Tuesday Morning News Roundup
Andrew Bidou Sworn-In As New Police Chief
Vallejo’s new Police Chief Andrew Bidou was sworn-in Monday morning at a ceremony in the Vallejo City Council chambers.
Bidou, who succeeds Chief Joseph Kreins, was the chief of the Benicia Police Department before his appointment on Aug. 14. He has 24 years police experience beginning with the Newark Police Department.
Vallejo City Manager Daniel Keen said Bidou “had a front row seat” as Benicia Police Chief to the Vallejo Police Department over the past several years.
Bidou said his experience has prepared him for the challenges he’ll face in Vallejo.
PG&E Releases More Emails To CPUC, Acknowledges Rules Violations
PG&E released a second batch of private emails between its staff and the California Public Utilities Commission on Monday and said it believes both sets of messages violated commission rules.
The new messages, which the utility filed with the PUC in San Francisco and also announced in a news release, were exchanged between Commissioner Michel Florio and a now-fired PG&E executive in December.
They concerned whether the pressure in a disputed natural gas line in San Carlos could be restored to normal operating level.
Florio, who was a lawyer for the consumer organization The Utility Reform Network for 33 years before being appointed to the PUC in 2011, was seeking information on why PG&E was contending it needed the full pressure to operate the line effectively.
“Amazing how I’ve become ‘an apologist for PG&E’ in just three short years, isn’t it?” Florio commented in a Dec. 18 message to former PG&E vice president Brian Cherry.
The next day, Florio and the other four commissioners voted unanimously to restore the San Carlos line to its normal pressure.
PG&E said in its news release it believes the messages violate a commission rule that prohibits utilities from sending off-the-record messages, known as ex parte communications, to PUC commissioners and staff.
The release came on the eve of a hearing before a PG&E administrative law judge on the first batch of emails, which were released on Sept. 15.
Those messages were exchanged between Cherry and PUC President Michael Peevey, Peevey’s former chief of staff and Florio in January. They concerned alleged judge-shopping by PG&E for an administrative law judge to preside over a gas transmission and storage rate case.
At today’s hearing at the PUC’s headquarters in San Francisco, Administrative Law Judge Hallie Yacknin will consider what penalty to impose on PG&E for the messages. In a Sept. 17 order, she said the penalty could be a fine and/or “other appropriate sanctions.”
Today’s hearing is not slated to address the new batch of messages. But Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, known as TURN, said the group’s attorneys will ask Yacknin to consider those as well.
Spatt said TURN is also asking the CPUC to examine all of the 65,000 emails sent by PG&E staff to the commission since 2010.
“We don’t think PG&E should be able to cherry-pick the emails,” Spatt said.
PG&E voluntarily culled through those emails and came up with the two sets it identified in notices filed with the PUC Sept. 15 and Monday.
The utility’s review came after the city of San Bruno in July obtained an earlier exchange of emails between PG&E executives and Peevey and his former chief of staff concerning three PUC proceedings, including a probe of a fatal pipeline explosion in San Bruno in 2010.
San Bruno, which will also participate in the administrative hearing today, has asked the commission to impose not only a fine but also orders requiring PG&E to hire an independent ethics monitor and provide ethics training for its staff.
San Carlos officials questioned the safety of the pipe in their city, Line 147, after learning that three of its segments were, like Line 132 in San Bruno, incorrectly listed in PG&E records as seamless.
After San Carlos leaders learned that a PG&E engineering consultant had written an email expressing concerns about thin walls and corrosion in the pipe and asking, “Are we sitting on another San Bruno situation?” the PUC last fall reduced the pressure in the pipe to 125 pounds per square inch while conducting a safety probe.
In December, PG&E requested approval to restoration of a normal pressure of 330 psi, arguing that the line had been proved safe and was needed to deliver natural gas to the Peninsula in the winter.
In his email to Cherry on Dec. 18, the day before the PUC hearing on Line 147, Florio wrote, “Brian — this situation is still touch and go given the full court press by San Carlos. I am planning a lengthy explanation in my presentation of the item.
“It would really help if I had a bit more technically sophisticated explanation” of why a compromise of 240 psi would not work, Florio wrote.
Cherry then sent a longer explanation and Florio responded, “I’m good to go unless you find out anything different than this.”
At the Dec. 19 public hearing before the PUC, Florio said of the 240 psi proposal, “Unfortunately, that is not a feasible option.”
“Without the pressure at 330, there simply won’t be enough gas to serve Northern California” during cold winter weather, Florio told the hearing audience before he and the other commissioners voted to restore the stronger pressure.
