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Southern California -- this just in

Category: Environment

Man killed in trench collapse identified; Cal-OSHA investigating

Workers try to rescue two people from a trench in Pacific Palisades. Credit: Martha Groves / Los Angeles Times

California safety officials Friday were investigating the cause of a trench collapse in Pacific Palisades a day earlier that killed one man and injured another, a spokesman said.

Also Friday, the Los Angeles County coroner's office identified the dead man as Gilbert Vargas, 50. Emergency workers recovered his body Thursday night after about nine hours of digging in the 200 block of North Temescal Canyon Road, just north of Pacific Coast Highway.

Vargas and the unidentified injured man, who was airlifted Thursday to a hospital in stable condition, had been excavating with back hoes on a city storm water project, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Peter Melton, a spokesman for Cal-OSHA, said the agency has ordered work stopped at the site until any hazards have been resolved.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health has six months to complete its investigation, but Melton said Los Angeles Engineering Inc., the men's employer, "is going to want to get this taken care of as soon as possible to get back to work, if they can get back to work."

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Mars rock yields building blocks of life

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-- Martha Groves

Photo: Workers try to rescue two people Thursday from a trench in Pacific Palisades. Credit: Martha Groves / Los Angeles Times

 

 

New park with horse arena opening in the San Fernando Valley

A new park is scheduled to open in the northwest San Fernando Valley Saturday featuring the area’s first equestrian arena.

According to a statement from Los Angeles Councilman Mitch Englander, Aliso Canyon Park includes trailer parking, a staging area, cross ties and an automatic horse waterer. Walking paths, picnic tables and a pedestrian bridge over a small creek designed to protect the area sensitive habitat are also features of the park.  Other highlights include security solar lighting and landscaping with California native plant species.

The park was upgraded in 2010 using grant funding and the goal is to “preserve it as open space and save it from development,” according to the statement from Englander.

The grand opening is scheduled for 10am Saturday at 18041 Rinaldi Street in Granada Hills.

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Mars rock yields building blocks of life

Ancient feathered birds may have sported four wings, study says

Environmental group to appeal planned rail yard near Port of L.A.

-- Ann M . Simmons in Santa Clarita

LAX hands out bottled water after line contamination

Los Angeles International Airport was handing out bottled water Wednesday to passengers and employees in Terminal 6 after a cross-contamination incident compromised the water system, officials said.

The precautions were expected to continue until further notice as workers attempted to flush and test water lines to ensure the water is safe to consume, according to Los Angeles World Airports spokeswoman Nancy Castles.

Airport officials were notified between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. by a contractor working in a lower level pump room of Terminal 6 that a potable water line was contaminated with recycled chilled air conditioning water from another line.

Airlines and concessionaires were notified and airport staff covered water fountains to prevent their use.

All food and beverage concessions were temporarily closed under public safety requirements and passengers were directed to get food and drinks in Terminals 5 and 7. Restrooms remain open but users were being given hand wipes and hand sanitizers.

All airlines have portable, potable water and there were no reports of flight delays, Castles said.

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Still no verdict in Bell corruption trial; jurors on Day 13

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-- Carla Rivera

Supervisors pull back storm water pollution fee proposal

Faced by widespread public opposition, Los Angeles County supervisors sent a proposed parcel fee to combat storm water pollution back to the drawing board.

The proposed fee would be levied on all property owners within the county's flood control district, raising an estimated $290 million a year to help cities and the county deal with widespread water quality issues stemming from polluted storm water and urban runoff and the need to comply with new state regulations.

The supervisors had contemplated putting the fee on a mail-only ballot to the affected property owners. They rejected that notion in a vote Tuesday, while leaving the possibility open for a reworked measure to be placed on the ballot in a general election in June or in November 2014.

Unlike the mail-only vote, which would have required a simple majority, a vote in the general election would require a two-thirds majority to pass.

The board first considered the proposal in January but deferred a vote after a contentious hearing at which nearly 200 people spoke. Although Tuesday's hearing was somewhat more sparsely attended, it still lasted more than three hours.

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Now beach bonfires could be restricted statewide

Bonfire

This post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.

The flames may have been turned up higher in the debate over whether dozens of fire rings – nostalgic to some, bothersome to others – should be removed from two popular beaches in Balboa and Corona del Mar.

While the California Coastal Commission agreed Wednesday to delay its vote on the fate of the fire rings, state air quality officials indicated that they will take up the bonfire issue later this spring as part of a debate that could affect the future on beach bonfires along the entire California coastline.

Residents in Newport Beach, with the support of the city, said the fire pits have become a public nuisance and that the smoke billowing from the beach campfires can be choking.

