San Francisco Bay Area Tuesday Morning News Roundup

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SF: Town Hall Meeting Today on Police Shooting in Mission District

San Francisco police are holding a town hall meeting today to discuss a case in which two people were wounded by officers' gunfire in the city's Mission District over the weekend.

The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Cornerstone Church, located at 3459 17th St. and will be conducted by police Chief Greg Suhr.

Police said the incident started at about 2 a.m. Sunday when two groups of people got in a confrontation outside of a bar near Valencia and 17th streets.

When someone pulled out what appeared to be a firearm, witnesses went to the nearby Mission police station to report the fight, police spokesman Officer Gordon Shyy said.

Two responding officers saw the person aiming the firearm at a group of people and opened fire, wounding the suspect and one other person, Shyy said.

Both people were taken to San Francisco General Hospital with life-threatening injuries, although Shyy said Monday that one of the two who were shot is now expected to survive.

Police retrieved the weapon, an air-powered firearm, and have placed the two officers involved in the shooting on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, as is standard procedure.

Santa Cruz: Families of Slain Officers Express Appreciation of Support in Letters to Community

The families of two members of Santa Cruz Police Department killed in the line of duty in February released letters to the community Monday, expressing gratitude and appreciation for the support from complete strangers to well-known politicians.

Santa Cruz police Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler were shot and killed the afternoon of Feb. 26 while following up on a report of misdemeanor sexual assault.

The gunman, 35-year-old Jeremy Goulet, was later killed in a gun battle with authorities.

More than a month since their deaths and a large memorial service held at HP Pavilion in San Jose on March 7, the Police Department Monday shared letters from the slain officers' families.

Butler's partner Peter Wu, her mother, Louise Butler, and her sister, Alexis Butler, wrote about the sadness of losing Elizabeth Butler.

"We miss her terribly," the family wrote. However, they said despite the unbearable loss, the community has stepped up.

"Yet almost every day of the past month has also included moments of awe and amazement at the love and honor paid to Elizabeth's memory," the family wrote.

The family thanked Butler's two young sons, Stellan, 2, and Joaquin, 5, for reminding the family to stay healthy during the past month of mourning and into the future.

The family also thanked other relatives, members of the Police Department including Chief Kevin Vogel, and the "hundreds of people who have sent us cards, scholarship funds, and gifts."

"We have glimpsed in the outpouring of support from the people of Santa Cruz and surrounding cities that goodness will prevail and small acts of love will redeem our aching hearts," the letter read.

The family reflected on the massive memorial that started with a procession through Santa Cruz before heading along state Highway 17 to the ceremony in San Jose.

"As we traveled through the streets of Santa Cruz, the sight of hundreds of citizens with their hands over their hearts touched us deeply," the letter stated.

Speakers at the memorial service included former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Vogel and Santa Cruz Mayor Hilary Bryant.

Regional: Student Athlete From San Jose Found Dead Thursday Was On the Cusp of Professional Volleyball Career

A star college athlete and native of San Jose who was found dead in Whittier, Calif. on Thursday planned to become a professional volleyball player in Europe and train for the Olympics, her former coach said Monday.

Alyssa Sialaris, 21, a graduate of Leigh High School in San Jose, played well enough for volleyball teams during a European tour last year to turn pro after graduating this year, said Ali Oliver, former volleyball coach at Whittier College.

"She was 100 percent planning to go to Europe to play professionally," said Oliver, who coached Sialaris on the Whittier volleyball squad from 2011 to 2012.

"She loved it." "She was an incredible person," said Oliver, who recruited Sialaris to play at Whittier in 2011.

"She was passionate for everything she did and lived life to the fullest more than anyone I ever met in my life."

Sialaris, a record setting outside hitter for the Whittier team who received national recognition in the sport last year, died in her Whittier apartment apparently of natural causes, Oliver said.

The college community, which held an evening vigil for Sialaris on Sunday, is finding it hard to accept the passing of a young woman with a vibrant personality who excelled in volleyball and track and field, Oliver said. "We've been trying to cope," Oliver said.

"She was the epitome of good health, and incredibly healthy eater, exercised like a champ. It's mind-blowing." 

"When you'd watch Alyssa on campus, it was like what they said about (NBA player) LeBron James, 'A man among boys,'" Oliver said.

"She was a beast among all these kids."

Sialaris, who also attended De Anza College in Cupertino, transferred to Whittier in 2011 and last year was selected as Honorable Mention All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association and named to the All-West Regional Team.

An expert at the spiking the ball, known as kills, Sialaris was first in the nation in kills for a few weeks last fall and broke a 20-year-old record at Whittier with 444 kills in 2012 "a kill record that I'm sure will stand for another 20 years," Oliver said.

