Local Election

Griswold: Tulare optimistic over proposed cheese plant

The mood at Tulare City Hall is one of cautious optimism these days because a group of food industry veterans is proposing to build a cheese processing plant that would employ 220 people at good wages.

"Anytime you get 220 jobs in Tulare, and these aren't minimum wage jobs, I can support that," Mayor David Macedo says.

The average annual wage would be about $46,000, plus benefits, Calicheese Company LLC told the city.

City officials are careful not to get too excited because high-profile projects sometimes fail. But Calicheese signed an agreement last week to buy 59.67 acres of city property for $2,091,600, or $35,000 an acre. The company has six months to get its financing together.

The proposed 300,000-square-foot plant would open in 2015.

It's a good site for a milk processor because Tulare's waste-water treatment plant is next door and accepts "high strength" effluent. As a result, Calicheese won't have to build a pre-treatment plant, said Lew Nelson, public works director.

Tulare is in the heart of dairy country and is home to six milk processing plants: Häagen-Dazs, Land O' Lakes, Morningstar, Kraft and two Saputo cheese plants. Calicheese's chief operating officer, Daryl D. Boddicker, is a former Kraft Foods executive who is helping to launch the Tulare plant.

A bonus for the city is that its $700,000 environmental impact report, written for a meat processing plant that never was built at the site, can now be put to use. The environmental impacts are similar, and the report is valid because it's less than five years old, said Traci Myers, the city's economic development director.

PARCEL FEE: Visalia property owners will soon vote on whether to continue a 48-cent-a-month fee for flood control that they pay as part of their water bills.

They'll get to vote on the per-parcel or dwelling unit fee when mail-in balloting starts Jan. 31 and ends in mid-March.

Since 1997, the money has been used to pay Visalia's share of enlarging Lake Kaweah. But the city's share is paid for, so the Visalia City Council opted to ask property owners to vote on whether to keep the fee and use its revenues to help maintain the city's storm drain system.

Under the proposal, 43 cents would go to increased storm drain maintenance and the other 5 cents to the upkeep of Terminus Dam.

Under Proposition 218, voters must approve parcel fees like this one for them to be imposed. To date, no organized opposition has emerged.

The city will hold community information meetings Feb. 7 at Fairview Elementary School and Feb. 21 at Visalia Unified School District. Both meetings will last from 6 to 7 p.m. Information: www.reduceflooding.com.

FARM LEADERS: Two of 10 people named to 2013 Leadership Farm Bureau -- a program of the California Farm Bureau Federation -- are from Tulare County. Carrie Crane is program coordinator at the Tulare County Farm Bureau. Karen Whaley is a cattle rancher, agricultural company consultant and member of the state farm bureau's Young Farmers & Ranchers committee.

Others selected are from Stanislaus, Calaveras, Ventura, Butte, Sacramento, Kern, Monterey and Lake counties.

The class will take an advocacy trip to Washington, D.C., and visit North Carolina to learn about issues affecting farmers and ranchers in other regions of the country.