Protestors Take Over UC Berkeley Building After Tuition Increase Vote

A group of students and activists took over Wheeler Hall at the University of California at Berkeley Wednesday evening following a vote by a University of California Board of Regent committee earlier in the day supporting a tuition increase.

The group of at least 100 students said they planned to stay in the campus building until the regents agree to drop the tuition increase plan, according to Ronald Cruz, an attorney for the activist group By Any Means Necessary.

The committee voted 7-2 in favor of a tuition hike of as much as 5 percent annually for the next five years despite opposition from figures including Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Students also protested at the meeting at the University of California at San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus, linking arms and attempting to block UC regents from entering the meeting.

University police arrested one protester who allegedly broke a glass door to the building. The protester’s name was not immediately being released.

The full board is scheduled to vote on the tuition hike proposal bundled inside the complete UC budget today.

Newsom and UC student regent Sadia Saifuddin cast the two dissenting votes this afternoon.

UC president Janet Napolitano proposed the tuition increase earlier this month.

Napolitano said the university’s revenue issue was a result of public disinvestments, not university budget allocations. She said unless the state increased its funding for the universities, a tuition hike was the only foreseeable option.

Under the tuition increase, a 5 percent hike would raise tuition for in-state students by $612 to $12,804 in the 2015-16 school year, according to Napolitano’s office. Tuition for out-of-state students would increase by more than $1,700 to about $36,820.

Drivers Of Facebook Employee Shuttle Buses Vote To Join Teamsters

Drivers for a transportation service contracted to shuttle Facebook employees voted Wednesday to unionize, according to a statement from the service’s CEO.

Loop Transportation CEO Jeff Leonoudakis said in a statement that while the company “respects” the results of the vote, the service provides its employees with “one of the best wage and benefit packages in the Bay Area.”

Drivers receive between $17 and $25 an hour, up to $714 contributed to their medical benefits and paid vacations, holidays and sick days, according to Leonoudakis.

Their hourly rate can also bump up to amounts ranging from $24 to $31, he said.

In partnership with Facebook, the service also works to provide drivers with pay increases and bonuses based on their performance, the statement said.

“Even though we don’t feel that our drivers’ interests are best served by union representation, our drivers have spoken and we will now begin the negotiation process,” Leonoudakis said.

The 87 drivers voted to join Teamsters Local 853, based in San Leandro, according to a statement from Teamsters officials.

The drivers unionized in response to issues including low pay and a split shift schedule that means many drivers have to wait up to six hours between their morning and evening shifts.

Some drivers have to sleep in their cars between morning and evening shifts and work long days, starting at 6 a.m. and ending as late as 9:45 p.m., union officials said.

The union also staged a rally outside Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park Tuesday, and delivered a petition calling on Facebook to stop condoning “anti-worker, anti-union behavior” by Loop Transportation, the statement said.

Public Employees Unions Kick Off Campaign To Overturn Board Of Supes’ Raise

Several Contra Costa County public employees unions on Wednesday announced the launch of a referendum to overturn the county Board of Supervisors’ recent decision to give its members a 33 percent raise.

More than two-dozen union members gathered in the rain in Martinez Wednesday afternoon to notify the county Registrar of Voters of their intent to seek signatures for a referendum to invalidate the salary hike, which will raise the supervisors’ annual salary from $97,483 to $129,227.

“When it comes to the county’s budget priorities, the message from (the Board of Supervisors) is clear — necessary county services and dedicated public employees should come last, and the Board of Supervisors should come first,” Public Employees Union, Local 1 general manager Peter Nguyen said at a news conference outside of the registrar’s office.

PEU Local 1, the county’s largest union, is spearheading the campaign with strong backing from the county Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2700 United Clerical, Technical and Specialized Employees. At least 24,000 signatures from registered county voters must be collected by Jan. 2 in order for the referendum to succeed, according to PEU Local 1 assistant general manager Phil Hu.

If the referendum garners enough signatures, the board would have to revisit the pay raise and would be required to seek voter approval before passing another salary increase.

