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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California used to be known as the "Bank Robbery Capital of the World."

No more.

The Los Angeles Times reports the number of robberies has declined, part of a larger trend that has seen crime rates fall across the nation.

There were 212 bank robberies last year — the lowest since the 1960s — in a seven-county region overseen by the FBI's Los Angeles office.

During the worst year in 1992, more than two dozen Los Angeles banks were robbed in a single day.

Authorities say better security at banks such as bulletproof acrylic glass has made it harder for bandits to get access to money. They also credit the ability to make high-resolution images of robbers available to the public through the Internet.

Published in National News
Wednesday, 12 March 2014 01:22

Calif. pushes to finish driverless car rules

   LOS ANGELES (AP) — California is trying to do something unusual in this age of rapidly evolving technology — get ahead of a big new development before it goes public.
   By the end of the year, the Department of Motor Vehicles must write rules to regulate cars that rely on computers — not the owner — to do the driving.
   That process began Tuesday, when the DMV held an initial public hearing in Sacramento to puzzle over how to regulate the vehicles that haven't been fully developed yet.
   Among the complex questions officials sought to unravel:
   How will the state know the cars are safe?
   Does a driver even need to be behind the wheel?
   Can manufacturers mine data from onboard computers to make product pitches based on where the car goes or set insurance rates based on how it is driven?
   Do owners get docked points on their license if they send a car to park itself and it slams into another vehicle?
   Once the stuff of science fiction, driverless cars could be commercially available by decade's end. Under a California law passed in 2012, the DMV must decide by the end of this year how to integrate the cars — often called autonomous vehicles — onto public roads.
   That means the regulation's writers will post draft language regulations around June, then alter the rules in response to public comment by fall in order to get them finalized by the end of 2014.
   Three other states have passed driverless car laws, but those rules mostly focus on testing. California has mandated rules on testing and public operation, and the DMV expects within weeks to finalize regulations dictating what companies must do to test the technology on public roads.
   Those rules came after Google Inc. had already sent its fleet of Toyota Priuses and Lexuses, fitted with an array of sensors including radar and lasers, hundreds of thousands of miles in California. Major automakers also have tested their own models.
   Now, the DMV is scrambling to regulate the broader use of the cars. With the federal government apparently years away from developing regulations, California's rules could effectively become the national standard.
   Much of the initial discussion Tuesday focused on privacy concerns.
   California's law requires autonomous vehicles to log records of operation so the data can be used to reconstruct an accident.
   But the cars "must not become another way to track us in our daily lives," John M. Simpson of the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog said at the hearing. Simpson called out Google, saying the Internet giant rebuffed attempts to add privacy guarantees when it pushed the 2012 legislation mandating rules on testing and public operation.
   Seated across from Simpson at the hearing's head tables was a representative from Google, who offered no comment on the data privacy issue.
   Discussion also touched on how to know a car is safe, and whether an owner knows how to properly operate it.
   Ron Medford, Google's director of safety for its "self-driving car" project, suggested that manufacturers should be able to self-certify that their cars are safe. He cautioned that it would get complicated quickly if the state tried to assume that role.
   In initial iterations, human drivers would be expected to take control in an instant if the computer systems fail. Unlike current technology — which can help park a car or keep it in its freeway lane — owners might eventually be able to read, daydream or even sleep while the car did the work.
   Responding to a question received over Twitter, DMV attorney Brian Soublet acknowledged that the department is still grappling with the most fundamental question of whether a person will need to be in the driver's seat.
   Maybe not, by the time the technology is safe and reliable, he said.
   Soublet asked who would ensure that owners know how to use the new technology. Should the onus be on dealers, manufacturers, owners?
   Representatives of automakers suggested they shouldn't be asked to guarantee the capability of owners. John Tillman of Mercedes-Benz said the DMV could test owners on basics such as starting and stopping the automated driving function.
   Automaker representatives also expressed concerns that other states could pass regulations that were substantially different from California, creating the kind of patchwork rules that businesses hate.
   States outside California have been in touch and are following California's rule-making process closely, said Bernard Soriano, a deputy director at the DMV.
   Other discussion centered on how vulnerable the cars could be to hackers, who might wrest control of the vehicles.
   Industry representatives said that while that's a concern, they would vigilantly guard against such vulnerability because it would be disastrous.
Published in National News

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Law and order may soon be coming to the Wild West of weed.

A California lawmaker has introduced legislation to regulate the state's free-wheeling medical marijuana industry — the farmers that grow the drug, the hundreds of storefront shops that sell it and the doctors who write recommendations allowing its use.