Asked to comment on the former TURN lawyer’s role as a commissioner, TURN Executive Director Mark Toney said Florio’s messages in both sets of emails were “ill-advised” and “overly friendly,” but said there was no evidence Florio acted illegally.
Toney said the PUC’s current regulations forbid ex parte communications from utility staff to the commissioners and their staff, but do not prohibit such communications from the commission and its employees to utilities.
He said TURN is asking the PUC to revise its rules to prohibit ex parte communications from as well as to the commission.
The PUC said in a statement Monday, “As announced on Sept. 15, the CPUC is retaining an independent third-party expert to conduct a review of internal procedures regarding ex parte rules and compliance.
“This review will include a retrospective look at the CPUC’s interaction with regulated utilities to help ensure that the agency guards against future ex parte violations,” the commission said.
PG&E is also facing criminal charges in federal court in San Francisco. It is accused of one count of obstructing justice in a National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the San Bruno explosion and 27 counts of violating a federal pipeline safety law.
The San Francisco-based utility said in Monday’s news release that federal prosecutors have notified it that they have begun an investigation of the ex parte communications. It said it will cooperate.
After the Sept. 15 disclosure of e-mails, PG&E fired Cherry and two other executives.
Peevey, who had previously declined to do so, voluntarily stepped down from participating in a commission’s future decision on whether to uphold two administrative law judges’ recommendation of a $1.4 billion penalty for PG&E for the San Bruno explosion. His chief of staff, Carol Brown, resigned from that position but remains a PUC employee.
Redwood City Man Arrested On Suspicion Of Dui, Hit-And-Run
A Redwood City man was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run and DUI after striking a pedestrian in San Francisco on Sunday evening, a police spokesman said Monday.
Luis Ayala, 29, was arrested following the collision, which was reported at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday near Valencia Street and Duboce Avenue,
San Francisco police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said.
The pedestrian, a 26-year-old man, was walking outside of a crosswalk when he was hit by Ayala’s car, Esparza said.
Ayala allegedly continued driving toward Market Street with the victim on the car, according to Esparza. He was taken to San Francisco General Hospital and is expected to survive, the officer said.
Ayala was stopped at Market Street and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, hit-and-run causing injury and driving with an expired license, Esparza said.
Dead Body Found At Park Believed To Be Of A Man
A dead body believed to be of a man was found at a Petaluma park Monday afternoon, a police sergeant said.
Officers responded to a report of a deceased person at Shollenberger Park at 1400 Cader Lane around 2:50 p.m., Petaluma police Sgt. Ed Crosby said.
Arriving officers and detectives went to the park where they found the body in underbrush at a small encampment that was not visible from a walking trail, Crosby.
The body did not show “obvious signs of foul play,” according to Crosby.
The body was turned over to the Sonoma County coroner’s office for an autopsy, Crosby said.
Anyone with information on the death is asked to call Petaluma police at (707) 778-4372.
Humans Remains Found In Shasta County Believed To Be Of Missing Belmont Man
Human remains found in rural Shasta County over the weekend are believed to be of an 87-year-old Belmont man who has been missing for more than a month, a Belmont police captain announced Monday.
Paul Merrill was last seen on Sept. 4 and his car was found on Thursday on a rancher’s 500-acre property outside of the community of Burney, Belmont police Capt. Patrick Halleran said.
The rancher was clearing brush when he found Merrill’s silver 1956 Mercdes SL190 convertible, which appeared to have been on the property for sometime, Halleran said.
Merrill’s wallet, car keys and other belongings were also found in the vehicle, according to Halleran.
On Friday, Shasta County sheriff’s deputies searched for Merrill in a heavily wooded area with steep terrain near where the car was found and the California Highway Patrol also searched for him by air, the captain said.
Search crews found human remains about 100 yards away from Merrill’s car on Saturday and turned it over to the Shasta County coroner’s office, Halleran said.
Authorities do not suspect foul play, he said.
Merrill was last seen at a gas station in McCloud, a Siskiyou County city in the Mt. Shasta area where he had gone on a trip, Halleran said.
A family member reported Merrill missing after the Belmont man had checked out of a McCloud hotel and hadn’t heard from him since, according to Halleran.
Law enforcement agencies searched through Siskiyou County based on two reported sightings of the Belmont man and his car days after he had gone missing, Halleran said.
On Sept. 9, Siskiyou County sheriff’s deputies received a tip of Merrill’s car seen in Redding, a city in Shasta County, and shifted search efforts in that area, the captain said.