The board voted for the $32,000 raise on Oct. 28 amidst vocal opposition from unions and other community members. Supervisor Candace Andersen cast the sole “no” vote on the salary hike, citing the meager raises given to county employee groups in recent years and saying the boost was too much to do at once.

Under the salary increase ordinance, the board also voted to set their incomes at 70 percent of the county’s superior court judges – following a practice used in most other Bay Area counties of tying their wages to county court judges. That means the board will get a raise whenever county superior court judges do.

Supervisor Andersen, the lone dissenting vote, has waived the raise and said she would instead accept an increase of 4 percent in line with county employees’ recent raises.

Hells Angel Pleads Not Guilty In Conspiracy With Sheriff’s Employees To Smuggle Contraband Into Jail

Prosecutors will seek to revoke bail this morning for a Hells Angels member accused of conspiring with sheriff’s employees to smuggle cellphones and drugs into a Redwood City jail, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Dionicio Lopez Jr., 26, was out on $1 million bail and awaiting trial for allegedly shooting at a Daly City home in 2011 when he was re-arrested for the alleged conspiracy and his bail was increased to $2 million. He remains in custody, but prosecutors now hope to have bail revoked altogether.

His new charges include three counts of conspiracy, smuggling drugs into jail and possession of drugs while in jail.

Prosecutors announced Friday the arrest of three sheriff’s employees in connection with the conspiracy to smuggle cellphones and drugs into the Maguire Correctional Facility — Deputy Juan Pablo Lopez and corrections officers George Ismael and Michael Del Carlo.

Each has more than a decade of experience with the sheriff’s office and Juan Lopez unsuccessfully ran to unseat Sheriff Greg Munks in June, receiving 1.4 percent of the vote.

Prosecutors allege they assisted Dionicio Lopez in smuggling cellphones into the jail while he was in custody between April and December 2013.

Dionicio Lopez was placed in custody after he was charged with shooting into a home where he mistakenly thought a rival gang member was living in Daly City on July 24, 2011, narrowly missing two young children who were watching TV inside. The bullet ricocheted off of the television and lodged in a wall, prosecutors said.

The cellphones allegedly allowed Dionicio Lopez to communicate while in jail with his mother, sister and girlfriend as well as fellow Hells Angels members. That way, he arranged to smuggle oxycodone, alprazolam and ibuprofen into the jail, prosecutors said.

The cellphone and pills were found hidden in a light fixture in Dionicio Lopez’s jail cell in December, according to the complaint.

All seven defendants are facing conspiracy charges and Amanda Lopez, Ingebretsen and Ismael are also charged with providing Dionicio Lopez with drugs.

Drinking Water Provider Facing Record Penalty For Creek Spill Last Year

A water company could be facing a penalty of more than $3 million for spilling 8 million gallons of drinking water into a San Mateo creek over three days last year, killing at least 276 fish.

The California Water Quality Control Board on Monday announced the proposed penalty against California Water Service Co., a San Jose-based company serving drinking water to more than 473,000 California residents.

The proposed penalty of $3,060,700 would be the largest the agency has ever handed down. It took days for Cal Water to detect the spill and even longer for the company to realize its magnitude.

The leak in a cracked bell joint went undetected for three days from Oct. 25-28, 2013, leaking an estimated 8,207,560 gallons of water treated with chloramines, a common disinfectant for drinking water that is deadly to fish.

When, on Oct. 29, Cal Water did report the leak, the company drastically underestimated the amount of water spilled at only 43,200 gallons, and estimated the leak had gone on for only one day, according to the complaint.

The water board said that Cal Water’s cooperation in the investigation was poor. In mid-November, ordered by the water board to review its findings, the company revised its estimate to say that more than 8.2 million gallons had been spilled.

Dean said that the company does not agree with all the facts as described in the water board’s complaint and that staff from Cal Water and the water board will meet over the coming months to discuss their findings.

Whether the company will challenge or seek to lower the penalty at a Feb. 11 hearing in Oakland will depend on what conclusions are reached during those meetings, she said.

In the meantime, the company is taking steps to revise its processes for dealing with leaks and reporting, establishing new reporting procedures and installing new equipment for automated flow checks to catch leaks sooner, she said.

