KPCC News In Brief

State budget cuts would limit poor women's birth control access

The state could save more than $34 million by ending some family planning programs. KPCC’s Patricia Nazario says some Southland women’s health advocates plan to protest those proposed cuts tomorrow.

Patricia Nazario: The staff of Planned Parenthood doesn’t want the state’s budget trimming to touching its turf. The organization is rallying patients, volunteers, and supporters to show up for a noontime protest and an evening vigil in front of the governor’s downtown L.A. office.

Health care activists say that for every dollar California puts into family planning and women’s cancer screening programs, the federal government matches $9.

Last week, the governor acknowledged that every cut in state programs and services will inflict real pain. But, he added, California’s government could become insolvent unless he and Sacramento lawmakers dramatically scale back spending. Analysts say the state faces a $24 billion budget gap next fiscal year.

Cortines defends summer school cancellation due to budget cuts

At an L.A. Unified news conference today Superintendent Ramon Cortines defended his decision to eliminate summer school for more than 200,000 students this year. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Sacramento funding cuts have already forced the district to slice more than half a billion dollars from its current budget. The red ink keeps flowing. By cancelling summer school, L.A. Unified will save $34 million. The district will still have to cut more than $100 million elsewhere. Superintendent Ramon Cortines doesn’t relish the task.

Ramon Cortines: How would the public deal if it was their own home, that if they got a bill on the latter part of May, that they had to make a payment on July 1 and didn’t have a savings account to do that? And that’s what’s happened to this district.

Guzman-Lopez: Cortines spared a summer school program for about 74,000 high school students short of graduation credits. He said he fears for the safety of some students who won’t have a place to go to this summer. Without offering specific suggestions, Cortines suggested that more taxpayers take action to protect vital services like public schools.

City sanitation officals to unveil zero waste plan

Two years of planning about ways to cut the amount of garbage Los Angeles throws away wrap up this weekend. KPCC’s Molly Peterson reports that city sanitation officials will unveil a zero waste plan at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Molly Peterson: Public works and sanitation officials have been re-thinking how Angelinos make products, use stuff, and recycle it – or throw it away. Planners have fielded comments from thousands of people at neighborhood meetings in recent years.

All this groundwork is supposed to lead to a 20-year plan for the way the city of Los Angeles manages its waste. A key goal of the plan is to divert 70 percent of waste from landfills, for recycling, composting, or reuse within six years.

Last January, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that within 21 years he’d like to see the city divert all its waste from landfills. City officials hope these plans could deliver financial benefits, too. After it hears feedback on the plan this weekend, the Department of Public Works will finalize it later this year.

COOP artwork on display at Corey Helford Gallery

L.A.-based artist Chris Cooper, a.k.a.COOP, has done hundreds of posters for bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and the Sex Pistols. He’s known best for his rockabilly style – his work is dominated by cigar-smoking devils, hot rod cars, and voluptuous vixens. Two years ago, he was in a car accident that left him with a broken leg and unable to paint for a while. So he started taking photographs and posting them on his Flickr account.(Note: There is some adult material there.)

Eventually, he was able to start painting again, but he kept taking and posting photos online, including pictures of his paintings. He would post pictures as they evolved, blogging his work, and getting lots of feedback from fans along the way.

Several of those paintings will be on display through June 20th at the Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Images courtesy Chris Cooper, a.k.a. COOP

Link: Coopstuff.com

LA city fire chief retires, reflects on his time as chief

Los Angeles City Fire Chief Douglas Barry has announced his plans to retire. He’s served the department for 34 years. At a news conference yesterday, he reflected on some standout moments during his three years as chief.

Douglas Barry: “Sad but proud moment was the funeral that I, as the fire chief was presiding or gave a speech at for Brent Lovrien last year. I was very sad that we lost a member. I’m always sad of that.

“As the fire chief, you kind of feel like the father figure and everyone’s kind of your children, so you kind of feel hurt when those things happen. But when I looked out across the Cathedral and saw the support of the firefighters – not just our department, throughout the region. It made me very proud to know that that connection really exists.

“And the proudest moment is, seeing how the department has handled many of the major incidents, being it the Metrolink, the brush fires, the devastating brush fires. And even how we’ve addressed some of the issues that were highlighted when I first came in. I’m very, very proud of that, and I think that as a department, we should be proud.”

Douglas Barry is the first African-American to lead the Los Angeles Fire Department. His last day on the job will be August 30th.

Federal receiver nears discounted deal on prison medical care

The federal receiver in charge of improving medical care in California prisons says he’s close to a deal with state officials on how to proceed. KPCC’s Julie Small reports this new plan would cost billions less than earlier proposals.

Julie Small: A year ago, federal receiver Clark Kelso announced he wanted $8 billion to upgrade prison medical facilities – and to build seven new ones. His goal was to provide 10,000 medical beds for prisoners with chronic conditions.

State lawmakers and prison officials howled at the cost. The budget crisis virtually guaranteed Kelso wouldn’t get what he wanted. But now he says he can get the job the done with just a couple new hospitals for less than $2 billion.

The facilities would treat 3,400 inmates – far fewer than his earlier plan. But Kelso says he can compensate if he renovates more prison medical facilities already in place. Last year, Kelso asked a federal judge to hold the governor and other state officials in contempt for refusing to release the money he needed to build new prison hospitals.

The Schwarzenegger administration countered that move by asking a federal judge to dismiss Kelso. If the judge and state lawmakers agree to Kelso’s new plan, the court fight will be over – and the rebuilding can begin.

LA city fire chief will retire

The chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department, Douglas Barry, announced today that he’s ready to retire. KPCC’s Brian Watt says his announcement follows more than three decades with the department.

Brian Watt: South Bay native Douglas Barry attended Narbonne High School, Harbor College, and Cal State Long Beach. He spent 34 years moving up the ranks of the city fire department.

Three years ago, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Barry interim chief as the department was burning with racial and sexual harassment scandals. Barry believes he’s turned the department around. But he understands that some people might think controversy drove him out.

Douglas Barry: To the contrary. Everyone, from the mayor, the City Council, the Fire Commission, the controller, and the fire department members have been extremely supportive of me and my leadership and have expressed to me their desire that I stay longer.

Watt: Barry is the L.A. Fire Department’s first African-American chief. His announcement comes as the department prepares to address a deficit of $56 million. The tough budget year begins on July 1st, and Barry says he’ll stay on until August 30th to make some of the tough calls.

Housing prices down, sales up

Prices are down – so sales are up. It works that way in just about every business – and real estate is no different. KPCC’s Nick Roman has the April housing sales numbers from the California Association of Realtors.

Nick Roman: Housing prices over the last year are down nearly 44 percent in the Inland Empire, down 31 percent in L.A. County, down almost 27 percent in Orange County. But percentages mean nothing. What matters are dollars – so the house priced at the Inland Empire median of $157,000 is $68,000 cheaper than it was a year ago.

The realtors’ association says home prices might be as low as they’re gonna go – and first-time homebuyers are jumping in. April sales in the Inland Empire were double what they were a year ago. They’re up 43 percent in L.A. County – but up only 13 percent in Orange County.

Homes are more expensive there – and getting a big loan is tough. The California Association of Realtors says that’s why the inventory of homes above a million dollars is up to 17 months. But for houses under a half-million dollars, sales are booming – and the inventory is down to only three months.

LA opposes state plan to borrow city property tax revenues

Lawmakers in Sacramento today continued to wade through more budget cut proposals from the governor. KPCC’s Julie Small reports they heard testimony on his plan to borrow $2 billion from counties and cities – including Los Angeles.

Jim DeBoo: We’ve just closed a $530 million deficit.

Julie Small: That’s Jim DeBoo – the City of L.A.’s man in Sacramento. He told members of the budget conference committee Mayor Villaraigosa could sign a balanced budget by the end of the week. But DeBoo also says if the state decides to borrow 8 percent of the city’s property tax – as Governor Schwarzenegger proposes – that will push Los Angeles back into the red.

DeBoo: It could be anywhere between $85 million and around $100 million in additional deficit. If it does happen, the fear is we’d have to go look at public safety cuts. And that’s something that the mayor and the city council at least in L.A. would really, really like to avoid.

Small: Representatives from cities across the state told lawmakers they face similar – and equally bad – choices.

Sheriffs clear out homeless encampment

Los Angeles County sheriffs have dismantled an encampment of homeless people under the 605 Freeway near the 10. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad has this report.

Shirley Jahad: The camp accommodated 35 to 40 men, women, and children, L.A. County Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. He called it the most squalid, heinous homeless encampment he’d ever seen. The people lived under the freeway bridge, behind a walled-in area. Whitmore said ventilation holes were their only way in and out of the camp.

Steve Whitmore: There’s no light in there. They would hang the food. So the rats wouldn’t get it. You know how people when they camp they hang their food so the bears won’t get it? They did the same thing with their food. But it’s not pretty. This is heinous. It is unfathomable. It is unlivable. It is wrong.

Jahad: Whitmore said half a dozen babies lived in the enclosure, next to human and animal waste. He said officials are trying to place the camp’s inhabitants in adequate shelter and offer them medical attention and mental health care.

School districts trim summer courses to control costs

Tight budgets are prompting Los Angeles public education districts – from grade school through community colleges – to cut many summer classes this year. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall reports that administrators say they have no choice.

Cheryl Devall: Summer school won’t happen for most elementary and middle school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Its officials there say they have to cut more than $130 million before the current school year ends, and summer school was one place to do it.

They say that’s because California may cut more than $5 billion from its education budget – and because sales and property tax revenues are down. L.A. Unified high school students who need to make up graduation requirements and core classes will be able to take courses this summer.

So will students with disabilities in the Extended School Year program. Students who’d hoped to take summer courses in the L.A. Community College District won’t be as lucky. Several of its campuses are also cutting summer sessions to save money.

Federal government delays action again on protections for forests

The U.S. Forest Service has imposed a “time out” on development and roads in millions of acres of federal land, mostly in the West. KPCC’s Molly Peterson reports the move aims to unify a national policy that’s gotten messy.

Molly Peterson: The federal government will transfer authority over some wildland development to the secretary of agriculture. It’s also placing on hold the so-called “roadless rule” – a regulation first developed under President Bill Clinton.

Friction between the timber industry and environmentalists over how to manage these lands drove the rule into two federal courts that have issued conflicting opinions about what should happen. In California, the Clinton rule has held sway over about 4 million acres – 20 percent of the state’s federal forests.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger supported that. But the Bush Administration petitioned, and another judge allowed states to make their own plans less restrictive to development – so Idaho and Colorado have been doing that for their forests.

This latest move by the Obama Administration also requests that federal lawyers reverse previous policy and stop arguing against this kind of wildland protection.

Schwarzenegger speaks on gay marriage ruling

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he respects the state Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the voter-approved ban on same sex marriage. The governor says he personally believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, but he also told CNN.com that he wouldn’t be surprised if Californians legalized same-sex marriage in the future.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Gay rights groups are planning to place an initiative legalizing gay marriage on the ballot, perhaps as early as next year.

Bill introduced to give state oversight of the UC

State lawmakers introduced a bill today that would ask voters to give the legislature the power to regulate the University of California. The state constitution protects the UC from state regulation.

The bill would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. If approved, it would strip the UC of its immunity. San Francisco Democratic State Senator Leland Yee is a co-sponsor. He told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that many lawmakers are angry about the high salaries paid to UC executives.

Leland Yee: “They make more than the president of the United States. They make more than the governor of this state. It seems that their perspective, the regents perspective, of what is appropriate given these tough economic times, given their position relative to other positions in the this country and this state that are just not, not adequate.”

UC chancellors make $300,000 to $400,000 a year – that goes up to as much as half a million with perks.

Fire officials don't like state borrowing revenue from counties

The state’s providing less money this year for firefighting, so public safety is more important than ever, Southern California fire officials said today as they announced a new campaign.

Los Angeles County Fire chief Mike Freeman says he’s concerned about the state’s plan to borrow property tax revenues from counties. Freeman says that even though emergency programs are a state priority, he’s responding to more emergencies these days.

Mike Freeman: “Buying equipment, buying fuel, fuel has come down but it’s still very expensive. All these things come into play, so we do have a little bit of a fallback right now. But that money is going fast and the basic principle of public funding is that you do not pay for ongoing costs with one-time monies.”

Along with chiefs from Orange County and Ventura County, Freeman supports the new regional “ready, set, go” action plan. That advises people who live in wildfire-prone areas to prepare their homes and leave early when there’s a risk.

Health care advocate decries proposed cuts to Healthy Families

One of the many programs Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing eliminating is Healthy Families. The $250 million program provides health insurance for kids in low-income families that make too much to qualify for Medi-Cal.

Howard Kahn is CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan, which administers the Healthy Families program in L.A. County. He says without Healthy Families, a quarter of a million kids in L.A. County alone would lose health coverage. And that, says Kahn, would mean that many families would no longer be able to get their kids basic primary care.

Howard Kahn: “They are going to end up in emergency rooms. They are going to end up in both the county and the community clinics that we’ve got throughout Los Angeles. Those folks have already been seeing an increase in use because of the high unemployment rates. So we are going to have more crowded emergency rooms. That’s no way to run a health care system.”

Kahn spoke on KPCC’s “AirTalk.”

Former Bush v. Gore lawyers team up to challenge Prop 8

A day after the California Supreme Court upheld the state’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage, two prominent attorneys announced they’re teaming up to challenge it in federal court. KPCC’s Brian Watt says the lawyers are better known as legal adversaries.

Brian Watt: Ted Olson and David Boies argued on opposite sides of the Bush v. Gore case that determined the winner of the 2000 presidential election. David Boies hasn’t forgotten.

David Boies: Being up here on a platform with Ted Olson and all these lights makes me want to urge everyone to count every vote. (laughter)

Watt: They’ve filed a lawsuit in federal district court on behalf of two same-sex couples that want to marry – and they sought an injunction to block enforcement of Proposition 8 until the case is decided.

The suit claims that Prop 8 violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment and discriminates on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. Ted Olson said California’s “domestic partnership” option fails to provide the same benefits and protections as marriage.

Ted Olson: That is separate, and that is not equal. It is unconstitutional.

Watt: An attorney for the supporters of Prop 8 says the suit has very little prospect of success. Many gay marriage advocates say it’s too early for a federal lawsuit.

Officials give digital TV converter demo before June 12 deadline

Starting in two-and-a-half weeks, broadcast television stations will begin using digital technology to transmit their programs. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says that if your TV is not equipped to carry the new digital signal on June 12th, you’re only going to see fuzz.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “There are some 200,000 Angelinos who haven’t made the conversion to digital TV. We’re very concerned about that because they’ll lose their ability to see the programming they’re used to seeing.”

It’s not too late to apply for a $40 coupon that’ll help cover the cost of a digital converter box for analog TVs. You can get two per household online at DTV2009.gov.

Anyone who needs a converter box – or needs to figure out how to hook it up to the TV – can talk to experts and check out demonstrations tomorrow at the L.A. Convention Center. The event is scheduled to run from 9 o’clock in the morning until 4 in the afternoon.

Health care advocates warn cuts could lead to higher costs elsewhere

During a budget hearing at the state capital today, more than 100 people testified on proposed cuts to state medical insurance for low-income Californians. Governor Schwarzenegger suggested the cuts to help close a $24 billion deficit. KPCC’s Julie Small reports that health care advocates warned California will end up paying more for the cuts in the long run.

Julie Small: One after another, health care activists urged the state’s budget conference committee to reject the governor’s proposed cuts. Herb Meyer, a retired Air Force veteran from Marin County, lost the use of his legs in a boating accident and spent his life savings on medical and support care.

The 78-year-old now depends on the state’s Medi-Cal program for coverage. From his wheelchair, Meyer told legislators that the governor’s idea to cut so-called “optional” Medi-Cal benefits would hurt recipients.

Herb Meyer: They’re going to take away their eyeglasses. They’re going to take away their podiatric care. They’re going to take away many of the things that are going to be difficult for them to get.

Where’re they going to go? They’re going to go to emergency rooms – all this type of thing. It’s going to cost the government more money than they’re going to save in doing these things.

Small: Meyer said he’s already lost some Medi-Cal drug benefits from the budget cuts the legislature made earlier this year. That cost him $95 of his monthly $2,000 retirement check.

Cuts imminent for state services

A hefty cut to California’s Healthy Families program is one solution Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is offering to help offset the state’s projected $24 billion budget shortfall.

Jean Ross heads the California Budget Project. She told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that the proposed cut would leave close to 950,000 children in the state without medical coverage.

Jean Ross: “The governor is also proposing to scale back medical coverage for children and that would add an additional about 472,000 children to the ranks of the uninsured. So this would have a dramatic increase on the health status of California’s children.”

If the legislature approves $5 billion in cuts the governor’s proposed to state programs, programs including universities, state parks, and prisons would be in line for program and personnel reductions. The governor’s also suggested saving more than $1 billion by eliminating the CalWORKs welfare program. The governor’s expected to propose $3 billion in additional cuts next week.

Fire officials warn budget cuts may affect emergency response

Fire officials are warning Southland cities and towns that budget cuts may affect emergency response. KPCC’s Molly Peterson says that’s one reason they’re asking people to clear out when a wildfire approaches their neighborhoods.

Molly Peterson: On a hillside near a community center in Diamond Bar, fire officials showed off water-dropping helicopters hitting targets. A hand crew sawed and clawed up a hillside as it would to create fire breaks in a real event.

State, federal and local fire officials all are on hand to endorse this season’s public campaign – called Ready, Set, Go. The goal is to get people to prepare their houses and then leave early in the event of a fire.

Chiefs from Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties said that the way people prepare for fire season matters more now that lower local revenues and the state budget deficit are squeezing government services. L.A. County has frozen hiring for non-emergency staffing, and every fire district reports less money for what’s called mutual aid – cooperation between counties out when a fire hits.

Local fire officials and fire unions have lobbied Sacramento to minimize cuts. Now they’re asking people who live in wildland areas to help them handle hot dry weather and the risk of fire.

Bush v. Gore attornies team up for federal suit against Prop 8

California’s ban on same-sex marriage has compelled two well-known legal adversaries to challenge the law. Attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies argued against each other in the Bush versus Gore case that determined the result of the 2000 presidential election. But Olson said they’ve joined forces to sue against Proposition 8 in federal court.

Ted Olson: “The case we filed is not about liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. We’re here in part to symbolize that. This case is about the equal rights guaranteed to every American under the United States Constitution.”

They filed the suit last Friday on behalf of two same-sex couples who want to marry. Today, they filed an injunction asking the court to stop the enforcement of Prop 8 pending the case’s outcome.

Rancho Cucamonga councilman arrested on felony grand theft charges

Authorities arrested Rancho Cucamonga councilman Rex Guiterrez today for allegedly misappropriating public money. KPCC’s Steven Cuevas says the arrest is part of an ever-widening fraud and corruption probe that involves several high-profile San Bernardino County officials.

Steven Cuevas: The felony charges against Rex Guitterez – misappropriation of public funds and grand theft – arise from his brief stint with the county assessor’s office. He quit in January when the office became the focus of an investigation into alleged fraud and corruption.

Assessor Bill Postmus resigned soon after. An independent investigation launched by the San Bernardino County board of supervisors portrays the office as a den of political corruption, financial fraud, and drug abuse.

Gutierrez had been Postmus’ “intergovernmental relations officer.” But investigators say he was dubbed “intergalactic officer” because he rarely showed up for work – even when he continued to collect a paycheck. The county is suing Gutierrez and several other former assessor’s office officials over money allegedly lost through rampant timecard abuse.

Some of Guiterrez’ colleagues on the Rancho Cucamonga city council are calling on him to step down. He’s served on the council off and on over 17 years.

LAMBDA Legal senior counsel talks about gay civil rights strategy

A coalition of gay rights groups says a federal lawsuit that challenges Proposition 8 is premature. Jenny Pizer is the senior counsel for LAMBDA Legal, a gay civil rights organization. She spoke with KPCC’s “AirTalk.”

Jenny Pizer: “Federal litigation eventually of course will be very important, but our strategy for years has been to work state by state to create the foundation that we need, that we believe we need, to have a fair chance of winning in this kind of case. I mean the stakes are kind of high when you go through the Supreme Court. That court sets the rule for the entire country.”

Attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson filed the lawsuit last week. It argues that California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process. Boies and Olson also are seeking a preliminary injunction against Prop 8 until the case is resolved.

The state Supreme Court announced yesterday that it had upheld the measure. Pizer said she thinks the next appropriate step should be to return to the ballot box. Same-sex marriage proponents say they want to try and get a referendum on next year’s ballot.

LA City Council postpones vote on billboard ban

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today on the contentious issue of billboard expansion. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall says it’s not the vote people on either side of the matter had hoped for.

Cheryl Devall: Now that L.A.’s elected Carmen Trutanich as its next city attorney, the city council has decided to let him review a proposed moratorium on new billboards and digital billboard conversions when he takes office in July.

A temporary ban on new billboards and supergraphics – ads that wrap around multi-story buildings – runs out next month. The city council is expected to extend that ban to September, when it’s scheduled to vote again.

The unanimous decision to put off a final decision until September disappointed people who testified for three hours on the free speech, commercial, and aesthetic implications of limiting billboard expansion.

Anti-sign forces object to a provision that would designate 21 “sign districts” to accommodate new billboards in areas including the L.A. International Airport corridor and Hollywood. Outdoor advertising companies don’t like the fines that plan would charge for every violation of the ordinance.

Another ballot measure might turn tide in same-sex marriage battle

The battle in California over same-sex marriage isn’t finished – and KPCC’s Nick Roman says the result next time could be different.

Nick Roman: This began nine years ago when voters approved Proposition 22 – a statute that said “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Last May, the state Supreme Court invalidated that measure. Proposition 8 had the same wording as 22 – but it’s a constitutional amendment not as easily dislodged by a court decision. But voters could overturn it.

Backers of same-sex marriage intend to put a measure on the ballot – and it might succeed. Prop 22 passed with more than 61 percent of the vote. Eight years later, Prop 8 also passed – but with only 52 percent. The 22 percentage point margin of victory that opponents of same-sex marriage had with Prop 22 was down to 4.

And even though Prop 8 passed in L.A., Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, it earned much less support than Prop 22. One more year and one more election are all that backers of same-sex marriage might need to win.

Legal scholar suggests Prop 8 not settled, despite court decision

Legal scholar Richard Hasen of Loyola Law School suggests that Proposition 8 – California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage – may not be settled despite the state supreme court’s decision in favor of the measure.

Richard Hasen: “The California Supreme Court has said pretty straightforwardly that as far as the state power and state constitution goes, there’s a lot more power in the hands of voters. And that if the voters want to have the last word here, subject to the federal constitution, they can.”

Last November, 52 percent of the voters overturned an earlier state Supreme Court decision that briefly made same-sex marriages legal in California. Hasen told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that if more change is on the way, it’ll probably happen through the ballot box in another statewide referendum.

Supporters of Prop 8 applaud state supreme court's decision

Supporters of Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, applauded today’s state Supreme Court decision that upheld the vote. Andrew Pugno argued before California’s highest court that last year’s narrow approval of Prop 8 reflected the will of the people. He told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that opponents are within their rights to raise the issue in another ballot measure, but…

Andrew Pugno: “I don’t suspect that the people of California would look favorably on being asked to vote on this yet again. We’ve already voted on it twice in the last few years, and in fact I don’t think it would be very likely to succeed in taking Prop 8 out of the constitution. Prop 8 was made a close election by the occasional young liberal voter that showed up, that is not likely to show up in those numbers for a long time to come.”

Nine years ago, California voters approved an earlier ban on same-sex marriage by a much wider margin than they did last November.

Supreme Court nominee has reputation as tough, smart

The scrutiny’s begun for President Obama’s pick for an upcoming vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. The president praised federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York as “an inspiring woman” with varied experience on the bench. Legal Network anchor Jami Floyd has reported on cases in Sotomayor’s courtroom.

Jami Floyd: “She’s tough, I would say hard-nosed, very smart, cuts to the issues, does not suffer fools. And she has a bit of a reputation for being prickly, but I would say if she was a man that wouldn’t be the case. I think some of it is because she is a woman and we have different expectations for women, whether it’s on the bench, at the front of a classroom, or as homemakers.”

South LA civil rights leader applauds Prop 8 ruling

A civil rights activist in South L.A. applauds the California Supreme Court for upholding Proposition 8. Eddie Jones is president of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association.

Eddie Jones : “I don’t agree with same-sex marriage. It’s been voted on already. They passed it not to happen. And I think it’s wrong to try to get an amendment to it. I think it’s wrong. The people voted on it. They said ‘no’. No means no.”

Supporters of same-sex couples’ right to marry say they’ll bring the issue before California voters again. But they haven’t decided when.

Some support same-sex marriage, also support court's decision

The California Supreme Court this morning upheld Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. In response, several callers on KPCC’s “AirTalk” said they support same-sex marriage, but they also support the logic of the court’s decision. Among them was John of Santa Monica.

John: “The people actually voted on this. And the constitution is supposed to back up the rule of the people. I mean, to complain about a constitutional issue when people vote on it, it just seems redundant – it doesn’t seem right.”

