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Seniors will have, on average, a choice from 21 different Medicare Advantage plans this year. 

Central Valley experiences warm temperatures

HANFORD — The area seems to be experiencing some unusually warm weather, all thanks to a warm blanket of pressure shielding us from the cold.

Scott Borgioli, a meteorologist with WeatherAg in Visalia, said the seasonal high average for this time of year is 75 degrees, which Hanford has been well above this week.

Carlos Molina, a meteorologist with the National Weather service in Hanford, said an area of high pressure has formed over the West Coast and is essentially creating a blanket that keeps the area warm and is keeping any storms away.

In fact, Molina said the pressure is forcing all incoming storms to go north over Washington state and Canada, so those areas are pretty cold right now.

All the cold air up north is creating what Molina calls a surface pressure gradient, which is causing the Santa Ana winds from the northeast to blow south over southern California, causing the Los Angeles area to heat up.

Right now, Los Angeles is seeing temperatures near or over 100 degrees.

Molina said the current weather and high pressure blanket is not helping with the state’s wildfire situation.

Because the winds are coming from the inland area instead of from the wet ocean area, the air is very dry and warm, which Molina said is not good for areas battling fires.

Molina said sunshine is in Hanford’s foreseeable future with today reaching a high of 90 degrees, Thursday reaching 89 degrees, Friday reaching 87 degrees and Saturday will be a warm 86 degrees.

Although the daytime temperatures will be warm, Molina said the nights will dip between 49 and 50 degrees each night for the next several nights.

Molina said this is usually the time of year where the area gets hit with cold fronts and clouds start rolling in, sometimes bringing rain; but said it’s looking like there will be no rain for at least the next week.

Borgioli said the weather should be dry through at least Nov. 3, after that he said it’s looking like there will be a pattern change to fall weather around Nov. 4 that will cause the temperature to cool. He said the area could see its first rainfall sometime after this pattern change.

Molina said Hanford normally starts seeing fog in early November, though that will not be the case this year. He said the fog won’t appear until there has been around ¼ to ½ inch of rainfall.

Molina did say, however, that people will probably notice ground fog within a week or two. He said ground fog comes from the moisture in the dirt and stays low close to the ground.

As far as crops are concerned, Borgioli said it’s not uncommon to experience periods of 80 degree weather this time of year and it’s too soon to tell whether warmer temperatures will affect any citrus crops — which need colder weather to go dormant.

Borgioli said the air quality has been moderate for Kings, Tulare and Kern counties and Molina wanted to remind everyone that even though the temperature will be lower than 90 degrees, they should continue to drink plenty of water and not overexert themselves in the heat outside.

Young Hanford entrepreneur builds Lego business

HANFORD — Emily Corl started building Lego creations at a very young age as a way to relieve stress from school, and has now turned what started as a hobby into a business.

“It really relaxed me,” Corl said. “I would go to preschools and somebody asked me if I did this for parties. I thought it was a great idea, so I just kind of started doing it.”

When Corl is not babysitting, the 19-year-old is busy attending birthday parties and teaching kids how to build all sorts of things with her business, Emily’s Lego Creations.

In just the past six months, Corl has showcased her talent at 20 different events around Hanford, from birthday parties to citywide events. She has even partnered with schools by doing harvest-themed Lego events this month.

“What I usually do is build a life-size creation that fits the party [or] event's theme,” Corl said. “I take it to the event and I display it.”

Corl has acquired more than 7,000 pieces of Lego bricks — and that’s not counting special pieces like flat plates and other essential Lego pieces.

She buys them specifically from the store in a variety of colors and is constantly replacing them after parties and events.

Some of her favorite creations have been life-size figures that range from characters like The Flash, Batman and Robin and Harley Quinn. She has also created a mailbox, a suitcase, a guitar, a lion and a Lego replica of the magical rose from Beauty and the Beast.

Corl said it takes her about four to five hours to build one of these life-sized replicas. After taking the replicas to events, she tears them down to make something else for the next event that’s lined-up.

The themes are almost never the same she said, adding “everyone always has some idea.”

One of Corl’s favorite events was a Star Wars-themed birthday party where she said she helped the kids build miniature space ships that they were all able to keep as party favors.

In the past, Corl said she has done My Little Pony Legos or Lego fidget spinners for parties that kids have gotten to keep.

A lot of her work can be found around town, because when she’s not busy getting booked for events or babysitting, Corl does commission work by creating Lego replicas of businesses and historic buildings around Hanford.

So far she’s built a replica of the Hanford Fox Theatre, Superior Dairy, Hanford’s Train Station and Hanford Civic Auditorium.

For businesses like Fast Café and the newly opened children’s boutique in downtown Hanford, Snicklefritz, Corl has built storefront Lego signs of their name and business logo.

“I want to be able to have a consistent amount of parties and events that I can go to, and actually sell commission pieces and would like to have a consistent amount of those,” Corl said.

Apart from finding a way to market her work, Corl seems to have a knack for working with young kids.

“We discuss what they built, what they love to build, and I build right along with them,” Corl said. “It has been so much fun.”

