San Francisco Bay Area Wednesday Morning News Roundup

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Martinez: Board of Supes Approves Plan to Shutter Four Fire Stations

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday evening to approve a plan to shutter four fire stations a month after voters rejected a parcel tax measure meant to prevent the closures.

The cost-saving service reduction plan drafted by Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Chief Daryl Louder comes a month after Measure Q, a $75 annual parcel tax designed to help close the district's $17 million budget deficit, failed to receive a two-thirds "super majority" vote.

Stations located at 700 Hawthorne Drive in Walnut Creek, at 6500 Center Ave. in Clayton, at 1240 Shell Ave. in Martinez and at 4007 Los Arabis Ave. in Lafayette are set to close in January.

The Lafayette station has been temporarily closed since June.

Those stations were selected for closure based on their location, call volume and emergency risk factors in the surrounding communities, fire officials said.

The closures will leave Walnut Creek with only three stations, Martinez and Lafayette with just two each, and Clayton without any fire station.

"We know that with longer response times, we have increased safety concerns for the public and increased safety concerns for our firefighters," Louder said. "We will continue to monitor the impact, monitor response times and evaluate the situation."

Louder said the closures, while a drastic measure, are the only viable alternative available since the fire district has spent through its reserves after years of falling property tax revenue and soaring pension and health care costs.

The chief explained that the district's personnel have taken pay cuts and contributed more to their pension and health care costs in recent years, but have been unable to solve their fiscal dilemma.

The plan is expected to save the financially embattled district $3 million over the next six months, according to the chief.

The district's current annual budget is over $102 million.

Sonoma Co.: Supes Table Resolution Lowering Allowable Amount of Medical Marijuana

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening tabled action on a resolution that would have lowered the county's allowable amount of marijuana for medical marijuana patients and caregivers.

Medical marijuana patients or their caregivers are currently allowed 30 plants and three pounds of processed marijuana per year.

The action before the board was to repeal that resolution and pass another one that allows only eight ounces of processed pot and six mature or 12 immature plants.

After dozens of the medical marijuana patients spoke for nearly two hours against repealing the resolution, Board Chair Shirlee Zane closed the public hearing before everyone had a chance to speak because Supervisor Valerie Brown, who was attending her last meeting, had to leave early.

That prompted an outcry from those who had not yet spoken.

Brown then made a motion to table the issue and it passed unanimously. Speakers said the lower allowable amounts are insufficient medicine, and the board was in effect re-criminalizing medical marijuana.

Attorney Chris Andrian told the board repealing the current resolution "would create chaos in the court system." "Every case will require litigation," Andrian said regarding arrests for violations of the lowered amounts.

Other critics said there was no input from caregivers, marijuana dispensaries and other stakeholders, including the public, before the ad hoc committee made its recommendation to lower the marijuana amounts and bring it before the Board of Supervisors at its last meeting of the year.

Zane and Brown were on an ad hoc committee that recommended the lower threshold.

The committee said illegal use of marijuana is increasing in the county, especially among youths, and growing operations in unoccupied homes and on rural land is creating environmental and health and safety problems.

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas told the supervisors his investigators report growers from outside the county and Bay Area perceive Sonoma County as being permissive toward growing medical marijuana.

Board members said they are not targeting medical marijuana users but the lucrative criminal trade that has developed in the county and is costing the sheriff's office $2 million a year investigating marijuana-related complaints.

Opponents said lowering the allowable amount to the state's default possession and cultivation limits for medicinal pot is not the solution to the illegal grows.

Regional: Crab Dispute Ends After Agreement Reached on Dungeness Price

Dozens of Bay Area crab boats are preparing to head out to sea again after a weeklong standoff over the price of fresh Dungeness crab ended Tuesday, an industry spokesman said.

Crab fishing boats in San Francisco, Bodega Bay and Half Moon Bay had been idle since Dec. 5, when dockside fish brokers tried to offer a price below $3 per pound for Dungeness crab, said Larry Collins, president of the Crab Boat Owners Association in San Francisco.