The bill marks a milestone not only because it would provide significant state oversight of the multi-billion dollar industry for the first time, but because it is likely to get serious consideration in Sacramento after years of inaction.

It is the brainchild of the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities, politically influential groups that have stood in the way of efforts to legitimize pot growers and dispensaries by subjecting them to state control and taxation.

Published in National News
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Five other states are joining Missouri's fight against a California egg law regulating the living conditions of chickens.
 
   Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster last month filed a lawsuit against the measure set to take effect next year. It bars the sale of eggs produced by hens kept in cages that don't meet California's size and space requirements.
 
   The state attorneys general contend the California law violates the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by effectively imposing new requirements on out-of-state farmers.
 
   The five other states joining Thursday are Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Iowa. Those states and Missouri produce 20 billion eggs per year, and 10 percent of that production is sold in California.
 
   The Humane Society of the United States criticized the lawsuit, saying it wastes taxpayer dollars.
Published in Local News
Monday, 24 February 2014 00:53

Polio-like illness a mystery in California

   LOS ANGELES (AP) — A polio-like illness has afflicted a small number of children in California since 2012, causing severe weakness or rapid paralysis in one or more limbs.
   The Los Angeles Times reports that state public health officials have been investigating the illness since a doctor requested polio testing for a child with severe paralysis in 2012. Since then, similar cases have sporadically been reported throughout the state.
   Dr. Carol Glaser, leader of a California Department of Public Health team investigating the illnesses, called the doctor's request "concerning" because polio has been eradicated in the U.S. and the child had not traveled overseas.
   The symptoms sometimes occur after a mild respiratory illness. Glaser said a virus that is usually associated with respiratory illness but which has also been linked to polio-like illnesses was detected in two of the patients.
   Dr. Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital who has worked with Glaser's team, will present the cases of five of the children at the American Academy of Neurology's upcoming annual meeting.
   He said all five patients had paralysis in one or more arms or legs that reached its full severity within two days. None had recovered limb function after six months.
   "We know definitively that it isn't polio," Van Haren added, noting that all had been vaccinated against that disease.
   Glaser wouldn't provide the number of illnesses. Van Haren said he was aware of around 20.
   She urged doctors to report new cases of acute paralysis so that investigators can try to figure out a possible cause.
Published in Health & Fitness

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democrats want to make an increase in the minimum wage a major campaign issue in 2014, but in California a proposal to push the mark to $12 an hour is coming from a registered Republican who once tried to unseat Gov. Pete Wilson.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz says a wage jump would nourish the economy and lift low-paid workers from dependency on food stamps and other government aid.

Democrats in Congress are pushing a bill to raise the $7.25 federal minimum to over $10 an hour.

Unz is a former publisher of The American Conservative magazine with a history of against-the-grain political activity, including pushing a 1998 ballot proposal that dismantled California's bilingual education system.

His proposal has not yet qualified for the state ballot.

