Valley Public Radio News

Jeffrey Hess / Valley Public Radio


Now that most counties in the San Joaquin Valley have graduated out of the most restrictive “purple” tier of the governor’s reopening blueprint, many schools are preparing to bring students back to campus, and some already have.

How are schools phasing in-person instruction back in, what’s the fate of extracurricular activities, and what precautions are schools taking to keep students safe? This week’s COVID-19 update breaks down what in-person learning could look like across the Valley.

A Central Valley Congressman is being named to an important part of the incoming Donald Trump presidential administration.

Congressman Devin Nunes is now part of president-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.

Nunes has served seven terms and is currently the chair of the house intelligence committee.

He is from Tulare and his district includes much of western Tulare and eastern Fresno Counties.

The transition team plays a critical role in smoothing over the transfer of presidential power between administrations.

Jeffrey Hess/KVPR

Jane Chu, the Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts visited Fresno this week. She is traveling the country preparing to announce a new arts initiative. She spoke with Valley Public Radio's Jeffrey Hess about arts in the valley and beyond.

Jeffrey Hess/KVPR

It’s one of the most maligned stretches of road in Fresno, Blackstone Avenue. With a reputation for being dangerous, unwelcoming, and rundown. But city leaders say they have a plan to fix it, and it starts with a bus. However, not everyone is convinced the avenue can be improved.

It’s not hard to get a sense of what many people think of Blackstone Avenue.

Just ask one simple question of people in Fresno: Would you take a walk down Blackstone?

“No, because I don’t want to be considered as one of those little street walkers,”

Three Fresno County employees are under investigation for allegedly stealing property from dead people.

District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp says the three were responsible for keeping track of property from deceased people who had no other relatives to handle their estate.

She says they stole property for a ‘substantial’ period of time.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to me as a citizen, as an elected official, and as the district attorney of this county. I am disgusted by this behavior. I will not tolerate it and I will not let it continue,” Smittcamp said.

Valley Children’s Hospital is officially partnering with Stanford University for its new pediatric residency program.

The decision marks a move away from a long time partnership with the University of California San Francisco.

The partnership is a big step toward starting the residency, as Stanford will provide educators and other academic support.

Hospital CEO Todd Suntrapak says having their own residency in-house gives the hospital more control over the program while also potentially increasing the number of doctors working in the Central Valley.

Smart & Final website

Just one day after grocery store Savemart announced it would close its Clinton and Blackstone Avenue location in Fresno…a new grocery store tenant is on the way.

During her state of the city address today, Mayor Ashley Swearengin confirmed that Smart and Final will take over the Blackstone location when Savemart closes.

“In fact, our words of encouragement to not give up are proving to be quite wise. Because I am pleased to tell you that Smart and Final has signed a lease to take over the Savemart store at Blackstone and Clinton,” Sweargein said.

The controversy over a proposed bus ad pointing out a disparity in city park distribution in Fresno is still causing a stir, a week after it was rejected by the city for being “too political.”

The Fresno advocacy group Building Health Communities is planning to formally request a list of all the ads that have been rejected by the city or advertising company Lamar.

Lamar is the first stop when deciding if an ad violates a city ordinance that forbids certain ads on bus wraps.

Fresno leaders say the homeless population in Fresno and Madera Counties has declined by 53-percent since 2013.

The newest count released Monday found almost 1,200 unsheltered homeless people compared to more than 2,500 two years ago.

Preston Price with the Fresno Housing Authority says a new focus on providing housing first is driving the rate down.

“The housing first model, which has a higher success rate, says let’s get a person into housing and bring the services they need to them. And that has a higher success rate,” Price said.

The newest reading of California’s critical mountain snow pack is showing that the state currently has zero-percent of its normal snow levels. The snow reading is the lowest ever taken at this point of the year.

A warm, dry winter means that little snow fell in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

The snow pack is critical to replenishing California’s surface water supply.

Maury Roos with the California Department of Water Resources says the measurement has never come in this low. 


