Diberdayakan oleh Blogger.

Popular Posts Today

Porn coalition lifts industry-wide moratorium on filming

Written By kolimtiga on Kamis, 29 Agustus 2013 | 12.57

An adult-film trade group has lifted an industry-wide production moratorium that was prompted by an actress' positive HIV test.

Free Speech Coalition, a Canoga Park-based association for the industry, said Wednesday that all on-screen partners of the affected actress, who uses the screen name Cameron Bay, had been tested and cleared and that a panel of three doctors concluded that it was safe to resume filming.

The coalition called the moratorium last Wednesday after the actress received a preliminary positive test result, later confirmed by follow-up testing. Bay publicly identified herself and said she was cooperating with medical personnel to help notify her partners.

The industry is considering increasing the frequency of required HIV testing for performers from once every 28 days to once every 14 days. A medical advisory panel will consider the measure later this week.

Any performer who has tested clean since Aug. 19 — about three weeks after Bay last worked on camera — is "safe and available to work," the trade group said in a statement.

It was unclear how widely studios adhered to the weeklong moratorium or how much revenue they lost. Free Speech Coalition Chief Executive Diane Duke said many companies had canceled shoots — in one case after paying $900 to fly a performer out to film.

The coalition maintained that there was no evidence Bay had contracted the virus on set, but others said the case shows the need for condoms to be mandated in adult films.

Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton), who introduced legislation that would require condoms in adult films shot anywhere in California, issued a statement calling the industry's lifting of the moratorium "dangerous and irresponsible."

"The fact is, it can take up to three months for a person with HIV to test positive," he said. Duke said the three-month window was for older testing technology, and the Aptima HIV test now used detects HIV in seven to 10 days.

Los Angeles County voters last year passed a measure requiring adult film actors to wear condoms on set.

The county's public health department has launched an investigation into the circumstances of the recent HIV infection. Cal/OSHA, the state agency overseeing workplace safety, is weighing whether to begin an investigation as well.

Adult film producers Vivid Entertainment and Califa Productions, together with performers Kayden Kross and Logan Pierce, sued the county in January to prevent implementation of the condom requirement.

Earlier this month, a U.S. District judge found that the condom mandate did not violate the 1st Amendment right to free speech, but imposed restrictions on how the rule can be enforced. Among other things, his ruling barred inspections of adult-film sets without a search warrant.

Vivid appealed the ruling on the 1st Amendment issue. A county Department of Public Health spokesman said the agency is evaluating how to enforce the regulation in light of the ruling.

The most recent porn-industry moratorium related to a sexually transmitted disease was implemented in August 2012 as a result of a syphilis outbreak.


12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Pass rates up for online classes at San Jose State

Students who took online classes in a summer program at San Jose State University performed better than those who took the same online classes in the spring, a result that is likely to provide a boost to a highly touted but problem-plagued collaboration between the campus and an online provider.

In new results released Wednesday, 83% of summer students in elementary statistics earned a C or better compared with 50.5% of those in the spring; and 72.6% of summer college algebra students made the grade compared with 25.4% of those in the spring.

The pass rates for remedial math improved somewhat, reaching nearly 30% for summer students compared with 24% for those in the spring.

Students in two new summer classes also fared well, with 67% earning a C or better in general psychology and 70% achieving that level in computer programming.

Officials said they were encouraged by the developments, especially after the disappointing spring results raised a host of critical questions about the highly watched project with Udacity, a Mountain View-based online course provider. Each of the for-credit classes cost $150 with no state or federal support.

For right or wrong, online education is seen by many as a money-saver that will allow greater access to California's public colleges and universities.

Many observers of the San Jose effort suggested that pressure from such supporters as Gov. Jerry Brown resulted in a hastily assembled project and unprepared students. In addition, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose foundation is helping to fund the project, was intent on including math classes.

Udacity and the San Jose campus announced jointly in July that they were pulling the classes for the fall to fine-tune many aspects of the project.

Critics were ready to declare the online experiment a failure too early and did not understand how innovation works, said Udacity co-founder and Chief Executive Sebastian Thrun.

"The way these new ideas work is that it takes multiple iterations before you get there," Thrun said in an interview. "It's not perfect and we have a lot to learn, but I'm happy about it."

A major factor in the differing results was the makeup of the students themselves, Thrun said. Less than half of the spring group was enrolled in San Jose State; many taking the classes were local high school students from low-income areas. Of the 2,091 students who enrolled in summer classes, 71% were from other states or foreign countries and about 11% were enrolled in one of Cal State's 23 campuses.

More students dropped out of the summer classes than the spring after officials relaxed the rules for withdrawing. The overall retention rate dropped to about 60% for the summer classes compared with 83% for the spring.

San Jose State instructors also retooled their approach for summer students, being more upfront about expectations and doing more to engage students, said Provost Ellen Junn.

Cay Horstmann, a computer science professor who designed the introduction to programming course, said the online format was a good fit for the class, which is always in demand and must turn away students.

However, he said, about 15,000 other students who didn't pay or receive credit participated on the Udacity platform, which clogged up the discussion board for the enrolled students.

Further, he said that he and his colleagues sometimes had to resist attempts by Udacity to overly simplify course material and hand out answers so that students wouldn't get frustrated.

The final grades mirrored those of students on campus, he said.

"It was a great experience and I would hope it would continue," said Horstmann.


12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Rim fire containment expected by Sept. 10

GROVELAND, Calif. — The Rim fire should be fully contained by Sept. 10, a fire official said Wednesday, as lower temperatures, higher humidity and lighter winds allow crews to make headway against the sprawling blaze that has swept into Yosemite National Park.

"That's given us a greater opportunity to get in there and strengthen our containment lines," said Daniel Berlant, spokesman of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Officials have said they expect it to burn until snow begins to fall.

Firefighters have battled the stubborn blaze for nearly two weeks and have it 30% contained. The effort has cost at least $39.2 million and required some 4,500 firefighters. More than 192,500 acres — about 301 square miles — have burned, causing three injuries and destroying 111 structures, including 11 homes.

But the rate the fire is spreading has slowed in the last two days. Last week, the fire burned 50,000 acres in one 24-hour span and 30,000 acres in another, Berlant said. But in the last two days, the rate of spread has slowed to 10,000 acres one day and 5,000 on another.

On Wednesday morning, officials employed an unmanned drone aircraft for the first time against the Rim fire.

A remotely piloted MQ-1 plane belonging to the California Air National Guard began flying a 20-hour mission Wednesday morning, alerting crews to a spot fire and providing a more comprehensive fire map.

The drone, about the size of a small Cessna, takes off from the Victorville airport and is operated from March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, said Lt. Col. Tom Keegan of the National Guard.

Unmanned aircraft have been used sparingly on fires but are gaining favor as a cheaper, more efficient tool for fire bosses to better understand where fires are going and how they are behaving.

They are especially prized for the ability to beam real-time pictures directly to commanders, who can make tactical adjustments more quickly. The aircraft are equipped with infrared heat sensors and a swiveling camera operated by a remote pilot.

Unlike piloted aircraft deployed against fires, drones can fly at night and in high winds and smoke. They fly at about 18,000 feet and cost about $800 an hour to operate, Keegan said.

Gov. Jerry Brown passed along a request for the drone from incident commander Mike Wilkins to the secretary of Defense. The Federal Aviation Administration must also approve use of the MQ-1, which is escorted to the fire by a lead plane.

According to Kelly Huston, the deputy director of the governor's Office of Emergency Services, drones were used experimentally on fires in 2003 and in more extensively in 2007.

"The incident commander wanted better data and better mapping of this fire," Huston said.

Huston said the governor was monitoring the escalating costs associated with the fire, including the damage to infrastructure and utilities, and will consider whether to request a national emergency declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

On the ground, firefighters reached a river on the fire's northwest edge above the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and set up a launching point to extinguish advancing flames. Crews south of the fire launched a controlled burn to keep it from advancing up California 120, said Dick Fleishman of the U.S. Forest Service.

"I think we've got a really good anchor on this thing," Fleishman said. "The plan of attack is to just keep going on the containment lines and march on the northwest side and keep flanking on the bottom side and get around it."

With the winds pushing from the southwest, the blaze has followed the Stanislaus National Forest ridgelines deeper into dense, bone-dry brush and trees. Eventually that path will lead to a granite face and stop the fire in its path, officials said.

A plan to launch a controlled burn south of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was scrapped because conditions weren't right, Fleishman said.

"Any time you add fire to fire, you have got to be really careful," he said. "The advantage is we're fighting fire under our terms instead of it pushing and us chasing it all the time."

Cart reported from Groveland, Lopez and Serna from Los Angeles.




12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Tracing the historic margins of Los Angeles

A tour bus pulled up outside of a sun-baked strip mall in Monterey Park and 30 sightseers stepped out.

They had come to behold Wing Hop Fung, a sprawling tea and herb emporium that moved here several years ago from Chinatown to serve the growing population of Chinese immigrants living in the San Gabriel Valley. With its barrels of dried ginseng and jasmine tea tastings, the store exemplifies the area's "complete transformation" from a one-time white suburb, tour guide Richard Schave explained.

It was the last stop on Schave's bus tour of immigration patterns in Monterey Park and neighboring Boyle Heights. Except for the air conditioned coach, it had little in common with more typical tours of celebrity homes and Hollywood landmarks, promising instead to explore "the hidden histories of L.A.'s melting pot."

