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Ohana Comic Con returns to Hanford Saturday

HANFORD — Spider-Man’s motto is “with great power comes great responsibility” and the Ohana Comic Con’s motto seems to be, “with great comics comes great fun.”

The Turlock-based touring pop culture convention, the Ohana Comic Con, returns to Hanford from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Kings Fair.

“It’s just about coming out and enjoying anything pop culture like Marvel and DC and it’s branching out to everything — just whatever you dig on. You can connect with people who are in the same things you are,” organizer Tom “Ziggy” Starz said.

This may be the only time the Ohana Comic Con comes to Hanford this year, Starz said, as the traveling convention is widening its sphere, making recent stops in Bakersfield and as far as Eureka.

The Kings Fair will be lined with dozens of booths with vendors selling LEGO sets, the ever-popular Funko Pops, toys, art and — of course — comic books.

“We do get the hardcore comic collectors. They’re looking for silver age, golden age. They’re a different group of people. They’re quirky,” Starz said.

No matter what the quirk, Starz said all are welcome to the convention.

“It’s a good safe place where no one is going to hassle you for being a nerd or a geek,” he said. “Everyone’s welcome.”

In addition to all the vendor booths for fans to scour for rare gems, the “highlight” of the comic con, according to Starz, is the cosplay competition.

Cosplay is pop culture-based costuming. Fans create and purchase the costumes of their favorite characters from “Star Wars,” “The Avengers,” “Star Trek” and anything else they may be into. It’s sort of like a year-round way to celebrate Halloween, just without the candy — unless you’re cosplaying as Vanellope from “Wreck it Ralph.”

“People like to come and show off their new looks,” he said.

The contest begins at 2:30 p.m. 

All are welcome to enter the cosplay contest, no matter skill level, age or if their costume is store-bought or hand-made. The winners receive gift certificates redeemable at any of the vendor booths at the event.

Actor and cosplayer Matthew Hernandez is one of the featured artists that travel with the Ohana Comic Con, as a contest judge and MC.  Hernandez cosplays as comic book character Deadpool, a wise-cracking, fourth wall-breaking mutant mercenary.

“The character is like me in so many ways — and not just me, he’s like everybody else. He’s sarcastic when he wants to be sarcastic and he’s a jerk when he wants to be a jerk. He’s funny, he’s misunderstood. He’s a normal type of person and that’s what made me feel comfortable doing it. I didn’t have to pretend to be somebody else,” Hernandez said.

It’s that comfortability that Hernandez said is why he thinks so many people like to cosplay at events like these — the characters they love are an extension of themselves.

Hernandez, who cosplays with partner Lady Deadpool, said he began attending local conventions when he realized that attending the apex comic con, the San Diego Comic Con, which brings more than 130,000 fans to SoCal every July, was out of range and out of budget for him.

He said one of the positive aspects of the Ohana Comic Con is that it travels to the towns of the same people who may not be able to get to the world-famous conventions.

He said that, as a contest judge, he looks less at the craftsmanship or the skill-level necessary to create a particular look and looks more at how much a cosplayer loves their character and how much fun they’re having in the moment. This is a sentiment he takes into his own cosplay.

“I loved being able to bring a character to life, not just for myself but for everyone else,” he said.

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Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst

HANFORD — Although we may not like to think about it, emergency situations do happen, and it’s best to be prepared.

Hanford Police School Resource Officer Per Westlund, assigned to Hanford Elementary School District, is always looking for ways to keep his students and staff safe.

His most recent project involved outfitting every classroom in the district with an emergency bucket, or what Westlund likes to call “comfort buckets.”

While emergency buckets are not a new concept, Westlund said they are new to the Hanford area. The idea is to have emergency items on-hand in the classroom in case of an extended school lockdown.

Westlund remembered a few years ago when Hanford High School went into lockdown for about two hours. The lockdown meant students and staff basically barricaded themselves in their classrooms and no one was allowed to leave for any reason until law enforcement deemed it safe to do so.