Ross School Principal Found With Drugs And Woman In Hotel Room Arrested
The principal of the private Branson School in Ross was arrested Friday in a Sacramento hotel where Sacramento sheriff’s deputies found drugs and a woman passed out in bed.
Thomas Woodrow “Woody” Price, 54, of Ross, was arrested at the Hyatt Place Hotel in Rancho Cordova on suspicion of possession of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine for sale and possession of cocaine. He posted bail on Saturday and was released from the Sacramento County Jail, sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Ramos said.
Ramos said the woman, identified as Brittney Hall, 21, of Elk Grove, also was arrested on the drug charges.
The sheriff’s office received a call shortly after noon from a man who said he was Hall’s boyfriend, Ramos said. The man asked deputies to check on his girlfriend who was at a hotel with an older man who was giving her drugs, Ramos said.
Price answered the hotel room door and deputies saw a woman unresponsive in bed, Ramos said. Price said the woman was all right but she did not respond until she was physically awakened.
Ramos said the quantity of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and prescription drugs in the room indicated they were being sold.
Price turned 54 the night before, and he told the deputies he and Hall had a “casual relationship,” Ramos said.
“He alluded to her as his girlfriend,” Ramos said.
Hall did not need medical attention and she and Price were booked in the Sacramento County Jail, Ramos said.
Officials at the Branson School in Ross did not return calls for comment late Monday afternoon. The independent, coed, college prep school has 320 students in grades 9-12.
Jerry Brown Endorses Libby Schaaf For Mayor Of Oakland
Gov. Jerry Brown jumped into the crowded Oakland mayoral campaign Monday by endorsing City Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who was an aide to him during part of the eight years he served as the city’s mayor.
After arriving more than half an hour late at an event at Schaaf’s campaign headquarters on Grand Avenue that was attended by about 100 of her supporters, Brown said Schaaf is the best candidate because, “She’s a down-to-earth person with a lot of common sense and she’s done a good job on the City Council.”
Brown, who has lived in Oakland for many years and was the city’s mayor from 1999 through 2006, said that if Schaaf is elected over the other 14 candidates in the mayoral election, “Oakland can take the next step forward.”
Brown said, “There are a lot of good candidates on the ballot and I’m not her to point fingers” at anyone but he thinks Schaaf is the best person on the job.
Schaaf, who has been on the City Council the past four years, said, “I am incredibly proud and humbled to be endorsed by a great governor and a great Oaklander, and a pretty good mayor besides.”
Schaaf said if she’s elected, she will bring the city what she described as, “Jerry Brown style roll-up-your sleeves, get-something-done energy.”
Schaaf said, “I’m excited about doing better because this city can be safer, cleaner and take better care of its children.”
She said Oakland “is ready to reach its potential but it needs better leadership.”
Brown said the candidates he’s endorsed in his 45 years in public life have had a pretty good track record in elections but he admitted that the candidate he endorsed for mayor of Oakland in 2008, former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, lost to Jean Quan, who is seeking re-election in this year’s race.
Quan has been endorsed by Oakland City Council members Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and a number of labor organizations.
City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, another top candidate, has been endorsed by the California Nurses Association, the Oakland firefighters union, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, Equality California and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo.
Kaplan finished third in the 2010 election with 21 percent of the vote.
College professor and political commentator Joe Tuman, who finished fourth in the 2010 election with 12 percent of the vote, has been endorsed by the Oakland Tribune.
Suspect Who Opened Fire On Walmart Security Injured In Struggle
The older of two shoplifting suspects opened fire on Walmart store security guards trying to detain them Sunday night and was injured in a subsequent struggle, San Leandro police said Monday.
No one inside the store at 1919 Davis St. was injured by the gunfire and arriving police officers quickly apprehended the two suspects, San Leandro police Lt. Robert McManus said.
The suspects, two San Leandro men ages 18 and 39, were spotted by the plainclothes security officers putting merchandise under their clothes at about 11:40 p.m. Sunday, McManus said.
As they left the front door, the security guards confronted them and asked them to step back inside. But while walking back inside, the older of the two suspects, who police said is a convicted felon, tried to escape.
The security guards grabbed the two men, but a violent struggle broke out between the suspects and the security officers and the older man pulled a gun from his waistband and fired multiple shots towards the guards, police said.
A San Leandro police officer heard the shots as he pulled into the Walmart parking lot. He ran inside and found the suspects and the security guards struggling over the gun, McManus said.
The arriving officers then arrested the two suspects.
Investigators found the suspects’ car in the Walmart parking lot and searched it, finding a loaded high-caliber handgun, police said. Police are looking into whether the two recovered guns were stolen.