Last weekend's expedition included visits to the Breed Street Shul, a Byzantine Revival synagogue built in the 1920s to serve the area's then-blooming Jewish community, and Roosevelt High School, where 40 years later young Chicano activists staged walkouts to protest what they viewed as substandard education for Latinos.

Schave, who wore a fedora hat and carried a gold pocket watch, calls himself a "street historian." Much of the information he shares on his tour is gleaned from interviews with people who live in the neighborhoods.

He delights in telling little known histories, like that of the Molokans, a Christian sect of Russian immigrants that settled in Boyle Heights at the turn of the 20th century, and in highlighting incongruities. A few blocks after pointing out the Boyle Heights apartment where the infamous gangster Mickey Cohen once lived, Schave nodded at a colorful stretch of Cesar E. Chavez Avenue now settled with Latino-owned businesses.

"You can get trans-fat free masa on this block!" he said.

Schave was raised on the Westside but has always preferred the diverse neighborhoods on the city's eastern edge. He fell for Boyle Heights at age 15, when he and some teenage friends were served beers at a Mexican restaurant here.

He gives this tour twice a year with input from his wife, fellow historian Kim Cooper.

Their company, Esotouric Bus Adventures, offers other obscure tours, including one that visits the landmarks of L.A. author Charles Bukowski's life and fiction, and another that traces the final days of Elizabeth Short, the victim in the unsolved 1947 Black Dahlia murder.

The recent Eastside outing started in the downtown arts district, then crossed the Olympic Boulevard bridge, where a group called Mothers of East L.A. held protests in the 1980s to fight a proposal to build a prison in Boyle Heights, Schave explained. He highlights similar histories of activism in the Chinese immigrant communities.

Schave, a committed preservationist, peppered his monologues with insults of local politicians he thinks aren't doing enough to protect the architecture and history of the neighborhoods. As the bus traveled through the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments, a leafy residential community where some residents are fighting a plan to replace it with a dense housing development, Schave raised a fist in the air and shouted: "We are Wyvernwood!"

His audience didn't seem to mind. Tour-goers included out-of-town visitors and locals who said they were drawn by curiosity about the neighborhoods.

Kenneth Cassell, who lives in Michigan but has a vacation home in Long Beach, said he wanted to know more about some of Los Angeles' oldest neighborhoods. "Everything is so modern in L.A.," he said. "You start to go east and the history starts to get really historic."

Others had personal connections.

At Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory in Boyle Heights (which Cooper nicknamed "nevergreen" because it looks like the lawn is rarely watered), teacher Carey Winograd wandered around with a camera.

"I remember passing here and getting very scared," he said.

Winograd used to drive by the cemetery as a kid in the 1960s on his way to services with his family at the Breed Street Shul. The temple, now boarded up and fortified with razor wire, is one of the only reminders of the Jewish community, which packed up and headed west in the decades after World War II. The neighborhood is now 94% Latino, according to an L.A. Times analysis of census data.

Schave described a similar transformation in Monterey Park, where he gave a tour of El Encanto, a Spanish Colonial villa built in the 1920s that was supposed to be the focal point for a planned community that would rival Beverly Hills. According to Schave, the developer included a racial covenant to keep non-whites out.

The building plan stalled during the Depression. Now, more than 80 years later, El Encanto is surrounded by blocks of businesses that advertise in Chinese.

But not everything has changed, like the Venice Room, a darkly lit lounge in Monterey Park that opened in the 1960s. When Schave and his tour trooped inside, a couple of patrons looked up, then went back to watching a game.

The back room, where patrons can cook their own steaks on an open grill, was decorated with elaborately framed pictures of the Venice canals. The owner is an immigrant from Italy.

"This place has been sealed in amber since 1968," Schave said.

After taking some questions, he told the group there was time for a quick round. Ten minutes, he cautioned, and then it was back on the bus. There was a tea ceremony at Wing Hop Fung waiting.


12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Release of L.A. teachers' performance ratings delayed by judge

Written By kolimtiga on Rabu, 28 Agustus 2013 | 12.57

The performance ratings of individual teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District will be kept confidential until a legal battle over them is resolved, a judge decided Tuesday.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant had ruled earlier this month that the ratings must be released to the Los Angeles Times because public interest in them outweighed any teacher privacy rights under the California Public Records Act. But L.A. Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles joined forces to ask Chalfant to delay the release until they could appeal the ruling.

In their court filing, the district and the teachers union argued that "immediate release of the scores will cause irreparable harm to privacy rights, and that harm dramatically outweighs any prejudice or inconvenience that might be caused by a brief delay in public release of the records" pending the appeal.

The Times had opposed a delay, arguing that the Legislature had severely restricted agencies from using appeals as a delaying tactic to keep public records secret. The Public Records Act bars courts from ordering delays unless those fighting disclosure have a probable chance of success and would suffer "irreparable damage" by the release of documents before the case was settled. The act also requires agencies to file a special appeal within 20 days after the initial ruling.

A delay would frustrate "the fundamental right of every person in this state to have prompt access to information in the possession of public agencies," The Times argued in its legal filing.

Chalfant agreed with the district and teachers. To the extent that teachers and administrators would be harmed by the release of ratings, "there is no remedy that would undo that harm or restore the confidentiality lost," he said in his ruling.

In courtroom remarks Tuesday, Chalfant said he usually does not grant delays because he is normally confident that his rulings are correct. But he said he "agonized" over this case and called his earlier ruling for The Times a close call.

In that ruling, the judge rejected arguments by the district and teachers union that the teacher performance ratings were confidential personnel information that, if released, would create discord, stigma, embarrassment, difficulty in recruiting teachers and other harm. He said the public had an interest in the ratings because they indicated student achievement, student performance and district choices in allocating time and resources.

The Times sought three years of district data, from 2009 through 2012, that show whether individual teachers helped — or hurt — students' academic achievement, as measured by state standardized test scores.

Using a complex mathematical formula, the district aims to isolate a teacher's effect on student growth by controlling for such outside factors as poverty, race, English ability and previous test scores. The district sought to use that type of analysis, known in L.A. Unified as Academic Growth over Time, in teacher evaluations but was fiercely resisted by the teachers union, which argues that it is unreliable.

The district and union earlier argued in court that teachers could reasonably expect that their ratings were confidential personnel files. But Chalfant ruled that the ratings don't contain personal information or specific advice, criticism or other evaluative comments by supervisors that would protect them from disclosure.

Rather, he said, they were statistical tabulations of public data about student performance in a teacher's class — rejecting the district's contention that its decisions about how to create the formula made it a subjective tool that should be protected.

Chalfant said he was concerned by how long an appeal would take and would review his order to delay release of the ratings at another court hearing Nov. 12.


12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Rim fire spreads deeper into Yosemite

GROVELAND, Calif. — The Rim fire spread deeper into Yosemite National Park on Tuesday with flames racing unimpeded to the east even as firefighters shored up defenses for communities on the western edges of the blaze.

The fire was 20% contained by Tuesday evening, with almost all of the containment coming on the fire's southwest edge. On the east, the fire has a relatively flat, clear path farther into Yosemite and the 3,700 firefighters battling the blaze have fewer options to control it.

"They're in scouting mode," Dick Fleishman of the U.S. Forest Service said of fire crews. "There's not a lot of real good areas to get out in there and do a lot of work."

The blaze has destroyed 111 buildings, including 31 residences, and is now the seventh-largest fire in state history, having spread across 281 square miles.

"It's burning its way into the record books," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

On Tuesday, firefighters bolstered defensive perimeters to the south and west — using bulldozers to clear brush and vegetation from strips of land up to the Tuolumne River to protect homes near California 108, Berlant said.

"We've burned back down the mountain so that if the fire makes the river, jumps the river, that side of the hill is already burned," he said. "We're coming around the corner, catching the western portion of the fire and we'll continue to pinch it off as it goes up to the northern flank."

Officials consider about 4,500 homes north of the fire and two groves of giant sequoias and other historic landmarks still in danger.

The Stanislaus National Forest is taking the brunt of the blaze, with the Groveland Ranger District making up most of the southern flank. The region has been hit hard by fires in the past, the most significant in 1987, which claimed the life of a firefighter.

This week's fire has brought sorrow among the district's employees, who not only recall the past devastation but also begrudge the current damage. The fire burned though an area that had a pending $1-million timber sale, said Maggie Dowd, district ranger in the Groveland Ranger District.

"The economic impacts are real, but we haven't begun to estimate them yet," Dowd said Tuesday from her office in a building shrouded in smoke.

So far, the fire has destroyed two federal campgrounds that had been recently upgraded and a day-use area at Rainbow Pools, Dowd said. At least one historic structure — a cabin that had also been recently refurbished — was destroyed and Forest Service crews are still assessing damage to other structures.

Smoke from the fire is starting to drift into the park's northern areas, but it's unavoidable at the command post.

The blaze is a "campaign fire," crews say, meaning that everyone who joins in the effort knows they are going to be there for days, weeks or even months.

Firefighters who returned to camp to rest looked like raccoons, their faces striped with soot and ash. The command post is big enough to feed and house the thousands of firefighters who are working in shifts, with about half a dozen tractor trailers with showers standing by.

As the blaze stretched into its 11th day, officials received visual confirmation of ash on the surface of Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which supplies water to 2.6 million people in the Bay Area. But officials monitoring water quality have seen no change, said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Hetch Hetchy supplies are drawn from the reservoir at a depth of 260 feet, so there is little chance of contamination, Jue said. More problematic than ash on the surface of the water is the potential for runoff to enter the reservoir when rain comes later in the season, he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for the city and county of San Francisco on Friday because of the threat to the reservoir.

