Fresno unveils affordable housing for formerly homeless residents with mental health needs.

A new supportive services housing apartment complex for formerly homeless residents with mental health needs was unveiled in Fresno on Wednesday. Created in partnership between Fresno Housing and the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health, the 28-unit Village at Paragon will offer on-site services, such as case management and mental health services.

This is the fourth Fresno Housing development that is run in partnership with DBH. “Stable housing is a critical element of healthcare,” said Susan Holt, who will be taking over as interim director of the department when current director Dawan Utecht leaves Dec. 3. “We know in behavioral health that stable housing is the foundation of recovery,” Holt said. “If any one of us here today were to pause and think about after our day is done, going to a place with no roof. How would we address our healthcare needs?” Thank you for subscribing. The project was funded by the No Place Like Home Program, and was one of the first projects to be completed from the eight initially approved by the state. The state program, established in 2016, provides funding for the acquisition, design construction and rehabilitation of permanent supportive housing for unhoused people.

According to Brandi Johnson, communications director for Fresno Housing Authority, more funds from No Place Like Home will support housing projects slated to open in early 2022. The $3.6 million supportive housing project revitalized a vacant building owned by Fresno Housing into one- and two-bedroom affordable units. Johnson said the cost of each unit will be roughly 30% of a tenant’s adjusted income, but will vary, based on the tenant. Nearly all units have been filled, and final eligibility meetings will be held this week to fill the remaining available units, Johnson said. The complex is made up of 25 one-bedroom units, two two-bedroom units and a unit for an on-site manager. “It takes a battalion of committed people for the long haul to produce projects like this,” said Tyrone Roderick Williams, the recently appointed CEO of Fresno Housing.

Fresno is one of the Best Places to Live in America

Fresno started out as a small stop along the Central Pacific Railroad, but it blossomed into a magnetic metropolis that draws agriculture-minded people from around the world. The metro area is surrounded by Fresno County’s farms, which produce a variety of organic foods, from almonds and pistachios to tomatoes and peaches.

But the area isn’t just a haven for farmers. Fresno attracts residents with its diverse job market, inexpensive housing and array of cultural attractions.

A venture inside this central California region reveals a multitude of unique cultural surprises. The Tower District is famous for its artsy Rogue Festival, classic car show, film festival and lineup of restaurants that plate various cuisines. The minor league Fresno Grizzlies hit homers to the cheers of loyal fans downtown, while beloved events like the Kearney Renaissance Faire take place on Fresno’s west side.

Amazon opens in Visalia

Amazon is open and in full operation says the new general manager at the Visalia fulfillment center, Carlos Avelar. The 1.3 million square foot warehouse, the largest in the city, is on Riggin and Kelsey in the Visalia Industrial Park. “We have already hired nearly 1,000 on our way to 1,200 associates” said Avelar, adding they are “bringing on more employees than we originally anticipated.”

The original announcement said 1,000 jobs. Avelar said he moved his family to Visalia in July from Tracy where he had been manager for 2.5 years. ”The Central Valley has special place in my heart,” said Avelar, adding that he is looking forward to an open house soon, inviting local officials, and has already huddled with other industry managers at the industrial park to introduce himself. “We want to be part of the community,” he said.

The Visalia Amazon is different from any other Amazon in the Valley, being a “fulfillment center” that stores goods, mostly larger in size, to be shipped throughout the Valley. The closest similar facility is in Patterson, said Avelar. Within these fulfillment centers, associates pick, pack and ship larger-sized customer items ranging from boxes of diapers to patio umbrellas. “We picked Visalia to be close to our customers,” he said.

The next three months will be the busiest of the year for the big e-retailer says the general manager and at times they may add more than 1,200 to the workforce. Employees’ starting pay is at least $15.50 per hour and benefits including paid time off and dental care. New hires who show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination earn a $100 bonus on their first day. Avelar said employees appreciate the fact Amazon encourages associates to go to college and will pay to make it happen while they work here. Avelar said he “has heard the rumors” that there will be a second Amazon warehouse built in the industrial park — but for now ”it’s just that — a rumor.”

Bank of America provides $385K to 9 Kern County nonprofits for workforce development

Bank of America today announced it has provided $385,000 in grants to nine Kern County nonprofits focusing on workforce development. The organizations receiving funding are: The Bakersfield College Foundation, Bakersfield Homeless Center, Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County, Cal State Bakersfield, Circle of Life, CityServe Network, Community Action Partnership of Kern, Garden Pathways and the Kern Economic Development Foundation.

