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Making walking and biking a priority

Do you walk or bike to get where you’re going? If not, the Kings County Association of Governments (KCAG) wants to know why and is currently coming up with a plan to make it easier and safer to do so in Kings County.

KCAG is currently developing a Regional Active Transportation Plan for Kings County, including the cities of Avenal, Corcoran, Hanford and Lemoore.

More specifically, the organization is developing a “Walk and Bike Plan” for the county, and is looking for ideas from the community on how to improve walking and biking conditions.

Terri King, executive director of KCAG, said the cities of Hanford and Avenal have both prepared their own active transportation plans to go along with their general plan updates, so KCAG is incorporating the plans into the entire regional plan along with Kings County, Corcoran and Lemoore.

With the available plans from each entity, the local jurisdictions can apply for a portion of the $200 million in competitive grant funds made available through the state’s Active Transportation Program.

“We want these plans to be able to get us in a position to access those funds,” King said.

A major factor for attaining the funds is based on needs assessment, King said, so public input is crucial to the plan at this point.

Yunsheng Luo, a KCAG regional planner, said part of what the organization needs to know is what prevents people from walking or biking and where people think walking or biking accommodations are needed most.

King said there was an online survey for anyone to complete, and a survey was also sent out to schools in order to get the input of students and their parents.

“It’s not just what the cities want, but also what the users and would-be users want,” King said. “We want to get more people out of their cars and biking or walking for healthier communities.”

Through the survey, King said they were able to identify some of the reasons people don’t bike or walk, including extremely hot weather, sidewalks that are unfit and loose dogs. She said getting these insights help to address what needs to be improved, like possibly adding bike lanes on roads or bike paths.

Luo said the role of KCAG, which is a pass-through agency for funding for local transportation projects, is to help each local agency to identify which projects to prioritize to make sure they get the funding.

“This is the most important chapter,” Luo said. “If there’s no money, there’s no project.”

King said some people think plans just sit on a shelf, but she wants to assure them that KCAG is all about actually implementing the plans.

KCAG has a project advisory committee comprised of city and county officials, members of other local agencies and bicycle advocates. Kings said anyone is welcome to visit the monthly meetings.

King and Luo said they would like to have a draft plan for public input by May and a final plan to adopt by June, before the July deadline to apply for state funds.


Local
Lemoore boy scouts run food drive

LEMOORE — If you live in Lemoore, you might notice after 4 p.m. Saturday that there is a white bag on your door.

If you check the note attached to the bag there will be information about the Boy Scout’s food drive happening Feb. 10 in front of the Kmart from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Jeff Costa, a spokesman for Cub Scout troop 480, said the boys will be putting bags on the front door of Lemoore homes this Saturday. They will return in a week to collect the bags. They ask that you donate non-perishable, non-expired and unused foods for the drive.

This is a joint effort among Cub Scout troops 402, 461 and 480. Costa said the food drive has been a tradition for the Boy Scouts in Lemoore for around 30 years. It was started in the late 1980s, former Scoutmaster Jerry Jones said. It began as a national event for Boy Scouts and now is a local event.

In addition to picking up bags of food at home, the boys will accept donations at Kmart.

The food stays in Lemoore to help the community, Jones said.

“Generally in February, the fields are wet and there is not much work to do so the food bank gets low,” Jones said. “You go in, the shelves are almost bare and we fill them with food.”

After sorting and counting the number of donations. The boys will load them up and take them to Lemoore Christian Aid.


Washington
AP
Trump will clear way for publication of classified memo

WASHINGTON — Over the strong objections of his own Justice Department, President Donald Trump will clear the way for the publication of a classified memo on the Russia investigation that Republicans say shows improper use of surveillance by the FBI, White House officials said Thursday.

The memo, prepared by Republicans on the House intelligence committee, is said to allege FBI misconduct in the initial stages of its investigation of potential ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign. Trump's Justice Department and Democrats furiously lobbied Trump to stop the release, saying it could harm national security and mislead the public.

A White House official said Congress would probably be informed of the decision today, adding Trump was "OK" with its release. A second White House official said Trump was likely to declassify the congressional memo but the precise method for making it public was still being figured out. The officials were not authorized to be quoted about private deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The FBI's stance means that Trump, by allowing the memo's release, would be openly defying his own FBI director. It also suggests a clear willingness by FBI Director Christopher Wray to challenge a president who just months ago fired his predecessor, James Comey.

Comey weighed in on Twitter Thursday night, writing, "All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would."

He advised his former colleagues at the FBI to "take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up."