Following standard procedure when the reservoir is threatened, additional water is being pumped to reservoirs in Alameda and San Mateo counties, which also supply Hetch Hetchy customers, Jue said. The amount of water being transferred has been increased from 275 million gallons a day to 302 million gallons as a precaution, the utility's commission said.

Crews have also repaired one of two hydroelectric power stations shut down by the fire, and they are in the process of assessing the damage to the second unit, Jue said.

Supplemental power has cost about $600,000 since the two power stations were taken offline Aug. 17, the day the Rim fire started.




Times staff writer Diana Marcum contributed to this report.

12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Jerry Brown has plan to ease prison crowding without early releases

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers pledged Tuesday to ease prison crowding without releasing inmates early, laying out a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for alternate housing.

The proposal, which has divided Democratic leaders, would pay for enough beds in privately owned prisons and other facilities to shed more than 9,600 inmates from state lockups by the end of the year, as federal judges have ordered.

"This is the sensible, prudent way to proceed," Brown said at a Capitol news conference. "The plan is to find as many cells as needed."

Paying for the extra housing would drain $315 million from the state's $1.1-billion reserve over the next year. The price tag is expected to increase to $415 million for each of the following two years.

The proposal would avoid inmate releases while Brown continues fighting the order to reduce the population in state prisons, which the judges say are unconstitutionally crowded. Plans his administration previously considered could have forced the state to free about 1,000 inmates before their sentences were finished.

The governor is appealing the judges' order to the U.S. Supreme Court but in the meantime is taking steps to comply.

Brown faces an array of political challenges in pushing his plan through the Legislature, notably opposition from Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Republican leaders in both houses flanked Brown for his announcement, but Steinberg was absent, saying later that he would issue his own prison plan Wednesday.

"The governor's proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope," Steinberg said in a statement. "As the population of California grows, it's only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow."

The Senate leader has called for more spending on mental health and drug treatment programs that can reduce the number of ex-offenders who return to prison, helping to lower the inmate population in the long run.

Brown and Pérez said they also would consider more long-term solutions to prison crowding, such as changes in sentencing laws. Meanwhile, the funding for alternative cells is needed, they said.

"We are not going to release a single additional prisoner," Pérez said.

The proposal announced Tuesday would move thousands of offenders from state facilities to privately owned prisons in and outside of California and reopen city-owned detention facilities in Shafter and Taft, in the Central Valley. More inmates could be placed in county jails.

Law enforcement groups representing district attorneys, police chiefs, county sheriffs and others are backing the plan.

"The efforts by the governor will help protect our communities," said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal.

More key support comes from the politically powerful prison guard union, which has strongly opposed outsourcing of inmate housing. But Brown's plan would use state guards in a privately owned prison in Kern County.

Brown's political risks extend into next year, when he may run for reelection and face off with critics of his prison policies. One possible challenger, Republican former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, is pushing a ballot measure to undo some of Brown's policies.

But on Tuesday, top Republican lawmakers said the governor was taking the right steps.

"Our No. 1 responsibility is public safety," said Senate Republican leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar). "We can't allow dangerous inmates on our streets."

Lawmakers have less than three weeks to consider Brown's proposal before they adjourn. The Assembly budget committee is scheduled to convene Thursday to begin discussions.

Brown's effort to comply with the court order has short-circuited some of his previous plans to lower prison spending and end contracts to house inmates out of state. If the Legislature approves his proposal, prison spending will outpace state funding for higher education in the current fiscal year.

Don Specter, a lawyer for inmates who have sued the state over prison conditions, said leasing more prison space would be "an incredible waste of hundreds of millions of dollars for no benefit to public safety."

He said the state should consider some early releases, by expanding the credit prisoners can earn for good behavior or freeing inmates who are elderly and sick.



Times staff writers Patrick McGreevy and Paige St. John contributed to this report.

12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Gov. Jerry Brown signs nearly 30 bills into law

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown signed nearly 30 measures into law Tuesday, including one allowing noncitizens who are permanent legal residents to serve as poll workers in California elections.

The measure will provide more multilingual poll workers for a state where nearly 3 million people who are eligible to vote are not fluent in English, said its author, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland).

Brown "clearly understands the challenges faced by the increasingly diverse voters in our state related to civic engagement and participation," Bonta said.

Republican lawmakers opposed the measure, AB 817, arguing that it could undermine the integrity of the election process. They also said there was no shortage of citizens to work the polls.

"The governor signed the bill to give counties the ability to help diverse communities participate in the civic process," said Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown.

Bonta noted that poll inspectors, who supervise election activities and guarantee the integrity of the process, still have to be U.S. citizens.

The governor signed several bills relating to education, including one that will let aspiring teachers pursue an additional year of training.

Since 1970, the state has capped the length of graduate teaching programs at one year. But completing those programs in that time has become more difficult over the years, as trainees have been required to take on additional subjects such as student health and instruction for English-learners.

The measure, SB 5 by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), extends the maximum length of such programs to two years.

"I thank Gov. Brown for signing SB 5," Padilla said Tuesday. "He clearly recognizes that allowing more time for skill development will allow teachers to be better prepared when they enter the classroom."

A pair of bills the governor also signed are intended to increase access to digital textbooks and educational materials.

AB 133, by Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills), requires all textbook publishers and manufacturers who sell print textbooks to California school districts to also provide those textbooks in digital format. SB 185, by Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine), lets K-12 school districts negotiate the price of print and digital materials with publishers.

Brown vetoed a similar version of Walters' measure last year. It would have required digital textbooks and learning materials to be offered at the same cost as, or lower cost than, print materials.

Brown said that measure would have put unreasonable requirements on businesses and could have driven up costs. He also vetoed a companion measure by Hagman last year.

On Tuesday, Hagman thanked Brown for supporting his efforts the second time around.

"AB 133 will place California on the cutting edge of technology use in the classroom and enhance our children's educational experience by allowing them to utilize technology to which they are already accustomed," Hagman said.



12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Southern California renters have an edge over home buyers

Written By kolimtiga on Minggu, 25 Agustus 2013 | 12.56

With a frenzied housing market shutting out would-be buyers all over Southern California, sending that check to the landlord is looking smarter every day.

The rental market provides a stark contrast to the red-hot housing recovery. In Los Angeles County, apartment rents have risen only slowly, with an expanding supply of rentals holding down prices. In downtown Los Angeles, an apartment building boom has even driven rents down by 5% over the last year, to an average of $1,990 in the second quarter.

Rents also declined in the single-family home market, where an influx of cash investors is driving up prices for home buyers. These new investors, including some cash-rich Wall Street firms, have scooped up properties to hold and rent.

Erin Keegan and her fiance decided to keep renting after losing bidding wars on a home — twice.

The couple, who rent a small house in West Adams, lost out to an investor when they tried to purchase a two-bedroom Victorian last summer. This year, after the home was rehabbed and relisted for sale, their second offer couldn't compete with a buyer paying $56,000 more than the asking price.

"I just couldn't believe it sold for that much," Keegan said. "That was definitely the nail in the coffin."

In comparison, the rental market seems sane.

The tide of investors is boxing out prospective buyers but creating new opportunities for renters. The median rent for single-family homes in L.A. County fell 4.1% last quarter compared with the same period last year, according to real estate website Trulia. Contrast that with the county's 29% year-over-year median home price gain in July.

The diverging paths of the rental and buyer markets are an anomaly — they've risen in tandem for most of the last century. But the housing bubble, crash and subsequent recovery have exerted starkly different economic forces on the rental and home markets.

The sharp rise in home values and interest rates has made buying less of a sure bet in some neighborhoods, including Westwood, Culver City and the Miracle Mile, said Richard Green, director of USC's Lusk Center for Real Estate.

"A year ago, it was an easy call to buy" over renting, he said. "Now it's sort of a pick 'em call."

In the second quarter, average rents for Los Angeles County apartments reached $1,652 a month, basically flat from the prior three months and a 2.2% increase over last year, according to a report from commercial real estate brokerage Marcus & Millichap. That yearly increase mirrors wage and income growth in the region.

Renters simply have more options in the market. L.A. County is currently in the first year of a two-year apartment-building boom, according to the report, which predicts builders will finish 6,000 units this year, about twice as many as last year.

Demographics are driving the building. A large population of young adults, who tend to favor apartment living, has spurred builders to break ground. The younger generation is also putting off major life events, such as marriage and children, that often spur home purchases, said Annie Gerard, principal with Apt Market Research.

"We have this perfect storm of people the appropriate age for apartments," she said.

For most of the last century, home prices and rents tended to rise in line with inflation, according to research from Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Starting in 1995, Americans increasingly saw their homes as an investment tool, which drove up home prices faster than rents, he said.

But after the housing bubble popped, home prices fell hard. Rents declined as well, but not as much. And rents started rising again as more renters entered the market when they lost their homes to foreclosure. In 2011, apartment rents climbed 6.2% in L.A. County because of the new demand, along with a slowdown in the construction of new units.

Now, the growth in rent prices has moderated as home prices have soared.

Sarah Vandenbusch, 43, has lived in the same junior one-bedroom in Burbank for 15 years. Since she moved in, the story producer for reality TV shows said her rent had increased about $10 to $20 each year. But not recently.

"The past two years it didn't go up," she said. "I am riding it nicely at $690."

In general, most people who plan to live in their homes at least five years may still be better off buying, Baker said.

