Leticia Perez, the Bakersfield Democrat who lost to Hanford Republican Andy Vidak this summer in her bid for the state 16th Senate District seat, said Friday she will not seek a rematch next year.
The seat came open when Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio unexpectedly resigned in February. The election this year was only to fill the remainder of Rubio's 16th District term.
Rubio's normal term was up next year, so Vidak will have to stand for re-election — this time in the newly created 14th District.
Several pundits thought Perez — a Kern County supervisor — would run again, but in a release she said next year is too important for Kern County for her to take her focus off her board duties.
With Perez out, the focus will be on who steps up to challenge Vidak in a district Democrats feel they can win. Earlier this week, Fresno Unified School District board member Luis Chavez, a Democrat, announced plans to run for the seat.
— John Ellis
Westerlund may return to City Hall
The chatter at Fresno City Hall is that Mayor Ashley Swearengin wants to hire former City Council Member Larry Westerlund to lead her economic development team. The position has been vacant since Craig Scharton resigned at the end of August to open Peeve's, his Fulton Mall restaurant.
When asked Thursday about the rumors, Swearengin adroitly dodged the question. She said the city is understaffed when it comes to economic development expertise. She said such expertise is pivotal if business is to look kindly on Fresno. She said maybe something will break at year's end or in January.
Westerlund was termed out in January and now works for a local law firm. Asked about the rumors, he responded in an email:
"I understand the mayor has plans to add an additional staff member to be dedicated to economic development. I don't know whether I will fill that role or not. I do believe it's the right thing for a city the size of Fresno to have a person dedicated to supporting job creation."
It's not clear what the title is of the position in play. Scharton was called the "business development director." Scott Johnson, the former Fresno State athletic director who came to City Hall during Alan Autry's second term, was the "economic development director." Fred Burkhardt, who came on board in Autry's first term, was the "economic development manager."
Each of them made more than $100,000 a year.
By any name, the job is a tough one.
Jeff Reid, city manager under then-Mayor Jim Patterson, said of the job in 2005: "This role is so multifaceted that no one background can well prepare anyone for the challenges."
— George Hostetter
HSR route change unlikely to sway Valadao
The California High-Speed Rail Authority's vote last week to identify a "preferred alignment" for its Fresno-Bakersfield section is unlikely to appease Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, an ardent opponent of the agency's bullet-train plans through his stomping ground in Kings County.
In April, the authority's staff was recommending a route that would bypass Hanford on the city's west side — and which would run directly past three properties owned by Valadao Dairy, the congressman's family farming business.
Those parcels amount to about 509 acres and have a combined assessed value of more than $1.8 million, according to a database on the Kings County Assessor's Office website.
But the latest route choice, which will be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for evaluation, bypasses Hanford on the east. That may still be too close for comfort for Valadao, whose family, parents or uncle own a dozen properties west of Highway 43 between Idaho and Lansing avenues south of Hanford — and within a mile of the would-be route for the high-speed tracks.
Valadao was traveling from Washington, D.C., to his district Friday and unavailable to comment on the rail authority's route vote, his staff said.
"However, Congressman Valadao has been both consistent and clear when discussing his opposition to high-speed rail since entering public life, regardless of the proposed track location," said Anna Vetter, his communications director.
"One of Congressman Valadao's original criticisms of the High-Speed Rail Authority was their refusal to truly identify a route. This has created confusion for hundreds, if not thousands, of families and businesses in the potential wake of this project."
Valadao came under scrutiny this summer after he offered an amendment to a budget bill that, if it becomes law, could stall or permanently derail construction of the high-speed rail project
. Valadao, a member of the potent House Appropriations Committee, proposed the amendment and argued for its adoption in the committee apparently without informing his colleagues that his family holdings included property along or near the rail routes.
The issue raised questions about whether or not Valadao faced a conflict of interest because of the potential effects of the rail routes on property values — often cited by project foes as one factor for their opposition.
Valadao's amendment was approved by the committee. But the ultimate fate of Valadao's efforts remains in limbo because of the budget stalemate between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, which is in the hands of Democrats.
— Tim Sheehan