Published in National News
   OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The family of a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain dead after suffering complications from sleep apnea surgery has gotten her the feeding and breathing tubes that they had been fighting for.
   Christopher Dolan, the attorney for the girl's family, said doctors inserted the gastric tube and tracheostomy tube Wednesday at the undisclosed facility where Jahi McMath was taken Jan. 5.
   The procedure was a success, Dolan said, and Jahi is getting the treatment that her family believes she should have gotten 28 days ago, when doctors at Children's Hospital Oakland first declared her brain dead.
   Jahi underwent tonsil surgery Dec. 9, then began bleeding heavily before going into cardiac arrest and being declared brain dead Dec. 12.
   Her mother has refused to believe Jahi is dead and went to court to prevent her daughter from being taken off a ventilator.
   Jahi's uncle, Omari Sealey, said Monday that she is now being cared for at a facility that shares her family's belief that she still is alive.
   The new facility has "been very welcoming with open arms," Sealey said. "They have beliefs just like ours."
   Neither Dolan nor the family would disclose the name or location of that facility, which took the eighth-grader after a weekslong battle by her family to prevent Children's Hospital Oakland from removing her from the breathing machine that has kept her heart beating.
   But medical experts said the ventilator won't work indefinitely and caring for a patient whom three doctors have said is legally dead is likely to be challenging because — unlike someone in a coma — there is no blood flow or electrical activity in either her cerebrum or the brain stem that controls breathing.
   The bodies of brain dead patients kept on ventilators gradually deteriorate, eventually causing blood pressure to plummet and the heart to stop, said Dr. Paul Vespa, director of neurocritical care at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has no role in McMath's care. The process usually takes only days but can sometimes continue for months, medical experts say.
   "The bodies are really in an artificial state. It requires a great deal of manipulation in order to keep the circulation going," Vespa said.
   Brain-dead people may look like they're sleeping, he added, but it's "an illusion based on advanced medical techniques."
   Sealey, the girl's uncle, said Monday that Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, is relieved her persistence paid off and "sounds happier." He criticized Children's Hospital for repeatedly telling Winkfield they did not need her permission to remove Jahi from the ventilator because the girl was dead.
   Sealey told reporters Monday that Jahi traveled by ground from Children's Hospital to the unnamed facility and there were no complications in the transfer, suggesting she may still be in California.
   The $55,000 in private donations the family has raised since taking the case public helped cover the carefully choreographed handoff to the critical care team and transportation to the new location, Sealey said.
   "If her heart stops beating while she is on the respirator, we can accept that because it means she is done fighting," he said. "We couldn't accept them pulling the plug on her early."
   Meanwhile, an advocacy group is facing sharp criticism for using Jahi's case to try to raise money.
   The nonprofit Consumer noted in an email solicitation that it fights for patient safety for families like Jahi's and that it had drafted a proposed November ballot measure that would raise medical malpractice award limits in California.
   Dolan, the family attorney, is a board member of Consumer Attorneys of California, the prime group funding the ballot initiative to lift the cap on pain and suffering awards. But he said he was dismayed that Consumer Watchdog used Jahi's name as a fundraising tool.
   "Using Jahi's case as an example is wrong and that is not what this case is about," he said in a text message to the Associated Press.
   Hospital spokesman Sam Singer also criticized the use of Jahi's case for fundraising, calling it "tasteless and thoughtless."
   Consumer Watchdog Executive Director Carmen Balber said the funds were being solicited for the organization's patient safety program, not the political campaign, and none of the money would go to the ballot measure.
   "We thought we were being clear," she said. "This email has been construed in ways we didn't expect."
   Consumer Watchdog's Christmas Eve email to supporters prominently mentioned the Jahi McMath case to support the need for its advocacy work and for lifting the state's 38-year-old cap on medical malpractice awards.
   "Hospitals like Children's actually have an incentive to let children like Jahi die," the email said. "If kids injured by medical negligence die, the most their families can recover is $250,000. ... If children who are victims of medical negligence live, hospitals are on the hook for medical bills for life, which could be millions."
   If it gets on November's ballot and passes, the Troy & Alana Pack Patient Safety Act would raise the cap on medical malpractice awards to about $1.2 million, a limit that would increase based on inflation, said Bob Pack, chair of the campaign committee. He said the group has collected about 500,000 signatures and wants 300,000 more by March 25 to assure there are enough valid ones to qualify for the ballot.
Published in National News

ESCALON, Calif. (AP) - Authorities in California are trying to crack the case of a nut thief who made off with 140,000 pounds of walnuts.

 

   The theft, estimated at nearly $400,000, occurred Sunday in the small Central Valley town of Escalon. Investigators say it was one of the biggest to hit the booming industry. Last month, about 12,000 pounds of walnuts worth $50,000 were stolen from a trailer parked on Highway 99 north of Sacramento.

 

   This time several truckloads of walnuts were taken from the facility. Authorities say rising prices - about $2 per pound - is what appears to be driving the recent walnut thefts.

   No arrests have yet been made.

 

   Walnuts are California's fourth-leading agricultural export. China remains the world's leading producer of walnuts.

Published in National News

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A reputed prison gang leader who was on probation in California has been captured in Missouri.

Forty-five-year-old Albert "Spanky" Amaya is jailed in Missouri's Pettis County while awaiting extradition. No attorney is listed for him in online Missouri court records.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Amays was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison in 2008 after he was convicted of extortion, his third felony conviction. But he was released in June after a voter-approved measure allowed "three strikes" inmates to seek re-sentencing.

The San Bernardino County district attorney's office placed him on GPS monitoring while seeking to send him back to prison. Authorities allege he was a crew chief for the Mexican Mafia prison gang and fled after cutting the GPS device.

 

Published in Local News

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The oil production technique known as fracking has been occurring on offshore platforms and man-made islands off some of Southern California's most populous coastal communities.

Interviews and drilling records obtained by The Associated Press show fracking has occurred at least 200 times over the past two decades in waters off Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach.

Though there is no evidence offshore hydraulic fracturing has led to any spills or chemical leaks, the practice occurs with little state or federal oversight of the operations

The state agency that leases lands and waters to oil companies says officials found new instances of fracking after searching records as part of a review after the AP reported this summer about fracking in federal waters of California.

Published in National News
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