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Southern California -- this just in

Category: San Diego County

Mayor moves to protect seals in La Jolla; issue returns to court

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has ordered the Children's Pool beach in La Jolla closed at night after viewing a surveillance video of people "harassing, taunting and causing stress" to mother seals and their pups on the beach under the cover of darkness.

"The behavior was shocking, reprehensible and certainly not a reflection of how most citizens in this fine city believe animals should be treated," Filner said in issuing the emergency order this week.

Under the order, the beach will be closed from sunset through sunrise until May 15, considered the end of the pupping season.

A group called Friends of the Children's Pool, which believes the city has tilted too far in supporting the seals over people, is seeking a court order overturning Filner's order. A hearing is set for April 12 in Department 66 of the San Diego County Superior Court.

Soon after taking office, Filner ordered a surveillance camera installed to monitor the beach, day and night. The video shows what appears to be two women sitting on the seals and kicking them.

City Atty. Jan Goldsmith, while noting that Filner did not contact him before issuing the order, said he stands ready to defend the order in court.

"I have seen the videos of the seal abuse and I am appalled," Goldsmith said. "Once we receive information as to the identity of these perpetrators, they will be brought to justice."

For two decades, opposing sides have battled in court and the political realm over the presence of the seals on the horseshoe-shaped beach. One group says the seals should be allowed to remain and be protected; the other says the beach is meant for children and the seals and their droppings imperil public health and restrict access to the tranquil water.

Also at issue in the court hearing will be the rope installed by the city to keep the public away from the seals during pupping season. Friends of the Children's Pool assert the rope exceeds the length permitted by a Coastal Development Permit.

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On anniversary of Iraq war, legislators petition for Medal of Honor for Marine

Sgt. Rafael Peralta's mother, Rosa, and sister, Karen, at his grave at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

On the 10th anniversary of the start of U.S.-led operations in Iraq, a bipartisan group of legislators in Washington submitted a resolution calling for the Medal of Honor to be awarded to Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta of San Diego, killed in Iraq in 2004.

The effort is led by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

Hunter said that Peralta "is a hero, not just to the men who witnessed him do the unthinkable but also to the Marine Corps and all others who value the courage and sacrifice of America's military."

Becerra said Peralta's story "is the epitome of what makes America great, generation after generation."

Peralta, 25, a Mexican immigrant who enlisted on the day he received his “green card,” was killed during a house-clearing mission in Fallouja.

Just days before his death, Peralta wrote a letter to his brother, telling him, “I’m proud to be a Marine, a U.S. Marine, and to defend and protect the freedom and Constitution of America. You should be proud of being an American citizen.”

The letter arrived the day the family in San Diego was notified of Peralta’s death. His brother later enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Marines who were with Peralta have said that while he lay mortally wounded, he reached out and smothered an enemy grenade, saving the lives of several Marines. The Marine Corps recommended Peralta for the Medal of Honor, as did the secretary of the Navy.

Continue reading »

California school districts send out far fewer pink slips

Thanks to a boost in money for public education, California school districts have issued just 3,000 pink slips to teachers this year, a dramatic drop from the 20,000 sent out last year, the California Teachers Assn. reported Monday.

The passage last fall of Proposition 30, which will temporarily increase taxes to raise about $6 billion mostly for education, will help schools avoid the massive layoffs that have crippled art, music, science and other programs statewide since 2008.

Los Angeles and San Diego Unified, two of the region’s largest school districts, issued no pink slips this year for the first time in several years. Last year, L.A. Unified sent out 9,500 layoff notices, the state teachers union said. School districts are required to send teachers preliminary layoff notices by the state’s March 15 deadline.

Dean E. Vogel, the teachers union president, called the reduction in pink slips “great news” but added that California schools are still reeling from the enormous cuts of the last five years. In the last four years, more than $20 billion in education funding has been cut or deferred and more than 30,000 teaching jobs have been axed, he said. 

The state now ranks 49th in per-student spending, according to a January analysis by Education Week, a news publication.

“We still have a long way to go to heal our schools from billions in cuts they have suffered in recent years,” Vogel said in a statement.

San Bernardino City School District issued 166 layoff notices this year, a drop from 251 last year. But fewer than 50 teachers actually lost their jobs, a spokeswoman said.  

The teachers union is still collecting data, but 135 school districts had reported at least 3,043 educator pink slips as of Monday. The top 10 districts reporting the most layoff notices were: Los Angeles County Office of Education, 213; San Bernardino City School District, 166; Sacramento City Unified, 118; San Francisco Unified, 118; Pomona Unified School District, 108; Twin Rivers Unified, 100; Mt. Diablo Unified, 95; Stockton Unified, 95; Pasadena Unified, 81; Alum Rock Elementary School District, 80.

