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Latest News in Hanford, CA
Developer committed to building Northstar Courts, behavioral health housing in Hanford
A week after a contentious Hanford City Council meeting surrounding a proposed affordable housing project, the developer of the project is moving full steam ahead.Illinois-based developer UPHoldings – which has a local regional office in the Central Valley – has partnered with Self-Help Enterprises to construct Northstar Courts, a 72 unit complex in north Hanford.Over 500 people attended a special council meeting last week, the majority of which were in opposition to the project, which will set aside 22 units for vu...
A week after a contentious Hanford City Council meeting surrounding a proposed affordable housing project, the developer of the project is moving full steam ahead.
Illinois-based developer UPHoldings – which has a local regional office in the Central Valley – has partnered with Self-Help Enterprises to construct Northstar Courts, a 72 unit complex in north Hanford.
Over 500 people attended a special council meeting last week, the majority of which were in opposition to the project, which will set aside 22 units for vulnerable populations in need of behavioral health services, which is currently set to be provided by Kings County.
Despite the public outcry, UPHoldings co-owner Jessica Hoff Berzac told The Sun that the project is moving ahead as planned with no consideration to move to a different location.
“We’ve invested over $1 million in this project,” Hoff Berzac said. “We own the land. It’s fully entitled. We’ve secured $34 million that is tied to this location. The site was designated by the state. There’s no way without abandoning all of that financing that’s been secured and all of the investments we’ve made. You can’t just switch locations. That’s not possible.”
While last week’s meeting was raucous with opposition, Hoff Berzac said UPHoldings has been flooded with phone calls in support of the project, as well as people asking to put in an application to live in one of the units, which is expected to be completed by November 2023.
She also noted the concerns that some people have with the project housing mental health patients, saying that it has not been an issue with any other developments that UPHoldings owns and manages.
“We’re just trying to hear people out. There’s still just this unbelievable assumption that because someone has a disability they’re inherently going to ruin a neighborhood. It’s based on Hollywood, right? That’s just a false, false statement,” Hoff Berzac said.
“We don’t have a single project where someone’s disability has ruined the neighborhood. We’ve never had tenants do some of the things that people are assuming and guessing. My hope is just that people will continue to hear the stories of people, talk to their neighbors and friends that also might have a mental illness and really kind of understand the human side of this, because that’s the way that some of those stigmatizing comments and assumptions are going to be broken down.”
Hoff Berzac expects the building permits to be finalized within the next couple of months, and she will continue to engage with the community and prove that Northstar Courts will be a good neighbor.
She has not heard anything of concern that the city may try to prevent the project from going through.
“I don’t have reason to think that they would back away from that position,” Hoff Berzac said. “I think they know how desperately housing is needed for all the people they serve.”
There could be potential hiccups with the project starting this week, however.
The Kings County Board of Supervisors is holding a special meeting Thursday and will discuss a closed session item related to the project.
The closed session item revolves around potential litigation over the county’s Whole Person Care Program funds, which is the behavioral health piece that the county has committed to Northstar Courts.
When asked, Hoff Berzac said she was unaware of any potential litigation against the County of Kings over Northstar Courts.
Mask mandate in Hanford schools to disappear soon
ERIC GILL email@example.com://hanfordsentinel.com/news/local/mask-mandate-in-hanford-schools-to-disappear-soon/article_a5088b20-82bb-5301-b387-eaebd834023f.html
Face masks will no longer be required in public schools to combat COVID-19 throughout Kings County beginning March 12.At least, that seems to be the consensus."I met with 12 of the 13 superintendents this morning, and nobody indicated they are extending the mask policy," said Todd Barlow, superintendent of schools for Kings County Office of Education. "I'm quite sure the [superintendent] that wasn't there isn't extending it either."Barlow clarified that the county's education department does not have ...
Face masks will no longer be required in public schools to combat COVID-19 throughout Kings County beginning March 12.
At least, that seems to be the consensus.
"I met with 12 of the 13 superintendents this morning, and nobody indicated they are extending the mask policy," said Todd Barlow, superintendent of schools for Kings County Office of Education. "I'm quite sure the [superintendent] that wasn't there isn't extending it either."
Barlow clarified that the county's education department does not have the authority to dictate face mask policies. It is up to the superintendents of each school district within the county to make autonomous decisions about healthcare policies.
"The realm of responsibilities and authority is theirs," Barlow said. "Every indication is they're not going to be requiring masks as of midnight on the 12th."
"The role of the county office is to support them," he said of individual superintendents. "My job is to make sure they have all the information they need in order to make the decisions that they do."
