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Employee split by pension panel eyed

January 26, 2015 - 9:05pm

The Ventura County pension board moved Monday toward potentially taking over authority for its top employees from county government.

Trustees of the $4 billion pension fund voted to seek a written proposal from a lobbyist who could shepherd legislation required for the split.

"It's an issue of control," Trustee Art Goulet told the Board of Retirement. "We have to control the compensation and benefits of our key employees."

Under draft legislation that Goulet recently presented to the board, the trustees could assume control for the retirement administrator, legal counsel, chief investment officer and other managers. They would become employees of the retirement system instead of county government.

County Executive Officer Mike Powers said he respects the board's right to seek the change, but that his office and the Board of Supervisors have a strong record of cooperation with the panel.

"In the last couple of years we have worked hard to support just about every request they have made," Powers said.

Supervisors have raised the salary range for the retirement administrator and added a position for a chief investment officer. Resolution of a debate over salary for the board's legal counsel is pending.

Four years ago, a previous retirement board voted 6-3 against a proposal to do the same thing that the current board is now investigating.

Tim Thonis, then the administrator, resigned immediately after the board's vote. It followed what appeared to be a long standoff between the board and top county officials over his salary.

That issue was largely resolved with the county's approval of a new pay range for the administrator. It has risen again because of questions over the compensation and independence of the board's legal counsel, trustees said.

Lori Nemiroff, an attorney in the office of County Counsel Leroy Smith, advises the board on most legal questions at a rate of roughly $185 an hour.

But with county supervisors and trustees at odds over how generously to define pensionable income under a law aimed at curtailing abuses, the trustees retained a private attorney. She charges almost $490 an hour.

Given their fiduciary responsibility for the pension plan, trustees must have independent advice, Chairman Tracy Towner said.

"We want independent, non-conflicted counsel as we believe any billion-dollar entity would have," he said.

Smith, though, said it is "very rare" for the county to take a different legal position than the retirement board.

"It is the first time that I know of," he said.

Trustees also say that Nemiroff is underpaid. Goulet originally raised the issue because Nemiroff had applied for a $239,000-a-year job at a comparable retirement system in Los Angeles. She was not hired for the position, but trustees are continuing to seek a significant raise.

In October, Goulet asked for an increase that would push maximum base pay for her position up by almost $50,000 to $196,596. Along with other senior county attorneys, she received a package of raises that will bring the salary for her position up to $168,000 by August, county officials said.

Managers are seeking additional information and continuing to work with the retirement board on the issue, Powers said.

Goulet, who represents retirees on the board, said he expected to return Feb. 23 with a written proposal for monitoring and promoting the legislation from Sacramento lobbyist Jim Lites.

The board composed of representatives of employees, elected officials, the public and retirees voted 7-1 to solicit the proposal from Lites.

Voting in favor were Goulet, Treasurer-Tax Collector Steven Hintz; employee representatives Craig Winter, Deanna McCormick and Chris Johnston; and public representatives Joe Henderson and Bill Wilson.

Supervisor Peter Foy voted no and retired Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell abstained. Both represent the public on the board.

Dogs learn how to play well with others

January 26, 2015 - 6:05pm

First impressions are important in the dog world.

At this week’s Dogs Playing for Life demonstrations at the Ventura County Animal Services Camarillo Adoption Center, volunteers and staff are learning how to create play groups for dogs to help them socialize and ultimately find new homes.

During the three-day seminar that ends Tuesday, Aimee Sadler of Longmont, Colorado, director of behavior and training at Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation in Hampton Bays, New York, explained that dogs tend to fall into four general categories: gentle and dainty; rough and ready; push and pull; and see and destroy.

Teaching dogs how to interact with one another in a friendly, positive, playful way in a kennel situation, where the dogs are naturally under stress, will allow the animals to develop those characteristics that are sought-after by potential owners and guardians, she said.

The facility has already introduced some stress-relieving features. Randy Friedman, Ventura County Animal Services media liaison, said 67 speakers have been installed in the shelter to play classical music, which has been shown to slow the heart rates of frightened dogs. And under the leadership of new shelter director Tara Diller, volunteers recently built 165 hammock beds for the dogs.

But Sadler said one of the biggest problems at shelters — especially a shelter that has recently been declared a “no-kill” shelter, with a sustained rate of least 90 percent of animals being released alive — is dogs that have been labeled aggressive.

Sadler explained that the majority of these dogs are reacting to perceived threats. To help them, “we try to build their confidence,” she said. “But we will interrupt them by squirting them with water from squirt bottles, and we do have an air horn if they are stuck in an argument.”

As she demonstrated the formation of a canine play group, Sadler and Animal Control Officer Kimberly Flavin directed the dogs coming into the penned-in play area through a closed-off series of gates designed to prevent runaways. Then they observed the behavior of the animals as they came inside.