Aside from turning pro in Europe, Sialaris had been training with Oliver in beach volleyball lately and wanted to join the Unites States' Olympics team in the sport someday, she said.

"She was nowhere near her peak of being a volleyball player," Oliver said.

Sialaris also excelled on Whittier's track and field team, in the hammer throw, discus, javelin and shot put, Oliver said.

Funeral plans are still pending, Oliver said.

Santa Clara: City Mulls Deal for Right to Develop 230 Acres Across from 49ers Stadium Project

The city of Santa Clara, seeking a new government revenue stream, wants to hear what a major high-rise builder has to say about developing 230 acres next to the planned San Francisco 49ers stadium.

The City Council is poised to bestow Irvine-based Related California with the exclusive rights to negotiate development options for the city-owned land between Tasman Drive and state Highway 237 now used by a golf course and BMX bike track.

Related California made the most of the prospect to one day build retail and housing on the acreage by putting out a statement Monday that "two potential neighbors," the 49ers and the NFL team's former quarterback Joe Montana, support their effort.

"Our vision is to create a place that blends the best living, entertainment, shopping and dining experiences from the surrounding are and across the nation," said Related California president Bill Witte in the statement.

Montana has had a development option on about eight acres next to the 230-acre site since June 2012 and would like to build a hotel and bar about a block east of the 49ers stadium project.

"Our proposed project along with the Related Company's potential development will be great additions to the North of Bayshore area," Montana said in the statement.

But Montana has yet to submit a development proposal to city officials, city spokesman Dan Beerman said.

"The city has not got a plan from the Montana group," Beerman said. "We have heard nothing from him or his group, but he still has exclusive negotiating rights on that."

Montana's one-year option on the land, for which the city required no cash deposit, is good until June and can be renewed for six months, according to Ruth Shikada, the city's economic development officer.

The council at its meeting today at City Hall is to consider Related California's bid to put up $200,000 to study building options at the 230-acre site for entertainment, retail, dining and residential uses on it.

The real estate sits across Tasman Drive in Santa Clara from the site of the 49ers' $1.2 billion stadium project where the team intends to move in 2014 after its final season at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

The land is in a section of the North Bayshore area designated for entertainment purposes, Beerman said.

"The council's been looking at what they call an entertainment district for many, many years," Beerman said.

"It kind of fulfills the council's long-term plan for that area." "It's a big deal," he said.

"There is very little land left in Silicon Valley."

Santa Cruz Co.: Baby Owls Fall from Nest, Rescue Team Responds

Three baby owls fell from their nests in Santa Cruz County Monday afternoon and Wildlife Emergency Services personnel are on the recovery mission, an organization spokeswoman said.

The WEC received a report from the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter at about 1 p.m. of the three baby great horned owls having fallen out of their nest in a tall eucalyptus tree in Freedom due to the high winds, WEC President and CEO Rebecca Dmytryk said.

Nests can break apart for various reasons including wind and parents not building them strong enough, Dmytryk said.

Dmytryk said they have modified a laundry basket to create a stronger nest for the owls.

They will also check to see if the babies are healthy enough to be put back and if not, the babies will be taken to the center for treatment until they are ready to return to the wild, Dmytryk said.

At least two of the owls sound to be in good shape, she said.

It is the WEC's first call of the season for a nesting union.

Regional: Santa Rosa Woman Found Dead on Santa Barbara County Beach

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office has identified a woman who was found dead on a beach Saturday morning as 18-year-old Giselle Esme Ayala of Santa Rosa.

Ayala was a student at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo where she majored in sociology, said Keith Humphrey, vice president for Student Affairs.

She graduated from Santa Rosa High School last year where she was enrolled in the ArtQuest program.

Ayala was attending the Deltopia Spring Break party in Isla Vista, an unincorporated area of Santa Barbara County near Goleta over the weekend, Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.

A jogger found her body at 8:20 a.m. Saturday in the water near the surf line west of Campus Point at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Hoover said.

The sheriff's office had asked the public to help identify the thin, 5-foot, 8-inch woman who was wearing a purple sundress over a black tank top and black lace-up boots.

Ayala's friends, who said they had not seen her since 11 p.m. Friday night, reported her missing at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Isla Vista Foot Patrol Office. Sheriff's investigators then confirmed Ayala was the deceased woman found on the beach, Hoover said.

The results of an autopsy Monday are pending toxicology tests that are expected to take four to six weeks, and Ayala's death is still under investigation, Hoover said.

The Deltopia Spring Break party attracts between 15,000 and 18,000 people, Hoover said. It formerly was called Floatopia and was held on the beach, but the beaches were closed several years ago because of the rowdy behavior and the party relocated to Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista.