But Coastal Commission staffers have recommended keeping the fire rings, which they see as a free attraction for beach goes and a symbol of full public access. Some commissioners on Wednesday seemed to reject the city’s proposal to install volleyball courts, playgrounds and covered picnic areas as a tradeoff.

“This is really a way of controlling the public,” said Commissioner Esther Sanchez. “The suggestions that have been made about what kind of recreation activities that could be put in place are really geared toward local residents.”

The debate over beach fires, though, may be on the cusp of going statewide.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District said this week that it will meet in May to consider whether fire rings should be more heavily restricted.

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State delays fate of Newport Beach fire rings

A beachgoer tends to the blaze in one of the fire rings at Big Corona  in Newport Beach. Credit: Robert Gauthier/LA Times.

Newport Beach residents who are holding their breath about the fate of the city’s beach fire rings will have to wait a bit longer to exhale.

The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to put off a decision on the city’s application for a permit to remove its 60 fire rings at Corona del Mar State Beach and around the Balboa Pier.

The delay was requested after it came to light that the South Coast Air Quality Management District will consider whether fire rings should be more heavily restricted in May.

“We don’t want to get at odds with public health, even if it’s at odds with access,” commission Chairwoman Mary Shallenberger said of the commission’s sister agency.

Although a staff report recommends that the commission reject the city’s application because the removal of the fire rings would eliminate a free form of recreation, thus limiting public access to the beach, the city has contended that smoke from the rings poses a significant public health risk.

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-- Jill Cowan, from San Diego

Photo: A beachgoer tends to the blaze in one of the fire rings at Big Corona  in Newport Beach. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

L.A. Votes: Greuel and her allies step up attacks

Greuel600
With just days to go before voters make their choice for mayor, one of the presumed front-runners, Wendy Greuel, and her allies launched a multi-pronged attack against her rivals, signaling that the city controller may be in a more precarious spot than she expected going into the March 5 primary.Election Memo

Greuel ramped up her attacks on chief rival Eric Garcetti, alleging that his family’s financial connection to a controversial oil drilling operation has endangered children and raised questions about his environmental credentials. Garcetti responded that his family’s property has never and will never be used to extract oil, that the attack smacked of desperation, and highlighted Greuel’s donations from oil and gas interests.

WHERE THEY STAND: Los Angeles mayoral candidates in their own words

In a further sign that Greuel is under pressure, the independent effort backing her bid released on Thursday a television attack ad against Garcetti, as well as a negative radio spot aimed at Jan Perry, who some believe is making inroads into Greuel’s support with her aggressive mail campaign.

Kevin James sought to underscore the city’s pension liabilities, saying he is the only candidate in the mayoral race with the independence to deal with it. And his campaign called for the release of communications between Greuel, her chief strategist and the head of the union that is the primary backer of the independent committee that has spent $1.7 million to date to support her bid.

To boost his long-shot mayoral run, Emanuel Pleitez is literally running across the city, in sneakers and baby-blue athletic shorts.

It’s Friday. Time for more financial reports from candidates. Check out www.latimes.com later Friday night to see the details from the last financial disclosure reports before election day.

-- Seema Mehta

Comments, questions or tips on city elections? Tweet me at @LATSeema

Photo: Candidate for Los Angeles mayor Wendy Greuel participates in a mayoral debate at the Cal State Los Angeles' Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs. The debate was moderated by ABC7's Marc Brown. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Greuel, Garcetti trade attacks over lease with oil drilling firm

Photo: Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Jan Perry and Emanuel Pleitez at a debate Feb. 5. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel ramped up her attacks on chief rival Eric Garcetti on Thursday, alleging that his family’s financial connection to a controversial oil drilling operation at Beverly Hills High School has endangered children and raised questions about the authenticity of his environmental credentials.

“He has promoted himself as an environmental champion, but he has never mentioned his oil interests,” said Greuel, alluding to a Times article this week detailing Garcetti’s interest in a 20-year lease with Venoco, a multinational oil company.

“Who is the real Eric Garcetti? The fact is, nobody knows,” Greuel said. “Every day we get a new Eric Garcetti, someone who tries to be everything to everyone.”

L.A. ELECTIONS 2013: Sign up for our email newsletter    

Garcetti called Greuel’s allegations “a desperate attack from an increasingly desperate Wendy Greuel” during a news conference Thursday afternoon. He noted that Greuel accepted a $250 contribution from one of Venoco’s lobbyists during her campaign for city controller in 2009 and has accepted at least $11,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies.

