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California bullet train costs soar to $77B; opening delayed

SACRAMENTO (AP) — The projected cost of California's bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles has jumped to $77 billion and the completion date has been pushed back four years to 2033, according to a business plan released Friday.

The plan by the California High-Speed Rail Authority presents the latest setbacks for a project that's been beleaguered by delays and cost overruns since voters first gave it the greenlight in 2008.

It focuses almost entirely on first opening track between San Francisco and the inland Central Valley, a goal the state is still billions of dollars short of financing.

"You cannot build a mega-project of this magnitude on a pay-as-you-go basis," Brian Kelly, the project's new chief executive, told reporters Friday.

The plan calls for a fresh infusion of cash from the Legislature and private money to cover the costs of weaving tunnels through mountain passes between the Silicon and Central Valleys.

At present, the project doesn't have enough money for the tunnels. But rail executives want them completed by 2029.

If completed, it would be the nation's fastest train, carrying people between Northern and Southern California in less than three hours.

Officials hope connecting the San Francisco Bay Area, where rental and living costs are skyrocketing, to the more economically challenged and sparsely populated Central Valley, will provide an economic boost that will help shore up public and private support before the project continues south to Los Angeles and Anaheim.

While $77 billion is the baseline cost estimate, the plan estimates total costs could be as low as $63.2 billion or as high as $98.1 billion. The last plan, presented in 2016, estimated the project would cost $64 billion and be open by 2029.

Despite Kelly's optimism that the project is doable, the plan drew fresh fire from critics who doubt it will ever be built.

"Let's cut our losses and use the billions not yet wasted on (high-speed rail) to instead improve freeways, highways and roads and perhaps improve existing rail systems throughout California," Republican state Sen. Andy Vidak said.

Critics outside Sacramento weighed in, too.

"Heavy sigh," Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur and proponent of a "hyperloop" transportation system, wrote on Twitter in response to the cost jump.

Musk, chief executive of California-based SpaceX and Tesla, has long criticized U.S. infrastructure projects for getting bogged down in bureaucracy and high consultant costs.

Beyond the business plan, a state audit under way could expose more management and cost issues when released later this year.

Kelly, who took over as head of the project in February, has promised more transparency about the project's challenges and was frank in his assessment of where it stands.

In the business plan, he assigned costs to a variety of risks, such as trouble acquiring land or security environmental clearance, two issues that have slowed the project in the past.

"At the very least, this business plan is different than the ones I've seen before because it really does admit that they're broke and they can't get to the finish line," said Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno, where construction is underway.

The plan relies in part on fresh investment from the increasingly skeptical Legislature. Rail executives will make the case throughout a series of public hearings during the 60-day comment period before the business plan is finalized.

A major source of rail funding is the cap-and-trade program, under which the state auctions permits to release greenhouse gases. Rail planners are currently using the money as it comes in but say they'd need the ability to take on debt that would be paid off with future cap-and-trade dollars.

That would require the Legislature to extend the program until 2050. That's a difficult task for a Legislature that struggled just last year to muster the two-thirds votes needed to extend the program from 2020 to 2030.

The state has spent $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money and has an additional $930 million in federal money on the table. That's on top of a $10 billion bond from voters.

Hundreds of dogs pack into fairgrounds

HANFORD — Dog fans were fascinated by a furry flurry of pooches at the Kings County Fairgrounds Thursday and Friday as hundreds of dogs, and their owners, visited Hanford for the annual Kings and Sequoia Kennel clubs AKC dog show.

The shows continue Saturday and Sunday.

Each day, between 590 and 760 dogs would be presented, all vying for the title of top dog.

Thursday’s Best in Show was Nik, an Akita owned by Stacey Borrman of Gilroy and the runner up was Skittle, a pug handled by Jorge Olivera, of San Diego.

“It’s hard to pick a favorite,” said club treasurer Pat Noland. “But the Akita was beautiful. It could win all four days.”

Dozens of German Shepherds, retrievers, Chihuahuas and hounds of all types wandered the Kings County Fairgrounds.

Another star of the show was Pikku, a Norwegian lundehund. The rare breed nearly went extinct around WWII, but due to rigorous breeding, has bounced back a bit, with about 350 in the United States, though owner Carrie Riley says that only about 50 of those are in the breeding pool.

Riley, from near Dallas, Texas, was originally planning on only showing her Siberian Huskies at the event, but was persuaded to bring Pikku, one of her five lundehunds, by kennel club officials.

“They’re great little dogs,” Riley said.

Proceeds from the show will be used for charitable causes, including donations to local animal shelters and scholarships for students to the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. The kennel clubs also give to the canine programs of local law enforcement agencies.

Dog show returns to Hanford

Good news for Veterans Memorial Building

HANFORD — Sometimes, things aren’t as bad as they seem.

During the Hanford City Council study session on Tuesday, Council was given an update on the Veterans Memorial Building and Senior Center, and the news was just what the Council was hoping to hear.

In November 2017, Council unanimously decided to close the building after information regarding the building’s roof was brought to light from the city’s public works department. It was later revealed that the building’s bowstring roof trusses were not operating properly and the roof was subject to failure.

This closure sent the organizations who occupied the building, including veterans and seniors, and the events held regularly in the building to find new locations. The seniors and veterans have been sharing the old Goodwill building at 426 W. Lacey Blvd. and various classes have been spread to different buildings around town, like the Longfield Center.

