Wednesday Morning News Roundup

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Evacuations Lifted As Morgan Fire Is Contained

Evacuations were lifted and outdoor activities resumed Tuesday in parts of Contra Costa County as firefighters worked to quell the Morgan Fire on Mount Diablo.

About 3,243 acres have burned and the wildfire on the slopes of Mount Diablo is 45 percent contained after the fire was first reported around 1:10 p.m. Sunday near Morgan Territory Road, southeast of Clayton.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries as of Monday and a third minor injury was reported Tuesday.

The third firefighter was an inmate from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and was airlifted after he suffered heat exhaustion, CDCR officials said.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory because of the fire on Monday, which remained in effect Tuesday.

An air district spokesman said the advisory would be canceled once the fire was fully contained.

Mandatory evacuations for residents in the area were lifted Tuesday afternoon and most roads have reopened, according to Cal Fire.

More than a dozen agencies are involved in the fire response.

No homes have burned, but a Cal Fire official said that a communication shed that contains electrical equipment was destroyed Sunday night.

Several schools and city agencies in the area canceled outdoor activities, but Tuesday Danville city officials said all sporting leagues and other scheduled events would resume outside.

With lower temperatures and less smoke from the fire, activities were able to resume.

However, city officials advised residents to stay hydrated and aware of smoky conditions that may affect air quality, especially the young, elderly and those with respiratory issues.

Local Prosecutors Do Not Pursue Criminal Charges Against PG&E

Local prosecutors have decided not to pursue criminal charges against PG&E for the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, though the U.S. Attorney's Office has another two years to file a criminal case, an assistant district attorney said Tuesday.

The San Mateo County District Attorney's Office and the state Attorney General on Monday let a three-year deadline expire before filing any criminal charges against PG&E in connection with the Sept. 9, 2010, blast, which caused the deaths of eight people, injured more than 60 others and destroyed 38 Crestmoor Canyon homes.

However, Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato said that local prosecutors were continuing to partner with their federal counterparts in an ongoing criminal investigation, and that PG&E could still be charged.

"Given the scope and complexity of a case like this, it's not uncommon for the federal prosecutors to take the lead," Serrato said. "We've essentially deferred to them."

The U.S. Attorney's Office has five years from the date of the explosion to file a criminal case, he said.

Following a yearlong investigation into the deadly explosion, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that PG&E failed to detect a faulty weld in the 30-inch natural gas transmission line from the time it was installed in San Bruno in 1956, to the day it exploded in 2010.

The NTSB called PG&E's pipeline safety management program "deficient and ineffective," and said that its emergency response procedures following the explosion and gas-fed fire were "flawed."

On Monday, the utility announced it had settled a total 499 confidential claims associated with the explosion, paying out more than $565 million, PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said.

The California Public Utilities Commission is currently considering a financial penalty against PG&E, which could exceed $2 billion.

Since the San Bruno explosion, PG&E has pledged to overhaul its pipeline safety inspection program throughout its service area, compensate those affected by the disaster and cooperate with any criminal investigation.

"We'll continue to cooperate with the investigation at the federal level," Chord said.

Commissioners Updated On Repair Efforts At Hetch Hetchy

The San Francisco Public Utilities commissioners were updated Tuesday afternoon about the damage and repair efforts at the Hetch Hetchy water and power facilities after the massive "Rim Fire" burned through the Yosemite area.

The fire that started Aug. 17 at the Stanislaus National Forest spread into Yosemite National Park and has charred more than 254,000 acres. It has been 80 percent contained and full containment is not expected until Sep. 20.

It is the third largest fire in California history.

SFPUC deputy general manager Michael Carlin explained at the commission meeting Tuesday afternoon at San Francisco City Hall that only 1 percent of the Hetch Hetchy watershed was affected by the fire.

Since firefighters gained the upper hand, SFPUC crews have been able to access the facilities and assess the damage.

SFPUC general manager Harlan Kelly said Mayor Ed Lee and SFPUC staff took a helicopter ride to see the "devastation" of the fire.

Kelly credited the U.S. Forest Service, local firefighters and other agencies that came together and "helped us through to where we are today."

"We are grateful to all the firefighters on the ground," Carlin said. Some 300 firefighters were based at city-run Camp Mather during the height of the blaze.

The Hetch Hetchy provides water and other services to 2.6 million Bay Area residents.

Two of three hydroelectric powerhouses were initially taken offline during the fire, but the Kirkwood Powerhouse has since been turned back on, while the Holm turbine is still being repaired.

The roof was damaged in the blaze, but no interior equipment was affected, Carlin said. A temporary roof was placed atop the powerhouse. Power service was not affected, but about $900,000 was spent to purchase alternative energy.

He said as many as 400 of 1,200 power poles were burned, and local power service remains down.

Camp Mather is being used as a base for restoration work with generators providing power there, according to Carlin.

Carlin said he was proud to report that there was no disruption to water and power service to Bay Area customers at any point.