Barlow said the 12 superintendents at Monday's policy meeting will continue to follow guidelines set forth in the tier system regarding masks: 1. required, 2. strongly recommended; 3. recommended; and 4. optional.
"They're going with a 'strongly recommended' language in their system," Barlow said.
Dr. Victor Rosa, superintendent of the Hanford Joint Union High School District (HJUHSD), confirmed the district is following state guidelines.
"We do not intend to implement any added restrictions on masking, apart from the state guideline," said Rosa.
The HJUHSD superintendent said he is unaware of any displeasure on the part of teachers or administrative staff pertaining to the decision to no longer require face masks.
"There has not been any reluctance communicated to me about the removal," Rosa said. "I am sure there will still be many who choose to mask for their own safety, but they have not expressed any desire to be more restrictive than the state guidelines."
Superintendent Barlow, Kings County Office of Education, said students and staff who remain concerned about catching or spreading the COVID-19 virus may continue to voluntarily wear masks.
"Anyone that wants to wear a mask, they're welcome to do so," Barlow said. "I think everybody seems to understand we're in a phase right now where if someone is concerned, they can get self-vaccinated and wear a mask if they choose."
Dr. Rosa concurred: "We will continue to provide masks to those who choose to wear one and will support any student or staff members' choice to do so."
In a website post, the HJUHSD informed students, parents and staff of its updated policy on masks to combat the COVID-19 virus.
Referring to a statement from Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Superintendent Rosa informed everyone the governor's statement effectively "ends the mask mandate for all students and staff in the school setting on March 11."
In keeping with a statement from Gov. Newsom, California announced schools and child-care facilities are not requiring vaccinated or unvaccinated children to wear masks because of falling COVID-19 cases.
However, it is strongly recommended that children continue to wear masks, especially indoors.
"California continues to adjust our policies based on the latest data and science," Gov. Newsom stated in lifting the mandate. "Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high."
The statement on California classrooms comes after the state lifted its mask mandate for most indoor settings, beginning March 1.
"We cannot predict the future of the virus," Gov. Newsom stated, "but we are better prepared for it and will continue to take measures rooted in science to keep California moving forward."
A press release issued by the governor's office made clear local jurisdictions may choose to implement their own face covering policies and requirements pertaining to COVID-19. However, the state will continue to require face masks in certain settings.
"Masks will still be required for everyone in high transmission settings like public transit, emergency shelters, health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities," a California-issued press release stated.
"We know this has been a very difficult mandate for many students and families," HJUHSD Superintendent Rosa stated. "For some, this change comes too late and for some too early. However, as a district and county, we have worked hard to abide by state law regardless of our personal beliefs about those laws."
Fire near Yosemite spreads into California’s largest of the season
A raging wildfire near Yosemite National Park continued to rapidly spread over the weekend, burning more than 16,700 acres as of Monday morning and growing into the state’s largest wildfire of the season. Thousands of structures are threatened and about 3,000 residents are under evacuation o...
A raging wildfire near Yosemite National Park continued to rapidly spread over the weekend, burning more than 16,700 acres as of Monday morning and growing into the state’s largest wildfire of the season. Thousands of structures are threatened and about 3,000 residents are under evacuation orders, authorities said.
The Oak Fire began Friday afternoon near the town of Midpines in rural Mariposa County — roughly 75 miles from Fresno — and by the end of that day, it covered more than 4,000 acres. By Monday morning, it had burned more than quadruple that amount — 16,791 acres — outside Yosemite, according to Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency.
Officials and experts have attributed the quick spread to hot and dry conditions, as well as vegetation that could have helped fuel the flames. Authorities say the blaze continues to be driven by dense vegetation and the area’s terrain.
Still, authorities said early Monday the fire activity “was not as extreme” as it had been in the previous two days, which allowed firefighters to “make good headway” and contain 10 percent of the fire overnight, according to a Cal Fire incident report.
Overnight, the fire perimeter had pushed toward the community of Mariposa Pines, where strike teams were able to hold the fire line, according to the report. Crews also continued working to hold the line on the northeast and south sides of the fire.
The wildfire had destroyed 10 structures and damaged five as of Sunday evening, according to the department’s website. On Monday, that figure was adjusted to no structures damaged and seven destroyed.
Cal Fire spokeswoman Natasha Fouts said Sunday that about 3,000 people were under evacuation orders and that nearly 2,000 were being warned they may need to leave soon.
