Councilman Martin Devine said. “It just wouldn’t be worth it — it’s just too much work [that] everybody has put into this.”

The companies who were not recommended for cannabis permits can apply next year when the application period is opened again.

Bel-Air wildfire joins the siege across Southern California

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A wildfire erupted in Los Angeles' exclusive Bel-Air section Wednesday as yet another part of Southern California found itself under siege from an outbreak of wind-whipped blazes that have consumed multimillion-dollar houses and tract homes alike.

Hundreds of homes across the L.A. metropolitan area and beyond were feared destroyed since Monday, but firefighters were only slowly managing to make their way into some of the hard-hit areas for an accurate count.

As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and cast a hazardous haze over the region. About 200,000 people were under evacuation orders. No deaths and only a few injuries were reported.

From the beachside city of Ventura, where rows of homes were leveled, to the rugged foothills north of Los Angeles, where stable owners had to evacuate horses in trailers, to Bel-Air, where the rich and famous have sweeping views of L.A. below, fierce Santa Ana winds sweeping in from the desert fanned the flames and fears.

"God willing, this will slow down so the firefighters can do their job," said Maurice Kaboud, who ignored an evacuation order and stood in his backyard with a garden hose at the ready.

Air tankers that were grounded most of Tuesday because of high winds went up on Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before the winds picked up again. They were expected to gust as high as 80 mph overnight into Thursday, possibly creating unprecedented fire danger.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection uses a color-coded wind index in its forecasts. Tomorrow's forecast is purple, the most extreme conditions, which has never been used before, director Ken Pimlott said.

"Conditions are going to change again tonight," Pimlott said. "They're going to be extreme tomorrow. We need to have everybody's heads up — heads on a swivel — and pay very close attention."

Before dawn Wednesday, flames exploded on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, closing a section of heavily traveled Interstate 405 and destroying four homes in Bel-Air, where houses range from $2 million to more than $30 million.

Firefighters hosed down a burning Tudor-style house as helicopters dropped water on hillsides to protect homes from the 150-acre blaze.

A Christmas tree saved from the flames was in the front yard of a burned-out house and a large painting was propped against a Range Rover.

Bel-Air was the site of a catastrophic fire in 1961 that burned nearly 500 homes. Burt Lancaster and Zsa Zsa Gabor were among the celebrities who lost their houses.

Across the wide freeway from the fire, the Getty Center art complex was closed to protect its collection from smoke damage. Many schools across Los Angeles canceled classes because of poor air quality. UCLA, at the edge of the Bel-Air evacuation zone, canceled afternoon classes and its evening basketball game.

By late afternoon, firefighters said they had controlled the fire's advance.

Production of HBO's "Westworld" and the CBS show "S.W.A.T." was suspended because of the danger to cast and crew from two nearby fires.

In Ventura County northwest of L.A., the biggest and most destructive of the wildfires grew to 101 square miles and had nearly reached the Pacific on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles inland a day earlier.

The fire destroyed at least 150 structures, but incident commander Todd Derum said he suspects hundreds of homes have been lost.

While winds were calmer Wednesday, the fire remained active around Ventura, spreading along the coast to the west and up into the mountains around the community of Ojai and into the agricultural area of Santa Paula.

"We're basically in an urban firefight in Ventura, where if you can keep that house from burning, you might be able to slow the fire down," said Tim Chavez, a fire behavior specialist at the blaze. "But that's about it."

As Franken's support collapses, Democrats expect resignation

WASHINGTON — His once-promising political career in shambles, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken appeared on the verge of resigning after fellow Democrats led by female senators abandoned him Wednesday over the mounting allegations of sexual misconduct that are roiling Capitol Hill.

A majority of the Senate's Democrats called on the two-term lawmaker to get out after another woman emerged Wednesday saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. That brought to at least seven the number of women accusing him of sexual impropriety.

Franken, the former comedian who made his name on "Saturday Night Live," scheduled an announcement for Thursday. No topic was specified, but Democratic senators said they expected their liberal colleague to resign.

"Enough is enough," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. "We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard."

Gillibrand was the first to call for Franken's resignation on Wednesday, but a torrent of Democrats quickly followed.

"I'm shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken's behavior," said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. "It's clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It's time for him to step aside."

Though the writing appeared to be on the wall, Franken's departure was not certain. A tweet from his account late Wednesday pushed back against a Minnesota media report that claimed he is resigning. It said no final decision had been made, and he was still talking with his family.

Late in the day, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York added his voice.

"I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately," Schumer said.

