Valley news of the week Sept. 18-24

September 24, 2011 

A barista singing the unemployment blues, a one-legged girl who leaned on a dolphin for help and more debate about high-speed rail dominated the conversation.

Here are the top stories of the past week, along with selected comments posted by readers at fresnobee.com.

Rail hearing

What happened: A five-hour public hearing Tuesday on proposed high-speed rail routes through Fresno drew comments and criticism. Some of the 50 or so speakers discussed how the proposed routes would affect their businesses or property, or how the electric trains would mean fewer cars on the freeways to pollute the Valley's air. And some questioned whether the state can afford to take on the multibillion-dollar project.

What it means: Authority officials said the agency's hearings on environmental studies for the proposed routes are designed to draw comments from the public that can be considered before the final versions of the environmental reports are written. The Valley sections are planned to be the first pieces built, starting next fall, for a 520-mile system of trains between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

What readers said:

"When we built the interstate system, families were displaced and I'm sure they voiced similiar concerns. Where would we be now if those familes' farms had been left intact and we didn't have an interstate system? Big plans effect everyone, in that many people will benefit and a few will be displaced and displeased. You can't make everyone happy."

-- FresnoReader

"I get so tired of reading the talking points on HSR. It will provide more transportation infrastructure, true. It will reduce congestion of roads and help fix the problems with the air, false. How much will it cost to ride the train? Estimates say slightly less than an airplane ticket. How many people will ride this thing if it costs too much? If it is cheaper to drive, guess what -- people will be driving. What have we solved? Nothing except to disrupt thousands of peoples way of making a living. How much sense does that make?"

-- dnickdeftereos

"The Mayor selling high speed rail as a 'jobs' program is like selling the Titanic as a salvage opportunity. Stop this costly boondoggle now!"

-- b2burns

Grounds for firing

What happened: A barista who worked for a Starbucks in Chowchilla composed what he thought was a funny song that satirized life as a coffee-slinger trying to appease caffeine-deprived customers. Starbucks wasn't amused. After officials saw Christopher Cristwell's performance in a YouTube video, dressed in his green Starbucks apron and his underwear, he was fired.

What it means: Cristwell has been studying to become an emergency medical technician, but also loves singing and songwriting -- and he says he wouldn't mind if his life took another direction because of the video, which had more than 521,600 Web hits by Saturday afternoon.

What readers said:

"I think Starbucks Corporation should have realized that this kid was just venting ... and getting them plenty of free publicity! Of course its stressful to work there ... who doesn't notice that? Better move would be to keep him on and let people come in to see the 'guy in the video' ... may bring in more business."

-- Kait

"Now potential employers are going to be cautious about hiring him knowing there is a liability that he may vent his frustrations about their business as he did with Starbucks. If he really wanted change he should have vented to his boss and not in a video. I would never hire this guy."

-- Mystery25

Bad air

What happened: Despite having the cleanest summer on record, the Valley violated the federal 1-hour ozone standard Thursday.

What it means: The Valley hung on until the last day of summer but now faces a $29 million federal penalty because of the violation.

What readers said:

"Good Grief. We all drive -- mostly alone to work -- in a two-city population of 1/2 million. Close the freeways to single drivers. Make us carpool. Provide free bus service for a week -- the cost is nowhere near the penalty millions.

"Probably 1/2 of our 2 cities hire yard workers who use two-stroke engines to mow, trim, and then 'blow.' When my neighbor's yardman finishes, it smells like a 5 pm freeway. Then he adds the dust of the blowers. They blow sediment particles into the street, for every passing car to kick up and recycle more into the air.

"My solution: all yard workers must cease mow/trim/blow for 2 weeks during an alert. Then maybe my kids wouldn't need their inhalers 3 times a day. The yardmen in my neighborhood only take cash, don't file taxes, drive new pickups and trailers, but use the oldest equipment possible on the yards.

"Take a friend to work, buddy-up for a week, take turns. Good Grief -- we are too egocentric to DO anything to help the air. We just want to blame (me included)."

-- mmjohns

"Don't bet on the penalty being removed by 2013. The Valley's air is getting worse and worse. We're paying for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution District's inaction. A great start would be banning all drive-thru's like San Luis Obispo. Another would be working harder with northern and bay area counties on getting their air pollution act together. Lots is blown in and we have no control over that."

-- bigchucky

Final shot

What happened: School districts, most notably Fresno Unified, scrambled to get middle and high schools students cleared of a new state law that requires whooping cough boosters.

What it means: By the end of the week, Fresno Unified was two days past its state deadline and still had 1,900 students to clear.

What readers said:

"This is simply lazy parents who have been notified this was coming months and months ago, given opportunity after opportunity to get it done for FREE and have ignored it, hoping it goes away. The state issues a one month extension and STILL they don't act.

"Don't want to vaccinate your child? That's fine, just don't mix them into the student population. What? My child is vaccinated, so why am I worried? Because vaccinations aren't 100% and are only truly effective when all members of a group have it."

-- Reedley73

Inspiring

What happened: The Bee's Paula Lloyd caught up with Megan McKeon, a Clovis girl whose life as an amputee has been made a little easier thanks to a dolphin that inspired the new movie "Dolphin Tale."

What readers said:

"This is an amazing story of an amazing girl. May God bless her and her parents Mark and Susan."

-- Peter Woelper

Catching Up is compiled by Bee editors. Go to fresnobee.com/catchingup/ to comment or learn more about these stories.

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