Redeveloment Lawsuit To Be Filed Against California, Gov Jerry Brown
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said Thursday that her city will join other cities around the state in filing a lawsuit to try to stop Gov. Brown and the state Legislature from cutting funding for redevelopment agencies. Brown and the Legislature believe that the policy change will save the state $1.7 billion in the new fiscal year. Quan said if Oakland's redevelopment agency is forced to close, the city might have to halt affordable housing projects as well as efforts to bring more retail stores and entertainment complexes to its downtown. She said if the agency is eliminated, up to 171 city employees, including 18 police officers who are paid with redevelopment funds, could lose their jobs. "There isn't a part of the city government that won't be affected if redevelopment goes away," Quan told reporters at her weekly briefing at her office. She said she doubts that the state will be able to achieve all of the $1.7 billion in savings it expects and she thinks the change "will hurt the state economy in the long run."
Oakland Deputy City Attorney Daniel Rossi said Oakland would join a lawsuit that will be filed next week by the California Redevelopment Association and the California League of Cities challenging the legislation approved by the Legislature and signed by Brown on Wednesday that cuts funding for redevelopment agencies. Rossi said the suit would challenge the bill's constitutionality and would allege that it violates Proposition 22, a measure passed by California voters last November that bars the state from taking funds that are supposed to go to local agencies. Rossi said the suit would be filed directly with the California Supreme Court and he expects that there will be a ruling by the end of July on the suit's goal of getting an immediate stay that would stop the state from cutting the redevelopment funds.
Sixty-Six San Jose Police Officers Laid-Off
The scene at the San Jose Police Officers' Association facility Thursday resembled a funeral, except no one was dead, police union president George Beattie said. Sixty-six (66) officers who were laid off due to San Jose's $115 million budget deficit handed in their badges and said their goodbyes. Beattie said it was the first time in the Police Department's history that officers were laid off. "I felt like I was at a funeral reception," Beattie said. "It was really gut-wrenching." Mayor Chuck Reed expressed remorse about the layoffs, but said they are necessary because the city is not able to afford the officers. "Even though the police budget went up a small amount, police officer retirement costs jumped by $25 million so we had to shrink the department."
But the reductions will not be without consequences, Beattie said. A police force of 1,106 is now managing a city of nearly 1 million people, he said. The result of that will be slower response times, especially to property crimes. He said city officials could have made better decisions to avoid some of the layoffs. "We're very disappointed that this took place Thursday. Moving forward, whatever harm comes, now they own it. We did what we could do."
Trial of Seven MS-13 Gang Members To Start Thursday
After nearly three months of testimony, prosecutors rested their case and defense attorneys began theirs at the federal racketeering and murder conspiracy trial of seven MS-13 gang members in San Francisco Thursday."We've reached a milestone," U.S. District Judge William Alsup told jurors in his Federal Building courtroom. We still have some time to go in the case," he added. "We will hear from the defense." Alsup estimated the case could go to the jury in mid-August following three or four weeks of defense testimony, prosecution rebuttal and closing arguments. The seven men on trial were members of a branch of the violent MS-13 gang known as the 20th Street Clique, based in the vicinity of 20th and Mission streets in San Francisco.
All seven are accused of racketeering, or running a continuing criminal enterprise, and conspiring to commit murder in aid of racketeering. Three are also specifically charged with murder in aid of
racketeering in the gunshot slayings of four men on San Francisco streets between March and July 2008. Other charges include assault and use of guns. The MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, gang originated in Central American and Southern California. Its name is believed to be a combination of the words for gang, Salvadoran and "fear us." The seven defendants are among about three dozen MS-13 Bay Area
gang members and associates who were charged in four successive versions of an indictment in 2008 and 2009.
About 18 others have pleaded guilty to various charges, and some became prosecution witnesses in the trial, which began April 4. In addition to murder and assault, the 20th Street Clique is alleged to have engaged in drug dealing, robbery, extortion and car theft. The racketeering charge carries a possible maximum sentence of life in prison if the defendants are convicted, and the charges of murder in aid of racketeering carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison upon conviction.
North Fair Oaks Tree Stands Tall
Utility officials Thursday met with North Fair Oaks neighbors to discuss various options that would prevent a centuries-old oak tree from being cut down to make way for a multi-billion dollar water system upgrade in San Mateo County. The valley oak, which arborists have agreed is more than 250 years old and neighbors have nicknamed "Granny," stands in the path of a $4.6 billion project to seismically upgrade the Hetch Hetchy water delivery system. The tree stands on San Francisco Public Utilities Commission property where a new water supply pipeline is replacing two installed in the
1920s and 1930s that are not seismically secure.