At the time, City Manager Darrel Pyle said he didn’t expect the building to be inhabitable for at least a year.

The city, which leases the building from Kings County, asked a structural engineer to provide a detailed analysis of the roof system and a construction solution with an estimated cost for work.

“We have some good news to report on our public buildings, for once,” Lou Camara, public works director, jokingly said before introducing Rick Ransom, a structural engineer with Brooks Ransom Associates.

After roughly sketching how the building’s trusses look and operate, Ransom said at first glance he thought there were some real problems with the trusses. However, his findings changed after he and a few other engineers took a closer look.

“What we found is we don’t have the kind of problem that I thought you had,” Random said. “It actually looks pretty-darn good for a truss built as long ago as that is.”

Due to a lack of tension, Ransom said a few web members — which join the top and bottom chords of a truss — had fallen out. After checking for code compliance, he also said he just found a little bit of overstress on some of the bottom chords.

Ransom complimented the craftsmanship of whoever constructed the roof back in the 1920s. He said the roof is salvageable and he thinks people could be back in the building for a relatively low price.

“Most engineers would consider this in very safe condition. I trust it isn’t going to come down,” Ransom said, adding the lumber back then was better than it is today as well.

Ransom said that he suggests putting new web members in place where the others fell out and retrofitting the trusses with some straps to secure all the web members. He also suggested removing the plaster ceiling that’s attached to the trusses, which will take a lot of weight off them.

From there, it’s just a matter of reinstalling lights and ceiling tiles and adding some new insulation, Ransom said.

“Bottom line, I think we’ve got a great opportunity to make this building pretty-darn safe,” Ransom said.

By his estimates, Ransom said it would cost about $10,000 to draw some construction plans, an estimated $40,000 for a contractor to tear out the plaster ceiling and reinstall ceiling tiles, and another $10,000 to repair the trusses; bringing the grand total of the project to about $60,000.

Members of Council seemed pleased with the news and excited about the prospect of getting people back in the building quickly and for less money than what they were expecting.

Councilman Justin Mendes said he thought the city should at least ask Kings County officials if they would like to help with the cost in order to save taxpayer money, a sentiment the rest of Council echoed.

The next step for the city will be to go out to bid for construction plans.

Although an exact timeline is unknown, the building could be inhabitable much sooner than what was previously estimated.

Julissa Zavala, The Sentinel 

The Veterans Memorial Building and Senior Center, which sits next to the Hanford Civic Auditorium at 401 N. Douty St., was condemned in November 2017 due to a "suspect" roof.

Council approves funds for fire dept, agreement with Leprino

LEMOORE — The Lemoore City Council approved allocating more funds to its firefighters and approved conditionally a wastewater agreement between Leprino Food and Lemoore for sharing costs and leasing a pipeline. 

The firefighter issue was was a line item in the consent calendar approving transferring funds to the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department’s budget from the Capital Improvement Fund.

The $78,053 dollars goes toward operating supplies, professional services, training and repair and maintenance.

In a previous City Council meeting, a retired and current volunteer firefighter expressed concerns about working with City Manager Nathan Olson.

The day after that meeting, the volunteer fire chief, Bruce German, said that many of the firefighters' opinions did not reflect on Olson, but rather their experience with previous city managers.

Now two weeks later, when Councilwoman Holly Blair asked if they were able to buy the helmets that they needed, German said the LVFD and Olson worked well together to accomplish that task.

“The city manager has been very cooperative on that,” German said.

German also gave an annual report for 2017. In it, he reported that 60 percent of their calls were under the canceled or good intent category. The majority of these types of calls was when they were dispatched but told at the scene or prior to arrival that their services were not needed.

The city currently pays $5 per call for each volunteer who checks in at the scene.

On average, 13 volunteers show up to these canceled or good intent calls, according to the report.

The Council also approved giving Olson the power to go through with an agreement on cost sharing between Leprino and the City on a wastewater line if wording in the agreement was changed to allow the City to potentially take the water it puts in the pipe and to disallow Leprino from selling its access to the pipeline to a third party.

The amount the Council agreed to pay is contingent on the amount of water the City puts in the pipe compared to the amount Leprino puts in.

The water is currently disposed of at Sandridge properties, which will be paid for disposing of the wastewater. Some of the wastewater is used on Sandridge property that is farmed by Leprino, but Councilman David Brown said the wastewater should be used to provide more benefit to the residents of Lemoore.

Currently, Leprino accounts for 69 percent of the wastewater and the City 31 percent.

With those figures, the city would pay around 31 percent of one-time costs to Sandridge for pipe construction, disposal and canal maintenance, totaling $3,799,800, and annual payments to Sandridge for the lease of the pipe, maintaining the pipe and the electricity to run the pump, totaling $1,080,000.

So with the current flow-rate estimate, the city would pay $1,395,912 for one-time costs and $421,200 for annual payments.

The agreement needed to be finalized before the next City Council meeting, so the Council gave Olson the power to go through with the agreement with two conditions: that Leprino cannot grant use of the pipe to a third party and the city can decide to use wastewater for something else.

Brown and Blair expressed their desire to make this agreement sound for the future of the City. 

Both votes passed 4 to 0 with Councilman Eddie Neal absent.