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Category: July 2012

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Officer who pepper-sprayed UC Davis students leaves job

UC Davis pepper spray
The UC Davis police officer who pepper-sprayed students during a campus protest last fall no longer works for the university, the Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday.

The employment of Lt. John Pike, who was captured on cellphone video in the act of spraying peaceful demonstrators, “ended on July 31, 2012,” UC Davis spokesman Barry Shiller said.

Shiller would not comment on the circumstances of Pike’s departure, citing privacy restrictions governing the release of such information. Pike declined to comment to the newspaper, saying he wanted to consult an attorney before speaking. Pike had been on paid administrative leave.

His actions Nov. 18 sparked widespread outrage with the dissemination of a video showing him repeatedly spraying the chemical irritant into the faces of seated students. Pike and other campus police officers contended that the spray was the "most appropriate" tool on hand to deal with what they described as an unruly mob that encircled the officers and refused to disperse.

The handling of the student demonstration already led to the retirement of former UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza and to criticism of the university's president.

A task-force investigation concluded that Pike lacked proper cause to spray the students and broke police rules by using a large and high-pressure canister that is not supposed to be deployed any closer than six feet from the intended targets.

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— Howard Blume

Photo: UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray on Occupy UC Davis protesters on Nov. 18. Credit: Wayne Tilcock / The Davis Enterprise

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Koreatown redistricting fight moves to federal court

Koreatown resdistricting hearing
The bitter battle over redrawing Los Angeles council district boundaries moved to federal court Tuesday, with a group of Koreatown residents accusing officials of illegally using race as the predominant factor in creating City Council President Herb Wesson’s new district.

Five residents of Wesson's district filed a lawsuit asserting that city leaders reworked political boundaries with the “explicit purpose” of increasing the percentage of African American voters in Wesson’s district.

Wesson, who is black, represents Koreatown, West Adams, Mid-City, the Crenshaw Boulevard corridor and other nearby neighborhoods.

“The city has diluted and negatively impacted the voting power of Koreatown residents by unnecessarily, unlawfully and unconstitutionally dividing their community into two separate districts,” the lawsuit states.

The residents’ lawyer, Hyongsoon Kim, said he wants a federal judge to bar the city from using the new districts in the March election. The lawsuit also called for a court-supervised special master to redraw the lines. Lawyers for the city had no comment. A Wesson spokesman also said his boss had no comment.

The lawsuit comes after activists demanded that Koreatown be removed from Wesson’s district and shifted into one represented by Councilman Eric Garcetti. They argued that combining Koreatown with other parts of Garcetti’s district -- Thai Town and Historic Filipinotown – would improve the chances of electing an Asian American candidate. Villaraigosa and council members rejected those demands.

Tuesday’s lawsuit marks the latest clash in an especially nasty once-a-decade redistricting process. Council members Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks have accused Wesson of orchestrating changes that stripped their districts of economic assets. Wesson responded that he was only one of 15 council members.

Koreatown activists also attacked Wesson, accusing him of treating their neighborhood as “an ATM” –pulling out campaign contributions but failing to improve services.

Wesson dismissed the allegations, saying he had focused on bringing business and new public improvements to the area.

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--David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall.

Photo: William Min, left, was among dozens of people who protested the Los Angeles City Council's Koreatown redistricting plan earlier this year. Credit: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times

Outrage over City Hall employees watching Olympics at work

A city councilman has expressed concern amid reports that so many city workers are watching the Olympics that it is causing computer problems at City Hall.

 “City employees aren’t paid to watch the Olympics on their computers or TV. That is not what the taxpayers are paying them to do,” said Councilman Dennis Zine . ”The question is where are the supervisors when this is going on?”

In an email, the city's chief technology officer begged them to stop for fear of a municipal computer meltdown.

 “We are experiencing a high volume of traffic due to people watching the Olympics online. I respectfully request that you discontinue this as it is impacting city operations,” city tech guru Randi Levin wrote in an email sent to thousands of workers  Tuesday morning.

The email came on a day when the U.S. women's gymnastics team were competing, along with the women's soccer team.

Mark Wolf, executive officer for information technology for the city, said he had not discussed the email with Levin but said any time employees watch streaming material it takes up a tremendous amount of bandwidth.

NBC is streaming the games live online, which taxes highly-valuable bandwidth. That means computers that aren't being used for real work might be grinding at a snail's pace.

