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Shaking my head over the bellyaching over a positive project

There’s a whole lot of social media bellyaching about something good and positive coming to Ceres.

I’m referring to the social media comments in response to our article about Whitmore Towers, the proposed commercial development to be located inside the triangular shaped parcel across the street from Ceres High School’s office, dogpiling on city officials for allowing it.

While it appears folks are not opposed to the project itself they seem to think the location is already impacted by traffic, probably because they are used to the traffic jams in the morning and when school lets out.

Honestly, Whitmore Towers is a very attractive and innovative project for an odd-shaped block that was created courtesy of Caltrans which designed the improved Whitmore overpass.

The modern design reminds me of the Ceres Community Center. The building would specifically accommodate up to seven retail spaces with a variety of uses to serve residents and highway travelers. The building is proposed to be divided into three separate food-oriented tenant spaces with two outdoor seating areas – one on the roof – and a foyer that would accommodate the customers of those restaurant users. As proposed, one 4,300-square-foot sit-down restaurant would be created, along with a 1,200-square-foot fast-food restaurant, and a 1,200-square-foot ice cream shop. Sounds like a convenient place for teachers and staff to eat there as well.

Keep in mind that the site and its 52 parking stalls will be accessed from two driveway entrances, one from Herndon Way on the west and the other along Central Way on the east – no access along Whitmore Avenue. Both driveways will be configured for right-in and right-out only turning movements, thereby reducing potential traffic conflicts.

Bramby Krutsinger posted on our Facebook page: “It already takes 45 min to get from the high school to the freeway on a school day! This should be a parking lot for students and/or faculty!”

There is a slight problem with her idea; the school district did not buy the parcel (someone else did) so CUSD cannot develop it into a parking lot (despite it being used temporarily as a dirt parking area).

A bunch of comments slammed the project. Nino Abriol commented: “Whoever put this plan together needs to step down.”

A lot of folks are under the false impression that the city is responsible for specific businesses in Ceres. The way it works is that parcels are zoned. This parcel was zoned HC that allows for highway commercial since it’s located next to the freeway and will be serving Highway 99 travelers as well as locals.

So development is up to the ones with money to buy the land and build the buildings. If the code allows proposed uses, planning commissions and city councils are pretty much obligated to approve them. You can’t, for example, deny another car wash just because Ceres might have “too many.” If the city allows one car wash and not another on the same zoned property, it can be sued.

So, no, Nino Abriol, nobody needs to step down. 

Debbie Vega issued this bizarre rebuke: “How stupid. You have Service rd. that needs to be widened. Empty Walmart, Kmart and San Miguel’s building. But lets build something in the middle of the worst Intersection ever made. No common sense.”

To follow her logic, all empty buildings in town must be filled before a developer can build a new project on his land. Keep in mind that there was a lot of community bellyaching when the long-vacant Kmart building was proposed for a Public Storage with additional businesses on the perimeter of Hatch and Herndon.

And why is that intersection the “worst ever,” as she calls it? The project will draw far less traffic for its 52-stall parking lot than most people think. I’d bet 52 cars stream down Whitmore Avenue in two minutes past that location.

I would still hope that people value rights of property owners to enjoy the use of their property if in accordance to local zoning ordinances.

* * * * *

Newsom just can’t let go of his power trip.

On Friday the governor offered no timeline for ending the statewide coronavirus emergency, meaning he will continue to wield broad authority to change or suspend state laws in response to the pandemic.

Newsom has used that authority to issue 561 orders since the pandemic began, ranging from delaying deadlines for filing taxes to a statewide stay-at-home order that put millions of people out of work and killed a lot of small businesses.

Newsom began lifting many of those orders last summer, when he declared the state had “reopened” following a decline in new cases and hospitalizations. But he issued more orders in the winter in response to the omicron surge.

Newsom announced Friday he was terminating an additional 52 orders, leaving 30 in place.

Republicans are infuriated and want the state lawmakers to loosen their grip. Assemblyman Kevin Kiley said it’s “outrageous that the governor would recognize there is no longer a need for these executive orders but he nevertheless wants to cling to the extraordinary powers he has exercised for the last two years. We don’t need one person making decisions on behalf of 40 million.”

