Thursday Morning News Roundup
SF: PG&E Will Appeal Record $1.4 Billion Pipeline Safety Penalty
PG&E Co. announced in San Francisco Wednesday it will appeal a record $1.4 billion pipeline-safety penalty and fine to the California Public Utilities Commission. The penalty and fine were levied Monday by two PUC administrative law judges in three proceedings stemming from a 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, injured 66 others and destroyed dozens of homes.
The utility’s plan to appeal to the five-member commission, based in San Francisco, was disclosed in a PG&E filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and confirmed by PG&E spokesman Donald Cutler. “We are planning to ask the Public Utilities Commission to review the penalty to ensure that it takes into account PG&E’s (existing) $2.7 billion safety investments and actions,” Cutler said.
In addition, the spokesman said, “We believe any penalty should directly benefit public safety.” The $1.4 billion sanction proposed by PUC administrative law judges Mark Wetzell and Amy Yip-Kikugawa is for 3,708 violations of federal and state regulations governing gas transmission line record-keeping, classification and maintenance. It includes a $950 million fine to be paid to the state’s general fund, $400 million for pipeline modernization and $50 million to carry out more than 75 specific safety measures.
It is the largest financial sanction is ever imposed by the commission in a safety-related case and must be paid with shareholder funds and not with customers’ gas and electric bill payments. Including another $635 million in shareholder funding previously ordered by the PUC for the first phase of pipeline modernization, the total penalty and fine will be $2.035 billion, if upheld. Cutler said the utility has already paid or agreed to pay $2.7 billion for improvements. That amount includes the previously allocated $635 million that the commission has said must come from shareholders rather than customers, according to the SEC filing. Other parties in the case, which include the city of San Bruno and TURN, a consumer advocacy group, are also entitled to appeal to the commission within the next 30 days.
San Bruno and TURN have not yet announced whether they will appeal, but representatives of both said Monday they believed that more of the fine should go toward safety measures rather than the state’s general fund. Saint Helena police have recovered a brown Dodge van that was abandoned by two men suspected of robbing a jewelry store Wednesday morning, a police lieutenant said. The suspects fled on foot after they abandoned the van in the area of Madrona Street and Oak Avenue near state Highway 29, police Lt. William Imboden said.
Saint Helena: Two Armed Men Rob Jewelry Store This Morning
Saint Helena police have recovered a brown Dodge van that was abandoned by two men suspected of robbing a jewelry store Wednesday morning, a police lieutenant said. The suspects fled on foot after they abandoned the van in the area of Madrona Street and Oak Avenue near state Highway 29, police Lt. William Imboden said.
They then jumped into bushes, and police have since recovered clothing at the scene, Imboden said. The men, described as black males between 20 and 20 years old, entered David’s Jewelers at 1343 Main St. around 11:15 a.m., police said. They ordered the store owner and an employee to get down on to the floor and smashed display cases. The robbers fled with 20-25 Rolex watches, Imboden
At least one of the men pointed a gun at a store employee, but there were no customers in the store at the time, Imboden said. The suspects were wearing black hooded sweatshirts and jeans, and one was wearing black and red shoes with a white stripe, Imboden said. Calistoga police responded to the robbery with two officers and a police dog and the California Highway Patrol sent five officers and a
helicopter, Imboden said.
Schools in the area and the Saint Helena Library were locked down. Police Chief Jackie Rubin was involved in a minor traffic accident at Main and Adams streets while she was responding to the area where the robbers were seen jumping into bushes, Imboden said.
Imboden said there was an armed robbery at the Footcandy shoe and accessories store in Saint Helena last year, but takeover-style armed robberies are rare in the city.
Oakland: Kaplan Wants Half Of Police Officers To Be Oakland Residents
Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan on Wednesday called for the city to formally adopt a goal that half of its police officers be Oakland residents. Kaplan, who is one of many candidates running against Mayor Jean Quan in the Nov. 4 election, said at a news conference at City Hall, “We must take action to strengthen ties and trust between the community and the officers sworn to protect it.”
Quan and other city leaders have also said they want more Oakland police officers to be Oakland residents. Kaplan said only 8 percent of current officers are city residents, according to a recent report by the city administrator’s office. Kaplan said, “It will benefit public safety if more of our new recruits live in our city.” Referring to the recent incident in Ferguson, Mo., in which a white police officer fatally shot a black youth, Kaplan said, “Ensuring trust is especially important as we reflect on how to make sure Ferguson doesn’t happen here.”