The court’s ruling also maintains the legality of about 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place between an earlier state supreme court decision that allowed them and the November election that endorsed the ban with 52 percent of the vote.

California high court upholds gay marriage ban

By LISA LEFF
Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s gay-marriage ban Tuesday but said the 18,000 same-sex weddings that took place before the prohibition passed are still valid – a ruling decried by gay-rights activists as a hollow victory.

Demonstrators outside the court booed, wept and yelled, “Shame on you!” Activists said they would go back to the voters as early as next year in a bid to repeal the ban.

In a 6-1 decision written by Chief Justice Ron George, the court rejected arguments that the ban approved by the voters last fall was such a fundamental change in the California Constitution that it first needed the Legislature’s approval.

As for the thousands of couples who tied the knot last year in the five months that gay marriage was legal in California, the court said it is well-established principle that an amendment is not retroactive unless it is clear that the voters intended it to be, and that was not the case with Proposition 8.

Moreover, the court said it would be too disruptive to apply Proposition 8 retroactively and dissolve all gay marriages.

Doing that would have the effect of “throwing property rights into disarray, destroying the legal interests and expectations of thousands of couples and their families, and potentially undermining the ability of citizens to plan their lives according to the law as it has been determined by this state’s highest court,” the ruling said.

While gay rights advocates accused the court of failing to protect a minority group from the will of the majority, the justices said that the state’s governing framework gives voters almost unfettered ability to change the California Constitution.

The decision set off an outcry among a sea of demonstrators who had gathered in front of the San Francisco courthouse, holding signs and waving rainbow flags. Many people also held hands in a chain around an intersection in an act of protest.

“We’re relieved our marriage was not invalidated, but this is a hollow victory because there are so many that are not allowed to marry those they love,” said Amber Weiss, 32, who was in the crowd at City Hall, near the courthouse, with her partner, Sharon Papo. They were married on the first day gay marriage was legal last year, June 17.

“I feel very uncomfortable being in a special class of citizens,” Papo said.

Jeanne Rizzo, 62, who was one of the plaintiffs along with her wife, Pali Cooper, said: “It’s not about whether we get to stay married. Our fight is far from over. I have about 20 years left on this earth, and I’m going to continue to fight for equality every day.”

A small group of Proposition 8 supporters also gathered outside the court.

“A lot of people just assume we’re religious nuts. We’re not. But we are Christians and we believe in the Bible,” said George Popko, 22, a student at American River College in Sacramento, where the student government officially endorsed Proposition 8.

In the state capital, Republican state Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo, the incoming minority leader, said the court’s decision “reaffirmed the principle that the people’s votes do matter.”

The state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 last May that it was unconstitutional to deny gay couples the right to wed. For a while, that put California - the nation’s most populous state - back in its familiar position in the vanguard of social change; at the time, Massachusetts was the only other state to allow gay marriage.

In what gay activists called their “Summer of Love,” same-sex couples from around the country rushed to get married in California for fear the voters would take away the right at the ballot box. In November, Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent approval.

Over the past several months, as the fight went on in California, Iowa, Maine, Vermont and Connecticut legalized gay marriage, bringing to five the number of states that allow same-sex couples to wed.

In California, gay rights activists argued that the ban was improperly put to the voters and amounted to a revision - which required legislative approval - not an amendment. But the justices disagreed.

The court said that while the ban denies gay couples use of the term “marriage,” it does not fundamentally disturb their basic right to “establish an officially recognized and protected family relationship with the person of one’s choice and to raise children within the family.” California still allows gay couples to form domestic partnerships.

In their 136-page majority ruling, the justices said it not their job to address whether the ban is wise public policy, but to decide whether it is constitutionally valid, while “setting aside our own personal beliefs and values.”

Justice Carlos Moreno, who had been under consideration as President Barack Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, was the lone dissenter.

He said denying same-sex couples the right to wed “strikes at the core of the promise of equality that underlies our California Constitution.” He said it represents a “drastic and far-reaching change.”

“Promising equal treatment to some is fundamentally different from promising equal treatment for all,” Moreno said. “Promising treatment that is almost equal is fundamentally different from ensuring truly equal treatment.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office fought the ban, said: “Today we are faced with a disappointing decision. But I think we also know it could have been worse.”

Democratic state Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego said that California “has lost its lead in the fight for civil rights for all people.” And Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco warned the ruling would create “apartheid” in California.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Possible Republican response to Supreme Court nominee

Conservative lawmakers responded quickly to President Obama’s nomination of federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ron Elving, senior Washington Editor for National Public Radio, told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that the opposition reflects differences in judicial philosophy.

Ron Elving: “I think that it’s fair to say that Republicans are upholding a principle of strict adherence to the document of the constitution, the letter of the law if you will, and we’ve already heard quite a number of the Republican senators who are going to be handling theses proceedings on the judiciary committee talking about applying the letter of the law and not trying to interpret what the law, that is to say the Constitution, might mean in a modern context.”

Some Republicans have questioned the way Sotomayor, a Latina, has decided on affirmative action cases. She ruled against a group of white Connecticut firefighters who’d sued their department claiming racial discrimination.

The Supreme Court expects to rule on that case this session. If the U.S. Senate approves her nomination, Sotomayor would replace associate justice David Souter, who plans to retire from the court this summer.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader praises Supreme Court pick

The local head of the organization founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. praised President Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. Reverend Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California said federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor would bring needed diversity to the nation’s highest court.

Reverend Eric Lee: “Because of her background, coming from the projects, and working class family, being able to work her way through to becoming a justice, that it adds an element of compassion and understanding about the plight of people who are struggling just for a decent living, and quality of life in our country.”

If the Senate approves her, Sotomayor – who’s Puerto Rican – would be the first Latina associate justice. President Obama announced the nomination this morning at a White House news conference.

Gay marriage proponents respond to ruling on Prop 8

The California Supreme Court this morning upheld Proposition 8 – and the marriages of same-sex couples who wed while their unions were legal. A coalition of faith leaders and groups that support same-sex marriage rights met today in South Los Angeles to hear the ruling on Prop 8 and offer their reactions. Attorney Jenny Pizer is on the legal team that challenged the ballot measure.

Jenny Pizer: “Proposition 8 stole our right to marry, and it advanced a pernicious idea of equality that puts every California minority at risk. Prop 8 tore our constitution. Today’s deeply disappointing decision puts it to us as a people to repair that damage at the ballot box.”

The coalition vowed to bring the issue of same-sex marriage before California voters again. But members haven’t decided when. Pizer said the 18,000 same-sex couples who married before voters approved Prop 8 last November will demonstrate that their rights don’t threaten anyone.

National Organization for Marriage director praises Prop 8 decision

The California Supreme Court has ruled against lawsuits that sought to overturn Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same sex marriage.

Proposition 8 opponents argued that the measure was a constitutional revision, rather than an amendment, and that it needed the legislature’s approval. But the court rejected that argument in a 6 to 1 ruling.

Brian Brown praised the ruling on KPCC’s “AirTalk.” Brown is executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, which supported Proposition 8.

Brian Brown: “This was the common sense decision the court should have made. And we’re very happy with the decision and, you know, any other decision would have essentially said that the people are going to be robbed of their right to speak on an issue that’s of fundamental importance – marriage.”

Proponents of same sex marriage are vowing to fight the decision. They say they may go back to voters as early as next year to try and repeal Prop 8.

State Supreme Court upholds gay marriage ban

The state Supreme Court has upheld Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

The court ruled 6-to-1 against gay rights activists who argued that the measure was a constitutional revision, and therefore needed the legislature’s approval. The court did let 18,000 same-sex marriages stand. Those couples were married after the state’s highest court legalized same-sex marriage, and before voters approved Prop 8.

David Bowers was at the courthouse when the ruling came down. He spoke with KPCC’s Larry Mantle.

David Bowers: “Extremely disappointed. And now I’m in a group of people who are – my marriage is still held up legal. All my brothers and sisters are out here and they can’t get married. I don’t understand. I’m disappointed.”

Gay rights activists are vowing to fight the court ruling. They’re planning protests today. In a statement, Governor Schwarzenegger said that he will uphold the court’s ruling, although he believes that someday California will recognize legal gay marriage. He also encouraged people who respond to the court decision to do so peacefully and lawfully.

LA City Councilman Alarcon wants to establish banking districts

Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon is pushing the city to establish banking districts throughout L.A. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports the idea is to encourage banks to open branches in poor neighborhoods.

Frank Stoltze: Banks are hard to find in neighborhoods like Pacoima, Boyle Heights, and South L.A., says Councilman Alarcon.

Richard Alarcon: We have 300,000 families that do not participate in banking, and they’re using check cashing places and paying exorbitant fees to do things that we take for granted.

Stoltze: Alarcon says that’s partly because many people struggling to make ends meet lack financial know-how. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has launched a campaign to encourage people to open bank accounts.

Alarcon’s proposed banking districts would offer incentives like property tax breaks and deposits of city money to financial institutions that open in poor neighborhoods. The proposal is similar to one in New York, which has established 25 banking districts.

DWP unveils monument to those who've died on the job

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power unveiled a monument today for employees who have died on the job. DWP Chief David Nahai said it was the suggestion of a current DWP employee that motivated him to push for a permanent memorial.

David Nahai: “It provided me with what I needed, what my soul told me had to be done, in order to recognize our DWP people who lost their lives.”

The glass monument is etched on one side with the names of 216 workers. Almost 30 of them died in 1928, when the Saint Francis Dam failed catastrophically. DWP estimates that another 40 men died during the building of the Los Angeles Aqueduct – but there are no records of their names.

Nahai says the agency owes it to the workers who are being memorialized to take safety precautions so that no other names are added to the monument.

Students skip school to protest planned teacher layoffs

Several hundred L.A. Unified students skipped class this morning and marched to school district headquarters in downtown L.A. to protest planned teacher layoffs. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Most of the protestors were from Santee High School south of downtown. Chanting and waving homemade signs they marched two miles and circled the 29-story L.A. Unified building.

The school board has voted to lay off thousands of instructors, many of them new teachers. New hires represent a large portion of Santee High’s teachers, and ninth grader Maria Del Angel says it’s unfair cuts will affect her campus more than others.

Maria Del Angel: I want to be a nurse and a doctor. And we don’t have enough education for us right now. That’s why we’re trying to keep our teachers with us because we really need them, and we cannot let them go like that.

Guzman-Lopez: Schools officials said students should voice their opinions, but shouldn’t skip school to do so. Superintendent Ramon Cortines met with student leaders and engaged in a spirited debate about budget cuts. In spite of this and other much larger protests, the school district’s likely to move ahead with teacher layoffs and other cuts in the next few weeks.

Fewer enroll in this year's LA Marathon

The 24th Annual Los Angeles Marathon is Monday morning, but police will start closing some downtown streets Sunday night.

Organizers expect more than 35,000 people to participate in the 26-mile distance run, bike tour, and 5K run/walk. Professional endurance-athlete coach Steve Mackel will run – as he has a half dozen times before. He says fewer people enrolled this year because organizers changed the date several times.

Steve Mackel: “They wanted to get it off of Sunday, so they thought maybe President’s Day Monday, and then they moved to this day. But, traditionally, all across the United States, marathons are done on Sunday. It brings a ton of money into the city, it creates jobs, the spectators come out, it creates a sense of community. The positives outweigh the one day of negative.”

Religious groups had complained that road closures for Sunday marathons make it difficult for congregants to get to their places of worship. Several L.A. City Council members have introduced a motion that, if approved, would return the L.A. Marathon to a Sunday in March beginning next year.

Over 1,000 homecare, domestic workers protest protest proposed cuts

A crowd of more than a thousand Southland homecare providers and their patients and supporters converged on downtown Los Angeles today. They were protesting Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts in home care services.

Organizer Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union says the governor’s May revise budget would reduce most workers’ pay from 11 or 12 dollars to 8 dollars an hour – minimum wage.

Eliseo Medina: “They’re being a penny wise and a dollar foolish. If they force all these home care clients out of their homes, where they gonna send them? To nursing homes? They are four times more expensive than home care. This is a bad decision. What the governor proposes is gonna wind up costing them more money, not less.”

Governor Schwarzenegger has said the huge budget shortfall – made worse by last Tuesday’s defeat of several budget ballot measures – is forcing him to make deep cuts in state programs.

Community colleges could lose hundreds of thousands of students due to cuts

The chancellor of California community colleges says the system could lose hundreds of thousands of students next year because of the state’s fiscal crisis. Jack Scott told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that the system won’t be able to afford the number of students it’s been serving. He said proposed budget cuts will force local community colleges to reduce class offerings.

Jack Scott: “If I were making an estimate today, I’d say at least 250,000 students that will not be served next year because the colleges cannot bankrupt themselves in terms of offering the schedule and so forth, so they’re going to have to make very drastic cuts.”

Scott says the state’s community colleges will have to be cut because of the state’s fiscal situation. It’s the size of the reduction that he doesn’t agree with. The colleges have seen enrollments spike as unemployed people return to school, but per-student funding hasn’t kept pace.

Actress Carteris says SAG members should support contract

Screen Actors Guild members have until June 9th to vote for or against a contract with film and primetime TV producers. 600 of them attended an information session on the contract last night in Hollywood. Actress Gabrielle Carteris of “Beverly Hills 90210” fame said Guild members should ratify the contract.

Gabrielle Carteris: It’s important for us to do this deal because it gets us back to work. I think that L.A. and Hollywood has not been working. In film, people want to be working. In TV, we want to have the rates that we think…

“Look, TV is truly the money maker still. You know, in seven years that might be different, but the truth is, right now, it is the money maker. And we needed those bumps, we’ve lost a year of bumps.”

By “bumps,” Carteris means the wage and residual increases that SAG members have missed out on because they’ve been working under the terms of a contract that expired last summer.

SAG members attend info session on tentative TV/film contract

Screen Actors Guild members have a big decision to make – whether to ratify or reject a proposed contract with film and primetime TV producers. About 600 guild members filled a hotel ballroom in Hollywood last night for a presentation of the contract’s details.

Although he opposes the deal, SAG President Alan Rosenberg attended the meeting. He says the contract would allow the producers to make a lot of money on the Internet without paying actors enough.

Alan Rosenberg: “What they’re trying to do is change the paradigm, they’re trying to create an entirely new business model where they can only concern themselves with the people they perceive they need.

“Middle class actors like myself, background performers, stunt performers are not significant to our employers. So I’m hoping the members vote this down. I’m happy we’re going out to them, but would only be truly happy if they vote it down.”

Rosenberg was not speaking on the Guild’s behalf. The contract does establish some residuals and jurisdiction for SAG members on the Internet. Guild members have until June 9th to mail in their ballots.

Obama holding bipartisan immigration meeting, doesn't invite Lungren

President Obama is moving forward on immigration reform. He’s called a meeting at the White House early next month with congressional members from both parties. But KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde reports the invitee list may be significant for who’s not on it.

Kitty Felde: An administration official says the June 8th conference will gather lawmakers from both parties for a “substantive discussion” of immigration issues that will lead to a larger debate later this year. That same official says it would be a “small group.” Two prominent Democrats from California say they were invited: the head of the House Immigration Subcommittee Zoe Lofgren of San Jose and Nancy Pelosi’s right-hand man, Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles.

But arguably the most experienced Republican on the issue hasn’t been invited. In 1986, it was House Member Dan Lungren’s job to round up GOP votes for the last sweeping immigration bill passed by Congress. But so far, the White House hasn’t tapped the Sacramento Republican for his institutional memory. The White House official who confirmed the meeting says he hasn’t seen the list of invitees.

Sole Republican vote for climate change bill is Californian

Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of Los Angeles scored a major victory on Capitol Hill last night. The Energy and Commerce Committee he chairs passed a major piece of climate change legislation before Memorial Day, just as he promised. The victory came with help from a fellow Californian from the other side of the aisle. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Congressman Henry Waxman: The clerk will call the roll.
Clerk: Mr. Waxman.
Waxman: Aye.
Clerk: Mr. Waxman votes aye.

Kitty Felde: By a vote of 33-25, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The measure battles climate change by promoting renewable sources of electricity. It also creates a pollution credit trading system for industry.

The vote was largely along party lines. Four Democrats voted no and one Republican, Mary Bono Mack, voted yes. The congresswoman from Palm Springs said the issue of climate change was important enough to move the bill forward. In its present form, she said it was missing one important element.

Congresswoman Mary Bono Mac: We would really like to see a lot more done to promote nuclear power and don’t feel this bill is doing that.

Felde: The bill now goes to other House committees and is likely to change quite a bit before coming to the floor for a vote. Even in this committee, members considered nearly a hundred amendments to the bill.

City college administrators worry budget crisis may wipe out summer session

Summer sessions at California community colleges are supposed to get underway in a couple of weeks. But city college administrators worry the state budget crisis will wipe out the summer session. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad reports.

Shirley Jahad: Just as more newly unemployed people are flocking to community colleges, administrators are facing dramatic cuts. Dr. Jamillah Moore – the president of L.A. City College – says her staff are holding emergency meetings to talk about cutting upcoming summer sessions.

Dr. Jamillah Moore: We are having those discussions with our constituency groups this week and next week, so we hope to have that decision before May is over because we have to.

Jahad: Moore says the situation is grim. She just doesn’t know how grim it will be. She says not knowing this close to the summer session and the new fiscal year is like dealing with a moving target. News of how deep the cuts will go is to come – sooner or later – from state lawmakers and the governor.

California community colleges have added 150,000 more students this year – without any more funding. More than 2-and a half million people are enrolled.

Men charged with phony ATM withdrawal scheme

Authorities charged four San Fernando Valley men today in an alleged electronic crime scheme. KPCC’s Alex Cohen says the scheme involved phony ATM withdrawals.

Alex Cohen: The scheme involves two dozen victims, including two banks. Together they lost more than $400,000. The defendants allegedly gained access to personal ID numbers by placing so-called skimming devices on automatic teller machines in Southern California and at least one other state.

The devices read and record ATM card numbers while wireless cameras record users’ personal access code entries. Then the skimmers transmit that information to identity thieves nearby.

The district attorney’s Bureau of Investigation began looking into the Southern California case last August after Citibank alerted them to possible ATM fraud.

Bail for the four men charged was set at $1 million each. Similar skimming rings have been surfacing around the country.

Almost 100 members of Latino gang that targeted African-Americans arrested

The U.S. attorney in Los Angeles is praising today’s arrests of almost 100 members of the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang. Thomas O’Brien told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that the largely Latino gang targeted African-Americans in southeastern L.A. County.

Thomas O’Brien: “You’re dealing with people who are clearly uneducated, that hang out and kinda spew racial hatred. This particular street gang, we have a number of incidents where they shot at people not because they were African-American gang members but simply because the individuals were African-American.”

O’Brien said gederal authorities issued about 150 indictments on racketeering, firearms, and narcotics charges. The allegations and arrests resulted from a four-year investigation that followed a suspected gang member’s fatal shooting of an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy.

Governor proposes wholesale cuts to close budget gap

The Schwarzenegger Administration today proposed sweeping budget cuts to help plug California’s multi-billion dollar deficit. KPCC’s Julie Small reports some popular social services programs could be scrapped entirely.

Julie Small: Among the programs the Schwarzenegger Administration proposes to scrap is CalWorks. It’s a welfare assistance program for needy families. The Healthy Families program could be gone. It’s the state’s health insurance program for teens and children in low-income families.

Also on the “cut” list are Cal Grants that pay fees for low-income students at state-funded universities. Altogether, the cuts would save billions of dollars. A spokesman for the governor’s finance department says the state alone funds these programs, so dismantling them won’t threaten any federal funding that California receives.

Schwarzenegger Administration officials announced the likely cuts after the non-partisan Legislative Analyst raised doubts about whether the governor’s plan to borrow $6 billion from Wall Street to plug the deficit was legal.

Law enforcement officials arrest scores of Hawaiian Gardens gang members

Federal and local law enforcement officials said today they’ve arrested nearly a hundred leaders and associates of the dangerous Varrio Hawaiian Gardens street gang. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles is calling it the largest gang indictment in this country’s history. One-thousand-four-hundred law enforcement agents took part in the arrests in and around southeast L.A. County.

They were armed with a federal indictment that listed 147 people, about a dozen of them women. The indictment listed nicknames such as Spooky, Looney Tunes, Casper, and Babygirl. U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien said the killing of L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz by one of the gang’s members four years ago prompted the 17-agency crackdown.

Thomas O’Brien: Today we honor deputy Ortiz by coming together to crush the outlaw gang that took his life and to make a positive difference for the law abiding people who live in Hawaiian Gardens.

Guzman-Lopez: The indictment charges the suspects with racketeering, drug trafficking, and illegal gun possession. Officials say Varrio Hawaiian Gardens was a self-described “hate gang” whose members targeted African-Americans.

Governor Schwarzenegger withdraws borrowing plan, looks for cuts

Governor Schwarzenegger’s withdrawn his plan to balance the state budget with 5-and-a-half billion dollars of borrowed money. Instead, he’s asking state agencies to forward more ideas about where they can cut. Jason Dickerson with the Legislative Analyst’s Office told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that the governor was right to reverse his course on borrowing.

Jason Dickerson: “It could well be a habit the state gets into, but the constitution of the state places fairly strict limits on debt that can be issued. And it really would be, potentially, in violation of those requirements.”

California’s working with few good fiscal options in the face of a projected $21 billion deficit.

State services still at risk, despite appeals for funding to federal government

California officials are borrowing a strategy from the financial industry – trying to convince the federal government to front some cash fast because this state is too big to fail. Jason Dickerson with the state Legislative Analyst’s Office isn’t sure that approach will spare state services from major cuts.

Jason Dickerson: “The governor’s $750 million proposal to cut Medi-Cal funding that would require approval from the federal government, that is a pretty risky proposition on which to balance the budget over the next year. We don’t know if the federal government will go along with that. But in terms of looking at selling some state assets and some state lands, rethinking how our boards and commissions work, we think that is a good idea and the legislature should look at that.”

Federal Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s already saying that California shouldn’t rely on much more financial help from Washington.

LA city attorney-elect Trutanich responds to his win

Los Angeles’ next City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, is pledging to change the culture of the department he’ll take over soon. The former gang prosecutor has spent much of the last 20 years in private practice, and that experience will follow him into his first elected position.

Carmen Trutanich: “We want to make this a real law office. And the only way that a real office can function and be successful is if management and those of the support for management are one – they work as a team together.”

Trutanich defeated L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss in the fiercest contest on Tuesday’s ballot.

Federal stimulus money headed for Southland water systems

There’s money on tap for water systems in California. KPCC’s Molly Peterson says that much of a $440 million federal stimulus grant will go to the Inland Empire.

Molly Peterson: Each year, the state gets about a quarter of a billion dollars in support for water infrastructure projects. This year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency says the needs are more urgent, so the agency’s using money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to pay for improvements in California and other states.

Federal money will go to California’s water resources control board, for regional wastewater treatment and storm runoff projects. The state’s public health department will also get some of the money to upgrade local drinking water systems.

The recent law will bring zero-interest loans to Southern California – in Riverside County, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and the Beaumont Cherry Valley Water District will get a combined $54 million. In Los Angeles County, the Upper San Gabriel Valley project is in line for $11 million.

LAUSD superintendent discusses budget dilemmas

L.A. Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines plans to discuss possible cutbacks with union bargaining units tomorrow. The school district has to cut an additional $130 million from this year’s budget because of the failure of five statewide ballot measures this week. Cortines told KPCC’s Larry Mantle he’s trying to avoid further layoffs.

Ramon Cortines: “That means the bargaining units are going to have to work with us at furlough days, they’re going to have to look at maybe freezing salaries, etc.”

Union leaders have recommended that the district use all the stimulus money immediately, rather than spreading it across two years. Cortines has resisted that, but he says he’d reconsider using more of the money this year if the teachers’ union would agree to furloughs or other cutbacks. Cortines says summer school and after school programs may also go under the budget knife.

Cuts likely in state health and human services budget

The secretary of California’s health and human services agency says difficult cuts lie ahead, given the state’s projected $21 billion deficit. Secretary Kim Belshe told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that her agency’s considering various proposals.

Kim Belshe: “Basically we are compelled, given nature of state’s fiscal crisis, to look at every program that’s not required by the federal government. We are endeavoring to put forward proposals, though, that target resources to those who are most in need.”

Belshe says one proposal would eliminate coverage for more than 200,000 children in the state’s Healthy Families program. The state could also drop its support of HIV and AIDS education and prevention programs. Belshe says it’s also likely that clinics will have fewer state resources to work with after the cuts.

NEA names Angelino Bill Holman a Jazz Master

The National Endowment for the Arts has named its latest crop of Jazz Masters, and composer Bill Holman of Los Angeles is on the list. KPCC’s Brian Watt has more.

Brian Watt: Bill Holman was born 72 years ago near Santa Ana. He took up the clarinet in junior high school. By high school, he was playing the tenor sax and leading his own band. He studied at the Westlake College of Music in Los Angeles after deciding he wanted to write big band music.

The National Endowment for the Arts is recognizing his unique and complex arrangements. Holman has contributed arrangements for jazz greats like Count Basie, Louie Belson, and Buddy Rich. His own Bill Holman Band has recorded three albums and won a 1995 Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition with “A View From the Side.”

