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A judge will decide by Friday whether to grant a preliminary injunction that would continue to halt the sale of Fresno’s iconic Tower Theater. Lawyers for the Sequoia Brewing Company and the Tower Theater argued their case at a hearing Wednesday. At issue is the brewery’s right of first refusal to sell the property. The theater claims it’s already given the brewery an offer, and that its right of first refusal has already expired, 12 days after seeing the offer.

The city of Fresno is accepting applications for its new Emergency Rental Assistance Program. 

The program offers nearly $35 million in federal funds and state block grants to help renters and landlords. After administrative costs, more than $31 million of that funding will be directly available for rental assistance. On Monday, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said the need is huge. 

“I would imagine today we are going to be absolutely inundated online with requests, as well as phone calls,” said Dyer.

Katherine Miranda stands outside Fresno’s Crossroads Village housing complex overlooking Blackstone Avenue. She just moved here about a month ago. Before that, she was on the streets for nine years. Her first night in her new room was so quiet, she says.

“The first night I couldn't sleep because we were so used to the train,” she laughs. “But I mean, it’s wonderful,” she says.

 

And now to StoryCorps San Joaquin, a series documenting the stories of Valley residents, based on our collaboration with the personal history project. In this conversation, Gabe Mora interviews his life partner, Don Simmons, a Fresno State professor and historic preservation enthusiast. They talk about building their life together in Fresno. For Don, he didn’t expect to grow to love this city, especially after a life-changing tragedy on 9/11.

Madi Bolanos / KVPR

Armando Celestino walks between rows of grapevines in a Madera County vineyard. He’s handing out small zip lock bags to farm workers filled with hand sanitizer, masks and information on the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Celestino works with Centro Binancional, a community organization that assists those who speak, indigenous languages like Mixtec and Zapotec.

 

Bitwise Industries announced Wednesday it will use $50 million in public and private funding to build facilities and expand job training for tech workers in the Valley. 

Much of the money will go towards the company’s Digital New Deal, an initiative to grow its tech apprenticeship program, by including people from diverse backgrounds. Thilani Grubel, vice president of Bitwise Fresno, says she wants to open up the tech field to underserved communities and people who may have never considered it as a career.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

When news of the pandemic first reached the men incarcerated at Avenal State Prison in central California, inmate Ed Welker said the prevailing mood was panic. “We were like, ‘Yeah, it’s going to come in here and it’s going to spread like wildfire and we’re all going to get it,’” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

 

Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that the San Joaquin Valley will get a major boost to its COVID-19 vaccine allocation. That’s due in part to the region’s food and ag workers, who now are also receiving some priority access to the vaccine.

Valley counties will now be receiving thousands more doses each week, amounting to an average increase of 58%, thanks to a change in how the state is distributing vaccines.

 

 

At Clovis North High School, parents dropped off their kids on campus Tuesday for the first time in months. Students with pom poms cheered on as cars entered the parking lot. 

For those returning to this hybrid model of online and in-school instruction, Clovis Unified Chief Communications Officer Kelly Avants says student days offline look a lot different now.

“When they get to school, they’ll go through a health check, health screening. Get that wrist bracelet or ticket to show that they have passed that first test of the day,” she says.

Soreath Hok / Valley Public Radio

Along Fern Avenue in the Tower District, businesses are boarded up, some lined with graffiti. There’s trash piled in the doorways.

But on this sunny Saturday afternoon, volunteers move brooms along the sidewalk and sweep the debris into boxes. There’s an upbeat feeling about their work. 

 

 

One of the cleaning crew is Kacey Auston. She grew up in the Tower and is now leasing the former Bank of America building on this street. It’s still empty but she plans on opening a marijuana dispensary called Cookies Fresno. 

County of Kern Facebook page

 

Shipments of more than 15,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine promised to the San Joaquin Valley have been delayed this week, thanks to severe weather that has snarled shipping and distribution networks in the central and eastern parts of the country.

“All of our doses for last week were held up because of weather,” or about 6,000 doses, said Kern County Public Health Director Brynn Carrigan during a media call on Friday.

 

The Fresno City Council will vote Thursday on a plan to suspend bus fares throughout the city. Councilmembers Tyler Maxwell, Esmeralda Soria and Nelson Esparza are sponsoring the Zero Fare Clean Up Act. Maxwell says it addresses equity issues in Fresno, when it comes to reliable transportation. He believes the city is already way behind.

Two electric lifts move alongside a freshly painted mural on 7th street in downtown Sanger.  

Painters are doing touch-ups on the piece created by Valley artist Omar “Super” Huerta. 

In the center of the mural is Tom Flores. On either side of him, two football players in Raider colors. 

 

“I think it’s because of him I became a Raider fan. Because I knew from my family telling me, ‘hey that guy is from Sanger.’ And it’s like ‘OK, I’m a Raider fan now,’” says former Sanger Mayor, Frank Gonzalez. 

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

During a visit to Fresno on Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom said vaccinating the Central Valley against COVID-19 is a “top priority.”

 

Though Newsom was widely expected to announce a new federal government-partnered mass vaccination clinic in the city during his stop at the Fresno Fairgrounds, he instead shared that the state had selected a COVID-19 testing site at Reedley College to be converted into a community vaccination clinic.

 

 

 

This year’s theme at the World Ag Expo: Ag is Essential. Presentations will center on how the industry has pivoted to continue operating during a pandemic. 

Jennifer Fawkes, marketing manager for the World Ag Expo, hopes the event will help people better understand how food is grown and transported during the pandemic. Many exhibits will focus on tools and technological innovations in the ag industry.

Dora Garza, 82, walks out of the Madera County Health Department on a windy day in February. She’s just received her first dose of the vaccine and she says the shot was quick and painless.

“It didn’t hurt and I would like everybody to get it that you know, needs to have it,” she says.

Garza says she got the vaccine because she has a younger sister who’s been hospitalized with COVID-19 for the past two months. 

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

 

Farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley are facing limited access to resources during the pandemic, according to the second phase of the COVID-19 Farmworker Study funded by the California Institute of Rural Studies. 

Community organizers, like Erica Fernandez Zamora, conducted 63 in-depth interviews with farmworkers across the state. Most are struggling financially. 

 

 

It’s just before the 5 p.m. dinner hour and tickets are starting to print out in The Vineyard’s kitchen. 

Customer Robert Fischer waits to pick up his dinner order at the dining room entrance. 

“Oh we’ve got the special tonight. We’ve got the calzone, so I can’t wait to get home to dig into that,” he says.

 

He says he orders takeout twice a week to support Madera restaurants. He’s been coming to the Vineyard for 15 years and wants to make sure it stays. 

 

Fresno Alliance

So many people have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Fresno County Jail that the total number of cases now exceeds the entire incarcerated population.

According to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, nearly 4,000 inmates and staff members have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic started, a total that the New York Times ranks as the largest of any single correctional facility in the country.

 

In the past few weeks, Fresno police have been called to break up anti-mask protests at businesses like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts. At a news conference Monday, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer spoke about a weekend protest at Sprouts, which resulted in one person being cited.

He says officers can only intervene by issuing a citation for trespassing. After that, violators who refuse to cooperate will be arrested. 

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