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Latest News in Planada, CA

Merced County remains in purple tier. But new changes may help lift business restrictions

Local COVID-19 numbers landed Merced County another week in the most restrictive purple reopening tier, according to the state’s Tuesday update.But it was better news for the the county’s neighbors in Mariposa.Mariposa County ascended from the red to the orange tier on Tuesday, meaning it is now subject to the second-most lenient of COVID-19 limitations under the four-tier reopening system. The tier is defined as having “moderate” risk for COVID-19 to spread from person to person in the county.Now...

Local COVID-19 numbers landed Merced County another week in the most restrictive purple reopening tier, according to the state’s Tuesday update.

But it was better news for the the county’s neighbors in Mariposa.

Mariposa County ascended from the red to the orange tier on Tuesday, meaning it is now subject to the second-most lenient of COVID-19 limitations under the four-tier reopening system. The tier is defined as having “moderate” risk for COVID-19 to spread from person to person in the county.

Now in the orange tier, the 50% occupancy cap on retail businesses and shopping centers ceases in Mariposa County. Churches, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, museums, zoos and other facilities also may open indoors at a higher capacity.

Meanwhile in Merced County, the number of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents continues to hold it back from advancing to the red tier. Daily cases must fall to seven per 100,000 from the county’s current 14.2.

Until then, inside gatherings and indoor operations of businesses like restaurants and gyms will remain banned.

Although Merced County remains in purple tier, local Department of Public Health officials say recent changes to the state’s vaccination and reopening plans could help the county advance to the red tier faster.

The state announced last week that modifications to the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy will make it easier for counties to reopen as more of its population is vaccinated against COVID-19. Plus, a new vaccine equity metric will prioritize vaccinating underserved ZIP codes across the state — many of which fall into Merced County’s borders.

California’s most disadvantaged ZIP codes are those defined as falling in the bottom quartile of the “Healthy Places Index,” which measures poverty and other factors like residents’ housing status and education level.

“Almost all of Merced County zip codes are within that lowest quartile, which is not surprising unfortunately,” said Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, Merced County public health supervising epidemiologist and operations chief.

Once 2 million COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed in the state’s most disadvantaged ZIP codes, the required case rate — which is the average number of new daily cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days — in order to move from the most restrictive purple tier into the less restrictive red tier will change from seven to 10. The test positivity threshold of 8% for the red tier won’t change.

To help get vaccines into those neighborhoods around the state and in Merced County, 40% of doses will be targeted to residents in those areas — many of which have disproportionately born the brunt of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Sullivan said.

“We will get a lot more vaccines,” Sullivan said of the changes. “We’ve consistently had some of the lowest vaccines per capita across the state.”

Merced County Public Health officials and elected officials alike have repeatedly lamented the state’s vaccine distribution plan since the start of the new year, calling out the rollout for disfavoring counties like Merced. The plan has caused a greater share to have gone to areas with higher income and education, as well as better access to transportation.

Sullivan said the shift to prioritize under-serviced communities whose disadvantages were further exacerbated by the pandemic is a step in the direction that Merced County has been advocating for.

The public is encouraged to visit www.vaccinatemercedcounty.com to determine their eligibility and receive vaccination notifications to register for available appointments. Those who don’t have internet access can call the Merced County Public Health Information Line at 209-381-1180 for assistance.

And already, the change is showing. “Our (vaccine) allocation last week was over double what we’d been getting previously,” Sullivan said.

The more than 11,000 COVID-19 vaccines that arrived in Merced County last week are to be administered into recipients’ arms this week.

As more doses roll into Merced County, the community’s daily case rate continues to trend downwards toward the red tier’s currently required number of seven cases per 100,000 residents — but slowly.

Once that required number changes to 10 cases per 100,000 residents, it will be less daunting of a task for Merced County to advance into the red tier.

“(It) will help us because that’s always the thing that keeps us from moving up in the tiers,” Sullivan said of Merced County’s case rates.

In contrast, local testing positivity for several weeks has for been below the 8% benchmark that qualifies Merced County for the red tier.

Improvements to local COVID-19 metrics and subsequent economic reopening is anticipated to speed up as more of the county is vaccinated.

“As we vaccinate more people, that’s going to affect our cases, so we could see a drop,” Sullivan said.

An estimated 5.3% of the county’s roughly 287,000 residents have received doses so far, according to the county’s vaccine dashboard.

Whether life returns to a state of relative normalcy soon largely depends on aggressively rigorous vaccination. For anyone wanting to enjoy a more typical summer, Sullivan said the best thing to make that hope a reality is to get vaccinated.

