Wednesday Morning News Roundup

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BART Riders Prepare for Another Strike 

BART management met with union leaders again Tuesday to try to reach an agreement before the contract for the transit agency's employees expires Sunday night but a union official said the talks weren't productive. 
Josie Mooney, one of the lead negotiators for Service International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, said, "I would not characterize this as a good day." 
Mooney said Tuesday was the first time in 11 days that BART met in the same room with SEIU Local 1021 representatives and leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, in talks that are being facilitated by two state mediators. 
She said the session, which started at 4:15 p.m., only lasted 40 minutes and during that time BART negotiators rejected "with very little comment" four proposals that union representatives made on July 19. 
Earlier Tuesday, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said even though the transit agency's negotiators haven't been in the same room with union negotiators in recent days, management and union representatives have been meeting regularly with the mediators. 
"The parties sit in separate rooms and the mediator shuttles contract offers back and forth," Trost said. "We've been doing what the mediator has asked." 
However, Mooney alleged that BART violated a gag order imposed by the mediators that the two sides not discuss contract details when it held a news conference Tuesday to discuss the details of its latest offer to employees. 
"BART violated the rules of engagement," Mooney said. 
Trost said BART released the details because it believes that the public should know the details of its offer because "taxpayer money is involved and taxpayers have a right to know and we have to be accountable to them." 
Trost said management has moved a great deal since its initial offer to employees in the talks, which began on April 1. She said management initially wanted to "take back" $140 million from employees in wages, retirement costs and health care costs but its most recent proposal would give them an additional $33 million over the next four years. 
Specifically, Trost said BART has doubled its salary proposal to 8 percent over four years, lowered its pension contribution to 5 percent over four years, which she said is lower than what other public employees pay, and lowered its medical premium contribution to less than what average public and private sector employees pay. 
In contrast, Trost said union leaders' are asking for a 21.5 percent pay increase over three years and want to continue paying just $92 a month for healthcare and only want to make a 3 percent pension contribution at the end of three years. 
Mooney said she didn't want to violate the mediators' gag order by discussing the details of the contract proposals but she said BART's proposal would still result in cutbacks in the total economic package for many employees. 
Contract talks will resume at 10 a.m. today, Mooney said. 
BART employees went on strike the morning of July 1 but late on July 4 they agreed to extend their previous contract for 30 days, until Aug. 4, and return to work the afternoon of July 5. 
The four-and-a-half day strike clogged local highways and caused commuting headaches for Bay Area residents. 
Regional transit officials, who fear that the commuting nightmare could be repeated next Monday if BART doesn't reach an agreement with its employees by Sunday night, held a conference call Tuesday to develop contingency plans to try to deal with another strike. 

3-Alarm Fire in Salinas Destroy's Structures After Propane Tank Blew Up Inside Garage 

A home and a four-unit apartment building were destroyed and three other structures were damaged in a 3-alarm fire in Salinas Tuesday after propane tanks blew up inside of a garage, a fire chief said. 
The Salinas Fire Department and other fire agencies knocked down the blaze at about 4:45 p.m. in a residential area in the 1100 block of Mohar Street, Salinas Fire Chief Edmond Rodriguez said. 
Salinas firefighters were dispatched at about 3:20 p.m. to the fire that apparently started in the garage of the home that was eventually destroyed, Rodriguez said. 
Firefighters were told about multiple explosions heard inside the garage that were later determined to be from propane tanks, Rodriguez said. 
The house fire spread to a nearby two-story, four-unit apartment building to the east that then burned down completely, Rodriguez said. 
The exterior to another four-unit apartment building and parts of two other structures sustained minor to moderate damage, Rodriguez said. 
No one was injured in the fire, Rodriguez said. 
About 100 firefighters participated in dousing the fire, including nearly the entire Salinas Fire Department, Rodriguez said. 
Other fire agencies that sent personnel to fight the blaze included Cal Fire, the cities of Seaside and Monterey, the Monterey County Regional Fire District and the North County Fire Protection District of Monterey County, Rodriguez said. 