The first dogs identified are the “helper dogs,” or those dogs that have nice, non-aggressive dispositions. Subsequent dogs are introduced to the play area one at a time, and if a dog starts showing aggressive behavior, it is removed or placed in a holding area until it calms down.

Chloe Williamson, a shelter employee, tried to introduce a dark pit bull, Athena, into the training area, but Athena immediately started to mount another dog and show other dominating behavior. So Athena was given a time out.

Casey, another pit bull, tried to run away from his handler, and he too, ended up in another cage.

Eventually, through this process of elimination, the dogs in the pen were playing well with one another. And once this mellow, playful atmosphere was established, the more aggressive dogs were introduced and their behavior carefully monitored until they could also play well with others.

“Offensive, aggressive” dogs, Sadler said, are the hardest to train and will need advanced work. But with play groups, many of the dogs that are reacting to the stress of being lost or abandoned and housed at a kennel can be rehabilitated.

For information about Ventura County Animal Services, which runs the Camarillo Adoption Center at 600 Aviation Drive, go online to http://www.vcas.us/ or call 388-4341.

Fundraiser started for Ventura homeless man

January 26, 2015 - 5:26pm

An online fundraiser with a goal of raising $10,000 has been set up to help a homeless man set on fire at a Ventura beach earlier this month.

Dawn Alexander, 39, an insurance agent in Michigan, set up the effort through YouCaring.com to pay for an apartment once the man recovers from his burns. Alexander, who was raised in Ventura, said she wants him to have a safe place to go once he recovers.

“This story weighed really heavy in my heart,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t imagine somebody so far down in their luck, who has lost so much hope ... and to have people do something so horrific and brutal, it’s just not fair.”

Ventura police are still searching for three suspects who poured lighter fluid on the homeless man and set him on fire in the Pierpont neighborhood. A set of photos from a surveillance video was released last week showing three people in the area.

“We did get some response to the photos from people with some idea of who they might be,” said Sgt. Ryan Weeks. “Now we have some people to speak to.”

Weeks said the three people in the video are not suspects but rather people who were walking in the area around the time the crime occurred.

The homeless man, who suffered second- and third-degree burns to his torso and face, is recovering at the burn unit of the USC Medical Center. He is expected to survive but it is not known when he’ll be released.

Weeks said the hospital has not given a time frame as to when police can talk to him.

Alexander said she calls the hospital on a regular basis to leave uplifting messages for nurses to give to the man. She said as soon as she talks to him, she intends to partner with a social services organization to help him.

“It’s awesome she’s raising money to help this individual,” said Jim Duran, executive director of the nonprofit The City Center. “It’s sad it has to come to a tragedy like this to rally people.”

Duran said one thing to keep in mind when helping homeless people is that housing is typically just one of many concerns that need to be addressed. A case manager to help the person deal with day-to-day issues is crucial, too, Duran said.

“For $10,000, you might be able to house him for a year but with no job, he might be homeless again,” Duran said. “What good is that if we don’t set him up to succeed?”

As of Monday, more than $900 had been raised in the online fundraiser, which can be found on YouCaring.com, under search terms “Ventura homeless man.”

Spotlight on Oxnard's audit Tuesday

January 26, 2015 - 5:24pm

Oxnard's new — and temporary — finance chief will make his first presentation to the City Council on Tuesday night.

The discussion will cover the city's audit for the fiscal year that ended last June. With recent news that Oxnard's upcoming budget deliberations could include facing down a $2.9 million deficit, the review of the so-called Comprehensive Annual Financial Report might generate more interest than usual.

Interim Chief Financial Officer Dave Millican, a consultant with Management Partners Inc. who started the job this month, will steer the city's financial reins until a permanent director is recruited. The former finance chief, Jim Cameron, retired Jan. 9, one of several top managers to leave since new City Manager Greg Nyhoff arrived June 1. Nyhoff has said he plans to reshape Oxnard's culture, one dogged for years by a reputation for opaque, insular operations.

Nyhoff on Monday called Millican "very sharp" and said he looks forward to his in-depth analysis once Millican has time to settle in.

The annual financial report summarizes the status of the city's various funds. The document for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ended June 30, contains no bombshells. But it does show general fund reserves remain below the council's desired target and the city's overall financial position has remained static in recent years even as the national economy improved.

The council is also scheduled to take up matters postponed from its last meeting, including restructuring the Commission on Homelessness and distributing $150,000 in public art funds. Committee assignments for council members and citizen advisory groups such as the Planning Commission are on the agenda as well.

The council meets at 6 p.m. at 305 W. Third St. following a 4:30 p.m. closed session on legal matters.

Supreme Court to review political redistricting

January 26, 2015 - 5:18pm

SACRAMENTO — In a historic change that initiated one of the most significant political reforms in recent California history, an independent commission in 2011 drew new political district boundaries that paid no attention to the interests of political parties and incumbent elected officials.

