Valley news of the week Sept.25-Oct.1

October 1, 2011 

A Fresno City Council vote could breathe new life into an old downtown landmark, a bequest by a Clovis man will put water back into a downtown fountain and a northeast Fresno school has found the secret to success for fourth-grade math students. And even though Fresno County is cash-strapped, the Board of Supervisors decided to preserve property tax breaks for farmers.

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

Yes to Hotel Fresno

What happened:After four hours of discussion and on a 5-2 vote, the Fresno City Council agreed to loan $860,000 in federal housing funds to developers who want to rehabilitate the long-vacant Hotel Fresno. Mayor Ashley Swearingen says converting the historic building into a 72-unit apartment complex is a key to downtown revitalization. But Council Member Lee Brand raised questions about the project's finances.

What it means: In response to Brand's concerns, the council agreed to hold onto the cash until the developers return with more detailed financial numbers.

What readers said:

"I'll be curious in a few years when this project is underway and the developer comes back for more money because of 'unanticipated' cost overruns (remember the Met?). The City will have no choice but to ok more money because it already has so much 'invested' in the project. Oh well, at least it isn't City dollars, it's only our well spent federal tax dollars at work."

-- jpop68

These one-off projects do little to make any change to the region. Unless they can attract real money and execute a master plan for the mall and surrounding area, this will never become what the mayor or anyone else hopes it to be. I think that the Stadium proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt."

-- Paulii

Tax break for ag

What happened: Fresno County supervisors on Tuesday committed to preserving tax breaks for thousands of county farmers under the Williamson Act, despite losing state reimbursement for the conservation program.

What it means: The decision not to touch the politically charged Williamson Act and its tax benefits means the county will forgo at least $2 million next year. Cities and schools also stand to lose potential revenue. But the majority of the board agreed the sacrifice was needed to protect farmers from paying higher taxes and keep in place a program that aims to preserve farmland through property tax incentives.

What readers said:

"For years, local farmers did not have to pay all of their legally mandated tax because the assessor, responding to political pressures, low-balled assessments. Once a new assessor took over and did what the law required, the Board of Supervisors decided to treat the farmers as if the state provided tax breaks for them in order to preserve farmland when in fact the state no longer pays such monies. The end result is we have a welfare program for farmers.

-- keengkong

"If farm land is so precious to the board, why do they keep approving developments?"

-- Folsom

Fountain funds

What happened: Ernest Lawrence of Clovis, who recently died at 71, left an unexpected gift of nearly $800,000 to Fresno County and wanted his small fortune to be spent on parks -- and park amenities, such as fountains.

What it means: The fountain outside the county courthouse, once a symbol of pride and elegance in downtown Fresno, will get the repairs it needs. County supervisors agreed to earmark the rest of the funds for other county park needs.

What readers said:

"What a hero in Ernest Lawrence. How unfortunate that he has passed on, and will never hear people's appreciation and praise. Our parks are not in very good shape, and his generous gift should certainly help. I love that fountain and can't wait to see it restored."

-- Nick_1

"I think the money should be better spent on parks and parks programs people actually use to recreate, or after school parks programs that will give kids something to do to keep them out of trouble thus making the gift more cost effective in the long term. That would be a better use of the money than to fix a fountain."

-- drhoward

Counting on math

What happened: At a Clovis Unified elementary school, fun and games are part of a formula of success for math classes. Liberty Elementary's fourth-graders posted back-to-back years of 100% proficiency in standardized testing. Its principal says the accomplishment is all the more noteworthy: while the northeast Fresno school is in an upscale neighborhood, it reflects some of the city's racial and economic diversity and grapples with transiency.

What it means: The game is "Math Around the World," and it teaches concepts, not just correct answers. Liberty is on the hunt for methods to boost performance for students in other grade levels.

What readers said:

"I once worked at a school in FUSD that had a 67% transiency rate. One child who came in third grade had been in 14 schools in 4 states by the time I taught her. Another came and left, came and left, came and left, all in one year. Ten to twelve percent transiency may be high for a Clovis school, but it's peanuts compared to other Valley districts."

-- nlb

"I've observed in a class where some of these games and devices and reteaching methods were being implemented and wondered how different my school math career could have been if I had learned them in elementary school."

-- common_sense

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

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