Isla Vista's population was 23,000 in 2010, and most of the residents are students at UC Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City College. Humphrey and Jeffrey D. Armstrong, President of Cal Poly, expressed their condolences on behalf of the students to Ayala's family.

Grief counselors were available on campus Sunday, Humphrey said.

Regional: Kayaker Saves Livermore Family After SUV Plunges into American River

A kayaker who helped pull a Livermore family out of an SUV that crashed into the American River on Thursday after he happened upon the submerged vehicle said that any kayaker would have done the same.

Mark Divittorio heard the crash as he was finishing up his run that afternoon, and went 200 feet upstream to find the SUV on its side in the river with three young girls standing on top of it, he said Monday.

The car had careened off of U.S. Highway 50 near Kyburz, a town approximately 75 miles east of Sacramento, shortly before 3 p.m., striking a concrete mile marker, a tree and a boulder before landing in the river, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Mike Poore said.

Divittorio told a woman on the shore to call for help, and quickly went to work, first transporting the youngest of the three girls, 4 years old, to shore with his kayak.

He then asked for help from another man on the riverbank, and the two then transported the other two girls -- twin teenagers -- back to shore, he said. However, when he looked into the front of the car, he realized saving the girls' parents was going to be much more complicated.

The girls' father's legs had becomes stuck in the mangled wreckage, and the SUV was being pushed further over by the river's current. He was hanging upside down, and his seatbelt was keeping his head above the water.

His wife was trying to keep him conscious, talking to him.

Divittorio feared that if he pulled the woman from the car, the current would only push the car further over, and if he cut the seatbelt the man would become trapped with his head underwater.

"Manipulating a body out of it would have been almost impossible," Divittorio said.

But minutes before the crash Divittorio had noticed a fire truck go by on the road, and he again called to shore, telling bystanders to call the fire department's dispatch center and tell them to send the fire truck back.

They did, and the truck returned within three minutes, and had the right equipment to pull back the vehicle, cut the seatbelt, free the man and bring him safely ashore.

The father was identified as 50-year-old Christian Lemler and he was taken to Marshall Hospital in Placerville with moderate to major injuries, but the injuries are not considered life-threatening, Poore said.

Oakland: Suspect in September 2011 Murder Appears in Court

A man appeared in court Monday on charges that he killed one man and wounded another in East Oakland in broad daylight in September 2011.

Robert Drawn, 33, is charged with murder for the death of 35-year-old Waleed Wheatfall and for allegedly wounding a second man in a shooting in a parking lot of a store in the 5700 block of Foothill Boulevard about 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2011.

But Drawn didn't enter a plea Monday because his attorney, Robert Shipway of the Alameda County Public Defender's Office, said he needs more time to review the evidence in the case. Superior Court Judge Carrie Panetta agreed to postpone Drawn's plea entry until April 22.

Oakland police Officer Robert Rosin said in a probable cause statement filed in court that Drawn, who was arrested last month, was identified as the man who shot both Wheatfall and the other victim in the case, who survived.

Rosin said the shooting was captured on a surveillance video and when police searched Drawn's vehicle, which was left at the crime scene, they found an SKS assault rifle and Drawn's DNA and other evidence connecting him to the shooting.

Burlingame: $16 Million Burlingame Avenue Improvement Project Gets Under Way

One of the Peninsula's notable shopping and dining avenues is about to get a $16 million facelift.

Construction work to renovate four central blocks of Burlingame Avenue between El Camino Real and California Drive was set to begin Monday night, Public Works Director Syed Murtuza said at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday.

The Burlingame Avenue Improvement Project, which has been in the planning phase since 2011, includes widening sidewalks from 10 to 16 feet, planting new trees, installing streetlights with hanging flower baskets, and replacing 100-year-old water and sewer lines.

According to planners, wider sidewalks will create a safer environment for pedestrians and encourage more outdoor dining, café seating, walking and landscaping.

The avenue will also be getting new benches, bike racks, trash receptacles, newspaper corrals, tree grates, and parking meters that take credit cards. Burlingame Mayor Ann Keighran called the renovation project a much-needed investment if the neighborhood expected to continue to attract people to shop and eat in downtown Burlingame, and lure new businesses and private investment.

"There haven't been any upgrades to the street since the early 1970's, Keighran said.

"This project will help ensure that Burlingame Avenue will continue to be a draw," she said. The improvement project is expected to last between 16 and 20 months and is being paid for by a combination of parking meter rates, gas taxes, investments from property owners and various grants, Keighran said.

Construction will take place 24 hours a day to expedite the project and minimize the impact on businesses along the avenue, all of which were expected to remain open during construction.

Most work on underground utilities will take place at night. Detours and narrower pedestrian walkways will be in effect during construction. Keighran said construction will at times be a "painful process," but assured residents that the end result will be well worth the time and investment.