Not only did the students and staff have to mentally process the fear of getting hurt, they also had to deal with issues like students getting sick or having to use the restroom. He said several students had to relieve themselves in trashcans without any privacy.

Westlund said it’s unfortunate to even have to think about things like this, but with the increased numbers of threats and school shootings, he felt he could not have the naïve thinking of “this would never happen here.”

“If high school kids were traumatized by the extended lockdown, I could only imagine how much more vulnerable my elementary school children would be in a similar situation,” Westlund said. “Something had to be done.”

Westlund brought the issue to the attention of the district’s safety committee. He said members agreed it was a great idea and the buckets would definitely help in meeting students’ needs in case of a lockdown.

He said there are already emergency buckets for sale, with costs ranging between about $40-60 for each equipped bucket. The idea was put aside for a while due to the cost it would take to get one for all 283 classrooms in the district.

Westlund compiled a wish list of useful items in an emergency: a 5-gallon bucket to hold items and to be used as a “potty”; toilet paper; latex gloves; anti-bacterial wet wipes; plastic hazmat bags; a couple of Mylar blankets to be used as a privacy screen or in case of shock; a small first-aid kit; water; duct tape; etc.

He could keep adding items, but wanted to be mindful of the expense. Westlund said he figured he could assemble the buckets on his own in order to save money.

After receiving support from school officials, Westlund contacted April Matthews, assistant manager of Lowes in Hanford, to ask if the store was willing to partner with him on this project. He said he’d already heard that Lowes helps the community out in different ways.

Matthews was enthusiastic about the idea and told Westlund that a part of Lowes’ budget is allocated toward helping the local community, especially involving safety.

Matthews later contacted Westlund and said Lowes was in.

While Westlund hoped Lowes could donate some of the buckets and items, he said he was “floored” when Matthews told him the store would provide 300 buckets and most of the items needed to get the project up and running, plus and $800 gift card for additional items.

A couple weeks later, Lowes had all the buckets and items available and a crew of employees was ready to assemble them. Westlund showed up to help.

“Assembling 300 buckets was no easy task,” he said. “We did have a lot of fun though.”

Lowes staff delivered the bucket to HESD, and the school district was able to purchase the few items left to complete the buckets.

The comfort buckets were placed in all classrooms when schools opened back up after winter break. Westlund said teachers were informed about the contents of the buckets and they are also free to supplement and customize the contents in any way they see will be useful for their students.

Westlund said the project was one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences he has had since being assigned to the schools. His wish, of course, is for the buckets to never have to be used.

He said he wanted to thank not only the Lowes corporate office, but also the many local store employees that helped make the project happen, the staff who helped add items and delivered the buckets to the classrooms, and the school district for its continued commitment in keeping students and staff safe.

Utility bankruptcy could be costly to wildfire victims

SAN FRANCISCO — Faced with potentially ruinous lawsuits over California's recent wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday in a move that could lead to higher bills for customers of the nation's biggest utility and reduce the size of any payouts fire victims receive.

The Chapter 11 filing allows PG&E to continue operating while it puts its books in order. But it was seen as a possible glimpse of the financial toll that could lie ahead because of global warming, which scientists say is leading to fiercer, more destructive blazes and longer fire seasons.

The bankruptcy could also jeopardize California's ambitious program to switch entirely to renewable energy sources.

PG&E cited hundreds of lawsuits from victims of fires in 2017 and 2018 and tens of billions of dollars in potential liabilities when it announced earlier this month that it planned to file for bankruptcy.

The blazes include the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century — the one in November that killed at least 86 people and destroyed 15,000 homes in Paradise and surrounding communities. The cause is under investigation, but suspicion fell on PG&E after it reported power line problems nearby around the time the fire broke out.

Last week, however, state investigators determined that the company's equipment was not to blame for a 2017 fire that killed 22 people in Northern California wine country.

