Why do we keep building in fire-prone areas? Money is one reason

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Emily Guerin

Monday, Oct. 22, 2018

Why do we keep building in fire-prone areas? Money is one reason

YORBA LINDA, Calif. – It’s a real-estate paradox: The most desirable places to live also are among the most susceptible to wildfires.Mansions in the Santa Monica Mountains, tiny cabins tucked into the Angeles National Forest and homes at the edges of subdivisions all are beautiful because they’re surrounded by undeveloped land. But that land is a tinderbox.Every year in California, there seems to be a bigger, crazier, more destructive wildfire. But every year, new houses go up in their path. And it’s not just some houses, but thousands – more than 85,000 new houses in high fire risk areas in Los Angeles County alone, from 1990 to 2010.Shouldn’t we know better by now? Why do we keep building houses in places that are likely to burn? I’ve reported countless wildfires over the years and this question continues to come up.To answer it, I examined a housing development proposed for an undeveloped swath of land in Orange County north of Yorba Linda. Esperanza Hills is a fancy development: 340 multimillion-dollar homes on a gated, dead-end street.It definitely fits the definition of high-risk – 10 years ago, a wildfire completely scorched the land Esperanza Hills would be built on. And Cal Fire – the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection – calls the entire site a “very high fire hazard severity zone,” a wonky term for an area that’s likely to burn again in the next 30 to 50 years.That matters because fire ecologists say where – and not how – you build your house is the most important factor in determining whether it will burn.“There are many cases where you can do everything right, but if you’re in a very risky location, your house can burn down,” said fire ecologist Alexandra Syphard, who has been studying wildfires for 20 years.Building with modern, fire-resistant materials, clearing 100 feet or more of brush from around your house — those things can help, but if you put your house in a fire-prone place, Syphard says, such measures are mere Band-Aids.‘The most dangerous site … you could pick’On Nov. 15, 2008, a small brush fire started near California State Route 91, which lies in a corridor for Santa Ana winds. The fire raced west, connected with another blaze and torched the entire Esperanza Hills site before moving south into Yorba Linda and burning 381 homes. The Freeway Complex Fire was one of the most destructive in Orange County history.The evacuation was chaotic, recalls Ed Schumann, who was among those who lost their homes. Streets were gridlocked. Kids were running down the sidewalks with their pets. At one point, a teenage boy got out of his car to direct traffic because no one else was doing it.[caption id="attachment_101356" align="alignright" width="300"] Melanie Schlotterbeck, a consultant for nonprofit Hills for Everyone, shows the history of fires in the region. (Photo courtesy of James Bernal/KPCC)[/caption]To Schumann and other Yorba Linda residents, the idea of adding 340 houses and residents and vehicles to that mess is frightening.“Evacuating that many more people with the same infrastructure, it’s a scary thought,” he said.It’s why Kevin Johnson, a lawyer for one of the environmental groups that sued over the Esperanza Hills project, delaying it for years, calls the location “probably the most dangerous site in Southern California you could pick to put 340 new families into.”Meet the developerSo, why would anyone want to build in such a risky place? I reached out to the developer behind the project, Douglas Wymore.He has his reasons. First, he believes he can build these houses, on this site, safely.“I disagree with somebody that just comes in and says, ‘Oh, anytime that you put something next to an open-space area that’s a very high fire (hazard) zone, you can’t protect it,'” he said. “I think the bottom line is you can mitigate it, you can protect it.”And Wymore is doing a lot to protect it. All the houses will be “hardened” – in other words, built using fire-resistant materials as required by state building code, including sprinklers in the attic.He’s planning at least 170 feet of defensible space around the homes. There will be two on-site water tanks for firefighting. And two entrances, one for emergencies, one for everyday use (local residents say this is insufficient, and point to the multiple tight turns on the main entrance, but Wymore is doing what is required under the county’s fire standards).Second, by building modern, fire-resistant homes in the path of a wildfire, Wymore believes he is protecting everyone else in the area whose houses may not be up to the latest building codes. His project, he contends, will act as a fire buffer for older, more flammable homes.And third, he says, people want to live here.