Past recipients of the Jazz Masters’ honor include Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dave Brubeck. They receive a one-time grant of $25,000.

Prosecutors indict 150 gang members, largest gang takedown in US history

Federal authorities say raids in southeast Los Angeles County this morning netted 63 suspected members of a Latino gang indicted for targeting blacks in a series of shootings and other crimes. U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien says 1,400 federal and local law enforcement officers were involved in the hunt for 147 members of the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens street gang. Prosecutors call the raids the “largest gang takedown in United States history.”

O’Brien says planning for the gang sweep began four years ago after the killing of Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz. The 15-year veteran deputy was a member of the Lakewood Sheriff’s station gang enforcement team. He was shot and killed outside a Hawaiian Gardens apartment in June 2005 while searching for a suspected gang member he’d seen on the street. The suspect – 27-year-old Jose Luis Orozco – was arrested three days later.

The five federal racketeering indictments handed down today includes gun, drug, and other charges stemming from racial attacks. Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez will have reports on KPCC throughout the afternoon.

Governor says voters want cuts, but not to favorite programs

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says voters spoke loudly at the polls yesterday – but he’s not sure what they said. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Kitty Felde: Governor Schwarzenegger has been trying various ways to balance the state’s budget. He says Tuesday’s election results made it clear the voters want budget cuts. But what kind?

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: You ask them about the cuts and you say, “Do you mind if you have to make an additional $6 billion in cuts in education?” They say, “No, no, no! Not education!” And then you say, “Well, how about in health care?” And they say, “Well, no, I wouldn’t go after the vulnerable citizens.” Then we say, “Well, then we have to make some cuts in law enforcement.” “I want to keep that in place!” So people don’t know themselves where they want the cuts. They just say, “Make the cuts – and you figure it out.”

Felde: One cut proposed by the governor would cut salaries for home health care workers by $2 an hour. The union protested to the Obama Administration – and the feds threatened to take away billions in stimulus money.

But Schwarzenegger says he “cleared up some of the confusion” in meetings with administration officials. So the state can make the pay cuts and keep federal stimulus money.

Governor says voters want cuts, but not to favorite programs

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says voters spoke loudly at the polls yesterday – but he’s not sure what they said. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Kitty Felde: Governor Schwarzenegger has been trying various ways to balance the state’s budget. He says Tuesday’s election results made it clear the voters want budget cuts. But what kind?

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: You ask them about the cuts and you say, “Do you mind if you have to make an additional $6 billion in cuts in education?” They say, “No, no, no! Not education!” And then you say, “Well, how about in health care?” And they say, “Well, no, I wouldn’t go after the vulnerable citizens.” Then we say, “Well, then we have to make some cuts in law enforcement.” “I want to keep that in place!” So people don’t know themselves where they want the cuts. They just say, “Make the cuts – and you figure it out.”

Felde: One cut proposed by the governor would cut salaries for home health care workers by $2 an hour. The union protested to the Obama Administration – and the feds threatened to take away billions in stimulus money.

But Schwarzenegger says he “cleared up some of the confusion” in meetings with administration officials. So the state can make the pay cuts and keep federal stimulus money.

Chief Bratton praises city council voting down police hiring freeze

Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton today praised the L.A. city council’s decision to reject a proposed hiring freeze at his department.

Chief Bill Bratton: “Right now, we have in excess of 9,900 officers – pretty close to the 10,000 mark. We will within a few months reach the 10,000 mark.

“We fully anticipate that we will get some federal help through the COPS program – hire some officers there. So we’re in pretty good shape, all things considered, on the number of officers.”

During KPCC’s “Patt Morrison,” Bratton rejected charges he’d threatened to retaliate against City Councilman Bill Rosendahl for supporting the hiring freeze by pulling officers from his district.

Free participatory music and dance at Ford Amphitheatre

After last summer’s successful launch, the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in the Hollywood Hills has expanded its free interactive JAM sessions this season. Details from KPCC’s Hettie Lynne Hurtes.

Hettie Lynne Hurtes: At the Ford, JAM stands for Jazzed And Motivated. The program features artists who’ll guide nine different sessions for people interested in learning some performance basics. The first two meetings – “Squeeze Box 101” – focus on accordion-driven Zydeco and Cajun music and dance.

More into percussion? In July there’ll be a “Do-it-Yourself Drumming” session where you’ll discover ways to transform ordinary household items into percussive power. The summer also includes sessions on flamenco, hip hop, and bluegrass.

The free JAM sessions are Monday nights at 7, from June 1st through August 24th. You can find more information online at FordAmphitheater.org.

Congressional frontrunner Judy Chu on her primary showing

Democrat Judy Chu won the most votes in the primary election to represent much of the San Gabriel Valley in Congress. But she didn’t land enough votes to avoid a runoff on July 14th. Chu – a member of the state Board of Equalization – described her next steps to KPCC’s Larry Mantle.

Judy Chu: “I don’t think it will be necessary to do too big of a campaign. This is a very strongly Democratic district that actually came out 68 to 30 percent in the Obama-McCain election, so it has that tradition, and they couldn’t even field a Republican challenger when Hilda Solis ran.”

The winner of the runoff will assume the congressional seat Solis vacated when she became the Obama administration’s labor secretary.

Primary winner Judy Chu talks about what she hopes to bring to Congress

The candidate who won the most votes in an open primary for a San Gabriel Valley congressional seat is Judy Chu. The veteran politician pulled ahead of 11 other contenders in the race for the job Hilda Solis vacated when she became federal labor secretary. Chu told KPCC’s Larry Mantle what she hopes to bring to Congress.

Judy Chu: “One thing that I have that is rather unique is a great deal of fiscal experience. I was chair of appropriations in the assembly. I was a member, or am a member, of the Board of Equalization, which brings in $53 billion a year in tax revenue.”

Chu fell short of the majority she needed to avoid a runoff election on July 14th. The Democrat will face Republican Betty Tom Chu and Libertarian Christopher Agrella.

Congressman Sherman talks about credit card bill

The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed a bill today that would limit credit card issuers’ ability to raise interest rates without notice. But the bill does not cap the interest rates those companies can charge. San Fernando Valley Congressman Brad Sherman concedes that the bill won’t, by itself, solve the problem of credit card debt.

Brad Sherman: “To pass interest rate limitations I think is, would be difficult through this Senate even with 59 or 60 Democratic senators. The fact that we had to work so hard and for so long just to make sure people are not gouged by sharp practices shows you that the banks are not without power here in Washington.”

Sherman, a Democrat, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. He spoke with KPCC’s Larry Mantle. The bill does prohibit credit card companies from raising interest rates after only one or two late payments. If President Obama signs the bill into law, issuers will have to wait to boost a customer’s interest rate until a payment is more than 60 days late.

Mayor Villaraigosa talks about state finances

Los Angeles voters, like those statewide, rejected five ballot propositions aimed at stabilizing California’s budget. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says the state’s finances are broken – and the state is responsible to fix them.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “And while I’m disappointed that these important propositions did not pass the governor and the legislature must face the facts and make difficult choices – unfortunately we all know what’s coming. We know that the state will now try to balance the books on the backs of cities, counties, and school districts.”

The latest version of the state budget calls for California to borrow $68 million that should go to the city of Los Angeles. Villaraigosa says he’ll lobby Sacramento legislators to borrow that money on terms that don’t disadvantage the city.

LAUSD facing more cuts after statewide election

L.A. Unified school board president Monica Garcia says the failure of a statewide ballot measure that would have secured more public money for schools has pushed the school district’s financial situation from bad to worse.

Monica Garcia: “Yesterday’s election means that we are facing an additional cut of about $300 million. Nothing is being spared. We’re looking at whether we can afford summer school, whether or not we have to do more central cuts.”

L.A. Unified’s superintendent will propose cuts in the next few weeks. The president of the teachers union said he’s open to discussing union concessions only after administrators make concessions of their own.

State finance spokesman says prop failure means deeper cuts

State lawmakers and the governor are going back to the drawing board to figure out how to fix California’s budget. Voters rejected five ballot measures intended to help close the state’s massive deficit – estimated at $21 billion. State finance department spokesman H.D. Palmer told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that the propositions’ failure will mean deeper cuts.

H.D. Palmer: “They’re going to be about $5.8 billion deeper than they otherwise would be. We don’t think this is a time for gloating or recriminations by another. It is time for very serious clear-eyed decision making to occur.”

Governor Schwarzenegger said this morning he’d heard “loud and clear” that voters want the state to cut back without passing additional costs along to them. One of the measures voters rejected, Proposition 1A, would have extended a series of tax increases and imposed a spending cap. Schwarzenegger plans to meet with legislative leaders this afternoon.

Trutanich beats Weiss for LA city attorney in upset

A San Pedro-based defense attorney new to politics pulled off an upset win against a two-term councilman in yesterday’s election for L.A. city attorney. Carmen Trutanich beat Jack Weiss with 56 percent of the vote. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports.

Steve Cooley: The next city attorney, Carmen Trutanich.

Frank Stoltze: At an election night party at the Universal Hilton Hotel, Trutanich thanked supporters and smiled.

Carmen Trutanich: It’s the hardest I’ve worked to take a pay cut. But it’s worth it because my client from this point forward is the greatest client in the world – the people of Los Angeles. (clapping)

Stoltze: Councilman Jack Weiss had run a highly negative campaign against Trutanich. Weiss said he called his opponent to congratulate him.

Jack Weiss: I think both of us agree that the campaign is in the rearview mirror. What matters now is doing a good job covering for the people of the city and I’ve wished him the best, offered him my help.

Stoltze: Fifty-seven-year-old Trutanich said his election meant business as usual was over at L.A. City Hall. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and most of the city council had backed Weiss. The union that represents LAPD officers spent $700,000 on Trutanich.

Judy Chu wins open primary to replace Hilda Solis in Congress

Voters in the San Gabriel valley have elected Judy Chu to the school board, the city council, the state assembly, and the board of equalization. Now, they’re a step closer to sending her to Congress. KPCC’s Brian Watt reports.

Brian Watt: Judy Chu ran against 11 other candidates in the 32nd Congressional District to fill a seat vacated by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. More than half the district’s voters are Latino – with about 20 percent Asian. Chu not only won the most votes, but also the competition to reach voters across ethnic lines. She promised to make immigration reform a priority.

Judy Chu: Immigrants have been far too exploited in this society which has led to kind of a hysteria about the whole immigration issue and not a thoughtful solution.

Watt: Her main opponent in the open primary was fellow Democrat and State Senator Gil Cedillo. But many of Chu’s supporters – including State Assemblyman Ed Hernandez of Covina – didn’t think Cedillo was local enough.

Ed Hernandez: You know, Gil is a good state senator, but he’s not familiar with the issues of the San Gabriel Valley, which are unique. And the San Gabriel Valley is not Los Angeles.

Watt: Because she fell short of winning a majority, Judy Chu will face Republican Betty Chu and Libertarian C.M. Argrella in a run-off in July.

LA County Democratic Party official comments on props failure

Voters yesterday rejected five statewide ballot measures pushed by Governor Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers as a partial fix to the state budget crisis. Eric Bauman is chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Eric Bauman: “I think the bottom line is the voters in California are really angry. And the voters are telling us that they want our legislators and the governor to do their job, they don’t want the people to have to do their job.

“And it’s unfortunate because we’re facing such an extraordinary deficit. And what’s going to happen is that our legislators and the governor are going to have to figure out how to make very serious cuts.”

The projected state deficit – without the passage of the ballot measures – is now projected to top $21 billion dollars when the fiscal year starts July 1st.

Trutanich upsets Weiss in city attorney race

Carmen Trutanich beat City Councilman Jack Weiss in yesterday’s election for Los Angeles city attorney. The San Pedro-based defense attorney captured 56 percent of the vote. Trutanich spoke with KPCC’s Frank Stoltze at an election night party at the Universal Hilton.

Carmen Trutanich: “The people had an opportunity to say that business as usual at City Hall is over.”
Frank Stoltze: “You’ve said you will not be a politician. What does that mean?”
Trutanich: “I’m going to be the guy that my dad raised as a kid &ndsah; taught me those values that I’ve lived with, and I’m going to carry them to the city, and we’re going to lead – we’re going to lead by cleanliness and integrity.”

The union that represents LAPD officers spent more than $700,000 on radio and TV ads for Trutanich. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – who backed Weiss in the race – promised to work cooperatively with Trutanich. Weiss congratulated the new city attorney-elect, and said he didn’t regret the highly negative campaign he ran against his opponent.

Governor, lawmakers meet in aftermath of props defeat

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers are meeting today to determine what to do next. Voters resoundingly defeated propositions on the special election ballot that the governor said would stave off the state government’s financial doom. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad has more.

Shirley Jahad: California voters aren’t giving state lawmakers or the governor any props. Voters kicking to the curb propositions 1A through 1E – the complicated series of measures the governor and lawmakers wanted to deal with the state budget deficit. Critics said the effort was flawed.

Voters expressed confusion and exasperation with the whole affair. The one thing they agreed to was that state elected officials shouldn’t get any pay raises when the budget is in the tank.

Governor Schwarzenegger issued a statement saying he “respects the will of the people.” He says he wants to move forward to address the fiscal crisis with constructive solutions. The governor has said he would cut the school year by seven days, lay off 5,000 state workers, and take money from local governments – which likely means cuts to police and fire.

California voters reject state spending cap

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California voters have rejected a ballot measure that would have created a state spending cap while prolonging temporary tax increases.

Proposition 1A was the centerpiece of efforts by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state leaders to fix California’s ongoing fiscal problems. It also would have strengthened the state’s rainy day fund.

The measure’s defeat means another measure that would have restored more than $9 billion to schools cannot be enacted even if voters approve it. That measure also was trailing in early returns Tuesday.

Proposition 1A generated the most opposition among the six measures on Tuesday’s ballot. State employee unions opposed the spending cap, while anti-tax groups criticized the $16 billion in tax increases it would have triggered.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Apparent aftershock shakes LA, surrounding areas

A medium-sized earthquake shook Los Angeles and surrounding areas about 11 minutes before 4 o’clock. Here’s an update from KPCC’s Molly Peterson.

Molly Peterson: The U.S. Geological Survey places the center of the magnitude 4.1 quake about a mile northeast of Hawthorne, and four miles east of El Segundo, at a depth of 7-and-a-half miles.

In KPCC’s downtown Los Angeles newsroom, ceiling-mounted televisions swayed from side to side. But behind the building, drivers in cars easing onto the 110 freeway didn’t slow or visibly react to the shaking. Another 2.5 magnitude quake followed soon after.

The Los Angeles Fire Department’s fielded no reports of fire, significant damage, or injuries after the quakes. The fire department is operating in a standard earthquake emergency mode. That means firefighters check their districts for damage or other quake-related problems.

National education venture fund meets in LA

Funds for public education may be drying up but organizers of a national education summit taking place in Pasadena today say it’s an exciting time for reform. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The non-profit New Schools Venture Fund takes foundation grants and private donations, $80 million in the last three years, and funds education projects like charter schools and teacher prep services. CEO Ted Mitchell says summit will focus on the opportunities this economy presents.

Ted Mitchell:I think that innovation in hard times is always a mixed bag. On the one had we feel that even in our own households that we are hunkering down and spending less and perhaps being a little less adventuresome.

I think a challenge for education innovation is to grasp a hold of this crisis as an opportunity to begin to do things very differently and not succumb to the hunkering down impulse.

Guzman-Lopez: The Obama administration promotes this approach but teachers unions criticize it. The unions argue that innovation is less important than job preservation.

Contract ratification ballots being mailed to SAG members

Members of the Screen Actors Guild will get to vote twice. They won’t be breaking the law – today the Guild begins mailing ratification ballots for its proposed contract with film and prime-time television producers. KPCC’s Brian Watt has the story.

Brian Watt: The envelopes… please! SAG members have been working under the terms of a contract that expired last July. They’ve watched contract talks break down and pick up again. They’ve seen their chief negotiator replaced.

Few will say they’re completely satisfied with the tentative contract agreement with the producers. But 34 Guild members appear in a video on SAG’s Web site to promote its virtues. It increases pay and residuals, they say.

Ed Begley Jr.: And it gives us increased pension and health contributions. Everybody knows how important that is.

Watt: That’s Ed Begley, Jr. Actor Jason George chimes in next …

Jason George: On top of all that, this deal will finally get us paid when our film and television work is streamed at sites like Hulu.

Watt: SAG President Alan Rosenberg is not in the video. He’s with a more militant faction of Guild members that contends the deal doesn’t go far enough. They’ve vowed to fight it.

The Guild will hold an information session about the agreement in Hollywood Thursday night. Members have until June 9th to get their ballots in.

Obama administration announces steps toward electricity standards

Officials in the Obama administration say they plan aggressive action to bring the electric power grid in to the digital age. The so-called “smart grid” would help utilities manage supply and demand on the electrical grid. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today announced 16 steps to create uniform electricity standards for the grid.

Fred Fletcher chairs a national organization that’s helping to coordinate smart grid technologies between utilities. He told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that many Southern California utilities have been moving forward on a “smart grid.”

Fred Fletcher: “Smart grid, most useful for those utilities that are taking on renewables, and also those that have constrained transmission systems. In California, we’re facing both. We’re bringing in a lot of renewables and our transmission grid needs to be supplemented.”

Fletcher is also assistant general manager for Burbank Water and Power. The Obama administration hopes to put the first 16 standards in place during the next few months.

LAX gets through earthquake with no damage, no service disruption

Last night’s 4.7 magnitude earthquake hit within just a few miles of Los Angeles International Airport. But the airport got through it with no damage or disruption in service.

James Butts is director of public safety at LAX. He says the airport has an emergency plan that went off without a hitch.

James Butts: “We immediately do an assessment of the facilities of the airport when an earthquake happens or any type of major event, and we give status reports. So, I was notified within seconds of the quake that those plans were in place and the people in our emergency management section sent out the notifications. And so I’m very satisfied with our preparation for unusual occurrences here.”

Butts says, in emergencies, airport police and personnel collaborate with the federal government’s National Incident Management System.

Earthquake was centered near LAX

A magnitude 4.7 earthquake and several aftershocks put Southern Californians on edge last night. KPCC’s Steve Julian says the quake was centered near Los Angeles International Airport.

Steve Julian: The quake didn’t interrupt flights at the airport. But a few miles to the south, business windows broke, including one at a Starbucks where a patron was cut and treated later at a hospital. The quake was fairly deep – more than eight miles down – and mostly shook the cities south of downtown Los Angeles toward San Diego.

Susan Hough with the U.S. Geological Survey called it a “serious jolt.” Seismologists say last night’s quake likely was along the Newport-Inglewood fault. In 1933, this fault was responsible for a magnitude 6.4 quake that devastated the Long Beach region – 120 people died.

Last summer, a magnitude 5.4 earthquake centered about an hour east of Los Angeles made buildings sway, but there’ve been no major quakes in Southern California since 1994’s deadly Northridge Earthquake.

4.7 quake shakes Southern California

A magnitude 4.7 earthquake shook Southern California last night, and several aftershocks kept residents on edge. KPCC’s Steve Julian has more.

Steve Julian: Southern California has been in a relative earthquake lull since the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That one – a magnitude 6.7 quake – brought down buildings and bridges. Last night’s quake was centered eight miles below the surface, but only three miles east of Los Angeles International Airport.

The airport got through the quake unscathed, but about 15 miles to the south, windows broke at a drapery business and at a Starbucks. And during a showing of the new movie “Angels and Demons,” tiles fell from the theater’s ceiling – everyone apparently ran out.

The quake was felt mostly from downtown L.A., south to San Diego. A seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey says there could be more aftershocks, but there’s only a slight chance one of them would be larger than last night’s magnitude 4.7.

Southern California hit by moderate earthquake

A moderate earthquake shook Los Angeles Sunday night, rattling neighborhoods from the San Fernando Valley to south Orange County.

The magnitude 4.7 quake struck at 8:40pm. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake’s epicenter was about two miles east of Los Angeles International Airport, and about a half-mile south of Hollywood Park Racetrack and Casino. Residents in that area say the shaking lasted 15 seconds or more. The quake shook items off shelves, but there were no reports of major damage or injuries.

Two aftershocks - magnitude 2.5 and 3.1 - hit minutes after the initial quake, followed more than an hour later by two smaller shakes.

The quake was the strongest to strike the Southland since the magnitude 5.5 earthquake that hit in Chino Hills last July 29th.

Moderate quake rocks Los Angeles area

By CHRISTOPHER WEBER
Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A moderate earthquake rocked the Los Angeles region late Sunday, but there were no immediate reports of any major injuries or damage.

The magnitude-4.7 quake hit at 8:39 p.m. about 10 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles, near Inglewood, according to a preliminary report by the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake was followed minutes later by at least three smaller aftershocks, with the largest registering at magnitude-3.1.

The quake jiggled the greater Los Angeles region for about 10 to 15 seconds and was felt as far south as San Diego, said USGS seismologist Susan Hough.

“This was a serious jolt. It was probably felt within 100 miles,” Hough said.

The shaking was most intense in the coastal communities south of the Los Angeles International Airport. Some residents said books and other items were knocked off the shelves. However, people who live north of downtown Los Angeles either felt a light shake or nothing at all.

There were no reports of any damage at LAX, just miles from the epicenter. The Los Angeles Fire Department received plenty of calls, but none to report any major injuries, said spokesman Brian Humphrey.

Tom Oswalt, 46, said he was packing clothes for a business trip at his home in Long Beach when the shaking started.

“First thing I thought was ‘Is this the big one?’ It was pretty powerful,” he said. “My first thought was to get out of the building, get my dog and get out of the building. Now we’re just waiting for aftershocks.”

Hough said there will likely be more aftershocks in the “threes, maybe a four,” but only a five percent chance of a larger quake.

“People should be on their toes,” she said.

Seismologists had pegged the quake initially at a magnitude-4.7, then revised it to a magnitude-5.0, but updated it about an hour after the temblor struck back to 4.7.

It’s the largest quake in the greater Los Angeles area since a magnitude-5.4 quake struck Chino Hills July 29, 2008.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

LA City Council begins debate on city budget Monday

The Los Angeles City Council begins debate Monday on a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st. The city faces a record $530 million budget gap – brought on by the recession and plummeting tax revenues. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: Among the most contentious issues: whether to continue hiring more police officers in the midst of the budget crisis. The city council’s budget committee has recommended a hiring freeze at the police and fire departments. That’s angered Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who’s made expanding the LAPD a centerpiece of his agenda. Police Chief Bill Bratton’s called the freeze idea “shortsighted and dangerous.”

The budget committee’s plan also calls for laying off more than 800 city employees – in addition to eliminating more than 1,000 vacant positions. The council’s already begun the process of terminating 400 employees. In addition, the plan would impose 26 unpaid days off on city employees. City leaders and representatives of labor unions are in the midst of negotiations over possible pay cuts to avert layoffs. The unions prefer an early retirement package.

GM notifies dealers of closures a day after Chrysler

Chrysler dealers heard from company headquarters yesterday. Today, the same thing’s happening to General Motors dealers. The struggling automaker is telling 1,100 of its dealerships across the country that it won’t renew their contracts. KPCC’s Brian Watt explains how the two break-ups are different.

Brian Watt: Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection two weeks ago. It’s listed the dealerships it intends to close in a court document. General Motors is trying to stay out of bankruptcy. It’s not disclosing which dealerships are on the chopping block – instead, it’s notifying each dealer by mail.

Jack Nerad: Well, I think the mood has been “walking on eggs” for the past several weeks.

Watt: That’s Jack Nerad of Irvine-based KellyBlueBook.com. GM’s spent weeks working on a major restructuring plan. Step one: cutting almost one-fifth of its dealerships. So Nerad says there’s not a lot of swagger on GM car lots.

Nerad: If you’re suspecting that you’re going to be terminated, then you’d be very reluctant to order more inventory, to order parts inventory, to do anything in terms of training people.

Watt: The bankruptcy process lets Chrysler order dealerships to shut down in just a few weeks. But unless General Motors goes that route, it must wait for contracts with its dealerships to expire – in October of next year.

Metrolink approves plan to increase fares 3 percent

The Metrolink board approved a plan to increase fares by 3 percent. KPCC’s Alex Cohen says the move is intended to offset operational costs for the regional commuter rail system.

Alex Cohen: The fare increase is less than the 4-and-a-half percent hike the board proposed last month. Board members expect the higher fares to generate more than 1-and-a-half million dollars in the next fiscal year. To try and lessen the burden on riders, Metrolink staffers have also crafted a plan to slash more than a million dollars in expenditures.

The Metrolink board had considered requiring passengers’ pay to transfer to other public transit systems. That plan has been pushed back – at least for now – as L.A. County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority offered to make up the cost difference of about $400,000 a year. The fare increase on Metrolink commuter rail will take effect on August 1st.

Biden visits low-income housing development in South LA

Vice President Joe Biden praised a South Los Angeles housing and health program as a standard that should be replicated nationwide. Biden visited several apartments at Esperanza, a low-income housing development near USC.