The bankruptcy filing immediately puts the wildfire lawsuits on hold and consolidates them in bankruptcy court, where legal experts say victims will probably receive less money.

In a bankruptcy proceeding, the victims have little chance of getting punitive damages or taking their claims to a jury. They will also have to stand in line behind PG&E's secured creditors, such as banks, when a judge decides who gets paid and how much.

"My administration will continue working to ensure that Californians have access to safe, reliable and affordable service, that victims and employees are treated fairly, and that California continues to make forward progress on our climate change goals," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

Legal experts say the bankruptcy will probably take years to resolve and result in higher rates for customers of PG&E, which provides natural gas and electricity to 16 million people in Northern and central California.

PG&E would not speculate about the effect on customers' bills, noting that the state Public Utilities Commission sets rates. It said the bankruptcy filing would not affect electricity or gas service and would allow for an "orderly, fair and expeditious resolution" of wildfire claims.

PG&E also filed for bankruptcy in 2001 during an electricity crisis marked by rolling blackouts and the manipulation of the energy market. It emerged from bankruptcy three years later but obtained billions in higher payments from ratepayers.

California has set a goal of getting 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and hydropower by 2045. To achieve that, utilities must switch to buying power from renewable sources.

PG&E made agreements in 2017 to buy electricity from solar farms. But because of its bankruptcy, some experts have questioned its ability to pay what it agreed to, or to make the investments in grid upgrades and batteries necessary to bring more renewable energy online.

"PG&E's bankruptcy is going to make it a lot more costly for California to meet its environmental goals, and could make it more challenging just to get the infrastructure built to help cut emissions and increase renewable energy," said Travis Miller, an investment strategist at Morningstar Inc.

Consumer activist Erin Brockovich, who took on PG&E in the 1990s, had urged California lawmakers not to let the utility go into bankruptcy because it could mean less money for wildfire victims.

Parker Bowman, The Sentinel 

Matthew Hernandez, left, as Sailor Moon Deadpool and Zak McIntosh as Jon Snow were judges during the cosplay contest at the Hanford-Visalia Comic Con in this 2018 file photo..

The Wonderful Company awards grants in Avenal area

The Wonderful Company and its owners, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, have awarded $600,000 to the 2019 recipients of their flagship grants program, Wonderful Community Grants, including recipients in the Avenal area.

These grants reflect the Resnicks’ commitment to giving back in the communities where their employees live and work. Since its inception, the program has provided $1.5 million to hundreds of worthy nonprofits throughout the Central Valley.

Through location-based investment in the towns of Avenal, Wasco, Sanger and Del Rey, and now Delano and McFarland, these grants—which focus on health and wellness, supporting families, and community beautification—offer local organizations funds to make a profound impact in real time.

The 2019 Wonderful Community Grants will go to 15 nonprofits, funding 22 projects and programs that address critical needs in their local communities.

Wonderful Community Grants began in 2016 in Avenal and Wasco and expanded in 2017 to include the Sanger/Del Rey area. With the addition of the Delano/McFarland region for the 2019 grant cycle, WonderfulCommunity Grants now awards up to $600,000 annually.

Each of the four communities receives up to $150,000, with grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.

In addition to grants awarded in Sanger/Del Rey, Wasco and Delano/McFarland areas, Avenal area organizations and projects receiving a 2019 grant include:

  • City of Avenal ($50,000) – Build The Wonderful Fitness Court.
  • Central California Food Bank ($45,000) – Free monthly produce distributions.
  • Reedley Community Hospital ($17,122) – Provide free monthly mammograms and follow-up referrals.
  • Girl Scouts of Central California South ($15,000) – Offer Girl Scout programming to low-income girls through the Girl Scout Connect Program.
  • Kings Community Action Organization ($5,000) – Bring free meals, clothing and personal hygiene products on a referral basis to families in need.