The bank said the funding supports programs and services that help build pathways to employment, including providing education and resources to rebuild careers that may have been impacted by the pandemic. “The strategic investment into immediate short-term and longer-term needs has been key in helping disadvantaged communities progress as the economy safely reopens,” said Karen Zuber, market executive for Bank of America Bakersfield. “By investing in Kern County’s incredible network of nonprofits, Bank of America provides philanthropic capital to help advance economic and social progress, enabling our community to succeed.”

Several Kern County nonprofits are already using their funding for various projects. BofA said Garden Pathways is using its grant to provide seven at-risk youth with paid internships to develop on-the-job skills training and is supporting 48 high school students in the juvenile justice system by providing enrichment opportunities to help mitigate the effects of their trauma. Bank of America said CAPK is training 20 homeless people through their HireUp program, which provides training in job interview preparedness, computer skills and customer relations.

Aviation company establishes presence in Buttonwillow Airport

Kern County and the company American Aerospace Technologies have signed a letter of intent to create a Regional Operations Center at the Buttonwillow Airport, which would bring new unmanned aircraft to the airport. The letter stipulates the environmental and state requirements that the company must comply with to begin construction. “We’re super excited that they believe that the airport can serve their needs,” said Mark Witsoe, director of Kern County’s airports.

The Buttonwillow Airport has little use to many residents; operationally, flight trainers mainly employ the airport to practice taking off and landing planes, Witsoe said. The structure’s sparse nature means AAT will create a new facility to house its technology, he added. “Our goal is to establish a permanent presence in California with this as our hub,” said David Yoel, the CEO of American Aviation Technology. He hopes to finalize negotiations and start construction in the next six months.

Kern County serves as a perfect base for the company because of its central location, Yoel said. Furthermore, the county has a wide range of applications the aircraft can serve, he added. Yoel said his unmanned aircraft systems cannot be mistaken for drones. While a traditional drone can operate for 20 minutes and must fly below 400 feet, the UAS can fly for 15 hours and at altitudes up to 15,000 feet, Yoel said. Moreover, the UAS is environmentally friendly and can burn less fuel when compared to some smaller drones, he said. “It creates a fundamentally different kind of capability that doesn’t currently exist in civilian applications,” Yoel said.

The company desires to partner with the local companies to uphold its mission statement: maintain health, safety and compliance. The technology can assist oil and gas production, agriculture and fire departments, Yoel said. UAS sends back imagery in real time to stave off any threats, he added. Unmanned aircraft can fly into areas not easily accessible by a person. Therefore, the technology spots potential gas leaks, fire outbreaks and helps growers understand their land, Yoel said.

AAT foresees bringing smaller versions of its larger aircraft to Buttonwillow. This technology weighs 220 pounds and has an 18-foot wingspan. Smaller UAS also includes integrated artificial intelligence that can detect threats to power and pipe lines, often spanning hundreds of miles. Furthermore, the compact equipment can access areas along power lines that are dangerous or inaccessible by an individual, Yoel said. The potential Buttonwillow Regional Operations Center is the second such creation by the company within the nation. Another center is located in New Jersey. AAT worked on a project with NASA at the Buttonwillow airport, which sprouted the idea to create a Kern County center, Yoel said. Witsoe said Kern County airports have never housed unmanned equipment that can be used by civilians. “David Yoel and the company, AAT, seems to be a great new entity to move out here to Kern County,” Witsoe said. “I’m really hopeful we can put something together that lasts a long time.”

Clovis’ rapid growth isn’t slowing down. Here’s why its mayor says people want to live there

Clovis has been one of the fastest growing cities in the state in recent years, and its mayor said this week he doesn’t expect that to slow down. Mayor Jose Flores said Clovis is a destination for many people trying to raise families. He also quoted Harry Armstrong, who died in 2018, who spent nearly half a century on the Clovis City Council going back to 1970. “Harry Armstrong, our icon, said we’re a clean, safe city and we still are,” he said Wednesday during a Zoom call. “And because of Clovis Unified School District, we’re a destination. Families want to live here.”

Clovis had 3,093 more residents this year than a year ago, according to numbers released in May from the state Department of Finance. That’s the fifth largest increase in that state when comparing raw numbers. Clovis was the eighth fastest-growing in that state this year when looking at population expansion by percentage, state numbers show, and that’s after at least two other years in the top 10 in California.

The city’s population has more than tripled since 1980 to more than 121,000, according to the latest state numbers. Some residents resent the expansion in a town they once could consider quaint. “We have others that don’t want us to grow anymore, but people want to live here,” Flores said. “That’s economic growth. What they say for business, if you have the rooftops, then businesses can thrive.” Also driving growth in Clovis, Flores said, is the growing medical complex near Temperance Avenue and Highway 168, which is close to Clovis Community Center, California Health Sciences University and other medical services.