Real estate agent Brittany Walter, who specializes in northeastern Los Angeles, has seen about 1 in 6 of her clients abandon their home search in the last year. They resolved to rent after a frustrating search for a home — something Walter advises against, because she believes home prices will only rise further.

Her clients tell her: "We will just take a break for another year and see the market slow down."

Some signs of a slowdown are emerging as the number of homes on the market increases. The median home price in Southern California remained flat from June to July, at $385,000, according to DataQuick, though experts caution against viewing one month of data as a trend.

For those who can find the right home in a tight market, buying can make more sense than renting, according to the website Trulia. The buyer of an L.A. County home between April and June would save 26% over renting a similar property — if they lived in the home for seven years, then sold it, a Trulia analysis concluded. But the buyer's advantage has contracted sharply in recent months.

Keegan and her fiance, who lost out on buying the same house twice, plan to stay in their one-bedroom home, where rent hasn't increased in five years. "When I feel that mania coming," she said, "I don't want anything to do with it."


12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More

State Sen. Ronald Calderon's choice of a spokesman troubles some

SACRAMENTO — As state Sen. Ronald Calderon labors in the shadow of a federal corruption investigation, he is relying on a former politician who knows what it is like to be in prosecutors' cross hairs.

Calderon's chief spokesman is former Bell Gardens City Councilman Mario Beltran, who joined the Senate staff in March after being sentenced to probation in a criminal case that banned him from holding elected office for four years. He pleaded guilty to misusing campaign money.

Beltran, 36, had previously been sentenced to probation after being convicted of filing a false police report.

Now he handles media calls for Calderon. They have grown more frequent since the FBI raided the senator's Capitol office June 4 in what a law enforcement source said is a probe of Calderon's "income stream." Calderon has said he has done nothing wrong.

The hiring of Beltran angered many leaders in the area Calderon represents.

Downey Mayor Mario Guerra said members of that city's council were surprised when Beltran showed up at a meeting saying he was representing Calderon.

"It's snubbing the public and saying we're going to do whatever we want to — we don't care about ethics, the past or what's the best for our residents," Guerra said. "And our City Council took exception to that."

He said some council members had the city manager convey their concern about Beltran's role to Calderon's office but were rebuffed.

"We know Mario Beltran," added Bell City Councilman Nestor Valencia. "It would be highly improper to have any senator, Assembly member, congressperson hire him, considering his history in our community."

Others say Calderon's employment of Beltran reflects the importance the lawmaker places on loyalty.

"It should give pause to any elected official to hire somebody with that kind of record," said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A. "But sometimes that kind of blood is very thick in politics."

Beltran said he was grateful for Calderon's trust and that of former state Sen. Gil Cedillo, a member of the L.A. City Council who also employed Beltran at one time.

"They believed that I can deal with the job as a legislative aide, and they believe in second chances, and they gave me a second chance to do something that I like a lot, which is public service, working in the Legislature," Beltran said. "I am doing my best not to disappoint that confidence they have given me."

Beltran was a rising star and councilman when he was sentenced in 2006 to three years' probation after being convicted of filing a false police report. He told police that he had been mugged by a man in downtown L.A. and his council badge and wallet were stolen.

A witness said that Beltran was with a woman at the Huntington Hotel. The woman testified that Beltran had groped her in the hotel hallway and that, when others came to her aid, he dropped his wallet and cellphone. The woman said she grabbed some of his possessions by accident. She later turned them in to police.

During a trial, the prosecutor said Beltran had lied to officers because he was embarrassed. Witnesses testified that Beltran had been drunk at a downtown nightclub and passed out in a hallway of a hotel used by prostitutes.

Two years later, police raided Beltran's home and City Hall office as part of an investigation into an alleged financial crime. He was not charged in that case.

In 2009, while on Calderon's legislative staff, Beltran was accused by prosecutors of misusing campaign funds, including a contribution from Calderon, to pay for his legal defense in the 2006 criminal case.

Beltran pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges, including failing to file campaign disclosure forms and deposit cash contributions. He was sentenced to four years' probation.

As a result of that plea agreement, an L.A. County Superior Court judge dismissed seven counts of grand theft but banned Beltran from elected or appointed office for four years. Beltran then resigned from the Bell Gardens City Council.

Calderon declined to comment for this article. Cedillo said Beltran should never have been banned from elected office.

"That badge case was a farce. It was a travesty of justice. You had a young man who was innocent. He was a model citizen, elected to local government," Cedillo added. "He did something that most 27-year-olds do at one time — he drank too much alcohol. From that he was mugged, he was rolled. He was the victim."

Beltran, whose current Senate job pays $65,000, says he has changed since those days.

"I matured a lot from that experience," Beltran said. "My respect and appreciation for government is the same, has always been very high."

Kathay Feng, executive director of the good-government group California Common Cause, said everyone has the potential to be rehabilitated. But "elected officials should consider what message they send to the public when they hire someone with a history of abusing the public trust."


12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More

Raging Yosemite fire spreads fear, frustration

GROVELAND — One of the largest wildfires in recent California history raged out of control in and around Yosemite National Park on Saturday, charring more than 125,000 acres, briefly threatening San Francisco's power supply and frustrating firefighters' efforts to contain it.

The fast-moving blaze marched powerfully through pristine wilderness all of last week, doubling in size since Thursday, forcing evacuations, shutting down the main highway to the famed national park, and damaging the Hetch Hetchy water and power system.

More than 2,600 firefighters battled the blaze on Saturday. Although they were assisted by trench-digging bulldozers and water-dropping aircraft, their efforts had little effect. The Rim fire, which began eight days ago in a remote canyon of the Stanislaus National Forest, was just 5% contained.

"This fire is burning unlike anything we've seen in this area historically," said Ashley Taylor, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

More than 1,800 firefighters were sent to Tuolumne City at the northwestern edge of the fire to protect the community's 1,600 homes. "Our priority is Tuolumne right now. It's in the line of fire," said another fire official.

Aside from the hot, dry weather and the rugged and hard-to-reach terrain, another difficulty was the blaze's tendency to burn the tops of trees, creating a "crown fire" with long, intense flames that skip across forested land faster than a wildfire that creeps along near the ground.

The blaze continued to threaten small communities throughout the area, some of which had been abandoned by residents, tourists and business owners who fled after looking skyward and seeing gray plumes of smoke or columns of flame rising from nearby mountain ranges. Tuolumne City and Ponderosa Hills, home to about 2,000 people, were under voluntary evacuation orders. Parts of Groveland were evacuated Friday.

The fire burned to the back door of Pine Mountain Lake, a gated community in Groveland. But firefighters held the fire line for three days. On Saturday evening, joyous residents began returning home.

With little hope that the fire could be quickly wrestled into submission, crews focused their efforts on guiding the blaze away from buildings and campgrounds. "If you can't stop a fire, you try to divert it," said Johnny Miller, a Cal Fire spokesman.

The fire has so far destroyed nine structures and threatened about 5,500 others. One firefighter suffered heat exhaustion, but no other injuries were reported.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has been forced to shut down two of its three hydroelectric power stations near the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, and Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday extended a state of emergency to include San Francisco because the reservoir is a major source of electricity and water for the city.

Firefighters were able to contain part of the fire near the reservoir and power plants Saturday, giving utility crews access to the stations to assess the damage, said Michael Carlin, a deputy general manager with the commission. The commission has purchased power on the open market and has seen only a slight dip in production as a result of the fire, Carlin said.

The blaze also closed Highway 120, a primary thoroughfare into the park. Fire crews dotted the two-lane roadway on Saturday. Some stopped to monitor the blaze as it raced through nearby mountain passes. Others worked on containment lines near the road as fire and smoke rose in the distance.

"We are watching in front of us, and we are watching in back of us," said Adam Harkey, a member of the Rio Bravo hotshot crew. Harkey and his team carefully observed a column of orange and black smoke that seemed to be rising about a mile away. They hoped to figure out which direction the closest flames were heading. A few moments later, fearing the fire was headed their way, Harkey and his team began moving to the trees near the roadway, pulling out chain saws and shovels, cutting trees and digging to create a containment line.

Larry Brown, who was volunteering for the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department, said the Rim fire was "coming in at a close second" to a rash of wildfires that scorched hundreds of thousands of acres around the state in 1987. Four firefighters died battling those blazes, including one who was crushed by a falling tree in the Stanislaus National Forest. Tuolumne County was among the hardest-hit areas.

Because the fire is confined to the park's more remote northwestern section, campers in the Yosemite Valley have been largely unaffected, park ranger and spokesman Scott Gediman said.

"It's 20 miles from the Yosemite Valley," Gediman said. "It's still beautiful skies and very little smoke impact to Yosemite Valley and the park."

No evacuation plans were in the works, he said. For now, Yosemite's campgrounds are still full and vacations are in full swing. Closures along Highway 120 have cut off westbound traffic from the park, but Gediman said drivers have other options, including Highway 140.

"I've worked here for 17 years, and the last time we totally closed the park was after the big flood in 1997," Gediman said.




Marcum reported from Groveland, and Ceasar and Streeter from Los Angeles.

12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More

Korean pop fans get intimate with the music at KCON

Alyssa Tolentino, 18, came all the way from Chicago to see the South Korean male pop group EXO perform in Los Angeles this weekend.

But before the show, she gave a performance of her own at the KCON convention Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Taking the stage during a midday talent contest, she donned a rubber horse mask and worked through dance moves she had picked up from a music video.

Afterward, out of breath and sweaty, she revealed her true dedication. "Today's my move-in day for college, so I missed it," she said. "But it's worth it."