Proposed Radical Mortgage Changes for the City of Richmond

Richmond is launching a radical program demanding banks to sell mortgages to the city in an effort to help underwater homeowners refinance and prevent foreclosure, city leaders and supporters announced Tuesday. 
The city has sent out letters to banks and lenders offering to buy more than 600 Richmond residents' mortgages in order to restructure the loans and make monthly payments more affordable for homeowners at risk of foreclosure, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said. 
The offers were sent out to 32 lenders holding 624 loans that are underwater, including 180 that are behind on payments, said Graham Williams of Mortgage Resolution Partners, or MRP, the San Francisco-based investment firm partnering with the city on the plan. 
"After years of waiting on the banks to offer up a more comprehensive fix or the federal government to fix it, we're stepping into the void and making it happen ourselves," the mayor said at a morning news conference. 
MRP has lined up the investment money to buy the homes at a discount, based on the property's estimated value after foreclosure. Then, the city will help the homeowner get a loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration that would allow lower monthly mortgage payments, according to McLaughlin. 
The program won't cost the city any money, since MRP has agreed to provide money both to buy the homes and to litigate any legal challenges against the plan, according to McLaughlin and MRP Executive Chairman Steven Gluckstern. 
If lenders don't take the city up on its offer, Richmond will consider using its powers of eminent domain to force a purchase and seize the mortgages, McLaughlin said. 
Eminent domain is a governmental power typically used to buy private land for public purposes such as parks or roads, said former North Carolina Congressman Brad Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. 
Under eminent domain, property must be sold at fair market value. 
Miller said Tuesday that he has long pushed the idea of local governments using eminent domain "as a way to deal with the housing crisis." 
But banks and lobbyists have vocally opposed the plan, contending that it would have a negative effect on the city and make it tougher for local residents to get mortgages in the future, McLaughlin said. 
Both San Bernardino County and the city of Salinas also considered working with MRP to launch a similar program but opted against the plan after banks threatened lawsuits, according to MRP. 
McLaughlin said Richmond has received the same threats from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and other lobbyists. 
"There's no way we're going to back down on this -- it's our community that's at stake here, it's our community that is suffering, and I stand with our community in making sure the damage gets reversed," she said. 
The unprecedented program has gained the support of community and faith-based groups in Richmond as well as the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and Home Defenders League, a national movement of underwater homeowners and their allies. 
ACCE campaign director Amy Schur said Tuesday that while Richmond is the first city to launch the plan, others throughout the country, including Newark, N.J. and Seattle, are expected to follow suit. 
"This is a national movement...Richmond is the first, but this idea really has some momentum," Schur said. 

California Public Utilities Commission Regulate Smartphone-Enabled Rideshare Services 

The California Public Utilities Commission has weighed in on how to regulate smartphone-enabled rideshare services with a proposed decision released Tuesday afternoon. 
The proposal aims to ensure public safety for drivers and users of transportation network companies, which the CPUC defines as a company or organization that provides transportation services using an online-enabled platform to connect passengers with drivers who are using their own vehicles. 
As part of the recommendations, companies, such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar, would have to be licensed by the CPUC, run background checks on drivers, have a driver-training program, and have a more stringent insurance policy. 
The CPUC would require a $1 million per-incident coverage policy for rideshare vehicles and drivers during a trip with passengers. 
There would also be a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy. 
The CPUC, which regulates passenger carriers, had an administrative law judge compile the report on rideshare companies. 
In December, the commission tasked the judge with gathering information to "evaluate the safety of ridesharing businesses that utilize the Internet, social media, and location services to arrange transportation of passengers over public highways for compensation," according to CPUC documents. 
Various local agencies, companies and organizations submitted comments to the CPUC before the proposal was released, including various rideshare companies, taxi companies, taxi advocacy groups, the San Francisco International Airport Commission and the California Highway Patrol
The CHP wrote in a letter to the judge in March that the rideshare companies cannot be left unregulated because it "increases the potential for operation of unsafe vehicles, unqualified drivers and uninsured transportation providers." 
In another document, airport officials had contended that the term "rideshare" for these companies was misleading and asked for the CPUC to not allow the drivers to take passengers to and from the airport, citing passenger safety and security concerns. 
As defined by the CPUC, a rideshare involves a driver transporting passengers to a destination, usually work-related, without profiting from the ride. 
The airport said drivers and companies profit from the "ridesharing" system. 
In June, Sidecar company officials submitted a letter that outlined what they called "the potential benefits of ridesharing." 
In the letter, officials wrote, "New dynamic ridesharing platforms are now innovating in ways that have the unique potential to overcome traditional barriers and unlock the true potential of rideshare -- if regulatory models keep in step." 
The letter continued, "These platforms are not designed or intended to displace public transportation, corporate vanpooling, taxis or limousines services, but rather to complement multi-modal transportation networks." 
In the letter, the company asked the commission to implement a "new framework" that encourages "innovative transportation technologies, business forms and sharing models." 
The proposed decision is open to public comment for the next 30 days before the commission has its first opportunity to vote on the recommendations on Sept. 5. 