The result was hailed by reformers as a model for the nation, a means to eliminate political gerrymandering and prevent legislators from targeting their voters in such a way as to predetermine election results.

But now the legality of independent redistricting is at risk of being overturned by the United States Supreme Court, says Gabino Aguirre, of Santa Paula, one of 14 members of California's Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 2 in a case brought by the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature. The plaintiffs are seeking to have a similar system in that state, also created by a ballot initiative, declared invalid on the grounds that it violates the elections clause of the Constitution.

The clause states: "Times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof."

"The whole direct democracy process is being called into question," Aguirre said. "All this good work, we can't see it go down the drain."

The plaintiffs argue a system created by voters that transfers redistricting authority to an entity other than the legislature violates the elections clause. Their position was rejected early last year on a 2-1 vote by a three-judge panel of federal judges, but in October the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal.

The Arizona Legislature argues in a Supreme Court brief: "The term ‘the legislature' is clear and explicit and has an unambiguous meaning repeatedly recognized by the framers and this court: the representative lawmaking body of a state."

In California, defenders of independent redistricting are rallying to its support.

The Citizens Redistricting Commission last week filed an amicus brief arguing against the Arizona Legislature's case.

Others supporting independent redistricting have weighed in with legal briefs as well, including a coalition led by the state Chamber of Commerce and a bipartisan group of 19 members of Congress. Among them is Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village.

"The Supreme Court ruling," Brownley said in a statement Monday, "could have far-reaching consequences, undermining state laws in California and in other states that have adopted citizen redistricting commissions to eliminate partisan gerrymandering."

On the other side, the National Conference of State Legislatures has filed a brief supporting the position of the Arizona Legislature.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon, D-Los Angeles, said Monday that legislative leaders in California do not share the views of their counterparts in Arizona.

"The people have spoken," he said in an interview. "I'm supportive of the Citizens Redistricting Commission."

De Léon said, however, that if the Supreme Court invalidates the California system the Legislature will be prepared to step in and create a congressional map on its own.

"If that were to come to pass, we would be prepared to transition," he said. "If the Supreme Court does side with Arizona, we will be prepared."

Jeanne Raya, vice-chairwoman of the commission and an attorney, says she is confident the arguments against the Arizona challenge will prevail.

"From our point of view, we think it's pretty clear that in states with the initiative process the people are entitled to make laws," said Raya, who intends to travel to Washington, D.C., to attend oral arguments in the case.

The brief filed by the commission argues that the Constitution does not define the term "legislature," and that, in those states that allow ballot initiatives, legislative authority is granted to both the Legislature and the people.

"The essential question is whether voters, through the initiative, can create law," Aguirre said. "In California, the people can perform the function of the Legislature."

A decision in favor of the Arizona Legislature would mean the authority to draw congressional district lines in California would revert to legislators. The commission would retain the ability to draw legislative district lines, as the Constitution's provisions apply only to federal offices. California congressional districts likely would be redrawn, but it's uncertain how soon.

Political scientist Thad Kousser, a UC San Diego professor who specializes in California politics, said there is no doubt the Legislature would eagerly step in should the high court invalidate the state's existing redistricting process.

"There is no task that the Legislature would embrace as rapidly, cheerfully and voraciously as the assignment of drawing new congressional districts," Kousser said in an email. "While California government can deadlock on many issues, I see no reason why a Democratic Legislature and a Democratic governor wouldn't be able to agree on a new set of district lines."

Assembly Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, chairman of the Assembly Republican Caucus, said it is possible Democratic legislative leaders are already quietly making contingency plans.

"He who draws the lines wins," Wilk said. "The temptation to move quickly and draw new lines would be pretty strong."

The Supreme Court will render its decision no later than June, when it adjourns its current session.

D.A. offered lesser charge in Laut murder case

January 26, 2015 - 5:05pm

Attorneys for an Oxnard woman accused of murdering her former-Olympic-athlete husband in 2009 say prosecutors were willing to reduce the charge to manslaughter and accept a six-year sentence if she pleaded guilty but she refused.

Jane Laut’s trial was scheduled to begin this week before Superior Court Judge Nancy Ayers, but defense attorney Ron Bamieh filed a motion Monday seeking a new judge.

Laut, 57, is charged with murder and a special enhancement of intentionally discharging a firearm and causing great bodily injury. Prosecutors allege she fatally shot her husband, Dave Laut, 52, at their Oxnard home on Aug. 27, 2009.

Dave Laut was the athletic director at Hueneme High School and a former shot putter who won the bronze medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

In a motion Monday, Bamieh said the prosecutor assigned to the case, Rameen Minoui, indicated Jan. 7 that if Laut pleaded guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge, the District Attorney’s Office would accept a six-year prison sentence.

If found guilty of murder and the enhancement, Laut could face 50 years to life in prison.