A California Transportation Task  Force is starting a statewide tour in Fresno to look at a controversial proposal for raising more infrastructure money. The task force is examining a so-called ‘road charge’.

Sometimes called a vehicle mileage tax, a road charge would tax California residents based on the number of miles they drive.

The California Transportation Commission estimates the state needs 137-billion dollars in repairs to roads, highways and bridges over the next ten years.

Joe Moore


Fresno’s Storyland and Playland amusement parks could re-open by mid-September. The head of the new Storyland-Playland board thinks the parks can return to profitability.

Work is already underway to repair and re-open the parks after they failed to open.

Scott Miller, the chair of the new board overseeing Storyland and Playland says necessary repairs…especially to the train…should be far enough along to allow the parks to re-open by the middle of September.

Jeffrey Hess / Valley Public Radio

There is a growing movement in Fresno to leverage the power of big data to improve a wide variety of city services from water conservation, to street lights, to police and more. Powerful computers are now able to crunch billions of data points to provide a clearer picture of what works and what doesn’t. The city is increasingly seeing data and information as a two-way street.

I am standing on Shaw Avenue in Fresno.

This heavily traveled street sees tens of thousands of cars a day.

A new national ranking of American cities shows Fresno is making progress in providing access to public parks and green space.

However, the gains are limited. The city moved from last place in 2014 to tied for last this year.

Abby Martin with the Trust for Public land, which releases a yearly ranking of 75 US cities, says several new parks set to open this year helped Fresno’s score.

“Out of 100 points, this year Fresno scored 31. As opposed to last year where Fresno scored 26 points,” Martin said.

A new cell phone app that could help Fresnans track their water consumption is headed toward development. The app is the brainchild of a group of five sixth graders.

Calling themselves the ‘fab five’, the boys came up with and pitched the idea of an app that taps into data collected by city water meters and supplies daily updates on a person’s water use.

Due in part to a 25-thousand dollar donation from AT&T, the team has now raised the nearly 60-thousand dollars needed to hire a local technology company to code the app.

Cities across the valley are working to cut their water use under new regulations as the state struggles through its fourth year of drought. However, the reductions are having different effects in different towns, in some cases having unexpected repercussions.

Towns throughout the Valley are having to take a hard look at their water use in order to meet Governor Jerry Brown’s ambitious conservation order.

In some cases reducing use by as much as a third.

One of those is Selma.

A Fresno City Council member says he sees no reason why the struggling Manchester Mall cannot be successful. A new ownership group is planning a renovation of the nearly dead shopping center.

The company, Omninet, thinks an overhaul can revive the Manchester Mall which sits at the corner of Blackstone and Shields in central Fresno.

It’s in the district of City Council member Clint Olivier who says he sees no reason the property can’t be successful, despite multiple previous attempts failing.

Omninet Properties

A new company is preparing to renovate Fresno’s nearly dead Manchester Mall. Omninet is asking the city for a small section of land to increase the appeal of the struggling shopping center.

The company has plans to renovate and refresh the mall which sits at the corner of Blackstone and Shield in central Fresno.

The mall’s management declined to comment on the plan, but a company website is up touting the project, including a video targeted at attracting new tenants.

Fresno City leaders are vowing to use growing revenue to restore neglected city parks. Many parks fell into disrepair as a result of budget cuts during the recession.

With the city’s tax base recovering, the Mayor and City council members say now is the time to fix and expand the city’s public parks.

Standing in a park in East Fresno, Mayor Ashley Swearengin says the city should spend nearly 6-million dollars on repairs and renovations across the city.

The Fresno County DA is launching a new public integrity Unit to crack down on elected officials and public employees breaking the law. The plan is to investigate complaints about misbehavior from the public.

Through letters, fax and e-mail Fresno County DA Lisa Smittcamp is hoping to ferret out public officials and employees breaking the law.

Smittcamp says the newly formed three-member unit will follow up on complaints of wrong-doing.