He said the program is one of the first to receive grant money under the Federal Recovery Act, because it’s ready to hit the ground running. Esperanza educates area renters about Asthma triggers and the dangers of lead paint.

Vice President Joe Biden: “We know the leading indicator of a high-risk for lead poisoning is a high level of poverty. We know that if we’re truly going to really revitalize our communities and help families that are most vulnerable, we need to invest that money now.”

Biden says Esperanza is getting $875,000 from the federal government. The program won approval last year, with high marks, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development didn’t have the money until the Recovery Act. The program’s director says she’ll use the grant to pay trained staffers who’d considered volunteering their time.

Plan to ban smoking at state beaches moves forward

The State Senate approved a plan to ban smoking at state parks and beaches yesterday. The bill is designed to protect marine life and reduce fire danger. KPCC’s Alex Cohen has the story.

Alex Cohen: Senate Bill 4 calls for a fine of up to $100 for smoking at a state park or beach. Democratic Senator Jenny Oropeza of Long Beach said she is not trying to punish anyone – she’s just trying to make California a cleaner, safer place.

She referred to federal Environmental Protection Agency research that’s determined cigarette butts are the most frequently found marine debris item in the country. Oropeza added that ingestion of cigarettes by marine animals interferes with their ability to eat and digest food.

Cigarette butts contain more than 165 chemicals and are not biodegradeable. More than 100 local governments have already passed smoking bans for parks, beaches, and piers. Oropeza’s bill now goes to the California Assembly for review.

Teachers union president talks about sending message through being arrested

Police arrested 38 teachers and union leaders today during a protest in front of Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters in downtown L.A. The union planned the arrests to protest school district approved plans to layoff thousands of teachers.

Those taken away sat down to block the street in front of the building. As he was led away in handcuffs to likely face misdemeanor charges, United Teachers L.A. president A.J. Duffy said school district administrators can rescind the planned layoffs.

A.J. Duffy: “We’re being arrested to send a message to the district and the city that they have the money, that they don’t have to raise class sizes, and they do not have to lay off teachers or counselors.”

After the arrests, L.A. Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he’s ready to be flexible on the district’s plans if union leaders make concessions on employee furloughs and pay cuts.

38 LA Unified teachers, union leaders arrested during protest

Police arrested more than three-dozen L.A. Unified teachers’ union members and leaders today for blocking the street in front of school district headquarters and refusing orders to move. The planned arrests were part of a day of action that included pickets before school, the midday arrests, and an afternoon rally.

United Teachers L.A. president A.J. Duffy was among the 38 people who’ll likely face misdemeanor charges of blocking a street. School superintendent Ramon Cortines frowned on the action.

Ramon Cortines: “I don’t like it that some of our teachers, including Mr. Duffy, got arrested. I don’t think that’s the kind of image I want for this system. But you know, I have to respect what they did.”

Cortines said union president Duffy asked yesterday for a meeting to discuss concessions the union and the district could make that might lower the number of teacher layoffs. Cortines agreed to the meeting. Union leaders said they don’t expect any more arrests during the second rally this afternoon.

State Assembly speaker responds to governor's budget proposals

The governor’s proposals for the budget leave lawmakers with some very tough choices, state Assembly speaker Karen Bass told KPCC’s “AirTalk.”

Karen Bass: “None of us want to do this. I mean these very proposals were on the table a few months ago and we were able to cobble together the budget without borrowing from local government. If we face a $21 billion deficit, I don’t believe we’re going to be able to put those proposals aside. I believe that borrowing from local government is going to be right on the table.”

Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed that the state borrow $2 billion from local governments and pay it back within three years. He says that if voters reject six budget-related ballot measures on Tuesday, California’s likely to be $21 billion in the red. There’ll be a much smaller deficit – a little more than $15 billion – if the measures pass.

Congress introduces bill to honor Japanese-American vets

As Memorial Day approaches, Congress is taking steps to honor two of the most decorated combat units of the Second World War. These veterans fought for their country while their families spent the war in internment camps. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Kitty Felde: After the Japanese navy bombed Pearl Harbor, more than 1,400 Japanese-American men in Hawaii volunteered to fight for the U.S. The 100th Infantry Battalion was sent to Italy, where it became known as the “Purple Heart Battalion.”

Nearly two out of three soldiers in the unit were killed. The Army was so impressed with the unit’s fighting spirit, it recruited Japanese-Americans from California and other mainland states and formed the equally distinguished 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

This week, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill introduced by Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of Burbank. It would award both units the Congressional Gold Medal.

California Democrat Barbara Boxer introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Soldiers from these units have earned numerous awards for their valor, including 21 Medals of Honor.

Teachers demonstrate LAUSD cuts before school, students join protest

A judge’s injunction prohibited a planned one-day strike. But before the bell rang this morning, teachers throughout the L.A. Unified School District marched outside their school to protest layoffs. KPCC’s Brian Watt stopped by Venice High School, where students joined in and kept the protest going.

Brian Watt: About 50 teachers dressed in black marched with signs that read “LAUSD, Shame on You.” Teacher Brad Jones co-chairs the United Teachers Los Angeles chapter at Venice High. He said L.A. Unified’s teacher cuts would cripple public education.

Brad Jones: With English class sizes – I’m an English teacher – going from 20 to 34 in 10th grade and from 20 to 40 in 11th and 12th, it’s gonna be crazy.

Watt: Minutes before the start of 1st period, Jones and his colleagues began heading for their classrooms. By then, some students had joined the picketing – including senior Carmen Baez and her friends.

Carmen Baez: We’re losing all of our teachers and our classes are getting way too big, overcrowded.
Watt: All right.
[Bell rings]
Watt: Well, that’s the bell…
Baez and friends: We’re staying out here.
Watt: Oh, you’re staying. You’re not going to class?
Students: We’re here for our teachers.

Watt: And without their teachers, about 100 students continued the protest on the school’s front lawn.

Mayor says police, fire shouldn't be cut to balance budget

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is fighting moves by the city council to freeze hiring in the L.A. police and fire departments. Some council members say the plan is necessary to balance the city’s budget. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad has more.

Shirley Jahad: During a press conference, top brass from the L.A. police and fire departments lined up behind Mayor Villaraigosa. He blasted the plan the city council budget committee had approved.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: They voted to renege on a deal we made with the residents of the city of Los Angeles when asked to pay a little more for trash pickup in exchange for a larger police force and safer neighborhoods.

They voted to devastate public safety by taking a thousand officers off the streets over the next two years. And they voted to undermine the fire department by removing 120 officers through attrition.

Jahad: The city is grappling with a shortfall of at least $500 million for the next fiscal year. The mayor insists that there are other places in the budget to make cuts and ask for labor concessions.

Mayor criticizes suggested police, fire department hiring freeze

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is blasting city council members who approved a plan to stop hiring police officers and firefighters. The city’s facing a $530 million budget shortfall. Even in this tough economy, the mayor told reporters, cops are the last category of employee to cut.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “Now I know some of the critics are saying we can’t afford to pay for more police officers, that our hiring plan will bankrupt the city, that this is the fiscally responsible course of action. And I will say to them, there is nothing more irresponsible than balancing the books on the backs of cops of firefighters and giving up the fight against gangs and gun violence for the sake of short-term budget relief.”

The L.A. City Council budget committee approved the plan that would leave 600 fewer police officers in the LAPD next year and more than 100 fewer city firefighters. The full council is scheduled to vote on the plan Monday.

Mayor Villaraigosa asks for employee concessions to save city jobs

The city of Los Angeles may start to lay off workers as soon as July 1st if public employee unions don’t agree to concessions, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said today. On KPCC’s “Patt Morrison,” he repeated his call for union workers to accept bigger pension contributions, unpaid time off, and an end to annual cost of living adjustments, or COLIs.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “All of us can take a cut here, work together so that we don’t have to lay off people in the magnitude that we would if they’re taking COLIs, not agreeing to contribute 2 more percent to their pension funds, taking one hour a pay period, all of that. Those three things could save 2,200 jobs and the essential services.”

The city is facing a $530 million budget gap. To close it, an L.A. City Council committee has recommended that city employees take 26 unpaid days off next fiscal year, and that the city freeze police hiring, lay off at least 1,200 workers, and cut services.

USC's 126th commencement to take place Friday

If your commute takes you past the main University of Southern California campus near downtown L.A., you may want to find an alternate route tomorrow. Tens of thousands of graduates and visitors plan to throng the campus for commencement activities. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall says they’ll hear from a singular star of state politics.

Cheryl Devall: Of course, the day will focus on the newly-minted degree holders – close to 10,000 from undergrad and graduate academic programs. The main commencement speaker – California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – will likely generate a lot of attention, too. The action movie star-turned politician is approaching his final year in office.

He’s one of four USC honorary degree recipients this year. The others are computer scientist and professor Anita K. Jones, Mexican human rights activist and novelist Elena Poniatowska, and Frances Wu, founder of the Chinese-American Golden Age Association. USC expects about 40,000 people to attend the major commencement event and dozens of smaller ceremonies for its various schools and programs.

Mayor tries to balance budget, maintain commitment to hire 1,000 new police

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is exchanging heated words with critics on the city council budget committee. They’ve urged him to freeze hiring more police officers so the city can balance its budget. Villaraigosa campaigned for mayor on a promise that 1,000 new cops would join the LAPD on his watch.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “In one fell swoop with this decision by the majority on the budget committee, we are going to eliminate a thousand officers in the next two years. It’s unacceptable and the vast majority of people in this town don’t support it.”

On KPCC’s “Patt Morrison,” the mayor said Los Angeles is experiencing its lowest crime rate in 55 years.

Middleman in UCLA body parts trafficking scheme found guilty

A jury in Los Angeles has convicted a man of participating in a scheme to profit from UCLA Medical School’s willed-body program. Details from KPCC’s Cheryl Devall.

Cheryl Devall: Prosecutors had told jurors that Ernest Nelson worked out a scheme to buy human remains from the former director of the program at UCLA that accepts bodies that donors intend for use in scientific study. Nelson owned a business that provided body parts and corpses to researchers at hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

Authorities say the deal netted one-and-a-half million dollars over five years. The onetime UCLA employee, Henry Reid, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit grand theft – he’s serving a four-year prison sentence.

In the just-concluded trial the jury convicted Nelson of conspiracy to commit grand theft, grand theft by embezzlement, and tax evasion. He also faces four years in prison.

The scandal around UCLA’s willed-body program caused the university to voluntarily suspend it five years ago. It later reopened with a new emphasis on security and transparency – now the program requires financial and criminal background checks on all potential employees.

Chrysler dealerships closing amid automaker's reorganization

Chrysler has told a quarter of its dealerships across the country that it’s time to shut their doors. Thirty-two dealerships in California got the bad news today – including Car Pros Chrysler Jeep in Carson. Ken Phillips bought the dealership three years ago.

Ken Phillips: “I’m setting here with $5 million worth of inventory that they’re not gonna buy back. We just have to try and liquidate it. We’ll have a huge fire sale. It’s just a huge money loser.”

Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection two weeks ago. Today the automaker’s published a list of dealerships it’s closing. They have until June 9 to wrap up their operations.

LAUSD instructional coaches protest against teachers union

Some employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District are planning a demonstration this afternoon against the L.A. teachers’ union. The protesters work as instructional coaches. There are more than a thousand in the district and they help classroom teachers with their curricula.

The coaches also analyze test data to improve student performance. Michael Martin is a math instructional coach. He says the United Teachers Los Angeles works to undermine people like him, even though they’re dues-paying members.

Michael Martin: “Our argument is taxation without representation. We’re paying over three quarters of a million dollars to the UTLA. They’re working, they’re literally sending out representatives from the United Teachers Los Angeles to our schools to undermine our work.”

Martin says the teachers’ union doesn’t believe the instructors are needed. The instructional coaches are planning to picket outside the UTLA building in Mid-Wilshire beginning at 4 this afternoon. The union has not responded to the accusations.

Latest budget proposal to include plans to sell state property

The governor’s latest budget proposal reportedly will include plans to sell off the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, the San Quentin State Prison, and other state-owned property. It’s estimated that California could earn up to $1 billion by selling the property, although that cash wouldn’t come in for two to five years.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky calls the proposal to sell the Coliseum “ridiculous.” He told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that the land on which the stadium sits isn’t worth very much since it’s a park.

Zev Yaroslavsky: “The property is worthless. No developer would buy it. No real estate person would buy it because you can’t do anything with it. So that’s the first issue – this idea that somehow several hundred million dollars can be realized by selling the coliseum is as bogus as a three dollar bill.”

Yaroslavsky also contends that the state can’t sell the Coliseum because it doesn’t own the actual stadium, only the land. The proposal is part of the governor’s plan to close a deficit projected at $15 billion. Analysts say the deficit could reach $21 billion, if voters reject a half-dozen measures on next week’s ballot. The governor will introduce his budget proposals this afternoon.

Mayor Villaraigosa pushes for concessions from city's unions

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa yesterday sought to turn up the heat on the city’s labor unions. He wants concessions from them to address a $530 million budget deficit. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: The mayor reminded reporters gathered in his City Hall press room that he once worked as a labor union organizer. But he said the cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, that he once fought so hard for are no longer realistic.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: At a time of unprecedented budget crisis, COLAs just don’t make sense to most people.

Stoltze: The city faces its biggest budget gap in its history. The mayor wants unions to agree to pay cuts, and to increase contributions to pension funds to avert nearly 3,000 layoffs.

Villaraigosa: They don’t have to happen!

Stoltze: Union leaders say they want the city to offer workers early retirement packages. The mayor’s said L.A. can’t afford them. The City Council’s already begun the process of laying off 400 city employees.

Craigslist will drop its erotic services ads

Operators of the Web site Craigslist said it will drop its controversial “erotic services” category. That’s in response to law enforcement officials who’d called the ads a front for prostitution. KPCC’s Alex Cohen has the story.

Alex Cohen: “Adult services” will replace the “erotic services” category on Craigslist.org, and the site will charge consenting adults a fee for placing those ads. Employees will also monitor every posting before it appears online. Police agencies had criticized Craigslist for refusing to take those steps before.

Pressure to remove the erotic category followed the recent murder of a masseuse in Boston. The suspect charged in her death, a medical student, told authorities he’d met the woman through Craigslist.

Craigslist’s chief executive said the new arrangement preserves a place “for legal businesses to advertise” and incorporates the concerns of state attorneys general, free speech advocates, and millions of people who use the site.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown said changes on the site help prevent the exploitation of teenagers. He added that Craigslist must continue to ensure that the site does not promote teenage prostitution.

Children's and mental health advocates bash propositions

Children’s and mental health advocates say propositions 1A, 1D, and 1E attempt to balance California’s budget on the backs of children and poor and mentally disabled people. About 100 people attended a “Stop the Cuts” rally this afternoon outside the governor’s downtown Los Angeles office.

Protester Lissette Hernandez has a toddler daughter, and a baby on the way. She told the crowd to defeat Prop 1D, because it would limit access to early-learning programs for children from working and middle-class families.

Lissette Hernandez: “If it passes, my child will probably watch TV a lot of the day, because I will not have the money or resources to pay for a preschool program and I will be tied up taking care of our baby girl who’s due in October.”

Jeremy Thompson is with Budget Reform Now – that’s the campaign for props 1A through 1F. He concedes that most Californians are dissatisfied with Sacramento lawmakers. But he says defeating the measures will not teach them a lesson.

Jeremy Thompson: “To vote no on these will not hurt the legislatures at all. They’ll still go to work on May 20, only they’ll go to work looking at a $21 billion deficit if these fail.”

Thompson says that could lead to greater public safety risks, including hospital underfunding. California’s special election next Tuesday places six budget-related initiatives before voters. The ballot measures include a constitutional amendment to establish a rainy-day fund for the state.

Lemonade Initiative tries to involve more parents with LAUSD

When your public school system gives you lemons, it’s time to make lemonade. That’s the philosophy behind The Lemonade Initiative, an effort to involve more parents in the workings of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Co-founder Elisa Taub, whose two children attend a public middle school in the San Fernando Valley, said parents like her have to chime in on school district policy alongside administrators and the teachers union.

Elisa Taub: “The most important thing about us really is that we are attempting to give voice for the students which are the most important thing here. We’ve heard from UTLA, we’ve heard from LAUSD, we are the missing voice in the conversation. And we feel it’s important, that it’s time for us to stand up, make a difference, and help solve the problem.”

Taub spoke with KPCC’s “Patt Morrison.” The Lemonade Initiative is planning a parent rally at the Balboa Park soccer fields in Encino on Friday – the same day union teachers plan pickets against proposed job cuts.

EPA praises Port of Long Beach's Green Flag program

In Washington today, federal officials are praising the Port of Long Beach’s efforts to control air pollution. KPCC’s Molly Peterson has more.

Molly Peterson: The port’s green flag program has earned Long Beach officials a blue ribbon. The Environmental Protection Agency’s annual Clean Air Excellence Awards honor a few anti-pollution programs in each state.

The Green Flag program encourages businesses to slow ships as they approach the harbor – that slows their ability to spew particulate matter and smog into the air. Slower ships may use less fuel, too. A business whose vessels slow within 20 miles of the port 90 percent of the time gets a break in dockage rates.

The port of Long Beach has put more than $2 million into Green Flag. This year the program expanded to encourage slower shipping within 40 miles of the dock.

The program’s voluntary – international maritime authorities have the most sway over ships that spend most of their time on international waters. But a few companies in the Green Flag program are returning the money they save on dockage rates to environmental programs in Long Beach.

LA teachers union calls off strike due to potential penalties

Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles said today they will abide by a court order that blocked their one-day strike scheduled for Friday. A Superior Court judge sided with L.A. Unified lawyers who’d argued the strike would violate the teachers’ contract and put students at risk. Union President A.J. Duffy met with lawyers and union leaders last night to discuss the ruling’s effect on the 48,000 member union that represents credentialed teachers.

A.J. Duffy: “Violating the injunction would have exposed our members to unacceptable risks. The injunction would have allowed our members to be fined individually up to a thousand dollars a day and they could have faced credential revocations.”

Duffy said the union’s still using Friday to protest planned teacher layoffs and their effects on class sizes and learning. Union leaders are planning before-school picketing on campuses, a rally at school district headquarters, and a secret act of civil disobedience. The politically powerful union also plans to file for a recall election against school board members who approved teacher layoffs to close the school district’s budget deficit.

Mayor declares fiscal emergency, paving way for furloughs

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has declared a fiscal emergency. That paves the way for him to order mandatory unpaid days off for city workers. But the mayor says those furloughs won’t be enough to close L.A.’s $530 million budget gap.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “Furloughs, while they get us immediate savings, don’t address the structural issues of the size of the workforce which is impacting our budget deficit and also our future pension liabilities – reducing our workforce does.”

The mayor said the city can avert massive layoffs if labor unions that represent city employees agree to pay cuts and contribute more to pension funds. Union leaders want the city to offer an early retirement package. Villaraigosa has said the city can’t afford it. The L.A. City Council already has voted to begin the process of laying off 400 workers.

LAUSD teachers union calls off 1-day strike

Leaders of Los Angeles Unified’s 48,000-member teachers union today called off a one-day strike set for Friday. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story from teachers union headquarters in L.A.’s Koreatown.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The union acted one day after an L.A. Superior Court judge blocked the planned strike. That judge sided with school district lawyers who’d argued the strike violated the union’s labor contract and would cause irreparable harm to students’ education.

Union members who violated the court order stood to be fined $1,000. United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy said the prospect of fines contributed to the decision to call off the strike. He said the union’s not dropping the fight against teacher layoffs.

A.J. Duffy: “We are now going to shift gears. We’re going to have before-school pickets, where we’re going to reach out to parents and have them join us. We will be announcing a civil disobedience that day at an undisclosed location.”

Duffy said the union’s also planning a recall campaign against L.A. Unified school board members who’ve approved teacher layoffs. L.A. Unified administrators called on all teachers to obey the court order and to show up to work on Friday. The school district also urged teachers union leaders to ratchet down their adversarial rhetoric.

LA County holds public hearing on budget

Los Angeles County’s budget is tighter than ever, as the demand for services is higher than ever. That’s one message from today’s public hearing on the county budget. Elizabeth Brennan is a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union that represents 55,000 L.A. County workers.

Elizabeth Brennan: “One in five county residents is on some kind of public assistance. The lines at the social services offices are long. And so how do we come to some sort of compromise when we know that at the same time the budget is very tight?”

L.A. County supervisors are trying to close a budget gap of more than $400 million. The supervisors plan to eliminate more than 1,600 jobs that are mostly unfilled right now.

Congresswoman Linda Sanchez gives birth

That crying you’re hearing on Capitol Hill isn’t from a lawmaker who just lost a vote. It’s from the newest addition to California’s congressional family. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde has the news on Congresswoman Linda Sanchez’ new baby.

Kitty Felde: Only eight members of the House of Representatives have given birth while serving in office. Democrat Linda Sanchez of Lakewood became the latest to join the club of congressional moms.

Wednesday morning, 7 pound, 14.6 ounce Joaquin Sanchez Sullivan was born. The baby’s father says mother and child are healthy and happy. The congresswoman has promised to introduce Joaquin to the 39th District soon.

Juggling motherhood and Congress will be a challenge. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set aside a special room for nursing mothers, but Sanchez is on a waiting list for the only child care center on the Hill.

Another California congresswoman was the first House mother – retired L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke gave birth to a daughter in 1973. She was also the first House member granted maternity leave.

54,000 jobs lost in Southland international trade sector since 2006

Last year was a rough one in the Southland’s international trade sector, and this year will be even rougher. So says a report out today from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

Economist Jack Kyser says the number of goods containers moving through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach dropped 9 percent last year and will fall 13 percent this year. That translates into job losses.

Jack Kyser: “Since the peak back in 2006, we’ve lost 54,000 jobs in the international trade sector. And that’s a conservative number because there’s no way to track the independent truck drivers who deliver containers to and from the ports, other people that don’t get captured by the government’s job statistics.”

That’s 54,000 jobs lost in Los Angeles and the four neighboring counties. Kyser says many of those jobs – for the likes of customs brokers and logistics managers – paid well. He expects port activity to begin a modest recovery next year.

LA City Council expected to discuss mayor's fiscal emergency request

Later this week, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to discuss Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s request for a fiscal emergency. The action would give the mayor the power to order furloughs and lay off city workers.

Villaraigosa says the city could cut about a thousand jobs beginning in July if public employees unions don’t agree to salary concessions. Barbara Maynard is with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions. She told KPCC’s Larry Mantle those concessions aren’t necessary.

Barbara Maynard: “It is not needed if the early retirement program is implemented. Now at the end of the day, it might not get the city all the way to where it needs to get. It saves about 220, 240 million dollars, which is a huge step in the right direction.”

The mayor has said such an early retirement program is not fiscally sustainable. Maynard disputes that statement. The city of L.A. faces a budget deficit of about half-a-billion dollars. The city is also expecting a $300 million drop in tax revenue.

New report says Southland port business will continue to drop

A report out today says tough times in international trade are roughing up a key component in the Southland’s economy. KPCC’s Brian Watt has more.

Brian Watt: When it comes to the value of goods traded, the Los Angeles Customs District ranks first in the country. The report from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation says that last year, that value grew only 2 and a half percent to $356 billion. The second-ranking U.S. customs district – New York – saw its trade value grow more than 9 percent.

The Los Angeles/Long Beach Port complex is number 5 in the world. But last year, the number of containers moving through it dropped almost 9 percent. This year, the report says, that number will sink another 13-and-a-half percent.

The international trade job market reflects that decline – Los Angeles and its four neighboring counties lost more than 5,000 international trade-related jobs last year. That’s not just longshore workers, but other well-paid people including vessel operators and customs brokers.

Police investigate Riverside house where pipe bombs were found

Bomb investigators are going inside a Riverside house where someone found several pipe bombs yesterday. Riverside police sergeant Jaybee Brennan says a real estate agent discovered the explosives while inspecting the house yesterday afternoon.

Jaybee Brennan: “Several explosive type devices were located and rendered safe. Officers also located a makeshift booby trap device and rendered this device. These items were all on the exterior of the residence.”

Police have arrested a 42-year-old man who used to own the home. A bank is handling its sale.

Authorities ordered people in nine nearby homes to evacuate last night while bomb experts disabled the explosives. It’s unclear whether the pipe bombs were live.

Judge blocks 1-day strike planned by LAUSD teachers union

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge today blocked a one-day strike planned by L.A. Unified’s teachers union. School district lawyers argued that a strike this Friday by the 48,000 member United Teachers Los Angeles to protest teacher layoffs would cause irreparable harm to students. At a school district news conference, backed by the school board, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he was pleased with the ruling.

Ramon Cortines: “We’re extremely pleased on behalf of the students of this district that there will not be a strike on Friday. We believe that students are best served in schools. And involved in their education.”

The teachers union had argued that the school district exaggerated claims that education would grind to a halt if teachers went on strike. Teachers union leaders said they’re disappointed with the decision.

They did not announce whether they’d abide by the court ruling or file a legal appeal. They said a meeting of union leaders and lawyers tonight will determine their next steps.