The scenarios presented at Thursday morning's meeting included moving the tree to another location, tunneling the pipeline under its roots, and a "trenching" method that would require trimming the tree's roots and burrowing a pipeline around or through them, SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue said.
The trenching option, which neighborhood spokeswoman Mary Ann Mullen said could cost as low as $60,000, was least favored by the utility, Jue said. "It leaves the pipe too close to the roots," Jue said, which jeopardizes the pipeline's seismic integrity. Moving the tree to another location would be the most expensive process at $350,000, Jue said. It does not appear likely to happen since the
tree would not be able to be moved very far. The 80-foot-tall oak is so big that it could not be moved without temporarily removing major power lines to get it by, Jue said.The tunneling option, which would cost an estimated $309,000, is the one most favored by the utility. "Tunneling is one of the options we're continuing to move forward on," Jue said.
The tunneling option would include an agreement in which the utility would hand over ownership of the strip of land where the tree stands to an association of neighbors, who would assume liability, tree maintenance and providing increased public access, Jue said.
Marin County Marijuana Eradication
The Marin County Sheriff's Office began this year's outdoor marijuana eradication efforts within the county Thursday morning by destroying nearly 13,000 young plants, a sheriff's lieutenant said. The plants were found at five sites on the east slope of Bolinas Ridge that borders Kent Lake, Lt. Barry Heying said. The Marin Municipal Water District, National Park Service, California Department of Justice and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also participated in the eradication effort between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. The pot garden raiders also found living areas with lean-to tents, garbage and pesticides at the grow sites. No one was present in the camps and there were no arrests, Heying said.
The sheriff's office has been monitoring two-dozen known grow sites in the area since 2006, Heying said. This year, rather than wait until the plants were grown, 12,900 immature plants without marijuana buds were cut so they could not be planted again, saving the cost and effort of hauling them out by helicopter, Heying said. The growers seemed intent to keep the gardens small and spread out as more than one site was tended from one campsite, Heying said. There were also several small grows with only 10 plants, Heying said. The illicit and clandestine marijuana gardens have typically been found in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, Heying said. Heying said the growers have little regard for public safety or concern for ecological damages they create. "These types of criminal enterprises result in erosion damage created by the clear-cutting of indigenous plants as well as hazardous trash left behind by the lawless operators," Heying said.
Dangerous chemicals used by the growers also seep into the watershed and create additional hazards, Heying said. "Increasingly, citizens and visitors are becoming afraid to use public parks due to these individuals invading public lands," Heying said.In 2009, the California Campaign Against Marijuana Planting seized 4.5 million marijuana plants in the state. Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties are typically among the top 10 counties where the seizures occur. Marin County was not among the top 40 counties in 2009.
Sale, Possession and use of Fireworks Illegal This Holiday Weekend
The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District is reminding residents that the sale, possession and use of all fireworks is illegal in the county. The law even prohibits the use of sparklers and other so-called "safe and sane" fireworks, Fire Marshal Lewis Broschard said.People who have illegal fireworks for disposal can call their local police departments or the fire district's main office at (925) 941-3300. People should not take fireworks to fire stations for disposal, Broschard said. This Fourth of July is expected to be hot, windy and dry, which means high fire danger in the county. Broschard said fireworks cause injuries and fires each year. Last year, more than 40 fires caused by fireworks were reported in the fire district's service area. Those fires resulted in damage to at least one structure, and one person was hurt, Broschard said. Fire officials are urging residents to enjoy fireworks by attending public displays conducted by professionals. They are also urging parents to make sure their children don't have any fireworks and to teach them that fireworks are dangerous. The fire district has set up a hot line people can call to find professional fireworks displays near them. That number is (925) 941-3328.
Cal Fire Urges Safety Tips for Fireworks Use
Fire officials are encouraging Bay Area residents whose cities allow "safe and sane" fireworks this weekend to follow several safety tips and pay attention to state regulations. Although more populated cities such as San Francisco and San Jose do not permit fireworks, several cities in Alameda, San Mateo, Napa, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties allow smaller fireworks that do not explode, dart across the ground or fly through the air, according to Cal Fire. Local fire departments will be working with law enforcement agencies to make sure fireworks are up to code and are not taken outside jurisdictions where they are legal, Alameda County Fire Department spokeswoman Aisha Knowles said. "On the 4th of July there are typically more fire reported across the nation than on any other day of the year," she said. "The Alameda County Fire Department has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal fireworks." Legal fireworks are sold at licensed stands and have the state fire marshal's seal on them, Knowles said. Even in cities where safe and sane fireworks are sold legally, there are restrictions on when and where they can be used, she said.
