SMUD exploring new ways to keep vehicles from hitting power poles

SMUD Media  |  2017-09-29

SMUD has installed some measures to mitigate damage to power poles and other electrical equipment by vehicles hitting them. The measures are part of a pilot program designed to increase visibility of and provide some protection to the power poles and to motorists. SMUD has seen an increase in “car-pole” accidents in recent years. The work is part of SMUD’s efforts to enhance public and worker safety and the SMUD grid’s reliability. The photo  shows a “Raptor” power pole barrier being installed in Wilton, CA. Photo courtesy SMUD

Sharp rise in incidents can jeopardize safety and power reliability

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - SMUD is evaluating several measures to reduce the number of incidents that involve vehicles crashing into the electric utility’s infrastructure, especially power poles. The five-year pilot program aims to increase public and worker safety, and reduce the number of associated power outages.

SMUD data shows an increasing trend of these incidents annually. In 2006 for example, there were 153 “car-pole” accidents. In 2016, there were 271. Increased traffic volume, distracted and unsafe driving, as well as other factors are to blame, but the end result is the same: increased potential for public and worker safety hazards and more power outages.

The pilot program will focus on power poles and electrical equipment that’s been crashed into multiple times over the years. Measures include removing and relocating power poles; redesigning them; installing higher-visibility reflective strips; and installing large, high-visibility protective barriers, known as “Raptor” technology, around the power poles.

The Raptor is big and yellow. It is easily installed at the base of the pole and is designed to absorb the impact of a vehicle crash, sparing the power pole and preventing a power outage for SMUD customers. The Raptor has been used by other utilities and SMUD wants to see if they are a possible solution to improve safety, while making power poles more visible to motorists and more resilient to being damaged if a vehicle collides with the pole.

The main goal of the pilot is enhancing public and worker safety. SMUD takes public safety very seriously Power reliability is also key. While car-pole accidents comprise about five percent of all types of SMUD outages annually, they account for about a quarter of the overall average duration of outages for SMUD’s customers. SMUD’s Board of Directors, elected by SMUD customers to set policy, has made reliability one of SMUD’s core values, so it’s a priority for SMUD staff to fulfill it.

In addition to compromised reliability and safety, power outages caused by car-pole accidents cause loss of revenue to SMUD and increased costs for labor and materials to repair and replace damaged electrical infrastructure. For example, a pole replacement can cost more than $11,000 for the pole, the five-man crew to replace it and other associated expenses for each incident. Beyond SMUD’s costs, pole replacements can take eight hours or more and cost the community’s businesses lost revenue from power outages and associated traffic jams due to lane closures to make the repairs.

SMUD is doing its part to increase public and worker safety and reduce the frequency and duration of outages due to these traffic accidents. SMUD also urges motorists to do their part by driving safely, obeying traffic laws and avoiding anything that may cause distractions. For more information about SMUD and its commitment to public and worker safety, visit SMUD.org.

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Sacramento, CA (MPG) - Rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) continue to increase in California, according to new statistics from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). These diseases are reportable to the state and local health departments. The data are presented in CDPH’s 2016 STD Annual Report: a summary can also be found on CDPH’s website.

Over a quarter million cases of STDs were reported in 2016, a 40% increase compared to five years ago including, 198,503 cases of chlamydia, 64,677 of gonorrhea, and 11,222 of early syphilis. Particularly concerning to health officials, 207 cases of congenital syphilis were reported. If not caught early, syphilis during pregnancy can result in congenital syphilis leading to stillbirth or permanent, lifelong disabilities. Syphilis can also cause permanent loss of vision, hearing and other neurologic problems in adults. If left untreated, STDs can increase the risk of HIV infection and lead to lifelong reproductive health problems.

“The number of reported STDs in California is increasing at a concerning rate,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith. “This is the third year in a row that we have seen increases in chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.”

These three diseases can be prevented by consistent use of condoms, and they can be cured with antibiotics, so regular testing and treatment is very important, even for people who have no symptoms.  

Chlamydia and gonorrhea rates are highest among people under age 30. Rates of chlamydia are highest among young women, whereas males account for the majority of syphilis and gonorrhea cases.

Regular screening for STDs is recommended for people who are sexually active. STD services also provide opportunities for further prevention of HIV through testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.

“All Californians need to know how to protect themselves and their partners,” said Smith. “Getting tested regularly is one of the most important steps.” A directory of where to get tested can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage.

