Kings County supports basing new F-35 squadron at NAS Lemoore

This week the Kings County Board of Supervisors wrote a strong letter of support to add a new F-35 squadron to the base at NAS Lemoore with a nationwide four-location competition underway. In their letter of support, the supervisors said: “With an excess of 11,800 jobs attributed to the base, and a payroll exceeding $475 million, NAS Lemoore represents the single largest employer in Kings County. The continued success of NAS Lemoore is critical to our local economy. “We stand firm in our commitment to the support of NAS Lemoore – the nation’s premier Naval master jet base. Please know that the County of Kings and the Kings County Board of Supervisors highly support the Department of the Air Force and National Guard Bureau’s decision to consider locating the F-35A Lightning II at NAS Lemoore.”

The local competition includes Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Supervisor Doug Verboon said they support the plan to base the squadron, with some 80 new personnel, at Lemoore, and noted the noisy aircraft would impact more city residents in Fresno compared to the Kings County base, which is surrounded by farmland. The National Guard Bureau and Department of the Air Force are inviting the public to learn about the proposal to locate the F-35A Lightning II at NAS Lemoore. An informational meeting to learn more about the proposal, ask questions and to submit comments will be held in person on Wednesday, Aug. 10, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the L.T.A. Portuguese Hall located at 470 Champion St. in Lemoore.

Lemoore is one of the four preferred locations that are being considered for the beddown of F-35A aircraft that would replace the legacy F-15C/D aircraft. In addition to Fresno, the competing locations for the F-35A beddowns are:

• Barnes Air National Guard Base at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport, Westfield, Massachusetts.

• NAS Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Belle Chasse, Louisiana.

Faraday Future deal pending

Faraday Future and an investor have indicated a possible deal to invest $100,000 to $600,000 with the start-up car maker, enough to get production going in Hanford if the agreement is done. A filing with the SEC indicates a deal could be consummated Aug. 8.

Gas prices

Kings County gasoline prices are lower again this week dropping 60 cents in the past month, says AAA. Diesel is down 50 cents. The average in the county today is $5.51 a gallon but you can buy gas here for $4.64, $4.65 or $4.66 at local stations. As for oil, it is down to the $91 a barrel range from a high of $121 in mid-June. Oil prices fell more than 3% Wednesday after data showed U.S. inventories rose more than expected and as investors digested the latest OPEC+ decision to raise crude output by 100,000 barrels per day for next month. Last month, President Biden visited Saudi Arabia and called on OPEC to increase production, but capacity constraints and the inability of some member states to meet output targets made the prospect of any significant supply boost unlikely. Meanwhile, EIA data showed stocks of crude unexpectedly rose by 4.467 million barrels last week, the most in a month, and compared to forecasts of a 0.629 million fall.

Building homes

So far this year, Visalia-based San Joaquin Homes is the busiest home builder in Kings County, permitting 115 new single family residences compared to second place Lennar Homes with 40 home starts, according to figures from Construction Monitor.

What’s this?

A decline in the interest rate on a 30-year mortgage has had a positive effect on several areas of the real estate market in the past week. “The 30-year fixed rate saw the largest weekly decline since 2020, falling 31 basis points to 5.43%,” said Joel Kan, Mortgage Bankers associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. “The drop in rates led to increases in both refinance and purchase applications, but compared to a year ago, activity is still depressed.”

New pistachio plant slated for Westside

Western Fresno County already has had the big 100-silo Wonderful Pistachio plant and a big Assemi family plant (Touchstone) on the drawing board since 2018, a 49-silo project that has been challenged by Wonderful and delayed for four years in this highly competitive industry. Now the Stamoules family wants to join the party to build a large pistachio hulling, processing, and packing facility on 98 acres on the northwest corner of S. Newcomb and W. Muscat avenues approximately 9.7 mile south of Firebaugh. Once all phases are complete the plant would sport an impressive 60 silos. Stamoules Produce Co., Inc., based in Mendota, was launched in the 1920s as a cantaloupe grower when the Greek founder Spero Stamoules immigrated to the U.S. According to their application to the County, the proposed project would be implemented in four phases.

Visalia loses round in court to Sierra Club over ag mitigation

In a July 21 ruling Tulare County Superior Court Judge David Mathias ruled against the City of Visalia over their revised program to not require ag land mitigation from developers who want to bring farmland into the city for urban development. The previous policy, part of the General Plan, would have required developers – typically home builders – to pay into a fund that would set aside ag land elsewhere. The mitigation policy would apply to ag land in Tiers 11 and 111 – generally at the city’s urban edge. The city’s general plan, adopted in 2014, featured a three-tier system to encourage development first in Tier 1 before future subdivisions in Tier 11 and 111 were added.

The mitigation policy has been championed by those who want to discourage sprawl on the outskirts of the city and promote infill within the city. The fee developers would pay would help buy the mitigation land on a one-to-one basis. The judge did not rule on the merits of the ag mitigation policy but ruled against the city for not fully assessing the change in policy under CEQA that ended the Ag Mitigation Program (AMP). The ruling means that the ag mitigation program will stay for now. Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen said he was “surprised – thinking the plan we made was ironclad.” Now he says he understands “this is not a minor fix and we need to know if this will delay us.”

Sierra Club attorney Babak Naficy commented “that the City of Visalia will be mandated to rescind their amended policy,” adding that the city consultant study on the plan was faulty. Court documents show that the Sierra Club and Central Valley Partnership challenged Visalia’s adopted amendment last August by filing a petition for writ of mandate, contending Visalia lacked substantial evidence to support removal of the AMP requirement; and that Visalia abused its discretion by preparing an “addendum” to a previously certified environmental impact report (EIR) for the policy change rather than a subsequent or supplemental EIR.

Judge Mathias agreed, saying ”The court finds use of an addendum in the circumstances of this case is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and, therefore, grants the petition. The court’s ruling is confined to this limited issue, and specifically does not extend to the ultimate issue of whether the AMP requirement may or should be removed from the general plan.”

Seven Visalia developments impacted now

For home builders wanting to build in Tier 11, the effect is the same until the city goes through a full EIR to remove the AMP from the general plan – a lengthy process that could put off new approvals for months or even years and with an uncertain outcome. Who will be impacted? Mayor Nelsen says he understands there are seven Visalia housing projects ready to move into Tier 11 in the pipeline after several years of a boom in permit activity. “For those seven projects to move forward, we need to iron this out,” he said. Now the Tulare County judge has ruled the city action needs to be rescinded – putting in limbo new applications for subdivisions in Tier 11, some 1,500 acres inside the urban boundary. The need for Tier 11 land to build is clear because most of the Tier 1 land in the city has been subdivided.

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