“There is one candidate in this campaign who is focused on cleaning up the environment, and there is one who is focused on flinging mud,” Garcetti said. “There is one candidate who is focused on the facts, and there is one whose numbers don’t add up. This is just the latest example of Ms. Greuel’s numbers not adding up.” 

Garcetti was introduced by David Haake, vice chairman of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, who said the lease was a “non-issue” and a distraction from the real issues in the campaign.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

The allegations marked a sharply negative turn for Greuel that underscored the closeness of the race as Tuesday’s election draws near. Many voters are still undecided -- possibly one reason Greuel appears to be shifting to more personal attacks on her rival’s character.

As The Times reported this week, Garcetti and family members signed a lease with Venoco in 1998 granting the company subsurface drilling rights to a Beverly Hills retail property co-owned by the councilman.

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San Onofre: Edison, regulators at odds over restart plan?

Children play in the surf and a man fishes with the nuclear power plant looming in the distance. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Southern California Edison may be at odds with federal regulators over what it means to run the San Onofre nuclear plant at full power.

Edison officials met with U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staffers Wednesday to discuss the agency's technical questions on a proposal by Edison to restart one reactor at the shuttered plant and run it at 70% power for five months before taking it back offline for more inspections.

The company argued that running the reactor at reduced power will alleviate the conditions that led to unusual wear on steam generator tubes carrying radioactive water.

The plant has been out of service for more than a year after one of the tubes in the plant's Unit 3 leaked a small amount of radioactive steam.

The NRC has asked Edison to show that Unit 2 -- the unit proposed for restart and which showed less tube damage -- could be run at the full power level allowed under its license without danger of tube rupture.

Activists have contended that if Edison fails to prove there is no risk then it should be required to apply for a license amendment to run at 70% power.

In a response submitted Monday, Edison argued that 70% power is, in fact, "normal steady state full power."

The company said that the "clear purpose" of the technical specification governing tube integrity is "to ensure that the … tubes will retain their integrity over the range of operating conditions to which they will be subjected. In this case, that range is limited to 70% power."

Art Howell, who heads an NRC panel focused on San Onofre, told Edison officials Wednesday that "Your position on the technical specification is different than staff's position that was communicated to you on Jan. 29."

Edison also promised to provide an analysis by March 15 showing that the unit can safely operate at 100% power. Edison Vice President of Engineering Tom Palmisano told the NRC staff, "We think it's appropriately conservative to operate at reduced power" and continue to collect data.

Activists expressed outrage at Edison's response to the NRC request.

"With all due respect, it reads to me like a schoolboy's justification for why they couldn't complete a homework assignment," said Kendra Ulrich, a nuclear campaigner with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which has been pushing the NRC to require a license amendment.

Ulrich said Edison was "asserting they understand the regulations better than the regulators themselves."

NRC staff have said they will make a decision on Edison's restart proposal no earlier than late April.

In its quarterly earnings report Tuesday, Southern California Edison's parent company, Edison International, disclosed that the plant's outage has cost the company more than $400 million to date for repairs, inspections and replacement power.

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-- Abby Sewell

Photo: Children play in the surf and a man fishes with the nuclear power plant looming in the distance. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Cost for troubled San Onofre plant? $400 million and growing

San onore
The parent company of Southern California Edison, operator of the troubled San Onofre nuclear plant, reported Tuesday that the costs of the yearlong outage at the plant had ballooned to more than $400 million as of the end of 2012.

The hefty price tag includes inspections, repairs and purchasing replacement power.

Edison International officials fielded questions from analysts about the plant’s extended shutdown and the possibility that federal regulators will require the plant to go through a lengthy license amendment process before returning to service.

They also took some shots at elected officials who have accused Edison of knowingly installing defective equipment at the plant.

The plant has been out of service since last January because of unexpected wear on tubes in the plant's steam generators.

Edison has proposed restarting the less-damaged of the plant's two units and operating it at 70% power, which the company argued would alleviate the conditions that led to the wear. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still reviewing the proposal.

Edison indicated Tuesday that the company has looked into what repairs could be done to restore both units to full power, and was told by the steam generator manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, that the job of replacing a "significant portion" of the system could take more than five years to complete. 

The report also heralded a potentially protracted dispute between the two companies. Mitsubishi's warranty on the equipment limited payouts to $138 million, of which the company has paid out $45 million to date. Edison is contending that the warranty cap should not apply because of unusual circumstances at San Onofre -- Mitsubishi disagrees.

Edison Chief Executive Ted Craver said the company "bristles" at allegations made publicly by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that the company was aware of design flaws in the steam generators and did not make fixes in order to avoid triggering a license amendment.

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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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