Collins said Tuesday afternoon that an agreement has been reached between fishermen and brokers that would put crab boats back in operation and fresh crab back on Bay Area menus.

"We got the $3 per pound we were asking for," Collins said. Angel Cincotta, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based fish broker Alioto-Lazio Fish Company, confirmed the agreement and said fresh crab would start showing up in supermarkets and restaurants by Friday.

Collins said he and other fishermen would prepare their boats to head out early this morning. John Draper, assistant harbormaster at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, said as many as 50 boats were preparing to head out as early as Tuesday night.

"They're all going to head out at midnight," he said.

Crab season opened in Bay Area fisheries on Nov. 15 and runs through June, according to the Department of Fish and Game. 

Lafayette: City Leaders Expect Massive Sinkhole to be Repaired by Christmas

Lafayette city leaders said Tuesday that they expect a massive sinkhole caused by heavy rain earlier this month to be repaired by Christmas Day.

The city has hired C.C. Myers, a renowned emergency freeway contractor, to fill the 15-foot-deep sinkhole on Mountain View Drive, City Manager Steve Falk said.

Repair work on the sinkhole began Tuesday morning.

The giant hole formed after a Dec. 2 storm pelted the area with rain and eroded a large portion of the roadway.

Falk said he originally expected to have the sinkhole filled by as late as this summer, but that the City Council moved to hire C.C. Myers to complete the repairs as soon as possible.

"I think what really motivated the council to get going on this was the fact that the detour created delays to emergency personnel in the event of 911 calls," Falk said. Rather than wait six months or longer to go through a contractor bidding process, he said, the council decided to hire C.C. Myers, Inc., which has a solid history of completing large-scale emergency projects, he said.

The emergency roadway construction firm has handled a wide range of major projects after California catastrophes, including freeway repairs in the wake of the Loma Prieta earthquake and the replacement of a fire-damaged portion of the MacArthur Maze that disintegrated after a gas truck crashed and caught fire in 2007.

Falk said the city will pay up to $600,000 for the sinkhole repairs.

City officials have not yet determined how to fund the project, but Falk said a mix of grant funding and insurance coverage may be used.

In addition to blocking a connector street for a few different neighborhoods in the area, the gaping hole created by the recent storm is also blocking a driveway for one resident -- newly elected Lafayette Mayor Mike Anderson, Falk said.

"I think of all the people in town, he's probably the best person to have that problem ... he understands the constraints we work under," the city manager said.

Oakland: Children's Hospital Gets $5 Million Gift from Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente gave a $5 million grant to Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland Tuesday to assist the nonprofit medical center's ambitious rebuilding and modernization efforts and improve the quality of care it provides to children.

Dr. Bert Lubin, Children's president and chief executive, said he's "extremely grateful" for Kaiser Permanente's generous donation but admitted that it's a only small percentage of the $450 million Children's hopes to raise for its rebuilding work in the next five to ten years.

However, Lubin said he believes that getting a major contribution from Kaiser will spur other organizations to step forward and provide additional donations to the hospital.

Lubin also said that Gregory Adams, president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan/Hospitals Inc. in Northern California, announced Tuesday that Kaiser could contribute up to another $20 million to Children's over the next four years.

Kaiser will review Children's progress each of the next four years and will consider additional $5 million donations each year, he said.

Children's Oakland has the Bay Area's only Level 1 pediatric trauma center, which means that it provides the highest level of surgical care to trauma patients.

Adams said in a statement, "Our support of Children's is an investment in the safety net and the future of health care." Adams said, "No single organization can meet all the growing needs in our communities so it is important that business, government, non-profits and individuals work together to most effectively meet the challenges ahead."

Children's officials said since their hospital's inception in 1912 they've remained committed to delivering specialized health care to all children in the region and beyond, regardless of a family's ability to pay.