New Member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors; Cindy Chavez

Former San Jose Vice Mayor Cindy Chavez appears to have won a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, according to preliminary results of Tuesday's special election. 
Chavez defeated Teresa Alvarado in a runoff election after the two received the most votes but fell short of a majority in June's special election to replace disgraced former Supervisor George Shirakawa
In Tuesday's election Chavez received 11,814 votes, or 55.55 percent, and Alvarado received 9,455 votes, or 44.45 percent, according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. 
Chavez, 49, said during her campaign that the community needed "safe, vibrant schools so our children can thrive, good paying jobs and affordable health care so families can succeed, and more police and sheriff deputies on the streets to stop the escalation of violence." 
She won the support of teachers and other public sector labor organizations. 
District 2 includes the County Government Center where the Board of Supervisors meet, all of downtown San Jose and much of East San Jose, according to the county's website. 
The Board of Supervisors approved the election to replace Shirakawa after he resigned March 1 in light of a 12-count criminal complaint filed that day by the district attorney's office. 
The office charged that Shirakawa obtained more than $130,000 in public and campaign funds for personal use and to gamble at casinos. 
He later pleaded guilty to four felony counts of perjury, one felony count of misuse of public funds and seven misdemeanors for filing inaccurate campaign and government finance reports. 
Shirakawa still has not been sentenced for the criminal convictions.  