The House intelligence panel voted along party lines Monday to put the memo out, giving Trump five days to reject the release under committee rules. But Trump also has the power to declassify the document himself and either release it or hand it to Congress to release. One of the White House officials said the memo would be in "Congress' hands" after Trump declassified it and there were unlikely to be any redactions to the document.

Trump has said he wants the memo released even after the FBI declared Wednesday that it has "grave concerns" about its accuracy. The document was written as part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department early in Russia investigation, before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to take it over.

Senior FBI officials have also made direct appeals to the White House, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.

Democrats call the memo an attempt by Republicans to distract attention from the investigation into Russian meddling in the election that sent Trump to the White House. Democrats on the intelligence panel made a last-ditch effort Wednesday evening to stop the release, saying it had been "secretly altered" by the Republicans who wrote it.

California Rep. Adam Schiff said in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Devin Nunes of California, that committee Democrats had discovered changes that were made after the vote Monday.

"The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the committee never approved for public release," Schiff said in the letter.

Schiff asked Nunes for another vote on the memo, but Republicans didn't appear to waver. Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said the committee vote was "procedurally sound."

This all comes as special counsel Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Comey. Republicans have intensified their pressure on the Justice Department as Mueller's probe has moved closer to Trump's inner circle.

Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believes the document will validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him, according to one outside adviser familiar with those conversations but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

The president also has told allies that he believes the memo bolsters his claim that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are pressing Speaker Paul Ryan to stop the release.

Ryan charged that the Democrats were just out for political gain, saying the purpose of the memo is to reveal whether there have been abuses of surveillance laws.

"This memo is not an indictment of the FBI or the Department of Justice, it does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general," he said, referring to Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in May.

But Schiff said the opposite Thursday, asserting that Trump is looking for a reason to fire Mueller and Rosenstein. He said he's more worried about Rosenstein because he decides the scope of Mueller's investigation.

"The White House knows it would face a firestorm if it fired Bob Mueller," Schiff said. "What's more effective is to fire Bob Mueller's boss."


Drought deepens dramatically in Southern California

PHILLIPS STATION (AP) — California is rapidly plunging back into drought, with severe conditions now existing in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties — home to one-fourth of the state's population, a national drought monitor said Thursday.

The weekly report released by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a project of government agencies and other partners, also shows 44 percent of the state is now considered to be in a moderate drought. It's a dramatic jump from just last week, when the figure was 13 percent.

"It's not nearly where we'd like to be," Frank Gehrke, a state official, acknowledged after separately carrying out manual measurements of winter snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which supplies water to millions of Californians in a good, wet year.

Overall, the vital snowpack Thursday stood at less than a third of normal for the date.

California lifted a drought state of emergency less than a year ago, ending cutbacks that at the peak of the drought mandated 25 percent conservation by cities and towns, devastated generations of native salmon and other wildlife, made household wells run dry in the state's middle, and compelled farmers to dig deep, costly wells.

A rainy winter last year in the state's north finally snapped the worst of that drought.

The new figures from national drought monitors came amid growing concern among state officials about another dry winter. The dry spell is acute in Southern California. Los Angeles and some surrounding areas have received only one significant storm in nearly a year, and it triggered deadly mudslides. The region is now seeing record-setting heat.

The readings detailed Thursday show the drought has worsened to the severe category in 5 percent of the state. The last time even a small part of the state was rated in severe drought was last year.

However, Thursday's figures were far better than those during the peak of the state's epic dry spell, when 99.9 percent of California was in some stage of drought, and nearly half in the highest category.

But the drought never really seemed to lift in some Southern California areas, Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at University of California, Los Angeles, noted this week.

In Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the lack of rain and dry vegetation were perfect fuel for a December wildfire that grew to become the largest recorded in state history. When it finally rained, the scorched earth turned into mudslides that sent earth, water and boulders roaring through neighborhoods.

In California's Central Valley, the nation's richest agricultural producer, government officials had to install water systems during and after the five-year drought for small towns such as East Porterville after household wells ran dry.

Even so, deliveries of bottled water continued this week to people outside East Porterville, said resident Elva Beltran, one of many volunteers who helped neighbors without water.

"it never ended," she said of the drought in her area.

California's water managers trekked to the mountains on Thursday to check the snow depth — one gauge of the state water supply. Electronic sensors showed statewide snow levels at 27 percent of normal.

A bright spot, said Doug Carlson, spokesman for the state's Department of Water Resources, which carries out the snowpack surveys, is that reservoirs remain far fuller than usual thanks to last year's rain in the state's north.