Cal Water is also seeking CPUC approval to replace some of its aging water mains.

Officials Unsure When School Will Reopen After Threat

Santa Cruz High School was shut down Thursday after someone sent an email to the school’s principal Tuesday night threatening a mass shooting, according to police and school officials.

“A shooting is what the threat was,” Santa Cruz police Deputy Chief Steve Clark said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “It was intended to be a message of mass casualties.”

School principal Karen Edmonds checked her mail Tuesday and read the message, which had been sent to her at 8:23 p.m. that night. She immediately called Clark at his home, the deputy chief said.

The email prompted a discussion that led to police and officials from the school district, Santa Cruz City Schools, to order the high school closed out of caution, superintendent Kris Munro said at the news conference, held at the school district’s office in Soquel.

“We were fortunate that Principal Edmonds was on her email at 8:23 at night,” Munro said.

The email did not specifically mention Edmonds or anyone else as targets for the attack and the district contacted the principals of its other schools and none of them had received any threats, Munro said.

The district quickly informed students, parents and staff by text, email and automated calls that the school campus at 415 Walnut Ave. in Santa Cruz was closed for the day, Munro said.

Clark said that his detectives received new leads from citizens and that he contacted the FBI, which has offered to assist with the Police Department’s forensic examination of the encrypted software used in the email.

The department has a detective on staff who is an expert in investigating software and is working to “peel back the layers of encryption” from the email, he said.

The deputy chief declined to release the specific wording in the email, but did say that it “wasn’t some long, drawn-out manifesto” but was “concise” and “focused.”

Any suspect caught on suspicion of sending the message could face “a very serious felony charge” based on state and federal statutes, Clark said.

Man Sentenced To 26 Years To Life In Prison In Stabbing Murder Of Security Guard

A 23-year-old Salinas man has been sentenced to 26 years to life in prison in the stabbing death of a store security guard in Salinas in 2013, Monterey County prosecutors announced Thursday.

A judge in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas sentenced Richard Gutierrez, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Oct. 1 after agreeing to waive his right to appeal his conviction, Deputy District Attorney Rolando Mazariegos said.

On August 1, 2013, at 5:12 p.m., Gutierrez entered the 99 Cent Store on Laurel Drive in Salinas, confronted 57-year-old Victor Sosa, a store security guard, and stabbed Sosa repeatedly while customers in the store threw canned goods at the assailant to try to get him to stop, Mazariegos said.

Gutierrez, who took off his shirt and “made a display of himself” to people at the store, fled the business but was captured seconds later by Salinas police, who reported seeing the guard’s blood smeared on the suspect, the prosecutor said.

Sosa died from the stab wounds a short time later, Mazariegos said.

The defendant accepted a plea deal of 26 years to life to avoid additional special circumstances charges that might have resulted in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, he said.

Street Robbers Targeting People Of Indian Descent In Santa Clara, Sunnyvale

Street robberies in Santa Clara and Sunnyvale have been targeting people of Indian descent wearing gold jewelry, the Santa Clara Police Department announced Thursday.

Suspects in the robberies will come up to their victims on the street and either grab the jewelry and run or brandish a handgun and demand the victims’ jewelry and wallet, according to police.

The robberies have been reported both during day and evening hours, police said.

The suspects in the robberies have been described as African American or Hispanic males in their early 20s, according to police.

In September, Santa Clara police reported that some street robberies in the city involving victims of Indian descent had occurred near Bing Drive at Homestead Road, El Camino Real at Lawrence Expressway and Monroe Street at Los Padres Boulevard.

Police recommend that to avoid the possibility of a robbery, people should keep their jewelry less visible, walk in well-lit areas and remain aware of suspicious persons and vehicles in their surroundings, officers said.

People who feel unsafe where they are should go to a safe place and call for help, police said.

Victims should avoid fighting back and call 911 as soon as possible to report a crime or describe a suspect or suspects, according to officers.

One Person In Critical Condition After Burn Injury

One person was in critical condition Thursday evening after sustaining major burns in a Pleasant Hill home, according to Contra Costa Fire Protection District fire officials.