“The bottom line is, there’s a demand for people that want to live in those areas for obvious reasons,” Wymore said. “And so if you’re going to take on the task of satisfying that demand and building a project, I think you have a responsibility to make sure you do what’s necessary to make your development safe.”Follow the moneyThat’s why the developer wants to build. But given the obvious risks, why would the Orange County Board of Supervisors approve this project?Well, to start, it will generate $8.25 million a year in property taxes. And since voters passed Proposition 13 in California in 1978, which limited how much property tax bills can go up each year, cities and counties haven’t seen their tax revenue increase as housing values rise.“Prop 13 handcuffs local jurisdictions in finding additional revenue,” said Howard Penn, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League. “They can raise sales tax or build more homes. There’s not a lot of ways to get more revenue.”It’s also worth mentioning that since 2011, Wymore has donated nearly $50,000 to the re-election campaigns of several members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, none of whom would talk to me for this story.Wymore was frank about why: “If you put political donations in, whether those people agree with you or don’t agree with you, they will at least give you an opportunity to sit down with them and listen. Which maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t do otherwise.”[related-story-right box-title="Related story" link="https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2018/10/22/western-wildfires-will-increase-climate-change/" image="https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Ventura-strong-800.jpg" headline="Western wildfires will increase because of climate change, UA researchers say"]Although none of the county supervisors wanted to talk, you can get a pretty good sense of why most of them support it from things they said at previous public meetings about the development. One big reason is the classic private-property rights argument: Wymore owns the land, and he should be able to develop it as he sees fit.“I don’t have any reason to now deprive someone of the right to use their property,” Chairman Andrew Do said at a May 2017 meeting.Another big reason? Fire officials had given Esperanza Hills the green light. “If the fire department is satisfied, I’m not inclined to argue with them. I’m not a fireman,” Supervisor Shawn Nelson said.Deputy fire marshal Timothy Kerbrat of the Orange County Fire Authority said the preliminary plans for Esperanza Hills met all the state and local requirements for building in a high-risk area.“Do they have access, do they have water, do they have defensible space, do they have hardened structures that they can protect? Are all those things occuring? And in the Esperanza project, that’s the things that I’m seeing. That it’s occurring,” he said.Although the supervisors approved the project in May 2017, an Orange County environmental group sued and a judge overturned the approval, which is why Esperanza Hills was back in front of supervisors again on Sept. 25. And, despite continued opposition from some homeowners, the board approved the project 4-1 – prompting one homeowner to shout, “See you in court!”Taxpayers on the hookThere’s another factor here: The Orange County Fire Authority will get just more than $1 million a year in revenue from the Esperanza Hills project.And if a large wildfire breaks out, the agency likely won’t have to spend much of its own money to protect this neighborhood. That’s because state and federal agencies largely reimburse local fire departments for the costs of firefighting.Back in 2008, for example, the Orange County Fire Authority spent $2.3 million fighting the Freeway Complex Fire, but 94 percent of those costs were reimbursed.“The irony is that we, as taxpayers, are paying for the protection of homes that are built in high-risk areas,” said Kimiko Barrett, a researcher at the Montana-based think tank Headwaters Economics.You read that right: When a big fire breaks out and threatens houses built in risky places, you and I are the ones picking up the bill.Kerbrat, the deputy fire marshal, staunchly denies that money or firefighting costs play any role in approving developments.“I’ve never heard firefighters, or a fire agency, talk in that manner,” he said. “It’s not in our thought process. We don’t think of this as a business, for profit.”Barrett, however, calls the situation a moral hazard.“The consequences actually aren’t borne by the people who are approving these developments,” she said.And it’s not just Barrett with this assessment: The Office of Inspector General agreed in a 2006 report.“If state and local agencies became more financially responsible for (wildland-urban interface) protection, it would likely encourage these agencies to more actively implement land use regulations that minimize risk to people and structures from wildfire,” they wrote.But until this case of misaligned incentives changes, Barrett says, we’re going to keep building in risky areas. Nearly 1 million new houses in California could be built in these areas before 2050.Perhaps that’s why Wymore chose to call his project Esperanza – the word means “hope” in Spanish.This story is part of an Elemental series “Fire in the Neighborhood” about fire danger in cities and surrounding areas.This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal. Read more