Water quality was unaffected with the turbidity, or cloudiness, continuing to fall within state-mandated levels.

Carlin said the fast-moving fire prompted fire crews to drop retardant but to protect the water quality none of the retardant was dropped near the O'Shaugnessy Dam at the reservoir.

Ash has not been an issue for water quality at the surface level or when taken from a depth of 160 feet, Carlin said.

Contingency plans were set in place to provide water from other utility companies and local reserves, however water infrastructure was minimally affected by the blaze, Carlin said.

Tuolumne River Trust Launches Rim Fire Recovery Campaign 

The Tuolumne River Trust, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that works to protect the watershed area near Yosemite National Park, launched the "Rim Fire Recovery Campaign" Tuesday morning.

The campaign is an effort to gather resources, funding, volunteers, local businesses, elected officials and others to help restore the ravished Tuolumne River Watershed where a majority of the wildfire burned.

The Rim Fire began Aug. 17 at Jawbone Ridge in the Stanislaus National Forest and spread into Yosemite National Park. Nearly 255,000 acres burned, including 40 miles along the Tuolumne River, which flows from Yosemite through the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and into the greater Bay Area.

The river connects with the system that provides water to millions of Bay Area residents.

The fire is now 80 percent contained after destroying more than 100 buildings including 11 homes and the Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp.

Tuolumne River Trust executive director Eric Wesselman said Tuesday morning at the organization's offices in San Francisco that the average $5 million in recovery funds expected to arrive from the federal government will not be sufficient to restore the area.

The group is working with senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to urge the lawmakers to find more support from the state and federal government.

He called funding from the multi-agency federal Burned Area Emergency Response program "woefully inadequate."

Wesselman said the nonprofit is also concerned with the environmental damage, as well as the impact on local businesses and recreational groups that depend on tourism during this time of year.

He estimated it will take years and tens of millions of dollars for the area to be revived.

"This is not a short-term plan," he said.

The group is advocating for revamped forest management practices, such as "fuels reduction" which entails thinning of forests and keeping the area less dense.

The bare soil exposed because of what Wesselman called the "catastrophic fire" will prove dangerous when the rains come this fall.

Part of the campaign will work to gather volunteers to help with immediate repairs, which includes repairing trails and campsites, working on erosion-prone areas, removing debris and dead trees, planting trees and other seeds, among other projects, campaign director Patrick Koepele said.

A community forum is being held tonight in Sonora with the U.S. Forest Service.

He noted that area restoration includes supporting the logging, tourism and environmental industries, such as whitewater rafting companies, timber mills and hotels.

Wesselman said the organization is looking for donations from members of the trust, private businesses and other foundations.

More information about the campaign and a video showing the area around the river before and after the fire is available at tuolumne.org.

Sister Mourns 3rd Anniversary Of Her Brother's Death

As the third anniversary of the shooting death of Adolfo Ignacio Celedon Bravo in Berkeley nears, his sister said Tuesday that she's disappointed that the case hasn't yet been solved and asked for people to provide information on her brother's death.

Alejandra Celedon, Bravo's older sister, who traveled from Chile to Berkeley to observe the sad anniversary, said, "It's disappointing that after three years we don't have any more consistent information and leads about his death."

Celedon said her family "is still confident" in the investigation by Berkeley police but, "We wish to have a solution as soon as we can."

Sept. 12, 2010, was Adolfo Celedon's 35th birthday and he and his fiancée Amber Nelson were planning to get married in the near future. They had met in Chile, where he was from, in February 2008 when Nelson was vacationing there.

Celedon, nicknamed "Fito," moved to Berkeley a short time later while Nelson was completing her dual master's degrees in architecture and landscape architecture.

Nelson said in an interview on the second anniversary of his death last year that on the day of the shooting they had planned to get up early to visit places in the Bay Area that he had never seen because they didn't own a car. She explained that they normally got around by bicycle but she had rented a hybrid car for their sightseeing venture.

But at about 3:41 a.m. that morning, Celedon and Nelson were walking home from a party when two robbers attacked them at the corner of Adeline and Emerson streets, a block away from the Ashby BART station and several blocks from their home.

Berkeley police said that during the robbery, one of the suspects shot Celedon and one of them punched Nelson. Paramedics transported Celedon to a local trauma center, where he was pronounced dead.

Police said the two suspects were described by witnesses as black males between the ages of 25 and 35. They said the suspects fled in what was described as a dark older model sports utility vehicle.

There is a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect or suspects responsible for Bravo's murder.

Alejandra Celedon described her brother Tuesday as "a dreamer who thought he could change the world and stop injustice."

Her brother was "a peaceful boy with a beautiful smile and was very friendly," she said.

Celedon said he had worked as an engineer in Chile but then got interested in the theater and "was completely in love with it."

Celedon said she and other family members have only come to Berkeley once a year since her brother's death but have decided "that's not a good strategy" and will come back more often. She said she plans to return in November and her father probably will come then, too.