"We are all going to have a lovely Burlingame Avenue," she said.

Regional: Today Marks 'Yom Hashoah' with Red Cross Offering Tracing Services for Holocaust Survivors

To remember the more than six million Jews and others who died in the Holocaust under the Nazi regime during World War II, Monday is recognized in the Bay Area and around the world as Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The American Red Cross is recognizing the solemn day by sharing information about services for Holocaust survivors and family members to find old friends and relatives torn apart after millions fled, went into hiding, were sent to concentration camps, or were killed or died throughout Europe.

Tracing services through the Restoring Family Link program are available to reunite families and friends, and since 1990 the Red Cross has helped more than 45,000 families search for information about long-lost connections.

The search service has since successfully reconnected 1,600 people, Red Cross officials said. In San Francisco, city resident and Holocaust survivor Gunter Ullmann was reconnected through the Red Cross tracing services with his long-lost childhood friend Elfriede Haas, Red Cross spokeswoman Elizabeth Shemaria said.

Haas' son-in-law put in a request with the Red Cross tracing program and seven years later Haas, Ullmann and his brother were connected via email.

Ullmann got the email that his childhood friend was looking for him and his brother and within two years, Ullman planned a trip with his wife and son to travel to Germany to see her.

Last May, Ullmann, who is now in his early 90s, was able to see Haas after 75 years apart during a reunion trip to Germany.

Ullmann and his family had fled Germany to Shanghai in 1938. The tracing services like those that reconnected Ullman and Haas are free, however Red Cross officials said the searches are complex and often take more than a year to provide results.

There has been information found in about 79 percent of requested searches, according to the Red Cross.

SJ: Judge: Agency Violated Law by Failing to Study Fracking Impacts on Monterery Co. Land

A U.S. judge in San Jose has ruled that a government agency violated federal law by failing to study the possible environmental risks of fracking when it sold oil development leases on 2,703 acres of public land in Monterey and Fresno counties in 2011.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's failure to consider the effects of fracking "simply did not provide the hard look at the issue" that the National Environmental Policy Act requires.

He said the bureau should have prepared a full environmental impact statement on the risks posed by chemical used in hydraulic fracturing on nearby water supplies, human health and air quality.

Grewal issued the ruling, which was posted on the court's docket on Sunday, in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.

He did not order any immediate action, however, and instead ordered the government and the two environmental groups to confer on an appropriate remedy and submit a proposed judgment to him by April 15.

The remedy could include invalidating the 2011 leases or halting any drilling on the land until a study is prepared, Grewal wrote.

Brendan Cummings, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the two environmental groups believe the leases should be set aside, or that at a minimum, no drilling or fracking should be allowed on the land until an analysis is completed.

He said the decision is the first time a federal court has ruled that leases were improperly sold because of a failure to study fracking impacts.

"This important decision recognizes that fracking poses new, unique risks to California's air, water and wildlife that government agencies can't ignore," said Cummings.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals into an underground oil or natural gas reservoir.

The operation is intended to fracture the surrounding rock and allow more oil or gas to flow into the reservoir.

The 2,703 acres leased by the bureau in 2011 are part of the Monterey Shale Formation, sometimes known as the Monterey/Santos Shale Formation, which covers 1,750 square miles in the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles Basin.

The formation is estimated to contain more than 15 billion barrels of oil, about two-thirds of the nation's total shale oil reserve.

Advocates of fracking say it can help to meet the nation's energy needs, while opponents claim the chemicals could contaminate groundwater used as drinking water and in agriculture, pollute the air and endanger human health.

Grewal said the Bureau of Land Management erred by estimating, on the basis of past experience in central and southern California, that only one exploratory well would be drilled in the 2,703 leased acres, resulting in no significant environmental impact.

In view of recent technological advances and increases in the use of fracking, "it was unreasonable for the BLM not to at least consider reasonable projections of drilling in the area that include fracking operations," Grewal wrote.

The bureau auctioned off leases on 2,343 acres in Monterey County and two parcels totaling 240 acres in Fresno County to three energy developers for a total of $257,000 on Sept. 14, 2011.

Six days later, it sold a lease on another 120-acre parcel in Monterey County.

The two largest sales were for $180,000 to Vintage Production California LLC of Bakersfield for 200 acres in Fresno County and for $56,400 to Neil Ormond of Clovis for 2,343 acres in Monterey County.

Bay Area Tuesday Morning Weather Forecast

Sunny skies are likely in the Bay Area this morning. Highs are expected to be in the mid 60s to lower 70s, with northern winds around 20 mph.

Clear skies are likely this evening, with lows in the upper 40s and northwest winds up to 20 mph. Sunny skies are expected Wednesday morning.

Highs are likely to be in the mid 60s to lower 70s, with northern winds up to 15 mph.

 

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