Western wildfires will increase because of climate change, UA researchers say

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Emily Fohr

Monday, Oct. 22, 2018

Western wildfires will increase because of climate change, UA researchers say

VENTURA, Calif. – Arizona is no stranger to gigantic wildfires, such as the Wallow Fire in 2011, which burned more than half a million acres and destroyed dozens of buildings. California has experienced two of the largest fires in its history within the past year.These wildfires are going to become more of the norm in the decades to come, according to new research from the University of Arizona.Don Falk, a professor at the university’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment, along with a team of experts, used 35 years of climate and forest-fire data to study the relationship between seasonal climate and how much land wildfires destroy.Their published research shows Western states will see an increase in how much land will burn within the next two decades. Falk said this spike is created by fires of all sizes, not just catastrophic fires such as the 2017 Thomas Fire in Southern California, which killed two people and destroyed more than 1,000 structures and 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. It took six months to extinguish.“Will we see California-type fires in the future?” Falk asked. “I don’t want to be a prophet of doom. I’m a scientist, but I would have to say yes.”Longer fire seasons play a role in his predictions. His team’s research shows that fire season in many parts of the West now begins in March and continues through October.“You’ve got maybe 50 percent more time during each year for a fire to continue to burn. So that’s part of why the area burned could be increased dramatically in the future,” he said.Falk said it all boils down to one thing: climate change.“This is why the study, we think, is so important, because it clearly ties the increase in wildfire area to the inescapable reality of climate change,” he said.[caption id="attachment_101329" align="alignright" width="300"] Suzette and Tom Privitelli of Ventura, California, lived in a house on this land for 18 years. Their home burned to the ground in the Thomas Fire last December. They plan to rebuild on this land. (Photo by Emily Fohr/ Cronkite News)[/caption]Wildfires multiply the effects of climate change because trees quickly die off and animals are displaced, Falk said. This usually takes decades to happen.“Wildfires can make that happen literally overnight,” he said. Suzette and Tom Privitelli of Ventura, California, know all too well the power of these huge wildfires. They lost their home of 18 years, and everything in it, to the Thomas Fire last December.Suzette Privitelli remembers watching the fire climb over the mountains behind their home.“They’re (fire officials) going to tell you, ‘Walk out of your house,’” she said. “You’ve got one little duffle bag, you lock your door and you never go back.”The Privitellis are renting a home while they rebuild on their property.“You can’t live your life in complete fear,” Suzette Privitelli said. “I’m not going to let this ruin my life.”Falk said the West isn’t necessarily an unsafe place to live just because the threat of increased wildfires exists.“We can certainly build and site our developments in areas that would be safe,” he said. “That would provide ways to get out, and we’d be less likely to be exposed to fire in the first place.”Arizona wildfires have burned more than 150,000 acres in the past year. More than 1 million acres have burned in California at an estimated cost of $770 million.This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.Connect with us on Facebook. Read more

Tribal officials, Democrats push back on 9th Circuit judicial nominee

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Daniel Perle

Monday, Oct. 22, 2018

Tribal officials, Democrats push back on 9th Circuit judicial nominee

WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to proceed this week on a judicial nominee for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite the objections of both tribal officials and committee Democrats.Native American groups oppose Seattle attorney Eric Miller's nomination because they say he has made a name for himself by taking cases that challenge tribal sovereignty - troubling in a circuit that is home to 427 federally recognized tribes, they said.Democrats, meanwhile, are outraged over the timing of Wednesday's hearing. It falls in the middle of the Senate's October recess, when several of the Democrats say they will not be able to get back to Washington in time for Miller's hearing."The Committee has never before held nominations hearings while the Senate is in recess before an election. The handful of nominations hearings that have been held during a recess have been with the minority's consent, which is not the case here - in fact, we were not even consulted," said in a letter last week from the committee's 10 Democrats to committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.Miller, a partner with Perkins Coie in Seattle, was nominated by President Donald Trump on July 19. Before going into private practice, he worked as a lawyer in several government agencies, served as an assistant to the U.S. solicitor general and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.In a questionnaire with his nomination, Miller said the bulk of his practice has been in appellate litigation and that his work has included a range of areas, including contracts, constitutional law, environmental law and Native American law, among other areas.It's his work in tribal law that led the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund to send letters on Aug. 21 to Grassley and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, opposing Miller's nomination. NCAI also passed a resolution opposing the nomination."There are considerable questions about whether he would be fair in hearing cases regarding tribal rights," said the letter, which went on to list numerous cases where they said Miller has represented anti-tribal interests.The letter said those cases demonstrate that he does not acknowledge tribal sovereignty, a central tenet of Native American law under the Constitution."He's been on the opposite side of the tribal interests in a lot of these cases," said NCAI General Counsel Derrick Beetso. "And he's sort of built his career on opposing tribes."Miller's nomination has also failed to win the blessing of Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.Under Senate tradition, judicial nominations do not typically move forward until the nominee's home-state senators return "blue slips" to the committee giving their OK. Neither Cantwell nor Murray, both Democrats, have returned blue slips on Miller, according to a stern letter from Grassley, who urged them to return the slips by the end of the day Monday."If you opposed the nomination, you did not communicate that fact to the White House until after the nomination was made, more than months after consultation began," Grassley wrote.Feinstein complained that neither she nor Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, had agreed to the 9th Circuit nominees from California. The 9th Circuit is the largest in the nation, hearing appeals from nine states and two territories, ranging from Arizona and Montana to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.Despite the Democrats' complaints, Grassley said the hearing would proceed as scheduled Wednesday, rejecting Democratic claims that they had not been consulted on the timing of the hearing beforehand. Grassley wrote that he had postponed nomination hearings three times already and that Feinstein had, in fact, agreed to hearings on Oct. 17 and Oct. 24."Your letter states that the minority was 'not even consulted' about scheduling these hearings." Grassley wrote. "That is false."Attached to the letter was an email between Grassley and Feinstein staffers, in which Grassley's office said it was agreed "the Minority will not complain about timing," although it went on to say it is "fair game for your side to complain about hearings with 2 circuits."Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, is a member of the Judiciary Committee but did not return several requests for comment on the hearing.Follow us on Twitter. Read more