That level of fandom from Tolentino, who was supposed to be starting her life as a film major at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, may seem extreme, but it's typical among people at KCON, a convention for fans of the energetic and diverse sound and culture of Korean pop music, or K-pop.

About 10,000 people attended the first KCON last year in Irvine. For this year's conference, organizers expanded the convention to two days. That reflects the increasing popularity of K-pop in the U.S., said Ted Kim, president and chief executive of Mnet America, the K-pop cable network and Internet hub presenting KCON, which costs $60 to $300 to attend.

The Internet has made it easier for music buffs to discover new genres, and more Americans have been introduced to the culture through the viral success of rapper Psy, who broke out in the U.S. with the song "Gangnam Style."

Korean pop music encompasses a wide range of sounds, borrowing from European dance music and hip-hop and relying heavily on boy and girl bands, similar to the Lou Pearlman-arranged American pop singing groups of the 1990s. Girls' Generation, a popular act whose nine members wink at the camera in brightly colored videos, and 2NE1 (pronounced "twenty one") have both signed with major U.S. labels.

The groups are typically assembled by music companies, and performers often train for years before going public. Like hip-hop, K-pop encompasses its own world of fashion and dance. "Fans see something very positive, whether it's the music, the fashion or the dancing," Kim said. "This is a really smart audience and they know what's being manufactured and force fed."

Fans meet one another through social media and learn about new artists through online word-of-mouth. Skye Buzzatto, 30, a car wholesale specialist who lives in Rancho Park, said his introduction to the culture was a concert put on last year by S.M. Entertainment, the Korean music giant. Since then, he's developed connections with other fans on Facebook. "Social media plays a big role," he said.

The conference is definitely for the super-fans, as well as those interested in achieving K-pop fame. Some of the panels offered included "The Arts of Remixing & Sampling K-Pop," "Developing K-Pop Songwriting Skills" and "Get it Beauty: The K-Pop Face."

A significantly bigger draw, though, were the "artist engagement" events, where the singers gave autographs and interviews. At one panel, hundreds of mostly female fans of 2AM crammed near the stage waiting for the four singers' appearance, which elicited screams and some joyful tears when it finally happened. One of the key elements is "the high touch," a gesture in which fans lightly touch hands with the artists, much like a high five.

Christina Tran, a 19-year-old from Orange County, said this helps people interact with their idols in an intimate way, while also setting boundaries. "If you could hug them, they would get crushed," she said, standing near the back of the crowd for 2AM. "You're breathing the same air as them. It's definitely a fan thing. You can't do that with Chris Brown."

Just inside the venue, a group of girls held up paper notecards, trying to trade passes for the artist panels. Thaovi Phan's card read "2AM for EXO" — a popular choice. Phan, a 16-year-old student at San Gabriel High School, said she enjoys the group's choreography and polish. "And they're really good-looking," she added.

Although there's not quite the same level of costumed fanaticism seen annually at Comic Con, some people do come dressed to honor their favorite artists, whether it's B.A.P.'s rabbit-eared Matoki mascot or Amber from the pop group f(x).

Elane Marroquin had her own angle. She stood in line for more than three hours to get into the venue, dressed head-to-toe in white and pink with a white animal cap, topped with a pirate hat. This, she said, was a reference to the singer Kris from EXO, who often walks around with a plush llama. She was dressed as the llama, she explained.

"It's kind of an inside joke," she said, surrounded by a gaggle of new friends she met in line because the people she was supposed to meet arrived earlier. "It's cool because not every fan knows about it. A lot of people dress up as the artists themselves, so this is a little different."

Ericka Shin, 16, started listening to this music in sixth grade when her friend introduced her to the band Big Bang. Now it's the main music she listens to, other than top-40 stations like KIIS FM. "It's kind of my life source," she said.


12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More

$3-billion proposal to repair Los Angeles streets advances

Written By kolimtiga on Kamis, 22 Agustus 2013 | 12.56

Los Angeles lawmakers Wednesday agreed to pursue further analysis of an ambitious $3-billion proposal to fix thousands of miles of the city's most deteriorated streets.

The money could come from a mix of sources, officials say, including a property tax or borrowing against future sales or gas tax revenues. One option would be to ask property owners to increase taxes the equivalent of 1% of their property's value, paid over 29 years. On a home worth $600,000, that would mean paying about $200 more a year.

The new revenue would be used to resurface and rebuild the city's broken streets, part of a 60-year backlog of repairs.

Car-jarring potholes on the nation's largest network of streets are a political issue and a constant irritant to Angelenos.

"When you hit a pothole in the city of Los Angeles, you not only feel it — you hear it," said Councilman Joe Buscaino, who co-sponsored the street repair plan.

City officials hope to place the proposal, which would require approval from two-thirds of voters, on the November 2014 ballot. The measure's supporters say needed street repairs will become more expensive the longer they are delayed.

The proposal, due back before the City Council in October in a more detailed form, isn't likely to address another persistent resident complaint: busted and buckled sidewalks. Fixing the estimated 42% of Los Angeles sidewalks that are in disrepair could cost the city an additional $1.5 billion.

The city does not have a comprehensive list of damaged sidewalks, and officials have said that creating one would cost $10 million and take three years. Los Angeles can't borrow money to fix sidewalks until it can identify which ones are broken, a Buscaino spokesman said.

Failing to include sidewalk repairs "would appear to be a missed opportunity," said Madeline Brozen, program director of the UCLA Complete Streets Initiative. She said targeting only the most damaged sidewalks could be a way to keep costs down.

Some of the city's neighborhood councils have criticized the bond proposal, saying homeowners can't afford more taxes. City staff are exploring other financing options, including an incremental sales tax, additional vehicle fees or a change to the gas tax.

Since 2005, the city has paid for normal upkeep and maintenance on streets of good quality, but has left a backlog of severely damaged roads largely untouched.

Laying down slurry seals — the dark coating of asphalt, oil and water that keeps roads with minimal damage in good condition — costs about $25,000 a mile. Digging up deeply cracked and pothole-riddled streets and rebuilding them can be 10 times as costly.

Between 2005 and 2013, the estimated cost to repair the worst roads doubled from $1.5 billion to $3 billion. Officials say that if they do not act now, the cost will double again in the next decade.


12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More

Judge awards $3 million in drug agents' killing of teenager

A "freakish series of events" led to honor student Zachary Champommier's death on a night in June 2010 — that much is clear, a federal judge said Wednesday.

But whether the plainclothes drug enforcement officers who shot the 18-year-old after he drove into a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy in a Studio City parking lot were justified in doing so is a more complex matter.

In a 43-page mixed verdict, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald awarded $3 million to Champommier's parents — $2 million to his mother and $1 million to his father, Eric Feldman — but also determined that the authorities were not negligent in their actions.

Fitzgerald summarized his ruling before a full but hushed courtroom on the 16th floor of the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

"I think I was kind of in shock," Champommier's grandmother, Helen Hanson, said after the hearing.

"It was a Pyrrhic victory," added her son, Paul Champommier. "A bittersweet victory. There was no sense of joy overall."

The shooting of Zachary Champommier, a recent graduate of Granada Hills Charter High School, sparked outrage among the teenager's family and friends who described him as a "band geek" and not someone who would intentionally confront authorities. Champommier's parents had alleged in a wrongful death and battery lawsuit that the agent and deputy recklessly shot at their son, who they said posed no reasonable threat.

In the heat of the moment, Fitzgerald said, federal Drug Enforcement Agent Peter LoPresti and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Brewster could have reasonably believed Brewster was in grave danger. But the judge determined that the two should not have fired their weapons at Champommier's car because shooting at a moving vehicle would not have helped their predicament.

Champommier had come to the parking lot to meet a friend. After he arrived and parked nearby, he saw the friend, Douglas Ryan Oeters, 29, being detained by the officers, who were dressed in street clothes.

Champommier drove his mother's car forward, hitting Brewster. How quickly he accelerated was in dispute, as was whether Brewster was still on the hood of the car when he first fired at Champommier.

The officers — who included members of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department — were in the lot discussing a search warrant they had just served. They suspected Oeters was trying to break into vehicles.

Champommier "had no way of knowing that these were law enforcement officers rather than criminal thugs," and he drove his car to "escape the danger," according to the lawsuit.

But the U.S. government as well as Sheriff's Department officials said Champommier tried to run down a deputy. The shooting, they contended, was reasonable.

"The nature of [Champommier's] aggressive actions, actually hitting the deputy — that is not someone who is without some degree of fault," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said shortly after the shooting.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, said the ruling was under review.

"We will evaluate our options, which certainly may include filing an appeal," he said. One "specific factual finding" that may need further review was Fitzgerald's determination that Brewster was not on the hood of the car when the shooting took place.

Mrozek added: "We maintain our basic position that Mr. Champommier hit a Los Angeles sheriff's deputy with his vehicle and the DEA agent reasonably used deadly force to deal with the situation."

Carol Champommier said outside court that although she was relieved and pleased with the verdict, the ordeal has shaken her faith in those tasked with keeping the public safe.

"I don't look at law enforcement the same way," she said.

She called for a review of the policies that allowed the interagency task force to debrief in a public parking lot, wearing street clothes and driving unmarked vehicles still packed with drugs and cash they had seized.

Above all, she said nothing — no damage payments or victories in court — will be enough to overcome the loss of her only child.

She told reporters that she carries an urn with her son's ashes nearly everywhere she goes. His room, three years after his death, remains untouched.