Kelly Martin, a former chief of fire and aviation management at Yosemite National Park, said in an interview Monday that several elements aligned perfectly for the Oak Fire to burn: high temperatures, abundant vegetation and steep topography.
Martin added that the urban landscape in Mariposa County, where communities are “very spread out,” makes it difficult to do prescribed or “controlled” burning, which can reduce the amount of combustible vegetation. This material, including wood debris and branches, then becomes available for burns.
“Hotter and warmer summers and more vegetation growth on the landscape, minus any natural fire, means this fire was waiting to happen,” Martin said. “With these conditions, these fires will continue to burn and threaten communities, no matter what.”
The steep topography of the Midpines area, along with the high temperatures, poses serious challenges for fire crews to go in and try to contain the blaze, she added.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County on Saturday. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also providing resources to suppress the fire, Newsom said.
TC Sheriff’s Office and DA accused of Selective Prosecution
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office and the Tulare County District Attorney’s office have been accused of giving preferential treatment to two major political donors, Casey and Morris Tharp, owners of EM Tharp Inc.EM Tharp Inc. is a family owned trucking business operating in Porterville since 1935.Kevin Rooney, of the Hammerschmidt Law Corporation, represents Donald Clinton who is accused of nine counts of grand theft from his employer, E.M. Tharp Inc., and of filing false income tax returns.A motion filed in...
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office and the Tulare County District Attorney’s office have been accused of giving preferential treatment to two major political donors, Casey and Morris Tharp, owners of EM Tharp Inc.
EM Tharp Inc. is a family owned trucking business operating in Porterville since 1935.
Kevin Rooney, of the Hammerschmidt Law Corporation, represents Donald Clinton who is accused of nine counts of grand theft from his employer, E.M. Tharp Inc., and of filing false income tax returns.
A motion filed in late June requesting discovery documents states, “Mr. Clinton has been subjected to selective and discriminatory investigation and prosecution. The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office undertook and prioritized the investigation, asset seizures, and recommendation for prosecution, because the alleged victim E.M. Tharp and its owners Morris and Casey Tharp, are political supporters of the Sherriff and the District Attorney.”
As evidence to his allegation of preferential treatment Rooney provided the campaign documents showing that Casey and Morris Tharp and their company gave “over $4,000 in campaign donations to the Tulare County Sherriff between 2013-16 and approximately $600 donated to the current District Attorney’s campaign in 2018.”
Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward’s office filed a response to Rooney’s motion saying that the donations to the Sheriff’s Department and the DA were made mostly before Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and DA Tim Ward were campaigning for office.
Rooney’s motion added, “Counsel is informed and believes the Sheriff and the District Attorney have also politically benefited from the Tharps’ participation in activities such as the Businessmen’s Lunch in which favored candidates are invited to meet with prominent community members.”
Rooney also alleges that while his client is being prosecuted for filing false tax returns, the DA’s office “ignored” evidence of tax offenses by family associates of EM Tharp.
The DA’s office responded by saying that the alleged tax evasion by the Tharp family was revealed during a contentious divorce and happened many years before either Ward or Boudreaux were elected. It added that it is unlikely the DA’s office was aware of the tax fraud allegations against the Tharp family.
While reviewing the facts of the case against his client, Rooney told the Voice he was shocked how quickly the sheriff’s department responded to a phone call made by the Tharp company alleging embezzlement.
“The sheriff’s department responded with lightening speed,” he said, showing in up in under an hour in one instance just to review documents.
“The sheriff’s office leapfrogged its investigation into Mr. Clinton over numerous other matters and handled the Clinton investigation with much greater urgency than an ‘ordinary’ investigation,” stated the motion.
A quick response is expected for violent crimes, he said, but unheard of in financial matters.
The DA did not address the unusual speed in which the sheriff’s office responded to EM Tharp’s complaint. But their response did established that Rooney needed to demonstrate how his client was discriminated against and not just provide evidence of possible preferential treatment of EM Tharp.
“The United States Constitution mandates discovery in support of a discriminatory prosecution claim only when the defense provides some evidence tending to show the existence of each essential element of the defense-discriminatory effect and discriminatory intent,” sai the DA’s motion.
The DA concluded, “In the present matter, Defendant has done nothing more than levy accusations of misconduct labeled as “some evidence.” Defendant has made no factual showing of misconduct beyond his speculation and conjecture.”
The court agreed.
In a hearing on July 21 at the Tulare County Superior Court in Porterville, Judge Kathryn T. Montejano denied Rooney’s motion without explanation.
Though disappointed in the decision, Rooney said he wasn’t surprised.