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Sex-bondage cultists to stand trial in death of Marine's wife

Brittany Killgore, in whose death a man and two women have been ordered to stand trial.A former Marine and two female friends -- all three practitioners of sadomasochism -- were ordered Monday to stand trial for murder in the death of the 22-year-old wife of a Marine who was deployed in Afghanistan.

At the end of a weeklong preliminary hearing in Vista, San Diego County Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman ruled there is sufficient evidence to have the three face trial on charges of murder, kidnapping, torture, attempted sexual battery and conspiracy in the strangling death of Brittany Killgore.

Former Staff Sgt. Louis Perez, 46, Dorothy Marie Maraglino, 37, and Jessica Lopez, 25, have all pleaded not guilty. The three lived in a home in Fallbrook near the apartment where Killgore lived.

Killgore's nude body was found in a ravine in southern Riverside County days after she was reported missing April 13. Killgore had filed for divorce from her husband, who was deployed to Afghanistan when she disappeared after allegedly going on an outing with Perez.

Perez had boasted that he planned to hold a sadomasochism session that weekend, according to evidence submitted during the preliminary hearing.

Perez, Maraglino and Lopez were involved in "bondage, torture and master-servant-slave" behavior, according to evidence submitted by prosecutors. Maraglino calls herself a dominatrix, and Perez particularly likes to spank women, according to search warrants.

Killgore had agreed to go on a dinner cruise with Perez the night of April 13 in exchange for his help in moving her belongings out of her Fallbrook apartment.

"After getting into Perez's vehicle and leaving with him, nobody has seen or heard from Killgore," according to an investigator for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Within 13 minutes of getting into Perez's truck, Killgore reportedly texted a friend, "Help." Moments later the friend texted back, "Brittany are u okay I am freaking out here."

According to an investigator's statements in a search warrant, there is no evidence to suggest that Killgore knew of Perez's sexual habits that included bondage, whipping, spanking and cutting. She was an "unwilling participant," according to the warrants.

Prosecutors assert that Perez took Killgore to his Fallbrook home and then texted Lopez and Maraglino to join him. In the house, investigators found "sex apparatuses, toys, and a sex dungeon," according to a search warrant.

Among the items found were ropes, whips, a Taser, a nightstick and spiked gloves. Perez and the victim's husband, Cpl. Cory Killgore, were both assigned to Camp Pendleton. Perez was on active duty when arrested; he is no longer in the Marine Corps.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Brittany Killgore's body was found in a ravine in southern Riverside County days after she was reported missing April 13. Credit: San Diego County Sheriff's Department

 

San Onofre reactor unit could safely be fired up at full power, Edison says

San onofre
Southern California Edison submitted an analysis to federal regulators showing that one of the two reactor units at the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant could operate safely at full power for almost a year.

The plant has been shuttered since a steam generator tube in the plant's Unit 3 sprung a small leak on Jan. 31, 2012, releasing a small amount of radioactive steam.

The incident led to the discovery that thousands of tubes in the recently replaced steam generators in both units of the nuclear plant were showing signs of wear.

Eight tubes in Unit 3 failed pressure tests, meaning they could have ruptured under some circumstances.

Unit 2 showed less wear overall and less of a particularly unusual type of wear caused by tubes banging against adjacent tubes. Officials attributed the difference between the two units to slight manufacturing differences in the support structures. 

Edison has proposed to restart that unit at 70% power for five months, saying that running at reduced power would alleviate the conditions that led to the tube wear.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is still reviewing the restart proposal, asked Edison to show proof that the unit could operate at its full licensed power without danger of a tube rupture, leading many observers to speculate that the agency might require Edison to obtain a license amendment to run at 70% power.

The company previously argued that technical specifications governing tube integrity required it to demonstrate safety at the power level the plant would be operating at -- 70% in this case -- not the full power allowed under the plant's license.

That assertion drew an outcry from activists, led by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, who have been pushing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to require a license amendment -- which could require public hearings and substantially delay the restart process -- before making a decision on the restart proposal. 

Continue reading »

Camp Pendleton Marine killed in Afghanistan is awarded Silver Star

Cindy Easterling, mother of Sgt. Wade Wilson, clutches the Silver Star citation. Credit: Sgt. Jacob HarrerThe mother of a Marine killed in Afghanistan was presented Thursday with his Silver Star for combat bravery, awarded posthumously.

Cindy Easterling received the medal on behalf of her son, Sgt. Wade Wilson, who was killed in a firefight May 11, 2012 in the Musa Qa'leh district of Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold.

When Marines were attacked by an insurgent wielding an AK-47, Wilson "immediately drew his M9 pistol and, leaving the safety of his armored vehicle, fearlessly closed with the insurgent," according to the Silver Star citation signed by Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos.