Clovis has sometimes been accused of sprawling. The Clovis City Council recently unanimously in April approved an environmental review of plans to potentially push the city’s sphere of influence further north through a study of 1,050 acres. The council members agreed the city needed to look at the area east of Sunnyside and north of Shepherd avenues. The potential change to the sphere of influence includes the roughly 825 acres of new housing the council approved in October.

New transit center to bring face lift downtown, expand service

Downtown Hanford is in for a major face lift by 2024, courtesy of a $20 million transit system which is about to enter the design phase. Angie Dow, director of Kings Area Rural Transit, said the organization has outgrown its existing transit center, an open-air transfer station on 7th Street between a gym and the Amtrak station.

A study looking at improving the existing location found that the railroad made the location too loud, restricted the movement of buses and, more importantly, prevented KART from expanding service into transportation “deserts.” “The new transit center will ultimately allow for growth of our transit system, which will be of tremendous value to a significant population of our city that are dependent on public transportation,” said City Manager Mario Cifuentez.

While some business owners in the downtown area were nervous when the project was announced, Brown said KART’s plans to match the historic look of downtown, keep 24-hour security and have mixed-use spaces could increase interest in filling vacancies in nearby buildings. “We want to hopefully engage other developments around us,” Dow said. “Transit is a place where we move people through … there’s a lot of movement. We’re trying to design a facility that’s more geared around being a place people want to be.” On top of incorporating commercial space, Dow said the new center is being designed to serve as a cooling center. She said the switch would help the city save money because the transit center’s hours match cooling center hours, and they’ll have more amenities which residents might want while waiting for temperatures to drop. Dow said the center will also include solar power generation, electric vehicle charging, park-and-ride lots, bike lockers, parking for ride-share services and connection to Amtrak and other regional transit services.

The center will allow KART to get feedback from riders more readily, as the administration building and transit center will be in the same place and they may be able to integrate more technology to survey the public, Dow said. Dow said the planning of the center is not yet complete and they are still looking into tenants and options to add affordable housing. Having a transit center near population centers, like the neighborhoods downtown, will make Hanford more attractive in competitive loan applications, she said. KART will be awarding a design firm contract on Wednesday, starting an 18-month design period. Dow said they expect the project to be completed no later than 2024. KART is looking to fund the construction phase with grants.

New apartments, houses proposed near Stanislaus State

More housing options could soon be on the way for prospective renters and buyers in town as plans to build more apartments and homes have been submitted to the City of Turlock.  In addition to plans already under review for an apartment complex on 20th Century Boulevard and approved blueprints for a gated community on 5th Street, developers are clamoring to take advantage of two more infill properties located on the north side of town. A proposal for an apartment complex on the corner of Monte Vista Avenue and North Walnut Road was received by the City last month, as were plans for a 32-home subdivision at the dead end of Crowell Road.

Florsheim Homes, which is developing the 5th Street gated community and also constructed the Rose Verde subdivision near Monte Vista Crossings, is hoping to subdivide the 6.5-acre parcel located at 4510 Crowell Rd. into 32 lots varying in size from 5,340 to 9,264 square feet.  While the site is currently home to Light of Christ Lutheran Church, which hosted a popular light show this past Christmas, the existing structure and other features of the lot will be demolished to make way for the homes, if approved. The church is still the property owner, according to the application, and a public hearing for the project will be held on Aug. 5.

If Florsheim is able to stick to the proposed construction schedule, the homes will be built beginning in May 2022 and completed by early 2023. The new builds come amid a housing shortage in California, which as recently as 2018 was ranked 49th in the United States when it came to housing per capita. Chris Hawke, who is hoping to develop the 348-unit apartment complex on Monte Vista Avenue, said that Turlock is in need of more housing and is also involved with the Fairbanks Ranch homes being built on Tuolumne Road near Denair.

While Hawke said both student housing and affordable housing models were considered for the proposed apartment complex, the project will consist of market-value apartments which he envisions being rented out by Stanislaus State employees, students and a mix of other community members. “We think it’s an exciting location just because of its proximity to the university,” Hawke said.

According to the project application, the apartment complex will consist of 12 three-story buildings with patios on the first floor and balconies on the second and third. Hawke said that the number of units, which is proposed at 348, could change as the process moves along.  Should the apartment complex be approved later this year, he expects construction to be complete on the project by 2023, as long as inflated labor and product shortages don’t interfere. There is not yet a public hearing date scheduled for the project. “I think there has been very little new apartment development in the city of Turlock, so it’s an opportunity for us to bring on a fairly large-sized project of apartments into the community,” Hawke said.