The burn injury was reported around 5 p.m. off of Cleaveland Road near Gregory Lane, according to Fire Marshal Robert Marshall.

One person was transported in critical condition to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek and then transferred to University of California at Davis Medical Center.

While officials are not releasing information on the nature of the incident, Marshall said the fire that caused the burn did not involve a structure.

Fire At Care Home Tuesday Night Displaces Seven

A two-alarm fire burned two buildings in Windsor, one of them a care facility, and displaced at least seven people Tuesday night, according to the Central Fire Authority of Sonoma County.

The fire at 9591 and 9589 Kristine Way in north Windsor was reported at 11:28 p.m., Acting Battalion Chief Ron Busch said.

Firefighters arrived within six minutes to find the exteriors of both two-story, single-family homes and their attics in flames, Busch said.

One of the homes was vacant and five disabled adults and two caretakers lived in the other home, Busch said. One person suffered a minor burn, he said.

Firefighters from Windsor and Rincon Valley that are in the Central Fire Authority, as well as ones from Healdsburg, Geyserville and Santa Rosa responded to the blaze.

The cause of the fire, which caused an estimated $250,000 in damage, is under investigation.

Police Seeking Suspected Package Thieves

Fremont police are asking for the public’s help in identifying three people suspected of stealing a package and a lawn ornament last week, police said Thursday.

Police said the suspects stole a package from a residence in the 48000 block of Sauvignon Court at 10:07 a.m. on Nov. 11. The package had just been delivered to the residence by the U.S. Postal Service minutes earlier, police said.

The incident was captured on private video surveillance by the homeowner, as well as from several neighboring residences, police said.

Police described the first suspect as a white woman roughly 20 years old who stands 5 feet 3 inches tall and was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, sunglasses, blue jeans, and black boots.

The second suspect is possibly an Asian or a Pacific Islander man between 20 to 25 years old who is 6 feet tall with long dark hair in a ponytail. He was last seen wearing a black shirt and blue jeans.

Police had no description for the third suspect except that he is a man. Officers said the suspects were driving a 2004 dark blue Jeep Grand Cherokee with a California license plate No. 6PLZ076.

Police said the car is registered to a 40-year-old man who is deceased.

Weather Forecast For The San Francisco Bay Area

Light amounts of rain are expected to fall intermittently throughout the Bay Area through Saturday, a National Weather Service forecaster said Wednesday.

The rain came in around 4 a.m. Wednesday in the North Bay and slowly worked its way down south, forecaster Steve Anderson said.

Another storm system is expected Thursday morning and a final one starting midday Friday into Saturday afternoon, Anderson said.

The rainfall trickled its way from the Gulf of Alaska, according to Anderson.

The North Bay is expected to have 1 to 2 inches of rainfall while the rest of the Bay Area will receive about a quarter to three-quarters of an inch from Wednesday until Saturday, he said.

Overnight lows will be in the 40s and 50s, which are typical temperatures for this time of year, Anderson said.

The highs in the Bay Area ranged in the low to mid-60s Wednesday with 64 degrees in San Francisco, 66 degrees in Oakland and San Jose and 60 degrees in Santa Rosa, according to Anderson.

The current system will result in breezy conditions at times, he said.

Motorists are advised to exercise caution on the slick roadways and to allow extra time for their commute, Anderson said.

As of today, dry weather is forecast for Thanksgiving Day, he said.

Woman Arrested After Hitting Spouse With Car

Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputies arrested a 48-year-old woman Sunday on suspicion of attempting to kill her spouse after she struck him with a car in a parking lot near Concord, sheriff’s officials said Wednesday.

Deputies responded to a report of a possible DUI driver in a parking lot on John Glenn Drive near the Buchanan Field Airport at 6:19 p.m. Sunday, sheriff’s officials said.

Deputies found a 53-year-old man who had been struck by a car in the parking lot and transported him to John Muir Medical Center in Concord.

Police arrested Bridget Metzler, of Bakersfield, at the scene and she was booked into county jail.

On Tuesday, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office filed formal charges against Metzler, including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, hit-and-run and inflicting corporal injury to a spouse.

Metzler remains in county jail on $955,000 bail.