No wonder California lost over 100,000 residents last year to states which are less controlling.

* * * * *

I know I’ve harped about it before but each trip to Southern California makes my blood boil seeing the monstrous cement bridges for high-speed rail. That’s the multi-billion dollar boondoggle to build a fast rail between Bakersfield and Merced. I know, I know, you’re going to tell me that’s just one leg; that it will be an L.A. to San Francisco connection. Yes, but when and how much money? And who will ride it?

My blood boils because there are sections of Highway 99 that are still two lanes going one direction. The backups are atrocious. It’s no different than state water policy: keep adding people but do little about infrastructure, whether it’s road widening or water storage. There are far more important priorities than the high-speed rail. There is an endless list of crises from homelessness, to an uptick in crimes, to drought and water storage shortage, to affordable housing.

The Assembly Republicans are livid about the High Speed Rail Business Plan which lacks an adopted budget, transparency and accountability.

Last week, the executives at the High-Speed Rail Authority testified before the Assembly Budget Subcommittee to defend their business plan. In its submission of the Draft 2022 Business Plan, the Authority asked the Legislature to trust their proposal to spend billions of taxpayers’ monies with idealistic revenue assumptions, unrealistic costs and no approved budget.

For the past 14 years, the High-Speed Rail Authority has made many grandiose promises with the public – only to disappoint at every turn.

Assembly Republicans oppose the High-Speed Rail Authority’s request for an additional $4.2 billion. Keep in mind that the total cost was expected to be $40 billion in 2008 when voters first approved a $10 billion bond for the project. However, the latest draft plan shows the project could cost up to $105 billion to finish!

In their opposition, they cite:

1. No budget provided. Without a budget, costs are unknown. The Business Plan effectively tells the Legislature, “provide the money first and then we’ll tell you how we plan to spend it.” 

2. The proposal is not affordable. The costs of current and future construction will be higher. Inflation assumptions are wrong. Cost estimates assume an inflation rate of 2.25 percent, not the current 7.5%.

There is the misleading and unrealistic “best case” revenue scenario. The Business Plan includes a wildly optimistic revenue assumption that the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) does not endorse. However, the Authority deceptively attributes it to the LAO.

The Business Plan assumes that federal funding will rescue the project and there’s no guarantee of that.

3. The Business Plan takes important pieces of the project and defers them to the future like the cost of test trains. This sleight of hand allows costs to be taken off the books, making cost projections appear stable even as costs rise. 

4. The plan offers no timetable for completing current construction work for the 119 miles between Madera and Shafter. Because the rest of the plan hinges on this backbone segment, the lack of a schedule is a critical omission.

5. More than 900 change orders on the three major construction contracts. Approximately 550 of these change orders have been okayed by Newsom.

Oversight over change orders is reduced to a brief notification to the 11-member board of directors.

Key discussions about the project’s budget and risks are being held in secret. 

* * * * *

The theft of catalytic converters made headlines in 2020, as police departments nationwide and car insurance companies reported a record surge of criminals stealing the part, which is laden with precious metals that help clean car exhaust.

An analysis by BeenVerified found thefts through 2021 more than quadrupled all catalytic converter thefts in 2020—and the trend shows no signs of slowing down this year.

Catalytic converter thefts more than quadrupled in 2021. BeenVerified estimates there were 65,398 thefts nationwide – a 353% increase from all reported thefts of catalytic converters in 2020, a previous record year for these thefts.

There were 14,433 reported stolen in 2020 and only 3,389 thefts were reported in 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

Not surpringly, California is the top state for theft (18,026) last year.

Catalytic converters contain platinum, palladium or rhodium, precious metals that have seen their value skyrocket over the past two years. The theft of a catalytic converter can be done in minutes by culprits, who then resell to recyclers for between $50 and $250 per part. The cost to repair is between $1,000 and $3,000.

Here’s what you can do:

• Consider installing a catalytic converter anti-theft device in your vehicle.

• If possible, park in a locked garage.

• If not possible, make sure it’s parked in a well-lit area or install motion-activated lights and security cameras.

• In public parking garages and lots, park near the front of the building or other where pedestrian traffic is high.

• Engrave your vehicle VIN and phone number into your catalytic converter.


This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation. How do you feel about this? Let Jeff know at