Asked about the city's struggling computer systems, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's press office referred calls to Levin, who did not return calls seeeking comment.

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--Richard Winton

Anaheim residents: We are tired of being marginalized

Anaheim
Community members Tuesday called on the Anaheim City Council  to  address the lack of elected Latino representation by moving to a district-style election system instead of the current at-large process.

The press conference was held after a week of protests – some which turned violent – after two men were fatally shot by police officers.

The rallies have highlighted tensions in the city, which some say are the result of a community that feels marginalized. 

The City Council is considering a Nov. 6 ballot measure to amend the voting process. It would require that four members of the five-member council be elected by district. Currently, the majority of the council members live in Anaheim Hills, an affluent enclave that is largely separated from the rest of the city.

According to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in  June, the current at-large system has resulted in “vote dilution” for Latino residents.

Though Anaheim’s population is majority Latino, the city council has only seen three Latino members in city history, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also references a “history of discrimination in the city that still impacts the Latino community.” 

Continue reading »

Quarry proposal near Temecula resurfaces with county vote

Liberty quarry
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to adopt a fast-track permitting system, a measure originally intended to speed up reconsideration of a massive rock quarry near Temecula that was rejected  this year.

The company proposing the controversial open-pit rock mine last week submitted a revised application for the quarry, reducing the size and volunteering to pay a new fee that would raise millions in revenue for the county.

The supervisors voted 3-2 to begin drafting a new fast-track permitting procedure for surface mines and other major developments. The proposal, which initially applied only to mines, is expected to come back before the board in late August.

The Liberty Quarry, proposed by Granite Construction of Watsonville, met with strong opposition from Temecula and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.

The firm wanted to develop a 414-acre rock quarry operation on a mountain that looms over Interstate 15. It would have mined about 270 million tons of granite from the mountain over the next 75 years, supplying concrete and asphalt to fast-growing northern San Diego County and southwest Riverside County. The company’s latest proposal reduced the life of the mine to 50 years and lowered the amount of granite to be mined.

Temecula Councilwoman Maryann Edwards criticized Supervisor John Benoit, who wrote the fast-track measure, saying he was doing the bidding of Granite Construction, one of his major campaign contributors. Benoit dismissed the criticism, saying the contributions totalled less than $7,000.

Edwards also criticized the board for considering the measure, saying that Riverside was no longer Southern California's dumping ground with only "meth labs and chicken slaughter houses.” Like the rest of the Temecula City Council, Edwards said dust and increased pollution from the quarry would threaten the health of residents and devastate wineries and other economic foundations of southwest Riverside County.

“I’m embarrassed for this body and the county I call home," she told the supervisors before the vote.

Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians, told the supervisors that the mountain that Granite wants to mine is part of a range where Luiseño people believe life was created. He urged the board to reject the fast-track proposal.

Supervisor John Tavaglione was the swing vote on the five-member board. In February, he joined supervisors Jeff Stone of Temecula and Bob Buster of Riverside in voting against the quarry. On Tuesday, he joined Benoit of Indio and Supervisor Marion Ashley of Perris in favoring the fast-track process.

Tavaglione bristled at the suggestion that campaign contributions, or politics, influenced his vote. He did say, however, that he was “threatened” politically when the quarry came up for a vote earlier in the year, but did not disclose who tried to pressure him. He said his only priority is creating jobs in a county leveled by the recession.

Tavaglione, a Republican from Riverside, is running for the House of Representatives against Democrat Mark Takano.

During the hearing, Stone suggested that quarry supporters wanted the supervisors to reconsider the proposed mine before Tavaglione would leave for Washington, if elected. Stone said mine supporters feared that Gov. Jerry Brown, who would choose Tavaglione's successor, would appoint a supervisor less likely to support the quarry.

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-- Phil Willon in Riverside

Photo: Karie Ruther and Gary Nolan of Granite Construction Co. at the proposed site of the Liberty Quarry, beside Interstate 15 near Temecula. Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times

Grass fire near Palmdale is quickly contained

Firefighters quickly contained a brush fire near Palmdale on Tuesday afternoon, authorities said. No structures were damaged in the blaze, which consumed about 25 acres of grass and brush.

The first call reporting flames near West Avenue 5 at the 14 Freeway came in to dispatchers at 4:07 p.m. Initially, 115 firefighters went to the scene, and within 10 minutes they called for more support, said Inspector Tony Imbrenda of the L.A. County Fire Department.