One new COVID-19-related death of a Merced County resident was reported on Tuesday. The pandemic has now taken the lives of 416 community members.

Hospitalizations of severe COVID-19 cases also notably increased by five patients to 24. Regional intensive care unit capacity remained relatively stable though at just above 21%.

An additional 43 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Merced County on Tuesday, raising the tally since the pandemic’s start to 29,600.

Of those total cases, infections deemed to currently be active fell from 902 to 851.

The county’s testing positivity percentage and daily case rate fell to 5.4% and 14.2, respectively.

This story was originally published March 9, 2021 3:53 PM.

Planada Students benefit from Dual-Language Immersion

Twenty-six Planada Elementary School District kindergarteners are in the midst of the inaugural year of the Dual Language Immersion Program with the goal of creating fluency in both English and Spanish languages.As part of the Local Control and Accountability Program, parents told leaders they wanted the language immersion program. And it’s a passion of Superintendent Jose Gonzalez, who speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese languages.Through instructors Eva Menera and Karina Pacheco, the kindergarten students are receivi...

Twenty-six Planada Elementary School District kindergarteners are in the midst of the inaugural year of the Dual Language Immersion Program with the goal of creating fluency in both English and Spanish languages.

As part of the Local Control and Accountability Program, parents told leaders they wanted the language immersion program. And it’s a passion of Superintendent Jose Gonzalez, who speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese languages.

Through instructors Eva Menera and Karina Pacheco, the kindergarten students are receiving 90 percent of their core subject matter in Spanish with 10 percent earmarked for English oral language development.

As these students advance to first grade, 80 percent of the core subjects will be conveyed in Spanish; as second graders, 70 percent of the lessons will be taught in Spanish. When they reach third grade, 60 percent of the core subjects will be taught in Spanish and when they become fourth and fifth graders half of the content will be in Spanish, with the other half in English.

Gonzalez’ father emigrated from Mexico while his mom came from Portugal. He didn’t learn English until he was in first grade.

“It (immersion) is a passion of mine,” Gonzalez said. “You get the best parts of different cultures. We want to make sure our students are biliterate, bicultural and bilingual.”

The students will be able to retain their culture and their language. They also will be accepting of other cultures and languages.

Administrative assistant Maria Ceja’s son spoke only English. Now he reads at the first-grade level in Spanish.

“I would recommend this to all parents,” she said.

Gonzalez said the benefits of the dual immersion program are high academic achievement, bilingualism/biliteracy, a competitive edge for college and career opportunities, strengthening of brain development, improved overall school performance and problem-solving skills, building of leadership and self-confidence and development of strong school and family partnerships.

A big motivator to start the program was that children would be able to communicate with their grandparents and not lose their original language. The district is recruiting participants for the 2019-2020 class.

The Planada district has 856 students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade. Gonzalez, 46, has been Planada superintendent since December 2010.

“The PESD Dual Language Program will provide an enriched education, allowing each student to develop the knowledge and skills needed to become a productive and engaged member of our diverse global community,” Gonzalez said. “We will honor our students’ languages and cultures as they learn together and meet or exceed grade level standards, develop high levels of linguistic and academic proficiency in both Spanish and English and become culturally competent.”

Research shows a program like this needs to start at kindergarten and continue as the students move up through the grades.

“Staff members, students and families will hold high expectations for each member of our school community, work together to support each other, foster the development of our program and celebrate our achievements,” Gonzalez said.

Students become fully proficient in speaking, reading and writing in two languages. Students achieve in English at levels that are similar to — or higher than — those of their peers in other programs, but also are able to read and write at grade level in a second language.

“Students in the program develop positive attitudes about other languages and cultural backgrounds and about themselves as leaders. They’re models to each other inside and outside the classroom,” Gonzalez said.

Planada students are 98 percent of Mexican descent. The Planada district is only the fourth district in Merced County to offer dual immersion, joining Hilmar, Livingston and Delhi school systems.

Gonzalez said the district offers the necessary wrap-around services, including a school psychologist, speech pathologist, interventionists, special education and enrichment.

For more information, contact Gonzalez at 382-0754 or jgonzalez@planada.org.

A look back at when Merced County was known as ‘Home of the Fig’

How would you like to try some big, sugary “Merced Sweets” or sample a red, juicy “Merced Beauty?”They tasted as good as they looked; they were the sweet potatoes from Buhach Colony and the tomatoes packed by Merced Produce and Packing Company.Marketing agricultural products with a catchy label or slogan like these was how Merced County became known as the “Home of the Fig’‘ in the early part of the 20th Century. Our county’s reputation for delicious figs traveled as far as Tijuan...