Children's officials said that with no public pediatric hospital beds in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, their hospital is the safety net for both counties, in addition to caring for privately insured patients.

Lubin said Children's biggest challenge is increasing its number of individual patient rooms, as most rooms now have to accommodate two families on each side of a curtain, meaning that patients and their families don't have much privacy.

"It's important to allow privacy because the standard of care now calls for families to stay with children who need treatment", Lubin said.

Oakland: Officers Who Went Above and Beyond the Call of Duty Are Honored

Oakland police officers who went above and beyond the call of duty in dealing with the gunman in the city's largest mass killing, helping to deliver a baby at a gas station and handling other emergencies were honored Tuesday.

At a ceremony at police headquarters, police Chief Howard Jordan said, "Today's award recipients represent the best of the Oakland Police Department. Their acts reflect commitment not only to the community we serve but to the law enforcement profession as a whole."

Jordan said the honorees displayed "expertise, courage, morals, values and dedication."

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan told the honorees as well as other officers in attendance that, "We ask a lot of you and most citizens in Oakland appreciate the job you do."

Quan said, "The Oakland Police Department is doing its best and has one of the toughest jobs in the city."

A total of 16 officers were recognized for their response to the April 2 shooting at Oikos University.

Former student One Goh, 43, is accused of murdering seven people and wounding three others in the biggest mass killing in Oakland's history.

Capt. Brian Medeiros, who retired last month to join the Alameda County District Attorney's Office as an inspector, received the Chief's Leadership Award for coordinating the many law enforcement agencies which responded to the shooting.

Capt. Ersie Joyner, who presented the award's Tuesday, praised Medeiros' work at what he described as "a scene of magnitude not often seen in law enforcement."

Fifteen officers received the Silver Star, the department's second-highest honor for distinguished and courageous acts, for their roles in responding to the Oikos shooting.

Joyner praised Officer Richard Niven for performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a female shooting victim until paramedics arrived and for escorting three witnesses to a secure location.

Others who were given the Silver Star were sergeants Rick Andreotti, Dom Arotzarena, Michael Beaver, Patrick Gonzales, Roland Holmgren and Mike Reilly and Officers Dave Burke, Andres Garza, now with San Francisco, James Henry, Francisco Negrete, Diane Ward and John Fukuda.

Oakland public school police officers Michael Creighton and Antonio Fregoso also received the award.

Santa Cruz Co.: Hundreds of Red Squid Wash Ashore on Local Beaches

Scientists are trying to determine why hundreds of red Humboldt squid have washed ashore in Santa Cruz County this week.

According to researchers at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station research center, there a couple of reasons why the 18-inch-long squid -- more commonly found in warmer waters near the Sea of Cortez -- are beaching themselves along the coasts of Central and Northern California.

"We have two main theories," graduate student Hanna Rosen said. "The first is that the strandings seem to occur when the squid invade a new area."

"The squid that have washed ashore on beaches around Monterey and Santa Cruz since October appear to be adolescents, and they were likely following atypical warm currents and prey to the region", Rosen said.

"When the squid have come up here in the past, it has correlated with El Nino," she said.

Once the squid establish themselves, the beachings will likely decrease, Rosen said.

The second explanation for the strandings is related to the squid's food supply, which could have become temporarily contaminated by a harmful algae bloom.

Red algae secretes a toxin that can affect the squid's central nervous system and "cause them to become disoriented," Rosen said.

Scientists from the Hopkins Marine Station and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have collected beached specimens and will be working to find out exactly why the squid are in the area and why periodic strandings occur.

Humboldt squid, which are not endangered, can grow to a length of seven feet and weigh up to 100 pounds.

SJ: Former Deputy Testifies Seeing Nude Body of Murdered Woman inside Car in 1983

Christopher Holland, gray-bearded and hunched over, listened Tuesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court to testimony by two retired peace officers during a hearing on whether he should stand trial in the murder of a 21-year-old woman outside San Jose back in 1983.