CDPH is collaborating with the California Department of Education and community groups to implement the newly enacted California Healthy Youth Act, which mandates comprehensive STD/HIV prevention education in schools. For more information, go to the CDPH Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control Branch website at www.cdph.ca.gov

Source: CDPH

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Volunteers Needed for AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program

By Anaí Ibarra, AARP  |  2017-09-22

Last year, 2,841 AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers helped more than 184,276 people file their federal and state tax returns. Photo courtesy AARP.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is the nation's largest volunteer-run tax preparation service

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is looking to expand its team of volunteers for the upcoming tax season. Soon approaching its 50th year, Tax-Aide offers free tax filing help to anyone, especially those 50 and older, who can’t afford a tax preparation service. Tax-Aide volunteers make a difference in their communities by assisting many older, lower-income taxpayers who might otherwise miss out on the credits and deductions they’ve earned.

A recent AARP survey of working Californians, entitled “CA Dreaming or Struggling,” reveals that a large percentage of Californians are not ready for retirement; and while they remain optimistic, many are struggling with issues of housing affordability and difficulty in saving for retirement.

Programs like Tax-Aide, says AARP California State Director Nancy McPherson, can help.

“Considering the difficulty many Californians are having making ends meet, a program like Tax Aide, which helps people save every dollar they can, is that much more valuable,” she said.

Tax-Aide volunteers receive training and support in a welcoming environment. There is need for volunteer tax preparers, client facilitators, those who can provide technical and management assistance and interpreters. Every level of experience is welcome. Volunteer tax preparers complete tax preparation training and IRS certification.

Last year, 2,841 AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers helped more than 184,276 people file their federal and state tax returns. The program is offered at approximately 378 sites in California, including senior centers, libraries and other convenient locations.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide has grown remarkably since its inaugural team of just four volunteers in 1968. The program now involves nearly 35,000 volunteers and serves 2.5 million taxpayers annually at some 5,000 sites nationwide with free tax help. In 2017 taxpayers who used AARP Foundation Tax-Aide received $1.37 billion in income tax refunds and more than $222 million in Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs). Taxpayers do not need to be a member of AARP or a retiree to use this program. 

To learn about our volunteer opportunities, visit www.aarpfoundation.org/taxaide  or call 1-888-OUR-AARP (1-888-687-2277). AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is offered in coordination with the IRS. 

AARP Foundation works to ensure that low-income older adults have nutritious food, affordable housing, a steady income, and strong and sustaining bonds.  AARP Foundation is the affiliated charity of AARP.      

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Hey Man, Let’s Talk Pot

By Corey Egel, CDPH  |  2017-09-18

CDPH Launches Cannabis Public Education Campaign

Sacramento, CA (MPG) - The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has launched a health information and education campaign about what’s legal in California and potential health impacts of cannabis use. Senate Bill 94 (SB 94) - Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) - makes it legal for adults 21 or older to possess, consume and cultivate cannabis in California. Sale of cannabis from licensed retail outlets will become legal January 1, 2018. 

CDPH received funding to develop a campaign, as detailed in SB 94, describes: The scientific basis for restricting access of cannabis and cannabis products for persons under the age of 21 years; The penalties for providing access to cannabis and cannabis products to persons under the age of 21 years; The potential harms of using cannabis while pregnant or breastfeeding; The potential harms of overusing cannabis or cannabis products.

“CDPH engaged in extensive conversations with stakeholders in California and partners in other states with legalized cannabis to target the most vulnerable populations and apply their lessons learned,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith. “We are committed to providing Californians with science-based information to ensure safe and informed choices.” CDPH has and will continue to incorporate the latest data available into public messages to increase awareness about how cannabis affects bodies, minds and health.

On CDPH’s website, individuals can find information about legal, safe and responsible use, and health information for youth, pregnant and breastfeeding women, parents and mentors, and health care providers. CDPH produced fact sheets with safe storage tips and the important things Californians need to know about purchasing and possessing cannabis for personal use. An educational digital toolkit for local governments and community organizations will be available in the future.                                                                                                                                               

For additional information, visit the Let’s Talk Cannabis web page at www.cdph.ca.gov

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Circus Vargas Comes to Town

MPG Staff  |  2017-09-18

Show Unveils Original New Production- SteamCirque!