Reports show Senate race on track to be among state’s costliest

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Brendan Campbell

Monday, Oct. 22, 2018

Reports show Senate race on track to be among state’s costliest

WASHINGTON - The race to replace Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, is shaping up to be one of the most expensive Senate races in state history, with the two leading candidates reporting a total of $28.6 million raised through the end of September.Federal Election Commission reports released last week showed that Democratic nominee Kyrsten Sinema had raised just over $16 million by Sept. 30 and Republican nominee Martha McSally reported raising $12.6 million.With just weeks until Election Day, the FEC said Sinema still had $2.1 million in the bank to McSally's $3.3 million in a race that many are calling a toss-up.Those figures do not include millions in spending by outside groups, an amount that the Center for Responsive Politics said has already topped $33 million for the race.[related-story-right box-title="Related story" link="https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2018/10/15/mcsally-sinema-arizona-senate-race-debate/" image="https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/AZ-Senate-Debate_CM-3-800.jpg" headline="McSally, Sinema stress voting records during their only Senate debate"]"The fact that these Senate candidates have gotten to this level is shocking and speaks to the stakes, both in the state, and for the country, in terms of this particular race," said Jason Rose, a Scottsdale political consultant."However, I think it also speaks to what are arguably the two best candidates in the country, that happen to be facing off against each other in Arizona," he said. "Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally are as good as it gets."Leah Askarinam, a reporter and analyst for Inside Elections, said the two women have both "been strong fundraisers and they'll both have the resources that they need" in the final push of the campaign."This year has been interesting because it's been re-writing the rules about fundraising and really upping expectations for candidates across the board," she said, although Democrats have had an advantage there nationally.RealClear Politics' national poll average showed McSally and Sinema in a virtual dead heat as of Saturday, with McSally getting 46 percent of the likely vote to Sinema's 45.3 percent."It's definitely one of the closest races in the country," Askarinam said. "What you're seeing right now is McSally trying to activate the Trump Republican base, and kind of hoping that the extra boost in enthusiasm will push her over the edge, especially in a state that Donald Trump carried in 2016."Bill Scheel, a political consultant and partner at Javelina in Phoenix, said that the tight polls are "a testament to the type of race that Sinema has run and some of the challenges that McSally has had in really creating her own identity.""A Democrat in Arizona being in that position two-and-a-half weeks before the election is kind of unprecedented," Scheel said. "Clearly, Arizona is going to be a purple state and this Senate race is going to confirm that."But Sinema did not have to face the bruising primary that McSally had to endure, when she beat back high-profile challenges from former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio."McSally came in with a bit of a disadvantage in that she had a primary that she had to focus on and Sinema did not," Askarinam said. "So, McSally couldn't immediately respond to some of the criticism."Sinema was basically able to define herself without facing too many attacks while the Republican primary was taking place," she said.Since then, however, Rose said Republicans have "seen her (McSally) in action, they are incredibly impressed, and should be."[related-story-right box-title="Related story" link="https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2018/10/16/act-of-history-mcsally-sinema-treason-accusation-steeped-in-divisive-political-times/" image="https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Midterms_SenateCandidates.jpg" headline="Repeating history: McSally’s treason accusation is tried-and-true political tactic"]"The enthusiasm gap has just narrowed since the Kavanaugh hearings, in terms of donations, in terms of hustle, in terms of all things involved in a campaign," he said. "There's a lot more lift with Republicans right now than there was before."But a Sinema campaign memo said McSally's campaign "is on the defensive and in disarray," and pointed to support from national groups. McSally's campaign did not return repeated requests for comment.Brendan Quinn, outreach manager at the Center for Responsive Politics, said that outside conservative groups have spent more than liberal groups on the race. The center's website, OpenSecrets.org, shows that $18.6 million was spent in support of McSally or opposing Sinema so far, while $16.5 million was spent on behalf of Sinema - though Quinn cautions that some of the anti-McSally funds came during her primary.Rose said that despite concerns "that dark, dirty money can overtake candidates and just leave them as pawns in the machine," both candidates are holding their own with direct fundraising."What Sinema and McSally are showing is that, yes, there's still that independent dark, dirty money out there, but they have sufficient resources to advocate for themselves," he said.As for direct fundraising, Quinn said both campaigns have gotten "a little bit more money from out of state than in state, which is not surprising in a nationalized election like this one."Rose noted that the "stakes are unusual, in that you may have the control of the United States Senate in the balance," but said the hard-fought campaigns are nothing new to the state."Arizona is no stranger to close, high-profile elections," Rose said. "This is another race that is on a razor's edge."Follow us on Twitter. Read more