How would you like to try some big, sugary “Merced Sweets” or sample a red, juicy “Merced Beauty?”

They tasted as good as they looked; they were the sweet potatoes from Buhach Colony and the tomatoes packed by Merced Produce and Packing Company.

Marketing agricultural products with a catchy label or slogan like these was how Merced County became known as the “Home of the Fig’‘ in the early part of the 20th Century. Our county’s reputation for delicious figs traveled as far as Tijuana when a special Santa Fe train advertising this phrase took a delegation of Merced promoters to Southern California in 1923.

On the early morning of April 2, 1923, there were 125 Merced County boosters who boarded the Merced Fig Special train traveling down south on the Santa Fe for a promotional excursion. Among these esteemed boosters was photographer Frank Robinson whose work captured the spirit of the day and the slogan of the time.

As the boosters traveled through the San Joaquin Valley, they stopped briefly in Fresno, Visalia, and Tulare before arriving in Bakersfield. They had lunch at the Harvey House and an auto tour of Bakersfield before getting back on the train in time to enjoy a rare pleasure of going over the Tehachapi Mountains by daylight.

After spending a night in Barstow, the Merced boosters boarded the Fig Special and arrived in San Bernardino around 9 a.m. where they were entertained by the San Bernardino, Riverside, and Redlands Chambers of Commerce. Their afternoon itinerary was Corona and Santa Fe Springs before reaching Los Angeles for the night.

The reception at Los Angeles the next day was by far the most entertaining and exciting from a Hollywood studio tour, luncheon at the Alexandria Hotel, to an evening party at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. The following morning, the group continued to Orange County for a tour in Santa Ana. After a brief stop in San Diego, the boosters arrived in Tijuana where they remained overnight.

San Diego was the last stop of the excursion. They spent most of April 6 touring the city, having lunch at the U. S. Grant Hotel, and enjoying a talk by Admiral William Sowden Sims who commanded all U.S. naval forces in Europe during WWI.

The Merced County Booster excursion solidified the county’s reputation as Home of the Fig as more than 1,000 small packages of figs were distributed to the various towns visited.

The origins of fig cultivation in Merced County can be traced back to Erastus Kelsey who planted his first orchard with some fig cuttings from an old mission in the early 1850s. Merced’s climate, soil, and irrigation systems made it a natural home for growing figs, but the boom of the fig industry did not take off until the early 20th Century when fig growers, shippers, packers, farm advisors, and promoters worked together.

The University of California played a leading role in educating and organizing the fig growers, beginning in 1917 when it held the first annual statewide Fig Growers’ Institute in Fresno. Merced orchardists who attended the institute brought back great enthusiasm over the fig industry and were energized by the new information they received, including about a little-known variety: Kadota Fig.

Also at this institute, the California fig growers took the initial step of organizing a fig association with an exploratory committee in which Merced’s Fred W. Yokum was a member. When the California Fig Growers’ Association was finally organized in 1918, Yokum was elected vice president. Two years later, the Fig Association merged with the Peach Association and became California Peach and Fig Growers’ Association. In 1921, the Association built a packing plant in Merced on the Santa Fe Railroad reservation between N and O Streets and employed over 100 workers.

The fig industry enjoyed a great deal of publicity and support from the Merced community; among its ardent boosters was the Merced Chamber of Commerce. Shortly after its reorganization in December 1919, the Chamber dedicated significant resources to assist and promote the fig industry. It campaigned vigorously for the merger of the Fig and Peach associations, raised funds for the construction of Merced’s packing plant, worked hard in bringing the annual Fig Growers’ Institute to Merced in 1923, and organized the very first and successful excursion to Southern California.

By 1924, Merced County was truly living up to its reputation as the Home of the Fig. Just within a 25-mile radius of Merced, there were more than 12,200 acres of figs being grown by over 500 orchardists. The center of the Merced Fig Belt was the Tuttle-Planada area, just east of Merced along the Santa Fe Railroad and the Yosemite Highway. The popular varieties of figs grown in the area were Mission, Adriatic, Calimyrna, and Kadota.

Today, although the acres of figs have been reduced significantly, Merced County remains a hub of the fig industry.