Wounded several times, Wilson continued to advance on the insurgent, forcing him to flee toward other Marines, who "subsequently engaged and killed him before he could inflict additional casualties." Wilson died from his wounds.

Wilson, 22, from Centerville, Texas, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. He was on his third combat deployment.

"He was one of the greatest Marines I've ever worked with," Capt. John Black said during the award ceremony at Camp Pendleton.

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Photo: Cindy Easterling, mother of Sgt. Wade Wilson, clutches the Silver Star citation. Credit: Sgt. Jacob Harrer

UC San Diego council seeks divestment from firms with West Bank ties

UC San Diego’s student government joined a widening movement urging the university system to divest from companies that some student activists contend are violating the human rights of Palestinians and aiding Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

After a sometimes angry debate that went past 1 a.m. Thursday, the Associated Students’ council voted 20 to 12 with one abstention to endorse a resolution that seeks to end UC investment in such companies as Northrop Grumman, Alliant Techsystems and General Electric. The students contend that these companies provide technology, weapons or other products the Israeli military uses in the Palestinian territories.

Last week, a similar measure was passed by the student government at UC Riverside and one was approved at UC Irvine in November. However, those advisory measures have no power over the UC regents, who control the university’s massive portfolio and have said they will not take any divestment action involving Israel.

Supporters of Israel complained that the UC San Diego measure was unfair and divisive. Leaders of the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, which lobbied for the resolution, issued a statement that applauded the vote, saying it was “in solidarity with Palestinians seeking freedom and justice.”

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Sailor with Special Warfare unit dies from Afghanistan injuries

Chief Petty Officer Christian Pike. Credit: U.S. NavyA Navy sailor deployed with a Coronado-based SEAL team has died of injuries suffered during operations in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense announced Thursday.

Chief Petty Officer Christian Pike, 31, of Peoria, Ariz., died Wednesday at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, from injuries sustained two days earlier in Maiwand district in the western portion of Kandahar province.

Pike, a cryptologic technician, deployed with a Naval Special Warfare unit based in Coronado. He enlisted in December of 2001.

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Photo: Chief Petty Officer Christian Pike. Credit: U.S. Navy

San Diego deputy faces prostitution charge

A San Diego County sheriff's deputy is facing a charge of soliciting prostitution, authorities said Wednesday.

Stuart Rea, a member of the department since 1991, is set for arraignment March 20. The city attorney's office filed a misdemeanor charge after a San Diego Police Department undercover sting.

Rea was put on desk duty after he was cited, authorities said.

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Butterflies are back at Safari Park for flutter season

ButterflyThe common blue morpho, zebra long wing, pink rose swallowtail and banded purple wing were in full flutter Wednesday.

Also, the paper kite, gulf fritillary, Grecian shoemaker, golden heliconid and several other species of butterflies. It’s that time of year: the annual butterfly exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, with its Butterfly Jungle opening to the public on Saturday.

In the wild, numerous butterfly species, including the migrating monarchs of Mexico, are taking a beating from modernity: loss of habitat, climate change, herbicide poisoning, and the prevalence of wood-burning stoves requiring trees for fuel.

If patrons to the Safari Park – nee Wild Animal Park – come away supporting ecological efforts to protect butterflies on their native turf, so much the better, according to zoo officials.

If you’re interested in having a butterfly – a monarch, tailed jay, postman, or maybe the (endangered) pink pigeon from Madagascar– land on your shoulder, head or elsewhere, best to wear bright clothing. Hundreds of butterflies from 30-plus species are flying and landing in the temperature-controlled aviary.

“It’s a chance to have a wild animal land on you without any damage,” said Don Sterner, animal care manager and chief butterfly wrangler at the park. "We've never had a report of someone attacked by a butterfly."

The lifespan of most butterfly species is only a few weeks and so Butterfly Jungle will remain until April 7. Those that outlive the exhibit will spend their final days at the Safari Park.

Preparation for the annual exhibit started with importing 8,000 pupae from which came the caterpillars, cocoons and then the butterflies. One particularly large shipment this year came from Costa Rica, El Salvador and Columbia.

Starting with managing the pupae room, the butterfly exhibit is labor-intensive. Feeders in the aviary are kept full with nectar, the food of choice of many species.

Care is also taken so that the 14 species of birds that inhabit the aviary are not overly disrupted. And that no butterfly escapes the aviary attached to the clothing or hair of a patron.

“They’re beautiful,” said Mary McGee, 7, of San Diego, as orange, black and blue butterflies landed on her.

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--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: A common blue morpho atop Carmela Shea, 6, at the Butterfly Jungle exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

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About L.A. Now
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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