Major affordable housing project coming to Porterville

The Porterville City Council took swift action during its meeting on Tuesday on two matters that should substantially help deal with the issues of homelessness and providing services for the most vulnerable in the community. The council approved $20 million in financing to come through a state agency for an 80-unit affordable housing development to be located at 385 South E. Street. In addition, the council also approved a $175,000 grant for the Central California Family Crisis Center.

The Chicago based real estate company UPholdings is spearheading the affordable housing project. A representative from the company said the project is now fully funded and construction on the project is scheduled to begin in October. The company hopes to have the facility open by the spring of 2022. The Finca Serena Affordable Housing project will be located on 3 acres. The complex will also feature services to help those living in the development such as computers for job searching. Input was sought on what other services needs to be provided at the complex as well.

It’s planned for 40 of the units to be for housing the homeless and the other 40 units to be available to the general public. Those 40 units will be designed to be high quality, low income housing. The project is being termed as an Affordable and Permanent Support Housing Project. The project is the first of its kind in the Central Valley. Financing of the $20 million for the project is being done through the California Municipal Finance Authority which was created to help finance economic, cultural and community development and charitable causes in cities throughout the state.

The CMFA will issue $20 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project, which will be a multi-family rental housing facility for low-income households and to provide permanent, supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness and chronic homelessness. The city staff report stated “the City will have no financial, legal, moral obligation, liability or responsibility for the Project or the repayment of the Bonds for the financing of the Project.” The $175,000 grant awarded to CCFCC located at 211 N. Main comes a Community Development Block Grant funded by the federal CARES Act.

CCFCC stated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has had to reduce its in-person services, close its thrift store and has also sustained a reduction in grant funding. CCFCC said without the $175,000 grant it would have to reduce staff and cut additional services. CCFCC offers programs designed to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence, the homeless and their children.

Planned Merced ACE train reaches new milestone, bringing prospect of more tourism, new jobs

The long-anticipated Altamont Corridor Express train connection to Merced recently reached a new milestone, bringing the project another step closer to fruition. Last month, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission released a draft environmental report outlining details of the planned ACE Ceres–Merced Extension Project.

Once completed, the Merced region will be connected via rail with the Bay Area and the Sacramento airport. “It’s a phenomenal project,” said Merced Mayor Matt Serratto. “You can go straight to a 49ers game on that train.” The Ceres-Merced Extension is part of the Valley Rail Program — a larger vision of several ACE extensions north and south. Three other ACE-related Valley Rail projects are currently in development to expand the ACE service.

The railway, Serratto said, will help streamline the city’s broader visions for developing downtown Merced, long-term economic growth, and bolstering tourism. ACE train service at new stations in Merced, Livingston, or Atwater, and Turlock may kick off operations as early as 2025, according to the environmental report. Expansion to Ceres and Sacramento County could be ready earlier, by 2023. Before any building begins, the final environmental report will be published and certified by the end of the year. Construction is projected to start in 2022 and wrap up in 2024.

The project will result in 26 miles of new track, three stations, infrastructure upgrades, and a 140,000-square-foot downtown Merced maintenance and layover facility. The facility would support train layovers, storage, maintenance, and extension operations. The downtown Merced facility is especially exciting to local officials. The biggest thing about the project overall, Serratto said, is the jobs that the facility will bring to the Merced area. “We would anticipate jobs being created there,” said ACE marketing manager David Lipari. “All these activities really create an industry here in the Valley.” The Merced station would be built downtown between R and O streets and include 380 parking spots.

When the project finishes, Merced-area passengers riding for business or pleasure will board two-story trains furnished with comfortable seating, ample electrical plugs, WiFi, and bike parking, Lipari said. The public can review the report and provide comments through June 7. In addition to enhancing regional connectivity, Lipari said the increased train service would help the Valley’s rising population of residents get conveniently to and from work — without adding more polluting single-passenger vehicles to already traffic-congested roads.

Merced County and the City of Merced, in particular, have each recently been distinguished as hot spots of population growth. Meanwhile, many California cities outside of the Valley and the state overall are seeing residents leave. “As our communities continue to grow, we need to become better at planning our transportation outside of expanding highway capacity,” Lipari said. “It (the train) is a clean, efficient way to get to work.” Going to work has taken on a new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many employees still working from home rather than commuting to offices. Ridership on both ACE and Amtrak trains plunged as low as 5%, and some commuter services were cut. While numbers are now steadily increasing, there is still a long way to go to reach normal passenger levels. Reaching that threshold largely depends on when employers and counties still promoting remote work policies revert to in-office work. But a recent survey of over 500 passengers showed that 92% intend to return to riding the train once they also return to in-person work, Lipari said.