12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More

For thousands of new Americans, a day of pride and joy

Maybe at times you feel let down by your country — by your taxes, by your Congress, by most everything being made somewhere else.

Maybe those feelings eat away at you as you toss and turn in bed, inch bumper-to-bumper on a potholed freeway, watch the mayhem on the news.

But try to hold onto them at the Los Angeles Convention Center on a day when thousands are there to become U.S. citizens. Odds are the swell of Yankee Doodle patriotism will wash over you and sweep you along.

South Hall H-J is cavernous. An enormous American flag hangs up front. Facing it are many long rows of chairs. On Wednesday morning, in no time at all, nearly every spot will be taken as 3,663 soon-to-be naturalized citizens pour in.

More will come in for an afternoon ceremony. There will be 7,160 in all.

They will come from 133 countries. Some will be young, some very old. Bejeweled, dressed to the nines, in jeans and T-shirts and sneakers, they will be diverse and yet alike.

Each will enter the room with a package of forms and a miniature American flag. Each will hold those precious items close.

They will wave the flags again and again over the course of a 20-minute ceremony, during which a judge will speak of the responsibility and power of citizenship and quote John Quincy Adams, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson and Abraham Lincoln.

Luis Enrique Rendon, 33, in the very front row, will tuck his flag in the pocket of his crisp charcoal suit as he thinks back on a journey that started when he left Guanajuato, Mexico, at age 12, and led to a good job as a journeyman plumber, a wife and two boys and a house in San Pedro.

Maria Forbes, 37, who lives in Lompoc, will put hers to her breast as she steps out into the aisle to recite the words she has learned by heart. At "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America," her eyes will fill with tears.

She will speak with wonder of the circumstances that brought her to America as a student and gave her Scott, "the love of my life," her American husband of eight years.

Here, she will say, she has built a happy life.

During the ceremony, yellow tape and staff members on walkie talkies will separate the front of the hall from the back — the new citizens seated up close, their families and friends watching from behind.

Still Yolly Eugenio, from the Philippines but already a citizen, will sneak up front with her mother, Naty, who at 80 is about to become one.

"We moved to this nation because our nation is very corrupt," says Yolly, now a landlord in Thousand Oaks. "I had to move mountains to get to this country. But here, if you work hard, you can reap the harvest."

Nearby a woman born in China will do her best to savor the occasion — to hear the national anthem and watch the "Proud to be an American" music video and listen to what President Obama has to say in a video message on a jumbo screen. But on her lap her baby girl will squirm. And in seats beside her, her boys will need occasional shushing as they fight over who gets to play which cellphone video game.

Before and during the ceremony, the security team is all business. Don't walk here. Take your seats. Clear the aisle.

Afterward, as the new Americans step out on a balcony above the lobby, the guards will call out to them warmly: "How are you folks? Congratulations!"

The lobby is enormous. It soon will be crowded, with mothers and brothers, sisters and wives, children and grandparents and husbands. From vendors on site, some will have bought souvenirs — a flashing American flag pin, a teddy bear tagged with the day's date.

Lucinda Mendoza, 54, of El Salvador, who earns her living cleaning houses, will pose for a commemorative portrait with her 29-year-old, American-born twin sons.

And scanning the sea of faces again and again for her Australian-born mother, Zoe Battaglia, 5, will ride an escalator up and down, up and down.

In a red dress and glittery Mary Janes, a star-shaped American flag balloon tied around her right wrist, Zoe will say to whoever she sees, "Today, my mom gets to be an American."


Follow City Beat @latimescitybeat on Twitter and at Los Angeles Times City Beat on Facebook.

12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More

San Diego officials say proposal to resolve Filner scandal is ready

SAN DIEGO — City officials announced Wednesday night that mediation has resulted in a proposal aimed at ending the scandal that has gripped the city since women began accusing Mayor Bob Filner of sexual harassment.

At issue during the mediation has been whether Filner would resign in exchange for financial assistance in paying his legal bills and any judgment from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by attorney Gloria Allred on behalf of Irene McCormack Jackson, Filner's former director of communications.

The announcement that a proposal had been reached by all sides was made by City Atty. Jan Goldsmith after a third day of mediation.

Goldsmith was flanked by two deputy city attorneys, three attorneys for Filner and two members of the City Council. Filner was not present. Goldsmith said no details would be revealed until the City Council votes on the proposal Friday in closed-session.

All nine members of the council have demanded that Filner, 70, a Democrat, resign. Goldsmith last week said he was working on "exit plans" for Filner.

The City Council has refused to pay Filner's legal bills and threatened to sue him to recover any damages assessed against the city in the lawsuit.

Allred attended Monday's mediation session. The Jackson lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against Filner and the city.

Allred, in an email, said she will hold a news conference Thursday, along with Bronwyn Ingram, Filner's former fiancee, to discuss reports of a mediation proposal. She noted that both she and Ingram have called for Filner to resign.

More than a dozen women have accused Filner of making sexual advances and inappropriate comments. A recall movement is underway and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department has established a hotline to field accusations against Filner.

Late Wednesday night, an aide to a City Council member posted a video
showing Filner loading boxes into an SUV, possibly after cleaning out his office.

The proposal apparently was agreed upon just as Dianne York, president and chief executive of the now-closed Spa of La Jolla, told a news conference that Filner grabbed her buttocks after a meeting three months ago in his office. She had met with Filner about a foreclosure.

"I felt extremely violated," she said.

Filner appeared briefly at City Hall on Wednesday for the first time in nearly a month. He talked to his staff and left without taking reporters' questions. He returned to the mediation session in an office building several blocks away.

"Nice to see you guys," Filner told reporters.


12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More

Journalist Michael Hastings died instantly in crash, coroner says

Written By kolimtiga on Rabu, 21 Agustus 2013 | 12.57

Ending two months of speculation and conspiracy theories about the death of journalist Michael Hastings, the Los Angeles County coroner has determined that the reporter died instantly from "massive blunt force trauma" in the fiery June crash.

The coroner's report, released Tuesday, painted a troubled portrait of the journalist, whose 2010 Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal led to McChrystal's resignation.

Traces of drugs were found in Hastings' system, and the crash apparently came hours before his family planned to stage an intervention. Hastings, according to the report, was an alcoholic who had been sober for years before beginning to take drugs about a month earlier.

Toxicology reports showed amphetamine — an indicator of recent methamphetamine use — and marijuana, though not in amounts likely to be a factor in the crash.

His family told investigators that Hastings used medical marijuana, prescribed for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan. A medical marijuana card was found in Hastings' wallet.

Relatives also believed he was using DMT, a hallucinogenic. One person told an investigator he wouldn't be surprised if cocaine were found in Hastings system; it was not.

Hastings, according to the report, had struggled with substance abuse. His family said he had kicked an alcohol problem about 14 years earlier.

One relative had arrived in Los Angeles from New York the day before the accident, with his brother scheduled to arrive later on the day of the crash "as his family was attempting to get [Hastings] to go to detox," the report stated.

Hastings had previously been institutionalized for rehabilitative care in 1999.

His family told detectives that Hastings had been in a traffic accident in which he crashed into a pole several years ago, and that he may have been abusing Ritalin.

Hastings was not known to be suicidal, but did consider himself " 'invincible,' believing he could jump from a balcony and would be OK," according to the report.

He was last seen "passed out" by a relative between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. June 18, hours before the crash, which occurred just before 5 a.m.

In an interview earlier this month with CNN, Hastings' widow, Elise Jordan, called the crash a "really tragic accident." She told the network's Piers Morgan that she didn't "really have anything to add" to the ongoing police investigation into the crash that took her husband's life.

"You know, my gut here was that it was just a really tragic accident, and I'm very unlucky, and the world was very unlucky," Jordan said.

After his death, many people floated conspiracy theories, including speculation that he was being followed by the FBI or that his car had been sabotaged.

The theories prompted the FBI to release a statement: "At no time was journalist Michael Hastings ever under investigation by the FBI."

At the time of his death, Hastings was living in Los Angeles and working for the website BuzzFeed, contributing to its entertainment coverage and as a correspondent-at-large.



12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

County supervisors OK $29 million more for MLK hospital

County leaders approved $29 million in new spending on rebuilding a long-awaited hospital in South Los Angeles on Tuesday, but held back from paying all that county officials had sought.

The action brings the total price tag of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital to $281.4 million.

The funding will pay for "unforeseen" problems in the inpatient tower, such as repairing water damage, bringing utilities up to seismic codes and rebuilding deteriorating sewer pipes. Three floors of the inpatient towers were occupied as planners designed the project, so the problems were not discovered until renovation of the tower began. Some of the money could also be used to fund overtime and weekend work to meet the Oct. 31 deadline to complete construction of the hospital, which is scheduled to begin accepting patients in late 2014 or early 2015.

The additional spending approved 4 to 0 by the Board of Supervisors was $3 million less than county managers had sought. Three of the four supervisors present expressed concern that the size of the contingency fund would create a prime target for the contractors who are rebuilding the hospital and would weaken the county's negotiating posture.

"We all play poker in our own ways. You don't show your hole card, you just never do that," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told staff members with the Department of Public Works. "I'm not sure we're driving a harder bargain."

Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas grew frustrated by the "quibbling" over the size of the contingency fund, and said his colleagues were losing sight of how close they were to reopening a hospital in South Los Angeles, which has been without an emergency room and inpatient care since the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center was closed in 2007 after gross lapses in patient care.

"We're in the weeds," Ridley-Thomas said. "I think it's time to move. Point blank."