In Dublin, one of three fireworks-sanctioned cities in Alameda County, fireworks can only be used between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on July 4 at three designated parks: Alameda Creek Park, Dublin Sports Ground and Emerald Glen Park. Knowles said anyone in a city that permits fireworks should read the directions, only use fireworks outdoors, stay away from dry grass and other flammables, and have a bucket of water or hose nearby. Fireworks should never be pointed at another person, she said, and users should not try to relight or fix fireworks that do not work on the first try. Children also should not be permitted to use fireworks, according to Cal Fire.
The Bay Area cities that allow safe and sane fireworks are Dublin, Newark and Union City in Alameda County; St. Helena in Napa County; Gilroy in Santa Clara County; Watsonville in Santa Cruz County; and Pacifica and San Bruno in San Mateo County.Dixon and Rio Vista in Solano County also allow fireworks, as do Cloverdale, Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol in Sonoma County. Several Monterey County cities also allow fireworks: Gonzalez, Greenfield, King City, Marina, Salinas, Seaside and Soledad.
San Francisco City Attorney's Office To Consider Criminalizing Male Circumcision
The San Francisco City Attorney's Office made a rare move Thursday by filing a brief on a measure for the November ballot, a proposal to criminalize male circumcision. The city attorney's office filed a brief in response to a lawsuit filed last week by opponents of the proposed ban, who are seeking to have the measure removed from the ballot. The organizer of the ban campaign, Lloyd Schofield, has said he believes male circumcision is wrong and likened it to female circumcision practices that are already banned in the U.S. The proposal would punish people who circumcise a minor with a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail. But opponents, who include the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League, say San Francisco would have no power to enact the ordinance because only the state can make rules about medical procedures.
The opponents also argue that the decision to circumcise boys for religious reasons is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A brief filed by the city attorney's office Thursday said it is taking "the unusual step" of filing a brief on a proposed ballot measure because of the possibility that a court preempts the measure from applying to medical professionals. If that happens, the proposal would then be unconstitutional if only narrowly applied to religious practices, according to the city attorney's office. "San Franciscans cannot be asked to vote on whether to prohibit religious minorities from engaging in a particular religious practice, when the same practice may be performed under non-religious auspices," Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart wrote in the brief. The city attorney's office "rarely takes a position on the merits in pre-election litigation concerning the legality of proposed ballot measures" unless the measure would be "clearly invalid," Stewart wrote. "This is such a case."
Kalra Pleads Guilty To Misdemeanor Drunk Driving Charge
San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drunken driving charge, his attorney said Thursday. Attorney Eric Geffon entered the plea on Kalra's behalf on June 9. Kalra was arrested early the morning of May 7 after a California Highway Patrol officer pulled him over on Market Street, south of San Fernando Street. The officer had noticed a nonworking taillight on Kalra's gold Toyota Prius, but when he stopped him, the officer detected an odor of alcohol, according to the CHP. Kalra was asked to perform field sobriety tests, and the tests indicated he was intoxicated, CHP officials said. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI and booked into Santa Clara County Jail, and was later released.Kalra admitted to drinking with friends before getting behind the wheel of his car. "He said from the beginning he wanted to take responsibility for this and I think to the very end, he has proved he's just not saying those words but living them," Geffon said. This was Kalra's first alcohol-related incident, Geffon said. As part of his sentence, Kalra faces three years of probation, a fine of approximately $1,900, a three-month DUI class, and five days of community service.
Ararao Fatally Shot Dead by Police In Suisun
Suisun City police have identified the man who was fatally shot by a police officer Wednesday morning as 55-year-old Bernardo Ararao, of Suisun. Police were called to the Suisun Senior Center at 318 Merganser Drive around 11:25 a.m. after someone reported that a man wearing camouflage clothing and carrying a gun told seniors he was "on assignment," Cmdr. Tim Mattos said. There were five seniors in the area of the armed man at the time, and one informed the senior center's manager, who called police, Mattos said. By the time police arrived less than 90 seconds later, the man had left on a bicycle, Mattos said. Two officers located Ararao behind the Sunset Shopping Center and the U.S. Post Office at 325 Merganser Drive, Mattos said. One of the officers saw that Ararao was armed and told him several times to put the gun down, Mattos said. During the confrontation, the officer shot Ararao once in the chest. "At some point, he became an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and the citizens around them, and the officer used force to stop it," Mattos said.
Ararao was taken to the NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield where he was pronounced dead at 11:53 a.m., Mattos said. Mattos said he does not know if Ararao pointed the gun at the officers. "He did something that caused the officers to fear for their lives and those of the people in the busy area," Mattos said. Police have had prior contact with Ararao, Mattos said. A man who answered the phone at the senior center Thursday afternoon said he wasn't at the center on Wednesday but was familiar with Ararao. He said he would not consider Ararao a dangerous person. "He would sit and have coffee and would leave in 10 minutes," said the man, who asked not to be identified. Ararao's autopsy was scheduled for Thursday.