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - Circus Vargas returns to to the Sacramento region, embarking on a brand new epic adventure under the big top! The biggest American, Animal-Free traveling Big Top circus is making a splash across California and will be entertaining the Sacramento area Residents from September 21 through October 15, 2017 with its latest hit production, SteamCirque!

The Big Show includes goggles, gears, and gadgets setting the stage for Circus Vargas’ retro-futuristic new production.  Join them on a journey of fantastic proportions where children of all ages will marvel at the wacky and wonderful cast of characters that come alive in this exciting steampunk, science- fiction fantasy inspired circus odyssey!

Arrive 45 minutes early for an entertaining, interactive pre-show celebration, where kids can create their own magic under the big top, learning circus skills such as juggling, balancing and more!   Meet and mingle with the entire cast after each performance.  Capture the fun by posing for pics or selfies with your favorite cast members, all part of an unforgettable Circus Vargas experience!

The Storyline presents an eccentric group of adventure seekers stumble upon a traveling circus in an imaginary Victorian city, far, far-away. SteamCirque’s peculiar protagonist, part magician-part inventor, attempts to industrialize the circus by incorporating his steam powered mechanical contraptions into the ordinary, typical circus rigging, filling the big top with new,  imaginative acrobatic apparatus for the artists to perform their acts. It becomes a test of wills, the  steampunkers versus the circus folk,  who will win? Audiences will have to come and see to find out!!

For Circus Vargas performance dates, times and to purchase tickets, visit www.circusvargas.com, call 877-GOTFUN-1 (877-468-3861) or visit the box office at each location.

Follow Circus Vargas on Facebook and Twitter for updates, discounts and behind the scenes video.

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Healing Invisible Wounds

By Elise Spleiss  |  2017-09-14

Program graduates of SPARTA  and Go Give 2 Live programs. Photos by Go Give to Live.

Veterans Day Golf Tournament to Aid Veterans, First Responders with PTSD

Sacramento Region (CA) (MPG) - “We are dedicated to healing the invisible wounds of war and service.” This is the motto of Go Give 2 Live, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit working with The SPARTA Project to help local veterans, police, fire and emergency personnel get the care they need to recover from the stress and trauma they have experienced in the line of duty. 

The SPARTA Project, the nation’s premiere program for helping warriors and first responders with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) provides an intensive 5½ day retreat in Southern California to rehabilitate veterans/first responders. To help balance the demanding work, participants enjoy activities such as rock climbing, a rope course, equine therapy and meditation.  

SPARTA has asked Go Give 2 Live to provide further resources to help them in their aftercare. Formed in January of 2015 Go Give 2 Live raises funds to support already established non-profits that have a proven record of helping veterans and first responders get the help they need to recover from the stress and trauma caused by their jobs. According to program founder Lindsey Hutchison, most of the veterans in their programs are police officers, and local veterans returning from Afghanistan.

Lindsey and her team of volunteers are aware of local resources to help these men and women in the county where they live. Local programs include Joy House, a transitional sober living home with a focus on women veterans, and programs using the healing quality of horses and dogs to help transform their lives. A Community for Peace located in Citrus Heights offers a men’s support group and a crisis center for victims and survivors of domestic violence, family violence, and sexual assault. 

What sets Go Give 2 Live apart from other veteran recovery programs is the ongoing support graduates receive to keep them involved in their own recovery.

Being active in their community helps give survivors a new purpose in life.

Another important aspect of ongoing recovery is the creation of care packages of journals, educational books, pamphlets to local resources and other items send to graduates on an ongoing basis.  

Following their own success in the program, graduates are encouraged to become a shepherd or mentor to new participants to the program.

Volunteers working with Give2Live also aid emergency responders during disasters in counties throughout California. Presently they have a team of 14 volunteers actively working with six veterans who survived the Mariposa fire, doing home health checks and taking care of their pets. They also built a wheelchair ramp for a relocated veteran and provided a refrigerator full of food for one man whose home had been a total loss. They also assist in relocating animals affected by the fires. 

A future vision of Lindsey’s is to acquire or build a facility to create a one-day therapy camp where participants can come and go anonymously to work on their own unique issues in a safe environment.

