Morning Splash: Japan Nuke Crisis; More Budget Cuts Approved; PG&E Fines May Be $1 Million/Day
- Frantic Repairs Go On at Plant as Japan Raises Severity of Crisis (NY Times)
Japanese engineers battled on Friday to cool spent fuel rods and restore electric power to pumps at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station as new challenges seemed to accumulate by the hour, with steam billowing from one reactor and damage at another apparently making it difficult to lower temperatures. As the crisis seemed to deepen, Japan’s nuclear safety agency raised the assessment of its severity to 5 from 4 on a 7-level international scale. Level 4 is for incidents with local consequences while level 5 denotes broader consequences.
- California lawmakers put another dent in deficit (Sacramento Bee)
Lawmakers approved budget cuts this week that will hit college students, low-income families and disabled residents, all intended to help bridge a $26.6 billion deficit. In combative floor sessions Thursday, the Legislature completed half of the budget equation, approving most of the spending cuts and special fund transfers in Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan, as well as a main budget bill that assumes the rest of his package succeeds. But what remains are some of the thorniest items in Brown’s budget – eliminating redevelopment agencies and asking voters to extend higher taxes.
- State drafts order to fine PG&E (San Jose Mercury News)
Following up on their threat to punish PG&E for failing to provide documents they demanded, state regulators Thursday drafted an order to impose heavy fines on the company. If the California Public Utilities Commission votes to approve the order at its meeting next Thursday, the utility would be required to demonstrate at a hearing four days later why it shouldn’t be found in contempt. The utility ultimately could be slapped with fines totaling $1 million a day.PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said the company will attend the March 28 hearing “and respond to the commission’s order,” assuming it is approved.
- 2 senators go after pipeline safety ‘loophole’ (SF Chronicle)
California’s U.S. senators want federal regulators to close a “loophole” that allows pipeline operators to avoid alerting the government when they spike pressure on their lines above legal limits, as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. did twice in San Bruno before last year’s deadly explosion. “We urge you to issue this order immediately under your existing emergency authority to protect public safety,” Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer wrote in a letter Wednesday to the head of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees enforcement of federal gas-safety law.
- Threats directed at any state GOP ‘turncoats’ (SF Chronicle)
Republican legislators are getting plenty of pressure on budget issues from Gov. Jerry Brown at the state Capitol this week, but starting today they could face even more heat from GOP grassroots activists across the street. That’s where the main topic at the California Republican Party convention this weekend is expected to be the threatened retribution against “turncoats” who compromise with Democrats on the budget, particularly by supporting tax extensions.
- Oakland police miss Riders reform deadline (Oakland Tribune)
The Oakland Police Department, battered by a series of setbacks and layoffs, will miss the deadline on reforms ordered by a federal court after the Riders scandal a decade ago. The department has completed the majority of the reforms ordered in a 2003 settlement to a lawsuit stemming from the misconduct of four officers who were accused of planting evidence and beating suspects. But independent monitors reported the department has complied with more than half of 22 outstanding tasks, was in partial compliance with eight others and not in compliance with one task. The department still faces the risk of sanctions and the appointment of a receiver. Outstanding tasks involve complaint procedures in the Internal Affairs Department; use of force reporting policies and vehicle stop policies.
- Seismic Uncertainty at Diablo Canyon (Bay Citizen)
The California Public Utilities Commission has postponed an April hearing to consider extending the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s life by 20 years because of the unfolding disaster in northeastern Japan. The 20-year extension was requested by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which owns and operates the plant. The waterfront facility contains two nuclear reactors and is located 180 miles south of San Jose. PG&E had asked the commission to extend the Diablo Canyon’s life from 2025 to 2045.
- Diablo Canyon nuclear plant ‘near miss’ in report (Bloomberg)
For 18 months, operators at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant near San Luis Obispo didn’t realize that a system to pump water into one of their reactors during an emergency wasn’t working. It had been accidentally disabled by the plant’s own engineers, according to a report issued Thursday on the safety of nuclear reactors in the United States. The report, from the Union of Concerned Scientists watchdog group, lists 14 recent “near misses” – instances in which serious problems at a plant required federal regulators to respond.
- Cash buyers flood into market to buy Bay Area homes as prices fall (Contra Costa Times)
The median price paid for a Bay Area home continued to fall in February, posting lower prices from a year ago for the fifth month in a row while sales were essentially flat. That is leading to a record level of investors and cash buyers snapping up homes, according to a report released Thursday by MDA DataQuick. The median sales price paid for a new or existing single-family house or condominium in the nine-county Bay Area was $337,250, down 0.2 percent from January, and down 4.7 percent from a year ago.
- Part of Highway 1 near Big Sur crumbles into the sea; road closed indefinitely (Monterey County Herald)
Highway 1 was closed to traffic about 12 miles south of Carmel on Wednesday after a stretch of the scenic roadway tumbled toward the Pacific Ocean far below. About 40-feet of the two-lane highway washed out just after 5 p.m. on a curve south of the Rocky Creek Bridge where the highway hugs the Santa Lucia Mountains. All of the southbound lane was gone as was a chunk of the northbound lane. Soil under the northbound lane was reported sliding as late as 6:30 p.m. The California Highway Patrol closed the southbound lane of the highway at Palo Colorado Road and drivers going north were stopped at the Bixby Creek Bridge…It was not immediately known how long the coast road would be closed.
- Hotel Owners Question Cozy Relationship with Police (Bay Citizen)
(Virgil) Candari and nine other operators of single room occupancy hotels in the city told The Bay Citizen that they regularly provided the police with access to hotel registries, receipts, surveillance videos and keys. The police say they regularly use the information (and the keys) to conduct narcotics investigations at many of the city’s 530 residential hotels, about half of them packed into drug-riddled sections of the South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods. Now the relationship between SRO operators and the police has come under federal scrutiny. Earlier this month, Public Defender Jeff Adachi released hotel surveillance videos that he said proved that the police had systematically violated the civil rights of hotel residents.
- Bay Area ‘vision’ plan sees 2 million more people, 902,000 more homes and fewer cars (Contra Costa Times)
Picture the Bay Area 25 years from now with 2 million more people and 902,000 more apartments, condos or houses to accommodate them — and most of it built near rail stations, bus lines, walking paths or bike lanes. About a third — or 286,000 — of those new homes would be built in Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco as the big cities get bigger. Eighteen percent of the housing would be developed in mid-size cities like Concord, Berkeley, Hayward, Santa Clara and Fremont, and in transit-friendly neighborhoods…This is the vision the Bay Area’s regional transportation and housing agencies have just proposed as the first step toward creating a state-mandated plan to reduce greenhouse gases by reshaping the region to rely less on the automobile.
- Bay to Breakers announces new sponsor for two-year deal (SF Examiner)
Bay to Breakers, the annual footrace in San Francisco, announced that Redwood City-based Zazzle will be the title sponsor of the event for the next two years. Officials from the race, which will be held May 15, announced Thursday that the registration for this year’s event is completely sold out.