She offers classes at Snicklefritz a few times a month and has even taught at some local churches like the Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church on Grangeville.

Danielle Brock, a library assistant at Hanford High School, said she has worked with Corl since she was 16 years old. As one of the past coordinators at the Glad Tidings church, Brock has helped set up Lego classes for Corl to come and teach some of the kids.

“The kids love when she comes in. She has a very good relationship with the kids,” Brock said. “Right now, she is working on a project for me and she is just remarkable and a pleasure to work with.”

US considers higher entry fees at 17 popular national parks

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The National Park Service is floating a steep increase in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, mostly in the West, to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects.

Visitors to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion and other national parks would be charged $70 per vehicle, up from the current fee of $30 for a weekly pass. At others, the hike is nearly triple, from $25 to $70.

A 30-day public comment period opened Tuesday.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says the entrance fee increases will help restore and renovate the park units.

"We need to have a vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids' grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today," he said in a statement. "Shoring up our parks' aging infrastructure will do that."

The proposal comes not long after many of the parks that charge entrance fees upped them. The rationale is the same this time around — to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects.

The Park Service estimated deferred maintenance across its sites at $11.3 billion as of September 2016, down from $11.9 billion in 2015.

The Park Service says it expects to raise $70 million a year with the latest proposal at a time when national parks repeatedly have been breaking visitation records and putting a strain on park resources. Nearly 6 million people visited the Grand Canyon last year.

The higher fees would apply during the five busiest, contiguous months. For most, that means May through September when many families are on vacation.

Kevin Dahl, Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said maintenance costs should fall to Congress, not visitors.

"We've supported increases at the parks, they are a huge value for the price of entrance," he said. "But we want to look closely at this and we want local communities to look closely at this to see if it would impact visitation because we don't want to price people out of the parks."

Not all Park Service sites charge entrance fees. The 118 that do keep 80 percent of revenue for things like fixing restrooms, signs, trails, exhibits and campgrounds and send 20 percent into a pot to help other free park sites.

The entrance fee proposal applies to Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion in Utah; Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree in California; Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming; Mount Rainier and Olympic in Washington; Shenandoah in Virginia; Acadia in Maine; Rocky Mountain in Colorado; and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Fees also would go up for pedestrians and motorcyclists. Annual passes for federal lands would be unchanged at $80.

California's chief justice calls for end to cash bail
California's chief justice calls for end to cash bail

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California's top judge said Tuesday she wants to do away with the state's cash bail system, adding a powerful voice to criticism that it keeps poor people behind bars while wealthier suspects can pay for their freedom.

The bold proposal endorsed by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye would instead rely on assessments of defendants' flight risk and danger to the public to determine whether they should be released.

The proposals are contained in a report by a group of judges that concluded the state's cash bail system "unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety" and "exacerbates socioeconomic disparities and racial bias."

The changes would require legislative approval to go into law, and Cantil-Sakauye, appointed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said the report should serve as a framework for discussions with Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature.

"I support the conclusion that California's current pretrial system unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety," she said in a statement.

The proposal is likely to face opposition from the bail industry. Similar bail reform measures approved in New Jersey and New Mexico have faced lawsuits.

The centuries-old cash-bail system has become one of the flashpoints in the debate over equal justice.

Supporters of cash bail say it ensures people show up to court because they forfeit their money if they fail to appear.

Jeff Clayton, executive director of the bail industry trade group, the American Bail Coalition, said states that have tried similar measures have seen defendants commit new crimes.

"The system is continuing to release them," he said. "There's no monetary backstop."

Clayton also raised concerns about how much the reform proposal would cost California taxpayers. The judges' report calls for a significant initial investment of resources for new judges, court staff and infrastructure to evaluate defendants for release, though it doesn't give an exact figure.

Critics of cash bail argue that many poor defendants languish in jail for minor offenses while wealthy suspects accused of serious crimes can often post bail while awaiting trial. They say some of those people could also pose a risk to public safety.

"Someone's arrested, and they write a check or put it on their credit card and they're out," said Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys, who authored a bail reform bill with proposals similar to those made by the judges' group.

Earlier this year, friends and relatives of a slaying victim were outraged when a real estate scion charged with orchestrating the killing was released from a San Francisco Bay Area jail after posting $35 million bail, including $4 million in cash and at least 15 properties worth a combined $62 million.

The judges' report says instead of cash bail, judges could order weekly contact with a pretrial services officer, monitoring, home confinement, or other restrictions. It also says judges should have the authority to hold suspects in the most serious cases.

The state Senate approved Hertzberg's bail reform bill in the most recent legislative session, but Hertzberg has said he would have had to make additional compromises to get it through the Assembly before the Legislature adjourned in mid-September.

He said Tuesday that he plans to push the bill next year and thinks the chief justice's support and the judges' report will give it a boost.

"It's an absolutely bright line analysis that says the current commercial bail system does not work and doesn't provide safety," he said.

Brown, a Democrat, has pledged to work on ways to reform the bail system "in a cost-effective and fair manner."