Trump plan to boost Western water by easing rules worries advocates

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Vandana Ravikumar and Corey Hawk

Friday, Oct. 19, 2018

Trump plan to boost Western water by easing rules worries advocates

WASHINGTON - The White House on Friday released a plan that it said would improve water reliability and availability in the West by streamlining regulatory processes and conducting expedited reviews on water projects.Details on the plan were scarce Friday, but environmental groups were immediately skeptical, with one advocate saying she is "sure it's a bad idea," despite the president's claims that the plan will not harm the environment."Whatever he's proposing to roll back protections is the wrong direction," said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter. "It's wrong for our health, our communities, our economy - this idea that having poor water quality and not protecting our rivers and streams would somehow be good for the economy is ludicrous."But President Donald Trump, who signed the proposal during a stop in Scottsdale on Friday, called it "vital to improve access to water in the American West," where millions rely on federal water projects for crops, drinking water and power."What's happened there is disgraceful," Trump said, according to a White House pool report. "For decades, burdensome federal regulations have made it extremely difficult and expensive to build and maintain federal water projects."Under the memorandum "promoting the reliable supply and delivery of water in the West," Trump directed the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality and the secretaries of the Army, Commerce, Interior and Energy to repair "uncoordinated, piecemeal regulatory actions" affecting water projects.The memo also required that they identify "unnecessary regulatory burdens" that have prevented water projects from meeting the demands of their citizens and find ways to streamline the process "in accordance with the law."The plan is directed at the Central Valley Water Project in California, the Klamath Irrigation Project in Oregon and the Columbia River Basin. All the directives include strict timelines for compliance.Trump's memo also includes language calling for the adoption of better technology to forecast water availability and improve reliability, and to allow for local input on hydroelectric projects.Todd Reeve, CEO of Business for Water Stewardship, said he was wary of the memo's vague language."Any time there's a notion that there are really simple fixes, they typically aren't incorporating the full realm of factors that go into how we need to use and deliver and conserve and manage water," Reeve said."When we see a really simple declaration of, 'We're just going to change a decision and then everybody's going to get more water' ... it comes across without very much real meat to the concept," Reeve said.But Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at the Morrison Institute, said the changes should not be rejected out of hand. Porter agrees that while environmental reviews are important, the lengthy regulatory processes can stall other meaningful conservation actions."It's a legitimate and important process. It doesn't mean it can't be streamlined," Porter said."We have these processes so that there is a chance for people to raise legitimate objections, many of which are environmental," or are related to cost, Porter said. "And so it's important to have the processes."John Buse, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, challenged the idea that regulatory delays are hindering water delivery."California is recovering from a multiyear drought. It's not that surprising that (water) deliveries have been cut back," he said. "But blaming environmental considerations for those limitations, I think, is just premising the whole policy change on something that hasn't been proven or established."He questioned the timing of the plan, saying the California portion could come "at the expense of an already critically destabilized Delta ecosystem ... something that really just looks like midterm election pandering to Central Valley agribusiness."Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers, said in a statement that changes ordered in the memo will undermine local efforts "in favor of loopholes, slipshod environmental reviews, and hasty, reckless decision-making for the benefit of dam operators and corporate interests.""All of this will be at the expense of endangered species and communities and businesses across the West that rely on healthy rivers," Irvin said.Bahr pointed to the administration's environmental record and said she does not expect a change now."I'm sure it's a bad idea, because everything he's done on water, air, energy, anything having to do with a healthy safe environment, he's gone the wrong direction," Bahr said of Trump. "It would be no surprise that this would do the same."This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.Subscribe to Cronkite News on YouTube. Read more