Now, you will have an opportunity to try some juicy figs from our local J. Marchini Farms and win a picture of the “Merced Fig Special” from Grey Roberts’ collection by taking part in the Merced County Historical Society’s 30th Annual Bill Kirby BBQ/Auction at Lake Yosemite on Sept. 14.

Tickets to the event are available in the Museum office and gift shop. Please call the office at (209) 723-2401 for more information.

Planada celebrates annual Community Day

Planada residents came together Saturday for their annual Community Day, a 50-plus-year celebration that highlights its people and traditions.As it does every year, the event kicked off with a parade down Stanford Avenue, followed by an afternoon of games, music and a barbecue.This year’s parade featured the Garcia brothers, four longtime Planada residents, as the grand marshals. The brothers, who operate Garcia Bros. Trucking of Planada, were recognized for their years of service and support of area organizations....

Planada residents came together Saturday for their annual Community Day, a 50-plus-year celebration that highlights its people and traditions.

As it does every year, the event kicked off with a parade down Stanford Avenue, followed by an afternoon of games, music and a barbecue.

This year’s parade featured the Garcia brothers, four longtime Planada residents, as the grand marshals. The brothers, who operate Garcia Bros. Trucking of Planada, were recognized for their years of service and support of area organizations.

The brothers have 50 trucks that move crops throughout California and Las Vegas. They employ about 150 people, most of them local residents, and also offer summer jobs to youths from Le Grand High School.

Originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, the brothers immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. They started their trucking business in Planada in 1990.

According to organizers, the Garcia brothers and their families are best known for their participation in local projects. They donate to schools, churches and youth programs.

“We do what we can,” said Antonio Garcia, 60, the oldest of the brothers, in Spanish. “We like to give back to the community that opened doors for us and has provided us with so much over the years.”

His brother Jose Garcia, 58, said it was a real surprise to learn that they had been selected as this year’s grand marshals. “We didn’t even know we were nominated until a few weeks ago,” he said. “It’s an honor and we’re very happy to be here.”

The parade also included the Hoover Middle School marching band, folklorico dance groups, the California Highway Patrol, the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, and car clubs.

At noon, residents lined up for one of the event’s main attractions – the barbecue.

Ben Esquivel, one of the event organizers, said that in a community where almost every face is familiar, celebrations like this feel like a large family reunion.

“Everyone knows everyone,” Esquivel said. A Le Grand resident and Planada business owner, Esquivel said he has attended the event for as long as he can remember.

“It’s a nice day to come to the park feeling safe and show visitors that our community has a lot of good things going on,” he said.

Community Day grows each year, according to organizers. They estimate about 2,000 people from across Merced County and neighboring communities show up throughout the day.

This story was originally published May 9, 2015 3:17 PM.

As Merced County schools prepare for full fall reopening, what changes can parents expect?

As Merced County schools make steps toward getting kids back in classrooms, local educators predict all 22 local districts will return fully to in-person learning by the fall school season.That’s assuming COVID infections remain at a controllable level and residents continue to be vaccinated. But so far more than 9,000 of California’s 11,000 schools have opened for in-person instruction in some capacity — or have announced a date for a return to classrooms.Local education leaders like Steve Tietjen, Merced Cou...

As Merced County schools make steps toward getting kids back in classrooms, local educators predict all 22 local districts will return fully to in-person learning by the fall school season.

That’s assuming COVID infections remain at a controllable level and residents continue to be vaccinated. But so far more than 9,000 of California’s 11,000 schools have opened for in-person instruction in some capacity — or have announced a date for a return to classrooms.

Local education leaders like Steve Tietjen, Merced County superintendent of schools, say parents can expect to see many new changes — both in terms of technology and practices — when all schools fully reopen.

For example, many districts are upgrading air conditioning systems and adding ionizers to buildings and classrooms. Plus, some districts are ramping up the number of hours for health assistants to provide services like COVID testing, while others are stocking up on pandemic-related medical supplies.

“That’s happening on a widespread basis here in the county,” Tietjen said.

The changes happening at Merced County school districts aren’t unusual — nor are they inexpensive.

Just last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom encouraged local districts to take advantage of federal and state funds to reopen five days a week.

Newsom and legislative leaders earlier this year passed a $6.6 billion reopening package for schools. It included $2 billion to help districts resume in-person instruction this month.

“Use this money to extend learning opportunities, extend the school day, extend the school year. Who says you have to end on June 15, who says that? We’re not saying that, we’re saying the opposite. That’s what I want to offer: that flexibility,” Newsom said last week.