The former cold case murder of San Jose resident Tara Marowski was reopened last year by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, which arrested Holland following results of DNA tests allegedly linking him to the murder, according to the district attorney's office.

Holland, 57, already has been charged in the 1983 murder of 17-year-old Cynthia Munoz, who was killed four months after Marowski was slain.

A 2007 preliminary hearing in that case also involved DNA results used as evidence.

This week's preliminary examination hearing, expected to end by Thursday, is to determine if enough evidence exists to try Holland for Marowski's murder, Deputy District Attorney David Boyd said.

The district attorney's office has added special circumstances to the murder charges in both cases, alleging that Holland raped both women before killing them, Boyd said.

If Holland is found guilty on either of the murder charges with special circumstances, he could face a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, Boyd said.

The first witness in the hearing Tuesday, Mark Faler, a former Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy, described seeing Marowski's nude body in the backseat of her 1973 Plymouth Duster on April 2, 1983, in unincorporated San Jose.

Faler, now 60, recalled as a deputy sheriff arriving at the scene at 997 Carola Ave., a couple of blocks north of the city of Campbell, at about 9 a.m. and soon noticing an odor coming from a slightly-opened window of the car.

"It smelled like decayed human body to me," Faler said under examination by Boyd.

Faler testified that he approached the car, which was locked, looked in a window and noticed a human body in the backseat with clothing spread over it.

He said he questioned a person at the scene, Brian Bueno, who told him his wife was a friend of Marowski's, that Marowski had not been seen for a week, that he heard someone had seen her car and that he then drove to the spot and found it.

Faler testified that after the coroner arrived to remove the body, clothing piled on top of the body was removed, revealing that the body was nude.

Oakland: One Killed, Two Injured in Separate Shootings Yesterday

A man was killed and two other people were injured in separate Oakland shootings Tuesday.

The homicide was reported at 8:39 p.m. in the 800 block of Hawkins Drive near 92nd Avenue in East Oakland, Officer J. Moore said.

Police found a man suffering from gunshot wounds who was pronounced dead at the scene.

Just minutes later across the city a woman was shot, Moore said.

The shooting was reported at 8:41 p.m. in the 900 block of 18th Street in West Oakland.

The woman victim was transported to a hospital in stable condition, Moore said.

Tuesday afternoon another shooting was reported in North Oakland, just blocks from where another victim was shot on Monday night.

Tuesday's shooting was reported at 2:34 p.m. in the 400 block of 60th Street.

A man found shot there was taken to a hospital in stable condition but was uncooperative with the police investigation, Moore said.

Monday night a victim was hospitalized after suffering a gunshot wound in the 500 block of 59th Street, less than half a mile away.

Police have not identified any suspects in any of the shootings.

Santa Clara Co.: Lick Observatory Employee Killed in Crash on Mount Hamilton

A maintenance employee at the Lick Observatory was killed when his pickup truck plunged off a rural road on Mount Hamilton in Santa Clara County Tuesday afternoon, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The CHP first received reports that the Ford Ranger pickup had left the road on Mount Hamilton Road just south of the observatory at 12:08 p.m.

The driver, a man in his 50s, was a state maintenance employee at the observatory, which is at the mountain's summit, according to the CHP.

He was trapped inside the truck after it fell, and CHP officers were on scene throughout the afternoon partly because the rural mountain road is difficult to access.

The coroner was called at about 1:30 p.m. and the man was pronounced dead at the scene.

SF Bay Area Morning Weather Forecast

Mostly cloudy skies and showers are likely in the Bay Area this morning, with highs expected to be in the mid 50s and winds up to 15 mph.

Cloudy skies and showers are likely tonight. Lows are expected to be in the lower 40s, with northeast winds up to 10 mph.

Partly cloudy skies are expected on Thursday. Highs are likely to be in the mid 50s, with winds up to 10 mph.

 

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