A favorable ruling in a case of selective prosecution involving political favoritism is extremely hard to get, he said. Selective and discriminatory investigation and prosecution is a serious allegation and if proven, the entire case is thrown out.
The issue of preferential treatment will not be broached in the trial but could be use it in the event of an appeal.
A preliminary hearing date will be decided when the two sides meet again in court on July 29.
Hanford-based behavioral health housing project takes heat from residents. Here’s how local officials are reacting.
An affordable and behavioral health housing project in Hanford provoked considerable public outcry with residents demanding local officials intervene and avoid building the project at the proposed location.Last Wednesday, more than 500 people attended a special meeting of the Hanford City Council to discuss the proposed Northstar Courts housing project to be located near the southeast corner of N. 11th Ave. and Northstar Dr. in north Hanford.While residents largely spoke in opposition to the Northstar Courts, the affordable hou...
An affordable and behavioral health housing project in Hanford provoked considerable public outcry with residents demanding local officials intervene and avoid building the project at the proposed location.
Last Wednesday, more than 500 people attended a special meeting of the Hanford City Council to discuss the proposed Northstar Courts housing project to be located near the southeast corner of N. 11th Ave. and Northstar Dr. in north Hanford.
While residents largely spoke in opposition to the Northstar Courts, the affordable housing project is not financed in partnership between the city or the county and developers UPHoldings and Self-Help Enterprises.
Because the project is a private deal without a public partnership, the city’s path forward if it wishes to prevent it from being built, is murky.
“We’ve heard considerable anger from the neighbors about the project, and we’re trying to figure out if we have any options to answer those concerns, respond to those concerns,” Hanford Mayor Diane Sharp told The Sun. “There’s also tremendous need in Hanford for low income housing, so this is a tough issue for us.”
UPHoldings has by-right use of the land, which allows for multi-family housing, and does not need to request any permits or zoning changes.
“It’s not subject to a conditional use permit process,” Sharp said. “It wasn’t subject to either going through the planning commission or the city council.”
The project will consist of 72 units in two buildings and will house residents on a standard 12-month lease.
Per UPHoldings, 33 units will be occupied by current or retired farmworkers, 16 units will go to working families, one unit will be designated for a live-in manager and the other 22 units will house vulnerable populations in need of behavioral health services.
Social services will be provided on site, including case management, vocational training, educational opportunities, financial literacy training and after school programs, among others.
The income limit for residents is as follows:
Northstar Courts will be funded through Low Income Housing Tax Credits, California No Place Like Home funds, Hanford’s Permanent Local Housing Allocation funds, the Kings County Whole Person Care pilot program, Kings County Human Services Agency’s Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention Program, as well as private financing.
UPHolding expects to start construction in June and finish by November of next year.
Kings County’s total contribution is around $1 million, which comes from state funds that are directed to affordable housing projects, Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon told The Sun.
“The state government always wants us to do facilities like this in our community. It’s a funded mandate, and it kind of puts the local electeds against the community, and that’s really tough to do because it would be easy for us just to say ‘no’ to not be at odds with our community,” Verboon said.
“But at the same time the state holds back other funding that’s tied to this project. We don’t want to miss out on any opportunity to help take care of our community people that need help.”
With the project currently at-odds with a large part of the community, Verboon said the county will meet with UPHoldings to discuss concerns and see if there is any room to negotiate other options for the project.
While the county could pull its funding in an effort to derail the project, the county’s contribution is small enough that the developers would likely be able to replace it. Verboon also noted the importance of having the county’s behavioral health staff on site to prevent any problems that could arise with the residents in need of mental health services.
“If we pull the funding it’s probably going to be a disservice to the neighborhood because we can keep them accountable to make sure that we don’t have a problem,” Verboon said. “If we pull the funding, they’re going to do what they want because they still have the right to build it under the state’s control and the state guidelines.”
While the county is working on its end to address any problems with Northstar Courts, Sharp reaffirmed her commitment to listen to the community to come to a solution.
“I’ve continued to engage and continued to talk with people who were concerned about the project. I’ve been having one-on-one meetings with different folks involved against the project, and I’ve reached out to the organizers of the 1776 Sons of Liberty, who seem to be sort of the catalyst for a lot of the energy against,” Sharp said.
“I’m trying to reach out and listen, and the big message that came across last Wednesday night was “local politicians, you are not listening to us.’ I’m trying to counteract that and say, ‘Actually we’ve been listening all along,’ and I’m just continuing to do what I have been doing since I got involved in public services in this way, via elected office.”