Member of state student association talks about potential Cal State fee increase

Students in the Cal State University system are likely to pay about $300 more in fees next academic year, if the trustees vote as expected tomorrow. The trustees say that’s their only option amid continued state budget cuts to higher education. Steve Dixon of the California State Student Association told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that students like him are caught in the middle.

Steve Dixon: “It’s almost like a trick in the book. One-third of all increases at the California State University makes, so that whenever they increase our tuition by $100, 33 of those dollars go to financial aid intended for the lower economic scale students so that they won’t be affected, but in the end it does affect them because you end up taking more in loans.”

Dixon, who’s graduating soon from Humboldt State, said federal money for student loans isn’t keeping up with Cal State fees. He said students are taking out personal loans to cover the cost of their education.

Cal State system likely to vote on student fee hikes

Trustees of the Cal State University system may vote tomorrow to raise student fees an average of $306 next academic year. The officials say the state’s budget constraints leave them with no choice – to cut costs, they’ve already limited admissions to the 23-campus system by 10 percent. Robert Turnage, Cal State’s budget director, told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that the state cuts its spending on higher education every year.

Robert Turnage: “I’ve been working on state budget matters in the capital for about 25 years, and all of my veteran colleagues, none of us have seen anything like this before. So, we’ve already gone through a year where the cuts have been very serious and now it’s quite apparent that the state is facing another round of serious cuts.”

Turnage said the only way around student fee hikes is expanding class sizes and lowering the quality of a Cal State education. Governor Schwarzenegger projected a $21 billion budget gap for the coming fiscal year if voters don’t approve six propositions on next week’s statewide ballot.

Average price of gas in LA County rises 1 percent

You’re not imagining things. The price of gas is going up in Southern California. The average price of self-serve regular in Los Angeles County rose 1 percent today to about $2.42 cents. That’s nearly nine cents higher than it was a week ago.

Marie Montgomery with the Automobile Club of Southern California attributes the climb to speculators’ belief that demand will rise when the economy improves.

Marie Montgomery: “Investors in these commodities are seeing either signs that the economy might be picking up or that countries like China are in fact buying more supply, so they are bidding the price up.”

Although gas prices are higher now, they’re nothing near what they were this time last year – back then, that same gallon of gas cost an additional $1.40 on average.

Villaraigosa calls for city employee furloughs to balance budget

L.A.’s mayor told a public forum today that the City Council needs to declare a fiscal emergency. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall says that he warned of dire budget consequences if the city doesn’t lay off at least 1,000 employees.

Cheryl Devall: At a Town Hall L.A. luncheon, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the financial situation in Los Angeles is so bad, the city might run out of money between November and February if it doesn’t take drastic measures. They include letting at least a thousand workers go as soon as July 1st, and requiring almost everyone else on the city payroll to take up to 26 unpaid days off during the next fiscal year.

Villaraigosa said L.A. faces a budget hole as big as $1 billion unless it acts now. With the City Council and labor representatives, he’s crafting a buyout plan that would permanently reduce the city’s workforce.

The mayor warned that the reduction could mean cutting many more than 1,000 jobs. High unemployment, slow housing sales, and declining sales tax revenue have meant less money for L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa’s Town Hall comments echoed his remarks when he presented this year’s city budget and called for “shared responsibility and shared sacrifice.”

LA remains one of nation's most expensive areas for renters

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles County is about $1,300 a month. KPCC’s business analyst Mark Lacter says that makes the county one of the nation’s most expensive areas for renters.

Mark Lacter: “The rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t be paying more than 30 percent of annual income on rent. But it turns out that a wage of at least $25 an hour would be required to meet that 30 percent level – and $25-an-hour jobs are in relatively short supply these days.”

Lacter says that affordability issue isn’t new. The difference now, he says, is that there are fewer jobs available, and more people looking for low-cost housing.

In some parts of Southern California, landlords are lowering their rents to attract tenants. More renters are doubling and tripling up so they can afford a place to live.

Link: Mark Lacter on California’s budget problems; apartment rentals (5/12/2009)
Link: L.A. Biz Observed

California dropout rate falls 1 percentage point

California’s dropout rate is down one percentage point – but state schools chief Jack O’Connell says losing one student in five before they finish school results is a rate that’s still “unacceptably high.”

Last year officials measured California’s dropout rate as just over 20 percent. O’Connell says that more than a quarter of Latino students drop out, while close to 35 percent of African-American students quit school before they graduate:

Jack O’Connell: “Over a lifetime, dropouts have lower earnings, higher rates of unemployment, poorer health, increased dependence on public assistance, and increased rates of criminal behavior and incarceration. We know that we can’t wait until a student drops out to determine that there’s a problem.”

Education officials also measured the state’s graduation rate. It nosed above 68 percent last year. That’s an increase of half a percentage point over the year before.

Santa Monica considers how to handle water shortages

Santa Monica’s City Council considers a formal plan to respond to water shortages tonight. KPCC’s Molly Peterson reports that conservation has the city in good shape.

Molly Peterson: Santa Monica gets water from the Metropolitan Water District. Facing drought, low rainfall, and limited supplies from other parts of California, the district voted to cut how much water it delivers to customers like Santa Monica, and to charge penalties for overuse.

The water shortage response plan gives the city council the authority to declare an emergency and the power to ration water. Santa Monica public works isn’t recommending limits – but the city council is considering an advisory declaration. City officials say they’ve planned for dry times.

For almost two years, Santa Monica has asked its people to use 20 fewer gallons each day. If everyone did it, that 20-gallon challenge would add up to a 10 percent reduction in the city. Since August 2007, Santa Monica has almost done that – the city’s public works department reports that water demand is down by 9 percent.

LA observes Bike to Work Week

It’s Bike to Work Week across the country. In Los Angeles, KPCC’s Brian Watt says transportation officials are peddling the idea of two-wheeling it more often.

Brian Watt: This morning, the Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown Los Angeles hosted its 6th annual Blessing of the Bikes. Interfaith leaders focused on the health benefits of cycling – and on the safety precautions cyclists and motorists should take while they share the road.

Tomorrow morning, L.A. Metro and the L.A. County Bike Coalition are staging a two-minute bike ride through downtown L.A. Riders plan to gather on the plaza of the civic center Metro stop around 8 o’clock and set off to demonstrate how easy it is for people to get to downtown workplaces by bike.

Thursday is Bike to Work Day. L.A. Metro and other municipal transit agencies will offer free rides on buses and trains to anyone with a bike or bike helmet. For the Thursday morning commute, Metro is co-hosting more than 40 bike pit stops with gifts and refreshments.

Link: Metro Bike to Work Day Web site

Miss California USA will continue reign, despite lingerie photos, gay marriage comments

Miss California USA will continue her reign. Miss USA pageant owner Donald Trump announced in New York that Carrie Prejean won’t lose her title. She’d come under fire after the Miss USA pageant broadcast for saying she was against gay marriage.

Soon after, photos of a nearly nude Prejean modeling lingerie appeared online. California pageant officials say the 21-year-old blonde beauty queen failed to tell them she’d posed for those pictures four years ago. But Trump says the photos aren’t a problem.

Donald Trump: “We have determined – and we have the absolute right under the contract – we have determined that the pictures taken are fine.”

As for Prejean’s comment against gay marriage – Trump says it was an “honorable” response that mirrored the opinion of President Obama.

Jesusita Fire 80 percent contained, but concerns about strong winds remain

The fire above Santa Barbara is now 80 percent contained, but concerns remain over potentially strong winds this afternoon. KPCC’s Steve Julian has more.

Steve Julian: When firefighters say they have a fire “contained,” they mean they’ve surrounded it, either physically with crews or by depriving it of more fuel. The week-old Jesusita Fire is all but contained – in fact, there’s little left but smoldering remains. But those remains can become dangerous if the wind picks up.

What’s known as Sundowner winds commonly blow down from the Santa Ynez Mountains onto Santa Barbara – it’s those winds that spread the fire through neighborhoods where it damaged 22 homes and burned down 78 others, along with dozens of outbuildings. In all, the fire’s burned more than 13 square miles; one Ventura County firefighter remains hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns.

Iraq reconstruction official says rebuilding hampered by lack of planning

During six years in Iraq, the United States has allocated more than $47 billion to carry out one of the stated goals of the war – rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Stuart Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that a problem undermined those good intentions – this country had no cohesive plan to make things work before it committed to the war.

Stuart Bowen Jr.: “The lack within the U.S. government of any system or structure for managing overseas contingency operations – if you don’t plan, unsurprisingly things don’t turn out particularly well, and that’s what happened in Iraq.”

Bowen said that much of the reconstruction work has shifted from foreign contractors to Iraqi-run companies. That change has reduced some of the waste and corruption Bowen uncovered when he took the inspector general’s job almost five years ago.

Regulators expected to rule on LA Unified teachers union strike

California state regulators are expected to rule today on L.A. Unified’s request to stop its teachers union from carrying out a one-day strike at the end of this week. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: United Teachers Los Angeles is asking its 48,000 members to protest teacher layoffs the board of education approved by skipping work this Friday. School board president Monica Garcia said the school district’s working out contingency plans.

Monica Garcia: There’s a lot of conversation about one, how to provide support for each school site – a lot of interest in ensuring student safety. Ensuring that there is a conversation about when we work together and when we put students first.

Guzman-Lopez: L.A. Unified’s superintendent said last week that the teachers union has been unwilling to minimize the effects of a strike on students. The teachers’ union contract forbids strikes. Union leaders said that they were up front with members – and that they believe a one-day strike will shed light on the severe impact of laying teachers off.

Griffith Park arsonist sentenced to 16 years in prison

A Glendale man has landed a 16-year prison sentence for setting several fires last year in L.A.’s Griffith Park. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall has more on the story.

Cheryl Devall: The fires Gary Allen Lintz pleaded no contest to starting didn’t turn into the kind that scorched more than 800 acres in Los Angeles’ biggest park a couple of years ago. But that big one heightened park officials’ concern over any threat of another like it.

Some hikers reported Lintz last August after they saw him near where a small fire had broken out. Police arrested him and charged him with starting four fires in the park during the summer. He’s been in jail since that arrest.

During his sentencing hearing, Lintz also admitted to causing injury to a firefighter hurt while he fought one of the fires he’d set, and to having an earlier arson conviction. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed three other charges against Lintz – and he wasted no time ordering the 16-year sentence.

Weather expert worries it could be bad fire season

Fire officials in Santa Barbara say they’ve contained 70 percent of the Jesusita fire that forced thousands of people to flee their homes last week. Officials say it appears that sparks from a power tool someone used to clear brush started the fire. Forecasters warn the fire could be a harbinger. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports.

[Radio traffic]

Frank Stoltze: At the command post in Santa Barbara, Robert Balfour surveyed the mass of firefighters and fire trucks.

Robert Balfour: This is early May and we are seeing fire conditions like October, and that was the briefing to most of the crews – “Get your game plan, we are fighting extreme fire conditions early in the season.”

Stoltze: Balfour is a National Weather Service forecaster. He worked as the “incident meteorologist” on the Santa Barbara fire. Each day, fire officials relied on him to predict the behavior of the hot, gusty, erratic sundowner winds that drove the flames.

Balfour: In the last 10 years, we have seen record-breaking fire seasons, and so it’s easy to say – and true to say – that this year could be the worst fire season we’ve ever seen.

Stoltze: At the same time, Balfour says significant fires burned in May last year but the summer was quiet. The forecaster says it’s hard to predict.

LAUSD proposes further retirements to close budget deficit

Los Angeles Unified administrators unveiled a plan that, if the school board approves it tomorrow, would offer early retirement to 2,500 school district employees. L.A. Unified’s personnel director Wendy Macy says these workers fall under the classified category – a group of jobs subject to budget cuts.

Wendy Macy: “Our buildings and ground workers. We’re losing almost 700 of them. We’re losing almost 700 of our office staff. This incentive provides a mechanism by which some of our employees who may be thinking about retiring are able to do so in a way that’s more financially manageable for them. And they’re able to do so. And then meanwhile some of our employees who we’ve most recently hired would not have to lose their jobs.”

If they take the incentive, employees would receive 40 percent of their salary over several years in addition to their retirement benefits. Macy says the district expects up to one-fifth of the workers to take the offer. That would save the district about $6 million. The union that represents these workers backs the plan. So do L.A. Unified’s superintendent and board president.

Governor, smaller city officials discuss budget options

Officials from Los Angeles County’s smaller cities talked about their tightening budgets with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today during a roundtable discussion in Culver City. Bill DeWitt of the Southgate City Council said his city has already asked its 350 employees to take a 10 percent pay cut.

Bill DeWitt: “When we don’t pick up the trash, or if the potholes don’t get fixed, or if the water pipes are leaking in the street, we have to respond to that now. And if we don’t have the ability to do that because we’ve laid off people or had other problems, then that puts us in a real bad situation.”

DeWitt and officials from other cities told the governor the state should fix its own budget woes without borrowing from the cities. DeWitt said lending the state some of Southgate’s tax revenues would push the city’s budget “over a cliff.”

Jesusita Fire 70 percent contained, but hotspots remain

The Jesusita Fire in the Santa Barbara foothills is about 70 percent contained. More than 100 crews are working to finish putting a containment line around the rest of the burn area. David Sadecki is a spokesman for Santa Barbara County Fire. He says there still are some hotspots.

David Sadecki: “Crews are reporting that there are small pockets of active burns, we call them ‘smokes,’ that need to be extinguished. That’s why those guys are up there.

“They’re dragging the hose lines up the hill. We have the helicopters flying in – hotspotting, and so there are still some, a little bit of activity, but it’s really diminished.”

About 145 homes are still evacuated. Sadecki says he’s not sure when their occupants will be able to return. Winds are expected to return tomorrow after several foggy mornings, but they are not expected to be as strong as last week.

The Jesusita fire destroyed 77 homes and damaged nearly two dozen others. It burned about 8,700 acres. Fire officials believe the fire may have been started by someone using a power tool to clear brush.

Vote-by-mail deadline looms as price of postage goes up

Tomorrow’s the last day to register to vote by mail for next week’s special statewide election. But KPCC’s Susan Valot says a change could prevent your request from getting there, if you don’t take care.

Susan Valot: Vote-by-mail requests have to be in seven days before the election. In this election, we’re deciding whether to adopt statewide propositions that lawmakers want to use to close California’s budget gap.

Today the price to mail a first-class letter increases by two cents, to 44 cents. That means it’ll cost 44 cents to mail in your vote-by-mail request or your vote-by-mail ballot.

The U.S. Postal Service is required to forward all ballots to the registrar’s office in a timely manner. If you don’t put on enough postage, your ballot could end up at the registrar too late – and that could leave you out of the election.

Postmarks don’t count to meet the deadline. If you use “forever” stamps, you’re free and clear. Those are good for first-class letters no matter how much you paid for them.

California Superior Court observes Juror Appreciation Week

If you’ve got jury duty this week, you’ve lucked out. KPCC’s Susan Valot explains why.

Susan Valot:This is Juror Appreciation Week in the California Superior Court system. Each courthouse observes it in a different way. Some decorate the jury room. Many offer refreshments to jurors as they wait to be called on court cases. Some courthouses even raffle off prizes. At Orange County superior courthouses, jurors will be given mementoes to mark the occasion.

Eleven years ago, state lawmakers designated the second full week in May Juror Appreciation Week to honor people who volunteer their time to make the “right of trial by jury a reality.” Last fiscal year, Orange County summoned almost three-quarters of a million people to jury duty. More than 10-and-a-half-million people were summoned to serve on juries statewide.

Medical marijuana dispensary workers complain of police harassment

The operators of a medical marijuana dispensary in Pomona say police have been harassing them. KPCC’s Shirley Jahad says they protested Friday in front of the Pomona police station.

Shirley Jahad: The medical marijuana dispensary had been open for about a week when volunteers said Pomona police began to show up unannounced and intimidate workers and patrons, including terminal cancer patients. Volunteer Kara Hill described one incident last week.

Kara Hill: This time they physically break down doors. They start kicking in doors. They come in they are very aggressive. They throw one volunteer down on the ground. He injures his shoulder.

A terminally ill patient is sitting in the lobby trying to fill out his paper work. The patient just coming from chemo has cancer and says please, can I just get my medicine?

Jahad: Police have arrested several dispensary volunteers. They said one of their co-workers, a 23-year-old on the dean’s list at Cal State Long Beach, is still behind bars. Volunteer Kara Hill said that’s unreasonable.

Hill: She is being held on a million dollars bail. Literally she was passing out flyers. She had no medical marijuana on her. No medication. No money. Nothing.

Jahad: A lawyer for the dispensary called the police action illegal and unwarranted.

Note: Pomona police have not returned calls seeking comment on these allegations.

Power tool may have sparked Santa Barbara wildfire

By AMY TAXIN
Associated Press Writer

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — The wildfire that has scorched 13 square miles and destroyed dozens of homes in the hills above this scenic coastal city was apparently sparked by a power tool being used to clear brush, investigators said Sunday.

Fire officials said someone, or possibly a group of people, was clearing vegetation on what appeared to be private land near the trail around the time the fire erupted Tuesday.

“Any time you use any power tool, there’s always a possibility, especially if the conditions are right,” said Joe Waterman, the overall fire commander from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Some Santa Barbara County residents recently received annual notices advising them they had until June 1 to clear potentially hazardous brush, county fire Capt. Glenn Fidler said.

It was not immediately clear whether the blaze originated in an area targeted by such a notice.

Officials declined to comment further about the type of power tool that may have been used, or if anyone could face charges.

The fire has destroyed 77 homes, damaged 22 others and forced the evacuation of approximately 30,000 people to safer ground.

By late Sunday, all but 375 residents from 145 homes had been allowed to return home and firefighters had the blaze 65 percent contained, aided by cooler, more humid weather.

Relieved to see their homes still standing, grateful residents paid tribute to firefighters by tooting car horns in their honor and posting large thank-you signs on their front lawns.

More than 4,500 firefighters worked to contain as much of the blaze as they could before the hot, dry “sundowner” winds that pushed flames on homes earlier in the week return, possibly as early as Tuesday.

“We have a window of opportunity right now to get our lines tied in and to get hot spots mopped up as good as possible because the next couple of days the wind is going to resurface again and we need to be prepared,” said Kelley Gouette, deputy incident commander for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Fire officials over the weekend had lauded residents’ removal of brush and fire-prone plants from their properties to bolster the defensible space needed to protect a house from a wildfire and keep firefighters safe while working in the region.

Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin recalled that a 1990 blaze took out 500 homes, although it didn’t burn across as wide a swatch of land as the 13 square miles covered by this week’s fire.

“More homes would have burned had they not done their defensible space work,” Franklin said of the residents who gave firefighters the best conditions to work in.

Richard Martin, a 73-year old retired University of California, Santa Barbara, chemistry professor, rode out the worst of the firestorm from a five-by-seven-foot concrete bunker he built to store important documents.

Martin and his wife, Penny, ducked in and out of the bunker to battle spot fires on the oak trees surrounding their four-level home tucked away near the Botanic Garden. But he also credited rooftop sprinklers, clearing brush and planting low, fire resistant plants around the edge of his home with its survival.

“All the trees the leaves are all dead because they’ve been scorched,” Martin said, pointing out the glass door of his wooden deck. “But those plants haven’t been scorched. They look normal.”

In 2005, California extended the required clearance around homes in an effort to bolster the defensible space needed to protect a house from a wildfire and keep firefighters safe while working in the region.

In Santa Barbara County, officials can also clear brush from unkempt property and charge homeowners for doing so. Franklin said they usually need to enforce that regulation on no more than a couple of homes a year.

Firefighters say they are more likely to hunker down and try to save a home that has good defensible space because they have a better and safer shot at getting a handle on the blaze.

In recent years, many residents have gotten rid of more volatile plant life, replacing it with fire-resistant gardens or just clearing it out entirely. Some have built fire safety into the construction of the homes themselves.

Some residents are reluctant to hack down the tree branches that shade their homes and give them privacy in the rolling canyons above the city’s downtown, where many houses can’t even be seen from the main roads.

In the Painted Cave community, most homes are covered with branches and shrouded in trees, said Barry Flores, a Sacramento fire battalion chief working on the western front of the blaze.

“It’s a firefighter’s worst nightmare,” he said.

Link: Wildfire coverage from L.A. Times blog
Link: Ventura County Star fire stories
Link: L.A. Times Google map of Jesusita Fire
Link: Jesusita Fire on Twitter

Associated Press writer Raquel Maria Dillon contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Most Santa Barbara fire evacuations being lifted

By AMY TAXIN
Associated Press Writer

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — Thousands of residents were back home Saturday as a blanket of cool, moist air flowing in from the Pacific Ocean tamed a wind-driven wildfire that burned dozens of homes along the outskirts of town during the week.

Cheers erupted at an evacuation center when Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown announced that mandatory evacuation orders for most areas were being downgraded to evacuation warnings, meaning residents could return but would have to remain alert.

Among the first to return were Jonathan Kenny, 44, and his wife, Susan Kim, 42, who found their home covered in ash but still standing near blackened hillsides that showed just how close the fire came.

“I feel like we dodged a bullet on this one,” said Kenny, who watered plants and fed goldfish in a backyard pond.

“They’re not floating belly up, so that’s a good sign,” Kim said.

But a short distance away up a narrow canyon road, gutted homes and burned out cars awaited the return of their owners. A scorched palm tree jutted toward a clear, blue sky and a lawn chair, scorched appliances and metal filing cabinets were among the few recognizable remnants.

More than 30,000 people had been under mandatory evacuation orders dating back as far as Tuesday afternoon, when the fire erupted just above Santa Barbara on the face of steep Santa Ynez Mountains. An additional 23,000 had been on evacuation standby.

By Saturday evening, well over half of the those residents were back in their homes, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Commander Darin Fotheringham said.

Fire officials also revised their count of burnt houses, saying the blaze had destroyed 31 homes and two detached garages, and damaged another 47 homes. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had incorrectly reported on its Web site earlier that 80 structures were destroyed after the count of destroyed and damaged structures was mistakenly combined.

Notorious local winds known as “sundowners” sweeping from inland and down the face of the mountains drove the fire into outlying neighborhoods Wednesday afternoon, causing most of the destruction, and again late Thursday and early Friday.

A predicted sundowner failed to materialize Friday night, and instead the normal flow of air from the Pacific Ocean pushed ashore a dense, moist marine layer that didn’t let the sun peek through until nearly midday. Officials had said an onshore flow would raise humidity levels and blow the fire away from developed areas on the foothills.

The National Weather Service on Saturday dropped fire weather warnings and predicted that overnight clouds and fog would continue through Monday morning before a return of a weak-to-moderate sundowners in the Santa Ynez range Monday night and into midweek.

Firefighters were cautious but said the blaze that had covered more than 13 square miles was 40 percent contained. Water-dropping helicopters continued to shuttle between reservoirs and hot spots but flames were not apparent and the huge plumes of smoke that loomed over the city for days had vanished.

“It’s easy on a day like today to look around and go, ‘Wow, you know, we’ve got this thing beat,” Joe Waterman, the overall fire commander from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Saturday evening. “We don’t have this thing beat yet.”

The blaze was expected to be fully contained by Wednesday. On Friday, it had been active along a five-mile front just above Santa Barbara, west toward neighboring Goleta and east toward the community of Montecito.

Brown said the evacuations were being lifted in phases to avoid traffic jams from returning residents.

“We hope to get everyone back as soon as possible, but it’s nice to be able to deliver some good news to you, for a change.” the sheriff said.

Martha Marsango, an 87-year-old widow, didn’t wait for evacuation orders to lift. She said she made her way back home Friday, adding that she knew she “could replace everything that was in it, but it is still my home.”

Resident Eric Hall, 59, said he believed the worst was over when he felt the mist sweep in off the ocean.

“The weather is cooperating,” said Hall, who was having ash cleaned off his daughter’s car at a car wash.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited evacuees housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus before the sheriff’s announcement.

“I think one woman came up to me and said ‘I like it here much better than my home because here finally I’m getting served other than me always having to provide for the family.’ So there’s a great sense of humor here,” Schwarzenegger said.

Actor Rob Lowe, an area resident, said the fire was scary but he shared the governor’s sentiment about how residents have dealt with it.

“This kind of a fire was touch-and-go for a long time,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends who have been evacuated. We’re sheltering people at our house. The community just pulled together.”

Link: Wildfire coverage from L.A. Times blog
Link: Ventura County Star fire stories
Link: L.A. Times Google map of Jesusita Fire
Link: Jesusita Fire on Twitter

Associated Press writer Raquel Maria Dillon contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.

Morning fog brings relief for Calif. fire crews

By RAQUEL MARIA DILLON
Associated Press Writer

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — A cool sea breeze and thick morning fog provided some relief Saturday for crews battling the wildfire that has destroyed scores of homes along the California coast and forced thousands to evacuate.

There was still a threat that dry inland wind could return to stoke the flames again.

The fog rolled in from the ocean early Saturday and blanketed the lower elevation areas of the fire.

“It wasn’t expected,” said Sarah Gibson, Santa Barbara county public information officer. “It was a nice, thick, wet flow.”

However, the fog was expected to burn off by midmorning, and the National Weather Service issued a wind advisory warning that wind could gust to 20 to 25 mph in the Santa Ynez mountain range.