California schools are in line to receive even more money from the latest federal coronavirus stimulus bill signed by President Joe Biden, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Merced County education officials are already putting those relief dollars to work. For example, COVID-19 federal relief funds are paying for upgrades to air conditioners at $12,000 per unit — and a little less for the ionizers.

At Le Grand Union Elementary, superintendent Scott Borba said the district received around $2 million in state funding to purchase purifiers and sanitation.

The district is expecting more funding from the state, with the hope of replacing the faucets and toilet handles to devices that do not require touching.

Relief funds in Borba’s district will also go toward wireless hotspots, and hiring more counselors to assist students with their academic and emotional needs.

Borba said there are still some lingering concerns in the community about returning to a five-day in-person school week.

Right now Le Grand Union Elementary School District is on a hybrid learning schedule — a mix between online learning and in-person learning.

“I know my staff is ready to do it, the school is ready to do it. We got all the protocols in place, we manipulated our schedule so that there’s no crowds of people trying to get in and get on campus in the morning and leave in the afternoon,” Borba said.

While teachers in other areas of the state have expressed some concerns about returning to in-person instruction, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Merced County.

“There really hasn’t been a lot of pushback from teachers in this area about going to work online or in person as long as they’re safe,” said Paul Chambers, primary contact staff for the California Teachers Association and director for the Merced/Mariposa Teachers UniServ Council.

“Obviously there’s lots of different opinions about what safe is, but as a labor group we do get to negotiate safe standards for teachers,” Chambers added.

Alan Peterson, Merced Union High School District superintendent, also said teachers have been largely supportive of the plan.

“I think the number one concern for our union was vaccination and making sure we move forward with that until all staff have had that opportunity,” Peterson said.

“We’re at a level above 60 percent of staff (who) have been fully vaccinated and that number will continue to push up. Then there’s the normal protocols (following public health guidelines) and making sure that our administrative staff are taking those protocols seriously.”

The Sun-Star reached out to a small sampling of Merced County superintendents to see how much federal and state COVID relief money they are receiving to make upgrades amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among those districts, Merced City School District ($19 million), Dos Palos Oro Loma Unified ($17 million), Planada Elementary School District (nearly $5 million).

Besides going to technical upgrades like updated air filtration systems, that money is also being used across the board for purposes like more professional development instructions, hiring substitute teachers and instructional materials to facilitate safe in-person learning.

Other districts, like Merced City Schools, for example are using the money for items like headsets, webcams, Wifi technology and safety equipment, according to the district’s COVID relief funds document.

Planada Elementary is using its funds to “beef up” its infrastructure and invest in one or two additional buses, said Superintendent Jose Gonzalez.

Some districts, like Merced Union High School District, have already returned to in-person learning five days a week (with options for students who desire distance learning to continue during spring season).

Plus, MUHSD is also planning in-person graduation ceremonies, set for June 3, said MUHSD superintendent Alan Peterson.

In the fall, MUHSD probably will not offer the distance learning option for students — although an independent study option will probably be put in place, Peterson said.

Others are coming close to returning to full in-person learning.

For example, Merced City Schools welcomed its 7th and 8th grade students back to campus on April 12 for a four day a week schedule, according to MCSD Deputy Superintendent Doug Collins.

Since March Gustine Unified fully reopened all its schools. Dos Palos welcomed elementary school students for full in-person instruction April 12, but its middle and high school students are still doing hybrid learning.

In the meantime, school districts are trying to get creative in order to make up for the lost time caused by the pandemic.

For example, Le Grand Union Elementary School District plans to extend the school year by 14 days, starting June 14.

Planada Elementary School District will have an extended school year that will go from June 7 to June 25, in addition to offering a virtual learning academy within the same time frame.

Most Merced County K-12 school districts, Tietjen said, are planning for summer school or some summer form of instruction.

Merced City School District, for example, will have a summer academy program to help students from preschool to 7th grade to make up for lost learning and to improve grades. Both sessions are offered in person and virtually and students can pick sessions that go from June 7 to July 30 or June 7 to July 2.

Others, like Merced Union High School District, are proceeding with their usual summer school, with a focus on remediation and credit recovery.

Overall, Tietjen said most districts aren’t keen on Newsom’s suggestion to possibly extend the school year.

“There may just be a recruitment challenge of finding enough teachers to want to continue to work through the whole summer,” Tietjen said.

“I don’t see that as pushback, I see it as people are tired, worn out and need to recharge. So nobody’s saying no at this point. They’re simply saying, ‘I need a break, too.’ That’s the challenge that we’re facing.”

This story was originally published April 25, 2021 5:00 AM.

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