NOAA: Arizona outlook promises warmer, wetter winter – but not too wet

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Alexis Egeland

Friday, Oct. 19, 2018

NOAA: Arizona outlook promises warmer, wetter winter – but not too wet

WASHINGTON - Arizona will see a wetter and warmer winter than usual, with a weak El Nino system bringing steady, mild rains to the state, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.NOAA's winter forecast, released Thursday, is just what state farmers are hoping for - rain, but not the recent torrential storms that made October the wettest month ever recorded at Sky Harbor International Airport."Ranchers are loving the rain and even the crop farmers, but we're kind of saying, 'OK, slow down, Mother Nature,' because we're worried about the cotton crop," said Julie Murphree, outreach director for the Arizona Farm Bureau.State Climatologist Nancy Selover said the coming winter rains, coupled with October's downpours, should help make a dent in Arizona's long-running drought.That was echoed by NOAA, which said drought conditions are expected to improve in Arizona and New Mexico this winter, among other regions.Where the October tropical storms that blew up the coast of Mexico were "like flipping a switch," Selover said this year's El Nino is expected to be relatively weak for most of the country.But weaker storms are good for southern-tier states. The stronger storms typically hit California and Colorado harder, she said, while the weaker storms give a good amount of precipitation to Arizona.Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, agreed, saying December, January and February will bring more "garden-variety low pressure systems" than the recent storms.The National Weather Service cannot forecast specific rainfall amounts this far out, said Marvin Percha, an NWS meteorologist in Phoenix, but there could be a chance for more flooding across the state.He said there "really isn't any correlation between what happened this month and what will happen for the rest of the winter." This winter's precipitation is "more the large-scale pattern that's evolving along the Pacific and into the western U.S."Ideally, Murphree said, El Nino will bring a lot of snow this winter, because it is easier to collect water in the reservoirs if there's a big snowpack in the mountains.But Selover said the key to maximizing reservoir retention is a good rain before the snowpack."It would be really helpful if we can saturate the soil before we get that snowpack on top of it," Selover said. "That way when the snow melts in the spring, it won't soak into the soil, it'll just drain down into the streams and into our reservoirs."Murphree said the rain is good for farmers - in moderation. Too much rain can keep them out of the fields and can compromise the cotton crop.At this point, she said, it's a guessing game. And for farmers and ranchers across the state, there's nothing to do but "pray for rain.""We still have to wait for Mother Nature to decide what she's going to do, but we can be a little bit hopeful," Murphree said. "We really, really need it."Follow us on Instagram. Read more

The O.C.: It’s goodbye, Mike McCoy, hello, Byron Leftwich as Cardinals make changes

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Isaac Colindres

Friday, Oct. 19, 2018

The O.C.: It’s goodbye, Mike McCoy, hello, Byron Leftwich as Cardinals make changes

TEMPE – The turnovers kept coming for the Cardinals on the field Thursday night. After an embarrassing 45-10 loss to the Denver Broncos, the team decided to execute one more, and this one was related to their coaching staff.The team announced Friday it had fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.“It’s my job as a head coach to figure out exactly what needs to be done, and I felt we needed a change,” coach Steve Wilks said. “We weren’t productive enough, let’s just say that. And that may be an understatement.”The lopsided game featured five turnovers was accompanied by a soundtrack of frequent boos, prompting the team to share a tweet afterward of puppies on a swing with the words, “There was a game tonight. Instead of a final score graphic, here’s a GIF of puppies to cheer you up.” That angered some fans more. Many called for the firing of McCoy. Others called for Wilks to share a carpool out of town with McCoy. Then, as if to illustrate just how far the Cardinals had fallen, a sprinkle of Cleveland Browns fans showed up on social media, expressing how they grieved for Arizona fans.The supporters of one of the least accomplished franchises in sport history felt the need to give Cardinal fans a digital hug.On Friday, the team seemed to acknowledge what many fans had been suggesting for weeks: The offense was in need of a revamping.“Last night was embarrassing … we got to do better,” Wilks said of his teams performance against the Broncos. “Our fans deserve more, and it’s unacceptable”The Cardinals rank last in the league in total offense (yards per game), and 31st in passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards and touchdowns.For McCoy, his release from the team marks consecutive years that he has been fired as offensive coordinator in the middle of the season. In 2017, the Broncos fired him after a six-game losing streak.Byron Leftwich takes over as the Cardinals offensive coordinator, while remaining the quarterbacks coach for 21-year-old rookie Josh Rosen. Leftwich, a 2003 first round pick, played nine seasons in the NFL at quarterback.Wilks notes that Leftwich’s experience connects him to Rosen is severable valuable ways, including his understanding of the pressures of being a starting NFL quarterback, and his ability to communicate to Rosen from a quarterback’s perspective.“I feel very confident in the coaching staff we have on that side. We just need to really tap in and use those resources. It’s going to be a collective effort on everybody’s part to be able to get this thing going,” Wilks said.Nine games remain in the Cardinals’ 2018 regular season, and 10 more weeks are left for the team to shows encouraging signs of life.If not, many believe, McCoy may not be the only one out of a job.Connect with us on Facebook. Read more