The older suspect was injured in the fight and was taken to a hospital where he remains in stable condition under police guard. The younger one was booked into jail under suspicion of attempted robbery, attempted murder, and firearm-related crimes.
They are expected to be arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court later this week, police said.
McManus said at a news conference Monday morning that police were looking for a third suspect who was reported to have fled back inside the store but later determined that was not the case.
The names of the two suspects in custody were not immediately available.
High School Student Found Shot In Truck Dies
Vacaville police are investigating the fatal shooting of a high school student early Monday morning.
Demetrious Ward, 18, a Vacaville High School student, was found shot once in the driver’s seat of a Ford F-150 truck after police received a report about gunfire around 1:30 a.m., police Lt. Matt Lydon said.
The truck was in the parking lot of the Canyon Creek Apartments at 159 Aegean Way, Lydon said.
Ward was taken to a hospital for surgery and died at 4:30 a.m., Lydon said.
Police are questioning potential witnesses and have taken the single-cab truck into evidence, Lydon said.
Ward did not live in the apartment complex, Lydon said. An autopsy is scheduled for today.
BART To Begin Charging For Parking At Concord, Other Stations
BART will soon begin charging for parking at its four remaining stations that have lots without daily fees, agency officials announced Monday.
New $1 daily parking fees will begin on Oct. 27 at the Concord station, Nov. 12 at the North Concord station, then on dates yet to be determined at the Coliseum/Oakland Airport and Hayward stations, according to BART.
The daily fees are required for parking between 4 a.m. and 3 p.m. at stations. Along with parking in “Fee” lots, drivers can also park in “Permit” lots if they have purchased a Single Day, Monthly or Airport/Long-Term permit in advance.
To pay the daily fees, drivers must sign up in advance at www.bart.gov/parking to link their Clipper card to BART’s parking payment program.
They will then receive a hang tag by mail for their car and can swipe their Clipper card at a Parking Validation Machine inside the paid area of a BART station.
Riders can also pay for parking by remembering their stall number and paying — with cash only — at an Add Fare Machine, BART officials said.
Men Arrested In Connection With Levi’s Stadium Assault Identified
Santa Clara police on Monday identified two suspects who were arrested in connection with an assault on two other men in a Levi’s Stadium restroom prior to Sunday’s San Francisco 49ers game.
Dario Rebollero, 34, and Amador Rebollero, 27, were arrested shortly after the assault in a men’s restroom on the north side of the stadium’s 300-level just before kickoff in the 49ers’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The assault was reported at about 1:20 p.m. Santa Clara police officers working at the stadium were notified of the fight by a stadium employee and quickly located and arrested the two suspects.
They were both booked into jail on suspicion of felony assault.
The victims of the assault were taken to a hospital. One was treated and released but the other remained there in serious condition on Monday, according to police.
Anyone with information about the assault has been asked to call Sgt. Hoesing at (408) 615-4814 or the Police Department’s tip line at (408) 241-9495.
Man Shot, Another Stabbed In North Beach Early This Morning
A man was shot and another was stabbed during a fight in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood early Monday morning, police said.
The fight was reported at 1:11 a.m. in the 400 block of Broadway Street.
The victims, ages 26 and 21, were in a fight with two other men when one of the suspects pulled out a gun and shot the 26-year-old in the stomach, police said.
The second suspect then stabbed the 21-year-old man in the back and face. Both victims were taken to San Francisco General Hospital with injuries considered life-threatening, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said.
Officers initially detained two suspects but released them pending further investigation, Esparza said.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Police Department’s anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444 or to send a tip by text message to TIP411 with “SFPD” in the message.
Prosecution, Defense Give Opening Statements In 2012 Murder Of Monte Sereno Man
A prosecutor in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Monday said he will use DNA evidence, phone records and the testimony of a witness in the trial of an Oakland gang member charged in the 2012 killing of a wealthy Monte Sereno man.
Deputy District Attorney Kevin Smith said in his opening statement Monday morning that DNA evidence ties defendant Marcellous Drummer to the scene of the slaying of Raveesh Kumra, 66, the former owner of a Saratoga winery.
Kumra was asphyxiated while gagged by duct tape in an early morning robbery of collectable coins, jewelry and cash from his home on Nov. 30, 2012.
The prosecutor on Monday morning introduced as evidence color photos of the inside of Kumra’s three-level luxury home in Monte Sereno, where he said police found duct tape and piles of latex gloves used by the robbers, a pair of bloody pants, sheets with spots of blood and rooms that had been ransacked.
