Obama comes to Fresno to talk drought, but good luck seeing him

The Fresno BeeFebruary 12, 2014 

President Barack Obama's visit to Fresno on Friday may make for a great media opportunity, but save for a chosen few it will be all but impossible for the public to get a glimpse of him.

On this president's first-ever visit to the Fresno area, the best that most people can hope for is to see either Air Force One, the presidential jumbo jet, as it arrives and departs from the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, or Marine One, one of the military helicopters that will ferry Obama to and from a yet-to-be revealed site where he is expected to talk about California's severe drought.

Rep. Jim Costa, a Fresno Democrat, will arrive with Obama aboard Air Force One, as will California's two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Both are Democrats.

Rep. Devin Nunes, a Visalia Republican, had not been invited as of Wednesday to participate in the president's visit, said Nunes' chief of staff Johnny Amaral. Tal Eslick, chief of staff for Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said his boss had requested time with Obama to talk about the drought, but had not yet received a reply, nor had he received any details about the Valley visit.

The president is heading west because of a meeting in at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage with King Abdullah II of Jordan. Once Obama is done with his stop in the Valley, he will head south.

According to The New York Times, after Obama finishes his time with the king, he plans to stay on for two days at Sunnylands to play a few rounds of golf at the estate's recently refurbished nine-hole course, which has been played by presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to the elder George Bush.

The White House has not publicly released a schedule or any other details of Obama's Fresno visit. But airspace restrictions issued Wednesday by the Federal Aviation Administration offer tantalizing hints.

There will be two restricted flying areas in the region on Friday afternoon "for VIP movement" -- one around Fresno that's in force from 2 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m., and another west of Firebaugh and south of Los Banos that is in effect between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m.

Obama's arrival and departure from Fresno Yosemite International will be closed to the public, according to a spokeswoman for the airport, and no other public events are anticipated during the visit, according to the White House.

For the public, that leaves only a stretch of frontage road along Chestnut Avenue, across the street from the northwest end of the FYI runway, as the only place from which people will be able to see Air Force One, said Rhonda Jorn, the airport's marketing director.

A pair of Marine helicopters and two V-22 Osprey convertible aircraft were visible midday Wednesday at the Army National Guard's helicopter base on the north side of the runway. Later Wednesday afternoon, the Chestnut Avenue vantage point offered a distant view of a big-bellied military cargo jet -- the type of plane that typically presages a presidential visit, hauling vehicles including the armored black limousine in which the president rides and other equipment.

No motorcade is expected to close any Fresno streets on Friday, however. The California Highway Patrol, Fresno police and airport officials said that instead of taking a limousine from the airport to the site of his visit -- widely anticipated to be a west-side farm -- the president will board a helicopter that will fly him to the area.

"He will not be traversing the streets within the city," said CHP Sgt. Pablo Reyna. Once the helicopter lands, Reyna said CHP officers will lead a motorcade to and from the site.

The airspace restrictions during the president's visit will ground private pilots while they are in effect.

Each restricted area contains two levels of restrictions, the FAA says. The inner core is a 10-mile radius, and an outer ring that stretches 30 miles from the center of the restricted area.

The agency says private pilots cannot fly within the 10-mile-radius areas in either zone when the restrictions are in effect. That means they won't be able to fly into or out of Fresno Yosemite International, Fresno Chandler Airport or Sierra Skypark. Regularly scheduled airlines will be able to fly into and out of FYI, the FAA says.

Private pilots can fly in the outer 30-mile ring if they are arriving or departing from local airfields, have active flight plans, use transponders that broadcast specific information about their aircraft, and are in two-way communications with air traffic controllers.

The lack of any public opportunities to see Obama stands in contrast to other presidential visits to the Valley over the past two decades. In May 1992, in his unsuccessful re-election campaign, President George H.W. Bush addressed agriculture issues in a barn at a vineyard west of Fresno. Bush's successor, President Bill Clinton, delivered a speech about education to a large crowd in September 1995 on the opening day of a new middle school in Selma, before having a private meeting with farmers in Fresno. Clinton returned to Fresno in September 1996, speaking at a rally at a Fresno elementary school.

And President George W. Bush held two large rallies in the Valley during his time in office -- in October 2003, when he praised small businesses and their employees in a speech at the Ruiz Food Products in Dinuba, and in March 2004 for a "conversation about business" at Rain For Rent in Bakersfield.

The reporters can be reached at (559) 441-6330, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @tsheehan on Twitter, or jellis@fresnobee.com or @johnellis24 on Twitter.

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