Stakes are high as playoffs arrive for Phoenix Rising

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Ricardo Ávila

Friday, Oct. 19, 2018

Stakes are high as playoffs arrive for Phoenix Rising

SCOTTSDALE - The implications of Phoenix Rising FC’s first playoff game are far-reaching.Not only is advancement in the postseason at stake, but the club hopes to make a strong case for becoming one of Major League Soccer’s expansion franchises.The Rising face Portland Timbers 2 at 7:30 tonight at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex in the United Soccer League’s 16-team single elimination tournament. The Rising ended their regular season with a 1-0 loss to the Timbers.“Focusing pretty intently all week,” Rising defender Joe Farrell said. “The level has definitely raised. Everyone’s kind of buzzing to get into this first game and really get a chance to bite back at Portland for the last weekend.”The game is about more than just a ticket to the conference semifinals.The club’s MLS aspirations could be jeopardized. The Rising hope to land one of two MLS expansion spots, Nos. 27 or 28.The club is hosting MLS executives, who will be attending the match tonight, although Rising general manager Bobby Dulle said the MLS visit is “just a visit.”The league fields 23 teams, but has confirmed three more spots, for FC Cincinnati in 2019, and for Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC in 2020.Detroit and Sacramento were the other two finalists in the vote to grant MLS franchises Nos. 24 and 25. They are competing directly with the Rising, among others, for an MLS spot.It appears likely one of the two remaining spots will be going to Austin FC, the team from the Texas city where the Columbus Crew franchise had planned on landing.The Crew could now remain in Columbus due to Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam emerging as strong candidates to buy the team and keep it in Ohio.MLS hasn’t fully clarified whether Austin FC will take up one of two remaining MLS spots but strongly hinted at that possibility.“Regardless of any scenario in Columbus, there is a clear path forward for (Prescourt Sports Ventures) to operate Austin FC as a Major League Soccer club,” MLS said via a statement on their website. [caption id="attachment_101126" align="alignright" width="300"] Solomon Asante of Phoenix Rising FC is among the players who hope to lead the team in the postseason. (Photo by Joe Hicks/Getty Images)[/caption]PSV is Crew CEO Anthony Precourt’s ownership group.A lot has changed for the Rising in a month.A month ago, the Rising trailed first-placed Orange County SC by four points, with two games in hand. A first-place finish was attainable.A month ago, the Rising won seven of eight games between August and September, scoring 18 goals and allowing only four.A month ago, the Rising had three club records in sight: most club points in a single season, most goals scored in a single season and best-ever finish.And even though they achieved all three records, their hot September form has cooled off along with the Arizona weather.The last three games of the regular season saw the Rising lose twice and tie once, scoring two goals and allowing six in the process.The Rising finished the regular season in third place of the Western Conference, three points behind first-placed Orange County SC.Farrell said the team can’t take anything for granted, after having significantly more scoring options than Portland last week, and said scoring early is key for Timbers 2 to lose confidence.Rising coach Rick Schantz said losing to Portland gave the Rising focus.“At this point now, we know everything we need to know about Portland. The idea here is being a little bit more focused in the final third,” Schantz said.Schantz said the last three games served the Rising as preparation for the playoffs.“ ‘Ifs’ don’t get you anything in this game,” he said. “All we have now is we have to win. If we take our chances and put the game away early, that’ll definitely be in our favor. … In the front third in particular, we have to be killers.”They have the fifth-best offense in the league with 63 goals and the second best defense, with 16 shutouts allowed.If the Rising win, they will face the winner of the Sacramento Republic-Swope Park Rangers matchup.Connect with us on Facebook. Read more