Smith, who estimated the trial will take three weeks, said he plans to use phone company records and evidence from cellphone towers of calls allegedly made from Drummer’s number to others involved in the invasion of Kumra’s house, where Kumra’s ex-wife Harinder was assaulted, gagged and bound along with her former husband.
Harinder Kumra will testify about what she witnessed during Kumra’s murder and the prosecution will also rely on testimony from Katrina Fritz, an alleged former prostitute and co-defendant in the murder case who received a plea deal from prosecutors to serve no more than 17 years in prison in exchange for her testimony, Smith said.
Raveesh Kumra had used Fritz, based in Pittsburg, for sexual services at his home and in hotels for years but their relationship had cooled for some months prior to the robbery, prosecutors said.
Two others charged in Kumra’s murder are DeAngelo Austin, who is Fritz’s brother and an alleged member of the Oakland-based Money Team street gang, and Javier Garcia, who allegedly is part of the Oakland gang Ghost Town. The pair both opted to work together in robbing Kumra, Smith said.
Prosecutors claim that Drummer, whom Fritz nicknamed “Blade,” was a member of yet another Oakland street gang named the Ed Nario Team.
Smith admitted to the jury that Fritz had prior knowledge of her brother’s plans to rob her former client Kumra and played a role in it for Austin, Garcia and Drummer by providing her brother with directions to Kumra’s home, a diagram of the home and how to enter it through a side door.
Fritz pleaded guilty on Sept. 15 to charges of robbery with gang enhancements and false imprisonment, avoiding murder charges, to get a sentence of at most 17 years. The prison term could be adjusted downwards by a judge after her testimony against Drummer, Austin and Garcia, who are being tried separately, Smith said.
Drummer’s lawyer James Blackman asked the jury to keep an open mind and said he will discredit the prosecution’s DNA data, phone record evidence and Fritz herself as a witness with a plea deal.
Blackman said there was no evidence directly tying Drummer to being at the murder scene and that the crime lab for the district attorney’s office had tied another person to the crime scene, Lukis Anderson, by DNA, but the case against Anderson was dismissed “because of errors in the DNA and of DNA transfer.”
He said that prosecutors have no evidence that the phone number with a 415 area code that Fritz said was Drummer’s actually was the defendant’s.
Blackman said that he would impeach Fritz as a witness because “her credibility is extremely important and the (prosecution’s) case depends on her and her credibility.”
Fritz had lied repeatedly to police, investigators and prosecutors prior to asking for the plea deal in return for testifying for the prosecution, Blackman said. He said she only did so to escape a possible sentence of death or life in prison with the possibility of parole and after seeing how strong the case was against her.
Oyster Farm, Park Service Announce Settlement, Permanent Closure
After a two-year legal battle to stay open, an oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore announced Monday it has settled its case and will close all of its operations by Dec. 31.
The Drakes Bay Oyster Co. had sued the U.S. Interior Department in federal court to challenge a 2012 decision by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to allow its lease at an estuary of Drakes Bay to expire.
The company lost its bid for a preliminary injunction from a federal trial judge in Oakland and before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The last legal step in the case came in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear its appeal.
The oyster farm closed its retail and canning operations on July 31, but continued wholesale sales while negotiating with the National Park Service about the terms of a full closure.
Under the settlement, announced by both the oyster company and the National Park Service on Monday, Drakes Bay can continue the harvesting and wholesale sales of oysters until Dec. 31.
The park service will take responsibility for the complex removal of onshore facilities and underwater oyster-farming structures spread over 1,000 acres of the estuary and will also provide federal relocation assistance to company employees.
Oyster farm co-owners Kevin, Joe and Bob Lunny said in a statement, “We fought long and hard all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Along the way we stood up for family farms, for sustainable food, and for scientific integrity in government.”
The Lunnys said they plan to open a oyster restaurant in Inverness.
Christine Lehnertz, the Pacific West Regional Director of the National Park Service, said, “We are pleased to have reached this settlement.”
Lerhnertz said that more than 2.5 million people visit the national seashore each year and that Drakes Estero is slated to become part of the only marine wilderness on the West Coast outside of Alaska.
“We will continue to take our stewardship responsibilities seriously on behalf of the American people,” Lehnertz said.
Amy Trainer, the executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, called the settlement “a very generous deal for the oyster company.”
“We are glad that Drakes Estero, a magnificent ecological treasure, is finally on its way to be restored to its wild, natural rhythm, free of non-native and invasive species,” Trainer said.
The settlement must be approved by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of Oakland.