Humidity is expected to remain low in the higher slopes although not as low as in previous days.

“It’s better than before but it’s still of concern,” Gibson said.

More than 30,000 people have left the area and authorities urged 23,000 others to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The blaze was only 10 percent contained as of Friday night, after charring more than 13 square miles and destroying about 80 homes as it menaced this celebrity enclave and other coastal towns.

The blaze has been fanned by the area’s “Sundowners,” fierce local wind that sweeps down the mountain slopes from north to south and out to sea.

“When the air is coming off of the ocean the humidity is fairly high and it pushes the fire back away from the community,” Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin said. “But the (sundowner) prediction is still there. The winds could surface, change back around and blow the fire back downhill.”

The weather service said the sharp north-to-south pressure gradient creating the wind was expected to weaken but remain strong enough to produce gusts through Saturday, and possibly until Sunday morning.

The fire was raging along a five-mile-long front above normally serene coastal communities.

“There will be a point in the incident when I will have cautious optimism but I’m not there yet,” Joe Waterman, the overall fire commander from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Friday.

About 80 homes have been destroyed in neighborhoods on ridges and in canyons that rise up the foothills above the north edge of Santa Barbara.

The city and adjacent communities are pinched between the coast on the south and the rugged mountains on the north, putting them in the path of the sundowner wind.

The Santa Barbara area has long been a favorite of celebrities. Oprah Winfrey has an estate in Montecito, where Charlie Chaplin’s old seaside escape, the Montecito Inn, has stood since 1928. A ranch in the mountains that Ronald and Nancy Reagan bought became his Western retreat during his presidency.

Some 3,500 firefighters were on the scene along with 428 engines, 14 air tankers and 15 helicopters. A DC-10 jumbo jet tanker capable of dumping huge loads of retardant began making runs on the fire Friday afternoon.

Officials said 11 firefighters had been injured to date, including three who were burned in a firestorm Wednesday. They were reported in good condition at a Los Angeles burn center.

The cause of the blaze, which broke out Tuesday, remained under investigation.

Link: Wildfire coverage from L.A. Times blog
Link: Ventura County Star fire stories
Link: L.A. Times Google map of Jesusita Fire
Link: Jesusita Fire on Twitter

Associated Press writers Amy Taxin and Jeff Wilson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

88-year-old deals with Santa Barbara fire

More than 30,000 people are under evacuation orders in the Jesusita Fire area in Santa Barbara County. Eighty-eight-year-old Joe Johnson lives at the base of Highway 154 in Santa Barbara. He told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze the fire forced him from his home last night.

Joe Johnson: “I wasn’t told I had to evacuate, and I had a chance of going with my son and going to his home, or going to a lady friend who lives about two miles away. And I wanted to keep her company, and you know, be with her ‘cause she was extremely nervous. And so I went down there with her and then we were evacuated from that point. And we over to UCSB at one of those places that had room for us.”

Frank Stoltze: “And now you’re back at your home even though an evacuation order remains in effect for this area?”

Johnson: “That’s true. I feel very confident in here that I’m not in danger yet.”

Johnson said he’s concerned that sundowner winds can easily sweep flames back to his neighborhood. The Jesusita Fire has burned through more than 3,000 acres.

Firefighters use helicopters to fight Santa Barbara fire

It’s day four of the Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara. The wildfire has burnt through more than 3,000 acres. During another hot and windy day, firefighters on land and in the air are racing to put out the flames.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze stopped by a refilling station for helicopters on the western flank of the fire line.

[Sound of helicopter]

Frank Stoltze: A yellow Ventura County Fire Department helicopter now is lowering its hose into a portable tank that’s been set up. That hose will siphon water into the helicopter’s water tank.

He’s lowering the hose now and it slowly goes into the tank. And then he’ll take off with that water and head back into the hills to drop on the fire.

Fire officials say it takes about 8 or 10 minutes for them to go up into the hills, drop their water, and then come back for another load of water.

Note: Emergency officials have ordered close to 30,000 people to evacuate the fire area.

Firefighter appreciation day falls on weekend of Santa Barbara fire

The fire in Santa Barbara is a reminder of how much we rely on firefighters in Southern California – and appreciate what they do. Angelenos don’t have to wait for the next emergency to express that gratitude. Turns out tomorrow is Fire Service Recognition Day in Los Angeles. Inspector Steve Zermeno with the L.A. County Fire Department says city and county fire stations are inviting people to visit.

Steve Zermeno: “We love making contact with the community. It’s a relaxed time, instead of some type of an emergency, and making contact that way with the community, we like to have it the other way around, where it can be a relaxed atmosphere. They can come out and have a chat.”

Zermeno says the whole family is invited, including the kids and dogs. He says it’s a little known fact that L.A.’s fire stations are always open to the public for daytime visits.

More than 30,000 ordered to flee Santa Barbara fire

By RAQUEL MARIA DILLON
Associated Press Writer

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — Turning the horizon a lurid orange and raining embers on roofs as it advanced, a raging wildfire that has destroyed scores of homes in the hills menaced this celebrity enclave and other coastal towns Friday, and the number of people ordered to flee climbed to more than 30,000.

Authorities warned an additional 23,000 to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, despite improving weather conditions.

“There will be a point in the incident when I will have cautious optimism but I’m not there yet,” said Joe Waterman, the overall fire commander from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Columns of smoke rose off the Santa Ynez Mountains as the 4-day-old blaze - fanned by “sundowner” winds that sweep down the slopes in the evening - blew up from 2,700 acres to 3,500 in less than a day, creating a firefighting front five miles long.

“It’s crazy. The whole mountain looked like an inferno,” said Maria Martinez, 50, who with her fiance hurriedly left her home in San Marcos Pass, on the edge of Santa Barbara. The couple went to an evacuation center at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Predicted sundowner winds didn’t happen late Friday as breezes blew in from the Pacific Ocean, pushing the fire away from homes, said Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin. But he warned that the sundowners “could surface, change back around and blow the fire back downhill.”

An unknown number of homes were destroyed in the blowup that began Thursday night, in addition to the estimated 75 houses that burned the night before on the ridges and in the canyons above Santa Barbara.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

The number of people ordered to evacuate rose to 30,500 from 12,000 the night before as the blaze pushed west toward neighboring Goleta and east toward well-to-do Montecito.

“Literally last night, all hell broke loose,” Santa Barbara Fire Chief Andrew DiMizio said Friday morning, recounting firefighters’ efforts to put out roof fires and keep flames out of his section of the city.

The eight-member Wasjutin family arrived at the university campus in three cars and a trailer packed with four dogs, eight baby chickens, two cockatiels, an iguana, a rat named Cutie and an African spur tortoise. They fled their 40-acre San Marcos Pass property after watching the flames grow closer. They left three horses and three hens behind.

“We drove down through fire on both sides,” said Silvia Wasjutin, 48, a speech pathologist.

In a scene of strange contrasts, students bicycled to classes and midterms as ash fell on campus, and boats bobbed in Santa Barbara’s harbor as smoke rose from the mountains above town.

The Santa Barbara area has long been a favorite of celebrities. Oprah Winfrey has an estate in Montecito, where Charlie Chaplin’s old seaside escape, the Montecito Inn, has stood since 1928. A ranch in the mountains that Ronald and Nancy Reagan bought became his Western retreat during his presidency.

More than 2,300 firefighters battled the blaze, using at least 246 engines, 14 air tankers and 15 helicopters. A DC-10 jumbo jet tanker capable of dumping huge loads of retardant began making runs on the fire in the afternoon.

The cause of the blaze, which broke out Tuesday, remained under investigation.

Evacuation shelters were set up, and hotels offered deals to evacuees.

“Right now, if you’re not evacuated in the Santa Barbara area, you are sheltering evacuees,” DiMizio said.

Oscar Funez, 39, his wife, Patricia, 42, and their son, Augustin, 4, were watching the fire on television Thursday night when they noticed other tenants leaving their Santa Barbara apartment building. They packed a suitcase and fled, too.

“It’s our fourth fire in Santa Barbara. We know we have to have everything - paperwork, clothes, everything - ready to go,” Oscar Funez said.

The family spent the night on cots at the university, and their little boy was given a stuffed elephant toy by a Red Cross worker. “We must be bad parents, because we didn’t bring his stuffed animals,” his father joked.

At historic Santa Barbara Mission, established by the Spanish in 1786, the Rev. Tom Messner was one of three friars permitted to remain during the evacuation. He helped make sandwiches for the firefighters.

Messner said there was plenty of smoke, but “I can’t see the flames, and we have firetrucks in front of the place, so we feel very safe.” The church, a major tourist attraction, was built in 1820, after an earthquake destroyed the previous structure.

Officials said 11 firefighters had been injured, including three burned in a firestorm Wednesday. They were reported in good condition at a Los Angeles burn center.

Link: Wildfire coverage from L.A. Times blog
Link: Ventura County Star fire stories
Link: L.A. Times Google map of Jesusita Fire
Link: Jesusita Fire on Twitter

Associated Press writers Amy Taxin and Jeff Wilson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

LA, Orange County firefighters helping in Santa Barbara fire

Hundreds of local firefighters are helping to battle the Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara. Los Angeles County and L.A. City Fire sent more than 400. Orange County is contributing more than 100. Emergency officials say that even with some of their crews away, they have adequate personnel to respond to local wildfires.

OC Fire Authority Captain Greg McKeown is asking people throughout the Southland to stay alert this weekend even though we won’t have the type of windy conditions fueling the fire in Santa Barbara.

Greg McKeown: “The real danger when a wildfire breaks is obviously the temperature, the low humidities, but really what’s the most dangerous is the high winds and luckily, in Orange County we have not had those high winds. Our season for high winds is usually in the later months of the year.”

The captain says that these days, his agency prepares for a year-round fire season. Weather forecasters are predicting cooler temperatures this weekend with highs not much above the mid-70s in Santa Ana and around 80 in Los Angeles.

Federal government says state can't cut salaries of health care workers

Federal money usually comes with strings attached. California officials are learning just how many strings the economic stimulus package carries. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Kitty Felde: California lawmakers, trying to save $74 million, cut home health care workers’ pay by $2 an hour. Not so fast, said the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Under federal guidelines for spending California’s $50 billion in economic stimulus money, the state can’t take the money and then cut back on services.

The feds threatened to reclaim almost $7 billion if California doesn’t restore the health care workers’ salaries. Governor Schwarzenegger has sent a letter of appeal. His Inspector General Laura Chick has spent a week in Washington clarifying more than a hundred pages of rules and regulations related to stimulus funding.

The Service Employees International Union represented the home health care workers, and alerted the Obama administration about the cuts. That union campaigned strongly for Barack Obama. When asked whether organized labor was pressuring the administration, a Health and Human Services official replied that the department simply wanted “to ensure that all states comply with the law.”

Norco Mazda dealer closes after getting half million dollar loan from city

Five months after the city of Norco extended a half-million-dollar line of credit so it could stay in business, a car dealer there has apparently gone belly-up. KPCC’s Steven Cuevas has more on Norco Mazda, which shut its doors last night.

Steven Cuevas: The dealership’s owners say it’s only temporarily closed. But it sure happened suddenly – it even caught city officials off guard. They loaned Norco Mazda and another dealership, Frahm Dodge, half-a-million dollars each in December to offset flagging sales. More than a dozen Inland Empire car dealerships have gone out of business in the last year.

Car dealerships provide almost half of Norco’s annual $5 million take in sales taxes. The loans are intended to cover basic operating costs and new inventory purchases until the credit markets loosen up. Both car dealers put up property and other collateral to secure the loans.

In the Dodge dealership’s case, the bailout seems to have worked. It’s reporting an increase in sales and its owners hope it can ride out the recession. It’s not clear what Norco Mazda did with the money. Owners tell city officials they are “reorganizing” and hope to reopen soon.

May 19 election could reduce $14 billion budget gap to $8 billion

Slumping sales and real estate tax revenues mean that California’s running short on money. The state legislative analyst predicts the cash flow could dribble out by July.

State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that she and other Democrats have already begun to examine the budget for places to cut. She added that voters will play a role in the state’s economic future by deciding on six propositions later this month.

Karen Bass: “We went through the budget line-by-line and they had a mission: solve an $8 billion problem or solve a $14 billion problem. If the propositions fail, we will have a $14 billion hole.

“If the propositions pass, we will have an $8 billion hole. I can tell you that my colleagues had a difficult time closing an $8 billion hole; they were not able to close a $14 billion hole.”

The ballot propositions intended to help California close that hole are not very popular, opinion surveys say. The measures would shift money from restricted uses to the general fund and allow the state to borrow against future lottery revenues, among other changes.

Lawmakers seek loans to help with state budget

This week, California lawmakers visited Washington, D.C. in search of short-term loans to help the state through its budget problems. Jason Dickerson, a finance specialist with the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, told KPCC’s “AirTalk” that borrowing from the federal government probably won’t help.

Jason Dickerson: “We’re looking at a very serious budget problem given the fact that if there were already easy spending cuts and revenue increases, they’ve generally already been made. What comes next will be even more difficult.”

Dickerson warned that credit markets are still tight and the state may not be able to borrow much money. Anything it borrows from the federal government will come with strings attached, he said. His solution is to enact more program cuts.

California could run out of money

California could run out of money in a couple of months, if the prediction of the state’s chief budget analyst plays out. Jason Dickerson with the Legislative Analyst’s Office told KPCC’s “AirTalk” that fewer home sales, less consumer spending, and more unemployment have all contributed to the problem.

Jason Dickerson: “A few weeks ago we forecast that 2009/10 state fiscal revenues would be about $8 billion less than expected. Since then, revenues in February, March, and April of this year have been less than expected. So there are very tough choices ahead as the economy continues to be very weak.”

Dickerson said that in the coming weeks the governor and the legislature are going to examine nearly all categories of state programs for potential cuts. Five measures on the May 19th ballot are intended to address California’s budget gap, but polls of likely voters indicate that none of those propositions may pass.

Ranch owner talks about evacuating horses due to fire

The Earl Warren Showgrounds is the evacuation center for large animals during the Jesusita fire. The Santa Barbara Equine Association says people have brought more than 100 horses there.

Stacy McMullen left 20 of her horses. She told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze that evacuating horses is a complicated process.

Stacy McMullen: “You know when you’re pressed for time, getting that many horses out and being organized about it, making sure everybody has halters, you know the horses are going in the right places. For instance, we have a stallion so we have to be a little bit more careful with putting the right horses in the right spots.”
Frank Stoltze: “In other words, if you put the stallions in with females?”
McMullen: “Well, you know, you can only imagine.” (laughs)

McMullen had to flee her ranch earlier this week. She’s not sure whether it’s still standing.

Ranch owner not sure whether ranch still stands due to fire

Stacy McMullen had to flee her home because of the Jesusita wildfire. She owns a ranch and she told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze she’s not sure whether it’s still standing.

Frank Stoltze: “As of a few days ago, everything had burned up to my home. But my home itself was safe along with all the stables. However, last night I understand that the fire came back through so I am not certain as to whether my facility is intact or not.”

McMullen also had to evacuate her horses. She brought 20 of them to the Earl Warren Showgrounds. It’s serving as an evacuation center for large animals.

San Bernardino authorities continue search for kidnapped 3-year-old

Authorities in San Bernardino have received hundreds of tips about the kidnapping of a 3-year old boy last weekend. Two men apparently snatched Briant Rodriguez from his home during a robbery. KPCC’s Steven Cuevas has the latest.

Steven Cuevas: Investigators believe the kidnappers are two young Latino men who turned up on surveillance footage from a local convenience store. They’re shown two days before the alleged kidnapping buying the same kind of tape used to bind members of Briant Rodriguez’s family. Police believe they may be driving a green Ford Bronco.

Briant’s mother says she was getting ready to take her children to the park last Sunday when the men broke into the family’s home. They allegedly tied up everyone in the house, took a small amount of cash, a cell phone, and 3-year-old Briant.

Investigators say there’ve been no demands for ransom money, or any other communication with the kidnappers. The apparent motive is unclear. San Bernardino County Sheriff Rod Hoops said investigators hope that Briant will be returned safely. The county and the FBI have posted a $50,000 reward for information leading to the kidnappers’ arrest and conviction.

Note: Anyone with information on the Briant Rodriguez case should call the Amber Alert hotline. That number is 866-346-7632.

Monsignor says he believes his house survived Jesusita Fire

About 200 people stayed at the Dos Pueblos High School evacuation center in Goleta last night. Among them was Monsignor John Christopher Yanek, who’s retired from the clergy.

He was forced to leave his craftsman-style house at Foothill and Mission Canyon Road in Santa Barbara. Yanek says he believes his house survived the fire, despite the fact that it’s made of 100-year-old wood.

John Christopher Yanek: “The fire came down the hill, we lost our garage with the granny unit above, but miraculously the fire split and went around the house on either side and spared the main house with the chapel inside.”

Yanek says that earlier this week he observed the Feast of St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters.

Charles Drew University president resigns

There’s been a change of leadership at a South L.A. County medical school. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall has more about developments at Charles Drew University.

Cheryl Devall: Drew is the private med and health sciences school that used to be affiliated with county-run Martin Luther King-Charles Drew Medical Center in Willowbrook. When that hospital closed two and a half years ago after it failed federal inspections, Susan Kelly came on board to lead the university during a difficult transition.

While Kelly emphasized Drew’s commitment to educating its mostly black and Latino students, and established a nursing school there, the economy dealt multiple blows to the institution’s finances. Its investments took a hit in the stock market, and donations dropped. In response, the school cut staff, executive salaries, and contributions to employee retirement funds.

Last month, Kelly took a leave of absence, and the school announced her resignation effective May 1st. Three administrators – operations vice president Elizabeth Garcia, academic affairs dean Ronald Edelstein, and research vice president Keith Norris – will run Charles Drew University as a team.

Red Cross opens second evacuation center after first fills up

The Red Cross opened a second evacuation shelter overnight at UC Santa Barbara after the first one filled up. About 600 people spent the night at the university’s recreation center.

The other shelter is at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta. Susan Forkush is a spokeswoman for the Red Cross. She says a couple hundred people stayed there.

Susan Forkush: “They’re watching the television this morning. They’re seeing what’s happened overnight. And they’re wondering when they might be able to go home or find out about whether their homes are still standing.”

Forkush says the Salvation Army is providing meals at the shelter. Nurses and mental health services are also available to the evacuees, along with phones and Internet access. Both shelters will be open again tonight.

Orange County changes how it deals with stroke patients

Orange County’s become the first county in Southern California to try a new – and faster – way to treat people suffering from strokes. KPCC’s Susan Valot says the new system will funnel stroke patients to one of six receiving centers.

Susan Valot: Just as with heart attacks, the faster doctors can diagnose and begin to treat a stroke, the less damage it’ll cause. Not all hospitals have what they need to do that. The “receiving centers” are six designated hospitals that specialize in treating acute strokes.

They include UC Irvine Medical Center, Fountain Valley Regional Medical Center, and Mission Hospital. Stroke specialists will be on hand there 24 hours a day, with all of the necessary equipment and medication to treat a stroke.

The idea is that faster treatment will help ensure that patients can survive without severe damage. The program is similar to systems already in place in New York, San Francisco, and Santa Clara.

Sheriff Baca lobbies for money at White House

Los Angeles County’s top cop spent the morning at the White House, explaining a federal reimbursement program to members of the Obama administration. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Kitty Felde: L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca was not pleased when President Obama cut funding for SCAAP, the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.

Sheriff Lee Baca: SCAAP is a pure reimbursement fund for local government who is bearing the brunt of criminals who are illegal being arrested and put in county jails.

Felde: Almost one in four L.A. County jail inmates is undocumented. Baca said that during the Clinton administration, he could count on $35 million a year from SCAAP, money he could spend on crimefighting measures like putting more radio cars on the street.

Baca said Attorney General Eric Holder was confused about the maze of federal reimbursement programs and didn’t understand SCAAP’s importance to local law enforcement. After his White House meeting, Baca said, administration officials “got it.” But the power to restore funding now shifts to Congress.

Baca: A long, protracted fight is standard operating procedure in Washington.

Felde: Now Baca’s making his case to key members of Congress from California.

Clergy abuse lawsuit filed against LA Roman Catholic archdiocese

Los Angeles’ Roman Catholic Archdiocese is facing another civil lawsuit that alleges clergy sexual abuse. The priest named in this suit has already been convicted. He’s spent time behind bars and he’s been deported to his native Colombia.

Lawyers for the victim are suing the Catholic Church in Los Angeles and in Rome. Attorney John Manly told reporters that church officials should have known the priest was a pedophile before the Vatican sent him to Los Angeles.

John Manly: “We want to know what they knew before they sent him here. We want to know what the archdiocese knew. This guy does not just get here and get caught.

“He was here for a couple of years. He was taking this boy in the rectory. He was taking him on trips. He was taking other boys. He was spending all his time with boys. And they knew. And they did nothing.”

The Los Angeles Archdiocese hasn’t returned a call for comment. A jury convicted Reverend Fernando Lopez-Lopez of molesting several boys. The victim in this case was 14 when the abuse happened; he’s 21 years old now.

Suspension of Dodger Ramirez likely to affect entire batting lineup

The suspension of Dodger power hitter Manny Ramirez is likely to affect the entire batting lineup – just as the team’s coming off a record 13 home wins at the start of the season, sports commentator Matt “Money” Smith told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison.”

Matt Smith: “When you have a hitter like that, what you do is you transform an entire team. Every other batter in front of him becomes a little more dangerous because the pitcher doesn’t want to put them on base for Manny to knock ‘em in, every hitter behind them becomes a little less dangerous, so maybe pitchers lose their concentration and allow those guys to play better than maybe their physical abilities allow them to.”

Smith, author of “The Great Book of Los Angeles Sports Lists,” said the Dodgers built its entire advertising campaign this season around Manny Ramirez. He’d signed a $45 million, two-year contract with the team. His suspension following a failed drug test will keep him off the field until July 3rd – and will lose him about $8 million.

Murder rate continues to fall in Los Angeles

Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton today said the murder rate fell 34 percent during the first four months of the year, compared to the same time last year. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: Through April, 137 people were murdered in L.A. – 46 fewer than during the same period last year; 120 fewer people suffered gunshot wounds. Burglaries and personal thefts fell 4 percent, despite the bad economy.

Chief Bill Bratton: So unlike the theories of a lot of the academics and others out there, we are just not seeing what many have been predicting.

Stoltze: Which was an increase in crime. LAPD Chief Bill Bratton credited faster police response times to major crimes and an increase in the number of officers. The department is expected to employ a record 10,000 cops by December.

Bratton: The more cops we have, the more we can do.

Stoltze: The chief also acknowledged the role of gang intervention workers. Unlike in past years, police are working more closely with them to prevent crime. Other cities are also seeing a drop in their murder rates, but not as big as the one in L.A.

Teachers at 1 of Villaraigosa's Partnership schools threatening to secede

Teachers at a high school run by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for L.A. Schools are threatening to secede from that group. At a news conference today outside Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, teacher John Fernandez said Villaraigosa hasn’t delivered on promises made when he and fellow teachers voted to leave L.A. Unified governance more than a year ago.

John Fernandez: “The partnership uses a top down management style, this must change. Prior to the vote, 16 months ago, teachers and parents were told that the mayor’s partnership had $50 million to help schools like Roosevelt. Where’s the money? Computers were also promised by the mayor’s partnership. Instead teachers were given t-shirts and coffee mugs.”

More than two-dozen Roosevelt teachers joined Fernandez. He said that teachers at the school recently approved a no-confidence resolution. The Partnership’s chief operations officer said he’s aware of teachers’ concerns. The official said the Partnership has given the school extra money, and it’s working to give teachers more say over decision-making at Roosevelt.

Baca lobbies for federal money for housing undocumented immigrant criminals

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is in Washington, D.C. this week, looking for $20 million that disappeared. He said that during the Bush administration, a federal reimbursement to help the county pay for housing undocumented immigrant criminals behind bars dried up. President Obama hasn’t put it back into the budget.

Sheriff Lee Baca: “We haven’t had the good days since the Clinton administration, understanding that L.A. County and other counties throughout the country are bearing the cost of illegal immigrants in the county jails.”

Baca spent this morning with White House aides, making the case for fully funding the program. He spent the rest of day speaking to key members of Congress – it holds the purse strings for the reimbursement program.

State assembly minority leader Villines resigns from leadership

State assembly minority leader Mike Villines resigned from leadership today. Since February, his fellow Republicans have taken him to task because he voted for a state budget that included temporary tax increases.

During a news conference, Villines said he doesn’t regret that vote. Political strategist Arnold Steinberg told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that Villines, from Clovis in the Central Valley, probably meant it when he said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Arnold Steinberg: “You know, I think a lot of people don’t realize that when you’re the leader of a caucus, Democratic or Republican, it’s very intense. You’re on call to keep your members happy 24 hours a day, so they’re calling you at home, they’re calling you on your cell phone.

“And they’re also horse trading, they’re saying, you know I’ll support you on this if you do this, and I want more office space, I want a better parking space, I want to hire one more staff person. And so when you’re the spouse and you’re the kids, you’re saying where is my dad, where is my mom all the time.”