The city administrator’s report states that the Oakland Police Department has received 1,470 applications from the city’s residents over the past five police academies but only 32 Oakland residents, including people who passed written, physical and oral evaluations, were invited to join the academies, she said. The city of Oakland already has a local hire policy in place for businesses it contracts with, requiring them to hire 50 percent of their workers from Oakland. Kaplan said it “must practice what is preaches” and have a similar goal for its police force.
Quan’s spokesman, Sean Maher, said Quan has programs in place to increase the number of Oakland applicants for police officer jobs and has been going to local churches to encourage more youths to become officers. Maher said things have been “moving in the right direction” in recent police academies, because 16 percent of recruits have been Oakland residents and half of the recruits have been people of color.
Update: Suspect Arrested In Connection With Fatal Stabbing Of 14-Year-Old Boy
San Francisco police have arrested a suspect in connection with the fatal stabbing of a 14-year-old boy in the city’s Mission District Tuesday evening. Shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, San Francisco police Officer Albie Esparza said a juvenile suspect was arrested in connection with the killing of Rashawn Williams. The name of the suspect was not released due to the suspect’s age. Police said a male suspect stabbed the teen at about 6:50 p.m. Tuesday in the 2900 block of Folsom Street, about a block from Garfield Square.
Rashawn’s mother transported him to California Pacific Medical Center’s St. Luke’s Campus. From there, paramedics transported him to San Francisco General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said. Rashawn attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory school as a freshman, the school’s assistant principal for student life, Christine Buell, said Wednesday. Buell said Rashawn attended freshman orientation and then about seven days of his first year of high school before he was killed.
Rashawn had signed up to play on the school’s freshman football team after entering the private Catholic high school with a 4.0 GPA from Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 school, according to Buell.
Counselors are available to members of the Sacred Heart Cathedral community following the teen’s tragic death, she said. A prayer service for the school community and families was scheduled for this afternoon following Wednesday’s classes, according to Buell.
Michelle Forshner, communications director for the high school, said Rashawn was bright and motivated. She said, like most students at the school, he was accepted into the competitive high school based on his academic excellence. Forshner said the school is waiting for more information about the homicide suspect and the motive for the killing.
San Diego Rap Artist Allegedly Held Woman Captive In San Anselmo
A San Diego rap artist suspected of kidnapping a Southern California woman and holding her in a San Anselmo home has been arrested, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.
Charles LaSean Mitchell, professionally known as “Mitchy Slick,” surrendered at the Marin County Jail on Tuesday afternoon after a judge issued a $1.5 million warrant for his arrest, sheriff’s office officials said Wednesday. Mitchell, 40, was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, human trafficking, terrorist threats, participating in a street gang and brandishing a firearm, officials said. He is suspected of being an active member of the Lincoln Park Bloods gang in San Diego.
Sheriff’s office officials had previously conducted a search warrant at 30 Oak Knoll Drive in San Anselmo, where Mitchell was allegedly staying with the woman in question, but Mitchell was not present and remained at large until Tuesday. His exact connection to the property remains unclear, officials said. While the raid was witnessed by many residents and caused concern in the neighborhood, officials said there is no threat to the community related to this investigation.
Mail-In Voting Suspended On Fire Assessment After Errors Discovered
Voting has been suspended on a ballot measure intended to bring a much-needed infusion of cash into a struggling Contra Costa County fire district after officials discovered incorrect assessment amounts were listed on ballots, officials said Wednesday. The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District mailed out ballots for its “benefit assessment” on Aug. 22 and had planned to count them on Oct. 6, 2014, officials with the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, Local 1230 said Wednesday evening.
Following a district board vote on Tuesday to suspend the ballot, however, it is unclear when the election will take place. The incorrect assessment amounts were the result of inaccurate data used to calculate the cost to each property owner.
The district, which covers a wide swath of East Contra Costa County, closed its station at 739 First St. in Brentwood on Monday following the expiration of federal grant funding being used to keep the district’s five stations open, according to fire Chief Hugh Henderson. The district’s staff, which is paid around 25 percent less than those in neighboring departments, has continued to shrink as firefighters have left for more stable, higher paying jobs elsewhere, Henderson said earlier this month.
The fire district’s remaining firefighters had to work 160 overtime shifts in July alone, according to Henderson. Henderson said if the measure failed, a second station would probably be closed by the end of this year. The district, which was hit hard by the recent recession’s impact on property taxes, has already permanently closed a station on Bethel Island, temporarily closed one of its stations for four months and laid off 15 firefighters while waiting for a federal grant in recent years.