According to the motion, Minoui asked Bamieh to write a letter indicating Laut would accept the six years. That afternoon, however, Laut said she would not accept the lesser charge and preferred to go to trial, the motion says.

The motion says Ayers should be disqualified from presiding over Laut’s murder trial because of a statement the judge made during another case involving domestic violence.

Laut’s attorneys, Bamieh and Danielle De Smeth, said that in the transcripts, Ayers said she was “always puzzled” when people, such as the defendant in that case, have church and family resources but stay “in a relationship if it’s as bad as indicated in the police reports and the trial testimony.”

Laut’s defense will center around claims that her husband repeatedly emotionally, physically, mentally and sexually abused her during their 29 years of marriage.

Laut’s attorneys said the transcripts from the other trial showed Ayers has bias against domestic violence victims and “does not appreciate the forces surrounding intimate partner battering and is not qualified to impartially adjudicate Ms. Laut’s murder case.”

“The transcript confirmed that Judge Ayers made statements to a domestic violence victim that essentially blame the victim for being involved in an abusive relationship and evidence Judge Ayers’ lack of understanding as to why victims involve themselves in or remain in abusive relationships,” Bamieh and De Smeth wrote.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday, but Ayers asked both sides to return to court Wednesday to discuss the recusal motion. Minoui was not present during Monday’s hearing, but was represented by Senior Deputy District Attorney Stacy Ratner.

If Ayers decides she is unbiased and can continue presiding in the case, Bamieh on Monday said he would contest that decision and the recusal motion could go before Presiding Judge Donald Coleman. Coleman then could decide if the motion should be heard by a judge in Ventura County or one in another jurisdiction, Bamieh said.

Thousand Oaks City Council election season near

January 26, 2015 - 4:42pm

In about two weeks, the nomination period for the Thousand Oaks City Council election will begin.

The special election on June 2 will fill the vacancy of Jacqui Irwin, who left her seat after winning a state Assembly race in November.

The nomination period for the open council seat is Feb. 9 to March 6.

“This is the period when candidates come in to pull paperwork,” said City Clerk Linda Lawrence. “We ask them to make an appointment with us to review the candidate manual and other information.”

The candidate manual, expected to be posted this week on the city website, will have information on the nomination requirements, candidate statement, conflict of interest form and other details.

Nomination papers must have 20 to 30 valid signatures from registered Thousand Oaks voters.

Lawrence said the only cost for the prospective council member is the optional candidate statement, which is estimated to be $1,240. The actual cost, which is associated with printing materials, could be higher or lower.

Other key dates concerning the special election:

March 6: Special elections paperwork due by 5 p.m. at the city clerk’s office.

March 12: Random drawing for the order in which candidates’ names will appear on the ballot.

April 18: First day political signs can go up.

May 4-26: Vote-by-mail ballot applications available.

May 18: Last day to register to vote for the June 2 election.

Several community members are mulling entry into the council race, while Daniel Roundtree, a planning commissioner, and Chaise Rasheed, a candidate in the November council race, have announced their intentions to run in the special election. Rasheed, a retail associate, announced on social media a campaign launch event on Feb. 21. For more information about the event, call 312-3582.

Simi Valley man arrested after truck stolen

January 26, 2015 - 3:54pm

A Simi Valley man was arrested Monday after he stole a Southern California Gas Co. truck from an employee, police said.

Simi Valley police said the man confronted a gas employee working in the area of Deodora and School streets around 11:30 a.m., threatening to harm him if he did not give him the truck. Police said the man took the truck and drove off.

Police spotted the truck going east on Los Angeles Avenue and gave chase south on Sequoia Avenue. The truck eventually went into a neighborhood west of Sequoia Avenue, where it crashed into a fence near King Palm Drive, police said.

Police said the suspected carjacker ran into a neighborhood off Corto Street and Royal Avenue.

A resident called police after seeing a man hiding in her front yard.

Police went there and arrested Anthony Ramirez, 22, in connection with taking the truck, officials said.

Police nab 3 who lost licenses but still drove

January 26, 2015 - 2:51pm

Three people were arrested Monday after they appeared in court on DUI charges, had their driver’s licenses suspended and then got behind the wheel to drive home, police said.

Oxnard traffic officers conducted the special enforcement operation from 8 to 11 a.m. Monday at the Ventura courthouse, 800 S. Victoria Ave.

Police watched six people get their licenses suspended over previous DUI incidents. Two of the six later let someone else drive them home, and a third took the bus, police said.

The other three drove away from the courthouse and were pulled over and arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor driving with a suspended license, police said. Their vehicles also were towed and face a 30-day impound, police said.

The operation was funded by a California Office of Traffic Safety grant through the National Highway Transportation Administration.

Kaiser nurses approve new contract

January 26, 2015 - 2:40pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Kaiser Permanente nurses in California have approved a new contact that improves patient care and health and safety protections for nurses and boosts pay.