Assembly Republicans elected Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo as their new caucus chief. Governor Schwarzenegger described Blakeslee as a fiscal hawk who’ll make sure California spends taxpayers’ money wisely.

Republican state assemblyman challenges Democrat Loretta Sanchez

The incumbent in Orange County’s 47th Congressional District has a challenger. Details from KPCC’s Cheryl Devall.

Cheryl Devall: Republican state assemblyman Van Tran of Costa Mesa has filed paperwork to run against Democratic congresswoman Loretta Sanchez next year. Tran’s the first Vietnamese-American in the California legislature, elected five years ago.

He said he’s running because he believes the district is ripe for change, especially when it comes to the economy. In response, Sanchez said she welcomes a spirited debate about the issues.

The contest pits against one another members of two major ethnic groups in Orange County’s only majority-Democratic congressional district. The 47th includes Santa Ana, Garden Grove, and parts of Anaheim and Fullerton. Sanchez won the seat against Republican Bob Dornan 13 years ago.

3 Ventura County firefighters undergoing burn treatment

Three Ventura County firefighters are undergoing treatment for burns they sustained yesterday in the Jesusita fire. Dr. Peter Grossman of the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks told reporters that the firefighters’ condition has been upgraded from serious to good.

Dr. Peter Grossman: “Ron Topolinski, Brian Bulger, and Robert Lopez – all sustained injuries from the fire yesterday. I’m happy to report that none of them currently have life-threatening illnesses, life-threatening injuries. But as you can all imagine, all burns are quite painful and most burns are quite serious.”

Grossman said two of the three firefighters will require surgery for their burns. The men tried to find shelter in a building after fire overtook their engine.

Crime continues to fall in LA

Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton said today that crime continues to fall in the city. The murder rate dropped by a third during the first four months of the year, compared to the same time last year. Burglaries fell by a more modest four percent.

Chief Bill Bratton: “This in the face of the worsening economy with many economists, academics, criminologists, politicians all predicting doom and gloom, that the economy is going to bring about an increase in crime.

“We are certainly not seeing that in Los Angeles. We have not seen it over the last two years as this city unfortunately was ahead of the rest of the country in our unemployment situation.”

Bratton credited his department’s hiring of more police officers for the drop in crime. He also noted a faster response to crime scenes and more cooperation between cops and gang intervention specialists.

Sheriff says Jesusita fire still unpredictable, evacuations still in effect

More than 13,000 people are under a mandatory evacuation order in Santa Barbara County. The county’s sheriff, Bill Brown, said the Jesusita fire is very unpredictable and those evacuations are still in effect.

Bill Brown: “We have a great need to let the fire authorities deal with this event. And we need to keep people out of the evacuation area. And we will get people back in as soon as it is deemed to be safe to do so by the fire authorities, but we’re not going to be able to do that prematurely. And we ask for the patience and the indulgence of the population.”

Brown told reporters that no law enforcement officials have been hurt. Three Ventura County firefighters are being treated for burns at a hospital in Sherman Oaks – doctors expect all of them to survive.

Georgraphy of Santa Barbara's Jesusita fire changes

Firefighters in Santa Barbara expect yesterday’s weather to make a repeat performance today. The winds should pick up in the mid- to late afternoon. Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin told reporters that while the weather patterns might be the same, the geography of the Jesusita fire has changed a lot.

Tom Franklin: “That southern flank of the fire is not a remote flank now, it’s not up in the mountains and inaccessible. That southern flank is down in the populated area. So we are able to go direct on it. We are able to actually fight the fire in a different manner than we were beforehand.”

Fourteen-hundred firefighters and 177 engines are battling the fire. A dozen fixed-wing aircraft and four helicopters are lending a big assist from above – at least until the wind picks up.

Child porn convict killed by federal marshals in Fontana

United States marshals shot and killed a 29-year-old man in Fontana after they tried to serve him with a warrant. KPCC’s Steven Cuevas says the suspect was wanted in connection with a child pornography case.

Steven Cuevas: When his sentencing hearing for a child porn conviction took place in a Los Angeles federal courtroom, Dominic Salazar wasn’t there. So, federal marshals went looking for him. Authorities say two marshals tracked Salazar to his Fontana home. He was sitting in a black sedan in his driveway.

He allegedly opened fire on the marshals after they blocked his path with their vehicle and moved to arrest him. The marshals returned fire. Salazar was pronounced dead at the scene. The marshals recovered a gun that apparently belonged to the suspect. The Fontana Police Department is investigating the shooting.

Federal transportation secretary delivers $67 million to LA County

Los Angeles County’s transportation agency will get almost $67 million from the federal economic stimulus package. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall has more on the transportation secretary’s announcement today.

Cheryl Devall: The money will push forward the Metro Gold Line extension into East L.A. In a statement, Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that by delivering the money now, his agency is providing a boost that’ll help keep the project moving while jumpstarting the economy and putting people back to work.

The grant under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will not increase the government’s commitment to the Gold Line project. But LaHood said L.A. County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority will get the money faster through the stimulus bill.

Next month – six months ahead of schedule – Metro expects to open the six-mile Gold Line extension with eight new stops from Little Tokyo to Atlantic and Pomona boulevards in East Los Angeles.

Santa Barbara fire chief expects winds to pick up this afternoon

Firefighters in Santa Barbara are trying to contain the two-mile-square Jesusita Fire. Winds may be cooperating at the moment, but Santa Barbara Fire Chief Tom Franklin says he expects those winds to pick up in the afternoon.

Tom Franklin: “We’re anticipating a similar weather pattern to yesterday. As you recall, yesterday morning was very similar to this – not much of a wind, pretty pleasant day. Right around 3 o’clock in the afternoon those winds kicked up.”

Forecasters expect winds to reach 30 miles-an-hour – with gusts of up to 60 miles-an-hour – later today.

Santa Barbara fire burns over 1,300 acres

Fire officials haven’t released official numbers on how many homes the fire in Santa Barbara has destroyed. Governor Schwarzenegger says they number in the dozens.

The fire has burned 1,300 acres and there’s still no containment. The winds did die down this morning, but Santa Barbara County Fire spokesman David Sadecki told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that they are supposed to pick up again later today.

David Sadecki: “Right now the fire’s kind of laying down. It’s more of a topography-driven fire. When the wind gets a hold of it it becomes a wind-driven fire – and that’s when it gets really erratic and gets really difficult for us to manage.”

Forecasters also expect low humidity again today so there’s a red flag warning in effect through tomorrow morning, in addition to a high wind warning. More than 5,400 homes are still under an evacuation order.

Dodgers' Manny Ramirez suspended 50 games for drug violation

The Dodgers could be without star outfielder Manny Ramirez until early July. Major League Baseball announced this morning it’s suspending Ramirez for 50 games because he violated the league’s drug policy.

Bill Shaikin was one of the writers who broke the story for the Los Angeles Times. He told KPCC’s Larry Mantle that baseball’s drug policy holds players responsible for taking any banned substance – even if they didn’t mean to.

Bill Shaikin: “There are ways where whether it’s somebody subscribing you a drug or you’re picking up a substance over the counter, you can call a hotline operated by baseball, you can check with your team trainer, and then can run it through the lab.They don’t have any tolerance for ‘Oh, I didn’t know I was putting this substance in my body.’”

It’s unclear which substance the left-fielder took. In a statement, Ramirez said his doctor prescribed a medication that contained a banned substance. Ramirez added that he did not take steroids. He pointed out that he has passed 15 other drug tests in recent years.

Ramirez apologized to the Dodgers and fans for the situation. The Dodgers announced his suspension a day after the team broke the major league record for the most consecutive home wins to start a season.

San Bernardino official's trial moved to Orange County

A former Inland Empire official accused of fraud will get his day his court – in Orange County. A San Bernardino Superior Court judge says Jim Erwin’s trial can take place in the new venue because of pre-trial publicity. KPCC’s Steven Cuevas has details.

Steven Cuevas: Jim Erwin is the former chief of staff for San Bernardino County supervisor Neil Derry. He resigned after his arrest two months ago on multiple perjury and fraud charges. Authorities say he took illegal gifts from a developer doing business with the county – then tried to cover his tracks.

Erwin brokered a multi-million dollar settlement between the county and a developer called Colonies Partners. Authorities say the developer rewarded him with lavish gifts including a Rolex watch, a private jet trip to New York, and adult escort services.

Erwin didn’t list those items in financial statements as required by law. He’s facing 10 felony counts of perjury and fraud. If a jury convicts him he could spend up to 11 years in state prison.

The judge in the case claims that publicity surrounding Erwin’s case – and a separate case involving disgraced former county assessor Bill Postmus – could taint a San Bernardino jury. Erwin worked for Postmus until the assessor’s office also became the focus of a widening criminal probe.

Wildfire burns homes in coastal Calif. enclave

By RAQUEL MARIA DILLON
Associated Press Writer

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — Fierce winds blew a wildfire into Southern California homes Wednesday, forcing thousands of people to flee as columns of smoke rose from a scenic coastal enclave.

TV news helicopters showed many homes ablaze in Santa Barbara, but the number could not immediately be determined because of thick smoke columns that scattered embers over the city and streamed out over the Pacific Ocean.

Huge mansions and humble homes alike were reduced to rubble, leaving palm trees swaying over gutted ruins.

The fire had burned 200 acres, or about one-third of a square mile, by midday when winds were calm, then was whipped by up to 50 mph gusts. By sunset, it was 500 acres - about three-fourths of a square mile - and winds were down to 25 mph, said Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki.

Authorities could not immediately estimate the number of lost structures but aerial footage showed five or more luxury homes burning along a crest-top road. Many flare-ups dotting the residential hills were apparently burning homes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said 5,430 homes were under mandatory evacuation. The estimated population of those homes was 13,575 people, he said.

Three Ventura County firefighters received minor to moderate burns and respiratory injuries when their fire engine was overtaken by flames as they tried to protect a structure, Ventura County Fire department spokesman Bill Nash said. Their fire engine was heavily damaged in the incident and an accident review team was en route to the scene to determine what had happened.

The three were taken by helicopter to the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles.

Mayor Marty Blum said other firefighters remained perilously close to the flames.

“We have got a couple firefighters in a real tentative situation up there surrounded by some flames, so we are hoping to get them out of there,” Blum told KABC-TV.

One firefighter suffered a head injury earlier in the day.

More than 800 firefighters were on the lines, and 20 more strike teams totaling about 1,300 firefighters were requested.

“The firefighters are picking houses and seeing if they can make a stand,” Sadecki said.

Authorities ordered 2,000 homes evacuated Wednesday afternoon, up from an earlier evacuation order of 1,200.

The blaze bore down on the city at frightening speed, said Chad Jenson, a food server at Giovanni’s Pizza.

“The sky is just deep orange and black, pretty much our whole hillside is going down,” Jenson said.

In a city that has experienced a number of wildfires, Jenson said this one was as close to the city center as any he had seen. Less than six months ago a fire destroyed more than 200 homes in Santa Barbara and neighboring Montecito, and in 1990, a blaze killed one person and destroyed 641 homes, apartments and other structures in the county.

Steve Pivato, a Goleta resident, said the homes in the threatened area cost at least $1 million. “There’s no shacks in that area,” he said.

Pivato said the smoke from the fire turned from gray to black as he drove home: “That’s the color when homes starts burning.”

Jason Coggins, a waiter at the Kyoto Japanese Restaurant in Santa Barbara, said several traffic lights went out, causing multiple fender benders and traffic problems, and that the air was thick with ash.

“It’s raining ash all the way down to the beach,” Coggins said.

Santa Barbara, which has about 90,000 residents, rises rapidly from the Pacific coastline on the south to the foothills of the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains to the north. It is sometimes subject to “sundowners” - strong winds that blow downslope through passes and canyons of the mountain range and offshore. The tourist destination is about 100 miles west of Los Angeles.

Elsewhere, firefighters were battling a blaze in rural southeastern Arizona that destroyed three houses near Sierra Vista on Tuesday and injured a man. The fire charred about 4,200 acres near Fort Huachuca, threatening about 50 homes in a subdivision. Containment was estimated at 15 percent Wednesday.

In southern New Mexico, a wildfire in the mountains near Timberon charred about 100 acres, burning at least three structures. State Forestry spokesman Dan Ware said firefighters hadn’t been able to confirm what types of buildings they were.

Fifteen residents have been evacuated, and 70 structures were threatened, Ware said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

California lobbies for high-speed rail funds from federal government

In Washington, it’s always about money. California’s Assembly Speaker and several colleagues traveled to Capitol Hill this week to talk about short-term loans – and about transportation dollars. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde says there could be good news for fans of high-speed rail.

Kitty Felde: This is the year Congress starts talking about how to spend the next big chunk of transportation dollars. California has a number of ideas about how to spend the money.

Several state lawmakers met this week with federal Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood to make their case. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass says she was pleasantly surprised to find the transportation secretary’s a big fan of a high-speed rail project that would connect Sacramento to San Diego.

Karen Bass: I mean I knew California was ahead in terms of high-speed rail. But I didn’t know that we were ahead of any other state in the union.

Felde: Last fall, California voters approved a $10 billion bond to pay for the first phase of the $40 billion project. Bass says no other state has put up that kind of money for high-speed rail projects.

But Congress will decide how to allocate transportation money. Bass says California may enjoy an advantage – Barbara Boxer heads the U.S. Senate committee that controls transportation dollars.

Assembly speaker lobbies federal government for loan guarantees

A few weeks ago, California’s state treasurer visited Washington, asking for federal guarantees on short-term loans. Now, state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass is there to follow up with the White House Budget Office and leaders on Capitol Hill. Bass says California always seems to experience a cash crunch in July, so it has to float short-term bonds to get by.

Karen Bass: “Because of the credit market and the economic crisis, this particular year, we actually need the federal government to co-sign on a loan for us, if you will, to guarantee our borrowing, so that the banks will be willing to lend.”

Bass compares this to asking a better-off relative to co-sign a car loan so the bank will know it’ll get its money back. She points that out California has never defaulted on its loans. The Assembly speaker says she’s hopeful, but so far, she doesn’t have that federal signature on the dotted line.

Cal Fire emergency expenditures increased in recent years

Wildfire season seems to arrive earlier every year. Officials with California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection say it’s also getting more expensive. Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that in recent years, the agency’s spent double the amount it usually budgets for emergencies.

Janet Upton: “Our state has seen more and more significant, large, complex, damaging firestorms, if you will, that almost reach the point of a natural disaster, and they are very, very difficult to control and to fight and, and thereby very expensive.”

Most of Cal Fire’s budget comes from the state’s general fund. The agency’s set aside $200 million for emergencies, but Upton said that’s not enough to keep up with the cost of fighting multiple, prolonged wildfires.

Exhibit at UC Riverside explores impacts of Agent Orange

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military used a chemical compound known as Agent Orange to strip vegetation from the terrain. Doctors have linked Agent Orange to birth defects and other health problems.

An exhibit at UC Riverside’s California Museum of Photography explores the chemical’s effects on the people and environment of Vietnam. It’s called “Agent Orange – Landscape, Body, Image.” UCR history professor David Biggs is one of the organizers.

David Biggs: “Often when you look at art or photography that describes Agent Orange there tends to be an attraction to the sort of grotesque effects, and that really takes the spotlight away from the people living with these problems who have really triumphed. We don’t want to emphasize the grotesque.”

The Agent Orange exhibit includes films, pop art, and Vietnam War-era photographs. It’s on view through August at UC Riverside’s California Museum of Photography.

LAUSD officials confirm first swine flu case in school district

The nearly 700,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District has reported its first probable case of swine flu. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Principal Ed Zubiate says a student at Fairfax High School became ill during the weekend with flu-like symptoms. Medical tests indicated that the student’s probably sick with the swine flu.

After weighing the federal government’s caution against closing schools and determining that the case was mild with no other people sick on campus, district officials decided to keep Fairfax High open. That’s a relief to Principal Zubiate.

Principal Ed Zubiate: We have a prescribed number of instructional days, that’s been decided on. And then once you do things like that – I mean, schools that are closed for a week, I don’t know what the implications of that are.

Guzman-Lopez: An Orange County campus closed for a week after a swine flu case surfaced. Its teachers will have to compensate for classroom days lost so they can fulfill state instructional requirements.

Cal Fire expresses concerns about potential budget-related cuts

Just as fire season is upon us, the statewide fire management agency faces the possibility of staff cuts. Cal Fire’s budget is up for review at the end of this month. The agency’s Janet Upton told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that officials are hoping for the best.

Janet Upton: “But in the interest of prudence do have to be prepared if cuts do come down the pike. That could be anywhere from 600 to 1,700 firefighters, 20 fire stations, 11 camps, maybe a Helitack base depending on the amount we are asked to cut.”

Governor Schwarzenegger has threatened to cut many state program budgets if voters don’t pass several revenue-related ballot measures this month.

Cal Fire has declared this Wildfire Awareness Week – and the fire that began last night in Santa Barbara County has heightened awareness of just how vulnerable the Southland is to the threat of fires.

3 found dead in apparent murder-suicide in Orange

Police are trying to nail down a motive for an apparent murder-suicide in Orange that left a man, his girlfriend, and the couple’s young son dead. KPCC’s Susan Valot says police found the three in their apartment yesterday.

Susan Valot: The manager of the Orange apartment called police when she realized she hadn’t seen 44-year-old Craig Rubin, his girlfriend Mary Striley, and their 3-year-old son for several days. Police entered the apartment the family had occupied for three years.

Officers discovered the three had all been shot to death with the small handgun they found near Rubin’s body. Authorities say they may have been dead for several days.

Police say Rubin left a suicide note that claimed responsibility for killing his girlfriend and son. Ruben apparently wrote in the note that his family was dealing with health and financial issues. But police say the motive’s not clear. They’re investigating it as a murder-suicide.

Lack of winds helps firefighters in Santa Barbara, but winds may pick up

The wind – or the lack of it – has helped firefighters in Santa Barbara County keep the Jesusita Fire clear of homes and other buildings. But County Fire Chief Tom Franklin says this afternoon’s weather forecast is worse than this morning’s.

Tom Franklin: “They’re looking at gusts of up to maybe 60 miles an hour to surface, later this afternoon. Lower relative humidities, below 20 percent, which is critical. So we’re not out of the woods, we have a lot of open line out there and a lot of work left to do.”

Nine hundred firefighters are battling the Jesusita wildfire. Fire officials haven’t given any containment figures.

Inspector general visits DC to learn rules of stimulus money

Governor Schwarzenegger’s watchdog for federal stimulus money has been on the job for just a week. Inspector General Laura Chick is visiting Washington, D.C. to learn the “dos and don’ts” of spending that money. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Kitty Felde: Inspector General Laura Chick doesn’t wear a uniform, but she’s learned that like the military, the federal government is big on rules and regulations, or “guidelines” as they’re called – 125 pages of guidelines so far. Chick says it’s her job to make sure California spends its $50 billion in stimulus money well.

Laura Chick: It’s a given that there’s going to be problems. It’s a given that there’s going to be a certain amount of bad folks committing fraud and actual criminal wrongdoing. And then there’s going to be sloppiness and mistakes. My goal is, on behalf of the governor and for the state of California, to try to find these problems as quickly as possible.

Felde: So far, Chick is the first state inspector general in the country who’s watching stimulus dollars. She says she’s already met with U.S. attorneys eager to prosecute any wrongdoing her office uncovers.

California's new inspector general Laura Chick visits Washington

California’s new inspector general is in Washington this week to review federal guidelines on how the state can spend its share of economic stimulus dollars. Inspector General Laura Chick says it’s a given that there will be problems. But she says it’s her job to find where money is misspent, tell California taxpayers, and deter future mistakes.

Laura Chick: “I look at this money as a huge opportunity. Not just first and foremost to rev up this economy of ours, but to restore some of the public’s trust and confidence in its government. And it will be the opposite if we mess up.”

Chick has also been meeting with inspectors general from various federal agencies to help establish ground rules about which watchdog keeps an eye on which project. California’s counting on at least $50 billion from the federal economic recovery act.

900 firefighters battle 200 acre wildfire in Santa Barbara foothills

About 900 firefighters are battling a nearly 200-acre wildfire in the Santa Barbara foothills.

Firefighters have been helped by a slight onshore flow that’s pushed the fire back up the hill. Crews were concerned that the fire would head down the hill toward homes in the Mission Canyon neighborhood.

Captain David Sadecki is a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County fire department. He says firefighters are constructing containment lines.

David Sadecki: “Because the fire’s kind of laying down and the wind is favorable right now, we’re able to go direct attack and start establishing a line between the unburned fuel and the fire.”

Evacuation orders are still in place for more than a thousand homes. The fire has not burned any structures.

But the National Weather Service has forecast strong winds for this afternoon. A high wind watch is expected to go into effect at 3 this afternoon for the Santa Barbara County area. Gusts could reach 60 miles an hour. Forecasters also expect low humidity.

Firefighters battle wildfire in Santa Barbara foothills

Water-dropping helicopters continue to attack a wildfire burning in the Santa Barbara foothills. The fire has burned nearly 200 acres. Santa Barbara fire chief Tom Franklin says calmer winds helped firefighters in their effort to contain the wildfire.

Tom Franklin: “The other thing working in our favor is the time of year. This is pretty early in the season so the fuel moisture is pretty high. Even though the fuel moisture is high, the reason it’s burning is there’s still a lot of dead fuel there, so it’s that dead fuel that’s really taking off.”

Officials have ordered the occupants of about 1,000 homes to evacuate. It’s not clear how many actually did. The fire is about half a mile from the closest home.

Fire officials are concerned about forecasts of stronger winds later today. The National Weather Service says a high wind watch will go into effect at 3 this afternoon for the Santa Barbara County area. Gusts could reach 50 miles an hour.

LAUSD superintendent moves to stop planned teacher strike

L.A. Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines is moving forward with plans to block a planned one-day strike next week by the district’s 48,000 member teachers union. Contract language prevents the union from striking. At a news conference at Fairfax High School, Cortines said he respects why the union wants to protest planned teacher layoffs.

Ramon Cortines: “I think that the union has the opportunity to meet and negotiate one furlough day on a non-educational day that would make a statement and would not be disruptive to one of the most important areas, the testing time in this district.”

State and national testing’s scheduled at some schools during the planned strike. Fairfax High’s principal predicted that many of his 11th and 12th graders wouldn’t show up to school if teachers went on strike for a day.

The teachers’ union rep at Fairfax High said that Cortines misses the point – and that the school district should rescind all teacher layoffs and class size increases the school board approved last month. The superintendent did announce this morning that he’s withdrawing layoff notices the district sent to hundreds of math and science teachers.

First probable swine flu case found in LA Unified School District

This morning administrators confirmed the first probable swine flu case in the L.A. Unified School District. A student at Fairfax High School fell ill early this week and was out yesterday.

Medical tests showed the student a likely carrier of the H1N1 virus. Kimberly Uyeda, head of student medical services for the district, said L.A. Unified considered closing the campus based on several factors including:

Kimberly Uyeda: “Is there evidence that there is spread of the disease among people in the school, so we look and see if there’s flu-like illness among other people, either staff or students in the school, and we’ve noticed no increase in symptoms, or increases in illnesses or absences. So we’ve determined that closing down the school at this point would not make any difference in the spread of the disease.”

L.A. Unified deployed workers to Fairfax High to clean the school. The district’s also working with county health officials to monitor any other possible swine flu cases. Officials urge parents to keep their children at home if they’ve come down with flu-like symptoms.

LAUSD goes to court to stop 1-day teachers strike

The L.A. Unified School District’s fired the first salvo against the one-day strike planned by its teachers union next week. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: In a statement, Superintendent Ramon Cortines called the planned strike “dangerous, illegal, and irresponsible.” He said school district lawyers will ask state regulators to stop the action.

Last week on the steps of L.A. Unified headquarters, leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles announced that members had approved a one-day strike to protest teacher layoffs. The school board approved layoffs weeks earlier to close a looming budget deficit.

The union had urged other cuts. The superintendent and board of education argued that union member furloughs and pay cuts would be the only way to avoid eliminating jobs.

The one-day strike is a violation of the UTLA’s contract, and union leaders said they were up front with members about the seriousness of the vote. The union argues that laying off thousands of teachers would increase class sizes and cause serious short-term and long-term disruptions to many students in the school district.

Newport Beach Episcopal church takes property case to Supreme Court

A Newport Beach congregation that split from the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese wants the U.S. Supreme Court to decide who owns the parish’s property. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more.

Frank Stoltze: St. James Church left the diocese five years ago after the Episcopal Church consecrated a gay bishop in New Hampshire. The congregation took church property with it.

In January, the state supreme court ruled that the property belonged to the Episcopal diocese. Later, the court modified its opinion and effectively sent the case back to an Orange County trial judge.

Lawyers for St. James say they’ll ask the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the issue. Chapman University Law School dean John Eastman, who’s representing St. James, said the question of who owns church property should be settled nationwide before local cases go to trial.

Three other breakaway parishes in Southern California face similar issues. They’re All Saints of Long Beach, St. David’s in North Hollywood, and St. Luke’s of the Mountain Church in La Crescenta.