Attorney Disputes Appeals Court Ruling Dismissing Lawsuit Against Yelp Inc.
A lawyer for four small businesses said Wednesday his clients haven’t yet decided whether to appeal a federal circuit court’s dismissal of a lawsuit that claimed Yelp Inc. extorted advertising payments from them in exchange for manipulating online reviews. “We haven’t foreclosed any options,” said attorney Lawrence Murray. “I’m in shock at this ruling,” he added. The lawsuit, a consolidation of two cases filed in federal court in San Francisco in 2010, was dismissed Tuesday by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the city.
The panel said the alleged engineering of review postings didn’t fit what the court called the “stringent” definition of extortion as interpreted in federal case law. “Any less stringent standard would transform a wide variety of legally acceptable business dealings into extortion,” the panel said. San Francisco-based Yelp, founded in 2004, posts user reviews of businesses and services on its website. It says it now has 138 million viewers per month and that users have posted 61 million reviews since 2004. It gains most of its revenue — $233 million in 2013 — from selling ads on its website to businesses for fees of $300 to $1200 per month.
The lawsuit was filed by Boris Levitt, owner of a furniture restoration shop in San Francisco; dentist Tracy Chan of San Francisco; John Mercurio, owner of Wheel Techniques, an automobile body repair shop in Santa Clara; and Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach. They alleged that Yelp either extorted or attempted to extort advertising purchases from them by moving unfavorable reviews higher and either moving favorable reviews lower or removing them if the businesses declined to buy ads.
Yelp denies manipulating reviews and ratings.
Police Say Officer Who Detained Firefighter, Kids Outside Fire Station Acted ‘Within Policy’
An Oakland police officer “followed policy” when he detained an off-duty Oakland firefighter and his two young sons who had stopped to make sure an East Oakland fire station was secure earlier this month, police said Wednesday afternoon. Firefighter Keith Jones, a 15-year veteran of the department, said the “nervous” officer, crouched with his hand on his gun, kept his 9- and 12-year-old sons with their hands up outside Oakland’s Fire Station 29 at 1016 66th Ave. the night of Aug. 15.
The incident has left his two young sons afraid of the police, said Jones, who has filed a complaint against the department. Oakland police released a statement saying that the department’s internal review of the incident was complete and investigators found that the officer acted within policy. The department also released body-mounted camera footage of the incident from two officers. The video from the officer’s body-mounted camera shows little of the interaction as it was taken at night in dim light.
He can be heard yelling orders to keep their hands up, and after about a minute or 90 seconds is convinced that Jones is a firefighter. In the video, Martinelli goes back to his patrol car and checks out Jones’ ID, then returns and hands it to Jones and apologizes. Jones locked up the fire station, got in his truck and left.
Former Child Care Worker Pleads Not Guilty To Child Sex Abuse, Pornography Charges
A man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to sexually abusing children, including one who was 3.5 years old, and possessing child pornography while a YMCA child care worker in Morgan Hill in 2013, a prosecutor said. Nicolas Lhermine, 21, was arraigned in Santa Clara County Superior Court in Morgan Hill on six felony charges, the most being severe oral copulation or penetration of a child under 10, that may result in a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, according to Deputy District Attorney Stewart Scott.
The other charges against Lhermine are three counts of lewd acts with a child under 14 years old, possessing pornography of a child under 18 and posing or modeling a child under 18 in order to take an image related to sexual conduct, according the court clerk’s office in Morgan Hill. A judge in the case scheduled a hearing to set a date for the start of Lhermine’s criminal trial for Sept. 25, Scott said. Last month, prosecutors had four children testify during a preliminary hearing on charges against Lhermine and the judge ruled there was enough evidence to bring the defendant to trial, Scott said. Lhermine entered his not guilty plea Tuesday and will be represented by a lawyer appointed by the county Public Defender’s Office, according to Scott.
On July 12, 2013, Morgan Hill police officers arrested Lhermine after a 6-year-old girl reported he tried to force her to have sex while he worked as a YMCA child care employee at Paradise Valley Elementary School in the city, according to police. He was arraigned that month on a charge of lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 10 years old and possession of child pornography, according to the district attorney’s office.
But police found other victims, aged 13, 7 and 3.5 years old, of alleged sexual abuse and prosecutors filed additional felony charges against him in September 2013. The district attorney’s office also added a charge related to child pornography after police reported finding explicit digital photos of several children at the care center on his cell phone, authorities said.