Closing Arguments Began in Stacey Lonnberg Trial   

Closing arguments began Tuesday in the San Jose trial of a Gilroy woman charged with killing her husband and daughter in a drunken-driving accident on state Highway 85 near Los Gatos in 2012. 
Stacey Lonnberg, 52, is charged with two counts of vehicular murder and one count of child endangerment in the deaths of Frederic Lonnberg, 57, and Tiffiny Gillette, 26, while she drove north on the highway on Jan. 14, 2012. 
Lonnberg got behind the wheel of a 2002 Toyota Tacoma with her husband, daughter and 1-year-old grandson after consuming seven to eight drinks of vodka and the pain medication oxycodone, according to the Deputy District Attorney Matt Braker. 
While driving on the highway close to Winchester Boulevard on a car trip to Belmont, Lonnberg was driving more than 85 miles per hour, made an unsafe lane change and hit a pickup truck, Braker said. 
The force of the impact sent the Toyota out of control and it flipped over multiple times before coming to rest in the center of the roadway, Braker said. 
Gillette, in the rear left passenger seat without wearing a safety belt, was ejected onto the roadway. Frederic Lonnberg, who wore his seat belt in the front passenger seat, died later at a hospital from being partially ejected during the rollovers. 
Both Stacey Lonnberg and her grandson survived without serious injuries.      
Braker told jurors Tuesday morning that the defendant committed murder with implied malice aforethought because she knew she would be driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs and disregarded the threat she posed to the lives of her family members and others. 
Lonnberg had a prior arrest on suspicion of drunken driving, took a 12-hour class in the effects of driving drunk, and had received warnings from medical professionals about the dangers, Braker said.   
"This case is about a defendant being aware of a risk and going ahead and doing it anyway," Braker said. "It's way down the road as far as egregious conduct. Two people died." 
Braker recalled for jurors the testimony from an expert witness for the prosecution who estimated that prior to the accident, Lonnberg's blood alcohol level was about .20, more than twice the legal limit, Braker said. 
"She's at .20, seven to eight drinks in the course of an hour is what it's going to take," Braker said, "That's a lot of booze in your system." 
Braker also asked the jury to find Lonnberg guilty of endangering the life of her grandson, who was strapped into a car seat assigned for older children that was "not legal or sufficient," while driving impaired. 
After taking the witness stand on Monday, Lonnberg, under questioning by defense lawyer Javier Rios, admitted to being drunk at the time of the deadly crash and to have driven drunk "thousands of times" before without getting into an accident. 
In his closing statement Tuesday, Rios said that there was no doubt that Lonnberg was drunk during the accident, but that the prosecution did not provide evidence beyond a reasonable doubt proving she actually intended to kill her husband and daughter. 
For her to want kill them that day "her heart would have to be so cold, depraved, malignant," but Lonnberg loved her husband and daughter, Rios said.  
"Any murder charge is for the worst of the worst," Rios said. 
"That's not what we have here." 
Rios described Lonnberg as an alcoholic who grew up with alcoholic parents and said while Lonnberg was a girl, her mother routinely drove her to and from bars while drunk and never got into an accident, which influenced Lonnberg's conduct as an adult. 
Lonnberg admitted during her own testimony to driving while intoxicated that day but that she felt fine and fit to drive prior to the accident, Rios said. 
"Why was Stacey 100 percent sure? She had done it thousands of times," Rios said. "It's safe for me to drive DUI. That's what she was thinking." 
"She's not thinking this is dangerous to human life," Rio said. 
"It does not enter into her brain."  

Recycle Workers in San Leandro Walked Off Job Tuesday

Recycling workers at a Waste Management facility in San Leandro walked off the job Tuesday to protest what they say are low wages and dangerous working conditions. 
The employees, who are members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6's recycling unit, also are meeting with Oakland City Council members Tuesday to discuss a long-term contract that the city is negotiating with Waste Management and another company, California Waste Solutions, union spokesman Craig Merrilees said. 
California Waste Solutions employees also are participating in the one-day walkout, Merrilees said. He estimated that about 200 employees are participating in the job action. 
The contract isn't on the agenda for the council's meeting tonight but workers will discuss it during the open forum part of the meeting, according to Merrilees. 
Waste Management spokesman David Tucker said that contract won't begin until July 2015. 
Tucker said the walkout isn't affecting the company's customers in Alameda County because their waste and recycling materials are being picked up by Teamsters union members who aren't participating in the job action. 
Merrilees said the people who are participating in the walkout work at Waste Management's transfer station on Davis Street in San Leandro, where they sort recycling material. 
Evangelina Macias, a 66-year-old San Leandro woman who worked for Waste Management for 13 years, was killed at the facility on June 19, 2012, after she was struck by a piece of heavy equipment. 
Although Macias was a landfill worker, Merrilees said her death is an example of the dangers that recycling workers face at the facility. 
Tucker said Waste Management has had a "stellar" safety record at the San Leandro facility except for Macias' death and it has implemented additional safety measures since then. 
Merrilees said most recycling workers for Waste Management and California Waste Solutions in Alameda County only make $12.67 per hour and are upset that their pay is much less than recycling workers in San Francisco and San Jose who are paid $20 an hour for similar work. 
Tucker said Waste Management "has been seeking a fair, reasonable and sustainable agreement that includes employee participation in covering a small portion of their health and welfare premiums." 
He said Local 6's last contract with Waste Management was negotiated in 2006 and expired in February 2011 and workers have continued to work under the terms of that agreement. 
Tucker said recycling workers are seeking a 65 percent increase in compensation over five years but management is offering a 3 percent increase for each year of five years, for a total increase of $2 an hour. 
The company also is offering a company-paid pension plan for employees, Tucker said. 
He said clerical and landfill workers who belong to ILWU Local 6 accepted similar offers in April, but Merrilees said those workers are paid much more than recycling employees. 
Merrilees said the recycling workers feel "antagonized and insulted" by Waste Management and California Waste Solutions because of their low pay as well as their unsafe working conditions. 
California Waste Solutions officials couldn't be reached for comment. 