In addition to trimming the contingency fund, the board also directed the chief executive officer to report in one week on how that money will be spent. At that point, CEO William T Fujioka said officials should be able to determine whether they will need the additional $3 million.

But some in the audience remained concerned about the mounting cost overruns — the project was initially budgeted at $237 million.

"You know, I have really looked at what's going on at MLK and something very, very wrong [is] going on," registered nurse Genevieve Clavreul said during the public testimony portion of the meeting. "I hope that someone in high authority will demand an audit…. Because we're talking about millions" in unanticipated spending.

County officials have also been criticized for delays in reopening the hospital, forcing South Los Angeles residents to drive to hospitals in Long Beach, Inglewood, downtown Los Angeles and elsewhere to get emergency and inpatient care.

After the 4-0 vote, Ridley-Thomas, who represents the area, said that the final result — a medical complex with a focus on preventive care in addition to inpatient services — will be the envy of public health officials across the nation.

"I really think it's important to understand that this is more than a hospital," he said in an interview, noting again that it will contain a variety of outpatient services. "If it takes a little more time to get more than what was anticipated, I can live with that. But it will not be second-rate healthcare for the people of this portion of our county. It will be as good as it can possibly get. That's why we're taking care to build a first-rate, 21st century medical village."


12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

L.A. pushed to review quake-vulnerable apartment buildings

Seismic experts and engineers have long warned that a certain type of wood-framed building is particularly vulnerable to collapse during a major earthquake, because the first story cannot support the weight of the upper stories.

During Southern California's last destructive temblor in 1994, about 200 of these buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed, including the Northridge Meadows apartment complex, where 16 people died.

Nearly two decades after the Northridge quake, a Los Angeles councilman is calling on the city to consider an inventory of thousands of these so-called soft-story buildings — many of them apartments — that dot the region. This first-of-its-kind list would apply to buildings in Los Angeles built before 1978 with at least two stories and at least five units.

Councilman Tom LaBonge's proposal marks the first significant seismic safety effort in Los Angeles in years. It comes four months after San Francisco passed a landmark law forcing owners to strengthen about 3,000 soft-story apartment buildings. City officials there estimated the retrofits — which involve strengthening the bottom floor — will cost $60,000 to $130,000 per building.

After the Northridge quake, L.A. city building officials talked about identifying other soft-story buildings and requiring owners to retrofit them. But the proposal died.

LaBonge described his plan as a first step in assessing the seismic safety issues and figuring out how many such buildings there are.

"I had it investigated internally in my office and said, 'OK, let's look at this,'" he said. "And the truth of the matter is, we should be very cognizant that there will be another earthquake. Because this is earthquake country."

Among the most common soft-story buildings are apartments and condos with ground-floor parking under residential units. In these structures, the bottom level is supported by skinny, fragile columns that can be crushed or shoved aside during shaking of the heavier upper floors.

At the Northridge Meadows apartment complex, the top stories pancaked onto the first story, which contained both apartments and parking. All 16 people who died were on the first floor.

Adding a strong structural frame to the bottom floor and installing sturdy walls can keep the ground floor upright during a quake.

Soft-story residential buildings are considered one of the three most vulnerable building types in a major earthquake, said Lucy Jones, seismologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. The others are made of bricks or concrete.

"Getting rid of softer stories will save a lot of lives," said Jones.

The engineer who suggested the inventory idea to LaBonge was David Lee, who works for a mechanical engineering firm, Taylor Devices, that makes shock absorbers to protect buildings during earthquakes. Lee said it has been difficult to get L.A. officials interested in the subject of soft-story building safety but that San Francisco's actions offered a new opportunity to raise the issue.

In 1996 — two years after the Northridge earthquake — the City Council rejected mandatory retrofits for soft-story buildings, opting instead for a voluntary program.

San Francisco, by contrast, has taken more aggressive action. During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, numerous soft-story buildings in the city's Marina district failed, their bottom floors crushed by the floors above.

Under San Francisco's law, property owners would be able to pass on the costs of the seismic strengthening to their tenants — even those under rent control — and would be able to recoup the costs over 20 years.

The city is working with local banks to ensure availability of loans.

In Los Angeles, efforts to require retrofitting for soft-story buildings will likely face opposition from apartment owners — at least if there's no plan for financial help.

Jim Clarke, chief executive officer of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, said he doesn't mind the creation of a list of soft-story buildings — but forcing retrofits would hurt property owners if they can't afford to do them and are unable to pass on the costs to their tenants.

"Forty-three percent of our members are senior citizens," Clarke said. "A big hit like that would be devastating."

Beverly Kenworthy, executive director of the Los Angeles division of the California Apartment Assn., said the city should help property owners pay for any required fixes.

"Some of these mandatory laws can create a hardship," she said, with many properties owned by couples who "don't have access to a lot of capital."

"We don't think it's a bad idea — there just needs to be a type of funding mechanism ... to help property owners pay for it," she added.

LaBonge's proposal calls on city officials to figure out how to identify potentially dangerous soft-story residential buildings across the city. Councilman Jose Huizar, who seconded LaBonge's motion, said through a spokesman that he hopes his City Council planning committee will discuss the idea soon.




12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

L.A. airports panel throws out bids on media services contract

The bids for a lucrative media services contract at Los Angeles International Airport were thrown out Tuesday amid conflict of interest allegations involving a former airport commission president.

In a rare decision, the Board of Airport Commissioners voted unanimously to reject all proposals to handle indoor advertising, sponsorships and other media opportunities to promote LAX, the nation's third-busiest airport. The contract could provide up to $350 million in revenue for Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX, by the end of 2020.

"We are stuck between a rock and a hard spot on this one," said Commissioner Valeria C. Velasco. "It's tough, a hard decision."

The need to cancel the bids and restart the procurement process stems from a formal protest filed by Clear Channel Airports, which was competing against a joint venture involving JC Decaux Airport Inc., Premier Partnerships and Time Warner. Airport staff recommended the JC Decaux group for the contract. Clear Channel was the runner-up.

The protest alleges that Alan Rothenberg, a former commission president and chairman of Premier Partnerships, has a conflict of interest under the city's government code because he participated in discussions and worked on plans related to the contract before he resigned from the board in 2010.

Due to the potential risk of a Clear Channel victory in court and potential revenue losses, airport staff concluded that rejecting all proposals was the appropriate course for the commission. Officials estimated that the lost revenue could be as high as $15 million for the city's airport department, compared to $3 million if the bidding process were restarted.

"We are really pleased that we got confirmation that the issues we raised had merit," said Fiona Hutton, a spokeswoman for Clear Channel Airports. "Clearly, the commission believed there was something wrong with the JC Decaux proposal."

Before the vote, John Moyer, a senior vice president at Clear Channel, told commissioners he was disappointed that awarding the contract to his company was not an option on the board agenda Tuesday. He urged them to discuss the idea with airport lawyers and staff.

"We can deliver a better product," Moyer said. "We don't start off in a bid with the intent to protest, but we are going to stand up for what we believe in. As more unfolded, this did not pass the smell test."

In a prepared statement, JC Decaux officials noted that airport staff designated their company a qualified bidder early in the process and did not question the involvement of Rothenberg's firm in the bid.

At the board meeting, Ellen Berkowitz, an attorney for JC Decaux, suggested that an existing airport contract with JC Decaux be revised to include some of the work outlined in the now-stalled media services contract — an option mentioned by airport staff. Premier Partnerships is not involved in the existing contract.

"I find it very troubling and it sets a disturbing precedent that these allegations can be thrown around," Berkowitz told the board. "It shows a bully can come in and up-end a very well done procurement process with these accusations."

In other action Tuesday, airport commissioners approved more than $250 million in new project and construction management contracts related to the ongoing modernization of LAX. The largest at $87.5 million each were awarded to AVB Management Partners and Parsons Transportation Group Inc.


12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Principal who owns for-profit sports camp welcomes independent review

Written By kolimtiga on Selasa, 20 Agustus 2013 | 12.57

Carter Paysinger, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, said Monday that he welcomes an independent review called by the Beverly Hills Unified School District into the for-profit summer sports camp he owns.

The review was in response to an article in The Times last week that reported that the Beverly Hills Sports Academy, held on campus, is owned by Paysinger and operated by two school employees.

Parents say they were led to believe that the academy was a mandatory school-sanctioned camp for athletes and that fees would help fund sports teams. Others say they were strongly encouraged by the principal and other administrators to enroll their children to give them a better shot at making teams.

Parents contend that it is a conflict of interest for public school officials to run a business that caters solely to their own students.

Supt. Gary Woods said the Beverly Hills Board of Education requested the review last week.

In his first public statements about the program, Paysinger said the review would provide needed transparency.

"In my thirty-plus years as an educator, school official and employee of the Beverly Hills Unified School District, I have always acted in the best interests of our students and the District…" Paysinger said in a written statement.

Paysinger's attorney, Reed Aljian, said the principal will have no further comment until the review is complete.

The academy charges from $200 to $385 for the monthlong training session and takes in between $60,000 and $70,000 a summer, according to the district. None of the revenue goes toward the athletic teams at Beverly Hills High.

In 1997, the district asked Paysinger to run a summer sports program at the school — which previously had been operated by a local university, according to Aljian.

That year, Paysinger registered the business name Beverly Hills Sports Academy in Los Angeles County, listing himself as owner as recently as 2012. Paysinger is in the process of having his name removed, the district said.

Once Paysinger became an administrator, he gave up day-to-day involvement, Aljian said.