Schumer called Franken immediately after the latest allegation — and before the torrent of demands for Franken's resignation from Democrats — and told him he needed to resign, said a Democrat familiar with the events. Schumer met later in his apartment with Franken and Franken's wife, Franni, and repeated that message and did the same in additional talks with the senator throughout the day, said the Democrat, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez also asked Franken to resign.

The resignation demands came in rapid succession even though Franken on Wednesday vehemently denied the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.

The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that Franken pursued her after her boss had left and she was collecting her belongings. She said that she ducked to avoid his lips and that Franken told her: "It's my right as an entertainer."

Franken, in a statement, said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was "preposterous."

But it was soon clear that his position had become untenable, and his office later issued a statement saying, "Senator Franken will be making an announcement tomorrow. More details to come."

Fellow Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who spoke to Franken, wrote on Twitter, "I am confident he will make the right decision."

Capitol Hill has long had a culture that has erred on the side of protecting lawmakers. Franken, who is generally liked and respected by his colleagues, was initially afforded deference as he battled the initial allegations against him. But as the number of accusations grew, women in the Senate, who faced pressure from the public and the media for protecting Franken, grew increasingly frustrated.

The pressure only mounted Tuesday, when Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who spoke to Franken, said, "He's devastated. He's ashamed and he's sorry and everything that he's been saying and it's hard, but I told him, Al, at the end of the day, this was wrong and so I'm sorry, but this is what we're going to have to do."

One irony: While Franken apparently is departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore could be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused the 70-year-old Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.

Franken already faced a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into previous claims by several other women that he groped them or sought to forcibly kiss them.

Franken was first elected to the Senate in 2008, defeating Republican Norm Coleman in a bitter recount that took seven months. Franken won that race despite attacks over bawdy humor and writings dating back to his days on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," including a proposed skit joking about rape.

He said then that he regretted such writings, and once in the Senate, he cultivated a serious and policy-oriented image. Throughout his eight years in office, he fashioned a reputation as a populist Democrat and fueled speculation that he might run for president in 2020.

Seth Nidever / Sentinel File Photo  

Commercial medical marijuana production businesses, such as San Jose-based Caliva, whose product is pictured above, will locate in the city's industrial park.

Kings County business
Dry start to water year

It's been day and night comparing rainfall between northern and southern California through the first week of December.

While Northern California stands at 112 percent of average for this date, the Tulare Basin is only 39 percent of average. The beleaguered city of Ventura stands at just 1.5 percent of average rain for this date says the National Weather Service.

High pressure across the state this month is blocking any storm system in the Pacific from coming in at least until Dec 22.

Steve Haugen, watermaster on the Kings River, says Pine Flat Dam has received only 1.07 inches of precipitation so far compared to an average of 3.31 inches or 32 percent of average.

Just published this week, new research by scientists at Lawrence Livermore and UC Davis are connecting the loss of Arctic sea ice to precipitation-inducing winter storms being steered away from California by a persistent atmospheric ridging system in the North Pacific. The study in the publication Nature says on average over a 20-year period, there would be a 10–15 percent decrease in California’s rainfall, similar to the extended drought we experienced from 2012-2016. It is sobering to think that the loss of ice is related to high-pressure and bone-dry conditions we are seeing this week, to disastrous results for the people of southern California.

Back in our area, Haugen is not panicking knowing "one good storm could take the Kings number to average.”

Further, the storage carryover this year in our Central Sierra reservoirs is about 400,000 area feet due to the wet year we had in 2017. That compares to just 50,000 area feet carryover the year before.

Then there is the groundwater banked in the Valley-based Kings watershed from January through September. Haugen estimates that could add up to an additional 1 million acre-feet available to the county.

City Council holds reorganization

HANFORD — At the end of its regular meeting on Tuesday night, the Hanford City Council held its annual reorganization, but there will be no changes going into 2018.

Councilman Francisco Ramirez nominated incumbent David Ayers as mayor, which was unanimously accepted. Councilman Martin Devine then nominated Sue Sorensen to remain vice mayor, which was also unanimously accepted.

Sorensen said people may not realize the amount of work it takes to be the mayor of a city, so she thanked Ayers for being responsible, professional and respectful steward of the city and Council.

Ayers, who has been a councilman for 15 years, said the Council may disagree at times, but he finds diversity to be a good thing and is glad they have been able to make important decisions together.

“I really enjoy my community, I’m very proud of my community, I’m proud of the staff and citizenry,” Ayers said. “I think at this particular time, we do have a very good team in place and because of that we’re getting things done.”