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On Valley Edition: Pension Reform; Lowell Rebirth; JazzFresno

Today's special election day edition of Valley Edition features a series of report on government reform, from the state's new top two primary, to effort at pension reform. We'll also hear about the effort to revitalize Fresno's historic but troubled Lowell neighborhood, and a new program for music students from the group JazzFresno.

Top-Two primary makes for unusual campaign
With today's California primary, some voters are getting messages that might make them think twice. In some races, unions are urging Democrats to vote for Republicans. In others, business groups are urging Republicans to vote for Democrats. Ben Adler reports from Sacramento on a change in political strategy inspired by California's new "Top-Two" primary.

Study casts doubt on pension funding as voters decide on reforms
Today in San Diego and San Jose, voters are being asked to weigh in on plans to dramatically change pension programs in those cities. In San Jose, where pension expenses this year will make up around one quarter of the city's general fund, Measure B would require new employees to pay half the cost of their pensions, and existing employees one third. In San Diego, where around 20 percent of the general fund goes to cover pension liabilities, voters will have to decide whether to replace their current pension system with a 401k type program for all new city employees except police officers.

Cities across California are closely following the vote, as they struggle with their own budget problems. Between 1999 and 2010 pension spending among California's cities and counties grew at a pace of 11 percent per year. And according to a new study from Stanford University, the state's 24 municipal pension systems are underfunded by a combined 135 billion dollars. What does this mean for cities and counties in the Valley, as well as the employees who rely on the promise of a public pension in retirement. The answer largely depends on where you look and who you talk to. FM89's Joe Moore has this report.

State budget deficit doubles
When California voters go to the polls today they'll decide measures on term limits and a cigarette tax. But they won't be voting on anything that would deal with the state's chronic budget woes. That won't happen until November. California's deficit has nearly doubled since the start of the year – and it's now nearly 16 billion dollars. Ben Adler reports from Sacramento on how overly optimistic revenue projections and what Governor Brown calls the budget's "pretzel palace of incredible complexity" led to the state's current deficit woes.

County jail floor likely to reopen
For the first time in two and a half years, the second floor of the Fresno County Jail may soon be occupied. Budget cuts had previously forced Sheriff Margaret Mims to law off jail deputies, and close several floors of the jail. This infusion of money from Sacramento is thank to AB 109, the law passed last year that facilitated the statewide realignment of inmates from prisons to county jails. FM89's Ezra Romero reports on how this new move by the Community Corrections Partnership may help stop, or at least slow the pace of early releases of prisoners in Fresno.

Segment 2: Lowell neighborhood rebirth
Fresno's Lowell neighborhood was the city's first suburb, full of grand homes from the late early 1900's and shady trees. But in recent decades, the neighborhood, which is located north of downtown and south of Belmont, has fallen on hard times. Now several groups are working to bring this part of Fresno back to its former glory. Don Simmons, a Lowell resident and Vice-Chair of the new Lowell Community Development Corporation joins us to talk about their project that fixes up older homes and resells them to qualified individuals. Tamara Glover from Fresno City College's Housing Reconstruction Training Program also joins us, along with program student H. Steel, to talk about how community college students are helping to transform the neighborhood.

Segment 3: JazzFresno aims to help student musicians
Jim Page of the local organization JazzFresno joins us to talk about a new program called Milestones that is dedicated to helping student musicians learn to perform in a big band ensemble. The program targets students from elementary school through the high school level, and aims to help kids who attend schools that don't have a jazz program.

Juanita Stevenson has lived and worked in Fresno for the past 24 years. She is perhaps best known to Valley residents as a longtime reporter and news anchor with local television station ABC30, and has also worked at stations KJWL, KYNO and ValleyPBS. She is the recipient of the 2001 Associated Press Award for Best Reporting, and the 1997 Radio & Television News Directors Association Regional Edward R. Murrow award for Best Reporting.