A business tax application — a requirement to do business in Beverly Hills — has never been filed for the academy, according to the city.

Howard Edelman, a physical education teacher and former track and cross-country coach, and Jason Newman, a co-athletic director, handle the day-to-day operations of the camp, which attracts about 300 athletes each summer.

The academy pays about $6,000 to use campus facilities under a state law that gives public access to schools, the district said.

The camp is referred to as "GW Prep Baseball/Beverly Hills Sports Academy" on the program's certificate of liability insurance, which was provided by the district.

GW Prep Baseball Inc., a nonprofit organization, was hired by the academy to provide "accounting-related services," said Jeffrey Hill, GW's chief executive. Hill, an accountant, would not be more specific on what those services entailed.

"We work with the sports academy, providing certain services for them and we get paid for the services," Hill said. "That's the extent of the relationship."


12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Lesson for college-bound: never give up

They lured him with Clippers tickets and the promise of money for college. The deal required Eric Antuche to give up years of Saturday mornings.

But it all paid off for the graduate of Verbum Dei High School in Watts.

His family drove him up to Humboldt State University last weekend, where he'll begin his freshman year classes Monday. He owes the opportunity to Neighborhood Youth Achievers and a handful of generous donors.

Neighborhood Youth Achievers is one of those grass-roots groups we don't hear much about. It's basically one man, Michael Wainwright, working from a cramped office in Watts. Funds sometimes run so short, he has trouble keeping the lights on.

But with financial help from a loose-knit network of Catholic businessmen, the group has in the last four years helped send almost 50 students from low-income families to college.

The scholarships the group gives aren't big. Enough for a laptop, books, winter clothes — a couple thousand dollars at most.

But that and the classes the organization provides — weekly workshops on public speaking, money management, networking, study skills — is helping turn even middling high school students into college grads.

Eric never really saw himself leaving home for college. "I was really shy," he said.

Weeks of Toastmasters classes improved his communication skills, which he'll probably use a lot this year to reassure his worried parents.

"This will be my first time being away from my family," said Eric, 17. "They've been very supportive; I know it's hard on them. But it's time I learn to be responsible and mature. And getting a better education? That kind of heals their hurt."


I wrote about Neighborhood Youth Achievers three years ago when the group was just getting started.

It grew through an unplanned collaboration between Wainwright, who ran a jobs program in Watts, and retired businessman John Martin, who'd been arranging scholarships to New York's Marist College for Catholic school graduates.

Martin wanted to get public school students into his pipeline. Wainwright needed an entree to big-hearted donors. The two men had little in common beyond a passion for kids and their Catholic faith.

The group's scholarship luncheon on Saturday was an inspiring window into a private world of personal generosity.

There were donors whose gifts connected the students to where they're coming from: Like Thelma Walker Union, a minister who provides a scholarship in memory of her murdered son. Juan Walker, a Claremont College graduate who worked with troubled teens, was shot to death 16 years ago at his Baldwin Hills home. "We don't know who," his mother said. "And we don't know why."

There were benefactors who reminded the students of where they want to go. Like Rich Meehan, a retired dentist from Rolling Hills Estates who spent every Friday for 18 years treating skid row patients for free. Each year he funds several scholarships for Neighborhood Youth Achievers.

Meehan's roots were not so different from the students'. He was born during the Depression and worked his way through school on construction sites, laying concrete blocks. His family was poor but always stressed that education was the way out of poverty. He was the first person on either side of his family to graduate from college.

The message his generosity delivers is as important as the money.

"We want these young people to graduate and give back to their community," Wainwright said. "It's an intergenerational thing; someone rises and they reach back and lift up the group behind them."

12.57 | 0 komentar | Read More

Environmentalists object to bill that would change Tahoe rules

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — As political leaders from California and Nevada gathered on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe to discuss ways to protect it, environmentalists protested that a bill in California could reverse nearly two decades of environmental improvements.

The measure before the Legislature would codify an agreement reached last year between the two states' leaders to limit the powers of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which sets environmental rules for development on both the California and Nevada sides of the lake. The agency's 15-member governing board includes seven appointed members from California and seven from Nevada, with one non-voting presidential appointee.

Nevada officials had threatened to pull out of the 40-year-old two-state agency unless local governments were given more control over development decisions around the lake. U.S Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Nevada's Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and Gov. Jerry Brown in criticizing the Sierra Club's opposition to the alterations and lamented the organization's decision to file a lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento in hopes of blocking the proposed new rules.

Reid said he urged the Sierra Club's leaders not to file the suit because the deal reflected a bipartisan agreement between leaders from both states.

"I tried to prevail upon them, they didn't listen to me," Reid told reporters Monday as a light summer rain rippled the lake behind him at Sand Harbor State Park. "I'm right and they're wrong."

Nevada has made the changes already, in a bill signed by Sandoval earlier this year, and the legislation in California has wide bipartisan support. It is co-sponsored by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), a preeminent environmental voice, and Republican Sen. Ted Gaines, whose district includes the western half of Lake Tahoe.

"California ceded its authority to the state of Nevada to dictate the terms of the agreement," said Sierra Club spokeswoman Laurel Ames, who also attended the Lake Tahoe meeting Monday. "There is going to be a lot more development along the lake because of this watering down of the existing plan."

Ames said the revised plan would allow counties and towns around Lake Tahoe to adopt pollution controls weaker than those currently in place. Critics of the pact also said it would allow building on hundreds of acres of currently undeveloped land and denser development closer to the lake.

Pavley, who has authored groundbreaking legislation limiting greenhouse gas emissions and requiring cars to emit less pollution, said the bill was a thoughtful compromise that would still protect Lake Tahoe.

"A lot of people," she said, "just want the status quo."


12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More

Bay Area limousine fire that killed 5 was accidental, officials say

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — A limousine fire that claimed the lives of five women en route to a bridal party in early May was "accidental in nature" and no criminal charges will be filed, law enforcement officials said Monday at the end of a three-month investigation.

The car was carrying two more passengers than was legal, officials said during a news conference, adding that the state would fine the livery company $7,500 for failing to operate it safely. However, the extra passengers were not determined to have played any part in the blaze.

Foster City Fire Chief Michael Keefe said that the white stretch limousine's suspension system had failed as it traveled west on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge about 10 o'clock on a Saturday night. The vehicle was carrying a 31-year-old nurse who had recently married, along with eight of her closest friends.

The 1999 Lincoln Town Car's rotating drive shaft came in contact with the floorboard, Keefe said, causing friction, heat and possibly sparks and igniting the materials covering the floorboard.

"As the fire developed, it ignited the foam padding and other material used to fabricate the rear seat," Keefe said.

The flames and resulting smoke "blocked access to the rear doors of the limo, leaving the passengers with one possible exit — through the small pass-through opening into the driver's compartment," he said. "Tragically, not all passengers were able to exit in time."

Photos included in the report released Monday showed a white limo with a black top. The front of the vehicle appeared intact. The rear was severely damaged: the passenger-side back door burned through, the rear tires flattened and wheels melted, the trunk blistered and peeling.

In 911 calls recorded that night, a dispatcher tried to calm a screaming woman. "Ma'am," he said, "I understand you're reporting the car fire on the San Mateo Bridge. Are you involved or a passerby?"

"We are the passenger!" the unidentified woman shrieked. "We are the passenger!"

"Are there parties inside the vehicle?" the dispatcher continued.

"Oh, Lord, nine people," she cried before the signal died.

Neriza Fojas, who was preparing to return to her hometown in the Philippines for a second wedding ceremony in June, died of smoke inhalation, along with Felomina Geronga, 43, Michelle Estrera, 35, Jennifer Balon, 39, and Anna Alcantara, 46.

Their bodies were burned beyond recognition, and dental records were necessary for identification. They were pronounced dead at the scene — the No. 3 lane of westbound California 92 on the Foster City side of the bridge — and their deaths were "near instant," San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said Monday.

After leaving Alameda en route to the party 25 miles away, according to the report, the nine friends began opening presents and taking pictures in the back of the limousine. One popped a bottle of champagne. Then Amalia Loyola, 48, noticed smoke seeping in through the floor. The passenger compartment began to get hotter.

Nelia Arellano, 36, knocked on the partition and told driver Orville Brown that there was smoke in the limo. Brown's response: No smoking allowed. Precious time passed before the women could make the 46-year-old driver understand and pull over. Flames began to shoot up.

Arellano was able to escape. When she saw her friends climbing out too, she called 911, according to the California Highway Patrol.

"But when I checked and there was only two that got out, I went back into the limo and I heard Jasmin [de Guia, 34] say I'm stuck, help me get out," Arellano said.

The women could not escape through the left rear door because the child-safety lock was engaged, the report said. Investigators could not tell if the right rear safety lock was in use because it was too badly burned.

CHP Capt. Mike Maskarich said that the investigation included a thorough inspection of the car and analysis of its maintenance records and the business records of LimoStop Inc., the company that owned and operated it. Officials also conducted extensive interviews with the witnesses and survivors.

"We have concluded that the fire was accidental in nature," Maskarich said.

Although there had been speculation about whether Brown may have been on his cellphone, Maskarich said phone records showed he was not talking when the fire broke out and his passengers called for him to stop the limousine.

"This is a horrific tragedy," said San Mateo County Dist. Atty. Stephen Wagstaffe. "It changed lives forever. But it is not a case that goes to the criminal courts. …This is a tragedy that is not a crime."


12.56 | 0 komentar | Read More
techieblogger.com Techie Blogger Techie Blogger