Trump rallies Mesa crowd to support Republican McSally in tight Senate race

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Cronkite Staff

Friday, Oct. 19, 2018

Trump rallies Mesa crowd to support Republican McSally in tight Senate race

Story updated 8:05 p.m.MESA – President Donald Trump told a crowd of thousands in a Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport hangar Friday night that a vote for U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally would be the "second-best vote you ever cast." The greatest vote was for him, he said.Trump had crisscrossed metro Phoenix Friday to stump for McSally, culminating in the rally.The president said McSally will “protect your jobs, defend your borders and continue making America great again.” And he reminded the crowd that early voting already has begun in Arizona.“If anybody would like to leave and go out to vote, I don’t mind at all,” Trump said.McSally faces Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the race for U.S. Senate. Trump had referred to McSally as “brilliant” earlier in the day, while calling Sinema a “very, very strange opponent.”At the rally, Trump touched on many familiar themes – tightening border security, improving health care and “draining the swamp.”McSally took the stage and told the president: “I just want to let you know, we are not crazy here. Unlike what my opponent said, we are not the meth lab of democracy.”The race has attracted national attention, and Democrats have cited it as an opportunity to shift the power balance in Congress.Friday’s rally comes as a Democratic senatorial seat appears to be a real possibility. A poll released Friday by Data Orbital had Sinema with a slight lead. The poll included 600 general election voters.In response to Trump’s visit, Sinema told reporters that Arizonans “don’t care about big fancy names” from outside. They care about health care.Earlier in the day, Trump went from a fundraiser in Scottsdale to a tour of Luke Air Force Base in Glendale before heading to the “Make America Great” rally.Thousands of people had lined up in Mesa as dawn broke Friday.Jay Cole of Mesa, a Trump rally veteran, said for these events, it’s best to leave before dawn to be among the first in line.“I like to be in the front so I can get front row seats so I can be close to him,” Cole said, adding that hearing the president speak would be worth the long wait.His brother, Tim Cole, was attending his first Trump rally. He's said he wasn't sure what to expect, but he was game.“I’ve never met or been around the president or any president, so I thought it would be fun,” he said. By 1 p.m., the line snaked around the building, owned by a private air-services provider, where the rally was scheduled. Mesa police said about 1,000 people were waiting but called it a rough estimate.One of those was Teresa Mendoza, a Mesa resident and a member of the Latinas for Trump national group. She said she was a longtime Democrat but became a Republican after Trump was elected."The Democrats are out of control," she said. "Now I'm not only an ex-Democrat, I'll never vote Democrat again. He turned me into a Trumpster."She attended Trump's Phoenix rally last year, which led to Phoenix police using tear gas and pepper-spray bullets on protesters after the rally. The Phoenix chapter of the ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit, saying police overreacted.But Mendoza said she hopes police would use force again if protesters act irrationally. What brought her to this rally, she said, is seeing people of all backgrounds supporting Trump's values.But protesters did not show up in droves ahead of Mesa's rally. Only two protesters were inside the designated area for opposition protest before Trump's arrival in Mesa.The president had arrived late Thursday night at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and headed directly to the Scottsdale Princess resort.McSally had announced Trump’s tour of Luke during a debate on Monday night that aired on Arizona PBS.[masterslider id="155"]While the president worked, so did Mike Harris, 55, a vendor from San Antonio who has attended rallies consistently since 2016. The Mesa rally is his 54th, he said.“I wasn’t even a Trump follower in the beginning," Harris said. "Now that I’ve seen the change in the economy, it changed my mind.”Harris has also attended rallies for political parties, including a Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. “I like to know both sides.”Many people buying buttons, shirts and other Trump gear are from out of state, he said.Cronkite News reporters Gabriella Bachara, Micah Alise Bledsoe, Jordan Dafnis, Jordan Evans, Adriana Falero, Samie Gebers, Anya Magnuson, Karisma Sandoval and Beichen Tong contributed to this article.[su_divider top="no" size="1" margin="10"] [sub-tag] Read more

Crowds await Trump as he criss-crosses three corners of Phoenix metro area

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Cronkite Staff

Friday, Oct. 19, 2018

Crowds await Trump as he criss-crosses three corners of Phoenix metro area

MESA – As President Donald Trump started crisscrossing the Phoenix metro area Friday, people lined up hours before an evening rally that has become a trademark of his administration.Trump was moving from a fundraiser in Scottsdale to a tour of Luke Air Force Base in Glendale and back again for the Mesa “Make America Great” rally expected to draw hundreds to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport at 6:30 p.m. Friday He’ll head back to the White House on Saturday.– Map by Daisy Finch and Gina Dattolo/Cronkite NewsSupporters lined up in Mesa as dawn broke.Jay Cole, a Trump rally veteran, said for these events, it’s best to leave his house in Mesa by 3 a.m. or, at the latest, 4 a.m., to be among the first in line.“I like to be in the front so I can get front row seats so I can be close to him,” Jay Cole said. He said he expected the president to be worth the wait, calling the chance to hear him speak a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for him.He brought his brother, Tim Cole, to his first rally.Tim Cole said he’s not sure what to expect, but he’s game.“I’ve never met or been around the president or any president so I thought it would be fun,” he said. By 1 p.m. Friday, the line snaked around the building. Mesa police said about 1,000 people were there but called it a rough estimate.One of those was Teresa Mendoza, a Mesa resident and a member of the Latinas for Trump national group. She said she was a longtime Democrat but became a Republican after Trump became president."The Democrats are out of control," she said. "Now I'm not only an ex-Democrat, I'll never vote Democrat again. He turned me into a Trumpster."She attended the Phoenix rally last year, which led to Phoenix police turning tear gas and pepper-spray bullets on protesters after the rally. The Phoenix chapter of the ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit, saying police overreacted.But Mendoza said she hopes police would use force again if protesters act irrationally. What brought her to this rally is seeing people of all backgrounds supporting Trump's values.The president arrived late Thursday night at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and headed directly to the Scottsdale Princess resort. On Friday, according to his schedule, he participated in a roundtable discussion with supporters, delivered remarks at a fundraising committee luncheon and sign a presidential memorandum about the “reliable supply and delivery of water in the West.”Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally, who is vying against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, announced Trump’s tour of the base during a debate on Monday night that aired on Arizona PBS. While on base, the President is expected to participate in a defense roundtable as well.[su_divider top="no" size="1" margin="10"] [sub-tag] Read more