Registered nurses and nurse practitioners who work at 21 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and 65 clinics across Northern and Central California voted last week to approve a new three-year agreement.


About 18,000 nurses went on strike last November and another strike was planned for last week but an agreement was reached.


The California Nurses Association represents 18,000 Kaiser nurses. Those workers are part of the National Nurses United organization that represents 185,000 nurses nationally, the largest U.S. organization of nurses.

Executive Director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United RoseAnn DeMoro said the unions appreciate the commitment of Kaiser's leadership in addressing their concerns. A Kaiser representative did not have an immediate comment Monday.

Thousand Oaks jewelry store shuts after 45 years

January 26, 2015 - 1:57pm

The Kovens said the decision to close Hart’s Jewelers was the most heartbreaking one they’ve ever made. But the owners and employees at the 45-year-old Thousand Oaks store weren’t the only ones disappointed.

“People walking in are just as devastated as we are. There’s a lot of crying every day,” said Richard Koven, whose father, James Koven, has run the store since 1970. “Lots of hugging and crying. It’s an end of an era.”

Last month, James Koven was hospitalized because of heart problems. Although his condition has improved and he could move to a rehabilitation center soon, he and his family decided it was best to shutter the business.

Speaking by phone from a hospital Friday, Koven said he’ll miss his customers most.

“Having them come in and say, ‘Hi, Jim’ ... it’s the little things like that that means a lot to a man who’s getting old,” Koven said.

Koven is the heart and soul of a store known for its loyal customers. He would put a battery in your watch free of charge or buy back a gem if you were down on your luck. Customers trusted their family heirlooms with Koven and they rarely went anywhere else.

When he would run errands in and around Thousand Oaks, customers would stop Koven at the bank or post office to give him a ring with a broken prong or a necklace that needed a new clasp. Koven would write their information on a scrap of paper and keep the jewels in his pocket until he got back to the store.

“When I first found him, I told my husband, ‘There’s an actual, real jeweler in T.O.,’ ” said Marie Tarbet, who had Koven resize her wedding ring.

Last week, she brought her mother’s rings to be resized. Tarbet’s mother recently died and she wanted to pass her mother’s rings on to her daughter.

“There’s hardly any jewelers here anymore,” Tarbet said. “It’s a lost art.”

No final date has been set for the store, which is now selling everything from wedding bands to opal earrings at a discount.

“We’re still taking in repair work,” Richard Koven said. “We want to be around for Valentine’s Day.”

Hart’s Jewelers had three stores in the 1960s. The Koven family purchased the store in Janss Marketplace and wanted to change the name to Koven but there was already a jeweler in Oxnard with that name. They kept the Hart name even as the other stores closed.

“People still ask for my dad as ‘Mr. Hart,’ ” Richard said.

When the bigger chains pushed them out of the mall, the Kovens moved to the Moorpark Road location at the Whole Foods plaza, where they have remained since 1997.

Richard and his brother grew up at the store, which was first purchased by his grandfather. He said every member of the family — mother, grandmother, uncle, cousin and others — worked there at some time.

“It’s in the blood,” Richard said.

After school, Richard would go to the store to learn how to replace watch batteries, eventually moving up to jewelry repair and appraisals. Today he owns a jewelry store near Seattle.

For the past month, Richard has been back in Ventura County spending time with his father and helping with the liquidation process. He’s also been saying goodbye to customers who remember him helping out at the store after school.

Customers Mavis Whitwell has been coming since 1977.

“There’s a store closer to me, but it’s still worth coming here,” she said.

Whitwell picked up her watch that needed repair and purchased an amethyst necklace. The purple sparkler would normally make her happy, but under these circumstances, Whitwell walked away sad.

Joan Rivers' daughter suing clinic

January 26, 2015 - 1:28pm

The daughter of late comedian Joan Rivers is suing the clinic where Rivers went into cardiac arrest.

Melissa Rivers filed the multimillion-dollar lawsuit Monday against Yorkville Endoscopy in Manhattan, where Joan Rivers underwent surgery Aug. 28, 2014, according to New York Daily News

Rivers was 81 and died from brain damage due to a lack of oxygen after her throat seized up during the surgery in which she had an endoscopy and had her voice checked for changes. The lawsuit alleges part of the surgery included an unauthorized examination of her vocal chords and windpipe that resulted in the throat seizing up, the New York Daily News reported.

Rivers was in a coma when she died, seven days after the surgery. 

Melissa Rivers is the only child of Joan Rivers, and is the executor of her estate.

 

County clerk to open for Feb. 14 weddings

January 26, 2015 - 11:55am

Hoping to get married on Valentine’s Day? The Ventura County Clerk’s Office is there for you.

The office will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 14, which falls on a Saturday.

Clerk-Recorder Mark Lunn said Valentine’s Day is the busiest wedding day of the year for his office.