To help provide funds for these programs Go Give 2 Live is hosting a Golf Tournament at Top Golf in Roseville CA on Veterans Day, November 11, 2017. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For every $1,500 raised, one veteran or first responder will go through SPARTA’s much-needed life changing program. The hope is to raise enough funds from the tournament to cover three or four attendees to this program along with the Go Give 2 Live services.  One hundred percent of funds raised will go right to the programs and aftercare. Player ticket packages range from $100 and up. Sponsors can pay for a veteran or first responder to play. For information on participating as a player, sponsor or vendor go to www.GoGive2Live.org. and click on projects or call 1-866-306-4569.

Lindsey Hutchison holds an MBA in Business Finance from Grand Canyon University, a BFA in Design & Marketing, and an AA in Business Management. She currently is employed in her family business, Hutchison Financial Group, working as an Account Manager/Insurance Agent. She is a member of Capital Region Family Business Center and the Roseville Chamber of Commerce, She is actively involved in her community, and has been on multiple mission trips outside of the county to help those less fortunate. Her passion has always been to help others. She has been involved in charities and nonprofits her whole life. This passion led to the formation of Go Give 2 Live, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization designed to provide much needed programs and services to veterans and first responders.

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Starting a Small Business in Sac County? Get in Line

By Jacqueline Fox  |  2017-09-14

What could possibly be taking so long? Photo by Paul Scholl

County’s Small Business Start-ups Hampered by Bureaucracy
 
Sacramento County, CA (MPG) - Pent up demand in many parts of unincorporated Sacramento County, and the county proper for retail food chains and other small businesses, some developers and business groups say, is being stalled under the multiple layers of bureaucracy built into the county’s complex permitting process and related issues.

Even opening a franchise for one of the country’s largest and perhaps best-loved food and drink chains can take years.  Case in point: Jamba Juice, which has been pushing to open its first location in Carmichael for more than a year.  The wildly popular fresh juice and smoothie maker, originally slated for opening in August at Carmichael Village on Fair Oaks Boulevard, is once again pushing back its opening to late October, due in large part to set-backs in the permitting approval process, according to Brooks Erickson of Carmichael Village, LLC, developers of the retail complex.

Construction and the permitting process for Jamba Juice began more than 24 months ago. Meanwhile, next door, Wing Stop’s approval took nearly a year to green light.  It followed the oft-stalled opening of Noah’s Bagels, also in the complex, which opened its doors in 2015.

With two open spaces left to fill at Carmichael Village, Erickson wonders how long it will take him to get the green light for what he hopes will be one more food and drink outfit and potentially a small medical related service provider to complete the development project.

“I would say it is a complex process and also can be very surprising when you think you have crossed every “T” and dotted every “I” to find out that you have to keep waiting,” Erickson said.  “I respect the idea of (the permitting and vetting process) being necessary, but it absolutely seems very burdensome.  Even after you’ve won approval for the project, you’re waiting on all kinds of things to be approved just to get construction done.”

Erickson said Jamba Juice is just one of many examples of the frustration he and other developers, not to mention the franchisees and owners, face when it comes to dealing with the county permitting process, which includes clearance requirements from multiple agencies, usually at different intervals in the build out process, including health and safety, the fire department, and ADA regulators, each of which can potentially stall a previously approved permit or plan from one department with a non-compliance order or demand for changes to meet their own department’s regulations. 

A green lighted set of blueprints can hit a number of snags in the process, ranging from issues pertaining to noncompliance with ADA regulations or county fire and electrical system guidelines, to equipment model makes and locations and flooring types, as well as overall construction plans for new infrastructures or remodeling of existing ones.

“What puzzles me is that somebody like Jamba with a national brand would have so much difficulty with our little county,” Erickson said.  “It’s a puzzle to have so many different rounds of changes.”

Linda Melody, executive director of the Carmichael Chamber of Commerce agrees the county’s permitting process often holds up construction plans for many small retailers, specifically eateries.  Carmichael’s revival along the Fair Oaks Boulevard corridor is enjoying a wave of expansion in the retail food sector.  But the growth is being hampered at various levels and she and chamber members are eager to see the momentum continue.

Melody said her agency would like to see pre-approved permitting requirements for existing retail spaces grandfathered in when approvals have been given for one area as others are considered, and that a true one-stop agency for blueprinting approval right down to the plumbing and electrical code sign-off would help.

“I have a hard time with the county penalizing businesses who have already had components of their projects signed off on get rejected at another level and then see them have to go back to the beginning of the process,” Melody said. “You always hear the politicians talk about how much they love business but the rules are often not really all that business friendly.”