“Getting a handle on the fire as early as possible is our critical goal,” he said.

Soon about 200 firefighters, two bulldozers and four water-dropping helicopters were at work. Assistance came from the L.A. Fire Department and from the National Forest Service.

There was concern, briefly, when 20-mph winds drove the fire northwest toward the Ana Verde housing tract. But no evacuations were necessary, and the fire was out by 5:01 p.m.

The ability to flood a fire with resources is “usually what does the job,” Imbrenda said.

No information was immediately available on the cause of the fire.

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-- Howard Blume

Panda cub and mother Bai Yun at San Diego Zoo doing fine

The hairless, four-ounce panda cub born Sunday at the San Diego Zoo is showing positive signs: a round belly, movement and a squeaky voice to protest even a momentary separation from its mother, Bai Yun, zoo officials said Tuesday.

"That indicates good vigor and a proper behavorial response to the cool air and loss of contact with mom," said Suzanne Hall, senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

The round belly suggests that Bai Yun is producing sufficient milk for nursing. Bai Yun left the cub just briefly Tuesday to get a drink of water, bringing a protest.

At age 20, Bai Yun's pregnancy was considered "high risk"; zookeepers, researchers, veterinarians, scientists and others are keeping a 24-hour watch on mother and cub.

Bai Yun and her cub will not be on exhibit for a four- to five-month bonding period but  can be seen on the zoo's live Panda Cam, www.sandiegozoo.org/pandacam.

The cub is Bai Yun's sixth offspring since arriving at the San Diego Zoo in 1996. No breeding facility outside China has had as many surviving panda births as the San Diego Zoo.

The cub has yet to develop its distinctive black and white markings. Also, the sex will not be known until zookeepers have a chance to examine it more closely, probably in two months.

--Tony Perry in San Diego

UC Irvine professor plotted deaths after son's suicide, D.A. says

Rainer Klaus Reinscheid
The UC Irvine professor accused of setting fires at his son's high school and plotting to kill students and officials did so after his teenage son committed suicide at a nature preserve near the school, prosecutors said.

Rainer Klaus Reinscheid, 48, of Irvine, was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday afternoon on felony arson charges in connection with a series of fires set at University High School, nearby Mason Park Preserve and the home of an assistant principal this month, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

After his July 24 arrest, investigators discovered emails on Reinscheid's cellphone addressed to himself and his wife from April.

He described detailed plans to "burn down University High School, commit sexual assaults, purchase firearms and murder school officials and students, and then kill himself," the district attorney's office said.

Irvine Unified School District Supt. Terry Walker called the allegations "extremely disturbing" in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. School officials are assisting with the ongoing investigation "in any way we can," he said.

"As troubling as these charges are, we are reassured that law enforcement officials believe he acted alone and that he is currently behind bars," Walker said.

Prosecutors said Reinscheid's 14-year-old son attended the high school and was disciplined in March. Sometime after the incident, they said, the teen committed suicide in the Mason Park preserve.

District spokesman Ian Hanigan described the incident involving Reinscheid's son as a "fairly minor disciplinary case" that involved a theft from a student store. The teenager was given trash pickup duty as punishment, he said.

Continue reading »

Former SEIU leader indicted

FI.FreemanNot long ago, Tyrone Freeman was a rising young star in the national labor movement, already the head of California’s biggest union local and a force in Democratic politics from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.

Freeman’s quick climb up the ranks of the powerful Service Employees International Union burnished his reputation as an effective advocate for the disadvantaged, a man who helped improve the lot of about 190,000 workers paid about $9 an hour to provide in-home care for the infirm.

On Tuesday, however, Freeman was indicted on federal charges of stealing from those workers to enrich himself, including by billing the union for costs from his Hawaii wedding.

The 15-count indictment secured by the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles also alleges that Freeman violated tax laws and gave false information to a mortgage lender. If convicted on all counts, he could face maximum prison sentences in excess of 200 years.

The charges resulted from a nearly four-year investigation by the U.S. Labor Department, FBI and Internal Revenue Service that grew out of a series of  reports in the Los Angeles Times on Freeman’s financial dealings as president of SEIU Local 6434. The resulting scandal spread through the 2-million-member SEIU and cost several other union officials their jobs.

Citing records and interviews, The Times reports showed that Freeman, 42, funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars of his union members’ hard-earned dues to his relatives and lavished similar sums on golf tournments, expensive restaurants and a Beverly Hills cigar club.

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