President Obama Nominates Barbara Lee As A Representative To UN General Assembly

President Barack Obama has nominated U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, as a representative to the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Lee's office announced Tuesday.

The session begins later this month and will conclude in December, said Carrie Adams, a spokeswoman for Lee's office.

Lee's current term in the House, which ends and the end of 2014, will not be affected by the nomination, Adams said. Lee has served as a representative for the East Bay since 1998.

"This nomination comes at a time when tensions in our world are at a fever-pitch," Lee said in a statement. "I believe now more than ever that the United States must fully engage the United Nations and the international community to ensure a safer and more peaceful world."

Lee's tenure in the House has been characterized by her anti-war stances, and she recently announced her opposition to the president's plan to pursue military action in Syria in response to allegations of use of chemical weapons by the current Syrian regime.

San Jose City Manager Announces Retirement 

San Jose City Manager Debra Figone Tuesday announced she would retire by the end of the year after serving in the position for the past six years, a city spokesman said.

Figone has worked for the city of San Jose for 34 years, including as assistant city manager, director of general services and acting director of emergency services, according to city communications director David Vossbrink.

In a letter to the San Jose City Council, Figone said she thought it was "the right time for a transition" after the city had rebounded from severe budgetary shortfalls in 2010 and 2011.

"I made a commitment to myself to do the best I could before retiring to help the city achieve fiscal stability and lead our organization to recovery during remarkably challenging times," Figone wrote.

"I think we've made significant progress and I'm confident that we're on the right track," she wrote.

Mayor Chuck Reed will be responsible for nominating a candidate to replace Figone as city manager and presenting that person for appointment to the City Council, Vossbrink said.

The city manager, who reports to the mayor and council, serves as the city's chief administrator, managing the city staff and appointing city department directors and employees, Vossbrink said.

Figone also previously served 10 years as town manager for Los Gatos, Vossbrink said. 

Federal Judge Yet To Rule On Damages For Occupy Cal Demonstrators

A federal judge heard arguments but didn't make a ruling Tuesday on a legal issue in a lawsuit that seeks $15 million in damages for demonstrators who were injured in an "Occupy Cal" protest at the University of California at Berkeley in November 2011.

The activist group By Any Means Necessary and 29 other protesters filed suit on Nov. 29, 2011, accusing the UC Berkeley and other agencies of police brutality, false arrest and violating their free speech rights during protests on Nov. 9, 2011.

The defendants include UC Berkeley, top university administrators, university police, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and the Oakland Police Department.

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers didn't address the merits of the lawsuit Tuesday but instead focused on a motion by UC Berkeley to have former Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and other top administrators dismissed from the suit.

The university's lawyer, Janice Scancarelli, said even if it can be proven that Birgeneau, former Vice Chancellor George Breslauer and other top officials told police to crack down on protesters the issue is "if they knew or should have known that constitutional violations would occur" when police attacked protesters.

Scancarelli said the lawsuit "doesn't link these particular individuals to the injuries" the protesters suffered.

But George Washington, an attorney for the protesters who filed suit, said he believes top administrators "gave orders to police to attack defenseless students."

Washington argued the university's motion is "an attempt to get the top administrators out of the lawsuit and let the cops take the rap."

He said UC Berkeley administrators used an inappropriate "political judgment" in deciding to crack down on an Occupy Cal encampment on Sproul Plaza on Nov. 9, 2011, even though they hadn't removed an encampment at the same place in May 2010.

Washington alleged that university officials were more sympathetic to the May 2010 protest because it opposed Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law but were concerned about the Nov. 9, 2011, protest because it addressed what he described as the more "entrenched and deep-seated" issue of inequality at UC Berkeley.

However, Scancarelli said, "The allegations do not indicate that the chancellor or vice chancellor took action because of anyone's viewpoint" and "any attempt to infer a political intent would not be reasonable."

Scancarelli said UC Berkeley officials wanted to remove the protesters from Sproul Plaza because they were concerned about safety and sanitation problems that had plagued other "Occupy" encampments across the country in the fall of 2011.

Although Gonzalez Rogers took the matter under submission and won't rule until later, she told Washington that the lawsuit doesn't have enough hard facts to back up its allegation that top university officials were aware of the harsh tactics police were using against protesters.

The judge said to Washington, "My main problem with your complaint is that it does much less than your argument."

Gonzalez Rogers said, "What I do not appreciate is all these allegations which are not actually supported by the facts in the complaint."

Weather Forecast

Mostly cloudy skies and patchy fog are expected in the Bay Area this morning, becoming partly cloudy later in the day. Highs are likely to reach the upper 60s, with southwest winds up to 20 mph.

Cloudy skies are expected this evening, with patchy fog after midnight. Lows are likely to be in the upper 50s, with westerly winds up to 20 mph.

Cloudy skies and patchy fog are likely Thursday morning. Highs are expected to be in the 60s to lower 70s, with westerly winds up to 20 mph.

 

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