“Since the holiday falls on a Saturday this year, we will extend our office hours to accommodate couples that want to marry on this romantic day,” Lunn said Monday in a news release.

The office will be open that day solely to issue marriage licenses and perform ceremonies. Standard fees will apply.

Appointments are highly recommended and can be made by calling 654-2263.

The office is in the Hall of Administration at the county government center, 800 S. Victoria Ave. in Ventura. Get more information at www.VenturaClerkRecorder.org.

White House drone raises security concerns

January 26, 2015 - 11:48am

The White House received an unlikely visitor early Monday – in the form of a drone.

Secret Service agents found a 2-foot-quad-copter drone on White House grounds and, although it ultimately was cleared as not a threat, there were concerns at first that it could be carrying explosives. A spokeswoman for the Secret Service would not say whether there are special protections against drones, The New York Times reported.

Early Monday afternoon, The Times also reported that the drone was operated by a government employee. The employee, who is not on the White House staff, told the Secret Service he lost control of the drone when he was flying it for recreation at 3 a.m. 

Flying any object over the White House grounds is prohibited, as is throwing anything onto the grounds or jumping over the fence.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Federal Aviation Association declared the airspace over Washington, D.C., a flight-restricted zone. Although the rules about small drone use around the president’s home are clear, rules governing the technology elsewhere in the United States remains murky.

Back in 2012 Congress ordered the FAA to integrate drones into the airspace for commercial use by the end of 2014, which opened up a floodgate of preemptive state and local government bills meant to limit the use of drones because of security concerns. The FAA ultimately failed to meet its deadline.

Although an official ruling has yet to be passed, in the interim the FAA has issued some pretty strict guidelines that limit almost all commercial drone use. Only 16 permits have been granted out of 295 applications — one to make movies in Hollywood. Drone use for recreational purposes is allowed as long as the drone files lower than 400 feet.  

But even those limitations have been challenged. A case in March of last year challenged the FAA’s right to regulate domestic drones when it hadn’t actually issued formal regulations. The FAA lost the case, and many drone or “unmanned aerial vehicle” owners took it to mean they were free to use the systems as they want until the final FAA regulations are released.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee conducted a hearing last week that explored the technological advancements and research developments in the drone industry. Members also discussed how to best integrate drones into the national airspace. A drone was even flown at the hearing as a demonstration. 

The FAA is scheduled to release new regulations any day now that would allow the use of small commercial drones weighting up to 55 pounds. Some believe the final rules may include requiring a pilot’s license for commercial use and keeping the drone within sight of the operator.

[Also by Miranda Green: Are journalism and satire the same thing?]

Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter.

CHP warns public of telephone scam

January 26, 2015 - 11:02am

Authorities are warning the public about a series of phone scams in which the caller claims to be a member of the California Highway Patrol and asks for payment for missed jury duty, outstanding fines or an arrest warrant.

The CHP reports the callers typically tell people to purchase prepaid cards and call them back with the numbers to the cards. Similar scams have been reported to other law enforcement agencies.

The CHP does not call people seeking payment under any circumstances, and people should be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payment for any reason, the agency said.

Anyone who receives such a call should contact the CHP at 549-3261.

Utility companies and government agencies never contact people for payment by prepaid card, and anyone who has the card’s number can access the funds, the CHP said. You also should never wire money or provide debit or credit card numbers to strangers.

If you suspect a scam over an alleged unpaid traffic citation or other court-imposed financial obligation, authorities say to ask the caller for the court case number, date of ticket or other specific information. With such information, people can verify the debt or confirm other details with the local court.

More information about telemarketing scams is available from the California Department of Consumer Affairs at 800-952-5210 or http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/telemarket.shtml.

Light rain returns to Ventura County

January 26, 2015 - 10:04am

Light rain returned Monday to parts of Ventura County as a low-pressure system slowly moved north.

The forecast called for mostly cloudy skies and a few sprinkles during the day, followed by a greater chance of rain Monday evening.

Click here to see the current conditions in your area.

Rain was most likely in the Los Angeles County mountains, but also possible along the coast and valleys of Ventura County, the National Weather Service said.

Not much rain was expected to fall — only 0.10 to 0.25 of an inch in coastal and valley areas, the weather service said.

The rain might persist into Tuesday morning, forecasters said. Wednesday will be partly cloudy and warmer, they said. Another storm system was expected Thursday, but even weaker than Monday’s and expected to bring rain only to mountain areas.

