Saturday News Briefs

July 15, 2011 9:00pm
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•  Will Valley farmers derail the bullet train?

•  Grape crop looking good, despite the weather

•  Plus, 15 minutes of aim….

Aim here!

Distinguished professor Bruce Hammock taunts his fellow water warriors with his hat.

See last item in Briefs

(Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Arrest made in elder abuse case that may span the Valley

Joseph Varrella, 48, whose hometown was not immediately available, has been arrested by Fresno County Sheriff’s deputies on 21 felony counts of elder abuse and insurance fraud charges.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims says Mr. Varrella’s arrest is in connection with the swindling of a 67-year-old woman who lives in a retirement facility in Stockton.

Detectives say the woman was the victim of mortgage fraud, insurance fraud, and potentially bankruptcy fraud perpetrated by Mr. Varrella.

According to the sheriff’s office, he concocted an elaborate scheme to defraud elderly women and their insurance companies, using the victims’ insurance to file false theft claims. Upon receiving insurance reimbursement, he used the money to purchase large amounts of personal items. Adding insult to injury he then stole the previously reported stolen items.

Detectives recovered at least $150,000 worth of jewelry, stereo equipment, and tools that had been fraudulently reported as stolen and had insurance claims paid. Detectives also recovered $20,000 in cash.


Lawmakers probe bullet train’s impact on Valley agriculture

With threats of a farmers’ lawsuit to derail the proposed California High-Speed Rail service in the air, two state senators listened to concerns at a meeting in Merced Friday.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, hosted the joint informational hearing about the impact of high-speed rail on California’s agriculture industry.

“With the first section of California’s high-speed rail system proposed to be built right through the heart of our state’s most fertile agriculture region, it is important that we fully understand the impact the project will have on this multibillion-dollar industry,” says Mr. Cannella.

Kings County farmers are threatening a lawsuit challenging the environmental impact report for the bullet train’s Valley route, once it is released by Aug. 12. The agribusiness interests say a proposed route east of Hanford would be too distruptive to their operations.

But rail officials say the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are opposed to putting the tracks in either the I-5 corridor or along Highway 99.


Despite cool, wet weather, grape crop is holding its own

The California grape forecast for this year is now estimated at 6.7 million tons, down less than 1 percent from last year’s crop, according to a new report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Here are the specifics:

• The wine grape forecast is 3.4 million tons, down 6 percent from last season.

• The expected table grape production is 1.1 million tons, up 9 percent from 2010.

• The raisin grape production is forecast at 2.2 million tons, an increase of 6 percent from last year’s crop.

This year’s California grape crop is one to two weeks behind normal, due to the cool and wet spring.

Bunch counts are reported to be down significantly from last year for wine grapes, but up for Thompsons. Frost damage in the spring affected some areas of the state, but the extent of the damage is still unknown.

Mildew and fungus have been a problem for many growers, due to the wet weather.


Fresno State sets deadlines for spring 2012 admissions

California State University, Fresno says it will begin accepting applications Aug. 1 for admission of returning students, upper division transfer students, graduate and post-baccalaureate students for the spring 2012 semester. The application deadline is Aug. 31.

However, the university is closed to applications for spring 2012 to first-time freshmen, lower-division transfer students, second baccalaureate (except nursing) and post-baccalaureate unclassified students.

The spring 2012 admission cycle is based upon anticipated funding to accommodate enrollment growth for 2011-12. Because of that, admissions will be made on a space-available basis, says Vivian Franco, director of Admissions, Records and Evaluations at Fresno State.

The university is impacted at the transfer level and will implement supplementary screening criteria for admission.

Based on space availability, upper-division transfer applicants from the following community colleges will be accommodated first: College of the Sequoias, Fresno City College, Merced Community College, Modesto Community College, Reedley College, West Hills Community College and West Hills College-Lemoore.

Transfer applicants from other colleges or universities will be considered on a space available basis if they have a minimum 2.70 GPA.


Community forum sponsored by Restore the Delta

Celebrate the Delta, Restore the Delta’s community forum, is scheduled for Friday, July 29 at the San Joaquin County Administration Building in downtown Stockton.

The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 7:15 a.m. The program will run from 8 to 9:30 a.m.

Featured speakers include event facilitator, Stockton City Council member Susan Talamantes Eggman; retired state Sen. Mike Machado; water attorney Dante Nomellini; Delta Chambers Executive Director Bill Wells; outdoor writer Pete Ottesen and Delta land owners Mike Robinson and Rogene Reynolds.

“Our goal is for area residents to grow in appreciation of the historical, cultural, environmental, and economic importance of the Delta. We also want the public to understand what is happening presently with Delta planning processes, and to think about what is at stake for the future of our region,” says Restore the Delta’s Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla.

Topics covered at the forum will include a history of Delta agriculture and reclamation, a look at the history of water exports, the impacts of new conveyance on Delta communities, the value of the Delta recreation and fishing communities, and a dialogue on the future.


Fifteen minutes of aim

As scientists, they know water by its chemical formula of H2O: two parts hydrogen combined with one part oxygen.

But for 15 minutes a year, they think of it as the key substance inside balloons.

Three dozen scientists at the University of California, Davis, left their labs Friday afternoon for the ninth annual Bruce Hammock Water Balloon Battle, held on the Briggs Hall lawn.

They tossed 2,000 pre-filled water balloons in 15 minutes, amounting to “15 Minutes of Aim” or “Bruce’s Big Balloon Battle at Briggs.”

Mr. Hammock, a distinguished professor of entomology, launched the water balloon fest in 2003 as a way to build camaraderie and gain relief from the heat. Christophe Morisseau, associate research scientist in the Hammock lab, coordinates the annual event.

When it was all over, the scientists, including professors, visiting scientists, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and undergraduates, picked up the balloon remnants and went home.

Mr. Hammock, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the Entomological Society of America, holds a joint appointment in cancer research with the UC Davis Medical Center. He directs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Superfund Program on the UC Davis campus, as well as the National Institutes of Health training program in biotechnology and the NIEHS combined analytical laboratory.

But for 15 minutes a year, he helps turn the Briggs Hall lawn into a waterfest.

Or an H2O battle.

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