City of LA moves to lay off 400 workers

The Los Angeles City Council today took the first step toward laying off hundreds of city employees. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports that the council took the action despite pleas from the city’s labor unions.

Frank Stoltze: For two decades, Eva Mitnick’s worked as an L.A. city librarian.

Eva Mitnick: I want to implore and urge the City Council to not go forward with plans for layoffs until all other options have been fully explored.

Stoltze: Labor unions prefer early retirement packages to layoffs. The council’s chief legislative analyst Gerry Miller said the city’s $530 million budget gap is too big to avert job cuts.

Gerry Miller: I see no scenario in which this wouldn’t have to happen.

Stoltze: Councilman Bill Rosendahl joined all but two of his colleagues in voting to eliminate 1,600 city positions and begin the process of laying off as many as 400 city workers.

Bill Rosendahl: The rubber has hit the road, folks. We are now in a very serious situation.

Stoltze: Unless the mayor can squeeze concessions like unpaid furloughs from city unions, the council may be forced to lay off thousands of city employees.

LA City Council votes to extend billboard moratorium

The L.A. City Council voted today to extend a temporary moratorium on certain types of billboards. KPCC’s Brian Watt says the vote is a sign a permanent ban is in the works.

Brian Watt: The billboards in question are the ones that change images and flash bright lights and what’s known as supergraphics – giant signs that wrap around several floors of buildings. Westside Councilman Bill Rosendahl says they create visual blight, and, in some cases, raise safety concerns.

Bill Rosendahl: Can you imagine if you were in one of those buildings and all of a sudden there’s a piece of canvas in front of your window, and you can’t even look out? Can you imagine if you’re driving your car on the freeway and you’re blasted by one of them? We have some real problems with this.

Watt:So, Rosendahl says, the Council is crafting a permanent ban on such billboards in most parts of the city. Billboard companies have filed suit against Los Angeles. The council’s vote came a day after a federal judge barred the city from taking action against 18 “supergraphics” while the lawsuit moves through court.

Poor economy makes boat slips available at Marina Del Rey

Not too long ago, boat owners would have to wait years for slip at Marina Del Rey. Now the tough economy’s made hundreds of slips available. Dusty Crane with Los Angeles County’s Department of Beaches and Harbors says there are plenty of good reasons to live on a boat.

Dusty Crane: “Number one, it’s beautiful. Number two, it’s safe. We try to keep it as clean and manicured. I mean, it’s like resort living.”

But, the seafaring life isn’t for everyone, Crane says – especially not for fans of walk-in closets.

Crane: “You’re compact. There’s no extra thrills to it. You have to be mindful of, you know, your storage. Just you know, storms; you’re constantly making sure your boat is in good condition.”

A slip for a 25-foot boat costs about $300 a month – that includes some amenities and services. Utilities cost extra.

LA City Council votes to begin laying off up to 400 city workers

The Los Angeles City Council today voted to begin the process of laying off as many as 400 city workers. Chief legislative analyst Gerry Miller said the layoffs are necessary to address a growing budget deficit. Councilman Dennis Zine’s argued that the city should trim administrative fat first.

Councilman Dennis Zine: “We do a lot of fluff in the city! We don’t need to do all the fluff!”
Gerry Miller: “Mr. Zine, that’s exactly what the budget and finance committee is doing. But let me remind you, we have a $530 million gap for next year. What is before you today is $80 million of that. You are going to have an incredible problem in front of you in a couple of weeks.”

That’s when the council’s scheduled to consider hundreds of millions more dollars in budget cuts. The mayor’s warned that L.A. will have to lay off thousands of city workers if labor unions don’t agree to forgo pay raises and take unpaid furloughs. Labor leaders are pushing for early retirements to reduce the number of layoffs.

City Council votes to extend digital billboard/supergraphic moratorium

The Los Angeles City Council voted today to extend a citywide moratorium on new digital billboards and giant signs that wrap around several floors of buildings. The temporary moratorium’s now set to expire on June 24. Westside councilman Bill Rosendahl says the council is giving itself time to craft a permanent ban.

Bill Rosendahl: “I’m very uncomfortable rushing this kind of legislation. We’ve been assaulted dramatically by billboards. You know, in my district, 563 have popped up in the last few years. Twenty of them have flipped to digital and 30 of them were illegal.”

The council’s vote followed a day after a federal judge issued a temporary injunction barring the city from taking action against giant billboards on 18 buildings in the city. The advertising company that installed those billboards said it did so before the moratorium took effect last December.

Comic actor Dom DeLuise, 75, dies

The late Dom DeLuise was a ubiquitous comic presence on TV and in the movies for decades. Entertainment Tonight film critic and historian Leonard Maltin told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that DeLuise left laughs everywhere he went.

Leonard Maltin: “He worked with Gary Moore and Carol Burnett. And then for the West Coast, he was on the Dean Martin Show. And these places gave him, you know, a platform; a place to do what he did, and also to be versatile. I mean he could sing; he could dance. He could do anything you asked him to.”

The well-rounded comedian also was a frequent guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and he appeared in movies with Mel Brooks, Burt Reynolds, and the Muppets. DeLuise died at a Santa Monica hospital yesterday after a long illness. He was 75 years old.

Youth baseball program helps keep kids out of trouble

RBI stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner cities. The youth sports program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer. About 4,000 kids around the globe participate.

Monique Zevada of John Marshall High School in Los Angeles is one of them. Latin jazz artist Louis Cruz Beltran presented the 17-year-old senior with an annual RBI award for the softball player who best exemplifies the organization’s mission.

Louis Cruz Beltran: “I get a great satisfaction of being a mentor because people have mentored me and that’s the bottom line. How can anyone receive something and then someone asks you for something and you do not pass it on? That would be a very selfish act.”

During an assembly in the Marshall auditorium, student Monique Zevada said mentors in the sports program helped her change her attitude toward life and school. A few years ago she was starting fights; now she’s planning to go to college.

South Orange County officials hold water conservation meetings

It’s warm and dry… but water’s on the minds of officials in San Juan Capistrano. The city’s begun holding a series of meetings about water conservation. KPCC Orange County Reporter Susan Valot says the latest meeting is tonight at San Juan Capistrano’s city hall.

Susan Valot: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is cutting the amount of water it provides to the region by 10 percent. Because of that – and California’s drought – San Juan Capistrano leaders later this month will consider whether to impose mandatory water rationing, in the form of a Stage 2 Water Alert. The alert could also mean no washing down sidewalks and no washing your car at home. Francie Kennedy is the city’s water conservation coordinator.

Francie Kennedy: In 1991, we were under mandatory rationing. And everybody had to turn off their decorative fountain. Nobody could refill their pool. Nobody could wash their car. That’s how it was. Water is so essential, we have to let go of some of those uses.

Valot: Kennedy says it’s not that bad this time around – at least not yet. She says the city can pick and choose which water-saving measures to put in place.

She says the solution comes down to education. She’ll be tagging doors with notes when she sees someone wasting water. And the city will use a database to track people who use a lot of water – and offer to send someone out to their home help them figure out how they can use less.

CSU to vote on 10 percent fee increase

California State University officials are set to consider a proposal to raise student fees by 10 percent. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: If Cal State trustees approve the plan at their Long Beach meeting next week, undergraduate fees will go up $306, to just over $3,300 a year. The increase would raise about 127 million much-needed dollars for Cal State’s budget in the coming fiscal year.

The economy’s in meltdown, Cal State Chancellor Charles Reed said, and the university urgently needs the money to plug the holes Sacramento budget cuts left. Reed said the 23-campus system is working hard to provide financial aid to the neediest of Cal State’s 460,000 students.

Cal State’s professors’ union is opposed to the proposed fee increase. Fees have more than doubled in seven years, the California Faculty Association said. Its leaders argue that making it harder to get a college diploma can only hurt California’s economy.

City Council votes to approve Laurel Canyon Commercial Corridor project

The Los Angeles City Council and Community Redevelopment Agency gave a big push today to a plan to redevelop the North Hollywood area around the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Victory boulevards. They voted jointly to approve the Laurel Canyon Commercial Corridor Project. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel says the area has suffered too long from blight.

Wendy Greuel: “You drive down the street and you think, ‘What’s happening? Is anything ever going to occur on this site?’ And what we did today is say ‘Yes, we are moving forward to improve the neighborhood and create commerce there in our neighborhood and Valley Plaza.’”

The 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed several buildings along the corridor. The redevelopment plan would restore the Valley Plaza shopping center with a Macy’s department store, a Target, a 16-screen movie theater, and other shops and eateries.

Longtime high school football coach Glenn Bell, 61, dies

A longtime football coach and teacher in Los Angeles died yesterday – his first day of retirement from almost 40 years with the L.A. Unified School District. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall has more on the life of Glenn Bell.

Cheryl Devall: As a teacher and a coach, Glenn Bell demanded much from his young charges. He was known to say, “I want higher standards; average is unacceptable.” Failing a course meant expulsion from his teams.

His varsity Dorsey Dons won the L.A. City Section 3A football championship 26 years ago. Bell coached most recently at the Santee Education Complex in South L.A., and also over the years at his high school alma mater Manual Arts, at Crenshaw and at Palisades.

He worked with young people at the Pacific Lodge Boys Home and at L.A. County’s Camp Kilpatrick juvenile detention facility. Last year, the California Interscholastic Federation presented him with its Model Coach Award.

Glenn Bell, who played football for East Los Angeles College and Whittier College, was 61 years old when he died of an apparent heart attack. Former players and colleagues were organizing a tribute dinner to him on June 6th.

Low home prices mean cost of building houses could exceed selling price

Home prices have dropped so low in some areas that the cost of building the houses exceeds the potential selling price. Richard Green, director of USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate, spoke about that with KPCC’s “AirTalk.”

Richard Green: “I was speaking to a group of homebuilders from around the country yesterday at a big conference in Las Vegas, and I asked them to raise their hands if they were selling their houses for less than it cost them to build them, and I would say half the people in the room raised their hand and said that they were.”

Given that, Green says, it’s hard to see how prices can go much lower. In San Bernardino County, the median home sale price in March dropped to $160,000. That’s down about 43 percent from the previous year.

The plunge led one developer to cut its losses and tear down 16 units in a partially-built project in Victorville. Demolishing the houses was cheaper than finishing and marketing them.

Republican state assemblyman from Hesperia facing recall

An effort to recall state assemblyman Anthony Adams is underway. The Republican lawmaker from Hesperia is under fire for his vote in favor of the recent state budget deal. KPCC’s Steven Cuevas says the backlash is coming from fellow Republicans.

Steven Cuevas: That’s because the $41 billion state budget compromise included tax increases that Republicans vehemently opposed. Adams says he knew that a vote for the budget package would put his political career on the line. He was right.

In March San Bernardino County Republican Party forced him out as its chief. State GOP officials also voted to withhold campaign cash from Adams and five other Republican lawmakers who’d supported the budget deal.

Adams’ opponents have five months to place the recall effort on the ballot by collecting more than 35,000 signatures from registered voters. One of the organizers is former state assemblyman Richard Mountjoy. He may run for the 59th Assembly District seat if there is a recall election. That district stretches from San Bernardino County’s high desert to the L.A. city limits.

Fewer greenhouse gases created shipping Asian goods through West Coast

Containers of goods coming from Asia through U.S. ports may leave a lighter carbon footprint when they dock in Western harbors rather than Eastern ones. KPCC’s Molly Peterson has more on a new study.

Molly Peterson: Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore have long sent cargo ships to New York through the Panama Canal before they transfer goods to Midwestern cities by rail. But a new report commissioned by harbor officials in Seattle finds that route can create more greenhouse gas – and contribute more to global warming.

Consultants in Northern California compared cargo’s journey from Asia to the middle of the U.S. on different routes. They found that containers might spend more time on rails, if ships dock at Los Angeles and send goods to Memphis – but they’ll spend less time on the open ocean, where seagoing vessels burn dirtier fuel.

Pacific Northwest ports like Seattle and Vancouver are greener choices to send goods to Chicago, the consultants say – while Oakland, L.A., and Long Beach offer a less-polluting option for goods bound to Memphis and points further south. Still, in a tough economy, with cargo volumes down, shippers are looking for the cheapest way to move goods, not necessarily the cleanest.

Top LA County officials lobbying on Capitol Hill this week

Los Angeles County officials are making their annual lobbying visit to Washington this week. Don Knabe, chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, says they’re fighting for the county’s share of federal economic stimulus money.

Don Knabe: “Well, we have all five supervisors are in town and we also have a majority of our department heads. Sheriff Baca’s gonna be here. I think District Attorney Steve Cooley’s gonna be here because obviously that’s another big issue, reimbursement for the undocumented in our jails. It’s a very, very important trip. So we don’t take it lightly.”

Knabe also paid a call on a Washington state congressman to rally support for Boeing’s C-17 cargo plane. Parts for the aircraft are built in Seattle and also in Knabe’s Long Beach district. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the military already has enough of the workhorse planes.

Unemployment varies widely across LA County

We’ll find out the latest state and local unemployment numbers in a couple of weeks. Los Angeles County’s jobless rate in March was the highest in 33 years. But KPCC’s business analyst Mark Lacter says unemployment varies widely across the county:

Mark Lacter: “Now, there is always going to be a division of haves and have-nots – and even in good times the unemployment rate is higher in lower-income lower-educated communities than it is elsewhere. But the big concern is that even after the recession is officially over – that’ll probably be the next few months – unemployment will remain high well into 2010 and perhaps 2011.”

Lacter says that’s because businesses won’t be able to expand or may be unwilling to do so. He adds that the economy is likely to go through some fundamental changes. That means some jobs may not exist in a few years.

The latest local jobless numbers showed an unemployment rate of 4 percent in Malibu, while Compton’s rate was over 19 percent.

DWP institutes new limits on water use

As the Southland enters its fourth summer of drought, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is introducing new water conservation measures on June 1st. One limits outdoor sprinkler use to Mondays and Thursdays before 9 o’clock in the morning.

The other institutes shortage-year rates on customers who don’t conserve. Their water rates could rise almost 45 percent if they don’t limit consumption. KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” asked department chief David Nahai whether the utility’s serious about enforcement.

David Nahai: “With 5,400 calls answered and 2,800 citations issued already, yes, we mean it. And we mean it because we really don’t have a choice, and even beyond these measures Patt, we’ve got to look long term to the future of the city.”

The drought and endangered species concerns have caused agencies that direct water to the city from the Sacramento and Colorado rivers to decrease the amount available to Los Angeles.

California political leaders go to DC to meet with federal government

The Washington Nationals are in Los Angeles this week to play the Dodgers. Turns out that quite a few Angelenos are visiting Washington this week to try and score some federal dollars. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde reports.

Kitty Felde: This is the annual visit for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. County officials will make the obligatory calls on Capitol Hill and meet with Obama administration officials. On the agenda: the reopening of Martin Luther King Hospital, federal response to the swine flu, and preserving funding for Boeing’s C-17, built in Long Beach.

Also in town this week: California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and the state’s new inspector general Laura Chick. Bass is looking for more federal investment in California. Chick is seeking guidance on ways to track the federal stimulus money already sent to the state. The Californians had better bring their umbrellas. The forecast is for rain and thunderstorms through the weekend.

Swine flu concerns fade over weekend

People with body aches, fever, and coughs seem less fearful about catching the swine flu than they were a week ago. To see what that means for Southland emergency rooms, KPCC’s Patricia Nazario visited White Memorial Medical Center in East Los Angeles.

Patricia Nazario: About a dozen people sat in the waiting room to see a doctor. That’s about half the number of patients who waited up to six hours last week when the swine flu outbreak started.

Dr. Brian Johnston: There were a lot of people who didn’t have a lot of symptoms, but were anxious.

Nazario: Dr. Brian Johnston runs White Memorial’s emergency room. He said his staff usually sees about a 100 patients a day. So far this week, Johnston said, the count’s still up by about 10 percent.

Johnston:Pretty remarkable, in the space of 24 hours, the level of anxiety seemed to drop, and we saw fewer people.

Nazario: There’s no clear indication why swine flu anxiety seemed to wane over the weekend. Johnston still advises his patients to keep their hands clean with anti-bacterial soap. Public health officials have said that despite an apparent lull in new swine flu cases, the virus could come back with a vengeance in the fall.

Compton Unified athletic director charged with theft

Authorities have charged the athletic director of the Compton Unified School District with grand theft and forgery. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall says he allegedly helped a high school hoops coach defraud the district of $15,000.

Cheryl Devall: The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office says the athletic director, Ernest Carr, faked a letter from the principal of Dominguez High School in Compton that authorized the school’s basketball coach to deposit a check into his personal account.

The check for $15,000 was from athletic wear company Nike – it was made out to the Compton Unified School District. School police arrested Carr last month. He’s free on $20,000 bail and his arraignment is scheduled for Thursday.

After Compton police investigated the check incident, prosecutors named Carr as a codefendant on theft and forgery charges with the basketball coach, Russell Otis. Otis has pleaded not guilty to an array of other charges, including burglary and child molestation.

The coach is on leave from his job. He’s out on $75,000 bail before his next scheduled court hearing later this month.

White Memorial Hospital seeing less flu-related anxiety

Los Angeles County hospitals have posted signs around their emergency rooms advising patients with flu symptoms to please put on a mask.

White Memorial Medical Center in East L.A. has almost doubled its daily patient count since the start of the swine flu outbreak a week ago. Emergency room director Dr. Brian Johnston says the extra demand has required a lot from resources and staff.

Dr. Brian Johnston: “”We often hold patients in the emergency department ‘cause there’s no bed upstairs. It put quite a strain on us. We brought in extra people. We brought in physicians, nurses, and clerks, and lab, and extra. All up and down the line.”

Johnston says patient anxiety is starting to decline. He says his staff has processed some swabs to detect swine flu, but none have come back positive – so hospital workers haven’t prescribed any anti-viral medications.

State health officials don't plan widespread swine flu school closings

State public health officials don’t plan widespread school closings in response to swine flu, Dr. Gil Chavez, infectious diseases deputy with the California Department of Public Health, told reporters in Sacramento.

Dr. Gil Chavez: “We want to give local officials as much discretion as we can, but certainly we will continue to revisit those recommendations as we learn more about the numbers.”

Individual schools in Orange and San Bernardino counties have closed after students became ill from the virus. In Mexico, where the government ordered all schools to close as a precaution against the strongest strain of swine flu, students are scheduled to return to class on Wednesday.

California shifts to less swine flu testing, but more focused

California’s recorded 69 confirmed and 121 probable swine flu cases in the state. Public health officials say 97 percent of probable cases end up as confirmed. The state’s disease control authorities are responding, says Dr. Bonnie Sorensen of the California Department of Public Health.

Dr. Bonnie Sorensen: “We are shifting our strategy, kind of transiting to less testing across the state but more focused attention on who needs to be tested.”

Sorensen says public health agencies are going to focus testing on counties with a lot of cases, and to test people with severe cases or who’ve checked into hospitals with the flu. While the strain of swine flu that’s reached California is relatively mild, Sorensen urged county officials to keep monitoring – especially if new cases surface in schools or prisons where the virus can infect large numbers of people. The state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has banned visits to inmates from relatives and volunteers as a precaution against spreading swine flu.

Hire LA's Youth campaign helps thousands of youth find jobs

A pot of federal stimulus dollars will help the city of Los Angeles place thousands more young people in jobs over the next year. KPCC’s Brian Watt explains.

Brian Watt: The Hire L.A.’s Youth campaign helps people from 14 to 24 find summer and full-time jobs. The program’s placed more than 28,000 young Angelenos since it started three years ago.

This year, the city’s receiving $20 million from the federal economic stimulus package. That’ll support more than 7,000 additional youth positions. To thank the Obama Administration, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, city officials, and hundreds of young people on the steps of City Hall.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: “You will never forget that first job. You know, struggling with ‘How do I do it?’ then realizing that you can do it. Then, the light bulb coming on and saying ‘Maybe I got to go to school to improve my skills.”

The city’s general fund already supports 2,000 youth jobs. The private sector, the L.A. Unified School District, and the Los Angeles Community College District have pledged to hire another 7,000 young people.

Nonprofit restocks supplies as swine flu fears subside

Public health experts say fear of the swine flu spiked demand for care at neighborhood clinics last week. Damon Taugher of Direct Relief USA, a non-profit medical supplier to clinics, says four times more patients than usual have seen clinic doctors in recent days. He says that as fears subside, his organization is restocking supplies.

Damon Taugher: “We’ve made a series of requests to our corporate donor network, including companies like Johnson & Johnson, to get the other items we hope to have early this week. Things like thermometers and gloves and gowns.”

Los Angeles County public health officials have confirmed at least three swine flu cases. Orange County has eight probable and two confirmed cases.

Riverside County reported two confirmed cases of swine flu yesterday. Public health authorities have warned that even though the flu seems to be tapering off now, it could come back with a vengeance in the fall.

3-year-old boy abducted over weekend still missing

Investigators are trying to figure out why two gunmen broke into a home in San Bernardino during the weekend and took a 3-year-old boy. The boy is still missing.

Lieutenant Rick Ells of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department says the gunmen ransacked the home and tied up the boy’s mother and siblings, before they took off with 3-year-old Briant Rodriguez.

Briant Rodriguez: “The father was at work at the time. This doesn’t appear to be any sort of custody or familial abduction. The family has been unable to provide any sort of motive for this or identity to the people responsible.”

Ells says the men also took money and other items from the home. One of the siblings was able to free himself and untie his mother and siblings. Authorities along the U.S.-Mexico border have been put on alert. FBI investigators are also helping with the investigation.

Prisons suspend family visits after inmate comes down with flu

An inmate with the flu has prompted correction officials in California to suspend family visits to state prisons. KPCC’s Julie Small reports.

Julie Small: Prison officials say an inmate at the Centinela State Prison in Imperial County appears to have the swine flu. That’s why they’re suspending all visits to all of California’s prisons, youth and community facilities. That means family members and any volunteers who run art and education programs in those places won’t be allowed in.

A spokesperson for the federal receiver in charge of prison medical care said although officials have only found only one suspected case of swine flu, the overcrowded conditions inside prisons increase the likelihood that the influenza would spread fast among California’s 170,000 inmates. That would also pose a threat to the 68,000 people who work in prisons.

Swine flu panic depletes personnel

Clinics throughout Los Angeles County are seeing more patients concerned about swine flu, even as the number of confirmed cases remains low. Direct Relief International, a medical aid organization, has been shipping masks, hand sanitizer, and gowns to clinicians around the globe.

The non-profit’s president Thomas Tighe says L.A. County clinics haven’t needed supplies. But he adds that patient panic has depleted personnel.

Thomas Tighe: ” An increased demand just to be seen. That translates into mandatory overtime for workers and costs that the private-nonprofit safety net clinics didn’t necessarily budget for.”

Tighe says Direct Relief International is trying to stockpile supplies from corporate donors – and to get ahead of the next flu outbreak.

Authorities search for 3-year-old kidnapped boy

Authorities are looking for a 3-year-old boy taken from a San Bernardino home over the weekend. Lieutenant Rick Ells of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department says two gunmen broke into the home yesterday afternoon and tied up the boy’s mom and four siblings.

Rick Ells: “They ransacked the home – they took a small amount of currency and some personal property, and when they left and they took the 3-year-old, Briant Rodriguez, with them.”

One of the children, an 8-year-old, was able to free himself – then he untied his mom and siblings. Investigators are still trying to figure out the motive for the kidnapping. The father was at work at the time. Ells says it does not appear to be about a custody dispute.

Heritage Foundation reacts to Obama tax plan

The Obama administration’s proposal to close certain tax loopholes is raising the hackles of business allies. Curtis Dubay of the Heritage Foundation told KPCC’s “AirTalk” that the plan would make it more difficult for companies to compete in the global marketplace.

Curtis Dubay: “We should keep in mind that the United States is the only country in the world that taxes businesses on their worldwide income. Every other country taxes businesses on the income that they earn only within their borders. And that’s the way it should be – we should only tax income where it’s earned.”

At present, multinational companies based in the United States are taxed only on the international profits they return to this country. The president’s economists figure that the change in policy would deliver more than $200 billion in tax revenue to the federal government during the next decade – if Congress approves it.

Former congressman and cabinet secretary Jack Kemp dies

The late congressman and cabinet secretary Jack Kemp developed many of his guiding philosophies in his native Los Angeles. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall has more on the life of Kemp, who died late Saturday at age 73.

Cheryl Devall: On his way to quarterbacking for the Occidental College team and, later, for the L.A. Chargers, Jack Kemp learned how to play fair across racial lines. With the Buffalo Bills and as a leader of the American Football League Players Association, he supported his black teammates’ successful effort to move the 1965 all-star game to Houston as a protest against segregation in the original host city, New Orleans.

Kemp continued to promote racial inclusion during nine terms in Congress, as Housing and Urban Development secretary and as running mate to Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole in 1996. Jack Kemp embraced another philosophy – supply-side economics – based on the teaching of USC economist Arthur Laffer.

Thirty years ago in Los Angeles, Kemp organized a seminar to share what he’d learned with then-presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan. Republicans credit Kemp as one of the greatest influences on conservative economic policy.