Major storm threatens Northeast

January 26, 2015 - 8:48am
NEW YORK (AP) — Cities across the Northeast mobilized snowplows and airlines canceled thousands of flights Monday as a potentially historic storm pushed its way up the Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor with what forecasters said could be up to 2 feet of snow.   More than 4,000 flights were canceled or delayed, schools planned to close early and a hospital in New York increased staff and outfitted its vehicles with snow traveling gear.   The National Weather Service said the nor'easter would bring heavy snow, powerful winds and widespread coastal flooding starting Monday and through Tuesday. A blizzard warning was issued for a 250-mile stretch of the Northeast, including New York and Boston.   A tractor-trailer jack-knifed, and a truck hauling beer crashed into the median on a section of Interstate 81 near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, during the Monday morning commute, forcing officials to shut down the southbound lanes. No injuries were reported.   Some schools were planning to close early or not open at all Monday in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.   "This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Sunday news conference in a Manhattan sanitation garage where workers were preparing plows and salt for the massive cleanup on about 6,000 miles of city roadways.   Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered a travel ban on Connecticut highways, while officials in other states asked residents to avoid any unnecessary travel.   The Nassau University Medical Center on Long Island increased staff and outfitted vehicles with snow traveling gear. Hospital officials said they expect a large increase in patients as doctors' offices and clinics close due to the weather.   In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker warned residents to prepare for roads that are "very hard, if not impossible, to navigate," power outages and possibly even a lack of public transportation.   Boston's Logan International Airport said there would be no flights after 7 p.m. Monday, and did not expect to resume flights until late Wednesday.   Boston is expected to get 18 to 24 inches of snow, with up to 2 feet or more west of the city, and Philadelphia could see up to a foot, the weather service said.   The Washington area expected only a couple of inches, with steadily increasing amounts as the storm heads north.   "We do anticipate very heavy snowfall totals," said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the weather service in College Park, Maryland. "In addition to heavy snow, with blizzard warnings, there's a big threat of high, damaging winds, and that will be increasing Monday into Tuesday. A lot of blowing, drifting and such."   President Barack Obama, who is traveling in India, has been briefed on the storm, spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. White House officials also have been in touch with officials from states "up and down the Eastern seaboard" that are in the storm's path, Earnest said.   Wind gusts of 75 mph or more are possible for coastal areas of Massachusetts, and up to 50 mph further inland, Oravec said.   A storm system driving out of the Midwest brought several inches of snow to Ohio on Sunday. A new low pressure system was expected to form off the Carolina coast and ultimately spread from the nation's capital to Maine for a "crippling and potentially historic blizzard," the weather service said.   New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged commuters to stay home on Monday and warned that mass transit and roadways could be closed before the evening rush hour, even major highways such as the New York Thruway, Interstate 84 and the Long Island Expressway.   In New York City, the Greater New York Taxi Association offered free cab service for emergency responders trying to get to work, and disabled and elderly residents who become stranded.   The New York Rangers decided to practice Monday afternoon at the Islanders' home arena on Long Island instead of at their own training facility just outside New York City. They'll stay overnight on Long Island for Tuesday's game against their rival — if it's still held.   The Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots expected to be out of town by the time the storm arrives in Boston. The team plans to leave Logan Airport at 12:30 p.m. Monday for Phoenix, where the temperature will reach the high 60s.   ___   Associated Press writers Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut; Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, New Jersey; Deepti Hajela in New York; Albert Stumm in Philadelphia; and Marcy Gordon and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.     ___   ---WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW---     The busy Northeast corridor prepared for a winter wallop that was expected to bring up to 2 feet of snow from northern New Jersey all the way up to Massachusetts. Here's what residents of the big cities in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic need to know about the coming storm:   SNOWSTORM VS. BLIZZARD: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?   The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for a huge swath of the region, meaning potential white-out conditions as heavy snow swirls amid gusting wind. The weather service says a blizzard includes sustained or frequent wind gusts of 35 mph or greater and considerable falling snow that lasts for at least three hours. This storm is expected to last up to 36 hours in some locations, forecasters said.   ___   AIR TRAVEL   Airlines had canceled about 2,000 flights Monday because of the storm and were expected to cancel more, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware. Those affected most are the three airports serving New York City. More than 20 percent of flights in Boston and Philadelphia were canceled. Logan Airport was closing Monday evening and no flights were expected to land or take off Tuesday.   ___   ON THE RAILS   Amtrak was operating a normal schedule Monday, but said it would re-evaluate as conditions warrant. It said announcements about service changes would be made as far in advance as possible, but it also encouraged passengers to watch the weather closely.   ___   BIG CITY TRANSIT:   Transit service in the major cities was generally running on a normal schedule Monday, but officials warned riders that could change.   In New York, the Metropolitan Transit Authority said service could be curtailed on a route-by-route basis, depending on conditions. In Philadelphia, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority was monitoring potential icing on overhead power lines and tracks. In Boston, officials said some bus routes could be altered.   ___   NEW YORK   Up to 2 feet of snow was predicted, with the heaviest snow falling from about midnight Monday through Tuesday afternoon. Winds will be strongest across eastern Long Island. About half the flights Monday at the region's three major airports were canceled.   ___   BOSTON   A blizzard warning will be in effect from 7 p.m. Monday to 1 a.m. Wednesday, with about 20 to 30 inches of snow forecast for the city and its suburbs. Near-hurricane force winds were predicted for Cape Cod and the nearby islands.   ___   HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT   From 20 to 30 inches of snow was predicted, including snowfall rates of 2 to 4 inches per hour at some points Monday night or Tuesday morning.   ___   PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND   Accumulations of around 20 to 30 inches were expected with locally higher amounts possible, plus blizzard conditions that include damaging winds and considerable drifting and blowing snow.   ___   PHILADELPHIA   Snow was falling Monday morning, but the storm was expected to being in earnest later Monday. About a foot of snow was expected before the storm ends about 6 p.m. Tuesday, with less to the west and more in New Jersey toward the coast.   ___   WASHINGTON-BALTIMORE   Snow was expected end by midday Tuesday, with about 1 to 2 inches accumulating in Washington and 2 to 5 inches in Baltimore.