Apartment Fire Displaces Dozens Of Residents
A firefighter and a resident were injured in a two-alarm blaze that displaced dozens of residents at an apartment building near Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco on Saturday morning, a fire department spokeswoman said Wednesday. The fire was reported at about 11:10 a.m. Saturday at a multi-story apartment building in the 900 block of O’Farrell Street between Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street, San Francisco fire department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said.
Firefighters brought the blaze under control shortly after noon, according to Talmadge. The American Red Cross arranged housing for 14 displaced residents and provided food and clothing to a total of 53 residents following the fire. The fire caused an estimated $800,000 in damage to the 39-unit building and about $50,000 in damage to its contents, according to Talmadge, who said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Talmadge said four floors of the building were affected by the blaze and the fire appears to have begun on the third floor. She said it’s possible that the bottom two floors sustained only water damage, not fire
damage. Talmadge said one firefighter suffered minor injuries and that a resident was transported to a hospital. Talmadge said she could not confirm the extent of the civilians’ injuries.
Update: Man, Brother Arrested In Connection With Deadly Hit-And-Run
Two Bay Point brothers have been arrested in connection with a hit-and-run that killed a 50-year-old woman walking in Pittsburg on Sunday evening, a police captain said Wednesday. Investigators located the man suspected of being the driver at the time of the deadly crash, 29-year-old Jorge Luis Perez, and arrested him late Tuesday on suspicion of felony hit-and-run causing death, Pittsburg police
Ron Raman said. He was taken to county jail in Martinez, where he is being held on $50,000 bail. The arrest stemmed from the fatal collision reported shortly before 7 p.m. Sunday on Willow Pass Road near Mountain View Avenue, Raman said. Officers arrived and found the woman, identified as Bay Point resident Michelle Braz, who was struck while she pushed a shopping cart on the sidewalk, police said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The suspect vehicle, a silver Chevrolet truck, also hit a pole and fled from the scene of the crash before officers arrived, according to police. On Wednesday police arrested Perez’s brother, 23-year-old Raul Munoz, for his alleged efforts to hide the truck, which was located in the Bakersfield area, Raman said. Police said information from numerous witnesses as well as surveillance footage from the area led investigators to the suspects.
Unregulated Masseuse Arrested For Alleged Sexual Battery
An unregulated masseuse operating out of his East Palo Alto home was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of sexual battery, police said. Bernardino Rosas Valle, 66, had been operating a massage business out of his home in the 2200 block of Brentwood Court, police said.
He claimed his massages could treat anything from minor aches and pains to fertility problems, according to police, and had been operating for the last 30 years. But police said he was arrested for an outstanding warrant that alleged he had committed sexual battery. Police did not disclose the details of the alleged battery, but said they suspect there may be additional victims who have not come forward.
Police Look For Man Who Allegedly Tried To Grab Girl Walking Home From School
Authorities are asking for the public’s help in identifying a man who attempted to pull a 15-year-old girl into his car in Richmond last month, a police lieutenant said Wednesday. The girl was walking home from Kennedy High School near the intersection of South 39th Street and Florida Avenue around 3:50 p.m. on Aug. 22 when a man approached, grabbed her arm and tried to pull her into his parked car, Richmond police Lt. Andre Hill said.
Hill said the girl was able to break free from the suspect’s grasp and ran away. Three days later, the victim and her family were in the 700 block of 23rd Street when she saw the suspect walking down the sidewalk, the lieutenant said.
One of the girl’s relatives was able to take two photos of the man, who ran from the area. Police said the victim’s father ran after the suspect, who continued to flee and started jumping fences in the neighborhood.
Police are releasing the photos taken of the suspect, who is described as a bald black man standing about 5 feet 9 to 5 feet 10 inches tall with a thin build. His car is described as an older model four-door Mercedes-Benz that is either light blue or gray, police said.
Bicyclist Struck By Car In Hit-And-Run Near Golden Gate Park
A car struck a bicyclist in a hit-and-run collision near Golden Gate Park in San Francisco Wednesday morning, police said. San Francisco police Officer Gordon Shyy said the hit-and-run was reported at the intersection of Oak and Stanyan streets at about 5:30 a.m.
The driver of a gold-colored sedan struck a 20-year-old man on a bike at the intersection and did not stop. The driver continued traveling east on Oak Street, Shyy said. The bicyclist was treated at the scene for minor injuries, Shyy said.