San Leandro Real Estate Agent Arrested for Six Felonies

A San Leandro real estate agent was arrested and charged Tuesday with six felonies for allegedly defrauding a Lafayette couple out of $270,000 and filing false tax returns, Contra Costa County prosecutors said. 
Judy T. Gong, 53, was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement, perjury, forgery, tax fraud crimes and an enhancement for excessive loss and could face up to eight years in prison for the alleged offenses, according to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office. 
The arrest comes more than two years after the victims, a Lafayette couple in their 50s, called the district attorney's office to complain about Gong, who was controlling the couple's line of home equity credit, according to Deputy District Attorney Ken McCormick. 
The couple had inherited a home and contacted Gong about getting a home equity line of credit for the property. 
An investigation revealed that Gong embezzled the couple's money, pocketing their mortgage payments, McCormick said. 
In addition, the real estate agent convinced the couple to get a second mortgage and embezzled those payments, too, he said. 
On that loan, she used a forged document to transfer money from the loan to her own bank account, the prosecutor said. 
Gong pocketed a total of $270,000 from the two mortgages, according to the district attorney's office. 
"This case is all about greed," McCormick said. 
During the investigation into the alleged embezzlement, the district attorney's office sent Gong's bank records to the state franchise tax board. 
The state investigation revealed that Gong had committed major tax crimes -- underreporting her income by $500,000 in 2008 and failing to report $418,000 in 2009, prosecutors said. 
After her arrest in San Leandro Tuesday morning, Gong was taken to county jail in Martinez, where she is being held on $400,000. 
Anyone else who believes they have been victimized by Gong is asked to call the district attorney's real estate fraud unit at (925) 957-2200. 

Scott Wiener Wants to Issue Parking Tickets for Cars Double-Parked in SF

Vehicles double parked on San Francisco streets are the target of a hearing that a city supervisor called for at Tuesday's board meeting. 
Supervisor Scott Wiener called for the hearing in response to what he said is "a long-time festering problem in the city." 
Wiener said cars, taxis and other vehicles that double park on city streets clog up traffic and also cause safety problems for bicyclists who have to veer around the stopped cars. 
He said he wants San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency parking control officers to provide more consistent enforcement of double parkers. 
SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said the agency has issued approximately 22,000 double parking citations in the past year, a number that Wiener questioned. 
"I've lived in San Francisco for 16 years and I've never seen a double parking ticket issued," he said. 
Wiener said more consistent enforcement of double parking, which comes with a $110 ticket, will get drivers to think twice before stopping their vehicles illegally. 
"If people believe they may get a double parking ticket, we'll see a lot less double parking," he said. 
The hearing, which will take place at a future date at the board's land use and economic development committee, will include reports from SFMTA officials on traffic impacts, enforcement policies and citation statistics. 
"We welcome the spotlight on the issue and look forward to working with the supervisor," Rose said. 

Bay Area Weather Forecast 7/31

Cloudy skies and patchy fog are expected in the Bay Area this morning. Highs are likely to be in the 50s to mid 60s, with southwest winds up to 30 mph in the afternoon. 
Partly cloudy skies are expected this evening, with patchy fog after midnight. Lows are likely to be in the mid 50s, with westerly winds up to 30 mph. 
Cloudy skies and patchy fog are likely Thursday morning. Highs are expected to be in the 50s to mid 60s, with westerly winds up to 30 mph.

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