 

Airlines cancel 4,514 flights ahead of blizzard

January 26, 2015 - 6:28am

Up to three feet of snow is expected to fall in parts of the Northeast from Monday evening into Wednesday morning, and as a result, several airlines are preemptively cancelling flights.

Some airlines made the announcement as early as Sunday evening, basing their decision on the expected forecast.

More than 4,514 flights have been canceled for Monday and Tuesday as of 9:20 a.m. EST Monday, and the snow has not yet started falling.

According to FlightAware, airlines have grounded 2,188 flights Monday and an additional 2,256 on Tuesday. For Wednesday, 70 flights have been grounded at this point. 

The effects are expected to last throughout the week, even as weather clears, as stranded passengers will be competing for seats.

United Airways planned to cancel all Tuesday flights at Logan International Airport, as well as at airports in New York City, Newark and Philadelphia, according to The Boston Globe.

"We plan to operate a full schedule at our Washington Dulles hub on Monday, but will limit operations beginning Monday evening at our Newark hub, LaGuardia and JFK," United said in a statement on Sunday. "At this point, we plan to cancel all flights Tuesday at Newark, LaGuardia and JFK, as well as Boston and Philadelphia. We are waiving change fees that otherwise may apply, and most customers will find they can change their travel plans most quickly by visiting united.com." 

JetBlue canceled 990 flights scheduled through Wednesday morning; Cape Air canceled 28 flights scheduled for Monday; Southwest canceled more than 130. Virgin America canceled 30 flights in Boston and New York on  Monday and Tuesday.

Delta Air Lines has grounded about 600 flights for Monday, and US Airways plans to ground flights at certain airports on Tuesday, according to USA Today.

Several carriers have said they're waiving change fees for flights across the region.

Official NFL highlights coming to YouTube

January 26, 2015 - 6:13am

The NFL and Google are now in business, but don't expect to be able to watch live games on YouTube just yet. 

The deal, as Re/code says, will mainly result in NFL-sponsored highlights, ads, game results and more being posted to YouTube and Google. 

Previously, if you wanted to take a look at highlights from NFL games uploaded by an official NFL account, you'd need to go to the NFL.com website. 

While you can still find content there, the NFL has been working feverishly uploading clips to YouTube since reports of the NFL-Google deal emerged. 

Other major sports organizations like the MLB, NBA, and NHL already had YouTube channels showing game highlights. 

The deal isn't a surprising one since the NFL has been trending this way recently making deals with Twitter and Facebook to show highlight clips. And it's logical for Google, too, which has done similar deals like partnering with ESPN for the World Cup

Plus, you'll still be able to watch the Super Bowl online if you want to — just not on YouTube. Those rights belong to the big television networks that pay big money to gain exclusive access to the game. 

This year, that award goes to NBC. All you have to do is download the NBC Sports Live Extra app to watch. 

Re/code says, starting with the Super Bowl Feb. 1, the NFL will show some "in-game" clips , but doesn't go into detail on what that may mean.

Church of England, first female bishop

January 26, 2015 - 5:04am

LONDON (AP) - Male domination in the leadership of the Church of England ended Monday, as the 500-year-old institution consecrated its first female bishop.

The Rev. Libby Lane became the eighth Bishop of Stockport in a service at York Minster. Her consecration comes after the church ended a long and divisive dispute by voting last year to allow women to serve as bishops.

Dozens of bishops gathered around Lane, laying on hands and offering a sign of solidarity. Just before the dramatic moment, a man raised a voice of protest against her consecration, saying "No. Not in my name!"

She swallowed hard and remained stoic as the protest was leveled. The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, rejected the objection with a prepared statement, and then simply moved on.

The congregation was then asked if they approved. The response was a thunderous yes.

Lane has dismissed criticism in the past that her appointment is merely a symbolic gesture, saying that she may be "the first, but I won't be the only."

A saxophone player and soccer fan, Lane was one of the first women to become a Church of England priest. She was ordained in 1994. Her husband is also a priest.