Diann Rogers, president and CEO of the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce, said her agency has long-been fielding similar complaints about the permitting process and that mitigating those concerns remains one of her agencies top priorities.

“Are there glitches, yes,” says Rogers.  “But in terms of the challenges, it is all over the board and it really depends on what type of business you’re talking about and which layers of permitting and departments they have to go to.”

Rogers said the Rancho Cordova department of economic development is preparing to launch a new “concierge” service to help business owners understand and work their way through the permitting process.

“It can be daunting,” said Rogers, adding that she did not have specifics about the new program yet.  “I know the goal is to help them navigate the process,” she said.  “I also can say that we have a (city) council that is open and willing to hear these issues, so they do listen to the biz community.” 

Evan Jacobs co-chairs the economic development committee for the Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce. He said the chamber is aware of the ongoing issues of “complexity” involved with the permitting process and insists it is an issue of ongoing concern and discussion.

“We are working collaboratively with the city to see more layers of bureaucracy removed from the process in order to both retain and attract businesses to the area,” said Jacobs.  “I know we and many other advocates are out there working toward finding a way to put a focus on this issue and see how we can make it easier for businesses to set up shop. There are many complexities involved.”

Troy Givens, director of the Sacramento County Department of Economic Development agreed that the process for setting up a small business in the county can be burdensome, particularly for a restaurant, where you have many health code requirements in play. He adds, however, that the county is always pushing to improve the process, noting the availability of free and confidential programs established to help business owners navigate the permitting process.

“We know there can be difficulties, especially for smaller business owners, but we are always looking at how we can make the process more user friendly,” said Givens.  

Givens referred to the county’s Business Environmental Resource Center (BERC) launched in 1993.  BERC provides confidential support for new and existing businesses as they make their way through the initial phases of setting up shop.  The county, he added, also recently brought in a small business liaison to help potential new business owners with financing-related questions and support.  Many of the frustrations, he says, often stem from the varying number of scenarios that arise with every start-up, whether related to health permit issues or basic blueprint snags, and whether they are a fast-food operation or a clothing retailer.

“We have a service under our department that is free and confidential, which takes a look at the permitting process at the local, state and even the federal levels and helps businesses navigate the system,” said Givens. “We do what we can to help make the process go as quickly as possible.”

Givens said a typical time frame for a franchise like Jamba Juice should be roughly 90-120 days and, while he doesn’t know the specifics of what may be holding up the clearance for Jamba Juice in Carmichael, he would be happy to sit down with Erickson or any other business owner to help figure out where the snags are and how to expedite the process.

“I’m more than happy to meet with Mr. Erickson and other developers to try to figure out if there is a certain area where we can step in,” Givens said.

The county also has a fast track program to help certain projects speed through the permitting process, however, there are specific qualifiers. For instance, a commercial or industrial project must create a minimum of 50 new and permanent jobs or show it will generate at least $10 million in annual taxable sales.  Neither of these options are likely for a small franchise, Jamba Juice included.  Even if the revenue was in place, most fast-casual eateries employ part time workers.

Tom Scott is the state executive director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses based in Sacramento. His agency advocates for roughly 22,000 small and independently owned business members in California and thousands more nationwide.   Scott said the layers of bureaucracy at the county with respect to permits are so imbedded and years in the making, a one-stop shop wouldn’t put a dent in the problem, as it stretches way beyond the permitting process and in to areas concerning housing, rising rent costs, California’s business taxes, (one of the highest in the nation according to recent studies), zoning issues, as well as employment-related legal complexities and wages.

“There’s been a Carl’s Junior effect in California for years,” said Scott, referring to 2014 plans by the Southern California-based CKE Restaurants/Carl’s Junior Restaurants, LLC to expand in the state. Faced with wait times of up to two years to expand in the state, the company moved into Texas and Nevada, where wait-times are roughly only two to three months.

Scott, who also sits on the planning commission for the city of Folsom, said the slow-pace of permitting and approving new eateries and other small businesses is rampant across all parts of unincorporated Sacramento County and the city proper.  In some cases, there just aren’t enough people to push applications through. In others, the rules are simply too draconian and driving business out.

“This problem is happening all over, and it’s not just permitting,” says Scott.  “It’s a chain reaction of things, and the bureaucracy has been building up for decades.  Everyone wants the revenue from small business, everyone agrees small business is the backbone of our economy.  But, on the other hand, they have created such a bureaucratic mess. So the real question is: OK, how do they undo it?”

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